Welcome to the blog for A Consternation of Monsters. This will be a good place to find information about my short story collection of that title, as well as tidbits about the stories within it. I thought, however, I’d start off by talking about the cover for that collection, since it’s what most people will see on first glance.
The cover I created for A Consternation of Monsters has a bit of history to it, as do many of the stories within it.
The imagery used comes from photographs I took of two locations which are a great distance apart from one another.
The top image was taken of a forest in Alaska, photographed somewhere along Highway 2, back in 2007. (I know, that really narrows it down, cause Highway 2 only covers hundreds and hundreds of miles.) The trees within it I believe are birch trees, of a variety not found in Mississippi or West Virginia. However, because one of my stories is set in Alaska, I didn’t feel too bad about it.
The forest in question was remote from civilization and had kind of a Tales from the Darkside feel to it that suggested things might lurk within it beyond the usual populace of bears and moose.
I did some filtering effects, as well as the insertion of eyes and dark shapes to imply the presence of monsters. The largest of these, the red glowing-eyed thing on the left of the top image (and again on the back cover) is meant to be either the Mothman of West Virginia legend, or the Hocco of the opening story. But it could just as easily be a monster of the reader’s imagination. Originally, I was going to call the collection Ten Monsters Walking, so I included ten sets of eyes, though some are harder to find than others. The title changed happened later and it was fortunate because some of the eyes are cropped out by the printing process anyway, so my ten monsters would have been confusing and difficult to find.
Photo courtesy Alison Fritzius
The bottom image was taken at my papaw’s farm, in Wayne County, Mississippi. This very setting is used twice in the course of the book–in “The Hocco Makes the Echo” and in “Puppet Legacy”–but it appears more often in the course of a series of stories I’ve been writing called the Southern Parallels. These feature my literary alter ego, Aaron Hughes (though the last name often changes from story to story). I use him to tell creative nonfiction (as well as outright fiction) versions of memories from my childhood on into adulthood. I’ll write more about that series in the course of blogging about the stories in this collection. The picture, though, is of a brick in one of my Papaw’s home-built outbuildings on his farm. He made the cement blocks himself and his daughters (my mother and aunt) helped decorate them with handprints, leaf-imprints, and drawings of faces.
The story goes that they found a series of drawings representing emotional states in a book. I presume this was an art book, but I’m afraid that exact information may now be lost to time. So they copied these drawings into the cement blocks as they dried. Once solid, those blocks were used to construct a smoke house, a carport/tractor garage/wood shed, and a chicken coop. While there are probably close to a hundred and fifty blocks total, only probably a tenth of them have decorations. “Fright Terror” is certainly my favorite and is one of the more prominently displayed ones, being located on the wood shed side of the carport/tractor garage/woodshed building.
If you have Kindle on your phone, computer, tablet, or actual Kindle reader device, you can download a sample of the book, which contains the entire first story “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” which references the blocks.
While the reference to them in the story mentions that all of the faces and expressions were of negative emotions, this is not entirely true in real life. There is a whole row of these faces inside the woodshed building, only one of which is negative. Most are smiling faces, illustrated sometimes with pebbles. My sister and I cataloged these during return visits to the farm over the past decade or so. These visits, unfortunately, happen rarely due to the fact that most of our relatives in the area have passed away.
I thought it fitting to include “Fright Terror” as the primary cover image due to its close ties to the first story in the collection, which, in many respects, is the first story I ever made up, way back when I was a wee lad of four. That’s a story I’ll tell when we get to the blog entry on “The Hocco Makes the Echo.