Today we welcome Christopher Golden whose short story collection Tell My Sorrows to the Stones was published a few weeks ago (here’s my review). He’s here to talk about the origins of a couple of the stories in this collection and to ask you about short stories that are meaningful to you. One random commenter will win a copy of Tell My Sorrows to the Stones.
Novels are long-term relationships. Short stories, on the other hand… short stories are flings. Some of them are quick and tawdry one night stands while others are lovely first dates that don’t lead to anything more, but that you’ll remember fondly later on. Like flings, short stories all seem to begin differently. Oh, I don’t mean begin as in, the opening lines… I mean the origins. The moment the idea strikes, or coalesces, as is sometimes the case. They don’t all strike. Sometimes they lurch into being like Mary Shelley’s nightmare.
I’m very proud of the stories included in my new collection, Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, and they all have “origins” to go along with them. I won’t bore you with all of them — I suspect at some point even the most interested among you would not find the “stories behind the stories” as interesting as I think they are. But I will share a few of them with you.
The first time I wrote anything that could conceivably be thought of as an actual short story — something with a beginning, middle and end — was back in high school. It was called “A Cold Familiar Feeling,” and no, you won’t find it in my collection. I was fifteen years old when a friend of my mother’s — a local agent — helped submit that story and one other to a variety of magazines, everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Playboy. There were no takers, but a number of the editors sent kind and encouraging notes, surprised that the stories had been written by a fifteen year old.
The second of those two stories was called “All Aboard.” To be clear, it’s not the story of the same name that you’ll find in Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, but they do share a certain structural similarity, and both were inspired by one of my favorite sounds in the world — the distant whistle of a late night train. It would be interesting, I think, if people could read both versions and compare them, but for now the original collects dust in a file in my office. When I wrote the original version, it was about a train full of Romeroesque ghost-zombies. The “adult-me” version still has a train full of ghosts, but it’s an entirely different experience. The latter day version is a story about loneliness and grief, topics that fifteen year old me knew very little about. It is this unique origin that makes “All Aboard” one of my very favorite of my stories.
Another of those favorites is a nasty little ditty called “Put on a Happy Face.” Author Kevin J. Anderson is also the editor of the Blood Lite anthology series, and he was kind enough to ask me to contribute a story. The trouble, as I insisted to him over and over, was that I’m not funny. Oh, I can be sarcastic enough, and sitting around a table, I’ve been known to make people laugh. But to write a humorous horror story… it just wasn’t something I felt like I could get a handle on. I agonized over it, tried again and again to think of something funny.
Then I thought… what if the story was about someone desperate to be funny? If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you’ve seen those people who come in thinking they are the greatest singers in the world because their mothers have told them so, all their lives. The main character in “Put on a Happy Face” grows up thinking he’s hilarious. Thanks, Mom! His only dream is to become a circus clown and he achieves that dream… but over the years, he realizes that he’s not so funny after all, and the realization forces him to pursue a very dark path. It’s a twisted tale, and I loved every minute I spent writing it.
Part of the story’s origin is its first line. When I came up with that line, I knew the story was going to wok. Here’s how it goes…
“The blood seeping out of the midget car was Benny’s first clue that something had gone awry.”
That line makes me happy.
In fact, all of the stories in Tell My Sorrows to the Stones make me happy, in one way or another. If you like dark, haunted, unsettling, sometimes sexy stories, I think they’ll make you happy, too.
What about you, reader? Can you tell us about a short story that you’ve read or written that’s particularly meaningful to you?