Saturday, July 13, 2013
My story "Unreleased" on the Horror Addicts podcast
So, last year, after my story “The Scottish Scene” failed to win the Masters of the Macabre contest at the Horror Addicts podcast, its host, Emerian Rich, asked me if I’d like to be a featured artist on their show sometime in 2013. Basically, a story of my choosing would be run on their monthly show, pretty much sight unseen. I happily accepted, and she gave me the July 13th spot, which happens to be my birthday, coincidentally.
I knew I had months to choose a story, and tried to figure out what I had that would both work well in audio and read in under fifteen minutes, and considered a story I wrote a couple of years ago (one that slips my mind right now), which might work alright. But then I thought, this is an opportunity to write a new story, and that’s always good.They also asked me thirteen questions for a pre-show interview, and I tried to give each one attention and the weight that being a real featured author would deserve.
You can go over to www.horroraddicts.net and listen to my story “Unreleased” now, and then read my write-up here, or you can go ahead and have the story spoiled here. Basically, I have always wanted to write a story about a group of college students that go into the forest and unleash an evil spirit, or a demon, or a Great Old One, or something, and have to do something about it. I started to write a story like that four or five years ago, but decided it was more of a screenplay idea than a story or novella (basically, the guy or guys that survive go back to campus and try to get their Ancient Religion or Paranormal Studies or Cthulhu Mythos professor to help them undo what they have done, and though he’s reluctant, he knows it can be the last great thing that he does before he dies).
I figured that was the way to go, but then I discovered that I was more interested in the old professor’s story than that of the young college students (about as anti-Hollywood as you can get nowadays, unless the old professor is--gasp!--a woman). I decided that I wanted to write about an old man who has been broken (emotionally/intellectually/physically) by an encounter in his youth, and at the end of his life, he decides to confront it again. He could have been the young man that let the monster/demon/creature escape, and have regretted it all his life.
Wow, it grabbed my imagination. Imagine someone who never lived the life he wanted because of being shown something in his youth, something that ruined him to religion, or hope, or . . . love? I thought the neatest thing would be if he saw a fairy or an angel or a goddess, and she ruined him for romance for the rest of his life. I’m a bitter, lonely individual, and I imagined what it would be like if I lived to a ripe old age with my current streak. How bitter, how depressed, how pessimistic would I be?
Like I said, I was really excited about this story, one that had a pretty awesome idea behind it (if I may be so bold, sir), and the heavy lifting is to bring that idea to its best light. I ended up deciding the monster in question would be a qarin, the Arabic version of a djinn or genie. I started it with the old man in the desert, having hired a young man to dig up the magic lamp equivalent, and then flashing back to his youth and encounter with the shape-shifting denizen of the lamp. I thought I was maybe the smartest guy in the world, calling the story “Unreleased,” since it could apply to the trapped creature or the old man who never shook the memory of the girl he encountered.*
Ultimately, the story ended up around five thousand words. And that was 2 2 2 big. I knew I had a big task ahead of me, and part of me thought, “Why not just cut out all the parts with him as an old man, and just tell the young man part?” But see, that’s not why I wanted to write the story. To me, the old man segments were the important parts, and the encounter with the qarin was the backstory. I did my best to cut it down.
Ultimately, I axed the first page (gone is the kid the old man hires to unearth the relic), and tried to streamline the language and cut back on dialogue. It made a difference, but not enough. So, I shaved down some of the description, the desert, the forest, the girl, the old/young man. I lost a bit of the melancholy, and chose to focus on what the Horror Addicts listeners would appreciate (even though that’s only sort of what the story is about). I had my “final draft,” and sat down and recorded it.
Even then, it was still five minutes too long. So, I had to combine dialogue and lose, pretty much, all of the personality of the story, any nuances that aren’t moving the plot along.
I hate doing the shaving for time or word length. It bugs the crap out of me that I have to decide which word describing “the ugly, ancient, evil, deformed old woman” is the most important one, but it’s a bed I make over and over again, then have to sleep in it.**
I’m not competing with anyone this month on Horror Addicts (though there is currently a writing contest on there, and I will be participating), so I invite you to go over there and listen to my reading of “Unreleased.” It’s possible someone will want to read the original double-length version, to decide which is better, but even if nobody ever mentions it again, I’m glad I got to be a featured artist, and grateful for the chance to write another story I might not have written without it.
Rish Outfield, Featured ___
*Of course, one man’s “Unreleased” is another man’s “Tangled” or “Brave” or “Frozen,” so what do I know?
**I had to do the same with the story I submitted for the Dunesteef’s own Triple Word Contest, though not so drastically. Only once, in the many stories I’ve written, have I ever been encouraged to EXPAND the writing, and it was a hell of a lot more fun than cutting things down.