It’s time for the eleventh and final edition of Sunday Stories, where each week I reveal the inspiration behind one of the eleven twisting tales from my short story collection, And Then We Vanish.
My personal favorite of the collection, “Night of the Spider” arose at the crossroads of three ideas. Firstly, a photograph of my Grandmother and her sister outside their home in Northeast Philadelphia in the 1940’s had always struck me. This photograph became the inspiration for the photograph young Benjamin takes of his mother and aunt before going to spend the summer with his estranged father. Secondly, I always wanted to write a short story in the vein of my favorite writer Graham Greene. And thirdly, I wanted to write about my fear of spiders. The story almost spun into a novella where I fleshed out some of the minor characters (Scarlet) and gave Benjamin a clearer resolution…but I like how the open-ended suspense cuts this one short. Always leave them hanging…
“Night of the Spider” originally appeared in the third and final edition of my digital literary magazine, The Stone.
“When Night Falls on Niagara,” the most fanciful of the tales, came to me during a family vacation in the Finger Lakes. We took a day trip to Niagara Falls, and a conversation with my nephew about who works the light show spurred my imagination. It was originally published by Eunoia Review.
A number of readers have named this story as their favorite story of the collection, not surprisingly, as it’s the most unique and naturally stands out.
“Wild Horses” was actually meant to be the opening chapter of the novel my wife and I (still?) want to write together. While on a family vacation in the Outer Banks we cooked up a whole series of melodramatic Southern potboilers detailing family lore regarding the wild escapades of a character named “Deddy” and the women who loved him. I conjured the teaser of an opener after we went on a wild horse tour and found that it stood well enough alone as its own thing. One day it might still serve as the opener to our epic series of melodramas.
For the life of me, I don’t fully remember the genesis of “Down Gallow’s Way.” Many disparate ideas just came together for my story about where the down-and-out go all the way down…but I vaguely recall my friend telling me about a guy she met in Atlantic City who told her a wild story about accidentally dating an undercover FBI agent. That must’ve been where the idea came from, and then that blasted heated wave in the Spring of 2010…it all just came together like a fever dream after driving down to AC (and gazing out at those windmills) and a night of too much whisky. A few readers pointed out this one feels dated…and it is. I wrote it in another lifetime. I barely recognize myself and the person who wrote this.
And this was another one, like “The Ballerina in Battery Park” from the same time period in my life (ah, those early Obama years), I submitted on a lark not expecting much (though I personally enjoyed the quasi-neo-noir story a great deal) and at first the publisher said, “We like it, but it’ll be a year before we can fit it into an anthology,” followed up by, “Guess what, we fit it into the one coming out next month!”
The sound of a bleating sheep in the distance while walking a path up to a waterfall. I was on vacation in Ireland, on a day trip to Wicklow, and that sound…it haunted me. So I wrote a story about it called “Blue Heather.” I actually imagined a whole novel centered around the mystery in this story, but it remains as elusive as that sheep forever bleating in the distance.