Roland Allnach

multi-award winning author of the strange and surreal
www.rolandallnach.com
 

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Behind the Stories

  I've always been fascinated by the process of creativity, the way ideas evolve from their primitive forms to become the world around us as books, films, and music.  It can be a long path from the twinkling of a nascent idea to the reality of some finalized work, but that's the very thing that intrigues me.  From nothing, something can come into being, and it can be something that has never been known before.  Is there anything else that affirms our existence as unique individuals more than the things we create?

  Those philosophical aspects aside, I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the paths my stories followed in that tricky road from an idea to a finished piece of published fiction.

 

 

Remember, these stories and much more can be enjoyed in my short fiction volume, Prism.

 

 

Published in 2008:

Published in 2009:

Published in 2010:

Published in 2011:

Published in 2012:

Published in 2013:


  This page will be an on-going work as more stories find their way out in the light.  That said, my writing focus has shifted away from short stories to books.  The short story market has provided a valuable learning experience, and it's a locale I hope to revisit.

 

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  The long march...behind "After the Empire"

  This is the first story of mine that was published, so it has a special place in my heart.  The story was published by The Armchair Aesthete.  Sadly, as of December 2010, The Armchair Aesthete went out of publication.

  I read a lot of history, not just of modern times, but of antiquity as well.  I'm also fascinated by mythology and  ancient heroic works.  Of these latter groups Homer's Iliad is of particular interest.  Not only does it tell a timeless  story, but given the length of the piece, those ancient heroes are allowed to live and breathe in their own reality.  The  setting of the Iliad is ten years into the Trojan campaign, and the notion of such a long campaign, and the ill effects  the heroes might suffer when returning home, is a palpable concern.  Little do they know that for most of them the  road of life will end before the gates of Troy, and home will never be seen again.

  Flash forward to Napoleonic times and World War II, and the respective French and German invasions of Russia.  The campaigns were monumental in planning, and the intent was a quick victory over a disorganized Russia.  Both the  French and Germans found that plans and reality have a vast span of frozen Russian steppe between them.  Both as well suffered the same debilitating result for their military forces: so many men marched off for conquest, and so very few ever returned.  And of those that returned, they were for the most part broken men, suffering from starvation, disease, and disillusionment.

  There are several first hand accounts of men who had survived Napoleon's long Russian march.  There are many  accounts of the German campaign in Russia, but what stuck with me was a brief recollection of a young boy watching  the might of the German army depart from his town for the initial attack on Russia.  His observation was striking, the  memory of what seemed an invincible, endless force moving out, and none of them to be seen again.

  So these were the things floating about my head.  I decided early on I wanted to tell the story from the ground level,  from the point of view of two people- one a soldier, one a civilian- at the tail end of an ambitious but ruinous march.  I decided as well to set the story in a fictional antiquity, as this alleviated the necessities of having to abide by any strict historic parameters.  The story would deal with a lone soldier- the only soldier- to return from a city's failed attempt to build an empire out of the surrounding lands, and his encounter with a desperate woman hiding in the ruins of the once great city. 

   The conflict of the story would center around a simple yet complex question: with the city in  ruins, its army lost, its dreams and ambitions destroyed, what would become of life?  The nature of this question was another drive to set the story in an unnamed city of antiquity- I did not want to get involved in moralizing the ambitions of any specific empire or nation.  It is a short story, after all.  What I found more compelling was to deal with the question in abstraction, as it denuded all other aspects of its answer from the story, and limited it to two people trying to figure out their place in a reality they had never envisioned.  As with those failed historical campaigns, and as with Homer's tragic heroes, they are two people adrift, disillusioned, looking for some strand of hope.

   The answer is not so simple as to just 'move on'.  The two characters of the story come to their own conclusions, distinct with the lives they had lived when their city was great and hope was abundant.  I won't spoil the ending here,  but I will say that the most common question I've received regarding the story is the decisions the two characters  reach at the conclusion.  I will say this: there are two choices in life, the big picture, and the dirty pragmatism of survival.  Survival may eke out life for another day, but the big picture is where myths are born.

  Before Achilles joined the war for Troy, he was told there were two fates waiting for him.  He could stay home, live a long prosperous life, and be forgotten to time.  Or, he could go to Troy, die there, and be immortalized in human memory.  He went to Troy.

  I wrote "After the Empire" while sitting at my dining room table helping my kids with their homework, over the course of several afternoons.  Those were sunny, warm days.  An interesting contrast.

  Read "After the Empire" (you will stay on this site).                                

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  Two ones are greater than two...behind "11"

  "Behold my life: it is not the white walls that imprison me."

 
This is the opening line of the second story of mine to be published, in the e-zine Allegory.

  Although I never had the opportunity to take any classes regarding psychology, the various states of abnormal psychology have always served as a topic of interest.  While there are certainly psychological states that are 'irrational', it seems from what I've learned through reading (I make no claim to be an expert) that there is a trend for the subjective realities of the delusional to have their own logical structure.

 There's an inherent characteristic of the human mind to create order from perceptions of chaos; primitive religions certainly served a definite goal to make sense of a surrounding world that can be unpredictable.  Nevertheless, the point remains that we are all residents of our own little subjective realities.  In that realm of reasoning, the case can be made that without the ability to think objectively, delusions can become reality, and that can be a terrifying prospect.

  Hence the setting for "11".  I had the initial idea for this story floating about my head for some time before I actually put any words together; accessing the claustrophobic reality of the 'protagonist' was something that had to be done with care for the story to work.  So one night, when sleep just wasn't going to happen, I started with that first line, and at roughly 2am, the story flowed on its own from there.

