My horror-fantasy short story “The Vacancy” has been published in KZine Issue 13 (unlucky for some…) It’s a sinister tale about an unemployed man living in an eerie, unknown city; he accepts a job offer at an ancient mansion and begins work for a peculiar organisation.
A few words about this story- “The Vacancy” was mainly inspired by the monochrome visions of the comics artist David Hine (see his blog here and here) and the writings of the notable American horror author Thomas Ligotti. As a child I first became aware of Hine’s artwork and tales in the now defunct Revolver comic and 2000AD, and I was very impressed by Ligotti’s work, notably his collection Teatro Grottesco. Ligotti was also a major influence on the creators of the American drama series ‘True Detective’. I admire Ligotti’s fatalism and ability to capture the eerie and surreal to a disturbing extent, and I hoped to emulate that with my own story.
‘The Vacancy’ has been published along with several other authors and fine stories in KZine Issue 13, which is available at Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kzine-Issue-13-Maureen-Bowden-ebook/dp/B015B839OY
Publication Update: It is now possible to buy my short story collection “Echoes and Exiles” as a paperback from Amazon:
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, Echoes and Exiles, which is a collection of my most recent short stories.
You can currently buy ‘Echoes and Exiles’ as a Kindle book from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Echoes-Exiles-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B00WSW0POE
as an e-book from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/538946
or in print form from Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/steven-mace/echoes-and-exiles/paperback/product-22149194.html
I hope to make a print copy at Amazon CreateSpace available very soon.
This is the cover artwork for Echoes and Exiles by Derren Toussaint, alias MonkeysvsRobots.
The Background to Echoes and Exiles, and some words about the stories
I wanted to write a few words here about the background to each of the stories. Echoes and Exiles comprises short stories I’ve written between 2011-2014, some of which have already been published in various magazines and webzines. There are only a few exceptions from an earlier period in my writing career. ‘The Prodigal’ was an earlier story, one of the very first I ever wrote, back in the 1990s. ‘Moonlight Bay’ was rewritten in 2011 or 2012 from an earlier fragment of writing which also dates from the 1990s. There is one more early story- ‘The Baron’s Cheesecake’, which is a children’s story and is included in the final section.
Echoes and Exiles is divided into three sections: firstly, the short stories which are compiled under the ‘Echoes’ theme; secondly, the short stories with an ‘Exiles’ theme; and finally a bonus Appendix section which contains all of my unpublished shorter work which has been so far completed: children’s stories, flash fiction, and script ideas. I wrote three scripts entitled ‘Golem’, ‘The Dragon King’ and ‘Old Man Tanzagan’ which were based on ancient myths, and which were intended for an animation project.
In 2011, when I first began preparing this book, I originally conceived Echoes and Exiles as a collection of plays, or scripts, rather than short stories. Many of the short stories began their fiction-life that way. For example, this is the case with ‘A Marriage of Convenience’, ‘Casting Stones’, ‘Civilian’, ‘Here, Kitty Kitty’, ‘Pariah’, ‘Sharks’, ‘The Accidental Author’, ‘The Ballad of Leonard and Mary’, ‘This Machine’ and ‘The Astronaut’s Audition’. They were plays, with staged scenes/settings and dialogue- or, in the case of ‘This Machine’, a monologue- and each one had a contemporary setting, apart from the futuristic ‘Astronaut’s Audition’. A third of the way through this project, my plan altered and I reverted back to writing short prose fiction, where I felt more comfortable. I then rewrote the original ‘plays’ as short stories. This is partly why this collection is so eclectic and varied in terms of genre. It contains contemporary fiction, urban fiction, fantasy fiction, speculative fiction, suspense fiction and horror fiction.
The stories are loosely bound by the respective dual themes of ‘Echoes’ and ‘Exiles’. ‘Echoes’ might be consequences of actions; memories; delusions; or ghosts- real and imagined. ‘Exiles’ refers to banishment, isolation, imprisonment, wanderers, pariahs and those who are lost. The two themes are not mutually exclusive despite the division of the stories into two different sections, and indeed both themes do overlap in several of the tales.
