Archive for the ‘ Collaborations ’ Category

AGATHA’S BARN: A CARPENTER’S FARM STORY

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Welcome to “Agatha’s Barn,” a short story by Michael Bailey (about 5,500 words), and a tie-in to Carpenter’s Farm, the serial novel by Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, Inspection, Malorie, and a bunch of other cool books. Created with permission. Free for all to enjoy during this strange time (Josh loves it, and we hope you will too). Featuring illustrations throughout by Glenn Chadbourne.

Read new chapters of Carpenter’s Farm each Monday, Wednesday & Friday. Catch up here (at least the first five or six chapters), then come back and read the following …

20200401_194322


jars_01

There is Agatha.

jars_02

There was Agatha.

Right?

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Father’d taught her how to use a hammer right, how to tweeze a nail between two fingers with one hand, tap-tap, then pull away and drive it in hard with the other. Father’d taught Agatha to look out for herself, how to tomboy, how to bury things deep in wood.

Like this, he’d say, eyes asquint, tapping the head, setting the nail in place and you’s (she always imagined the letter ‘W’ splitting apart) use a comb or fork to keep your hands lookin’ like mine all tore up and he’d hammer the soldier into the pine, three-quarter’s way, sometimes flush. If he missed and headstone-tipped the nail, he’d crater it flat, out of anger or irritation. Cigarette dangling. Kool, always. His breath a warm left-out beer. Red and white Budweiser cans, always. He’d go through a case of each over a weekend—the only “quality” time she ever spent with him after Mother’d died of pneumonia.

The 16-penny nails sometimes took five or six swings, but she rarely missed, driving them straight. Pencil dives, she’d imagined with that innocent child mind all those years ago, making perfect-round little splashes, sap or soaked-in rainwater rising to the surface. Good, Aggie, like that. There you go (sipping Bud, smoke in her hair), and don’t tell anyone ’bout this or no one will ever take you as a proper woman. Some took seven or eight; same as her age, for all she could remember. He’d ‘growed her up,’ as he’d say.

But the reclaimed wood she hammered into now smelled not wet and piney, but stunk of dry rot and bad memories, of jagged dinosaur-back mushroom shelves on wet left-out firewood. Earthy. Like her father. Like the soil beneath his fingernails. They went in despite the cries. The sound of life long dead dying again. Stripped youth, aged by force.

Father’d taught her more than one should ever learn from a parent.

Agatha thought of tipping his headstone and smiled.

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“You’re new here,” the man behind the counter said. He had a boyish demeanor about him and a short mop of brown hair, like he’d rolled out of bed that way. Mouth crooked.

She’d read enough Stephen King and’d seen enough book jacket photos to imagine what he must’ve looked like as a teenager, and this guy in his blue apron seemed much older than that but a doppelgänger nonetheless, his mind perhaps held back a dozen or so years.

Agatha nodded.

“That’s a nasty shiner,” he said.

“You got any recommendations—”

“—for the shiner?”

She wasn’t fond of make-up, of prettying up, of covering bruises. The hard lessons of life had taught her to speak true. Never hold back. Never flinch. Especially with the face.

“Whiskey,” she said, “or bourbon, I don’t care. All I see on the shelves that’s brown is Knob and Old Crow. And this,” she said, pointing at what Chris had done, “is what happens when you let your guard down, when you give another power over you. Anything good?”

Bookman’s General had what could be expected from a general store in mostly-nowhere, Michigan, but apparently had bottled shit-water for booze. The gray-green building dilapidated as all get-out, surrounded by fields of endless agriculture. Inside: dusty-bottles, as though no one in the small town drank out of anything other than aluminum.

His smile cracked. “Blanton’s?” he said, “but it’s pricey.”

“What’d’you consider ‘pricey’?”

“You look like you could use a good drink, so I’ll sell it to you at cost. Never had it before, must be good. Some fellow special-ordered, never returned, so I’ve been holding onto that bottle some time. Six … ty.” He stretched last word and put an inflection at the end, either a non-question becoming a question, or whittling the price down because of the bruise.

“Where can I find it?”

“Have it in storage. Frozen peas are back that way,” he said and pointed, then disappeared into some back part of the store. He returned carrying not a bottle but a box, which he opened on the counter in front of her, and in the box a brown cloth bag, and in the brown cloth bag a roundish honeycomb-like bottle. “Small batch,” he said.

Batch number and other information were inked by black pen on the label, by hand. Adorned on the stopper: a metal horse in full run, a rider holding on for dear life.

Running, Agatha mused, like me.

“I’ll take it,” she said. “You have any Mason jars, like for canning?”

The man in the blue smock showed her where to find them.

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She labeled the first quart “shame” and filled it to the brim with 16-penny nails. She labeled another “forgiveness” but didn’t fill it with anything just yet. No one to forgive, maybe not ever. She imagined someday filling the jar with names. Another she labeled “pity” and on a scrap of paper wrote Aggie and slipped it inside. The third jar she labeled “Mother” and filled with the memories of her, the empty jar carrying an impossible weight. Each Agatha sealed with a lid, screwed on the rings. She dug a hole behind the barn, not so deep. Mother’s second vacant grave.

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She found paint cans on shelves as old as the willows surrounding the farm; the wood planks held long-dead stories of trees, she imagined, and in one of the dented cans a dollop of sludge, brown as dried blood. She finger-painted her mother’s name on a rock, childlike, to serve as a headstone—using her mother’s maiden—and flipped it over (just another insignificant rock among rocks), smoothed out the dirt after burying the “Mother” jar.

Only the two of them’d ever know this secret place.

Movement in the tree line of willows shot adrenaline through her as she made her way back to her work, and faint weeping. Aggie’s pulse (she always thought of herself as Aggie when anxious) sent a war drum beat out her chest. The silhouette of a man with hands held to his side faded into black between trunks, as if taking a step back. Caught and then gone.

No, not him, she told herself. Not Chris, not Father.

She’d left her car at home, a beater Honda Civic cancerous with rust and oil-clogged piston-lungs, and had fled on bike instead—the old Schwinn angled against a wall in the barn. No one could have followed her. She’d left no trace, other than the empty Mason jar back home (not her home) once filled with cash labeled “Freedom” in Sharpie over a tear of duct tape. She’d hidden her savings behind cleaning supplies in the garage, the jar itself inside an old Folgers tin.

“I see you,” she called to the woods.

The trees swayed in the breeze, leaves whispering, dangly arms groaning.

Agatha, not Aggie, scribbled “fear” on a label she adhered to the fourth jar. She dropped a handful of nails inside, raining metal against glass, and kept a lone nail in her palm as she hefted the hammer and stood. The tool becoming a weapon, and she held it as such.

She walked toward the spot with purpose, got within a stone’s throw of the woods. There, she waited as the chaos in her chest calmed to smooth rhythm and blues. Imagination, she knew. These woods were miles from town, the home on the property, as well as the barn, abandoned by its owners long ago, left to the putrefaction of nature to retake occupancy of the land. The nail bit into her palm, but she didn’t mind, squeezed a bit harder.

Staring into the striped camouflage of shadows and trees only created more illusion, not one shape, but countless. Many, then none at all. Branches oscillated by wind.

Alone once again. Jitters, is all, she told little Aggie.

She returned to her task of gathering reclaimed wood, piling neat stacks outside the barn. And until she patched the holes in the roof and secured the doors, she’d sleep there within a tent under its drooping rafters. If anyone happened upon the farmhouse in their travels, she figured, they’d stop there first, the main house, knock on the door, look through the windows, which would give her plenty of warning, too, to slip into the cover of the woods.

She pulled nails from her jar of fears and reinforced the doors.

