Consternation of Monsters Podcast

Quentin Tarantino Vs. Jack London (Part 1)

Titles are tricky.  Sometimes they suggest themselves immediately.  In fact, sometimes—though rarely—they can be in place before the story is even written (as was the case for “The Hocco Makes the Echo”).

It took me a very long time to come up with a satisfactory title for my story “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk,” though.  For a long time this story was just called “Wolves and Stones,” which I was not a fan of, but couldn’t think of anything better.  My writing mentor, Belinda Anderson, suggested I call it “Quentin Tarantino Vs. Jack London” because of the whole mobsters vs. canines angle.  I liked this a lot, though I had to amend the suggestion to what I felt was a more accurate title: “Quentin Tarantino Fights Jack London (while Walter M. Miller, Jr. watches).”  If you’ve read some Jack London, and Miller’s grand post-apocolyptic epic A Canticle for Leibowitz, and then watch Reservoir Dogs, and then squint really hard, you might be able to see what I’m talking about.  Or maybe it’s just me.

While the above title might have been accurate, it still didn’t feel like a proper fit.  The final title came when I was assembling this collection.  I just sat down, stared at my screen, and refused to move until I could think of something better.  “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk” popped in a few minutes later and it works for me.   It’s a very Neil Gaimany-sounding title, which is always a good thing in my book.

The origin of the story, though, is a longer journey that also involves Belinda Anderson.  One of the reasons she’s my writing mentor is because for many years she taught a twice-annually, eight-week writing workshop.  The workshops would be one night a week, sometimes weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, and I took every one of them I could.  Even after my wife and I moved an hour and a half away to Princeton, I still made the journey back.  Eventually, though, schedules of the participants no longer meshed and the workshop came to an end.  I was lamenting this to her on the phone one day.  I told her my writing output had suffered because I work best with a deadline.  Her classes guaranteed me at least one story per 8 week workshop.

“Okay,” she said.  “I want 5,000 words by Tuesday.”

“Um, do what?”

“You heard me. Deadline,  Tuesday, 5,000 words.  Get to it.”

“Yeah, um…. Okay.”

This was on a Friday.  I’ve produced more writing in less time, but usually only with a plan already in place.  Coming up with a story from scratch in that time would be a stretch, so I decided to consult my Writer’s Notebook.

Like many writers (the good ones, I’m told) I keep a notebook for ideas, plots, characters, TITLES, and whatall.   Okay, that’s sort of a lie.  These days I keep an Evernote file in my phone.   And rarely have my Writer’s Notebooks actually been physical notebooks.  Usually the ideas would start as notes jotted on napkins, receipts and scratch paper from the library, gathered in a pile on my desk and eventually transferred into an IDEAS file in my computer.  A number of my short stories have started this way, but I believe only two from A Consternation of Monsters qualify: “Nigh” and “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk.”

Once again, it is probably helpful if you’ve read this story before proceeding, as many spoilers will follow.  However, you can hear the whole story for free by checking out the Consternation of Monsters podcast page, which features an audio adaptation of “Wolves…”

Go and listen to it now, then come back here for part 2.  I’ll wait.


Of Moths and Men… (Part 3)

So what, you haven’t asked, is the deal with the ellipses in the title “…to a Flame”?

Well, of course, it’s a reference to the phrase “Like moths to a Flame” which you no doubt knew from the start.  Beyond that, the ellipses denote the play’s inclusion in a series of plays that I think of as the Ellipses Cycle due to their titles all possessing them.  Three of these have already been produced, “…to a Flame,” “…and Tigers and Bears,” and “A Game of Twenty…”

Each of these plays has three things in common beyond the ellipses… they each cover strange and unusual material (monsters, legends, the paranormal), and they each have ties to West Virginia.

“ a Flame” you already know about.  “…and Tigers and Bears” I wrote about last time, as it’s the African Lion loose in West Virginia play, with absurd overtones.  “A Game of Twenty…” was produced in 2013 and features a man who finds himself in the waiting room of the afterlife who, because it’s going to be a particularly long wait, is given the chance to ask twenty questions to receive answers to things he’s always wanted to know.  Most of the answers he finds disappointing.  I plan to adapt “A Game of Twenty…” into a short story at some point in the near future.  It’s a play I like and which works very well in the performances I’ve seen of it.  Might just appear in a future collection.

The three plays, however, also have in common references to national radio host Rik Winston, who generously penned the introduction to A Consternation of Monsters.  Who is Rik Winston, though?  And why haven’t you heard of him before?  Or have you?


Fun fact:  my on-air name, back when I was a radio disc jockey, in both Tupelo and Charlotte, was Erik Winston.  I chose that name because the first commercial station I worked at, Sunny 93.3 in Tupelo, used to have a policy that their DJs had to have the name of a county as part of their name.  They didn’t have that policy when I worked there, but the notion was suggested when I was on the hunt for something to call myself–other than my college on-air-name of Juice (which didn’t really work for soft hits radio).  I chose Erik Winston because there was a Winston County in Mississippi and, more to the point, because my cat’s name was Winston.  Later, when I moved to Charlotte, the Winston name had more resonance with North Carolina and auto racing, so I kept it there too.  For the fictional version of Rik Winston, though, I just removed the E from Erik, forming Rik in tribute to comedian Rik Mayall (who, sadly, recently became the late Rik Mayall last year).  So there you have it.  The now not-so-secret origin of Rik Winston.  (And while we’re on the topic of Rik Winston’s reality, the story he tells about going to Durbin in the foreword to A Consternation of Monsters is also largely true, right down to the guy who saw a headless horseman.  It all happened during a certain trip to Durbin, W.Va., to film my episode of Creepy Canada.)

There are as yet many more legends in West Virginia that I could cover in future Ellipses Cycle plays.  I imagine the Flatwoods Monster, more UFOs, Bigfoot, and maybe even Gray Barker will have to turn up some time.  Good ol’ Rik Winston himself might show up, too.

The other question you haven’t asked is what I really think about the Mothman legend?  My answer is complicated, though not as much as the legend itself.  I really REALLY want to believe in the Mothman.  I really want to believe there are strange things beyond our kin that occasionally pop up and make life a little more interesting and maybe a little more scary.  And I see plenty of evidence toward that point in the world, though I cannot bring myself to commit to believing in a great deal of it.  I want there to be creatures in Loch Ness.  I want to believe in mysterious hairy primates roaming the wilderness.  I want to believe in ghosts, and UFOs, and thunderbirds, and African dinosaurs, and even the men in black.  But, as with most thing in life, the evidence for these things, beyond eyewitness testimony, tends to be thin on the ground–perhaps by design.

Do I really believe there was a flying, glowing-eyed creature that terrorized Point Pleasant in 1967?  Welllllllll, I wasn’t there and I didn’t see it, so it’s hard to rule it out entirely.  I do think it’s just as likely that a very large owl could have accomplished most of what is claimed to have been witnessed.  However, there’s just enough of the case that is said to have been accomplished by the Mothman that a very large owl probably couldn’t.  Nor does it explain the men in black, nor Indrid Cold, nor the UFO sightings, nor any of a number of other parts of the case.  The question then arises, how accurate were all those other elements of the case?  We’ll probably never know for sure.

I guess I’m sitting firmly on the fence for the matter.  The mothman side of the fence looks good to me.  But then again… there are monsters over there.

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