With my own faulty memory, I find I jumped ahead in the order of my short story struggles, with there being three before the one I just outlined in this journal, "Assault at Innsmouth." The first of these was a little ditty by the name of "Feast of the Vandals," evolved now to "Night of the Vandals." I worked hard on this sucker that has had a cool history all its own, with the exception its still being rejected for publication.
Back in my heyday, (or am I now in my heyday?) when I worked in the theater in Downtown Providence and lived with my alluring young wife in one of the old Italian neighborhoods, there was a newspaper and TV story that caught my eye because it was nearby. A group of teens had invaded the city's large North Burial Ground and done a ridiculous amount of damage; like way beyond the ordinary. It was a long play-by-play article, telling how the youth suspected of being the ringleader had gotten hold of a baby's corpse in one of the mausoleums, and, unthinkably, began waltzing around with it to amuse his friends.
The person committing this atrocity was pointed out to me, as our back porches abutted a fence in the middle. I saw him through the window one day and his visage haunted me thereafter. The fact that these were all Latino kids did not phase or concern me to any degree, but just that this guy, with his long stringy hair, intense eyes and nearly skeletal face, did give a first impression of a Manson in the making.
It was over ten years later I would write the story, creating a counter character known as the Caretaker. Caretaker is a self-educated history buff who considers the element that destroyed his stewardship no better than the heathen tribes of pre-Roman days. In my tale, they also kill Caretaker's guard dog, forcing the neo-barbaric Caretaker to exact revenge. The story has a lot going, including the little used element of exploding casket syndrome, and a heroin who is the ringleader's girlfriend, but with a conscience.
The story begins with an almost documentary feel to the writing and acquiesces into regular narrative as we catch up with the present time in the tale. Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone, the editors of the famous Borderlands anthologies, passed on it with the encouraging note that they found it "well-written."
That can make a guy's day but of course the end goal here is to get it out there. It came exceedingly close yet again with Crystal Lake Publishing for a Tales from the Lake, but the real nail- biter was when I entered it as a Hollywood pitch to be made into a film.
It was proclaimed throughout the land that the local boy turned Hollywood Director; Michael Corrente (Federal Hill, A Shot at Glory, Outside Providence) was running a competition, American Idol-style, entitled Scare Rhode Island. Writers, and regular folk with a dream, would have a few minutes before a panel of big-name judges to pitch an idea for their Horror movie to be given the big screen go ahead with each having a budget of a million dollars. Now we know that doesn't go far in Hollywood, so some easy peasy locations and unknown stars would probably be in order. I got into the line of hundreds on a sunny Sunday morning and toughed it out (five hours in line). I know, unnerving, right, considering that when you got there, you would instantly be "on." One was led into a fancy suite of offices eventually and was within grasp, finally entering the spot-lit room with a half dozen bigwigs sitting, anonymously and silently before you. I was prepared and had memorized and timed my pitch (old theater auditioner from way back) so I valiantly tried to hide the nerves and got through it quick.
"Thank you, we'll be in touch," and you were ushered away swiftly, but....not before I heard one of the cognoscenti proclaim aloud, "That was a good one."
I did indeed get an email that I was in the semi-finals. I got a longer meeting with Michael and a few others where I had to bring a full-blown treatment, then I finally heard, way much later than was rational, only through a newspaper article (this contest was written about extensively, as you can imagine, in our little state. It was tantamount to America's Got Talent). So there were those hopes dashed and I went on to subbing the story while writing my own clumsy screenplay, just in case.
Note: a long article in our Providence Journal years later explained thoroughly why, and still to my knowledge, none of the Scare Rhode Island's eight winners' films have been made. So I'm still ahead of the game.
Below: My love of graves with local lore. This, Rhode Island's vampire legend Mercy Brown.
The fourth story I wrote in my adult-serious-writer-persona was a deep dive into the man that put Horror on the map in the state I've lived my whole life: the honorable Howard Philips Lovecraft. I knew more than a smidge about the loco boy made good but not really a lot. I figured it was about time to find out what's a Cthulhu, where's Arkham and who is Herbert West?
Although researching a short story, I didn't want to be the guy who lives in a state and doesn't know eldritch squat about its most famous inhabitant. Particularly since I was working in a bookstore in Lovecraft central, literally across the street from where he grew up. I took the History society's famous tour, saw Howie's haunts, read a whole bunch including his works, and even went to a library at Brown University where his archives are kept.
I had decided that my favorite of his tales was "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." I've never been an ocean guy though I live in the Ocean State, Rhode Island. It's not just because, as Woody Allen wrote, "There are spiders at the beach."