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Agatha setup camp inside the barn. She sat outside her tent awhile, a hard wind testing the hinges, invisible hands pushing against the wood and rattling the handles. The moon shot flashlight beams through holes in the roof, periodically flickered by fast-moving cloud. She’d have to see to that in the morning, but for now sipped straight from the neck of the bottle, enjoying her shelter despite the frigid air. She thought of her poems, which was her initial escape. A few stanzas in particular resonated in this hiccup of thought, though she’d slipped the entire poem into a library’s copy of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters for someone else to find:

Blink not to forget
            but to cover individually
            with pleasant-past
                        / blink

When you close your eyes
            their lives inverted silhouettes:
                        hidden in memory
                        hidden from the children
                        hidden inside
            washed away by a sleeve
            they are gone

The whiskey kept her warm, or the bourbon, or whatever the stuff was, and so she drank enough to give her a buzz, which didn’t take long. She tried to remember more lines, but most were gone, lost in her unpleasant-past. She never kept poetry, always slipped it somewhere else.

Night sighed exhaustively, blowing in a storm. Before she knew it, the first droplet of rain slapped her cheek. The peas had done their work and had since thawed, and so she ate them directly from the bag, not enjoying the shriveled things, but survival-eating. Peas, peace. They went as well as they could with the cold can of raviolis purchased from the general store.

She’d bought a can-opener there, a pack of lighters, nonperishables, bottled water, all she could carry on her handlebars without tipping. Paid cash. Traceability the last thing she needed.

Ever wonder why a woman sometimes has two black eyes? Chris often said, usually around “friends” as a joke, always long after her visible bruises healed. ’Cause she didn’t listen the first time. He’d think it funny, hilarious. Isn’t that a hoot?

Fuck him.

In the rain, she wrote his name on a slip of paper, put it in the pity jar next to her own, then moved everything inside the tent. The tearing zip of the zipper flap reminded Agatha of the Levis her drunken father had once swung at her one night. Their jagged teeth had breadknifed into her arm. Still had the scar. ‘Fell onto a rake playin’ in the yard,’ you’ll say if anyone asks and that’s what she always said when asked, until her memories shaped the lie as truth.

Blink not to remember
            but to let go
            of the loss
                        / blink

Part of her remembered the rake, part of her the jeans. The round spots on her knuckles, were they not remnants of icy burns of warts removed, or from another kind of Kool?

She had cozied into her sleeping bag, trying to think of happier times, curled tight and mind adrift, when a gunshot shot her upright with a bright spark of light. The round buried deep into her gut and she found herself holding the wound, but it was only her bladder. She’d fallen into microdream, passing hours in an unrealistic time-shift. Lightning. Not now, she told herself, hold it ’til morning, but both the water and the whiskey wanted out of her. She waited for the rain to let up, but it only came down harder, machine-gun firing heavy onto the failing roof, then falling as heavy drops against the thin canvas of the tent. Aggie needed to pee. Agatha told her to just use one of the damn jars, “But not in here,” she said aloud.

Wasn’t so bad outside the tent, though muddy streams had formed around the hay she’d spread across the barn floor. Another flash splintered brilliant white through every crack and knot hole, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand and then the boom, a mad god’s bass drum pounding. The largest hole in the roof had created a waterfall in the back of the barn, but the slope of the ground, from what she could tell in the strobed light, drained water away from the structure, so no immediate need to worry about flooding.

“This is ridiculous,” she said as the barn doors jiggled.

Open this goddamn door!

Her father, only a memory now, but always there.

She thought of the fear jar, how many more nails she’d need to add to it in the morning, how many more’d be required to secure this place. She thought of the forgiveness jar, how it would always remain empty, like Mom’s coffin, how it didn’t belong with her, not here.

The barn creaked and swayed with the wind, every nail crying out in separate agony, yet holding the place together somehow, and oh how that reflected her once frail and fragile form.

Let me in! and the fists pounding—

washed clean by endless tears
            they are never gone
            in death they still run:
                        into the earth
                        down drains
                        from thoughts

Let me in! and the fists pounding—

The barn door burst open, the wet breath of the storm knocking Agatha onto her backside, the pants she’d slept in wicking the puddle beneath her. Far across the dead field, revealed by the open maw, the farmhouse stood sentinel as lightning flashed behind it, a black stamp signifying its existence. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand and then the boom, the storm moving away, it seemed, yet still in a frenzy.

The farmhouse disappeared, swallowed by the black storm’s hungry mouth, and in its wake a soft yellow rectangular glow remained. A window, lit by candle or oil lamp. No electricity in the house, Agatha knew, because she’d let herself in one of the windows the day before, had searched every cabinet and cupboard for food. Lifeblood of water ran through its groaning pipes at a trickle, clear and minerally with a subtle taste of clay—perhaps fed by well or natural spring—but no power, no beating heart of electricity pumping through the veins of its old framework. No power in the barn either, despite switches and sockets.

Someone’s in the farmhouse. Squatting, like me.

Rolling light fluttered from one cloud to the next, and in that long moment Agatha scanned the property for cars, for signs of life. Nothing but unkempt crops, dead fields, an empty driveway. As the sky darkened and the rain hammered down as heavy nails, the light inside the farmhouse went out. No, not out, someone at the window, barely perceptible.

                        / blink

Her bladder let out into the mud, but what did it matter now?

She stared ahead, unable to focus.

The lightning blinded Aggie temporarily—the frightened girl still hiding inside her—and absorbed the woman in the window entirely (she knew in her every fiber it was not a man), and then all turned dark. She made it to eleven-one-thousand before thunder rumbled. The belly of a hungry dragon flew within the clouds, then suddenly a spotlight shone upon her. Agatha—her stronger, adult self—ran to the barn doors, pulled one side closed, then the other, and they tried pulling back. She slid the bolt latch hard, the sound of a new round loaded into a rifle, as the mess she’d made ran down her leg.

Get ahold of yourself; her mother this time, buried inside a jar, but there.

The gap between the doors was enough to peek through. Between every new flash, she watched the house, straining for what wasn’t really there, convincing herself that what-wasn’t-really-there wasn’t now heading her way, about to spring out of the darkness. She tested the doors, but the latch held strong, making her wonder if she’d forgotten earlier to latch it. She pulled, but the swing doors only slightly swung. No way they’d’ve opened on their own.

She thought of her father, lights out, sneaking inside her room, inside other places.

More nails to hammer, so many more nails.

Father’s dirty fingernails.

You’ve wet’cherself; her father this time, buried twenty years, but still there. Best clean up ’fore your mother finds you dirty like this, he’d said / said now, haunting past and present. He’d died after Mother, which wasn’t fair. She’d simply vanished, no body ever found, Father not the slightest concerned. Burying nothing, an empty casket, offered no closure.

Agatha stripped out of her clothes, trembling, imagining eyes peering between every slat and through every weather-worn knot hole, and from above, as well as below. Only her pictures at the funeral, she recalled, and showered by way of rainwater pouring through the roof. She washed her soiled clothes the same, then shivered in the cold until mostly dried-off as the rain eased, moved elsewhere. Another slug of Blanton’s warmed from the inside, settled her anxiety. Naked in her sleeping bag, dreams eventually found her, the sleep-conductor waving his magical wand and composing his horrid dreams, and soon after she woke in panic to the morning.

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With everything wet, she let the sun dry the world, and enjoyed the body heat trapped inside her cocoon. Perhaps six or seven o’clock, she figured (always o’clock as she was raised and never a.m. / p.m.). No use hurrying out to fix the roof, slip-sliding off or crashing through.

