An Author to Watch For: Noelle West Ihli

My introduction to new author Noelle West Ihli was through a BookBub deal for her first novel, THE THICKET. I had no expectations; I’ve read a lot of new authors, some better than others, but the premise of her debut intrigued me. A haunted house attraction has drawn quite a crowd from the community – lots of young people, including Norah, the main character, who was roped into dragging her younger, horror obscessed brother to visit it. She’s upset. She wants to be with her friends, and more specifically, with the young man she likes and wants to hang out with.

When her brother is taking too long to get through the attraction, Norah moves on to wait for him outside. Except he never comes out. But someone does – a killer who murdered her brother while everyone thinks it is part of the show. The question is, will he (or she) strike again?

Cool premise for a novel, and Ihli pulls it off beautifully. Her plotting and her prose kept me in the story, and I felt connected to all the characters and wanted to find out what would happen to them. The tension escalates throughout the book, and it resolves in a satisfactory manner.

My review on Amazon said that I couldn’t wait to read Ihli’s next novel, and lo and behold, here it is. ASK FOR ANDREA is a unique story, again about a serial killer, but really about his victims. And here’s the catch: it’s about them after they are dead! The story follows the murders and the subsequent “existence” of three victims of a killer who uses a dating service to attract his victims.

That existence is incredibly interesting, in my opinion. I mean, in some ways it’s a very mundane existence. After all, they can’t do much beyond making lights flicker or a computer fritz out. But as the story progresses, we are treated to the tale of what they experience as they follow their respective paths, and how they do influence the resolution of the story.

The title, “Ask For Andrea,” refers to a sign in a bar that alerts women to a service that will help them if they are in an abusive or unsafe situation, to help them extirpate themselves from the situation if necessary. It is one of the first things that one of the victims (Meghan, I think, if I recall correctly, but maybe it was Brecia) notices on her meet-up with the killer. But she doesn’t use it; instead she ends up as a victim. Still, it ends up being an apt title for the novel, and I will let you discover why.

Like her debut, Ihli’s sophomore effort is well-written and carefully plotted, and her characters are masterfully drawn. Plus, she gets extra points for these inventive, original tales.

Like my Amazon review said, I can’t wait for her next one.




(I started thinking about characters, and had this idea to write a short bit to see if I can make the reader care about a character in an undramatic situation and with only his thoughts and perspective. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so yesterday I banged out this 1300+ short story. You be the judge of whether I succeed in getting you to care about young Mr. Crowder. )


(click on the title to read the story…)


I woke up this morning to a Facebook post by George Adamczyk about inspiration. Specifically:

How do you get your inspiration for story ideas?

1. Spontaneous Creation – it just comes to you

2. Sub-Mission – think of an idea that a magazine or anthology is looking for

3. Dream Factory – it comes from a dream you had

4. Couch Potato – just sit around wracking your brain for a seed that can blossom into a novel

5. Lottery Ticket – keep scratching away until you come up with a winner

Chris Stenson (one of the authors featured in The Gates Of Chaos) added a 6th: reading other people’s work.

I said that my inspiration came from 1. and 2. with the rare occasions that a story grows out of a dream. But then when Chris made his comment, I realized that most of my written works have come from reading something else.

Richard Laymon has always been a favorite of mine. I can’t really explain why; I don’t necessarily feel like he’s a great writer. If anything, his prose can be a bit juvenile with its obsession with sex. Almost lewd. But his characters work for me, and his stories often inspire me to try writing something similar.

For example, I started writing my novella THE CAVE after reading Laymon’s THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW (one of his best, in my opinion). I loved the idea of kids exploring a circus/carnival that comes to their town. Kids exploring things hits home – we did a ton of exploring as kids when our world was smaller. An empty lot in our neighborhood overgrown with trees and serving as a drainage area for our part of the neighborhood was a vast jungle filled with adventure. The cornfields around our area were unending fields of tall green stalks, rising above our heads. The woods at the end of the street and the dirt road leading to an untrustworthy bridge (for vehicles, not bicycles). We dreamed about finding adventure. And what could be more interesting to a group of kids than finding a cave?

