Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Story Sheets: "Black Dog Bend"

I said I'd be back and here I am. It is time for more Story Sheets! I'm planning on making a few more of these into March, up to Lent, so be sure to keep a look out.

These entries are going to be a bit shorter since these stories didn't take as much time for me to figure out or plan as the ones in Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures did. These ones came during lightning strikes of inspiration.

Part of being a writer is getting ideas for stories while you're already writing other stories. This is what makes a writer's block so uncommon. Usually between drafts or bigger projects I'll take a break and write a short to clear my head. It is a good way to keep yourself inspired. You need to remind yourself that there are other stories to tell outside the current one you are sweating over. Writing is just as much about creativity as it is work. Most every job is on some level.

Today I'm going to talk about a story I wrote for the most recent issue of StoryHack Magazine. That's right, it's still warm. This is the piece known as Black Dog Bend.

Find it Here!

Before you ask: no, it's not related to Grey Cat Blues despite a similar naming structure. That was a Rock n Roll adventure on a distant planet with a healthy dose of action. Black Dog Bend is a weird horror story in a more straightforward setting, with a lot of death. There is actually a small relation that is similar back to Grey Cat Blues, but I will talk about that later.

There is something to be said about video games as story inspiration. I've heard certain writers say they should be discarded and forgotten as they do little except cause writers to lose focus and waste time. But that simply isn't true for most of us. As a storyteller you can, and should, get inspiration from anything that strikes your fancy and gives you an idea or two. You live in a big, bright world with a lot going on. You can find inspiration anywhere you look. And that's what happened here. I've gotten more than a few ideas from video games over the years.

There was a hotel scene in a game where if the player failed he would have to redo certain parts in a certain particular order. It was as if he was stuck in a time loop. As I pondered on that I thought what a weird situation that would be in real life, and wondered how that could occur without anyone noticing this strange thing happening again and again. That is how the setting and general idea for this story came to be. I just wanted to know.

I needed a protagonist that had a reason to be out in the middle of nowhere to find such a place and had a reason to need to go back where he came from in an urgent manner. That takes a very particular type of person. A musician was the best choice for that, and I chose the one no one thinks much about: the bassist. They are frequently overlooked despite being a subtle, yet important part of a band's sound. That's where the main character, Jordan, came from. He's the most levelheaded member of the band who is the one that volunteers to go out to help his band mates when they're left in the lurch after a bad situation. He regrets his decision rather fast, as I'm sure we all would.

In case you didn't notice, the music was the one part that tied into Grey Cat Blues. There is a sort of romanticism embedded into Rock n Roll that can't be scrubbed away no matter how self-serious or pretentious it gets. Might it have something to do with originating in teenage love ballads and serenades? Possibly. From the energetic opening to Streets of Fire to the success of music videos in the 1980s there has always been something inherently large in the genre of music that oozes charm. It's something that keeps me coming back, even now as a writer.

The music can help with the creative process. It certainly did here.

I get pictures in my mind of far off places that don't actually exist. In this story, a bass player running dry on inspiration finds himself alone in the dark and up against things that shouldn't exist. What aides him? A little supernatural force of his own. But I don't want to get into spoilers.

As for what style of music he plays? I mention it in the story, but not everyone might know what it actually sounds like. It's not easy for print to get that across. A good hint to his band's music is right below this paragraph. This also clues into the style of story this actually is.

The lo-fi sound adds to the underground feel

So what was the inspiration beyond that? Well, it was old pulp stories. That's the majority of my literary inspiration these days.

I was reading some of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories at the time. For those that don't know, they are about a wanderer in the American Appalachians where he continually comes across supernatural weirdness. He fights it off with his wits and, sometimes, his guitar. Those were a rather large inspiration on this one.

Also, I wrapped that influence into some C.L. Moore. Her Northwest Smith and Jirel stories where the Gothic can crush in on even the most stoic of figures is untouchable. She still possibly remains the most influential pulp era writer on my own writing.

But the biggest inspiration was the eerie tone of A. Merritt's Burn, Witch, Burn! which is of a unique tone that is one that leaves an impression on everything I do. This is one about evil dolls that come to life, but the weirdness around it manages to retain an intensity in such a brief length that few writers can do today. It's hard to get more odd than an A. Merritt story.

Up to this point most of my stories were action pieces, but this one is not so much. This is more about the weird and how it breaks in on normality. Of course there is action, but it's certainly not as involved as something like Someone is Aiming for You or Under Suspicion in Summerside. I write action adventures stories, so action is inescapable. It's just what I do. But in this case I wanted a piece more focused on the weird than the action, and that's what this is. It just happens to be really bizarre.

Here is the official description from StoryHack itself:

A musician stumbles into a time warp and finds himself part of a revenge plot. Now he must battle a killer dog, hired hitman, and a witch to escape.

It didn't sound half that odd when I wrote it, but it certainly is that strange. How is our intrepid bass player going to escape from his peril? Read the new StoryHack to find out! With all those other great writers inside I can't imagine passing it up. There's a ton of bang for your buck here, and I'm not just talking about my story. This is the new age of pulp, after all.

Before I go I want to leave you with a bit of a tidbit. This is mainly for those who have already read the story, but its not much of a spoiler for those who haven't.

Do you want to hear the song Jordan came up with? There is a song that was in my brain when writing this story. It doesn't sound too far away from what I had in mind for what he started scribbling down in the story. 

Sonically, I believe he wrote a piece similar to this one:

I swear the album title and the protagonist's situation are just coincidental! It just just ended up being that way in the end. I don't think the lyrics would quite match entirely what Jordan was going through, but you get the idea of the sound. He is still in a Rock n Roll band, after all. (RIP Roy Loney) 

But at the end of the day it was a fun story to write. It was also enjoyable to cover a small band on tour as they get into strange mishaps. Perhaps you'll see more of these guys in this scrappy underground band in the future. Maybe. We'll see.

For now I will leave you be until the next time. The sun is getting low. Stay safe and don't go out after dark. 

That's when they get you!

You can find the issue of StoryHack with Black Dog Bend here.

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