It's because I hate getting up at the ass-crack of dawn, loading a car to capacity, putting tepid cold-cut sandwiches on top of a cooler with ice, taking a blanket out of the cellar that has more mold than Bela Lugosi's cedar wardrobe, getting in a four hour traffic jam in 104 degrees, paying a nice dinner's price for parking, walking to a "good spot" in the crowd about three feet away from an obese fifty year old Italian woman's crotch as she yells at three weeble kids to "wait a half hour," lying down on said blanket to begin baking in a sticky coconut smelling haze while hearing "Alone Again, Naturally" from the radio blaring two feet on the other side of you, taking a quick dip in water the temperature of an Arctic glacier, getting thrown hither and yon by an undertow with the strength of Arnold in his early years, fighting algae and poisonous jellyfish, having your warm cold-cuts dive-bombed by a cacophonous group of sea buzzards, only to be killing time for an eternity until you are allowed to go home with salt and sand in every piece of clothing and orifice on your body, until you can finally take a cleansing and sanity-restoring shower and get into your nephew's bed which has more sand than the aforementioned beach at the foot in the sheets, only to feel the waves still tossing your body into the undercurrent and back again to shore.
That may tell you that the beach is not for me. That's why I am so scared and grossed out by "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and why I decided to just go whole-hog into a tale of a golden young couple's car breaking down in Lovecraft's seaside wreck of a town and there being little hope of their remaining unscathed. It may be one of my most brutal.
"Assault at Innsmouth" was a piece that not only got picked up right away, but is actually about to go into its second printing. Tim Deal at Shroud Magazine, then a viable market as "A Journal of Dark fiction and Art" wrote me "I love it" and I got to share the pages with the likes of Ben Eads, Michael Knost, John Shirley, Brian Keene, Kevin Lucia, Willie Meikle and Maurice Broaddus.
Oddly, and very unprofessionally, a man whose last name is Shanker, (like what you get on your genitals when you have syphilis), reviewed the magazine, one in which HE HIMSELF HAD A STORY. There's a sort of pride in me that, after he heaped praise on all involved, he chose, (guess who, yes, me), to throw under the bus with the only negative review of the issue. Everyone in the industry I've ever met since all agree that it was a dick move.
The great thing was that he provided me with a quote I've since used to promote the extreme tale, essentially saying 'I'm never one to knock the value of shock...but (Scott's work) crossed the line...' Thank you, sore-on-balls (Sauron balls?), for bringing many hardcore horror readers to me. Next time: white gloves in a shanty town and listening to Lovecraft.
BELOW: The Fleur-De Lis building in Providence, RI, mentioned in HPL's "Call of Cthulhu."
Scattered over the land are the preserved ruins of the past, a history of a valiant people being overtaken by brutal forces time and time again, only to persevere and retain their cultural and ancestral identity. These ruins are viewed in awe and silence, a reminder that we have been who we are for a very long time on this planet, that we don't suffer fools gladly and yet we embrace anyone willing to be a friend and ally. We find them in the peat fields or on the next pub stool, but we cut through the distance and realize that yes, we know them, they are our family.
I wax poetic because the land and its people demand it. There is no other way to approach it. It exists, like an adult playground of sentiment, family and spirit.
When I say spirit, I speak of the human will, our ability to get through the difficult times, to maintain our balance in routine times, and to recognize the sublime when we encounter it in this brief life. I do not believe in the religious definition of a soul, the soul to me is our brain and our genes working overtime to find meaning in our journey upon this spinning globe. I believe we are really the embodiment of our ancestors, moving forward to deal with the era assigned to our care. That is the afterlife; that we venture forth, continuing on in the form of our descendants, and through them we are still of the world.
I have no doubt that in the future we will find more and more about the memory that is stored, culturally and with regard to location, our roots and home, in our genetic DNA. I have felt it, we all have. That knowledge you've been somewhere before, that you know another individual well though just having met, that things are happening the way you wanted them to happen, rarely.
In Carraroe near Sligo in the west of Ireland, deep in the wood, there is a holy site known as Tobernalt Well. It is an ancient place for reflection and healing, older itself than the Celts and dating to the Fifth Century, the four hundreds. Imagine what it has seen and suffered. Tobernalt means well on the cliff, and is an Anglicized name from the old Irish language. Nalt can be a joint or body part, and indeed the waters there are for the pain that life puts the body through. In the Eighteenth Century, when Catholics were persecuted and priests were hunted as blasphemers, the site grew into a shrine to which people would travel from all over Ireland to attend secret masses. Yes, they were the ones performing clandestine rituals in the forest, close to the land. They feared for their life yet they gathered to share in their beliefs. Again, the human spirit persevering in spite of all odds against it.
We are close to persevering through a time of isolation that has tested all of us. We look to whatever we think of as our spirit to be certain that we endure. Knowing Ireland has helped me to navigate my life with more reverence.