Another Laymon story was called ENDLESS NIGHT, and while it wasn’t what I thought it would be from the title, I took that title and wrote my own story that ended up being called THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT. It is nothing like the Laymon title that inspired it, but deals with the mystery of what might lurk behind the closed doors of homes in suburban middle America.

Then there is Edward Lee and his book CITY INFERNAL. The idea that there was a city in the underworld, called Mephistopolis, I think, that was powered by suffering gave me an idea to write something about human suffering being a more practical goal than simply evil for evil’s sake. Oh, it’s still evil, but it serves a purpose. From that idea came my short novel RECIPROCAL EVIL.

William Malmborg is one of our contemporaries as writers. Malmborg has a delightfully twisted imagination, having written JIMMY, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL, and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH THE OUIJA BOARD. He also wrote TEXT MESSAGE, which follows the story of a college girl in a suburban shopping mall during a snowstorm who has become separated from her little sister (she ditched the little girl to meet up with a boyfriend) and begins to receive text messages threatening to hurt her sister if she doesn’t perform multiple degrading acts around the mall. It gets more voyeuristic and more violent, and. well, I think Bill is going to re-release it at some point in the near future, if it sounds like a good read (which it definitely was for me).

It wasn’t so much the story that inspired me but the setting. I was inspired to pick a public location in which to set a story. Also, the voyeuristic aspect of the story intrigued me and I wanted to use it as well. I remembered laying on the bed in a hotel and staring up at the smoke detectors and sprinkler system fixtures on the ceiling, and thinking how easy it would be to install those little cameras in them. And between that and Malmborg’s story, I had the basis for my novella THE INN.

Robert Walker mentioned in that same FB thread that sometimes challenges can be the source of inspiration. I’ve also found inspiration in these sorts of challenges. Write a story to fit an anthology’s theme. Or writing contests, like the ones we used to have at the Book and Candle Pub, where we’d be given a starting sentence and/or six words to build any sort of story around. My novella ODD MAN OUT began its life as a 1600 word short story that used an opening sentence and six assorted unrelated words. I increased the word count to something around 37K when rewriting it. Now it’s also inspired a sequel (complete but untitled). My story DEAD OR ALIVE was a 2400 word story about a detective who escapes a vampire enclave in Los Angeles, also written for a Pub contest. That story first grew into a trilogy of related longer short stories (averaging about 8000 words each) and then another short story, then two more novels/novellas (finished but not edited completely) and a third novel or novella in progress today. Only the first trilogy of stories has been published, but I’m getting there with the others.

Another source of inspiration was an old shared world from the Horror Discussion Group on Delphi. The moderator of the forum created a town called Addison Falls, along with a group of settings and common characters that were free for anyone to use. I wrote a longish short story (about 11K words) in that world, called “The Ghost Train.” And then finally I finished a 60K novel, as yet untitled, also set in that world, using some of the common characters, some ‘proprietary’ characters (with permission from their creator) and several new characters of my own. I recently did a reread and quite enjoyed it. I wonder if others will enjoy it as well.

Finally, my own characters seem to be inspiring me. I started a novel called “College Horror Story” which really kicked into gear when I realized that it was set at the same college as RECIPROCAL EVIL was set at. And THE INN has now inspired a prequel/sequel that I am at the beginning stages of writing. I suspect that I’ll lengthen other short stories in the future and see what comes out of them.

Inspiration seems to come from all over the spectrum for me, but the common theme is the written word. How about you? Do you have any thoughts or stories about what inspires you? Feel free to drop me a comment. Thanks!


There’s a thin line between a story that’s entertaining and one that’s simply disgusting and vile. Some can walk it, some can’t. For many, it doesn’t matter. The more extreme the better. For me, it does. I’m not into a gross-out for the sake of being grossed out. I don’t like torture for the sake of torture.

Recently I saw a movie called DAZED AND CONFUSED. I grew up in those times, went to high school in the 70’s. But I really didn’t like the movie as much as people kept telling me I would. I didn’t find it as funny as something like ANIMAL HOUSE or HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, or even WEEKEND AT BERNIES. It went overboard. I didn’t find the vandalism that cool any more (even if I was with someone once who “landscaped” a teacher’s yard with his 69 Mustang). I didn’t relate in any way to the torture and abuse of the incoming freshmen. That wasn’t part of our experience. I felt like it didn’t need to be in this movie, and wasn’t funny. Sometimes a creative work tries too hard.

