Beneath constellations sewn into night’s veil, we meet in the shadows,
Our motion disturbing only leaves, casting only moon shadows.
We turn gracefully in time to cricket song, our tails entwined,
Retracing the steps of solstices past, gliding through the shadows.
On all other nights, I dream only of this one. Of you. And of our
Two shapes blending into one among the trees and shadows.
We discard the vulpine forms we wear within our separate packs,
True faces revealed only to one another, under cover of shadows.
Spheric sun will soon pierce night’s veil, leaving us in its cruel light,
Tearing us, another year, from the warm embrace of the shadows.
Written by Eric Fritzius, author of the short story collection A Consternation of Monsters.
Art by Jorn Mork. Jorn is a Minnesota native living in Lewisburg ,W. Va. Jorn creates paintings, hand-colored etchings and etching constructions as well as whimsical mobiles and wall pieces. Her artwork is a reflection of her emotions as they relate to her family, nature, spirituality and her personal view the world. Jorn has exhibited nationally and has won numerous awards in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and West Virginia.
This exhibit was part of the 2016 Lewisburg Literary Festival.
A Consternation of Monsters, is available at Book People in Austin, Texas. This is one of my all time favorite independent book stores because it’s just huge, has an enviable horror/sci fi/fantasy/comics section, has any periodical you could care to name, a great coffee shop, fantastic and helpful employees, and just makes me happy when I walk in the door.
I’m incredibly pleased that my collection of short horror / fantasy stories is now in stock at Book People.
You can find it there in both Fantasy and Horror sections.
Just listen to what these fine folks have to say about it…
“Fritzius makes smart use of the shadowy, mythical creatures that appear in so much regional and historical folklore, and he understands the key principle behind both horror and elegance: show just enough, but not too much.” — writer / reviewer Jason Half from his blog.
“Like Bradbury before him, the author transports us across a wide variety of setting and tone, unveiling rich characters from all walks of life, with surprises waiting around every corner for them (and the giggling-through-fingers reader).” — Aaron Christensen, (a.k.a. Dr. A.C.) from his Amazon review.
“Loved the book – sort of a Hitchcockian style as there is often the horror of what you don’t see, what you don’t know – and that can be the greatest `monster’ of all.” — comics retailer William Anfin, Walkin’ Willie’s Comix.
“Fritzius … has an amazing way with words, and spins one scary and suspenseful and entertaining tale after another in a book you won’t be able to put down.” –playwright Jonathan Joy from his blog The Joy of…
“Fritzius’s collection is a smorgasbord of varied treats from dark creatures of the night and parallel universes to the very human `monster‘ we’ll all recognize.” —Ed Davis, author of The Psalms of Israel Jones
“An entertaining and well-crafted collection of short stories offering mild horror, humour, and quirky ideas.” — Unlimited Book Reviews
“Fritzius’s vision and voice are strong and the stories cover a wide range of tones and styles.” –Joey Madia, New Mystics Reviews
“The reader is taken on adventures through the ancient, the mystical, and the powerful, delving into ideas of creation and destruction that most of us have not considered. All around us, ancient magic stirs and intersects with human life.” –author Elizabeth N. Love, WriterBee’s Book Reviews
Another title available at Book People, is Diner Stories: Off the Menu, an anthology of diner themed stories and essays, the first one of which is mine. Find it in general fiction at Book People.
A new and stellar review of A Consternation of Monsters has just been posted at the review blog of playwright and writer Jason Half. I recently met him in Clarksburg at the West Virginia Playwrights Festival, where three of my plays received staged readings. I was stunned afterward when he told me that he’d traveled to Clarksburg from his home in Ohio specifically to see the stage adaptation of my story “…to a Flame” because he’d read A Consternation of Monsters, had enjoyed the original prose version there and wanted to see how it translated. My wife and I hardly had room in the car for the two of us and my swelled head after that.
Check out his review and his blog.
One of the oldest of my stories in A Consternation of Monsters is “The King’s Last Nacho.” Like “The Wise Ones,” which precedes it in the order of stories, this was one of the stories I first drafted during my college years at Mississippi State University. Unlike “The Wise Ones,” however, it did not begin life in a creative writing class, but started out in a different medium altogether–that of comic books.
I’ve aspired to have many careers in life, from detective to disc jockey (one of which I did for a few years and one of which I may one day achieve), but I can mark the moment in my life when I first wanted to become a comic book writer. It was the day I first read an article in Writers Digest by a man who would one day become one of my all time favorite television writers (though I’d seen some of his work already at that point), J. Michael Straczynski, creator and primary writer for the TV series Babylon 5. And, of course, the article he wrote was about the mechanics of writing scripts for comics.
