A year ago today, my story “Woodland” was published in The Yellow Booke Vol. III (edited and illustrated by Michael Kellermeyer). It was my first published story, and though the publisher (the excellent Oldstyle Tales Press) is not as well known as it should be, it was a really big deal for me at the time. I’m going to look back at it today. You can read the entire book online here or you could (very graciously!) buy a paperback copy here.
The genesis of the story was Bob Dylan’s song “Ballad of Hollis Brown”, which my father had recently played. The lyrics and music struck me as very Ambrose Bierce-y, particularly reminding me of “The Boarded Window” (still one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read). I borrowed its most basic premise and its second person narrative. A verse from it served as an epigraph (along with a stanza from William Butler Yeats’ “The Changeling”, which my father read to me when I was very young):
You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
Your children are so hungry
That they don’t know how to smile
“Woodland” is essentially a ghost story, although I tried to throw in as much gruesome imagery as possible (some of which I honestly quite like). The most dizzying part was that the story – mostly composed of flashbacks – was all written in the present tense, which (while it certainly confused the reader) might’ve been a bit too disorienting to follow properly. I guess I was just trying to show how the protagonist was constantly reliving his crime (and the events leading up to it) in his head. Oh well. I’m also bugged by the repeated Biblical references, as well as the stuff about the “Atrophic World” and “the Eye of It” at the end, but what’s done is done. The description of the “ghost” that shows up in the story was mainly inspired by a commission the excellent Jason Bradley Thompson did for me, which you can see here.
I started writing “Woodland” in October/November of eighth grade. We had been doing a horror unit in English (covering some of my favorite writers: Poe, Dahl, &c.) and our final project was to write our own horror story. I started “Woodland” as an exercise and intended to use it as the final project, but when I found out the project was a max of four pages, that idea was quickly scrapped. (I eventually wrote a story called “Shelter”, which was firmly within the parameters of what the teacher required, and which attempted to give a taste of some concepts contained in “Woodland”.)
I wasn’t done with the story yet. I continued writing it on my iPad with the soul purpose of terrifying my fifth period study hall teacher Ms. Tracy Bettes (whom the story is primarily dedicated to). This was not a new exercise. I had previously written a fragment of a story which described a man’s insect-infested corpse, but this was a full-on story, which I would present to her in somewhat serialized format. I didn’t think this was cruel at all (although I did take slightly diabolical pleasure in her horrified expressions during some of the more grotesque scenes), but perhaps it was (forgive me!). It’s for this reason why some of the imagery is so jarring, so bizarre and violent – although I hope I’ve gotten better at writing jarring, bizarre, violent imagery. In any case, Ms. Bettes was always very supportive, and if not for that the story might never have been finished.
When it was finished, I sent it to the Lovecraft eZine. At the end of the story I’d started to hint at a mythos I was considering building at the time (with concepts like the “Atrophic World” and the “Eye of It”), which were much elaborated upon in “Shelter”. This idea, by the by, has changed so vastly that it is practically unrecognizable. I, of course, received a (very kind!) rejection letter, and undeterred went back and reevaluated the story. I changed a few things around and sent it to Michael Kellermeyer, who accepted it with a lovely letter for his publication.
Over the next few months I bombarded him with some edited versions of the story (with major changes being made in the final few italicized paragraphs), not all of which could be taken into account. The version you read in The Yellow Booke is not necessarily the final one, but its not far from it. Mr. Kellermeyer sent me his lovely illustration for the story (which, to my astonishment, made the front cover) and the book was released today a year ago. Now you know.
The outpouring of support I received at the time was overwhelming. I’m still feeling the aftershock of it a year later, and whilst I take issue on a lot of grounds with “Woodland”, I still have some affection for it. A rewrite might be in order, although I doubt I have time.
Please support Oldstyle Tales here, they really do publish some quality stuff. The Yellow Booke Vol. III can, again, be found online here and in paperback here. Please consider leaving an Amazon review if you like it.