The jar labeled “shame” called her attention. ‘Accident’ went inside on strip of notepaper, along with ‘Anxiety’ and multiple What-dad-did thoughts, simply written and placed in the jar as the numbers ‘7’ through ‘13,’ sometimes duplicates, her age for whatever bad thing wanted to surface. The glass jar quickly filled. There were enough bad things to warrant multiple containers, the little strips of paper smashed in layers. The jar labeled “forgiveness” called her too, though she had nothing to put inside. “You’ll forever remain empty,” she told the jar. The jar said nothing back to her. The others she’d filled with nails, one 16-penny for every thought—each entirely forgotten, to be repurposed to hold together this temporary shelter.

Agatha spent the next hour on poetry, managed to write a few stanzas of free verse, letting it flow as it may. She thought of this one in particular as “Paper Earth” and like the other’s she’d written over the years (she had written and hidden hundreds throughout the world), for as long as she could remember, came from a mysterious pool of streaming thought:

We make our way to the writing ground,
paper-white, as far as any eye can see,
where exhausted trees no longer shed.

What time is it, but does that matter,
and can life be measured such a way?

Rain will soon seal everything together,
forlorn-fallen tears cementing in layers,
where blackened trunks stand as sentinels.

What to write, fill the thoughts of few,
as each word cuts deep, every last thing.

We wait patiently for the clouds to part,
expecting the hands of angry gods,
yet humankind’s fingers do the pointing.

Who’s fault is this, and should we care,
one way or the other, and is it too late?

Countless stories are carved in the earth,
until every last broken finger is bled,
not-so-forever tales of what once was.

We were here, some layers will read,
existence recorded semi-permanently.

But well before the expected rainfall,
Father’s clock of life will tilt, tilt, tilt,
as Mother lets out her sighing breath.

You were never here, She will whisper,
and His hourglass will flip, begin again.

She ripped the paper from the notebook, folded it once in half, twice, thrice, then set it inside an unlabeled jar, sealed it like the others. What to call this one, she wondered, meaning the container. “The other voice?” she said, considering. “The pool?” she said. “Un-Aggie, or Anti-Agatha?” You’re not right in the head, talking to yourself like this, she thought, which meant it was time to get out of bed. She dressed into dry clothes from her backpack. She had only a few outfits on her, figured that’s all she’d need until deciding where to go. Wisconsin, maybe.

The uncertain fears from the night before she pounded as nails into planks to cover the larger gaps where siding had otherwise dilapidated or had weathered away as fine as stardust. The roof could wait, she knew, and so could replacing the soaked hay. What mattered now was confirmation of the main house being empty, that she was truly alone on this farm.

As an afterthought, she took out the poem and slid it into her pocket instead. She’d hide it in the world like she had all the others. No sense keeping it. No sense keeping the forgiveness jar either, if nothing’d ever go in it, so she took that with her too, and left the barn.

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The storm had slicked the earth, every surface glimmering.

Hammer at her side, she and the forever-unforgiven jar of nothing went to the house. She imagined different conversations, what she might be asked, how she might respond if someone were there. On my bike and riding past this place when the storm hit, she’d say. The hammer? Oh, I found that in the barn. Protection, she’d say, but from what? I camped in your barn, sir, to get out of the rain, see, and—

No one was home, though. Not a car in sight. The place deserted for years, perhaps. Dead weeds—wet dead weeds now, finally watered—sprouted around the place. Haunted, came to mind, which sent a shiver down her spine from what she’d thought she’d seen the night before, that little rectangle of yellow light, but as she approached, curtains at that window were drawn at a diagonal, as if one side of the rod holding them had fallen.

Would have seen a triangle of light, she wondered, not a square. And no movement inside, for nothing inside (besides spiders and other bugs) had stirred for some time. Years.

The front door would be locked, she knew, because it had been locked the day before. The only way in, she knew, was the kitchen window on the opposite side. She went to the door anyway, set the jar down, and knocked. The doorbell only depressed. No electricity.

You were never here, Agatha mused, one of the lines of the poem in her pocket.

She knocked again.

“Hello?”

See, no one’s here, Agatha told her younger mind. She then used the back of her fist to pound against the door, loud enough for anyone in the house to hear. She recalled grade school chalkboards, little Aggie licking that same part of her hand, pressing it against the chalky green to make a wet baby-foot image with her spit, then licking the tip of her finger and tasting the chalk and making five little toes. Baby feet. You’ve got baby feet, child-of-mind. No one’s here.

Aggie dared her older self to try the knob, teasing her that it would turn and the door would open because someone was waiting for her—a dare as juvenile as closing one’s eyes in a bathroom while holding a candlestick and chanting Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary and opening them to find you’ve conjured her apparition as a witch or ghost in the mirror, an impossible act of catoptromancy.

Still locked, she discovered, as expected.

Yet to be absolutely certain, she’d need to go inside, again.

The kitchen slid open with ease, allowing entry by an old-fashioned weighted window. She placed the forgiveness jar on the counter next to the sink, levered herself inside. A rat scurried across the floor, but rats’re cowards unless cornered, so it didn’t bother her. Aggie’s mom’d had a pet rat, Silky, one of younger Agatha’s earliest memories. Put it back in the damn cage, her father’d say, and mom’d say “Cages are meant for criminals, for those who do bad things,” though Aggie wouldn’t learn the difference between the two for a while.

Sunbeams yellowed the room and brought warmth to the old house, turned cobwebs invisible. She called out another hello, and the house answered silence.

She’d checked the kitchen the last time through, cabinets and drawers: silverware and plates, glasses and mugs, all one could expect in a kitchen, pots and pans, an abandoned coffee maker. But no food; scavenged over the years by squatters, maybe, by high-schoolers and college kids daring each other to the door, some making it inside and devouring, or devoured.

Room by room this second time through, she found more nothing; or, more appropriately, lots of things no longer with purpose, perhaps waiting for purpose. Things, waiting.

The place was fully furnished, but abandoned. Everything covered in off-white sheets to collect dust, as if every lamp and couch and cushion required rest without its occupants, or pretended to play ghost while dressed in linen.

Aggie pushed her onward.

She found the window in question, curtain rod tilted as she’d seen from outside. She set it right, then looked out the window at the barn, imagined an older version of herself staring across the field at her older self staring back. Come nightfall, she’d be the silhouette. Behind her was the candle, aged-yellow like the wallpaper. She smelled the wick, unburned for years. The small room had a porcelain toilet and tub like the bathroom of her youth, no shower. A splash of déjà vu: a familiar crack in a tile by the door, the same wooden-framed mirror hung slightly kinked.

Similar, she convinced herself, but not the same as back home.

And then it all came rushing in at once, the not-so-long-ago past. Chris pounding on the door. Picking the lock with a hair pin and barging inside as she cried on the throne. The red in his face, eyes wild. His smoky red aura of hate. The way he grabbed her wrists, both in one of his giant mitts, twisting, her bones grate-grinding as he pulled her into the adjacent room, tossed her with ease against the wall where she feta-crumbled to the floor. Say his name three times in the mirror under the glow of candlelight and he’d come for her again, and again, and again …

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Father’d taught her how to use a hammer right, how to look out for herself, how to tomboy, how to bury things deep in wood. But Chris’d wanted more than tomboy, and had taught her the past could be repeated, that adult life could mirror one’s youth.

Like this, he’d say, forcing her down, pulling her hair back, setting her mouth just right with ever-strong fingers, the ooh’s anything but fake (she always imagined the letter ‘O’ splitting her mouth apart one day), and cry again or clamp down’n I’ll rip your fuckin’ jaw right open as he’d have his way with her, any ol’ way, sometimes in a rush. But finally Agatha’d had enough and headstone-tipped the nail that was his head, cratered him out of anger and irritation alike with the hammer. Eye dangling. Cool as always. His breath a panicked gasp. Red spattered against the white, always. Thought-flashed like this in her mind, always. And she’d left him that way, a little damaged, a little dead but not quite. She’d ridden away from him on bike.