I’ve been reading a lot of positive things about Carver Pike’s Diablo Snuff series, but mostly just about how much someone liked it or how sick it was.  As I generally don’t like “sick,” I shied away from the series.  But Carver being the generous and giving guy that he is, he featured my novel Reciprocal Evil on his YouTube show, “First Chapter Freakshow.”  I figured that the absolute least I could do in return was read a couple of his books.  

I am glad I did.  A Foreign Evil is Book One of the Diablo Snuff series, and The Grindhouse is Book Two.  I would categorize both as ‘erotic horror’ with extreme elements.  But the extreme bits aren’t the focus; if they had been, I don’t think I would have enjoyed either book as much as I did.  These books are about their characters.  I’ve come to realize that characters are the most important thing for me in any story, not just horror.  I have to care about the characters to care about the stakes.  And these books do a superb job of making me care.  

The first book finds its protagonist in Mexico, at a resort for a bachelor party.  He’s an understated guy with depth that sets him apart from his buddies.  He’s not above the good times, sex and partying, but for him, it’s not enough.  So when he escapes to a little restaurant or cafe across from the casino where he is staying, it doesn’t seem odd at all.  I would probably be doing the same thing.  

At that cafe, he is more or less ‘picked up’ by a beautiful Latina, and their connection is immediate.  The more he gets to know her, the more attracted he becomes, to the point where he can’t leave her.  They can’t go to his room, because his roommate has already claimed it with a prostitute.  He doesn’t have the funds to spring for another room, and they can’t go to her place because of her roommates.  But she knows the perfect place: a push button.  And that’s where the horror starts.

The second book begins with a spoiler for the first book, so let me skip to the main part.  Tobias “T.K.” Tantrum is attending a pricey writer’s retreat at a hotel with a lot of history, the most important to him being that his idol, horror writer Melvin Morose, wrote some of his best work there and died there.  But things in the hotel are not what they seem; ghosts seem to haunt the halls, and the guests are unnaturally horny and randy, for lack of a better way to put it.  Tobias meets a fellow author, one who writes erotica, named Angelica, and much like the protagonist of the first book, he soon can’t imagine live without her.  But his experiences seem much more frightening than the others’ experiences, including Angelica. Tobias can’t help but realize that this place is far more than just a writer’s retreat.  It, and its proprietors, want something from them that they aren’t prepared to give.  And he’s the only one who realizes it.

I came to care about these characters very quickly, which is the mark of an excellent book.  I also became invested in the overarching story quickly: just what is Diablo Snuff?  What’s the purpose?  Of course, I am hooked and will have to read everything in the series.  The stories are reminiscent of some of John Everson’s erotic horror novels in Carver’s use of that type of content, though a bit more graphic, and with a bit more extreme horror bits thrown in.  The extreme stuff never felt gratuitous.  It was necessary for the story.  These are some of the better horror novels I’ve read this year, and certainly some of the most horrific.  They will likely stay with me much longer than most of the other ones I’ve read, in part because I found these characters to be likable when they’re supposed to be likable.  That’s a problem with a lot of horror for me; that the main characters are often as unlikable as the villains of their stories.  I want someone to root for, and Carver Pike certainly gives that to his readers.

Carver Pike walked the thin line between a great story and something that achieves nothing more than shock and gross-out. And he does it with flair. It’s worth reading, even if you’re not a fan of extreme horror generally.




Review of Lucy Leitner’s OUTRAGE LEVEL 10

A contender for the best book I’ve read in 2021, and unexpectedly so. I thought it was going to be horror — more to the point, extreme horror. Instead I was treated to a dystopian nightmare where cancel culture and “defund the police” were taken to their absurd extremes.

