Here in Texas a series of small cold fronts have finally broken the choke hold of 100 degree days that gripped the state. Now that we’re back down to more seasonable temperatures in the 80s and 90s, our thoughts turn to the time of ghosts and goblins (and candy!) drawing ever closer.
With retailers stretching their seasonal sales earlier and earlier, most of us in the U.S. started seeing Halloween decorations on the shelves in August. It’s a little hard to get into the spirit* of things after being pelted with pumpkin decorations at every turn for weeks on end. To help you restore some of that holiday fear**, why not pick up an anthology of ghost stories? In fact, let me suggest one anthology in particular. The recently released Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror includes a story of mine- The Angry Stick.
This book has been a long time in the making, but the story even longer. I was approached by Matt McElroy of Flames Rising Press back in early 2010 about submitting an anthology story for consideration. Honestly, it was a pretty rough time for me. Ed and I were working like mad to put the finishing touches on Degrees of Horror, our big (and I mean BIG) Pinebox setting book for Savage Worlds set on the ETU campus. By that point we’d been running that particular marathon for several months. The last thing I needed to do was take on more writing work. Still, when opportunity knocks it’s hard to plug your ears.
The Angry Stick started as a thematic sibling to another project I’d started in 2009. That one was a sci-fi story (working title Mission Incomplete) that I’d started but set aside until I could figure out how to pull off the ending. I knew how I wanted it to end thematically, but I hadn’t worked out the actual mechanics of what the protagonist would do to generate the resolution I had in mind. The Haunted anthology story would be totally different– present-day ghost hunting had absolutely nothing in common with my sci-fi story. Yet as I cast about for ideas I came around to that same theme I had been exploring in Mission Incomplete. Apparently it was an idea that wanted out one way or another, and as elements clicked into place I saw how I could make the story work. The good news is that whereas Mission Incomplete lay, well…incomplete, the resolution on The Angry Stick came about much more easily. There’s something to be said for persistence and re-writing.
The protagonist in The Angry Stick is a seasoned ghost hunter who has been drawn to a pool hall in Pinebox, Texas by reports of strong supernatural activity. I had some backstory in which the protagonist got his start in Pinebox, but almost all of that ended up on the cutting room floor in favor of fleshing out other parts of the story. Those are the kinds of tough choices you have to make when you’re working under a word limit and I appreciate editor Monica Valentinelli’s wisdom on zeroing in on the more important parts. The story is better for her input.
It’s been more than a year since I wrote The Angry Stick and maybe 6 months since I turned in the final requested edits. With the benefit of time and experience, I recently picked up Mission Incomplete again. I’ve been polishing the parts I’d written two years ago and drawing closer to the ending I knew I wanted. Only, a few days ago I realized that what I’d originally envisioned (and pulled off in The Angry Stick) really didn’t entirely make sense for the protagonist in this situation. Now I either have to figure out how to re-frame things such that the ending is still logical or I have to come up with another ending that still satisfies the overall theme of the story. That’s okay though. I’m a writer. I have some ideas.
*See what I did there?