January 31, 2010

Fresh from the Writing Group


Today, I'm going to post one of my pieces from our regular writing group.  In case you're not familiar, every two weeks or so, several of us get together and do some writing exercises.  It's where we generate some of the ideas that eventually become the stories in Here Be Monsters.  For this piece, I was given two prompts: "Use the word 'trials' 3 times in the story" and "Levitation Classes".  So, obviously there is only one story that can be told with these two building blocks.

"The Trials of Korm-Ra-Ton"

I saw the strange title on my Aunt's desk three years ago.  There were other books on the desk, my aunt having been a collector and lover of rare books since her husband had died.  But this one, the "Trials of Korm-Ra-Ton", had a quality unlike anything I'd ever seen.  I can best describe it as "weight"; as if the eye, the interest, was pulled towards it like an anchor dragging its chain into dark waters.

How I wish that I had chanced upon any other piece in her collection.  I know now that no matter what, eventually I would have found it, and felt the desire, disguised as piqued curiosity, to take it with me.

I found myself unable to focus on the rest of the estate that day.  My sister (always such a caring woman!) had to take charge of the divvying up of my aunt's out-of-date will.

My sister and I had puzzled over that for some time.  Our aunt was meticulous and orderly.  She had, in fact, been our least favourite baby-sitter as children.  She was coherent and competent when we'd seen her a week before her death. She even made it to her monthly meeting with friends from the nearby home.

Now, I know all too well how little of my aged aunt there was near the end of her life.  She was a shell, hollowed out by the despair of a lost husband, the frustration of age, and the Trials.

It overwhelmed me once I was back from her home.  This desire, this weight.  I spent the night reading the story of a tortured mad man, some kind of priest from ancient Kush.  I say I read the book, but in truth I read the translations in my aunt's handwriting that had been inserted between each page.  Those and the cover were in English, but the pages were fragile with age, and written in what I believed to be a dialect of Arabic.

After that, there were many similar nights spent pouring over the arcane, obfuscated confessions of the mad priest Korm-Ra-Ton.   Soon, I began to understand the secrets woven into the metaphors and allusions of the text.  I found myself obsessing over the rituals described in fearful detail.  Some months after I'd first opened the pages of the damned book, I carried out certain chants over the corpse of a bird.  It was a strange sensation, to be so sure that what I was doing made no logical sense, could not possibly be real, and yet to have absolute certainty that it would work.  As I completed the final phrase (which I dare not transcribe here) I began to hover off the floor.  I was able to push around the room as if buoyed up by the air.  That most universal and earthly of forces, gravity, had no effect on me.  I was exultant, and spent the evening in childish glee at my little trick.  For that is what it was, just a trick played on me by a force I did not understand, over which I had only the illusion of control.

Another year passed, and I felt that I had sufficient mastery of the secrets of Korm-Ra-Ton to begin spreading them.  After all, why would I keep such marvels to myself?  I was not looking to abuse the powers I had discovered, I wanted to share them so that all people could break free of the physical laws that had shackled us to such misery throughout our existence.  Dear reader, you must forgive my foolish ideals; I truly believed I was the harbinger of grand times to the world.  It was with this in my mind that I began meeting interested prospects in my home.  I did not yet want to spread the teachings to the masses, afraid that I might be misunderstood as a cultist or madman.  Instead, it was a select group who were interested in learning of such lost knowledge.  After several months spent simply reading from my aunt's copy, I led them all through that first ritual, the one that had truly opened my eyes to the powers hidden inside.  They all began levitating, and for a long moment they were transfixed.  The realization of the enormity of what they were experiencing eventually gave way to the giddy exploration of their weightlessness.  They paddled and pushed around my house for hours, finally settling back to the ground after midnight.  After that night, they returned every day, looking for more.

In my pride, I indulged them.  Soon, each of us had our own copy of the book, made from my aunt's English translation.  Our rituals grew more complex and dark.  More adherents came, enticed by the stories of those already under my wing.  Most began staying at my home permanently.  The plan had taken hold of all of us.  And not one of us questioned it!  I had wanted to use only the most reliable ceremonies from the book and disregard those that seemed too depraved or unpredictable.  But now we felt that to truly transform the world, we would need those darkest of rites.  That would mean we must operate in secrecy, so as not to frighten the very populace we hoped to liberate.  When had this plan been formulated?  Who had suggested it?  We never contemplated the answers to these and other pressing questions.  Perhaps we were unable to.  Facing them would point towards the unfathomable truth.  Worse, it would show the others that there was doubt in your heart.  We could not risk our secrecy, so those who showed such doubt were inevitably the next strapped down to the table for sacrifice.