  The first draft of the story contained quite a bit of profanity and a mounting body count of victims.  The original  intent was to really plumb the depths of the protagonist's disturbance but, the more I looked at the story objectively, the violence seemed to serve less and less purpose, and so out it went.  Along with it went almost all of the profanity, as the rage and madness of the story felt more explosive the less it was vented in harsh language. 

  I tend to feel that way with most of my disturbed characters; besides, some readers strongly object to the details of harsh language.  As a writer, I found the story worked far better leaving out the details of the language and focusing more on the twists and turns of the driving madness.  With a stripped down draft, the story gained a much better momentum, building to its climax in a short progression of intense moments.

  At least, that's my impression, but I think (hope) the story sells itself.  Opinion is in the mind of the reader.

  Read "11"  (you will stay on this site).             

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  The shadows beneath bright lights...behind "Icon"

  "Icon", my third publication credit, appeared in the e-zine Midnight Times.  I treasure all my publication credits, being that they are gained through so much work and patience, but this one is special.  "Icon" is one of my favorite stories.  I've been told it's dark and it's ending shocking and gruesome, but those are the very things that drew me to write the story. 

   Looking at it from the inside, though, I can acknowledge those facets of the story but, like the characters in the story, the impact of those moments is both tempered and consuming.  So in the end, I don't quite see the story as shocking and gruesome.  To me, it's a love story- an incredibly destructive and dysfunctional love story, but a love story nevertheless.

  The story follows two characters: the critic and a singer, and their mutual descent to tragedy- respectively, his through obsession for the singer and a certain emotional problem, she through addictions driven by the horrors of her childhood.  The critic 'discovers' her, and uses his clout to help promote her to fame, but his intent is self-serving.  He is obsessed with her and the hurt she divulges through her music.  He needs her to vent her agony for his own emotional meltdown. 

  For her, it's a trap - her fame has trapped her; even though she sought to perform, she finds herself frozen in the exorcism of her past.  Her self destructive impulses take over, and she slides down the dark path of addiction. 

  Together, the critic and singer implode, until they have nothing left but each other, even though they have never exchanged more than a few words of conversation.  So in the end, they must meet.  The demons must be put to rest, the pain must be devoured.  The critic, so desperate to help his fallen star, finds a depraved solution, one he knows only he can fulfill.

  No, I won't 'spoil' the story any more than this.  To divulge the details of the ending without the momentum of the full story would deprive the events of their impact.

  This is another story that came to life in the wee hours of a dark night.  I guess that isn't too much of a surprise.

  Read "Icon" (you will stay on this site).

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  Things that stir in the dark...behind "Creep"

  "Creep" is a quick little story, a blitz of creativity that hit me one afternoon while driving in my car thinking about how much sleep I had missed the week before.  I sat down and tapped away at the keyboard and wrote the story in one pass.  I've done this before, and though it's quite a rush to just pound out a story in one shot, on proofread the rush of getting the words down often shows. 

  Not so with "Creep".  What I put down in that first sitting remained intact (aside from some grammatical and typo corrections) through the final proofread.

  Perhaps part of that continuity helped the story's success.  It became my fourth publication credit, appearing in the print magazine Storyteller.  It was also nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize, which is a nice little feather for my writing cap. 

  I think of "Creep" more as an exploration than a story.  As such, and given its brief length, there is no involved 'plot' per se, but rather a circumstance.  A boy wakes in the middle of the night and makes his way to the bathroom for a drink of water, making effort to be quiet along the way.  Beneath this trivial event lies the heart of the story: the boy's imagination has filled every dark space with fearful things, and in the vacuum of night, he has the unsettling realization that the world is his own.

  The fear migrates from the summations of his imagination to something more intimate and far more disturbing- fear of himself, and the fact that in the dark, he can do anything.  The monsters are his, the monsters may be his, and worse, the monsters may be him.

  "Creep" appeared in Storyteller, and was honored as a 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee.   

  Read "Creep" (you will stay on this site).                         

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  When grief collapses time...behind "Return"

  When I started my publishing pursuits, there was a bug in my head to establish my literary credibility through publication in a university journal.  With "Return", my fifth publication credit, that was satisfied, as it went into the pages of Lullwater Review.

  There's the old adage that the shortest path between two points is a straight line.  But if you take a conceptual look at astrophysics, that's not necessarily true.  There's the theory that time and space is not 'flat', but rather that it is curved, with the folds possibly connected by worm holes.  So in theory the shortest distance is not a straight line in time-space, but a straight line that transcends time and space, cutting over the fold to link two points that in perception are very far removed.

  Bringing all that back to good old planet Earth opens some of my thought train leading to "Return".  The story doesn't tackle astrophysics.  Instead, I took those theories and considered them in the realm of memories and emotions mapped over time, so that a moment of one emotional impact overlaps a far removed moment of similar emotional impact.  Memories blur, perception is altered and, through that process, comes the irony of enlightenment.

  "Return" is another little story that in essence has very little plot: a man wakes up in his bed after being mangled in a car accident that he believes has killed his wife.  Beneath this is a rather complicated conundrum of his memories:  when he was young, his twin brother and he were involved in a car accident.  He never saw his brother after that, and his memories tell him that his parents separated and his brother went off with his father. 

   Nevertheless, he wakes to find that his brother has come to take care of him.  Added to this is the presence of his home nurse, who has an odd resemblance to his wife.  Doubt and suspicion usurp reason, and he comes to realize that life as he thought he knew it is not quite what it has been in reality.

  I won't reveal any more than this.  This is another piece that came to me on a sleepless night (surprise!).  Writing it was a bit of a challenge, as the overlays of temporal memories required a rather delicate handling so that the story both maintained momentum and remained cohesive.