It had only taken one swing, like father’d taught her, and she hadn’t missed. Cannon ball, she’d imagined with that far-but-innocent adult mind only days ago, making a perfect-round splash of hot gore, not so little, the sap of his mind rising to the surface. Good, Agatha, just like that, she’d told herself, then. There you go, breathe (sipping panic-attack wisps of air, then guzzling deeper wheezes), and don’t tell anyone ’bout this or no one will ever take you as serious. If her father’d ‘growed her up’ at seven or eight, Chris’d ‘growed her up’ at twenty-seven even more so. She imagined she brought his IQ down to single-digits with a single swing.

Stripped age, youth by force.

Chris’d taught her more than one should ever learn from a spouse.

Agatha thought of tipping his headstone and smiled.

20200401_194305

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She stayed in the farmhouse until full dark, the passing of time immaterial to death, as light is insignificant to night. Light is insignificant tonight, little Aggie mused. Her older, wiser self lit the candle in the bathroom mirror with one of the lighters she’d purchased from the general store, from the Joe Hill or Owen King lookalike, and made her way to a shelf next to the fireplace and pulled a copy of either of their father’s Lisey’s Story—about the language of love, of all things—and slid her poem between the pages for another to find, maybe someday, maybe never. The empty jar labeled “forgiveness” found a new home as well, placed in the pantry on an equally empty shelf. Someone might find a use for it, or it might go unnoticed until the very end. She returned to the mirror, stared through herself at the small yellow window behind her.

“Agatha, Agatha, Agatha,” she said to the woman in the tent: her reflection.

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The next morning she hammered the rest of the “shame” and “pity” nails into the roof of the barn, careful with the ladder and with her footing. She drove every nail straight, most in a single swing or two, rarely three. A few small craters, some cracks in the reclaimed wood, but she wasn’t staying long. The weak barn needed another week, long enough for her bruises to turn from purple to yellow to gone. And then she’d be gone.

Black shapes watched from the woods, peering between willow trunks then slipping back. Black shapes watched from inside the farmhouse.

Agatha visited her mother each morning, knelt beside her, flipped over the rock. “Hi, mom,” she’d say (her parents always mom and dad, never Mom and Dad). “I know you’re not really there, but are we ever? I’ll never forgive dad. And I’ll never forgive you for leaving me with him, for what you let happen. And I’ll never forgive Chris for what I let happen. And I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve done …” She’d usually trail off, then, her mind pulled to the woods or to the house, or to her unfinished work on the barn.

The roof still leaked during hard rains, but not as much.

She still cried nightly, but not as much.

jars_11

“Shiner’s looking better, barely noticeable,” the man in the blue smock said. It was a decent walk to Bookman’s, but nice after the change of seasons. “Last of the rain for a long while,” he said.

She’d left her Schwinn leaning against the wall in the barn, brought her backpack this time, took only what she needed, and bought from him only what she’d need. She’d left the tent, her sleeping bag. She’d left the Blanton’s there as well for someone else to find. Once pulled from the barrel and bottled, whiskey, or bourbon in this case, never went bad. Days or years or generations from now, someone’d stumble on the bottle, pull off the metal horse stopper and take a slug, and it’d be just as good. Not much in life was that certain. One’s time tended to spoil.

Where she’d go, she didn’t know. She only knew that her new path started at the edge of the woods, at the willows, for the shadows there continued to call for her, and she could no longer ignore them, lest she stay in the barn forever, haunted by their hiding and seeking.

Not to mention the new ghosts who’d recently taken over the farmhouse, perhaps a bunch of kids dared to touch the door, to ring the doorbell, to knock. One in particular, Oliver, seemed as though he’d stay a while, maybe until the end of summer, maybe forever.

“How was it?”

“How was what?”

“The spirits.”

Agatha smiled. “Best I ever had. You got any books?”

He pointed behind her at an old spinning rack of paperbacks.

Inside an old dog-eared copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, she slipped in a folded piece of paper, a snippet of a poem she couldn’t quite finish during her short time there:

The shell,
same shade as the rest,
begins to crack.

Life explodes,
reborn.

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There was Agatha.

jars_13

There is Agatha.

Right.


I hope you enjoyed this strange tale, Glenn’s illustrations, and every other piece of writing, art, music, poetry, or what-have-you inspired by Josh Malerman’s Carpenter’s Farm currently (and soon-to-be) popping up around the Internet. Since this pandemic started, I haven’t been able to focus on writing anything other than poetry, so thank you, Josh, for getting me out of this rut! After reading the first four chapters of his novel-in-progress, and Shane Douglas Keene’s chapter-by-chapter corresponding poems, (seriously, read them), I reached out, asked if Josh would mind if I wrote a tie-in short story, he said to go for it, and so I hashed out this story in a single day. I started writing at around noon on a Saturday and multiple drafts / edits by midnight.

Perhaps I’ll try it again as the novel progresses, work on a new tie-in story, another angle, since it sounds like we’ll be in this viral pandemic for a while. Perhaps I’ll get other illustrators involved, or perhaps inspire others. We’ll see. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed!


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If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

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FREE READING MATERIAL (continued)

Thousands of free eBooks were downloaded during the last Written Backwards giveaway within the first few days, which means readers need books now more than ever. So, let’s do it again. Let’s keep the love of the written word going, helping however we can.

With the recent pandemic hitting the world, many are in self-quarantine, or being forced to work from home, or have lost their jobs (or will be looking for work soon) or are under mandatory shelter-in-place, thus turning homes into offices and classrooms. And it looks like we might be in this predicament for a while.

If you find yourself needing reading material during this difficult time as a distraction from life, I am making the entire Chiral Mad series of anthologies available for free on Amazon Kindle starting midnight on 03/20/2020 through 03/22/2020. This is about half-a-million words of fiction, poetry, and artwork, by some incredible creators.

Simply click the covers for direct links in the US, or see other options below if you’re in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, or Japan (that’s as far as my reach is capable at the moment).

If you find yourself not short on cash, consider helping out this small independent press by purchasing other titles available on the www.nettirw.com page. Check out the different tabs for Novels, Collections, Anthologies, and Misc, or simply donate to help keep this press alive.

Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

$1.00

Written Backwards can be contacted via email at written@nettirw.com, or reached on social media at facebook.com/nettirw or twitter.com/nettirw, although the press is not open to submissions at this time.

Stay safe, everyone …

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AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

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Amazon: eBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020)| trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

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AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

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MISCREATIONS: E-BOOK PRE-ORDER!

eBook Cover Display

The official release date of Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors is February 18th, 2020, but the eBook edition is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle!

For Amazon outside the US, the anthology is available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and is a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

What happens when we make monsters? What happens when we confront the monsters inside ourselves? These are the grotesque things that should never have been. These are the beasts that stalk our twisted pasts. These are the ghosts of our own making that haunt our regrets. They are the blood on our hands. They are the obsessions in our heads. They are the vengeance in our hearts.

Bram Stoker Award-winning editors Doug Murano & Michael Bailey present the next anthology by Written Backwards, featuring a foreword by Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Deep), and illustrations by HagCult (such as this one):

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The eBook edition (as well as both the trade paperback and hardcover) includes 23 illustrations, one for each of the following stories and poems:

“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Matryoshka” by Joanna Parypinski
“Butcher’s Blend” by Brian Hodge
“Operations Other Than War” by Nadia Bulkin
“One Day of Inside/Out” (poem) by Linda D. Addison
“One Last Transformation” by Josh Malerman
“Brains” by Ramsey Campbell
“You Are My Neighbor” by Max Booth III
“The Vodyanoy” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Imperfect Clay” by Lisa Morton
“Spectral Evidence” by Victor LaValle
“Ode to Joad the Toad” by Laird Barron
“Only Bruises Are Permanent” by Scott Edelman
“My Knowing Glance” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paper Doll Hyperplane” by R.B. Payne
“Not Eradicated In You” by Bracken MacLeod
“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik
“The Old Gods of Light” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Sounds Caught in Cobwebs” by M.E. Bronstein
“Umbra Sum” by Kristi DeMeester
“A Benediction of Corpses” (poem) by Stephanie M. Wytovich
“The Making of Asylum Ophelia” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss.

