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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Phallic Obsession

Around this time last year I decided to try my hand at writing a horror story in the style of H.P. Lovecraft. What does that mean, exactly? The most obvious characteristics of Lovecraftian horror are an adjective-laden prose style and plentiful references to the Cthulhu mythos. I wanted to avoid both those things, partly because they’ve already been done to death by better writers, and partly because there are other aspects of Lovecraft’s work that interest me more. There’s a bookish, first-person narrator nervously recounting past events that had a shattering effect on his nerves. There’s the fragile line that separates madness from reality. And there’s Lovecraft’s central conceit – almost unique in horror fiction – that the ultimate horror lies in the realization of the total insignificance of the human condition.

The most horrifying form of madness is the paranoid delusion – for example the not-uncommon notion that the upper levels of human society have been infiltrated by reptilian shape-shifters. I don’t mean that it’s horrifying because it might be true (although some people might feel that way), but because it’s absolutely impossible to convince a deluded individual that their delusion isn’t true. The safest way to preserve your own sanity is to have nothing to do with people expounding such views.

But what if the person in question can give you something you want? I pictured the story’s villain as a female academic who – after “discovering” the existence of the reptilians and consequent pointlessness of human existence – dedicates her life to sex, drugs and a museum full of penises (this was around the time I wrote the blog post about Phascinating Phacts). The narrator would be a na├»ve young heterosexual male who was chasing after the woman for... well, for obvious reasons.

That was the way I wrote the first draft, but I wasn’t really happy with it. The fact that some scenes had the hero lusting after the villain diluted the horror of his situation. The breakthrough came several months later when Chinese Alchemy was accepted by JMS Books, and I started wondering what else I could send them. They’re specialists in LGBT fiction, so I couldn’t send them “Madness in the Museum” (as it was called at the time) because the hero wasn’t gay. Or was he?

Suddenly it all came together. If the hero was gay, and drawn to the female villain because of a mutual interest rather than sexual attraction, it would avoid the emotional U-turns that messed up the original version. It also added an extra dimension to the “Phallic Obsession” that became the story’s new title. And it allowed me to introduce a few humorous scenes into the story, as well as a much more dramatic climactic scene. The final published version is quite short (7500 words), but I think it hangs together pretty well. And they’ve given it a brilliant cover!

Phallic Obsession is a mere $2.99 from Amazon and other ebook retailers. British readers can get it from the UK Kindle store for just £1.85.

1 comment:

Peni R. Griffin said...

Isn't it wonderful how things come together when you realize that one salient element? Good for you!