  Being that the story appeared in a now older issue of Lullwater Review, I am presenting it here on my site. 

  Read "Return" (you will stay on this site).

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  There's someone for everybody...behind "Flowers for Colleen"

  This story grew out of one little scene that flashed in my head, that awful moment when a person might realize he has stumbled across a serial killer.  But that turned in my head, and I thought, what if a serial killer realized he had stumbled across another serial killer?

  From that came "Flowers for Colleen", my sixth publication credit.  This was a great one, as it found its home in the e-zine Absent Willow Review, a credit I had high hopes of adding to my publication list.  Unfortunately Absent Willow has closed, but this nevertheless remains one of my prized publication credentials. 

  Getting back to the story...I had the idea of two killers stumbling across each other.  That seemed like an  interesting idea, but of course the inevitable question, and the question that propels the story, is what would happen next.  That would be entirely respective to their characters, so I had to decide which direction I wanted to go, and then tailor their composition. 

  As sometimes happens the intention turned on itself and, as I thought more about the story, I considered and rejected several different endings, none of which seemed proper as the personalities of the two killers developed within the narrative. 

   Part of what makes characters realistic is that their actions and decisions are children of their emotional processes, as is the case with 'real' people.  Once I had a solid handle on who these two deviants were, the rest came natural.  The story could only end one way, and once I had it on paper, I was confident that it worked.  How well it works is for readers to judge, but I've received good responses to the story, so I think I managed to hit the mark, so to speak.

  Read "Flowers for Colleen" (you will stay on this site).

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  Adrift in a broken world...behind "Memento"

   "Memento" is a mainstream fiction piece that not only gave me my seventh publication credit, but my second credit in a literary journal, appearing on the web site for Reed Magazine.

  Aside from that, "Memento" was a study of perseverance for me.  I first wrote the story several years prior to its publication and under a different title.  The initial idea came from various accounts and history I'd been reading on World War I.  Specifically, it was on the matter of what was done with all the dead that piled up in the nightmare of trench warfare, a casualty figure staggering in its dimensions. 

  After the war, the Allied dead were placed in honorary cemeteries.  German war dead were most often buried in mass graves, marked only by small monuments with a very bland, anonymous message along the lines of "Here lie German war dead of the First World War."  As with "After the Empire", my first story, I didn't want to get involved in a political discussion or moral debate of aggressors vs. victors, but rather I was moved by the reality of such a thing to ground-level people, the mass of ordinary people who are swept up in such things. 

  The setting followed from there and, with it, the tone of the story, and its plot.  I gave it a World War I feel, without any mention of nationalities or locations.  Again, these were irrelevant to the story I wanted to tell, and that was the story of a man caught in the ironies of his own tragedy, devastated by grief, and left in the depths of body reclamation in a broken world of wintry war country.

  This story, though, took some work.  In the first draft I wanted to ramp up the language, to really put my writing skills to work.  It took some time for me to realize that it was overdone, and that the wording was in fact overwrought, clumsy, and weighed down the story.  Initial edits consisted of trimming down the language, with a mind to maintain the dreamy, delirious tone of the prose.  Once I was somewhat happy with that, I began to look more at the essential plot elements of the story.  With the ponderous language out of the way, I came to the unsettling conclusion that the critical scene of the story didn't make sense in terms of the story's setting. 

   In essence, the events framing that scene were too far-fetched to ever happen, so the scene became a conceit rather than a circumstance, as those initial decisions of the characters were decisions they would never make in their reality.  This became a bit of a quandary, because without that scene, there was no story left to tell. 

  After quite a bit of thought I introduced another character.  The more I developed this person and his placement in the story, it not only let the scene gain its logical validity, but I found it amplified the emotional resonance that is the climax of the story.  With all that done, and another few rounds of edits and proofreads, I felt I at last had a solid, workable piece of fiction.

  Thankfully, Reed Magazine felt the same way. 

  Read "Memento" (you will stay on this site).

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  More than flesh and bone...behind "Shift/Change"

  "Shift/Change" is another story that was a lesson of persistence.  Although the guiding idea for the plot of the story has remained unchanged, the actual prose has undergone several stages of revision to reach the point where it was accepted by the webzine Aphelion, gracing me with my eighth publication credit.

  Without giving too much of the story away, I'll discuss some of the story's elements.  I wanted a creepy, gothic style to the setting of the story, so even though much of the story takes place in a hospital morgue, a plain old morgue would not suffice.  There is an abandoned state mental hospital near my childhood home, and over the years as I grew up the state closed the hospital in stages as care moved away from massive, centralized, multi-building facilities to more suburban, less intimidating settings. 

  Nevertheless, I remember how those old buildings looked at night- they were creepy, and they've grown more so over the years as they decay.  Built in stages in the early 1900's, the buildings were interconnected by underground tunnels so that staff could move about during winter without having to brave cold howling winds blowing across the open fields between the buildings.  And while not a direct inspiration for the setting of "Shift/Change", it is the impression of hidden places, tunnels to abandoned places, that set a seed in my head.  Being underground can be a surreal experience, once you are severed from references such as the sun and sky.  The hollow places beneath us are their own world, a world which is crafted by those who fill its space.

  Which leads to the cast of rather decrepit characters inhabiting the underworld of "Shift/Change".  It is a tale of redemption, though, so set against the less savory characters are the two leads, neither of which seem too promising as human beings in their first appearance.  This is the point where the story started to undergo major revisions.

