What’s in the Book? (Second Part)

I wrote a previous post HERE in which I began discussing each piece in my upcoming collection, The Lure of Devouring Light. Here’s part two, which covers the second half of the book, the bold items in this Table of Contents:

Introduction by John Langan: Scored, Scoured, Shining: Mike Griffin’s Surreal Inscapes
The Lure of Devouring Light
Dreaming Awake in the Tree of the World
Far From Streets
The Book of Shattered Mornings
Arches and Pillars
Diamond Dust
The Accident of Survival
No Mask to Conceal Her Voice
The Jewel in the Eye
The Need to Desire
The Black Vein Runs Deep

Diamond Dust

“Diamond Dust” was written for The Grimscribe’s Puppets, the Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology edited by Joseph S. Pulver Sr. I wrote and submitted it without being part of the editor’s official invitations list, a “spec” submission with absolutely no promises made. I was a fan of Ligotti’s work and had a specific idea for a take on his “corporate horror.” After I submitted, a long time passed while the editor waited for other submissions, something like a year. Finally I received neither an acceptance nor a rejection, but a note along the lines of, “This is surprisingly good, but needs something extra. If you can breathe more life into it, I might be able to take it.”

I studied my story, tried to view it as objectively as possible, and talked back and forth with Pulver trying to get a sense of what he felt it was lacking. In the time since the initial submission, I had improved and developed as a writer, so I thought I had my own sense of what it needed. The story went through two more significant revisions, and ended up quite different from what I had originally submitted. More visceral, more personal, with a clearer sense of pain and trouble. The changes were enough to get me in the book, which I consider one of the best weird/horror anthologies of the decade, and which won Pulver the Shirley Jackson Award. “Diamond Dust” was well received by readers and reviewers.

I believe developing writers sometimes have “turning point” stories. For me, this was one. Some lessons I took:

1) If the book had come together by the original deadline, had the Table of Contents been set earlier, “Diamond Dust” probably would not have reached its final, improved version and would not have been in the book. Sometimes events outside your control will affect outcomes, sometimes for worse, other times for better. Be prepared either way. In this case, delays that had nothing to do with me offered time for me to “level up” as a writer, and develop a story of which I wouldn’t have been capable at first submission.

2) The period of reflection and self-analysis directed at this draft were a breakthrough for me. Nudges provided by Joe Pulver were instrumental in my discovery of certain aspects lacking in the earlier version of the story. The analysis, that the story needed a more vital and visceral emotional core, that its lifeblood was too thin, has stuck with me. Pulver often repeats the adage “bleed on the page.” This is something I continue to think about, every time I write.


The Accident of Survival

Another previously unpublished story, a kind of psychological or existential mystery. Sometimes the way we perceive the world is fairly clear and unambiguous. Other times, the mind disconnects. We might get into difficulty, traction might slip. We may even lose hold of our last tether. I’m very interested in these mental states, these times of slippage or distortion. The only way we know the world is through our perceptions, which are very prone to error and malfunction.

No Mask to Conceal Her Voice

This was my second story for Joseph S. Pulver Sr., for the special King in Yellow issue of Lovecraft eZine he guest edited. I love the King in Yellow stories of Robert W. Chambers, in particular the druggy, distorted craziness of the characters’ perceptions and psyches, and the sense of longing and loss that prevails. I wanted to update that feeling to the modern day, while retaining the decadence and perversity.

“No Mask to Conceal Her Voice” was strongly influenced by the film Berberian Sound Studio, not so much the story but the setting of the voiceover studio full of weird old half-decayed film-making and recording equipment. Though in the film, the point is only to record voiceover tracks intended to be dubbed over film already shot, in my story this disconnection between voice and image comes as a surprise, and adds to the feeling of wrongness and disintegration. The main character Lily Vaun is one of my favorites among my own creations.

Lovecraft eZine "King in Yellow" special issue, April 2014
Lovecraft eZine “King in Yellow” special issue, April 2014

The Jewel in the Eye

This previously unpublished story was one of the two that I crafted especially for this book. “The Jewel in the Eye” was an idea I had worked on for a long time, but I had struggled to make it come across as something adequately surreal or magical. Even a good idea, if not executed correctly, will fail. By playing up aspects of the book club to make the book more central to the story, and changing interactions between the main couple, the story shifted balance entirely. It finally managed to become what I’d originally intended.

Many of my stories contain elements of mystery, things less than fully explained. Sometimes I find the mysterious aspects work better when they are made clearer, and other times they work best when they are made less definite. One trick with this story was finding he right balance between vagueness and clarity, and allowing the “weird” aspect to hit the right note. The other trick was shifting the power balance in the central relationship.

The Need to Desire

This story appeared briefly in the online incarnation of Phantasmagorium. It’s the shortest piece in the book, and because it can be read in less than ten minutes, it’s something I’ve often selected when giving public readings. While the story employs a fantastic or “impossible” aspect front and center, it is also one of my stories most founded in real life. I used to go with a large group of college friends to Diamond Lake every year, at the end of finals week, just before Winter break. In fact, “The Need to Desire” is a drastic reworking of a much longer “realistic” story written more than twenty-five years ago. This version feels more real to me now.

The Black Vein Runs Deep

“The Black Vein Runs Deep” is the longest thing in the book (almost 40,000 words, the official cut-off where novella becomes novel), but for now I’ll hold back from saying much about it. The story is extremely personal, in feeling if not in detail. It’s a love letter to one of my favorite places. My wife Lena and I have spent a lot of time on Mt. Hood in the vicinity of Government Camp. Kinosha is not exactly Government Camp, but all the slopes and trails, lakes and trees, are just as I encountered them.

I will probably have more to say about these tales, and for some of them already imagine ways of telling connected stories, or visiting different aspects. For now, this is the background to The Lure of Devouring Light, which will be officially released this weekend.

2 thoughts on “What’s in the Book? (Second Part)

  1. Hey Michael, congrats on the release. As a big fan of Thomas Ligotti/weird fiction, this sounds interesting and I’ll be sure to check this out. Good luck, hope this does well!

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