Moving to southern Texas has been an eye opening experience in many ways. Not the least of which is, here it is nearing the end of October, and I'm still wearing shorts. On the horror reading/watching side of the equation, I need not fear basements (there are none, the ground here is limestone, making basement construction a bad idea). Of course, it has its share of problems.
The Texas School Board enjoys pissing me off (if they didn't, then why would they irk me so regularly?). As well, when there are no snowstorms or ice storms (winters are rain and 40 degrees), there are no natural bug controls. Vermin abound, if a body lets them. We have a regular exterminator who sprays around the exterior of our house every two months (and the interior every four, though they will come out if we need it more). Cockroaches, wasps, fire ants, carpenter ants, snakes and lizards oh my! (though Fred Gecko, the second story lizard who somehow continues to find entry is so cool, he is allowed to remain)
I thought I had a pretty decent grasp on my loathing of vermin, while living in Michigan and New England. Now, I have an elbows deep hatred for the things, which is why I try to keep on top of them. But they never go away, and it seems that nowhere (but the Arctic and Antarctic circles) is safe from them . . .
Bringing me to the Vermin anthology of horror fiction.
Some years ago, Carnifex Press published quite a few anthologies, including Florida Horror (dedicated to tales of horror set in, naturally, Florida) and the Clash of Steel line of sword and sorcery, heroic fantasy tales, including Clash of Steel: Demons (recently reprinted by Rogue Blades Entertainment as Demons: A Clash of Steel anthology, highly recommended because it includes stories by such writers as Steven Shrewsbury and Trista Robichaud). Well, for several reasons, Carnifex Press went the way of publishing dodo. But not before they announced several new anthologies and even accepted stories for them (but never actually printed the damned things). A bummer, since they had finally shot up to paying pro-rates.
One of the never-published anthologies was called Vermin. Horror stories about, you guessed it: vermin. At the time, I was trying to submit a story to every one of Carnifex's anthologies (and actually getting quite a few acceptances. I wrote a story called "Gimmie Shelter" for Vermin, and it made the proposed table of contents (one of my first professional pay acceptances--five whole cents a word, baby! Payable upon publication), and then the project got canned before it could see daylight (cuss it). I subsequently submitted that story to other markets, but it found no homes.
Years later, an interesting thing happened. The defunct Carnifex Press sold its brands (for lack of a better term) to other companies. Rogue Blades acquired the fantasy material (and they put out some lovely books, let me tell you!). An e-book publisher called Rymfire got the horror and heavy metal titles.
Vermin was once more announced for publication, this time as an e-book. They hoped to get the old table of contents back, again (I didn't see this happening, since they were not offering pro-rates for the stories anymore), but "Gimmie Shelter" had been gathering dust (after a slew of rejections), so I figured--why not give it a home? I'm a supporter of the small press,and they were not asking me to give my story away for free (something I won't ever do again), they were paying and though it was a bizarre business model, I decided to dabble, since the story was all done and just sitting around. Hell, the new editor might not want it anymore (maybe everyone perceived obvious flaws I remained ignorant of; authors have some terribly low self esteem). So, I glanced through the story again, fixed a few errors (I am an inveterate tweaker, alas), and sent it off. The editor wanted it, the Vermin ebook came out (also available at amazon), and . . . well, very little came of it. I got my first paycheck (a real "how do ya want it, heads or tails?" sum), and while their business model offers more money after a certain number of units sold, that number hasn't been realized. A couple of other anthologies have come along, as well (including Heavy Metal Horror, which I also appear in, with a tale called "Too! Much! Metal!").
Now, ever in search of those important revenue streams, Rymfire is pursuing print publication (via the Print-On-Demand folks at Lulu.com). Their first release is the Vermin anthology. So, let's see if "Gimmie Shelter" and the book gets a new lease on life!