  In the original draft of the story the supernatural aspects of John Smith had little mystery to them, and his place in the realm of existence outside of our physical world was rather traditional.  Despite his crime and punishment-  which are the underlying drive of the story- I came to feel the spiritual nature of his existence was laid out in too much detail, so much so that there was little mystery left to him.  This, combined with interludes of his own thoughts upon his crime and punishment, defused the suspense of his inevitable unveiling before the fallen woman he is trying to save. 

  In successive revisions I had to gut several parts of the story.  Out went those interludes, out went his exhaustive, thinly veiled accounts of his true identity, and out went some clumsy dialogue that even in a story with supernatural elements was simply unrealistic.  With that done, and the story stripped to its core, I rebuilt it around a notion that I've enjoyed exploring in several of my stories: there is more to this world than flesh and bone, and though other realities exist with us, it's not necessarily a good thing when they intersect with us. Using that as a guiding point, the story took on a new life, and with John's hidden nature left somewhat vague and open for interpretation, his other-worldly nature not only gained force, but gained some menace as well. 

   Where he was an agent of good that had taken a bad turn in the original version of the story, he was now somewhat ambiguous, and even though he has learned the lesson of his crime, there is a threatening edge that remains to his intellect: he may be acting to redeem himself, but at the same time, he is not a being to be crossed.  With all the elements in place and in the focus I wanted, the title itself gained the deeper meaning I always hoped it could possess: the 'shift/change' phrase is not meant to be strictly temporal (the end of the night shift), but meta-physical as well (the transition of John's character, and the effect on those he victimized with his crime).

  With major revisions done, and the story set with its new focus, I started to send it out.  As with other stories I've given some major revisions, I guess I went in the right direction.  Aphelion was the fifth market this story went to, and the editors were kind enough to accept the story, and let it see the light of day.

  Read "Shift/Change" (this will forward you to the site of Aphelion).  I also included "Shift/Change" in my second book, Oddities & Entitites.

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  Humor finds its place...behind "The Great Hunter"

  "The Great Hunter", a short little piece that borders the realm of 'flash fiction', has found a home with Foliate Oak Literary Journal.  As such, it constitutes my ninth publication credit.

  As with "Creep", "The Great Hunter" hit me one day while I was driving around doing some errands.  Although the actual constitution of the story was not the first thing that came to mind, the notion of daydreaming, of getting lost in a private little world of imagination was the spark to get things going.  From there the rest flowed rather naturally, and found its way to a full story in one quick sitting at the keyboard. 

  For those familiar with my other stories, this one comes as a bit of a departure for one notable reason: humor.  It's not that I necessarily intend to write stories that could be considered 'heavy' or 'dark', but more that my creativity seems to come from pondering strange people in strange situations.  In that vein, "The Great Hunter" is right at home. 

  The actual situation forming the plot of the story (a boy pulling a rather messy hunk of nastiness out of his nose) was a bit of a challenge in terms of finding publications open to such a consideration.  Nevertheless, I looked at the story more as the escapism of creativity, and how the inner world of one's mind can sometimes collide with the outer world in a way that is perhaps less than what one might desire.  It seems a rather natural thing; don't we all have at least one of those moments where we drifted off, only to crash back to reality?

  In the end, the story is what it is.  It's a lighter piece, but that's just fine.  Humor has a place too, after all.

  Read "The Great Hunter" (you will stay on this site).

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  A moment of discovery...behind "Apogee"

  As with most writers, I can not support my life from my published fiction.  Yes, there is that thing called a 'job' (which, please don't misunderstand, I am very grateful to hold) but that combined with my family life can often limit or eliminate my writing time.  And by 'writing time', I include the time that I spend doing all the grunt tasks of writing, such as proofreading, researching a new round of submissions for unpublished stories, and taking care of this site.  So even 'writing time' does not leave much time for actual writing.

  What does this have to do with "Apogee"?  I wrote this piece in early 2010, after almost six months of not having the time to write anything. Most of that time was spent proofing and prepping the novellas that would become Remnant, my first stand-alone publication.  So my fingers were burning to tickle the keys, so to speak, and I had a number of ideas dancing around my head.  The only problem was finding the time to sit and craft a story.

  As it turned out, one cold Friday night opportunity stumbled across my path and I found myself alone without anything pressing to be done.  With great anticipation, but without any of the mental planning I usually do before starting a story, I sat at the keyboard and wondered what I would do.  I had one image that had been teasing me for quite awhile (the end surprise of the story, which I will not divulge here), and although I found that image intriguing for its elegant simplicity (I know that might sound a little heady, but I don't mean it that way) there was no actual 'story' to go with it. 

  I like to challenge myself with each story I write to do something a little different, so I decided to make this a challenge, and craft the story in part from what was around me.  It was a cold, windy night, and as is apparent from my other stories, environment is usually a critical element in my writing.  That set the tone and, from that notion of the cold, came the sense of seclusion and isolation.  With that followed the warming glimmer of discovery, which I felt right in that moment as the story came into creation. 

   It became a very 'organic' experience, and the initial draft of the story was done in less than two hours.  Unfortunately, in the rush of getting it done, it read more like one hyperactive run-on sentence than an actual display of a little thing known as 'grammar'.  I was so excited to write something I even skipped one of my basic rules, which is that no one sees an initial draft.  I let my wife have a go at it, before I had read over a single word.  Not the reception I had hoped for, but when I read it myself for the first time, I remembered why I don't let people see an initial draft.

  As far as the story itself, it centers around that glimmer of discovery I already mentioned, and the way in which sharing discovery helps bind us together.  The irony of discovery is that in the first moment a new thing is beheld, it is a moment of isolation for the person unveiling that new mystery- until it's shared, and then it becomes something that can bind people in a new way.  But that rush of discovery, that brush against new knowledge that can make one dizzy with untold implications, can also blind one to the greater relations in life. 

