An exciting publishing update as we cross the threshold into 2023: writer and editor Rebecca Rowland recently announced that the dust-jacketed hardcover and eBook preorders for American Cannibal (Maenad Press) are now available. I’m proud to not only be included on a roster of such talented writers, but to have contributed the story, “Mastication Station.”
As previously mentioned, the American Cannibal project set forth the challenge of assembling twenty original stories that “reinvent” historical figures, eras, and events. “The more unexpected the storyline,” went Rowland’s initial encouragement, “the better.”
My story, “Mastication Station,” is set in 1889, during the horrific disaster of the Johnstown Flood. When the opportunity to devise a story solely dedicated to creatively contorting a true event, I immediately spilled what I knew about Johnstown onto my mental workbench. In varying forms, I’ve written previously about the Flood — some messy attempts at both short stories as well as longer drafts reflecting the ambitions of a possible novel set in Johnstown; but, like many endeavors, those exercises essentially functioned as a form (like all writing) of private practice.
Yet, of those failed drafts and faded plots (some of them, I’d discovered in my personal notes, dating back to the winter of 2002), one of the side effects was immersive “dives” into historic fact: in other words, I’d learned a lot about the events surrounding the Johnstown Flood over the years and was just waiting for the proper platform to project some of these themes and images.
Though the circumstantial scenarios are somewhat complicated, it would be reductive to simply say that the Johnstown Flood was a manifestation in the dichotomy between the working class and the wealthy, but I don’t know another way to factually frame it. At its historic core, the horrific events of the Flood are tightly braided to negligence and monied excess.
Following days of incessant rain, the flood itself was the result of a man-made hill-top, recreational lake (on Friday May 31, 1889, the lake was rising at one foot per hour), its earthen dam rupturing at 3:10 p.m., spilling its 20-million-ton contents into the valley below.
Where I part ways with history is at the crossroads of a real-life anecdote concerning a man named Leroy Temple. In the summer of 1900, eleven years after the Flood, Temple arrived in Johnstown with the confession that he had not died in the tragedy — rather, he’d been living contentedly in Beverly, Massachusetts. Temple said that, on the morning of June 1, 1889, he’d clawed his way out of the wreckage at the railroad’s stone bridge, appraised what was left of Johnstown, then simply turned his back on the grisly vista and walked out of the valley. Employing many creative liberties, Leroy Temple is my protagonist in “Mastication Station.” Despite the sobering, historic substance, the story was a hell of a lot of fun to write, and I hope audience members find it just as fun to read.
Available March 7, 2023, and with a foreword by Wrath James Wright, here’s the line-up for American Cannibal:
“The Lost Diary” Candace Nola
“Carnivore” Jeremy Megargee
“Gold Rush” V. Castro
“Ozark Devil Cult Blues” Jon Steffens
“Wendigo Dreams” Owl Goingback
“Mastication Station” Clint Smith
“And the Window Was Boarded Shut” Elizabeth Massie
“The Flannigan Cure” EV Knight
“Papa’s Night (or The Short, Happy Life of Elena de Hoyos)” Douglas Ford
“The Hungry Wives of Bleak Street” Gwendolyn Kiste
“Texas is the Reason” Brian Asman
“Tender Farm” C.V. Hunt
“When a Stranger Bites” L. Stephenson
“All Ears” Clay McLeod Chapman
“Seasons Out of Time” Jeffrey Ford
“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” Bridgett Nelson
“Go at Throttle Up” Ronald Malfi
“Tiki Bar at the Edge of Forever” Daniel Braum
“Flesh Communion” Holly Rae Garcia
“Y2K Feast” Jeff Strand