In this one, ex-hockey player Alex Malone is suffering from brain trauma from his playing days while fighting addiction and alcoholism. After his rehab, he gets a job with the police force as a cop. It’s a dead-end job, one where he is abused and disrespected. His job is reduced to checking permits and licenses at various business establishments as he fights through CTE-induced episodes of rage and blinding headaches. He’d end it all if he could figure out a way to do so, but in this new society with regulations and safeguards at every turn, it isn’t easy.

After an experimental treatment for his CTE, he begins remembering stuff – but they’re not his memories. And they aren’t pleasant. He’s remembering the torture and murder of “super-seniors,” a forgotten generation suffering from diseases of the brain. After meeting a compassionate nurse and a social media star, he investigates, and, well, the truth is more shocking than he thought possible.

This book made me think in a way that few books have. It made me reconsider my own beliefs and positions, because I generally fall on the side represented by the extremes in this book. And that’s what great stories should do – make you think and question…something. Did I change my mind based on anything in this vision of the future? Not really, because as I said, the story takes it to absurd extremes. But still, it forced me to think about these issues and that makes it a great book in my view. (Take a look at Dan Simmons’ FLASHBACK, a book with a similar take on the positions of the so-called “left.”)

Ms. Leitner can flat out write, and that doesn’t hurt in making this a five star read for me. She creates well-drawn characters so well that I was trying to picture the actors and actresses who would play them in the movie version. She made Pittsburgh, a place I’ve never visited, come to life to a point where I could visualize the buildings and the streets. And she does this while never once pulling me out of the story with poor writing or poor editing.

I’ve written a lot of post-apocalyptic stories (none yet published) and this is the level of quality I strive for. Well done! (not exactly a mini-review but hey, I was excited about this story.) I’ll be reading Lucy Leitner‘s next book, and her previous book. She has me as a fan as long as she keeps writing and telling stories like this.

Dyson’s Long Weekend!

We finally got away to one of our favorite places: Saugatuck, Michigan.

Saugatuck is a small lake town, set on a widening of the Kalamazoo River just before it empties into Lake Michigan. It’s a trove of shops, restaurants and bars along with a vibrant arts community represented by local artists and artisans, along with a community theater. And did I mention the boats? Lots and lots of boats!

There are no brand-name hotels in town; for those, one must travel back to the interstate highway (I-196) or to Holland, the next town to the north (which is what we did). But there are plenty of quaint little motels/hotels/inns and bed-and-breakfasts throughout the town if that’s what you’d rather do. (They’re pretty much fully booked through the summer.) Also, plenty of cottages, homes, condos and townhouses are available for vacation rentals.

Saugatuck has a rich history, going back to when the timber industry was a major industry in Michigan. There was a small lumber town built closer to Lake Michigan called Singapore, Michigan, which had the local sawmill. When Chicago, Illinois burned to the ground in the Great Fire, most of the lumber to rebuild came from across the lake in Michigan, and companies clear-cut the woods, leaving only the cottonwoods, which weren’t a desirable type of wood.

Then the winds off the lake brought the sands inland, creating large sand dunes up and down the coast of western Michigan. With no wooded areas to stop it, the sands piled up, eventually burying the town of Singapore. I’m told that the last time any of the town was visible was the summer of 1975, when the top of the church steeple was still visible. Apparently only three buildings were left by then, the rest having been “slid” up the frozen Kalamazoo River and set into place in… you guessed it… Saugatuck.

I have lots to say about the trip, but not so much for this blog. What I wanted to say was that while visiting a store, I found a series of 7 books written by local author G. Corwin Stoppel. They’re mysteries, all featuring the town of Saugatuck prominently in their stories. I started to read the first book the night I bought it, and I liked it enough to buy the rest on my last visit to town and to that particular store (which was, oddly enough, not a bookstore). I liked the characters and setting immediately, and I was happy to support a local author. They appear to be self-published, and I have found several typos and awkward turns of the phrase in the first book (so they could use some better editing), but I’ll overlook that sort of thing if I’m given a good story, which so far, THE GREAT SAUGATUCK MURDER MYSTERY has done.

It’s a great area to live in, and even a nicer area to retire to, if you can afford it. I’d love to be able to afford it, but if I can’t as a dentist, it’s highly doubtful I’ll ever be able to as a writer in retirement. Still, it’s nice to dream…and I did get a good story idea out of this visit.


