Another year, gone. I thought it would be a useful exercise to revisit some of the stories I published in 2013, in chronological order, not so much as a tribute to myself but so I could have a record of how the stories themselves came to be. I am one of those people who loves to read the Forewords, Afterwords, and Wherever-Else-words of the short story collections I purchase, because it fascinates me to learn how such titans as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King get their ideas. Is the world dying to know how I get my ideas? Of course not. But I can think of at least one person who'd like to read about it, and that's me. Not the me of today, but rather the me of 2015 or 2017 or 2020; the me for whom the story plots may not be coming quite as easily as they do right now. So if that future me should ever wonder "How did I do it back then?" he'll be able to look back and see (hopefully).
I kicked off January of 2013 with the publication of Doll Baby. I intended it to be the sort of darkly comical story one might run across in an anthology series like HBO's Tales from the Crypt, but maybe a little lengthier or more complex. The plot concerns a lonely man named Norm who turns to an online dating site to find a partner; what he ends up with is a monstrous being whose prey of choice is human beings. It was great fun to write. Maybe one day I'll explore the subterranean kingdom from which Doll Baby came.
In the month of March I brought out what I consider my riskiest work so far: Boom, the story of a young couple in New York state who are awakened one night by a barrage of meteors. Their decision to make love in the midst of this onslaught from above serves as an act of defiance against a universe capable of destroying planet Earth at any time, in any number of ways. I thought it was a timely story as well, in the wake of the Chelyabinsk meteor. Reaction to "Boom" was mixed, with some folks liking it and some folks clearly not liking it. Nonetheless, I take a lot of pride in the story, if for no other reason than that it pushed me to go beyond my comfort level in terms of the kind of material I write.
April was my biggest month for publishing short stories. There were five of them in all, and I'm not sure exactly what came over me that month. Maybe it was something in the water. Three of the stories are basically chapters in much larger work, which I call "The Rise of the Totalitarians." They have different characters and different settings, but deal with the same basic theme, which is how a free society can succumb to repressive measures. The Sign of the Fiddler Crab focuses on education, using the trial of a young schoolteacher to ask the question: Is the goal of an education to foster thinking skills, both creative and critical? Or is it to groom young people to assume the roles that the larger system of governance feels best suits them? Letters to a File is a story about how people and societies change over time, and not necessarily for the better, as played out over the career of a bureaucrat. Flower Beds is the tale of one man who attempts a small rebellion against the oppression he sees around him, knowing what the inevitable result will be, but intent on explaining his actions before the end. In I'll Move So Fast I addressed, once again, the Great Recession of 2007-2010, specifically the real estate dimension of it, in which a young husband and father-of-one contends with having his house foreclosed on following some poor financial decision making, for which he bears sole responsibility. Rounding out the month of April was When the Family Gathers, wherein the patriarch of a (seemingly) wealthy family wrestles with whether to confess to his wife, children, and others that he is an embezzler and that their vast fortune is built on criminal activity. I was curious as to what might have been going through the minds of men like Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford before their activities were discovered. Surely they felt some kind of anxiety that one day they would be exposed. I wrote "When the Family Gathers" as an attempt to get inside the head of a white collar criminal.
I know I probably shouldn't pick favorites when it comes to my own work, but I have to admit: of all the stories I wrote in 2013, my hands-down favorite is Offer Him Roses, which was released in May. It didn't so much write itself as come to life. I began it knowing just a couple of things. First, I knew I wanted to write a story with a young female protagonist. I also wanted to write a story dealing with the Civil War. After a few months I had completed the story of Annalee Rutledge and Matthew Hawkins, and while I was thrilled to be done with the thing, a part of me was sad to have to let their characters go. I had enjoyed knowing them.
In June and July I published two more chapters in my "Rise of the Totalitarians" story arc, these being The Loving Confines and Night Driving, respectively. "The Loving Confines" is about a girl and her therapist, a woman who is not what she seems, while "Night Driving" deals with a man who, through no fault of his own, runs afoul of the security state he serves. Also in July I published my first werewolf story, Dark Bend, with another heroine, Miss Paula Quindlen. I very much hope to have Paula appear in another story.
Enter the Phantasma began, as so many of my works do, with a dream. In my dream I envisioned a street near the ocean here in my hometown, a street down which I have walked many times. It was after dark, but this street was well-lit, albeit deserted, and everything looked much the same except for where there had been (and, in real life, still is) a clothing store now stood a puppet theater. Seated on a chair outside of that puppet theater was a rather creepy-looking Court Jester puppet. Making sure to give the sinister Court Jester a wide berth, I went into this mysterious theater and emerged sometime later with "Enter the Phantasma."
I chose to end the year with a quiet story: A Caller on Christmas Eve, about a woman who receives a mysterious visitor on Christmas Eve. I love the Christmas season and plan to write another Christmas-themed story in 2014. I've got the idea; now I just need to get it down on paper.
So that, more or less, is 2013 in the world of James Hampton. In my next post I'll preview some of my works for 2014. Happy New Year!