  After all, it is the things we share that bind us together.  Consider that moment when something momentous steps into life, and the anxiety to tell someone, to share the moment.  But who will be that first person? These are the notions that drive "Apogee", and give a discovery of incredible implications a place within the very simple, and very complicated, realm of humanity.

  I never had a doubt as to the title once I started writing the story, though by word it never appears in the story.  Apogee:  the point at which an orbiting body is farthest from the body being orbited.

  Something to consider while the story is read, as it is relevant on several levels.

  "Apogee" was a bit of a milestone for me, marking my tenth publication credit.  It found a home at Rose & Thorn Journal, a wonderful on-line publication.  For those of you who write, this is a market you will want to take a look at.

  Read "Apogee" here (you will stay on this site).

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  A tragic tale of hubris...behind "The City of Never"
 
 
Like some of the other stories I've seen through to publication, "The City of Never" was one of those tales that just couldn't seem to find a home.  In the end, as to the old wisdom that a reward is in relation to its work, things worked out much to my satisfaction.  "The City of Never" found a place in Aphelion, the same webzine that was kind enough to publish my story "Shift/Change". 

  Not only did "The City of Never" appear in the October 2011 issue of Aphelion, but it went on to be judged by Aphelion's editors as one of their 'Best of 2011' in February of 2012.  "The City of Never" also marked my first repeat appearance in a particular publication.

  As to the story itself, this started as a singular image in my head, of an eccentric man consumed by his vision, so that his final artistic creation and achievement is also his last.  From the beginning I had the idea that this creation should be something quite remarkable, vast in scale, and so the idea of this person creating an entire city came into focus. 

  The more I considered this character, though, the more I realized I was trying to jam too many attributes - some of them contradictory - into one person.  And so came the split of this central character, and in the splitting of that persona, the real idea that would drive the story, and the way I would go about putting it to paper.  One person became three: the ego-monster of Karl Saanos, and the two creative minds trapped in his influence, Gregor the city designer and Maggie LaFey, the object of Gregor's passion.

  As far as the selection of names goes, there's a bit to tell.  'Gregor' came to me from Kafka's The Metamorphosis, but I must admit that I wasn't shooting for some hidden parallel, but rather the name just caught my interest as something quite different from our normal English name base. 

  'Maggie LaFey' has some deeper origins.  At the time I wrote this story I was dabbling in some Arthurian legend, where I came across Morgana LaFey or, in some texts, Morgan LaFey.  I thought 'Maggie' had a more innocent sound than either Morgana or Morgan; besides, I used 'Morgana' in Flowers for Colleen, and it seemed too distinctive a name to use again, especially given the nature of the character who held it in Flowers.  And speaking of nature, Morgana LaFey has her presence in certain texts as a sorceress, and all magic in old myth is very much rooted in Naturalism, so it seemed a good fit as a surname for Maggie, given her profession.

  The common wisdom in writing a short story is that it should start as close to the end as possible.  I had a definite concern with this story that it might extend well into a word count more suitable for a novella, which was contrary to what I was shooting for.  Even with all the ground I had to cover to tie the story together, I wanted it to be of a length accessible in a single read.  The solution was intrinsic to solidifying Gregor's defining attribute: the story, like his memory, would be presented in disjointed fractals of time. 

  Writing a story with several time streams is not an easy thing to do, as it runs the risk of being too confusing, with the various time lines lost from their subjective relation (and I had one editor confirm this very fear in an early draft of the story).  For me this was only further reinforcement to tighten up the narrative and bring the story to its final form.  In the end, the various time streams converge as they should, with the different past settings converging with increasing tightness until the final moment - the moment in which the narrative opens - is inescapable. 

  As a writer, pulling off this type of narrative is, to say the least, satisfying.  Presenting a cohesive, compelling narrative structure is a challenge of its own, but to do so without a linear temporal flow is an extra challenge.  But as I've said here in some of these essays, I always try to test myself with each story to do something a little bit different.

  For those who have read Remnant, I used this type of narrative construct in the second chapter of 'All the Fallen Angels', and I used it again in Oddities & Entities, in 'Appendage'.  I'm not mentioning these two references as shameless self promotion (although, I'm sure there's just a little-itty-bit of that) but more to exhibit my interest in this type of narrative structure.  Why is that?  Well, there are some stories that present themselves best in this fashion, stories where hindsight is pivotal in a waking moment of perception for a certain character.

  As for those little sections of the 'Coda Urbani', those are original essays of mine, and not paraphrases of other texts.  They do, however, reflect some of my ideas as to the pitfalls of mass urbanization, and the dehumanizing effect it can have on a given populace.  Urbanization is no different than other achievements of humanity.  At its peak, the so-called 'megalopolis', urbanization serves testament to what humanity can achieve, yet inseparable from that is the bleak underbelly of urban squalor.  

  I was shooting for something a bit subtle with the closing of the story, the irony that the City of Never, a place of haunting beauty, is also a city built with no intention of human habitation.  Given what Gregor endures under the manipulations of Karl Saanos, his final, perhaps disturbing, perception is that only the ghosts of our aspirations and emotional expression are pure, and that the messy world of everyday human interaction is something quite different, something not meant to dwell in the same space.

  But that, like any other form of creative expression, is open to individual interpretation.  In the end, that's the wonder of art - the eye of the beholder.

  Read "The City of Never" here (you will stay on this site).