Here are a few brief words about each of the stories in the collection:
Whispers on the Airwaves
A sinister SF suspense tale set in a remote Martian space colony. One premise for the circumstances of this story was based upon the concept of pareidolia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia
“Whispers on the Airwaves” was originally published at Darker Times (September 2013) and selected as a September competition runner-up, it was also included in the Darker Times Anthology Vol 5
The Astronaut’s Audition
This is one of the stories in this collection which began life as a play. This SF story explores the idea of having an identical double, or doppelgänger, as a result of a teleportation accident.
This is a weird piece of Twilight-Zone style shlock horror, about a flight attendant who accidently stumbles into a nightmarish parallel dimension.
“The Foreshadowing” was originally published in the 4th May 2014 (159th) edition of Schlock Magazine
A dark horror tale dealing with satanic echoes from the past. It wasn’t so much the Wicker Man-style witchcraft in a remote community elements which inspired this, but the single image of a child lying awake in bed, frightened by mysterious etchings in luminous paint which are daubed on the bedroom wall.
The Alchemist’s Dream
An SF story influenced by the writing of Isaac Asimov, describing the epic history of an alien planet’s rise and fall in the short story medium.
Unlimited Shelf Life
This is a humorous SF/Fantasy story set in what I would describe as hyper-reality: an exaggerated version of the real world with fantastic elements, an alternate comic-book form of reality. This was influenced by the diverse sources of the TV series Mad Men, Marvel and DC comics and the works of Thomas Pynchon.
“Unlimited Shelf Life” was originally published in Aphelion Webzine, Issue 185, Vol.18 (June 2014)
The Ice Castle
This is a short story about the theme of domestic violence and abusive marriages, with reference to this article: http://www.examiner.com/article/why-are-so-many-high-i-q-battered-wives-married-to-men-with-low-e-q This was additionally inspired by a true story related to me by a friend. My friend described someone she knew whose ex-husband drugged her and kept her as a virtual prisoner in their home.
This is a weird supernatural tale set in Cornwall, about dark family secrets and a race of subterranean creatures. I wrote an earlier version or fragment of this story many years ago before re-writing and completing it for this collection.
“Moonlight Bay” was originally published in Hellfire Crossroads Vol.3 (July 2014)
The Automatic Boy
This is an experimental story written in a style which I’d describe as ‘dream-fiction’. At first this story appears to be a straight-forward nostalgic reminisce upon old schooldays before exploring stranger territory.
The Spy Glass
This is a supernatural fantasy tale about a mysterious spy glass, a device that seems to open a window between space and time while cursing those who are unfortunate to possess it.
“The Spy Glass” was originally published in Sanitarium Magazine Issue 023 (July 2014)
Another supernatural horror-fantasy tale, about a woman trapped in a mountainside cabin during a snowstorm. Things start to go bump in the night. This one plays on the idea of Jack Frost, or some form of supernatural snow-entity.
“Winter’s Promise” was originally published in the Blysster Press Crypticon Anthology (April 2013)
This is about ghosts, purgatory and the afterlife. Although the last of the ‘Echoes’ stories, I suppose it’s also an ‘Exiles’ story- a ghost in exile from life.
This is the earliest-written short story in this collection. It’s about a teenage runaway, his dark secret and his demonic pursuer. The changes to the original for the recently published version were minimal.
“The Prodigal” was originally published in InnerSins Webzine (Issue 18, Fall 2014)
This is another of the stories which owes its structure to the fact that it was originally conceived as a play. Much of the original script version was a monologue. The ‘exile’ in this story is a man socially excluded and isolated, who has fallen into criminal behaviour. His personal situation brings out his hopelessness and personal darkness.
