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Behind the Stories of THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOL. 7 edited by Ellen Datlow (Part 3)

Thanks to the folks at Night Shade Books, we’ve got a series of guest posts featuring the authors of The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 7. Each gives us a glimpse into the how and why of each story. Enjoy!

About The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 7:

A sin-eater plies the tools of her dangerous trade; a jealous husband takes his rival on a hunting trip; a student torments one of his teachers; a cheap grafter is selling artifacts form hell; something is haunting the departure lounge of an airport . . .

The Best Horror of the Year showcases the previous year’s best offerings in short fiction horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Laird Barron, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, and more.

For over three decades, award-winning editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow has had her finger on the pulse of the latest and most terrifying in horror writing. Night Shade Books is proud to present the seventh volume in this annual series, a new collection of stories to keep you up at night.

See the anthology’s table of contents for the awesome lineup!

On to the posts!


LAIRD BARRON

Laird Barron is the author of several books, including The Croning, Occultation, and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. His work has also appeared in many magazines and anthologies. An expatriate Alaskan, Barron currently resides in upstate New York.

“the worms crawl in” was originally published in Fearful Symmetries edited by Ellen Datlow.

“the worms crawl in,” is one of several Alaska stories I’ve written the past few years. As with the others, “worms” is a standalone, but links intricately to a larger picture. It intersects with several themes I’ve concentrated upon in the past–body horror, the darker implications of evolution, and abuse. Strip away the speculative elements and you’re left with a pretty raw examination of violence, especially as it pertains to intimate relationships that have gone off the rails. Violence exists in various forms; “worms” looks at what feeds it.


NATHAN BALLINGRUD

Nathan Ballingrud is the author of North American Lake Monsters: Stories, from Small Beer Press; and “The Visible Filth,” a novella from This Is Horror. His work has appeared in numerous Year’s Best anthologies, and he has twice won the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives with his daughter in Asheville, North Carolina.

“The Atlas of Hell” was originally published in Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow.

I wrote “The Atlas of Hell” as a challenge to myself. I’d spent the previous several years writing Southern blue-collar horror stories, focusing mostly on character and epiphany. If you write the same kind of thing for too long, though, you run the risk of becoming predictable, of growing stale, or of devolving into self-parody. I decided it was time to put the weight on the other foot, and try to write something with no ambition other than being a lot of fun to read. Something all engine. It was like learning to write short stories all over again, because I was writing to different rules, with different expectations. It was tough at first, but it was a lot of fun, and I’m already working on mores stories featuring Jack Oleander.


DALE BAILEY

Dale Bailey lives in North Carolina with his family, and has published three novels, The Fallen, House of Bones, and Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay, Jr.). His short fiction, collected in The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories, has been a three-time finalist for the International Horror Guild Award, a two-time finalist for the Nebula Award, and a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Bram Stoker Award.

His International Horror Guild Award-winning novelette “Death and Suffrage” was adapted by director Joe Dante as part of Showtime Television’s anthology series, Masters of Horror. His collection, The End of the End of Everything: Stories, came out in the spring. A novel, The Subterranean Season, will be out this fall.

“The Culvert” was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction September/October.

I find it difficult to write about process. I rarely know what inspires any particular story, only that stories arrive, usually in fragmentary form, in my imagination–something like what Whitman calls in “Song of Myself,” and in another context, “letters from God.” This is not to say that I’m making some grandiose claim for divine inspiration–anything but, actually, since I am deeply agnostic on matters of faith–only that when you ask me where a story comes from, I often cannot say.

The title, “The Culvert,” had been floating around in my mind for some time. I do not know why. I had been working with the intersecting ideas of twins, twinning, and identity already in the recent past, in a story called “The Bluehole,” and the idea of the subterranean, the deep places of the earth and the mind and the heart, has always fascinated me. You can get lost there, as the twins in the story do. Somehow–note the complete lack of understanding as to how–all of this coalesced with a strong emotion, the numbing effect of grief. So there you have the central driving forces of the story. As I see it, the culvert and the passages within it serve as a metaphor for the labyrinths where grief and identity intersect. But none of this was conscious. All of it happened, as most stories do for me, somewhere in the subterranean world of the mind.

In what may be the key scene in the story, Douglas and Danny stand in front of mirrors, identical twins redoubled, an image echoed a sentence or two later when Douglas stands in front of one of those triple-paned department-store mirrors and sees himself infinitely reflected. Which one of them is him? Which one of us ever is?

The original published version of the story placed spaces between each paragraph. This version omits them. I think–think–this may improve the story, by placing a greater burden on the reader to piece everything together for herself. Profound loss shatters the mirror–the shiny reflective surface–of our lives, and we must put the shards back together as best we can. All of this is complicated in the story by the fact that we are receiving only Douglas’s first-person account of what happened, and given the trauma he has incurred, we cannot be sure that his account is in any way accurate.