Another “Dyson Goes To The Movies” post!

I’ve never been a huge fan of zombie movies in the past. I mean, I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and liked it, but it didn’t grab me like it did so many horror and zompoc fans. Also I hadn’t read a lot of zombie fiction.

But there was a lot of indie zombie fiction out there. I read most of the SLOW BURN series and Amanda Hocking’s zombie books back at the beginning of the indie revolution in self-publishing. And one led to another, and another, and pretty soon I was wondering about some of those movies I’d not watched.

So I watched WORLD WAR Z. It was interesting. An entertaining movie with a good cast and a seemingly big budget. Then I watched some others, including the excellent TRAIN TO BUSAN and SHAWN OF THE DEAD. That last one led me to watch HOT FUZZ and THE WORLD’S END, all of which I enjoyed quite a bit.

So on to another series I had never paid much attention to: RESIDENT EVIL movies. The first and second are available on Prime, so I was watching by myself one night and chose the first one.

And I kinda liked it! It was fun. Great unseen villain in Umbrella Corporation. Mysterious set-up where Milla Jovovich finds herself alone in a house with another guy and seemingly no memories of who she is or where she is. As she prepares to leave, soldiers break through the windows and… Well, suffice it to say that there are zombies and lots of them. And it ends with a shot of Jovovich’s character alone in a room, waking up, pulling sensors and IVs off of her virtually naked body, and wandering into the streets to find…

So of course I had to try the next movie. RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE is set shortly after the end of the first movie and starts promisingly enough as they close the city, not allowing anyone to exit. And of course a group of people who aren’t zombified are trapped inside and have to fight their way out. And Jovovich’s character (Alice) is now on the streets as well, trapped in the city by herself. Raise the stakes a bit with a little girl, the daughter of an important scientist, who also ends up trapped within the walls of Raccoon City (which disappointingly has no raccoons, as far as I could tell).

I was expecting another fun movie. Some of the acting was meh, but really, in a movie like this, who cares? It’s when the story gets weird and contradicts itself. And turns back on itself, then finally just goes over the top and turns a zombie movie into something else — still with zombies, but more about what the corporation has been up to.

Which could have been fine, but that’s not what I was expecting. At times it’s just silly and dumb, which also could have been fine, but in this one, it just didn’t work all that well.

Still, should I feel embarrassed that I sort of had fun watching it? I don’t know if I’ll go on in the series, but one never says never when streaming movie services are involved. If the mood strikes me…

Meanwhile, I’ll keep reading zombie fiction here and there and see what pops its head up above the crowded indie zombie apocalypse fiction scene.

Dyson Goes To The Movies!

Okay, I didn’t actually GO to the movies. I streamed and/or watched Blu-ray or DVD versions of them. And a couple of them bordered on horror.

So I’d seen SPLIT, the M. Night Shyamalan movie, some months ago, and was intrigued by Bruce Willis’s cameo at the very end. How do these movies tie together? I’d not seen UNBREAKABLE, so when it came to Prime, I did a viewing.

It was good. Samuel L. Jackson is really good as the comic art expert who has formed a theory about superheroes — they come from legends of former super-powered humans. As such, he has been searching for someone who fits his description, and when Bruce Willis’s character walks out of a train wreck as the sole survivor, and miraculously, uninjured, he thinks he’s found his man. Now all he has to do is convince David (Willis’s character) of this.

When I watch a movie, I want to be entertained, first and foremost. So my first question is, does this movie meet that litmus test? Answer: It does. It has a fun story with great performances and pacing that serves the story. I was invested in the outcome of David’s explorations almost immediately, in much the same fashion as I was in THE SIXTH SENSE, another Willis/Shyamalan film. I believed in him, and I believed that Elijah (Jackson’s fragile character) was actually on to something; his theory about these legends might actually be correct. So this succeeded for me, and I’m glad I watched it.

We followed it with a re-viewing (for me) of SPLIT. I was even more impressed by James McAvoy’s performance than I was the first time around. This is horror; there’s really no getting around it. Three girls have been kidnapped for unknown purposes, and are being held in — well, we really don’t know where they’re being held. It’s just secure and remote, or so it appears. When McAvoy appears with his split personalities (a selection of the 23 he is said to have), he is terrifying.

