Scare The Dickens Out of Us, 2011

“Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”

The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow of his bones.”

A Christmas Carol, Stave I, “Marley’s Ghost”

A little over a year ago, I had an idea for a ghost story.  This was around Halloween, several weeks after the birth of my daughter, Everly, in September, 2010.  After driving Jack down to the bus stop one overcast, October morning, I had in mind a vivid scenario:  Autumn.  Night.  Clouds, like shreds of moth-eaten cloth, overlapping a fingernail moon.  A boy (I didn’t really know what age, I saw him as being seven, maybe eight years old) standing next to his father (or stepdad) in a weed-spiked yard near a black and abandoned farmhouse.  Without warning—and to the father’s slow-reacting horror—the boy bolts forward, running across the overgrown lot, rushing headlong toward the looming, decaying structure.

That was it, really.  The germ of an idea—“the fragments of reality,” Dickens wrote of his dreams, “I…collect which helped to make it up.”  I had a narrative notion about where the tale would begin, but I really didn’t know how it would end.  And although I scribbled a satisfying conclusion later that winter, I had no idea about what to do with the story.  It seemed too understated and “serious” to pursue hardcore horror markets, and too darkly fantastic for the scrupulous eyes of literary publications.  I was lost and a little uneasy about how the story’s story would end.

Until yesterday.

I’m happy to announce that my short story, “Dirt on Vicky,” is the first-place winner of the 2011 “Scare The Dickens Out of Us” ghost story competition.  An official announcement will be made by contest coordinators, Gretchen Rix and Roxanne Rix, next weekend at “A Dickens Christmas in Lockhart” festival.  The story will then be read at a public party at the Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas, on January 21, 2012.

In addition to a monetary prize, I’ll also receive a trophy.  Not too shabby.

I’ll have more news about what’s next for this story.  In the meantime, I’d like to recommend some of my all-time favorite horror stories—some horror, some ghost yarns, a few quiet classics.  But all guaranteed to be bone-chilling reading for a spooky winter’s evening.

  • “The River Styx Runs Upstream”; “Iverson’s Pits”; Summer of Night; A Winter Haunting; and Drood by Dan Simmons
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • “The Ghostly Rental”; “The Jolly Corner”; and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “Best New Horror”; “The Black Telephone”; “20th Century Ghost”; and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • “The Bees” by Dan Chaon
  • “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen
  • They Thirst by Robert McCammon
  • “N.” by Stephen King
  • “The Whisperer in the Darkness” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by HP Lovecraft
  • “Canavan’s Back Yard” by Joseph Payne Brennan

As always, dear reader, thank you for your camaraderie and support.

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Paper Nautilus

When time allows, drop by the Paper Nautilus website, or check out their Facebook page.  It looks like you can pick up the inaugural hardcopy issue for $8 (or 2 for $15).  My short story “Mistletoe” (a 2009 AWP selection) is included in this 2011 installment.  Here’s an excerpt from editor Lisa Magini:

“Paper Nautilus was born out of a desire to support other writers.  This might just be me, but I feel like writers often get mixed messages:  eReading devices are marketed as the perfect gift, when the arts—literature included—are often hit the hardest by school budget cuts; there’s this pervasive echo that seems to insist that ‘nobody reads anymore’ or ‘literature doesn’t matter,’ and it’s still exceedingly difficult for many writers to place their work.  While Paper Nautilus is competitive—we received nearly 400 submissions in six months—we’re proud to showcase a wide variety of contributors, ranging from those published in The New Yorker to those whose very first publications are featured on the pages that follow.”