For years, I’ve been telling people (new writers, especially) that while everything is derivative—there are only seven plots, after all—what makes their story distinctive is voice. The treatment a writer gives their novel or short story will always be unique unto them: their voice, their experiences, their vocabulary, their writing style, all will converge to make even the most tried-and-true plot trope unique.
Said more simply, if you give thirteen writers a photo and ask them to write a story, you’ll get thirteen completely different stories.
I’ve seen this happen when I teach. I like to use visual aids to help the writers in my classes, to give them a jumping-off point. A kick start. I think it’s a fun, stress-free way of starting a story. I show them a man, a woman, a setting. Something, anything, so they don’t have to conjure up a tale from total scratch.
I’ve been using this example for so long, and so often, that when I came across the photo above in an article I was reading, I knew I had the perfect opportunity. The photo showed a man in a dusty black suit, his back to the camera, standing in a roiling mist at the ornate gates of a broken-down gothic mansion. There was longing in his stance; though his face wasn’t visible, the lines of tension running through his body were clear. I immediately wondered: What was his story? What was this place he stood before? What was the house to him?
With this evocative photo in hand, I approached my publisher and posited an idea: Let’s create an anthology of stories based on the house in the photo. I mean, why not put my money where my mouth is, right? I handpicked a group of writers whom I thought would do a great job at showcasing (and proving) my theory—that no two writers will approach the page the same way. We had only two requirements for them: that the house appear in the story in some way, and the theme of the story was Southern Gothic.
These talented writers did exactly what I thought they’d do—they created wildly diverse stories about, in, and mentioning the house that are in turns chilling, haunting, and downright scary. From writers going mad to demons inhabiting young girls; ancient caves to ancestral feuds; gardens of stone angels to evils seen and unseen—the stories you’re about to read cover the gamut of the best themes of Southern Gothic fiction.
They clearly had so much fun with it that I had to join in.
And so, I give you DEAD ENDS. My brilliant friends and I have cooked up thirteen original, never-before-published spooky tales for you to enjoy this Halloween season. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did writing them. But be sure to lock the doors and windows first... you never know what the road ahead might bring.