And for a very limited time (12/07/19 through 12/08/19), you can pre-order the trade paperback edition through Night Worms, and have the opportunity of owning a physical copy a month earlier than the official release date in February. Click the image below to sign up for their subscription package. First-timers also get a $5 discount.

MISCREATIONS - Mock Cover

Yes, Night Worms will be rolling out their next subscription package soon, which will contain a trade paperback edition of the anthology (image above), along with two other similarly-themed books. Get yours a month before anyone else!

Then, on February 18th, 2020, Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors will be released simultaneously in eBook, trade paperback, as well as in a special hardcover edition (image below).

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MISCREATIONS: NIGHT WORMS

What happens when we make monsters? What happens when we confront the monsters inside ourselves? These are the grotesque things that should never have been. These are the beasts that stalk our twisted pasts. These are the ghosts of our own making that haunt our regrets. They are the blood on our hands. They are the obsessions in our heads. They are the vengeance in our hearts.

Bram Stoker Award-winning editors Doug Murano & Michael Bailey present the next anthology by Written Backwards: Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors, featuring a foreword by Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Deep), and illustrations throughout by HagCult.

The trade paperback edition is now available for pre-order (for a very limited time) by Night Worms! Order from Nigh Worms and get the book a month earlier than its official release date (02/18/19). The eBook edition can be pre-ordered on Amazon, or by clicking the cover below.

MISCREATIONS - Mock Cover

Yes, Night Worms will be rolling out their next subscription package soon, which will contain a trade paperback edition of the anthology (cover artwork above), along with two other similarly-themed books. And you can get your mitts on a copy of this anthology an entire month before its official release on February 18th, 2019.

What can you expect?

The following fiction and poetry, each featuring an illustration:

“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Matryoshka” by Joanna Parypinski
“Butcher’s Blend” by Brian Hodge
“Operations Other Than War” by Nadia Bulkin
“One Day of Inside/Out” (poem) by Linda D. Addison
“One Last Transformation” by Josh Malerman
“Brains” by Ramsey Campbell
“You Are My Neighbor” by Max Booth III
“The Vodyanoy” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Imperfect Clay” by Lisa Morton
“Spectral Evidence” by Victor LaValle
“Ode to Joad the Toad” by Laird Barron
“Only Bruises Are Permanent” by Scott Edelman
“My Knowing Glance” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paper Doll Hyperplane” by R.B. Payne
“Not Eradicated In You” by Bracken MacLeod
“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik
“The Old Gods of Light” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Sounds Caught in Cobwebs” by M.E. Bronstein
“Umbra Sum” by Kristi DeMeester
“A Benediction of Corpses” (poem) by Stephanie M. Wytovich
“The Making of Asylum Ophelia” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss.

Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors will be released simultaneously in eBook and trade paperback, as well as in a special hardcover edition (artwork for the full wrap-around cover below).

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Want it before anyone else? Click here!

NOT-SO-SILENT

A few years ago, Tim Lebbon took the plunge into writing full-time, although he’s been writing for as long as he can remember. He has authored more than forty books of horror and dark fantasy, such as Coldbrook, White, and the Relics trilogy (see book cover images and direct links below), as well as tie-in novels for popular franchises: Star Wars, Firefly, Alien, Predator. In other words, he’s a busy guy.

Recently The Silence debuted on Netflix, an adaptation of his novel of the same name (watch the trailer here!). And even more recently, as part of the Written Backwards interview series, Michael Bailey had the opportunity of asking him a few questions, turning him not-so-silent.

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The interview [ after a brief lead-in ]:

Technology is forever-changing, constantly providing us new ways of reading, of writing, as well as enjoying all other types of creative content. We live in a digital world where books and film and other such things are easily available at our fingertips, near-instantly brought into our homes by a few taps of a remote or a keyboard, to our phones, to various reading devices, to our computer screens, and to our televisions. In terms of the written word, we have tipped over the 50% mark of reading digitally vs. reading on paper. In terms of visual media, we are watching more film in-house vs. in-theatre (despite blockbusters consistently shattering records at the box office). Netflix and Hulu have paved the way for streaming content, with Disney and other giants beginning to mark their claims (or at least trying).

In the last few years, Netflix has put a lot of resources into their own original content, with highly successful series like House of Cards, Stranger Things, Ozark, and the Marvel superhero shows such as Daredevil, Luke Cage, and The Punisher (all of which have since been cancelled because of Disney’s involvement with Marvel and future-streaming, aka Disney+), along with spending an insane amount of money to continue streaming already successful television series and network shows.

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While the giant that is Netflix typically refuses to announce viewership, they have recently hinted at such large numbers with movies they’ve launched (both on their platform and in limited theatre release), such as with the adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, which is now  one of the most successful launches in movie history. In it’s first few days, over 45 million Netflix accounts streamed the movie. Put that into movie ticket perspective (somewhere around $8 per ticket, on average), and you’re looking at a $360 million weekend debut. And that doesn’t take into account that most of these viewings were shared, with entire families watching the movie with a single virtual ticket. Netflix announced that over 80 million accounts had streamed the movie in the first few weeks of release, so suddenly that $360 million number turns into $640 million (although that’s not how it works in the mysterious world of movie-streaming). In terms of movie releases, this insane viewership is something incredible.

That said, Netflix recently released an adaptation of your wonderful novel The Silence, so I have a few questions.

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Michael Bailey: I think every writer has a certain bucket list item: To have one of their works adapted to the screen. Bucket list item obtained? How does it feel seeing your characters brought to life off the page?

Tim Lebbon: The Silence has been a fantastic experience from beginning to end. And yes, bucket list item achieved. From the moment it was picked up by the producers, to the moment my wife and I attended a screening at Netflix back in early April, it’s been such an exciting, and sometimes surreal experience. Everyone involved—producers, film makers, film company, and Netflix themselves—have been wonderful to deal with, and lots of those people are now my friends. The cast for the film was terrific, too. I think I’ve had a pretty dreamy movie experience, especially having heard from other writers about their own experiences. And I even got to play a corpse in my own film! There’s other screen stuff happening now, some of which is largely influenced by The Silence being a success for Netflix. And a ten day visit to LA meeting producers and studios has made me really want to spread my wings a little, and I’m now working on an original TV series idea of my own, as well as other stuff.

MB: I happened to be visiting Los Angeles at the time of Malerman’s screening of Bird Box, and we were able to hang out for a while, discussing what it would be like to actually watch the film at the Netflix studio (he was seeing it the following day, so I never got to ask him in person what it was like until later). The famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre screened the movie, and he had a chance to mingle with Sandra Bullock and some of the other actors. With all that pre-loading, I guess my question is the same as what I wanted to ask Josh. What was your LA / Netflix experience like with The Silence?

TL: The Silence wasn’t given quite the massive push, because Bird Box had a limited theatre release, but Netflix still put on a great show for us. It was a busy day—I’d had two meetings that day, and my wife had taken herself off to Rodeo Drive for a look around. She ended up almost getting lost (phone running out, no data, long story), and consequently we were maybe twenty minutes late getting to Netflix. I hate being late for anything, but for the screening of my own movie …? But the minute we walked through the doors, any shred of tension left us both. The entire wall of the Netflix lobby—and it’s big—was a spread of The Silence. We were given a glass of wine and a beer, I introduced Tracey to the splendid director John Leonetti, and to Robert Kulzer from Constantin, and the screenwriters, and the ASL tutor who’d been on set was there, and it was just such a wonderful evening. The screening was terrific, and afterwards, after everyone had dashed off, Tracey and I found a local bar and had a celebratory drink. An experience, and an evening, that I’ll never forget. As for LA … what a crazy city! I loved it. Tracey went home early (we’d planned it that way) and even left on my own I filled the time with meetings, seeing friends, and making new ones. It was a trip I’ll never forget. And I hope I’ll be back pretty soon!