But you can see what’s happening here. Asked to explain what brought a story into being, I slip into the comfortable clothes of lit crit–the product of many years of academic training. And one should not be in the business of interpreting one’s own fiction. That’s a job for the reader to do, if she’s interested. So carry on. Nothing to see here.


KERIS MCDONALD

Keris McDonald turned to horror writing during a miserable year as a library assistant in the south of England, but nowadays lives in a disappointingly pleasant part of North Yorkshire. Her short stories have appeared in three Ash Tree Press anthologies and the magazines Weird Tales, Supernatural Tales, and All Hallows, as well as the Hic Dragones collections Impossible Spaces and Hauntings.

Keris now spends most of her writing time under the name ‘Janine Ashbless’, spinning stories of paranormal erotica and hot dark romance for publishers such as HarperCollins and Ebury/Random House. Her ninth novel, Cover Him with Darkness, an uncompromising tale of fallen angels and religious conspiracy, was published in 2014 by Cleis Press.

“The Coat Off His Back” was originally published in Terror Tales of Yorkshire edited by Paul Finch.

I was asked by Paul Finch to write a story for Terror Tales of Yorkshire, and I got very excited about the project. Yorkshire has a lot of history and folklore themes to pick from – blasted moors, corpse paths, mines, Neolithic stones, Whitby goths/Dracula, medieval massacres, the Wars of the Roses … If anything there’s too much choice.
But I kept circling back to the story of famous highwayman Dick Turpin, who was hanged in York in 1739. Once I started looking into the historical record, I found a stranger and more sordid story than I’d heard before. After getting away for years with murder and armed robbery, he’s arrested under a false name for horse-theft, makes absolutely no attempt to defend himself, and goes to the gallows with astounding nonchalance. His corpse is briefly body-snatched before being rescued by the town mob. What’s going on there, heh?

The more I wrote, the more I found that fell into line with the old-fashioned Jamesian ghost story I wanted to tell. The Palmer/Palmes thing is a genuine historical “coincidence”. I quote (almost) verbatim from the trial transcripts and contemporary magazine notices. The gravestone is still there just as described in York, as are the gallows-themed pubs. It was one of those stories that felt more like piecing an existing jigsaw together than making something up – just a fantastic writing experience.

The icing on the cake was that creepy quote from Leviticus.

In fact the only thing I invented was the Innocent Coat. Oh – and what goes on behind the scenes in York Museum. Although I did consult two friends who used to work in museums and could give me the low-down on fabric conservation. So a big thanks to Phil Ball and Tracy Roulson!


RIO YOUERS

Rio Youers is the British Fantasy Award-nominated author of End Times and Old Man Scratch. His short fiction has appeared in many notable anthologies, and his previous novel, Westlake Soul, was nominated for Canada’s prestigious Sunburst Award. Rio lives in southwestern Ontario with his wife, Emily, and their children, Lily and Charlie.

“Outside Heavenly” was originally published in The Spectral Book of Horror Stories edited by Mark Morris.

For me, all stories begin with a spark, an image. With “Outside Heavenly,” the image was both clear and haunting: the smoking ruins of a burnt out house with blackened footprints leading away from it. I explored/developed the image, and the story came to light. Tonally, it was inspired by movies like Angel Heart and Southern Comfort, and by writers like Michael McDowall, James Dickey, and Cormac McCarthy. “Outside Heavenly” cried out for the southern gothic treatment, and I was happy to oblige.


ALISON LITTLEWOOD

Alison Littlewood is the author of A Cold Season, published by Jo Fletcher Books. The novel was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, where it was described as “perfect reading for a dark winter’s night”. Her second novel, Path of Needles—a dark blend of fairy tales and crime fiction—was recently short-listed for a British Fantasy Award. Her third, The Unquiet House, is a ghost story set in the Yorkshire countryside. Alison’s short stories have been picked for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four, Best British Horror, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies, as well as The Best British Fantasy 2013 and The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 10. She lives in Yorkshire with her partner Fergus, in a house of creaking doors and crooked walls. Visit her at www.alisonlittlewood.co.uk.

“The Dog’s Home” was originally published in The Spectral Book of Horror Stories edited by Mark Morris.

It may sound odd to say that my story grew out of the love of a dog, but that’s what happened. I got my dalmatian Dexter two years ago and while I expected to love him, I didn’t anticipate the floods of love, enthusiasm and joy he would bring me in return. He also places a simple and complete trust in me, which is what I think started my writerly brain worrying . . . What if I let him down? Just how horrible would it be to break that trust? And how could anyone ever do that deliberately? The result was “The Dog’s Home”, and it still kind of gives me the chills that I wrote it. But then, I think a lot of horror fiction is, at heart, really about love.

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About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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