It was two days ago when my sister came to check on me.  We had lost touch shortly after my aunt's death, and at first she assumed I was simply wrapped in my own life.  Then, when she could not reach me and her calls to neighbours carried the rumours of my bizarre life to her, she travelled to see me in person.  As I saw her walk up the front drive from inside my home, I recoiled.  She could not see me like this, with these strangers living in every nook and closet of my home.  The last thing I should have been worried about was my family being embarrassed of me.  I called to some of those near me, "Quickly!  She must not find out about us."  I was frozen with dread as my sister opened the door to my once lovely home.  Shock passed over her face as she realized how many others there were with me, and then before she could utter a sound, they descended on her.  I cried out in warning, in anger, but the sound of my voice was only one in the nonsense cacophony that erupted from my brethren.  They tore into her like rabid animals, in the space of a few panicked breaths, there was nothing left of my sister that I could recognize.

I collapsed.  The despair, the madness, the gruesome sight were too much for me.  I awoke in one of the beds on the second floor, still wearing the bloody clothes of the day before.  It was relatively quiet, and there were no others around.  I took the opportunity to write this.  I don't know when I will next have full control of myself, so I must finish.  

My plan is to sabotage the gas stove in the kitchen.  I only hope that the fire it starts will be enough to consume the house and all of us inside.  Whatever power lurks in that book will not stop until it has pressed all of humanity to its whims, and I know that I, for one, am not strong enough to resist it.  These pages are being locked into my bedroom safe, where I believe they'll survive the fire.  I am forsaken, there will be no forgiveness for me or any of us.  We do not deserve pity or remembrance.  My only wish is that those who find this will destroy all traces of what we have done, and most importantly, destroy every last word of the Trials of Korm-Ra-Ton.

-- M

Thanks for reading everyone.  This is my first attempt at mimicking the style of the original Lovecraft stories.  I've always been a big fan of them.  Keep watching here for more posts from the rest of the Here Be Monsters crew!

Alexander Newcombe

Tomato-Based Non-Food and the Writing Stomach.

As we sail towards our next release, heading once again to one of those many improbable edges of the map, we need all the help we can get. In addition to some paper and ink, to Alex’s very tactful advice on style, to Duane’s unbelievable imagination that can put Queen Victoria in a space station looking for a treasure island while she treats a wound to her second pair of eyes, to my overlong sentences and recurring questions about English language (is there a difference between toward and towards? What’s the nuance between farther and further? Why the Hell is it written Wednesday?), in addition to all that, we need tomato-based non-food.
Non-food is defined as food that had no other purpose than its taste and possible induction of nausea if consumed in too great a quantity. Its taste is usually salty, or, towards (toward?) the end of the night, sweet. It cannot in any way be nutritious. In our case, it’s usually tomato-based in some way: pizza base, pizza-flavoured chips, tomato spread, and so much more. It provides comfort and helps grease the wheels of the group as we struggle with our pens, so that at least if the pages stay empty, our stomachs do not, and neither do our souls, filled as they become by the warmth of salt and red additives.
I know. Overlong sentence again. But I can do better. Next post, I’ll try for a single-sentence paragraph.
Now don't let this ridiculously-themed post mislead you. We are working hard, and the next issue promises to be even better than the first one. Look for it in early march.


January 23, 2010

Never Tell Me the Odds

It's a lovely, cool Saturday morning and I am thinking about writing a lot.  This is, of course, due to the looming deadlines for the next issue of Here Be Monsters.  We're all geared up though, and I'm even more excited to bring this issue out than the first one.  There's a kind of momentum around a second issue that makes it seem more permanent than the first.  But like I said, I was thinking about writing:

When people ask what kind of stories we write, I tend to say, "They're genre fiction."  For some people, this means nothing.  For others, this is not a label I should admit to.  But I think it suits what we're doing, so I'll happily use it until it no longer fits.  As Here Be Monsters continues, you'll see more variety in the stories, but I imagine that the love of an exciting, adventurous tale will always inhabit them in some way.  So, on the topic of genre fiction, here are a couple of fun links that I recommend you check out:

The Han Solo Theory - A quick podcast about applying the lessons learned from Star Wars to fantastic fiction

Interview with China Miéville - An interview with one of my favourite authors about genre, fantasy, and morality

Keep your eyes on the blog (or the Facebook page) for more updates, excerpts, and thoughts.

Alexander Newcombe

January 20, 2010

Issue Number Two

Issue the second of Here Be Monsters is now on the way. The powers that be have gathered and forged it out of imagination, ink and ginger ale. Which, by the way, is much better a writing drink than wine, my apologies to Mr. Beaudelaire, but have you ever tried writing drunk? You think you're a genius until the next morning when you re-read your masterpiece, crumple it into a little ball the size of your hungover ego and throw it into the recycling bin. And that is why we, in our writing group, run on ginger ale. The fact that I'm a complete lightweight has absolutely nothing to do with it.
But I digress. I was saying that the agony of giving birth to our incredible and upcoming issue has started, and we're so brave, we're not even having the epidural until it's three in the morning and the anesthesiologist is at home sleeping. So for the next fer weeks and until delivery, you can expect some exciting story excerpts, random thoughts about writing, some edifying considerations on writing props such as ginger ale and tomato-based non-food (more on that in an upcoming post), as well as many overlong sentences.
Stay with us. Be good. Don't drink and write.