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MB: You have a cameo, albeit brief. I happened to catch it, and blurted out, “That’s Tim!” For those who may have missed it, where in the movie can they find you? And what was it like being on-set for some of the filming?

TL: I spent two days on set on Toronto, and was made to feel really welcome. A great time! That first day, I asked John [Leonetti] if he needed another corpse, and he was instantly taken with the idea. Long story short (which sort of ties in with four hours for prep for one second of screen time!), I ended up as a corpse in the drugstore scene. I guess it’s about an hour into the film. Stanley Tucci had to step over me to get some drugs, and afterwards I asked him if he thought I had a future in Hollywood. He said, “You nailed it!” Don’t think I got a credit, though, Hmph.

MB: We won’t discuss the movie A Quiet Place, as everyone already knows your novel The Silence came out long before that movie was conceived (and entirely different), but are there any other senses you’d like to see adapted to the screen, or in books, or do you have any favorite books / movies that have something to do with senses?

TL: Even before I met Josh Malerman I was a huge fan of his novel, and I love the film of Bird Box too. Another highlight of going to LA was meeting up with Josh and Allison a couple of times, having a few drinks, and making some lifelong friends. So yeah, Bird Box was a favourite before, and even more so after meeting Malerman. I really like the movie Don’t Breathe, and Lights Out is great too (not so much a sense movie, but it sort of feels like one).

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MB: If you could pick one sense to live without for the rest of your life, which would that be, and could you do it? And likewise, any particular superpower wishes?

TL: Eek. These questions are always tough. I’m sure you probably mean either sight or sound, but my first reaction is to live without the sense of smell! But of the two main ones, I guess I’d rather live without sound than sight. Although music makes the world go around, so I dunno …

Superpower: being able to eat cake without putting on weight.

MB: You are first and foremost a writer. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a novelette co-written by you and Christopher Golden in the anthology The Library of the Dead, and later your story “Strings” in the anthology Adam’s Ladder, which I co-edited with Darren Speegle. Let’s just say that I love your writing, and I love collaborations in general, as they sometimes create a seemingly impossible third creator. How do you feel about collaborating with other creatives, and are there any other creatives you’d like to collaborate with on future projects?

TL: Thank you! I love collaborating, and Golden and I have been doing it for so long––we’re currently on novel #9––that I can’t imagine not working on something with him. We do go a few months at a time when we’re not actively working on a project or two, but usually we have something ticking over. Part of the appeal is as you mentioned, the third voice, and the fact that we write something that neither of us would have written on our own (or at least, not in the same way). And part of the appeal is suddenly having something ready for submission while we’re also working on our own projects! Chris is a great friend, and working with him means that writing is never a lonely business. We catch up pretty much every week anyway, but when we’re writing together on something it’s usually every couple of days.

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with lots of friends––Stephen Volk, Gavin Williams, Des Lewis, Brett Savory, Katherine Roberts, Michael Marshall Smith, Mark Morris … I’m sure there’ll be more in the future. I’m writing more screenplays now, and hopefully there’ll be a chance to collaborate on one or two soon.

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MB: What do you envision happening with books and film in the near future, let’s say over the next ten or so years?

TL: Print books will remain. Always have, always will. Movies and TV seem to be converging, but cinema will always persist. Stories are the most important part of our lives. They’ll always be there in some form.

MB: What advice would you like to offer all who are first entering the wonderful world of creativity, whether it be writing, film, art, or any other creative medium?

TL: There’s a fine balance between art and commerce, especially if you’re creating something for a living. But to whatever extent you have to worry about earning money, the heart of what you do should always be about what you love. I’ve written lots of tie-in projects, but storytelling is always at its core. Working on tie-in projects buys time for me to develop my own projects, too. So basically … write what you love. Write what you’d want to read. Follow your heart.

MB: Do you have any other items you’d like to toss in the bucket (list)?

TL: A TV series would be nice! Things are happening on that front, I should be able to announce something soon.

MB: Using a single word, what do you fear most?

TL: Loss.


Read more about Tim Lebbon on his website: timlebbon.net.

BEGINNING TO END

Not long ago, Crystal Lake Publishing printed a slightly older version of the following article / interview, “Ah-ha: Beginning to End” or “Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Bailey Discuss the Spark of Creativity” in It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life, a recent recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction.

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Chuck Palahaniuk is a novelist and freelance journalist whose work can only be described as transgressional fiction. He has written such novels as Fight Club, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Lullaby, and that’s all before 2002! He has written eighteen or so other books since then, such as his most recent novel Adjustment Day, a few coloring books, Bait and Legacy, and the graphic adaptations of Fight Club 2 (with Cameron Stewart) and Fight Club 3 (in the works). Adapted films of his work include Fight Club, Choke, Romance (based on his short story), and the forthcoming Lullaby and Rant.

With permission from both Chuck Palahniuk and Crystal Lake Publishing, “Beginning to End” is now free to share with the rest of the world, so enjoy!


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One lives in the Pacific Northwest and nearly lost his home in a wildfire the summer of 2017, while the other used to live in what is now a scorched part of Sonoma County from a wildfire the autumn of that same year. One’s surname is often mispronounced [ paula-nick, for those stumbling over it ], while the other’s surname is often mistaken as having Irish heritage [ Bailey, in this case, is English) ]. Both have been threatened by fire, both have problematic last names, and both have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award on various occasions, and in a mix of categories.

Whether or not one believes in coincidence, these two magicians of creativity have been brought together, one thing leading to another thing leading to another, to discuss the spark of creativity from beginning to end. Something short and sweet.

Imagine these two strange fellows sitting behind laptops or notepads, conversing from places not-so-far-apart—perhaps one sips coffee, while the other sips tea (or maybe water or nothing at all)—to reveal some of their dark magic:


Michael Bailey: The first volume of Where Nightmares Come From focused on the art of storytelling in the horror genre, while this latest edition explores how storytellers transform ideas into finished product. Most writer interviews start with the obvious question: “Where do you get your ideas?” But let’s not go there. Story origin has been done to death. Instead, how about: What’s the first thing you do after your mind sparks original concepts? In other words, what’s the very first thing you do after that original ah-ha! moment?

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Chuck Palahniuk: Once an idea occurs I repeat it to other people to see how readily they engage with it. And to see if they can offer examples of it from their own lives. And to test whether others have seen the idea depicted elsewhere in the popular culture. If they engage, if they expand upon the idea, and if they offer no recent examples of it in fiction or movies, then I proceed.

MB: What’s your first-draft poison: dictation, pen and paper, pounding tired keys on an old typewriter, fancy computer / laptop, tapping tablets, cocktail napkin notes, or a combination of sorts? How do you release your words? And once released, do they live primarily on virtual paper, physical paper, or both?

CP: I make all my notes on paper. Only after I’ve collected several pages of notes do I keyboard the notes into a word processing file and begin organizing them by cut and paste. The next step is to look for plot holes and create the bridging scenes or moments to resolve those.