“This Machine” was originally published in full in Suspense Magazine (November 2012), and the Urban Story website (online in abbreviated form, October 2012)
The Ballad of Leonard and Mary
Another story which began life as a play, with some similar themes to a previous short story I wrote, entitled ‘Dignity’, which appeared in my second short story collection The Splendour of Shadows. In this story, an elderly couple take in a mysterious and malevolent lodger.
“The Ballad of Leonard and Mary” was originally published in Suspense Magazine (October 2012)
This was just an excuse to wheel out the character Doreen Hawes, the Job Centre employee from Hell and scourge of all benefits claimants, who also appears in my short story ‘The Vacancy’. This story considers the idea of the ‘exile’ in the form of an ex-soldier who deserted his regiment and faced court-martial, who is now ostracised by both the army and the system. Another story that was a play.
The Lonely Parade
This SF story was written as a grim, dystopian vision of a near-future Britain.
The Accidental Author
This is a playful, darkly humorous story about an aspiring writer who finds his work plagiarised, with both comical and tragic consequences.
A dark SF story about the dangers of consumerism and self-exile: in this case, seeking to escape from grim reality into a fantasy world.
“Virtuatronics” was originally published on the Five Stop Story website (online, November 2012)
Another story which originally began life as a play exploring the theme of the exile. ‘Pariah’ is about a particular form of isolation, and the idea that appearances can be deceptive.
Another short story that was originally a play. This is about a robbery at a city store, written from the point of view of the ‘exile’- a character with Asperger’s syndrome who is innocently caught up in a chain of violent events.
Old fashioned space opera SF, about a team of galactic space salvagers who stumble across something nasty in deepest Space. The title is a double play on the ‘Trojan horse’ and the computer virus. I lifted the name of the ship captain from a famous real-life local Doningtonian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Flinders
Walls of Glass
The exile in this story is a domestic terrorist- and his motivations and his fatal purpose are explored in this tale.
A Marriage of Convenience
A tongue-in-cheek, light supernatural tale written with humorous intention, which along with ‘Unlimited Shelf Life’ has the purpose of lightening the bleak, dark mood of most of stories in this collection.
Here, Kitty Kitty
A violent suspense story laced with dark humour. It is based around the idea of home invasion, and is about a psychopathic drifter who lives a vagrant existence, targeting isolated lonely victims.
Although they don’t entirely fit in with the tone of the adult-oriented stories in this book, I decided to include a few unpublished children’s stories in the book, to find a home for them and serve the purpose of collecting my work so far. The first of these, and oldest, is ‘The Baron’s Cheesecake’, which dates from the 1990s and is a medieval fantasy/fairy tale about a quest to find elusive silver pears, which turn out to be not quite so elusive as first thought. The second is ‘King of Towering Spires’, which is about a giant talking mouse, the ‘King Mouse’ of the title. The last and longest story is ‘The Countess and the Water Mill’. This is a grim fairy tale fantasy which is darker in tone than the other two children’s stories here, concerning an evil, ghastly Countess and a water-sprite.
Three flash fiction pieces that I decided to collect in this book for similar reasons: ‘Fox-Curse’, which is about witchcraft, a poisoning and a live burial; ‘A Hair’s Breadth’, which is about the dreary existence of the average office worker in the corporate world; ‘In the Dead of Night’, which is a horror piece with Nosferatu-style imagery.
I wrote some scripts based on old myths and legends for animation or some other form of performance, and which I also decided to include here. ‘Golem’ is based on the Jewish myth of the supernatural creature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem
‘The Dragon King’ is a Chinese legend updated to a modern Middle Eastern setting, and ‘Old Man Tanzagan’ is based on an old Altai myth. These three myths were collected in a favourite book of mine, entitled Folk Tales and Legends, which I owned as a child: http://www.worldcat.org/title/folk-tales-and-legends/oclc/9305771.
I wrote my own Golem story, and updated the Chinese Dragon King myth into a modern version. ‘Old Man Tanzagan’ is very much based on the original myth, and I have changed very little.