“My Subject” by Justin Pollock now available in Darker Than Noir detective horror anthology from Grand Mal Press

So you should know, my latest short story, “My Subject,” appears in Darker Than Noir, an anthology of detective-themed horror stories published by Grand Mal Press (now available in print and digital on Amazon.com). I’ve been following Grand Mal on Twitter, and they’ve got a lot of deals going recently, so I’m quite pleased to be in good company.

I love reading themed horror anthologies, and I love when I find one to submit to. They’re assignments, essentially, and while not everyone likes having restrictions placed on their writing, I’ve always enjoyed what comes out of working under such conditions. For one semester’s worth of creative writing courses back in college, I’d cut up a bunch of random names/settings/plot elements, draw them out of a hat, and stitch them together to come up with the outline for a story. I usually came up with something at least interesting.

Sometimes when we write, we begin with a central idea and build outwards. It sounds like the right way to go about it, but sometimes we can build too tidily, too formally. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie, and you really didn’t like it, but you really couldn’t say it was bad? I think this way of writing might be the cause of that in some cases. The plot is tight and moves logically from A to B, which facilitates some reasonably well-rounded characters making an emotional journey from C to D, and the whole thing is tonally and thematically consistent. So again, nothing is wrong, but it’s not exciting. It’s well done, but that’s all you can say for it.

But when you place restrictions on yourself, you’re preventing yourself from getting too cozy. The parameters might not allow you to use the first idea that comes to mind and so you have to work harder. Furthermore, with the cut-up technique, your brain is forced to make connections that it would not have had to otherwise. I get excited just thinking about it, but maybe that’s just my Russian heritage acting up—two incongruous ideas butt up against each other to form a synthesis. It generates conflict, and that’s what we’re trying to do when we write, isn’t it?

So. “Write a detective story with horror elements” (or “Write a horror story with detective elements”). It’s a pretty broad theme, but detective fiction is something I don’t dig on ordinarily, so forcing myself to work with it throws some strange ingredient into the stew, opens it up for some new flavors.

But the twist is that part of what I like about having those parameters is the opportunity to test them. It’s a bit contrarian of me, but I like what it does for the writing. It’s not about breaking the rules (because then why even bother with the pretense?) but about bending them—to see how far you can mess with the shape of the theme while still playing fair.

In this case, I went with a detective who was less noir than blanc (or, perhaps, whatever “beige” is in French). Horror stories sometimes give away too much, and you would assume someone whose job it is to seek out the truth would only exacerbate the problem, so I came up with a detective who’s on the very outside of something terrible. Which I think makes it scarier in some ways; certainly what powers something like Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stories is that you always feel as though you’re on the edge of understanding—enough to know that you live in a terrifying reality, but not enough to ever be able to understand it. You only ever see the shadows and so the monster’s in your imagination.

So I hope you’ll check “My Subject” out, and I hope it does for you what I wanted it to. If you should pick up a copy of Darker Than Noir (or if you already are the proud owner of such a volume), I hope you’ll let me know.


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