Though I’ve been a life long fan of comics, I had only vaguely wondered at that point what the process of writing a comic book was like. I had long known that they were frequently a different person from the artist, and I was already a big fan of a handful of comic book writers, such as Keith Giffen, John Ostrander, Mark Evanier, Larry Hama, John Byrne, etc. I had even begun a budding fascination with the work of Alan Moore, but I’d had few aspirations in the comic writing arena myself. The Writers Digest issue, though, in which JMS explained his own learning process in writing his first ever comic book, issue #13 of Teen Titan’s Spotlight from 1987, was fascinating to me. The article featured examples of his script pages as they compared to the finished comic book pages, showing how the description of the action was written panel by panel, with dialogue added beneath that to show how many dialogue balloons would be in a given panel, etc. It was an article that I devoured and re-read dozens of times. It was really then that it dawned on me that there were folks in the world who wrote comic books for a living and I could possibly be one of them. I shortly set out to try and come up with ideas for comics.
I was initially inspired by books like Giffen’s Justice League International, which told oftentimes serious stories, but the humorous take on the characters provided by Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and artist Kevin Maguire. Since DC and Marvel would pay the most, I tried to think of stories for existing DC Comics characters. (The one I remember of these was a grim & gritty version of DC’s The Inferior Five, which begins years after they broke up; Merryman has been institutionalized, Dumb Bunny turned out to be a scientific genius who had been chemically suppressing her intellect, and the Blimp went missing after floating into the Bermuda Triangle.) Later on, once I’d read such works as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Sandman, and had Grant Morrison forcibly expand my horizons in his run on Doom Patrol, I began to think a bit more broadly than deconstructionist parody.
Now, I’d been making up my own comic book style characters for years, so I had original properties to my name. One of these characters was a guy called The Kindred Spirit. He was inspired by such mysterious trench-coaty types as The Phantom Stranger, but with the twist that he was just this slobby, cigar-chomping fat guy, whose trench coat was stained and whose hat was burnt. It’s what would happen if the Phantom Stranger were played by the guy who played Ekhardt in Tim Burton’s Batman, and with a little Columbo thrown in for good measure. In my initial conception of him, he was either an angel or the closest thing to one, and was an agent of a cosmic/possibly heavenly organization called The Higher Power, though he would occasionally freelance. Mostly, he was a down to earth guy who knew the secrets of the universe, but wasn’t an asshole about it. He traversed the cosmos through the use of a bottle of dimension fluid, which, when poured upon the ground in a circle, could open portals to other realms, or span vast distances. I imagined that he knew all the other big enlightened and ascended master types in the universe, but none of them really liked him much. Not that he cared. They were too stuffy for him. He was more interested in smoking, drinking and having adventures.
Some time in the mid 1990s, Gun Dog Comics, the formerly existing comic shop in Starkville, MS, decided to get into the publishing business. They next announced that they were putting together an anthology book with different writers and artists. Rob Snell, co-owner of Gun Dog, asked me if I’d be interested in submitting something. I think I suggested the name of the only comic artist I knew, Eric Yonge, a guy I went to high school whose work was fantastic and who I’d wanted to work with since first seeing his spot-on cartoon sketches of our math teacher, Mr. Murphy, which he’d drawn on Mr. Murphy’s overhead projector. Turns out, they already knew Eric and had recruited him way before me.
I decided Kindred Spirit was the character to use for my comic submission. And my story idea was to have Kin take a freelance bounty-hunting gig to recapture the very much alive Elvis Presley, who had escaped back to Earth. (Remember, this was only a few years after a major wave of the whole Elvis faked his death theories were in the news.) And, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on now, I decided to set this faceoff at a professional wrestling match in Memphis. I started writing.
The Snells were shooting for an anthology of 8-page comic stories. I tried to cram as much of mine into those 8 pages as possible, but there’s a lot of conversation that just couldn’t fit. Rob, an artist himself, pointed out that I was going to have to leave some room in the comic panels for actual art at some point, so I was going to have to do some serious editing of my dialogue. I turned in a few drafts which were kicked back to me for more editing. I begged for more pages, but wisely they refused. If I couldn’t tell the story in 8 pages then it wasn’t a story they wanted. Eventually I managed to turn in a draft that Rob said was getting closer to workable, but still had a ways to go. (Somewhere, I’m sure I have a 3.5″ floppy that contains this gem of a story. Or, possibly even a 5.25″ diskette, as I think I was still writing on a Kaypro 4 back then. What I don’t seem to have is a paper script I can lay hands on.)
