Please welcome Travis Heerman. Travis is the fine writer who shares credit with me in Alembical 4. His novella, Where the Devil Resides is a dark examination of a character’s descent into the lawless Everglades of Florida, and what he finds there. I’m going to let Travis tell you all about it.
The Devil Resides in a Ground Full of Teeth
I’m delighted for my novella “Where the Devil Resides” to share Alembical 4 with a story like “The Ground is Full of Teeth.” As I was reading Catherine Schaff-Stump’s dark, disturbing piece, I couldn’t help but recognize a fellow writer who also grew up in a very small town. Her keen eye for the details of small-town life spring out of every page.
Astute readers will recognize also the thematic resonances between the two stories. You can thank a couple of awesome editors for that, Lawrence M. Schoen and Arthur Dorrance.
So when Catherine suggested we trade blog posts talking about the geneses of our respective stories, I got to thinking about where I initially thought the story was going, and where it ended up.
It all began with a phrase in my head that sounded cool: Black Rose in the Garden of Eden. This became the title of the story, until the editors talked me into changing it as the story neared readiness for publication.
I started off writing what I thought was a short story. I was aiming for a kind of neo-pulp hero for the modern age, the kind of character who was larger than life, who could carry over into multiple stories, walking in the shoes of old, pulp icons like Conan, Doc Savage, the Shadow, and Jirel of Joiry, but with more modern sensibilities. What emerged was Black Rose, so I definitely got what I was after. But then I had to create a world that was worthy of her, and what came together was a steampunk-noir, alternate history where the American Civil War never really ended—in many ways, just like today.
Just a couple of scenes into the writing, I had to accept the fact that it was going to be too long for a short story. Maybe I could get it in ten or twelve thousand words. When I passed the 15k mark, I thought maybe I could do it in 20k. But then I hit 30k, and I was almost done. The story’s thematic foundations had become much richer and more complex than I was expecting, and there was nothing else to do but finish it.
Writing this story was as immensely disturbing as it was immeasurably satisfying. Some Very, Very Bad People do some Very, Very Bad Things—and then they get what’s coming to them. Rereading the story now, I still feel the drive for justice that was almost palpable during the first drafting. The trouble with comeuppance, however, is that the evil leaves its mark anyway. It is not a comfortable thing to sit back in one’s writing chair and gaze into The Abyss, because, as we all know, it gazes back into you.
The initial idea for the plot came from reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Of course, I had to follow that with a viewing of the film Apocalypse Now, a modern retelling of the same tale, where the river is the Mekong, not the Congo, but both are metaphors for rivers into Man’s darkest heart. And I use “Man” here specifically to mean the male of the species, because there are certain kinds of atrocities unique to men. In “Where the Devil Resides,” the part of the metaphoric river is played by the Everglades. Just how far could men fall on the scale of depravity if they have no fear of law or reprisal?
Like Catherine’s story, “Devil” is about abuse, and the ripple effects it has on the world even after the abuse is ended. It is also about the lengths that men will go to control women, and the stunting effects of certain narrow-minded, lazy ways of thinking. This is the story in which my neo-pulp heroine, the Black Rose, is enfolded, like a corpse-dark flower waiting to open and lash out with her whip.
Since the story’s acceptance, I’ve had some time to do more with it. I developed the novella into a screenplay of the same name. The screenplay won the Best Horror/Fantasy Screenplay at the 2018 Famous Monsters Silver Scream Fest, and, as I write this, is a finalist in the Feature Screenplay category at the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival. I’ll be traveling to Los Angeles for the festival October 4-7, 2018, hoping to meet some filmmakers, and if luck is with me, bring home the win.
I hope you’ll procure yourself a copy of Alembical 4. If you like to squirm a little as you read, you won’t be disappointed.