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  Fantasy and Myth...behind "Conquest's End"

  I read quite a bit of fantasy in my teens, spreading my time between the Conan series, Hawkmoon, Elric, and other assorted hero arcs of Michael Moorcock, and of course the 'compulsory' expedition through Tolkien.  I say 'compulsory' without any disrespect, but at the time I remember feeling more compelled to read Tolkien than personally interested in reading Tolkien.  Nevertheless I had a taste for and developed a recognition of the quality invested in some of the works I read and they did serve as excellent lessons in the crafting of a story.

  As I moved into my college years, though, my reading tastes moved far more into science fiction and away from fantasy.  I did develop, and still hold, a particular fascination for Tolkien's Silmarillion, which in my opinion is the best of his writing.  Recognition of that opinion was solidified as I started to get involved in classical mythology through the likes of Homer and the many storytellers of antiquity who contributed their own segments to the expansive story that is the Trojan War.  In my head, Homer's Iliad stands above everything elseIt  combined something I hadn't really experienced before, and that was the elegant, almost musical language of poetry with a prose-style story of wild characters and momentous events.

  I've dabbled with fantasy pieces before, but I won't get into those, as they are yet to be published, and some of them are in need of some serious retooling.  I only mention them here because they led me to try something different.  My previous attempts at fantasy leading up to "Conquest's End" were all done in verse, in response to my fascination with Homer.  In writing my next fantasy piece, which became this story, I wanted to do something a little different, and use more of a 'prose poetry' style. 

   I think fantasy by nature lends itself toward the allowance of some rather ornate descriptive language.  With all literary styles it has to be kept in check, so that the language lends to the story rather than overshadowing and thereby detracting from the story.  I also went for a little different aesthetic, which was to move away from the traditional (perhaps) fantasy descriptors that echo familiar visual standards of Middle Age Europe. 

  Instead I opted for something with a taste of Oriental mythos.  During a visit to the Museum of Natural History in New York City I had the opportunity to see a display of some very old Japanese scrolls, complete with some truly wonderful artwork.  The form and flow of their paintings is quite different from old European depictions I've seen, so they immediately stuck in my head, waiting for some opportunity to find their place, and so they did.

  With the stylistic elements of the actual language in the story and the aesthetic slant in place, it was time to start writing.  In yet another stylistic nod I tried to follow Homer and use some descriptive phrases to follow along with the characters.  Anyone familiar with Homer in verse will know of what I speak- 'rosy fingered Dawn', 'fleet footed Achilles' and so on.  From this came 'Lady Luna, silver haired moon sister of the star laden night', and 'Kyto, Sacker of a Thousand Cities.' 

   I didn't want to create a long story, as I felt what I wanted to show in this story shouldn't go over a 5 - 7,000 word count, so those descriptive phrases were expanded to help flesh out the characters to whom they were attached.  And going along with the language style, the aesthetic influences, and the descriptive phrases, the story began to take on the dreamy tone I wanted to convey. 

  And so, "Conquest's End" came to be.  Seeing this story through to publication became a bit of a thorn in my side, though.  I don't mean that in a bad way - I've received several what I like to call 'glowing rejections' for this story, more than any other I've pursued to publication.  I would receive editorial comments that started with such things as 'beautiful prose', 'fantastic imagery', and several other compliments, only to have them end with the most disappointing word in a submission reply: BUT.  'But it was too this...', 'but it was too that...', 'but it should have been longer...', and so on. 

  A little frustrating, although I must admit nevertheless flattering, particularly the editors who wanted to see more.  In the end, Bewildering Stories found the story just right, and out to the light it went.

  Maybe one day I'll follow Kyto and Luna a little further but, for now, their story stands complete. 

  "Conquest's End", serialized over four issues of Bewildering Stories, was named an Editor's Choice for the Spring Quarter 2012 and was the recipient of Bewildering Stories' annual best-of Mariner Award.  Those are nice honors, and I'm grateful to have my story received with such high regard. 

  Another interesting tidbit regarding "Conquest's End" is the editorial review posted by Don Webb, editor of Bewildering Stories.  You can read his comments at the webzine's site, right here (this will take you over to Bewildering Stories).  Mr. Webb's comments regarding the stylistic elements of the story directly reflect some of what I discussed above.  Of course, being an editor, he managed to get his point across in far fewer words than I managed here :) !

  Read "Conquest's End" right here (you will stay on this site).

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  The redemptive trial of a family...behind "Turn the Wheel"

  "Turn the Wheel" is a very domestic story, following the recollection of a young man regarding his abusive childhood.  There were several factors that provided me the interest to write this story.  It's also a departure from what I usually do - which made it all the more interesting for me to write.

  The story began with a single image, in a similar way that a fair number of stories find their origins within me.  For this particular piece it was the image of a teenage boy, a destitute outcast, found alone at night having a smoke with some sort of crime scene left in his wake.  Not that he was the criminal, but rather that the 'scene' was some embodiment of his troubled life. 

  Although this image never made it into the final story, it did provide a solid starting point.  At that point, still without any notion of an actual story, I nevertheless had a spontaneous inclination that the story would be Southern or Appalachian in nature.  I wasn't sure what this was going to mean in regard to crafting the story, but the more I considered the inclination to do a story with a dialect the more I found it interesting to portray something complex without complex language. 

  That's not meant as a criticism of local dialects, but a reflection of my intent to tell a story outside of the comfort zone of literary vernacular.  Common vernacular can have a wonderful, poetic twist to it, the stark construction of its words at times having a punch far more striking than long eloquent passages.  It's not an easy thing to do, and that's probably the reason so many editors state they don't want to see stories written in dialect.

  Indeed, it's a fine line between letting a dialect do much of the work in summoning notions of setting and tone for a reader and having the written presence of the dialect create a distraction. The last thing you want to do as an author is to annoy a reader and thereby occlude the presentation of a story.