At some point, the Snells decided to put the idea of a comic anthology on the back burner. I suspect they realized that if they had an artist as talented as Eric Yonge on hand, what they needed to be doing was publishing more of his work. He’d already done some small press comics for them about a secret agent character he’d created called Gunner. Gun Dog bumped this up to a full size comic, published it, distributed it through Diamond and made a nationally released book of it. Ultimately, they published a few issues of Gunner, all of which I bought. The anthology comic, though, remained on the back burner of their creative stove. And then the stove itself was eventually sold and Gun Dog closed its doors in the early 2000s. (Fun fact: Gun Dog also published the first mini-series of Larry Young’s Astronauts in Trouble: Live from the Moon in 1999, which eventually was republished under it’s creator’s own publishing company, AIT/Planet Lar.)
Having the basic idea for this story that refused to fit into 8 pages, though, I decided to let it stretch its legs a bit as a prose story. I took my original draft, with all the sprawling dialogue, and wrote around it even more sprawling prose description. I threw everything against the wall, every commentary on human nature I possessed in my wee, college junior, 21-year-old mind, as well as jokes about Elvis movies that I hadn’t even seen at that point, some of which turned out to be wildly inaccurate. (There ARE clams seen in Clambake, for instance. Somewhere along the way, I heard that there were not and thought the irony funny. Irony only works well, though, when it is shown against the context of reality.) There were more nacho jokes, too, with an extended sequence in which Kindred Spirit craves Elvis’s last nacho in a bad way and Elvis holds it to his mouth, threatening to consume it for most of a page before crushing the fat man’s hopes by eating it. That got toned down later. The wrestling match, which had been generic in the original comic script, became another layer in the storytelling with the addition of real life wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler. (Cedric Hinds is an echo of a no-name mid-`90s wrestler named Edric Hines, about whom I can no longer find references online–meaning he’s REALLY no name now.) In the end, it was essentially the same story as my comic script idea, but the method of achieving it is a little different. Probably my favorite change from the original version to the prose story is the title. I don’t recall my original title for the comic story, if it even had one, but “The King’s Last Nacho” landed and stuck hard.
I’ve revised the story a number of times over the years since then, going back to Rob Snell’s advice to edit, edit and reedit. It was reduced from an indulgent 25 pages, down to 21 pages, and then down to 18 while doing final edits for the collection. The major decision I had, though, was whether or not to include it in the collection at all. Those of you who’ve read it might be under the impression the my dilemma was due to the story containing no monsters; just Elvis, a fat cosmic guy, a couple of wrestlers and an arena full of spectators. There is, I assure you, a very big monster present, though. It may not seem as obvious as some of the others in the collection, but it’s huge, has tremendous fangs and claws, is incredibly destructive to humanity, and has been around for centuries. You may still have to squint to see it. Regardless, I just wasn’t sure if the story fit thematically with the other stories. It doesn’t have the same creepy factor that the others tend to, so it felt a little out of place. I even had other stories that had big obvious monsters in them that I declined to include in this collection in favor of Nacho. In the end, it’s just one of my favorite of my stories and I wanted it in there regardless of the monster squint factor.
I have not recorded a podcast version of this story, and likely won’t. But I might get around to posting an audio sample of it from the forthcoming audio book version of A Consternation of Monsters, (which I am even as I type this avoiding some audio-editing for). It’s nearly half way there.
Here’s my interview on the Armstrong Cable TV show Chapters, hosted by Eliot Parker.
From January 11, 2016, through Friday January 15, the ebook of my modern fantasy short story collection, A Consternation of Monsters, is absolutely FREE on Kindle.
The book currently has a five star rating with 13 reviews on Amazon, so it’s a solid bet on quality, if I do say so myself.
Some basic info on A Consternation of Monsters:
A consternation, as you should remember from grade school, is the collective noun for monsters. It is therefore a fitting title for a collection of short stories that contain monsters of various sorts and shades.
In these tales, a creature of make-believe proves difficult to disbelieve, a trickster-god takes an unkindly interest in witnesses, eldritch horrors can be summoned using a quilt, frustrated wolves face dangerous prey, the angel of death wears a plaid sport coat, wise old women are to be feared and heeded, the corpses of legends can be perilous to have around, Elvis remains the once and future king of rock & roll, and where one of the most powerful and potentially destructive objects in the world is a fork.
What reviewers have said about the book:
“A fine debut from a gifted storyteller.”
— S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember.
“Fritzius invites the reader into worlds that don’t exist, or at least we think they don’t: Other planes of existence, multi-verses from where other creatures come to see us, monsters stepping out of the ether to do what they are designed to do — scare us and make us think about our the choices we make, what’s really important for us. Like survival.”