Again, this one passes the litmus test. I loved watching McAvoy become these various personalities, and I loved watching the supporting characters try to figure out what he’s doing, what he’s becoming, and why he’s becoming whatever it is. Anya Taylor-Joy is very good as the victim who doesn’t fit with the other two. What’s in her backstory? I wanted to know immediately. And in the end, the horror aspects worked really well with the thriller aspects and provided me with a very entertaining film.

At a glance, these two movies seem to have little to do with each other, but if you read close enough, you’ll find the common thread. The third of the series, GLASS, joins the characters from the first two films, along with Elijah, aka Mr. Glass. I don’t want to say too much because it will reveal a lot about the first two films’ stories, but I will just say that this one was the weakest of the trilogy, both in terms of pacing and in terms of actual story. I saw a lot of what the director was going for, but it just felt dragged out. In the end, I watched an entertaining film, still, but I did not like it quite as much as I liked the first two films. Was it a horror film? I think so, by virtue of an even better performance by James McAvoy. Otherwise, it’s a movie that mostly serves to connect two seemingly unrelated stories. Worth watching, but not if you haven’t seen the firrst two.

And that’s “Dyson Goes To The Movies” for this week. Enjoy your life!

The Haunted House

If I was writing a book called “The Haunted House” it probably wouldn’t sell a copy, because that’s a boring-a** title. Although haunted houses are (or were, at least) a hot commodity for Kindle horror stories, I don’t seem to be able to write one well. Shame, really, because I have had a couple of experiences.

Disclaimer: I don’t really believe in haunted houses or ghosts — yet I have had these experiences.

My first story about a haunted house is about the house I lived in as a senior in college. Supposedly, the Bordans (of Bordan Milk, not Lizzie’s family) originally built the 3-story structure with a full basement in Rogers Park, a north Chicago neighborhood. By the time we got around to renting it, the insides had all been painted pink by its previous owner, an older woman who supposedly died in the home. It was purchased by a Polish filmmaker named Marian Marzynski, who had the grand idea of renting it to a group of college students, namely me and seven of my friends from the dorms. In return for rent credits, we were charged with stripping the pink paint from the gorgeous woodwork and cabinetry and fireplace, and we did a lot of it. But mostly, we held massive parties every time Tau Kappa Epsilon threw one. (For reasons lost in time, we didn’t like the TKE’s and wanted to spoil their parties.)

One night, I happened to be the only person in this house, and I heard a sound like a door opening. I figured one of my roomies was home, but when I didn’t hear anyone coming up to the second floor, I shut off my stereo and listened closely. It sounded like chairs were being moved around in the dining room. And I started freaking out. I thought someone had broken in. When I called out, “Who’s there?” no one answered but the noises stopped.

Soon after I thought I heard footsteps on the stairs coming up to my room on the third floor. Then a shadow on the floor cast as if someone was standing in the stairwell just out of my line of sight. So I picked up the cat, who hadn’t reacted to anything this whole time, and I tossed her in front of the stairs and waited to hit whoever was there with a baseball bat that was in my room.

But of course no one was there. When I stepped back, I looked to see what the shadow was from. A spot on the light? Nope. The shadow was gone.

So I went downstairs to the first floor, cranked up the stereo, and proceeded to drink a bit too much, which is how my roommates found me, singing and dancing around to songs turned up way too loud. That experience did make it into a short story I wrote called “Sole Occupant.” It’s in my collection, 14 DARK WINDOWS, if you’d like to read it (along with 13 other stories).

My second stay at a haunted house was actually at The Myrtles, a haunted plantation turned bed-and-breakfast in Louisiana. It was a beautiful old mansion, lots of bedrooms, and some were apparently haunted and some have never had any reports of paranormal activity. They would not tell us which rooms we were staying in, saying that if we reported something they would know if we were telling the truth or making something up because apparently the stories from the haunted rooms were all pretty much the same.