  So while there's a definite challenge to writing in dialect, if successful the challenge makes the reward all the sweeter, as the saying goes.  In that frame of mind I decided to shift the writing of the story to a first person view, and to further embed the dialect, to present the story as a verbal recollection, a narration.  It was a bit of a leap, because I knew in presenting the story in such a way there was no escaping the demands of getting the language right and achieving the balance of sound and readability.  It took several extensive edits and drafts to get the story into its final form and far away (I hope) from a bad impression of Forrest Gump.

  "Turn the Wheel" is a brutal story.  Abuse is not an easy thing to portray without degenerating to a distasteful mess.  In some ways it's no different than writing a horror story, straddling the fine but definitive line between creating fear and tension as opposed to a hack and slash splatter-fest.  And like any story which depicts rough situations, the only way the story can transcend to something more than its base material is through the growth of character, that is, catharsis.  It's this presence of transformation, of a sense of growth and hope for the narrator born of the horrible trials of his youth, that make "Turn the Wheel" a story and not an event.

  To my good fortune the editors of Midwest Literary Magazine apparently agreed.

  Read "Turn the Wheel" right here (you will stay on this site).

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  The universe, in 4,000 words (or less)...behind "Beheld"

  "Beheld" is a bit of a curious story, and its origins and evolution to published form are a curious journey in their own right.  So, what's all the curiosity?

  This story began as a challenge to myself, a thought exercise to see how much narrative scope I could fit into a short story.  Typically, when I sit down to write a story I don't concern myself with a specific length in mind.  The length of a story is a communion between the depth and complexity of the character(s) I wish to portray and the complexity of the idea(s) I wish to explore in the story. 

  As these take shape I then begin to figure if I'm going to be in the realm of a short story, novella, or full novel.  From there I begin to write, but still leave myself leeway for specific length.  Length can always be adjusted once the initial writing is done.  When I proof the story I can make the requisite decisions to expand or contract various sections so that the story is concise, yet developed in full.  That's a little introduction to Roland's Creative Process 101.

  This is relevant to "Beheld" because I had the express intent to remain within the realm of a short story, so by definition I was looking at upwards of 5,000 words for the finished piece.  The question, as I said above, was to challenge myself as to how much story I could cram into that amount of space. 

  After a little thought, I came up with the idea to take a shot at the biggest story of all - the story of the universe.  To reach that lofty goal the next conclusion came rather quickly, as I didn't see how else to frame the narrative except from the viewpoint of a fictional supreme being.  That solved one problem, but opened another - how to formulate the character of a supreme being from my very imperfect human mind.

  Rather than get lost in the divisive delineations of current world religions, I decided to take a more subjective approach.  The character of the 'Deity' held some facets of what we consider under the guise of any monotheistic religion, but I kept it bleached of any terminology from our religions.  That only seemed to make sense, as I was writing from the viewpoint of a being that represented all the universe, and not just the little blue marble we call home. 

  To stay consistent with that consideration I tried to keep the thoughts of the Deity more on the philosophical side of things, more so in the way of the endless questioning of the Socratic Method.  For the narrative voice, though, I decided to take a shot at the lofty language one often encounters in both religious documents and mythology.

  The first draft came in at 4,000 words, and I was happy with that.  I was confident the story explored some compelling ideas that merged sound science with the working of a transcendent intellect, illustrated by the use of similes - a practice used with great success in the creation myths of many ancient societies and countless passages of both Old and New Testaments. 

  Seeing the story through to publication was a bit of a trial, though.  I realized early on it was a difficult story to market, as it didn't fit neatly into any category.  It had spiritual tones, but it's not a religious story; likewise, it has philosophical considerations, but it's not a philosophical treatise.  There's some science, but it's clearly not science fiction, or even speculative.  A rule of thumb in publication is to write a story with an intent on where it can be marketed, but I rarely work that way.  In this case in particular it posed a significant challenge.

  Despite my stubbornness, yet to illustrate a point I discuss on my 'For the Writers' page, editorial advice was something I had to utilize.  The first editorial feedback I received was that the story lacked motivation, a critical piece of story development.  At first I balked at the criticism, because "Beheld" isn't a traditional story.  But, on further review, I realized it was well placed critique: in the original draft of "Beheld" the Deity served as the voice of the story, but little else.  Despite what the Deity represents, it's still a 'character', and so had to have a driving force to invest the story with purpose.  Point taken.

  With some heavy revision the story went back on the submission block and didn't get far, until I did some more edits and revisions and sent it out to Raphael's Village, where it found a receptive audience.  I have to thank Chris Swanson of Raphael's Village for his editorial input, because his thoughtful advice helped shape the story into its final form. 

  Without such editorial perspective in hand, I have a funny feeling I would've sent "Beheld" to the mothball file.  I took the task in hand and, with some extraneous, distracting passages trimmed out and an overall streamlining of the narrative language, the story dropped to a lean and mean 3,200 words.  I was excited, because I felt the story was as tight and focused as it could get, and fortunately on second review the staff of Raphael's Village decided to publish the story.

  I guess there's some irony here.  "Beheld" is a story about discovery, evolution, and transformation - all things the story itself had to experience.

  Read "Beheld" right here (you will stay on this site).

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  Exploring a different perspective...behind "Wayward"

  "Wayward" is one of those stories that I never saw on my radar.  One of the things I love about the creative process is that something completely unexpected can coalesce to form a narrative process, giving life to a new story.  For "Wayward", that moment came to pass during a discussion over dinner at a family gathering.  While exchanging ideas and thoughts over a particular topic, a challenge was thrown at me over something I had said.  It was a bit of a stinger, more so for the fact that I realized what I had said left an impression very different from my intent.  Not only did that compel me to explain myself properly, but it forced me to realize how both ideas and ideals can quickly become confused during the process of expression.

