THE INSPIRATION BEHIND INSANITY TALES II: THE SENSE OF FEAR
“Snow Day” began as a title during last winter’s arctic snows and I wrote a draft on a snow day (I’m a teacher). It was fun to write, especially creating the female character and the baseball card collecting bit—as well as the finale. “Rape Kit” was inspired by recent news stories on sexual assault on college campuses. It was dark and disturbing material and difficult to write. Originally, I didn’t submit it for the anthology, going with another story instead. But then I felt that, despite its topical difficulty, it was addressing an important subject and sent it along.
“Nobody Ever Listens to Eddie” was sparked by my mother, who claims to have a sixth sense about bad things that are going to happen. None of us ever believe her, but she has been spot-on on occasion. She still likes to lord it over the family about how she just knew (spoiler alert) that M*A*S*H was going to end after eleven seasons.
“The Devil’s in the Details” came about after reminiscing with my sister about a spooky Ouija board session we had one New Year’s Eve after watching Children of the Corn. We were sixteen and thirteen respectively, and we scared the snot out of ourselves. We both swore that we weren’t pushing the planchette, yet it was moving. The spirits revealed that not only was a boy with the initials R.T. secretly in love with my sister, but that the huge zit on my cheek would never go away unless I gave my sister all of my Duran Duran albums immediately.
Now we can laugh about it, but that night, we were terrified. At least I was. The spirits were right on, too: I gave my sister my copy of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, and six days later, that pimple was gone. Spooky.
I’d recently read Strange Tales of the White Street Society, a collection of short stories where a group of people get together to regale each other with their strange-but-true experiences. They reminded me very strongly of Hodgeson’s Carnacki stories, and even some of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, where people gathered to hear strange tales over dinner. I thought, “Now, my friends and I wouldn’t be nearly so organized. More likely, one of us would just burst in and . . .” The next thing I knew, Joey came to Jim’s apartment with the unbelievable story of his trip to England, in “The Perfect Game.”
“The Book of Shadows” also came about through another story. I read something once about a man who had the capacity to foretell people’s deaths. In that story he reveled in his power, exercising it whenever he could, but I thought that would be a horrible ability to have—especially if you couldn’t control it. If it could just spring upon you, like something that followed you around, unnoticed until it was brought to your attention, kind of like your shadow . . .
“Float” bubbled to the surface one summer day while I was being towed across a dark Maine lake. Two of my buddies tugged me slowly along with a rickety fishing boat, the quiet electric motor barely creating a wake. My float was old and beaten, and when I looked back, the cabin had vanished around one of the many bends of the lake. Not a house in sight; if something happened, I’d have to swim for it. Could I find my way back? I didn’t know, courtesy of a swiftly diminishing flask of wine. I began to wonder if my float would make it through the day. Maybe the rope tied to the rubber handle would rip right off. Maybe a stick hidden beneath the surface would poke a hole in it.
The shadowy shores masked the vast Maine wilderness beyond. Were faces in there, watching me? Spying on me? Maybe dozens? No, thousands. What if I was floating along, dodging bizarre obstacles? What if I was part of a contest, and the faces along the shore were spectators? A race, perhaps? A strange and deadly one, even.
A voice whispered to me from the depths … a man named Hector … a low level messenger working for a savage mob boss … in an apocalyptic city … fighting for the girl of his dreams. He longed to save her, to win her heart, and soon Hector’s future was becoming crystal clear: he had to float or die.
“Spirit in the Stone” evolved from a trip to Fort Mohave, Arizona. The petroglyphs in the desert were fascinating and I began to wonder about the spirits the pictures portrayed; how they got into the stone and how they might leave the stone. I added some imaginative answers, a woman whose perception of reality was a few eggs short of a dozen, and had a story.
“Fly Away” is a tragic story involving a sibling relationship. I wanted to explore a life-and-death situation where one of the siblings didn’t behave as expected. Vega, the sister in the story, has a peculiar way of dealing with stress. Her fascination with birds enrich the tale with an eagle based on an avant-garde statue my daughter made a few years ago, and a flock of vultures. At its heart, this is a brother-sister tale, with a lot of birds and some real lunacy.
Dale T. Phillips
I strive for a deeper meaning in the tales I tell. There are levels beneath the obvious, with resonance and meaning. My influences run from classic to pulp, and there’s a moral streak running through my work. Some of it is positive, some incredibly nihilistic. I want readers to have a strong feeling, either satisfied or rather unsettled. With crime and mystery stories, horror is just a distant cousin, and they blend and mix and exchange themes and memes.
Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung were unconscious mentors. They talked about the collective unconscious, and touched upon the vast myth-pool that we have absorbed. Good writers are brave souls who go down there with a bucket, to that dark, dangerous, scary, slippery place. We dip our pail into that thick liquid, and return to the light with a heavy load of strangeness, bearing the pain like Frodo bore the ring. We display the treasure for the masses, yet many turn away, for it is too painful to confront. But for those who dare look, there is a rich reward. Harlan Ellison knows this, and has brought scary things into the light. Chuck Palahniuk is now a similar torch-bearer, and a modern writer can study them for effect, and learn much. As writers, we’re not here to offer comfort. We might offer a painful redemption, or a sliver of hope viewed through the mass of tragedy, but our aim is ultimately to make you stir in some way.