I couldn’t sleep much. I thought every friggin’ sound I heard at night was a ghost, even though I didn’t (and still don’t) believe in ghosts. Try telling yourself to be rational at two in the morning while staying in a “haunted” plantation. But I didn’t have any paranormal experiences. Didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything that wasn’t just an old creaky house.

My lack of belief is probably why I can’t write a good haunted house story. But that isn’t something I can switch on and off.

If you have a good ghost story, feel free to point me toward it in the comments.

Linear vs Non-Linear Storytelling

(This is cross-posted from The Gates of Anthology blog)

So I’m going to start out by admitting that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m using the terms “linear” and “non-linear” in a specific way, to describe certain observations I make about stories I’ve read. I’m also using them to talk about my own writing, my successes and failures as a writer, and what I try to do to make it better.

“America’s Pastime,” my entry into the Gates of Chaos anthology, was very much a linear tale when it was written. I wrote it in the 1990’s for a contest that was called “The Publican Brief.” (The contest name was a mashup of a popular John Grisham novel and the name of the Delphi forum that I helped to run.) We were given six words and an opening sentence for this particular contest. Some of the contests only gave the six words. Some gave opening sentences. Some gave a topic. I recall that this one was both because I remember the opening sentence: “All things are found in the blood.”

I constructed a story around those words, and if you’ve read the anthology, you know the basic tale. All that mattered was what happened in the story. Nothing else. It was linear. It told the story of this ballplayer sliding into second base, getting spiked in the leg and having his calf ripped open, and passing out. When he comes around, he finds that he is surrounded by monsters. And he’s going to have to fight his way out. As he begins to be overwhelmed by the monsters, he again loses consciousness, and wakes up laying at second base with players and coaches looking down at him in a concerned manner. I used the six words and the opening sentence and constructed a story around them. (I recall that one of the words/phrases was “confederacy of the dead” and I think it’s still in the story.)

It’s hard to not be linear in a short story. You don’t have the word count to fill in the back story of your character/s. Still, I tried to add non-linear elements in the rewritten, anthology version of “America’s Pastime.” I gave my main character a bit of history. Now he’s a rookie, in camp during Covid, and he has to stay. Why does he have to stay in Arizona? That’s the bit of non-linear element that I was able to add. He can’t go home because he lives with his grandparents, and they’re elderly and susceptible to contracting a disease which was, at the time of the story (March of 2020), putting a lot of people in the hospital and on ventilators. So my character decides he’s better off staying in Arizona by himself.

And who wouldn’t want to stay in Arizona, anyway, in the spring? Have you ever been there? I have. It’s beautiful. The desert is beginning to bloom and it’s cool enough to enjoy the outdoors. And there’s tons of baseball!

Our anthology has examples of both types of storytelling. There is a lot of linear storytelling (A->B->C) but there are also neat little bits of non-linear elements in some of the stories. BT Noonan’s outstanding opening tale, “The Tunnel,” takes us back and forth in time in the mind of a veteran of the Vietnam conflict. I think it makes this story one of the finest in the entire anthology. Chris Stenson’s “Two Bobbies” has its roots going back into the main character’s past experiences to talk about the current horror he faces. Florence Ann Marlowe’s story “Dancing With The Dead” takes us into a horrific future by telling us what has come to pass in the recent past.

I recently read a book by Howard Odentz, called Bloody Bloody Apple, which uses non-linear storytelling brilliantly. In that work, Odentz takes us through the current horror his three main characters are living through by showing us the history of both the main characters and the town of Apple itself. It made me think about my own stories in much more depth. Where did I use this sort of effect in my novellas?

My story Odd Man Out does a nice job of weaving non-linear elements into the narrative (if I do say so myself). In that story, Roger Sinclair is plotting to off his “best friend” Paul Wagner, who he believes stole the love of his life. How did this come to pass? Read the story and find out! Here’s the link to it: ODD MAN OUT.

I reveal the reasons through Roger’s, Paul’s and Amy’s memories of the night in question. The slightly dark nature of the “Cabin Weekend” also comes into focus as we learn more about the main characters through the non-linear elements of the novella.

Do you, dear reader, have any thoughts about non-linear storytelliing versus linear storytelling? If so, please feel free to leave a comment!