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
My story in Vermin is more than just a catalog of horrifying ways to die via bug bites or what have you. When I originally encountered the anthology's theme, my immediate thoughts centered on murderous rodents, murderous bugs, murderous etcetera. And I got bored fast. That's always my first step, a necessary one. What follows is: "I have no ideas! I've lost my creativity!" And after that is where the real ideas come into play. For "Gimmie Shelter," I have a crystal clear perfect memory of the influences that tugged at me during the creation of the story. Stephen King, Larry Hama/Doug Murray/Michael Golden, Evolutionary Theory, and the Rolling Stones.
I am a long time fan of Twilight Zone magazine. I lucked into a sizeable run of back issues at one of my old, favorite used book stores about fifteen years ago (Ah, Avalon Books, how I miss you!), and have some wonderful issues... In one of these (a Stephen King special, I believe), a small blurb talked about King's long lost intentions to write a sequel to Salem's Lot. It would start, he ruminated, with Father Callahan working in a Detroit soup kitchen, and then have him tugged back into supernatural nastiness (Much later, this material would end up in one of the final books of The Dark Tower cycle.) However, I was captivated, not be the notion of a sequel novel but by the opening setting. Detroit? I was born in southeastern Michigan, grew up there, and though I left it in 2001, Detroit and its suburbs are a permanent fixture in my brain. I have a special love for works that take place there (Elmore Leonard, Thomas Ligotti, and Laura Bickle all have some fine tales that really evoke SEMI for me), I write about it (go figure), and I found myself wondering what sorts of folks might populate King's tale . . . Then I wondered what sort of folks I might put there.
Larry Hama wrote the G.I. Joe comics for Marvel, but even more importantly, he performed editorial duties for The Nam series of war comics. The 1980s was a boom time for Vietnam material, and I ate it up--though I was only ten or eleven, my folks took me to see Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Aliens, Predator (these last two were sci-fi attempts to deal with Vietnam; don't take my word for it, check out Ellen Draper's article "Finding a Language for Vietnam in the Action-Adventure Genre" in the film criticism book Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television, edited by Michael Anderegg). The Nam's first twelve issues are forever imprinted on my mind, and one of them (1987's Issue 8, written by Doug Murray and penciled by Michael Golden) featured that special breed of lunatic, the tunnel rat--runty/wiry soldiers who would knowingly enter the Viet Cong's hidden tunnel systems with a flashlight, a knife, and a pistol and crawl through the booby trapped, lightless passages in search of useful intelligence . . . The issue moved me, particularly since it featured an amazingly effective second story--a total psychological horror piece wherein a tunnel rat cracks when beset by a nightmarish rat swarm.
These two distinct sources provided potential backdrop and characters, and from there the story began to mutate. To evolve. Somehow, I got to seeing the Big Reveal that occurs relatively early in the story itself (no spoilers, no worries), and that turned my noodle onto the other elements that shaped the piece--evolution and faith and friendship and the ugly thoughts that follows leaving someone in the worst imaginable place. In the end, the Rolling Stones almost felt like an afterthought, because I had been pondering using the title "Gimmie Shelter" (from the wonderful Let it Bleed album), and in the end I did because I had nothing better. During the editing, I realized the song spoke to the themes in the story, had helped shape the writing and the final product. Yes, Anastasia, writers think about these things from time to time. Readers need not worry themselves terribly much about themes and motifs and such. First and foremost, "Gimmie Shelter" is intended to be an entertaining terror tale . . . But I have degrees in English Lit, after all (as well as Physics), so I often cannot help but ponder subtextal workings. Should such things as theme get too noticeable, however, it's not a good thing--hell, it's one step removed from propaganda (and a baby step at that), and I am not a very good propagandist.
And that's where this story came from. I wrote the first draft longhand in 2005. The second draft came about during my transcribing story into Word for Windows. Subsequent drafts came about while tweaking the document.
Vermin. They are everywhere--San Antonio, Detroit, Worcester, Boston, San Paolo, Madrid, Moscow, Okinawa . . . Are they a good topic for horror story? Sure! For 15 such tales? Why not? If you come across a copy of Vermin (or just want to jaw), feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts...