The Stories Behind “Thong-Sized Stories”

ThongSizedStoriesCoverIf you’re the type who wonders where authors’ ideas come from, or how those ideas develop, here’s some insight into Thong-Sized Stories.  Get your print or digital copy here.

Be warned: this section may contain spoilers.

 Lunch With Daddy – My writers’ group has a tradition of working with writing prompts every time we meet.  It’s a way for us to do some free-form, no-pressure writing.  I try to let my mind wander as I do it, like imaginative play; sometimes I wind up with a story like this.  I think the prompt was, “Write about the contents of a trash can.”

 The Turkey Incident – The creative person’s imagination never really stops.  I came up with this wacky story on the way to my day job on Black Friday 2012 as a means to keep my coworkers’ minds off their hangovers.  At some point during the commute, I realized voodoo reanimation and its effect on Turkey Day was a fun idea to play with, and so I did.  After half a dozen oral tellings, where I kept adding details and embellishments, the vast majority of the story was in my head.  All I had to do was set it down on paper.  I chose the first-person narrator for the immediacy of the voice, and because it allowed me to directly transpose my oral telling to the page.  It’s the longest thong-sized story, but hey, big people wear thongs, too.

 The Shaman’s Folly – This is another story from a writers’ group prompt.  I don’t remember the exact lead-in, but it had to do with hearing a heartbeat.  Giving myself permission to mentally wander got this one out right there, in one sitting.

 The Things We Do For Love – At some point or another, we’ve all known someone who makes us misbehave.  This story is an exaggeration of the concept, taken to an extreme somewhere in the neighborhood of Natural Born Killers.  It’s also the germ of a writing prompt, and the youngest story in the collection.

Three Drunken Frat Boys – I’d been studying “Three Billy Goats Gruff” for a while, because it factored into another story I was writing.  Then I found myself teaching the idea of structural parody to my writers’ group.  For those of you who don’t write, a structural parody is a tool for learning how to plot in which you create your own story while sticking to the point-by-point happenings of a well-known tale.  As part of my instruction, I created this story as an example of what we were trying to accomplish in our meeting.  I think it’s a fun take on a known commodity, even if it’s (naturally) predictable.

 Pilot Chatter – An experiment in sound and language which took years to develop.  I’m pretty sure it started off one night when I wasn’t sober, which is the one time I usually don’t write since my ideas in that state always sound better than they really are.  I was bullshitting the check-check dialogue, annoying my wife with it.  Usually that’s where those ideas end, but this one stuck with me, rising back to the top of the Imaginary Playground in my mind again and again.  Eventually I wrote a draft as a sort of purging action, decided it was too weird, and put it in a drawer for a few years.  Still it haunted me, right up until I realized it was the perfect size for this collection.  It was one of the last stories I completed for inclusion here, partly because I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I could make it work, and partly because I had to be sure it told enough of a story to be worthy of that name.  It’s an art piece – weird, weird art that makes me happy.

 Business News – I listen to news on the radio a lot in the car.  I’m also a strange guy.  One day, while listening to yet another story about a massive recall of cars, I started thinking about the male reproductive system as a business.  Specifically, I was thinking about STDs and what that would mean for a philandering man who spread his seed around, then had to tell everybody about contracting something nasty.  If the body was a business, it would issue a product recall.  The story itself is an exercise in walking the line between stylistic parody and vulgarity, which I’ve gotta say is pretty damn hard to do.

Telegram Sex – Old-fashioned telegrams didn’t use punctuation, but rather the word STOP.  “Stop,” is a word one hopes not to hear in intimate encounters.  When I combined that thought with a musing of what phone sex was like before phones, I wound up with this story of two long-distance lovers who can’t quite get it right.

 ‘kay – When I was seventeen, I knew a girl like the narrator of this story.  Her crushes were all-consuming and swung from the heights of elation to the dungeons of dejection, sometimes within the same day, or even moment, such as in this story.  It only sounds obsessive from the point-of-view of half a life later, but what I remember most about that girl was her optimism, even when she encountered setbacks.  As near as I can recall (and keep in mind the original draft was written before the turn of the millennium), I wrote about her situation in an exaggerated, semi-fictional way in an attempt to capture that sunny spirt of youth.  ‘kay has gone through several metamorphoses over the years, becoming longer and more involved before I realized that the story is about a place, a person, a feeling, and most importantly, a single moment in the go-go-go world of high school.

Observations at Twilight – Early in 2013, I travelled to Florida to say goodbye to a sick relative.  After a particularly hard week where I didn’t have much time for writing, I found myself on a plane back to Chicago, in a window seat for the first time in quite a while.  Night was falling, and my eastward view of the patchy cloud cover was lit from the opposite side of the plane in all the warm colors of sunset.  I watched the day dissolve into evening, then night, and spent the remainder of the flight writing on my iPad.  The final draft of this story is a focusing of the cathartic freewriting I did at 33,000 feet, which itself was a way of working through some of my blossoming grief by finding the ups in a downbeat situation.

Review: NOS4A2

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that works on all sorts of levels. As a straight-up reader wanting to be entertained, I got more than I expected in a novel that’s part horror, part fantasy, and quite unpredictable. The jacket copy suggest only the smallest part of the overall plot, and I appreciate when I’m not told everything ahead of time. What’s the point of committing to a 700-page beast if you already know everything? On the opposite side, the book’s content was represented properly in that copy, too (it’s one of the peeves I pet, when the hype takes you one way and the actual story goes on a less-interesting track. Happens all the time with movies, and sometimes in books).

Then there’s the novelist in me who looks at the artistic side – the language, the pacing, the structure – and I can’t find a single fault there, either. Joe Hill has a way of imparting plenty of detail without bogging down the narrative which writers of long fiction could all learn from. His characters live complex lives on the fringes of their societies, often just outside the sphere of light thrown from the lamp post of typical, and they’re almost always fighting not to drift away from that light. It’s a good place to be in the 21st century, where there isn’t really one standard definition for “normal.”

Finally, the thing that struck me most (as it usually does with Joe Hill) was the feeling I got reading this book, the way I fell into the page, got sucked into a good story, call it what you will. Like his father, Joe Hill has developed an accessible style of storytelling which challenges without irritating, informs without much hardcore exposition, and does what my favorite horror does best: it freaks me out without making me want to go do something else. Independent of category, genre, or type, that makes for a damn good yarn. If you’re of the SF/F/H persuasion in your reading, don’t pass this one up.

P.S. There’s an easter egg hidden at the end of the book. Read the novel, then keep reading through all the stuff after the last line (Acknowledgements, Typeface Notes). Finding a hidden surprise after finishing a great book simply made my day.

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