MB: I used to have an uncontrollable need to transcribe the noise from my head directly onto the page. Early drafts were perfect, of course (in my undeveloped head), ready to sell without revision. I think most writers go through something similar at the beginning, before learning the stuff not to do. Early in my endeavors I met Thomas F. Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson, and they fortunately set me right. They explained that writing / storytelling is a disease (if one must do it) … and like all diseases, one can’t go untreated for long, lest they shrivel up and die. They took me under their wings and showed me the ropes, for many years. And they introduced me to Douglas E. Winter, who (also over the course of many years) taught me the art of self-editing (much more difficult than editing the work of others). He slashed and sliced that evil red pen of his until my manuscripts bled, severed them in half, typically. “Start here,” he’d say, “on page 13.” My writing has evolved, sure, and my writing has gotten slower because I can’t help but edit along the way. With all that pre-loading, I guess my next question is this: How ugly (or pretty) is a Palahniuk first-draft?

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CP: What you’d call my first draft is actually my third or fourth draft. In a story, each of the three or five acts gets its own draft, and each must work well before I tackle the climax of the story. That way my eventual finished first draft isn’t too shabby.

MB: And a follow-up: How has your first-draft evolved during your writing career? Do you binge and purge? Do you edit-on-the-go?

CP: My process has stayed essentially the same since 1992. I takes long-hand notes. Then, transcribe the notes into a computer file. Then, print the draft and carry it with me on paper so I can read and revise it anywhere in the world. Then use those edits to revise the computer file, print it and repeat the process.

MB: Some writers set daily or weekly goals, whether it’s word count or page count. Some try for 5,000 words a day, some 1,000. Some try for 5 pages a day, some 10. Some try to at least write something each day. And there are some oddballs, like me, who go for months without writing a single word, sometimes as long as a year (although I’m always doing something creative), when suddenly the mind takes a laxative and dumps out 10,000- to 30,000-word chunks. What are your writing goals and / or habits?

CP: As a physically active person I hate to sit and keyboard. Notebook in hand, I’ll go for weeks just jotting down details that might apply to a story. This used to be called “brain mapping” in the science of the 1990’s. It takes a stretch of rainy weather before I’ll settle down and begin to type. Often the typing takes place aboard an airplane or in a hotel room or some other stifling place where I have no other options. As for goals, each January 1st I decide what I will accomplish for the year.

MB: What’s the most you’ve ever written at one time (not necessarily in a single sitting, but what you’d consider all-at-once)? And how long have you gone without writing?

CP: My greatest single sitting output was the eleven-page story “Guts.” To be frank, that many keystrokes makes my elbows and wrists ache like you wouldn’t believe. Years at the Freightliner Truck Plant have left me with carpal tunnel syndrome, and any kind of marathon typing now requires a Vicodin. Blame it on the drugs, but that short story just poured out.

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[ read Chuck’s short story “Guts” in Haunted ]

MB: Writer’s block: real news or fake news?

CP: Writer’s block: Not my problem. As with any living thing, there are dormant and active phases. When I’m not actively writing I still watch and listen, always trying to identify new patterns and ideas.

MB: ‘Character’ is arguably the most important part of a story. Some say ‘plot’ or ‘conflict’ or ‘the message’ is most important, but they are wrong, no? Your fiction always breathes with the lives of diverse, colorful, incredibly memorable characters. Where do your characters come from? I realize that’s sort of like asking the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, but since ‘character’ plays such an important part of the story, it seems to be an important question.

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[ his most recent novel, Adjustment Day is now available ]

CP: My characters are always based on actual people. Their most memorable lines of dialog have already been said by real people. Even their dogs are real. Although I’m trained as a journalist I find that there’s more fun (and money) in passing off reality as fantasy.

MB: So you’ve spawned an idea, and created characters, and they converse through dialogue and navigate plots and traverse conflict, and the manuscript has maybe gone through a few drafts (or not) and all that other magic that happens during storytelling, and suddenly you find yourself with a completed manuscript—short story, novelette, novella, novel, comic / graphic adaptation … doesn’t matter. This interview started with an ah-ha! moment—the original spark of creativity—but there’s another ah-ha! moment to consider: the moment one realizes a story is complete. What next? Do you send it to beta-readers, let it marinate in a drawer somewhere, send it off to an editor?

CP: To date I’ve done my beta testing while I write. By testing each scene on my peers or fellow writers in a weekly group. This creates an informal collaboration and allows contributions from possibly hundreds of people. David Sedaris advised me to always test new material by reading it aloud on tours; that works well also. Nothing goes off to New York until it’s made people laugh or cringe everywhere else in the country—or the world.

MB: We recently discussed the fires in California and in the Pacific Northwest, as well as some of our losses and scares. I was lucky and for some reason already had my laptop in the car before fleeing from one of these fires (and I habitually upload files to off-site storage), but the threat of losing creativity begs the question: What if it all burned down? Where do you keep your creations, in case a fire someday threatens (or accomplishes) turning them to ash?

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CP: If you’re talking about past notes, drafts, books, I don’t keep them. I burn everything once the final book has been typeset [ something both writers now have in common after the fires ]. Regarding on-going work, I back-up to flash drives and keep them separate from each other—in my car, with friends—and I always have a printed hard copy of the work in progress.

MB: And since this interview / discussion is for It’s Alive [ a follow-up to Where Nightmares Come From ], what is your nightmare, the thing that scares you most?

CP: Plenty of things scare me. These include driving over extremely high bridges or being buried alive. But nothing scares me the most.

MB: Over the last few years I have collaborated with writers for fiction and have sought out collaborative works for anthologies I’ve edited. My next anthology is composed entirely of collaborations, even [ Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations ]. Collaborations are perhaps my new ah-ha! in this business, something of which I want to see more. I love the concept of multiple minds working together to create entirely new voices and visions. But I have yet to collaborate on 1) interview questions, and 2) with Chuck Palahniuk. So, how about we spin things around? My freelance work is roughly 33% writer, 33% editor, 33% book designer, and now 1% interviewer. What question, in the broad scope of ‘from concept to finished product,’ would you like me to answer?

CP: My question to you is: Do you think piracy has damaged the viability of writing professionally? And if so, how do you bring yourself back to the task despite that threat?

MB: There’s potential in book piracy eventually hurting the industry, but we’re not there, at least not yet [ maybe we are now, I don’t know ]; we may never get there. I would argue that eBooks, in terms of sales, have caught up to printed books, perhaps even surpassed sales in some cases, but I would also argue that most eBooks go unread. It’s easy to purchase digital books—a single-click sometimes. They are priced to move copies. It’s easy to fill virtual shelves with digital books because they are not really there and don’t take up physical space. They are simply strings of binary designed to mimic books, which is neat. But this also makes them easier to steal, sure, like music was easier to steal once it turned digital. How many digital books are read from start to finish? I’d guess 5-10%, if I’m being generous. A printed book, however, for now, is there, is something real, and harder not to read—if it’s pretty enough and smells like a book and you can hold it in your hands—and likewise harder to steal.

Here’s my confession, which might help explain what I’m trying to say. Before the fire (which took just about everything but our lives), I used to have a nice collection of Palahniuk on my shelves. I also used to have a Kindle with about a hundred titles, including your Kindle short story “Phoenix,” released in 2013, which I bought for $1.99 (a steal!). I have read every book of yours (that I used to own), from start to finish … except for one—the title of which I now find ironic because it’s the only book that still ‘exists’ somewhere in those 0’s and 1’s, and I could still read it on my laptop if I choose to. My physical books are gone, sure, but I’ll get new ones going forward, and I’ll probably read those before ever browsing my digital shelves.

My point: book piracy has potential to hurt the industry monetarily, sure (as piracy did the music industry at first), but we’ll always have books (like we’ll always have music). Piracy will never hurt the creative process. Books will survive as they always have. I would argue that those doing the stealing aren’t doing enough damage at this point, but someday (who knows?) they might, and the industry will adapt accordingly. Book pirates are most likely never going to read the books they steal, anyway, and neither are those taking them from wherever they take them, so who gives a shit? We’ll adapt. We’ll evolve. Musicians are still making music. Writers will continue to write, if they must, because writing’s a disease, right? All creators will continue to create as they always have.