  As the saying goes, food for thought.

  Without giving away the story of "Wayward", I will limit the discussion here to one regarding self delusion.  The story follows an architect over the course of an evening.  He is enmeshed in last minute adjustments on an important project, and has drawn his friend and coworker into his mess.  At the same time, he has to deal with his upcoming wedding and the increasing impatience of his wife-to-be with his apparent disinterest in the wedding arrangements.  It's a vortex of knotted emotions, and one he doesn't quite understand, until desperation fosters a dizzying process of introspection.

  "Wayward" is a story not just about identity, but the process by which one can both acknowledge and deny one's identity.  Life is an impression not only of the things around us, but how we choose to assimilate those impressions within the constructs of our desires.  Impression is by nature subjective, and therein lies the problem:  the drive for a true understanding of oneself is mired among the deceptions of what one believes should constitute life. 

  From these considerations stemmed the plot devices of the story.  Architecture serves as the more absolutist structure of life, yet it incorporates subjective, artistic elements.  Structure, however, can only accommodate the less concrete nature of desire to fixed degrees until the structure fails to support itself.  In the gap between this absolute system and the abstracts of Desire's extents resides the world of art, where creativity and subjective impression are the only limits.  The illusion of art can then either serve as truth or deception, a facade to hide the lurking nature entombed within absolutist constructs.  It's a philosophical and psychological tug of war, but one I think all people face on one level or another, or perhaps on multiple levels - it all depends on the nature of the schism one looks to reconcile.

  "Wayward" isn't meant to be a commentary, a judgment, a condemnation, or even an opinion.  I wrote it with the specific intent to show a specific moment, presented in a recognizable and so relatable dilemma.  While the contributing elements of the story are things that can be readily identified as common to Life, the rub is in the solutions sought by the characters, and their own conclusions - unspoken, and perhaps unconscious - as to how they will proceed on their trajectories. 

  Somewhere in the delicate turn between the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell those around us exists a subjective truth, an absolute though subjective portrait of what we present to the world.  It's a compromise everyone makes, because everyone contains aspects of themselves they keep locked away.  Human nature is a fascinating composite of these compromises.

  After many rewrites and revisions to bring this story into the focus I wanted, "Wayward" found it to the light of the publishing world in the online journal /ONE/, where it was featured as the sole piece of fiction in its issue.

  Read "Wayward" at /ONE/ on their website.

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Loneliness can have its own appetite...behind "Soulmates"

  "Soulmates" came about by an odd set of circumstances and mechanical considerations I don't usually entertain when crafting a short story.  Nevertheless, opportunity and challenge combined to fuel what I've been told is one of my stranger pieces of short fiction - and that's just fine by me.

  My book publisher, All Things That Matter Press, allows its authors to publish short stories as Kindle shorts on Amazon.  It was an option I hadn't explored but, in the summer of 2013, they put out a call to its fellow authors for horror related stories to be released for the creep season of the year, October and Halloween.  This sparked my interest, because I thought horror and the bizarre are areas right up my alley and genres with which I've had some success.  I wasn't yet given a publication date for "Wayward", so I also thought this would be a great way to add a 2013 publication credit to my writer's resume.  The only problem, though, is that the submissions had a maximum 5,000 word count.

  As I've explained in various places on this site, I don't write my fiction with solid concepts of word count.  I might have a vague idea as to length, but I prefer to let stories develop with their own pace and thereby their own length.  The final word count is an organic extension of that process, and one I give little thought or consideration.  However, dealing with this reality seemed to me an excellent opportunity to explore this kind of narrative discipline.

  The only thing that remained, though, was an actual idea for a story.

  I entertained several notions, and discarded all of them.  Most of them were simply too short; they were scenes rather than actual stories.  One idea, a tale entitled "Providentiary License", I went so far as to start putting words to paper (so to speak), but I immediately came to two realizations.  For one, I wasn't happy with the narrative perspective I chose; two, to explore the concept of the story to its full maturation was going to take far more than 5,000 words.  So, as much as I loved the idea of the story, I decided to put it on the mental back burner.  (Stay tuned - this story will be presented as its own novel). With that plan gone bust, I found myself nearing the end of August without a viable concept toward the goal of the story.

  As luck would have it, I woke up before dawn one morning with another bout of intestinal displeasure brewing within me.  I get these bouts every now and then, usually when I'm not so careful about what I ate the night before.  I don't remember what I ate that prior night, but I do remember sitting in bed in the dark as my intestines squirmed inside me.  Alone in the quiet, I let my thoughts wander, and I soon found myself thinking of two realities of my existence - the thoughts in my head, and this strange cramping and discomfort in my abdomen.  The idea of another 'me' living inside of me as an entity in revolt against the community of my body set my thoughts churning.  Some quick brainstorming assembled a set of elements around that idea, and then I was ready.

  I went downstairs and typed out the story, in whole, in one pass.  My younger son woke up as I was finishing the first draft.  He asked me what I was typing, and I just gave him the 'do not disturb' hand.  I love when a creative surge hits me and I'm able to bang out a story in one sitting.  It's very satisfying, but it does dovetail to a more demanding proof and revision process because small details can be lost in the heat of the moment.  Once all that was done and the narrative in proper focus, I sent it off, and my publisher elected to add it as a Kindle short.

  By the way, final word count?  5,000.  Yes, I used every last word.

  Read "Soulmates" as a Kindle short at Amazon!

 

 

 
     
All original content copyright by Roland Allnach.  Content may be linked and/or quoted, but not reproduced without permission.
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