— Cat Pleska, the WV Book Team at the Charleston Gazette newspaper
“An entertaining and well-crafted collection of short stories offering mild horror, humour, and quirky ideas.”
— Unlimited Book Reviews (ingeniouscat.co.uk)
“It is my great pleasure to announce that Mr. Fritzius has delivered the goods with ten tales of the strange, weird, and delightfully dark. Like Bradbury before him, the author transports us across a wide variety of setting and tone, unveiling rich characters from all walks of life, with surprises waiting around every corner for them (and the giggling-through-fingers reader). An unqualified success.”
— Aaron Christensen, horror movie blogger at Horror 101 with Dr. AC
“The reader is taken on adventures through the ancient, the mystical, and the powerful, delving into ideas of creation and destruction that most of us have not considered. All around us, ancient magic stirs and intersects with human life.”
— Elizabeth Love, WriterBee’s Book Reviews (writerbeesbookreviews.wordpress.com)
“A most absorbing read, this collection of monster themed short stories is fun, chilling, surprising, and utterly addictive.”
— Jonathan Joy, WV Playwright
“Collectively, Consternation operates to give us a nod and a wink about a much more sinister formulation of the Universe than mere angels and demons, which allows Fritzius the freedom to not lean on gore-n-scream horror tropes, but to play on familiar types and sub-genres in new, inventive, and entertaining ways.”
— Joey Madia, New Mystics Reviews
“I loved these not too gory monster stories. Plenty of scare, but not too much blood. Absolutely perfect.”
— D. Lewis, Amazon.com
“Wonderful captivating stories in the true style of Southern literature, but with a little scare. Think William Faulkner meets Stephen King.”
— ArcheoMom, Amazon.com
I just finished recording the audio version of my short story “The Wise Ones,” from A Consternation of Monsters. Unlike most of my audio efforts, this was a particularly annoying recording session because my stomach refused to stop gurgling throughout it.
I’m certain a gurgle or two will try to sneak through into the final version, but hopefully most will be excised in the upcoming editing process.
This audio version of “The Wise Ones” is not, however, for the Consternation of Monsters Podcast, though an excerpt from it may be used there yet. Instead, I’m recording and in many cases re-recording straight up, big boy, audio book versions of all of the stories from Consternation for a forthcoming audio book project.
Thus far, I’ve recorded “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” “Nigh,” “Old Country,” “…to a Flame,” “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk,” “The Ones That Aren’t Crows,” “The Wise Ones,” and “Limited Edition.” The two that remain are the longer stories “The King’s Last Nacho” and “Puppet Legacy.” After they’re in the can, I can start in on the editing and mastering of the whole project.
These are not the radio drama/audio book hybrid adaptations I’ve done with the podcast. (Love them, though I do.) Instead, they’re standard audio-book narration for the forthcoming,
first quarter 2016 (um, er… 2017) audio book version of A Consternation of Monsters, to appear on Audible.com and iTunes. I figured with my recent toe-dip into the realm of audio book narration, why the heck should I not do my own audio book? And, gurgles be damned, I’m having a blast doing it.
And speaking of my inaugural sojourn into audio book narration, The Black Star of Kingston is now on sale at Audible.com, iTunes, and at the publisher’s website, StoryWarren.net. If you have young folks in your life, or just a two-hour car ride ahead of you, it’s a good `un, if I do say so, thanks to the story and characters provided by Sam Smith. The characters and story were already there, I just tried to do vocal justice to them.
A great review of A Consternation of Monsters was published in today’s Charleston Gazette, written by book team reviewer Cat Pleska.
Check it out at the Gazette website…
In honor of my recently completed role as the Gravedigger in The Tragedy of Hamlet, and in honor of writer Eric Douglas’s 100 word flash fiction horror short story challenge, here’s a sci-fi horror flash story inspired by the play.
Alas, poor Yorick
Yorick, the Time Traveler’s assistant, removed the last shovel of dirt. He pried open the coffin’s lid, breath held. There was no need.
“Empty? You said there would be gold.”
“Golden opportunity,” the Traveler said. “You see, my fellow of infinite jest, your betrayal is also uncovered.”
He jabbed the needle into the boy’s neck, sending him writhing into the coffin, struggling against the paralytic to escape.
The lid fell.
“That Hamlet speech I made you learn?” the Traveler shouted, shoveling on the dirt. “You’ll hear it again shortly. Well, shortly for me, at least.”
Within the grave, Yorick screamed.
Copyright 2015 Eric Fritzius and Mister Herman’s Publishing Company.