Fall From Grace was one of those stories. It's the tale of Sarah, a volunteer aid worker who's sent out to a town in an unnamed country wracked by war and famine, and of what she discovers there. Sarah is a basically decent person, as basically decent as most of us, anyway, but she finds herself vastly out of her depth, confronted with real horrors and real malevolence.
Fall From Grace was definitely a tough write. I wrote it originally for an anthology titled Hell on Earth, and I took the brief perhaps too literally. It goes to places I wasn't comfortable with visiting, and because it gives voice to a character both articulate and genuinely evil, it puts into words ideas and arguments that I'd hate for anyone to mix up with my own. I've always figured that's one of the limbs you go out on as a writer, especially when writing horror; to talk about things that aren't supposed to be talked about, express opinions you'd never agree with in a thousand years. Horror, after all, is supposed to kick in the doors of our comfort zones. Still, I hesitated to send out Fall From Grace. This was a few years ago, and I guess I was less thick-skinned about my work than now; I was worried I might be seen as trivialising the real world issues the story drew on, or reducing them to entertainment.
Anyway, I got over my doubts eventually, sent Fall From Grace out, due to the vicissitudes of publishing had it accepted not once but twice, and now, finally, it's available to read at Kaleidotrope. After everything, it will be interesting to see what people make of it.
Prisoner of Peace was another tale that turned out difficult, on any number of levels. It tells of a prisoner in the aftermath of a war; but the nature of that war, as well as just what is keeping the protagonist imprisoned, are revealed only slowly. Like Fall From Grace, it draws on certain real world horrors that don't often get discussed, especially in genre fiction - and on one atrocity in particular that seems to me a peculiar blind spot for many people. Prisoner of Peace also plays around with time, with reality and perception and memory, and tries to talk about questions like the nature of guilt and the nature of forgiveness. Unlike most everything else I've written, it's almost wilfully obstructive; it probably defies a casual reading, and I suspect it might take a couple of runs through to fully understand.
That's perhaps the main reason it's proved such a hard sell. I hope so, anyway, since I think Prisoner of Peace is the best horror story I've written, and I don't normally misjudge my work quite that drastically. I was disappointed by some of the markets that turned it down, but pleased when editor Eric Guignard - whose much-acclaimed debut collection Dark Tales of Lost Civilisations I was in earlier this year - expressed an interest. Even then, though, I dithered more than I had any right to, unsure if Eric's next anthology After Death was the right place for a story I felt so strongly about.
Now, having seen the cover art, having seen the thought and effort he's put into getting his head around and then editing and reediting Prisoner of Peace and, most recently, having seen the stunning interior artwork Eric's commissioned to accompany it, I've come to realise that it couldn't have found a more appropriate home. After Death should be out soon, and I can't wait to see what the rest of the book look like.