Let’s Look at Some Little Black Spots, Shall We?
By John F.D. Taff
So Gavin asked me to write a little something on the fifteen stories featured in my latest collection LITTLE BLACK SPOTS, out now in all formats worldwide from Grey Matter Press. This is my first new collection of short stories since LITTLE DEATHS was published all the way back in 2012. (A Definitive Edition of this collection was released last year by Grey Matter.) Yeah, I know, I seem oddly obsessed with the word little for my collections. Not really, but, well, go figure.
Anyway, so I have some fairly extensive Author’s Notes in LITTLE BLACK SPOTS, so I’ll try not to duplicate anything I said there. But here’s some background on the stories you’ll find—and hopefully enjoy—there:
The Immolation Scene
Spontaneous human combustion is actually a thing. Well, it’s a fringe thing, really. Pseudo-science and all that. But fascinating. And it’s such a perfect metaphor for human relationships, isn’t it? People just walking around smoldering internally, ready to burst into flames. I don’t know about you, but I know a few people I think could blow at any moment. Also, sharp-eyed dorks should be able to tell where I got the title for this story. It’s a track cut from the soundtrack to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by John Williams. Great piece of music, marginal movie, even for a Star Wars film.
The Bunny Suit
This one’s a shot at trying to explain the twisted thought processes of a serial killer. How does a person maintain “normal” relations with others while sneaking out here and there to vivisect victims? What is it about the people killers like these surround themselves with that takes them off the hit list, as it were? Particular personalities? Appearance? Smells? But really what I wanted to look at was what happens when whatever this is changes, and that person becomes, prey, too?
The Depravity of Inanimate Things
Didja ever get one of this songs in your head, the kind that won’t go away? (I actually wrote a story specifically about this, “That Song You Can’t Get Out of Your Head,” in the anthology SAVAGE BEASTS, also by Grey Matter.) It’s a Small World After All comes horribly to mind, and now you have that playing on a maddening loop in your mind. Anyway, what if the music were voices…the voices of everything all around you—the fridge, the sofa, the wine bottle, the cleaver? And what if they spoke incessantly, all telling you, urging you to do pretty abhorrent stuff? Would you listen? This guy just wants to shut them up, so he does. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. (Spoiler: It does not.)
The Dark Level
I wrote this story a looooonnnggg time ago, at least 25 years. It’s had a pretty great life, even before showing up in this collection. I originally sold it to Deathrealm, a cool horror mag in the waning days of the 20th Century. After that, it was lumped into a bunch of shorts I sold to something called Fictionwise, which was a pretty polished e-book site in the early days of these digital beasts, and it did great. Racked up a lot of sales, which caused the site to look at me as one of a handful of “big” horror names it promoted, like King and Rice. Hah! Well, it’s not particularly representative of how I write now, but it is definitely me of old.
Everything Must Go
This one seems to polarize people, and I’m mystified by this. Don’t get me wrong, I can wrap my mind easily around someone not liking particular works by me—or even my entire oeuvre—but this specific work seems a bit, I dunno, benign to generate the kinds of responses I seem to get. The people who don’t like it, loathe it. See what you think.
A Winter’s Tale
What I wanted to do here were three things. First, I wanted to write a period piece set vaguely in the Depression era. Second, I wanted to explore the theme of an absent father, mostly for various personal reasons. And third, I wanted to write something set during the winter. There’s something about the cold, something about snow that, to me at least, seems to fit perfectly with a horror story, as perfect as a dark forest or a dank basement. I also love, love, love the last two lines of this story, as they paint a particular end in the very fewest of words.
Flash fiction. Not a particular fan. Don’t think they really can tell a whole story, at least not in the way I prefer. I suppose they’re similar to the difference between a joke and a quip. One tells a funny story, the other expresses humor in shorthand. Oh well. I like some of the imagery here, and this guy might…might just be a younger version of the narrator in “The Coriolis Effect” later on.
Just a Phone Call Away
Erotic horror. Yeah, it was a thing. Funny story about this one. It was one of my bigger sales back in the ’90s. The Hot Blood series of erotic horror books, published by Pocket Paperbacks, was huge. I sold stories to two of them, and they even paid royalties—royalties, for short stories! And, yeah, I received four or five good-sized checks for these. Anyway, when the paperbacks came out and I received my copies, I let my father see the book. I was pretty proud to have a story in this, and he seemed impressed. We car-pooled together those days, and I drove that particular day. About 45 minutes to get home. He took the opportunity to read this story in its entirety right then and there. In front of me. His son. Ugh. When he was finished, he closed the book carefully. “What happened to you when you were young to make you write stuff like this?” he finally asked. Plenty, dad. Plenty.
The Night Moves
Artsy-fartsy stuff. Ahh, sometimes it comes out and I can’t stop it. Still, this story speaks to me on levels I can’t quite articulate. So, I won’t attempt it.
A Kiss from the Sun for Pardon
Vampires. Ugh. But everyone writes about how people turn into them, their general angst and melancholy of being undead and having to suck blood. No one writes of vampires turning back into humans, if that were to happen. How would they feel, what would they have to go through? What would they have to give up to be human again? Plenty.
The Bitches of Madison County
A lot of what you’ll find in LITTLE BLACK SPOTS are people who are consumed by something, tainted as it were. Tony, my publisher at Grey Matter, and I settled on these stories and the title because we wanted to show how (mostly) real people can sometimes be the horrors. This guy’s a photographer, and a damn good one. But he’s just a tad obsessed, just a tad too tightly focused. I think plenty of times people go bad because they’ve amped up some personal characteristic to 11, as Nigel Tufnel says, when we really need them at around a 7.
Gethsemane, In Rain
Literary stuff again. But what I wanted to do here is take this subtle, horrific thread and weave it between four short tales all set in the same town. It’s the kind of small town I grew up in; the kind I still live in. And since small towns are filled with all sorts of people, it’s always been my contention that they’re also filled with all sorts of bad things. Just follow the thread.
The Coriolis Effect (Or Chiromancy for Beginners)
Strip-mining my childhood for fun and profit! Well, the first one anyway. I really, really enjoy taking stuff from when I was a kid—my own interests, experiences—and weaving them into my fiction. Wow. I think it just makes the stories pop with verisimilitude. I took this up a level here, then really hammered it home in my latest novel HE LEFT. That won’t be out for a while. I have to find a publisher first!
Purple Soda Hand
Strange stuff happens to us every single day. Coincidences. Odd things we see or hear. Mostly we just accept them and move on. That’s just life. But in fiction, when an author tries to pull this stuff, it often make readers upset. Explanation! they cry. We need an explanation! But sometimes, an author can drop something crazy into a story, something so unforeseen and unexpected and unexplainable, and it works. The story unfolds from there. Hopefully, I managed the latter here.
Lincoln & Booth at the Orpheum
The collection ends on an odd note. Not really a horror story per se, but…then again, isn’t it? Are some things fated to be, however awful, however hard we try to head them off? I think so, and that’s a horrible thought to entertain.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at the stories that make up LITTLE BLACK SPOTS. Order it from wherever you order your books. And if you like it, why not leave a review? Only takes a second or two, and reviews—particularly on sites such as Amazon—help authors like me immeasurably. And look for my epic horror novel THE FEARING, released by Grey Matter Press Spring 2019!
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