No matter the threat, professional writers should continue to write professionally. Books will always have a place in our world, however they—and we—evolve. All we can do as writers is to keep writing. All we can do as editors is to keep editing. All we can do as book designers is to keep designing beautiful books. And readers: must keep reading (purchased books only, please). It doesn’t matter what tools we use to create, and it doesn’t matter what tools we use to immerse ourselves in those creations. We simply need to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing.


Imagine the coffee and tea cups empty, or perhaps untouched this entire time and now lukewarm and undrinkable. Perhaps Chuck leans back in his chair, and Michael does the same. One stretches, while the other cracks his knuckles and winces. One looks to the blank wall and sets up the next scene, while the other looks off into the distance and listens for the voices. Both move on to the next project, for there are always next projects. There are stories that need to be written. There are deadlines that need to be met. There are books of various kinds in development.

 

KING OF ILLUSTRATIONS

The latest Written Backwards interview is with Glenn Chadbourne, an artist from Maine. He is perhaps best known for his work in both the horror and fantasy genres, and his knack for artwork inspired by the works of Stephen King and other greats. He creates covers, illustrates books and stories for magazines, among other things.

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The interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

When someone sees a Glenn Chadbourne illustration, they are drawn to the fine lines, the incredible amount of captured detail, the depth, the light you create in the dark; they instantly know that what they are experiencing is a work by Glenn Chadbourne. You’ve made a name for yourself, and your work is highly recognizable. You have created seemingly countless illustrations, most inked in black-and-white, but others painted in full color, and for the likes of Stephen King, Rick Hautala, Joe Lansdale, Douglas Clegg, and many others. But you also create beautiful book covers, among other things.

I can’t remember how long ago I met you, but you were an artist Guest of Honor at an event, perhaps a World Horror Convention, and you had what seemed like a hundred pieces on display. Now, I’d met your work long before meeting the actual you (perhaps Cemetery Dance magazine a few decades prior), and I was drawn to your displayed art at that convention as easily as I was drawn to your illustrations I’d first admired so long ago. I bought a piece from you, a Stephen King thing with Pennywise and a couple dozen of his other minions, and shook your hand, said to myself, “Someday I’m going to work with that guy.”

Fast forward closer to the present, and I find myself commissioning your work for Chiral Mad 3 (45 illustrations total), and later working with you on the special edition of Josh Malerman’s Birdbox, and again with illustrations for my own Psychotropic Dragon (see first image above), and then yet again with Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations, in which you beautifully adapted Jack Ketchum’s story “Firedance” (26 pages). So, I guess you could say I was right all those years ago. I ended up worked with that guy (you), and hope to again sometime soon.

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Now that all the mushy stuff is out of the way, a few questions (some of which may lead to further mushy things):

Michael Bailey: How many illustrations have you created in your lifetime (rough estimate)? It must be an insane amount. And a follow-up: How often do you find yourself creating art, or how many hours in a day, on average, do you typically spend doing so?

Glenn Chadbourne: Good lordy, I wouldn’t / couldn’t begin to give a body count on how many illustrations I’ve spun up over the years … I’d have to stick with “countless” because I’ve had, and continue to have something on the drawing board daily. Multiply that over the course of thirty years and a good catch-all number might be a “shitload!”

MB: Do you have any favorite pieces (or projects) you’ve worked on?

GC: As for favorites, certainly the King projects, for the obvious reasons, but also, aside from his popularity, his work speaks to me on a personal level. He lives here in Maine and I live here in Maine, and there’s a familiar atmosphere of surroundings, of personalities in his characters that hits a local comfy zone. I know places and events he writes about firsthand, as opposed to someone’s story taking place in Transylvania. Of course, Steve has turned Maine into the Transylvania of America! And, of course, being lucky enough to have illustrated some of his work has helped showcase my work to a wide audience. Also, his work has a visual texture that screams DRAW ME.

MB: Your adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s “Firedance” was your first time working on something of his. What was it like working on that project after knowing him for so many years? I had originally hoped for ten pages for Chiral Mad 4, but you must have had fun, since you eventually turned in twenty-six …

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GC: I thought the absolute world of Dallas Mayr (Jack). I met him at a yearly convention I go to in Rhode Island (NECON) long before I made my bones in this racket, and he was so gracious and kind, offering advice, and just being an all-around sweet soul and buckets of fun to hang out with. I had been reading his stuff for years, so when the chance came to illustrate “Firedance,” I was thrilled. It’s a very different kind of Ketchum story; so fun and whimsical and, of course, it too takes place in Maine. He loved what I did with it art-wise, and I felt so happy he got to enjoy the final product before his death. I miss Dallas, and I raise a glass in memory while writing this. He was truly one of the good guys.

MB: With your artwork for King’s “The Last Rung on the Ladder” in Chiral Mad 3, you created more than one illustration (five, in fact). What’s your draw to King’s fiction? And a follow-up: Out of the estimated total illustrations you think you’ve created in your lifetime (from the first question), what percentage of those are King-related?

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GC: “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is such a cool nostalgic story, and once again so visual. You can smell the hay in the barn and see the afternoon dust motes fluttering between rays of sun through the cracks in the siding—and you can feel the tension like a coiled spring ready to snap. When rereading it (I’d read the story countless times over the years), I just saw so many things to draw fly through my head that I put them down on paper. As for how many King related drawings I’ve done … I have to figure in both volumes of the Secretary of Dreams, The Dark Man (90 odd pages for that) and numerous individual gigs, chiefly for Cemetery Dance special editions Full Dark No Stars, and the bells and whistles volumes of the Doubleday years books, where I did frontis art and separate portfolio paintings. All that would carry a page count in the hundreds. Also, I did the art for the beautiful Carrie limited edition for PS Publishing, and their edition of The Colorado Kid. So again, all told: works leaning well into the hundreds. I feel like the luckiest fatboy on the planet to have been given the chance to fly with it all.

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MB: Who have you always wanted to adapt, and are there any emerging writers on your radar?

GC: I’ve always wanted to do a sprawling series of Lovecraft paintings, and I may do that on my own time and dime at some point. As for newbie writers … There are so many talented writers out there with strong scary voices that deserve a platform. I’d be up for illustrating whatever might be asked of me.

MB: Besides paintings and illustrations, do you dip into any other mediums?

GC: Every so often a short story idea of my own knocks me in the noggin, so from time to time I write a little fiction. The ideas just roll through my thoughts and I stop whatever I’m doing and roll with it. I’m not about to quit my day job, but I enjoy writing.

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MB: Did you always know you were gifted as an artist? Did you one day discover or unlock that talent? And a follow-up: When did you first start dabbling?

GC: I was an only-child with no other nearby kids to play with, and so from a very young age I began to draw. Forrest Gump ran, I drew. It came naturally and evolved over time. At first, I drew little boy stuff, G.I. Joe scenes, the usual. Then around nine or ten there was a mom and pop store that sold comics and the Warren magazines of the day, and after a steady diet of that stuff, I was hooked on the spooky. This was also near the tail end of the 60s and I got hold of all the great old underground comics of the day. That’s where I first ran into R Crumb comics, and he was a god to me. He’s where my love of uber detail came from. Long story short though, I’ve just always done what I do. I have no choice; it’s simply in me.

MB: Is there any advice you would like to share with those exploring creative outlets?

GC: My advice would be simple: follow your dreams. If it’s to be “your thing,” your voice, listen to it. It will yell and there’ll be no choice. And remember to enjoy it along the way. There may be rejection slips that mound to the ceiling. Fuck ’em. The greatest creative minds in history could paper their walls with them. Keep at it, never relent, and follow your dreams.

Peace ’n love,

Glenn Chadbourne.

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