Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Inspiration, Black Magic, and Spite: The Creation of "Little Gods" in The Big Bad II

As I warned people way back in my first post I occasionally take time to talk about what I'm doing with my career. Today is one of those posts, and this is the reason why.

Buy The Big Bad II on Amazon! Seriously, do it.
This book, as you might have guessed, is an anthology edited by John G. Hartness (he hosted a guest post of mine titled Stories Beyond Good and Evil) and Emily Lavin Leverett. The 24 stories inside the collection are all about bad characters doing some truly evil things, and they're the protagonists we follow. My story, "Little Gods" is one of the contributions to the book. As such today I'd like to talk a little bit about that story, about inspiration, and about how some of the best ideas will come at you out of sheer spite.

Inspiration Comes In Many Forms

I do not remember the title, or even the complete plot, of the first modern fantasy book I read. I do remember I was about 10 or 11 years old, I found it in a stack of my grandfather's old dollar store paperbacks, and the cover was a thing of pulp fiction glory. It was the traditional shot of a detective in an overcoat and fedora with his back to the wall and his gat in his hand looking down a dark alley with a beautiful dame pressed up against him, except the alley was full of a black cloud covered in red eyes, and the dame had pale skin and two bright red pinpricks on her neck. As you might guess the story was about a private eye who took a job from a vampire. They questioned trolls, sweated ghouls, and used shapeshifting magic and rune-etched bullets to cut a swath through the dark underbelly of this town.

I was completely and irredeemably hooked.

When people ask me how it feels to write, I just show them this image.
Like any avid reader who discovered a new genre I kept my eyes peeled for more. While a good private detective story would always hit the spot there was just something particularly satisfying about one of those stories that also involved a werewolf, or a vampire, or any of a trove of other beloved monsters. Over the years I realized something though; while there was a lot of modern fantasy on the market there were definite sour notes ringing in my ears.

What were some of the cardinal sins I kept seeing the genre commit over and over again? Well there was using mythical figures as props and place holders instead of turning them into actual characters and parts of your story (Neil Gaiman's American Gods is the opposite of what I'm complaining about). Another big problem for me was seeing stories which had the power progression and magic system of a roleplaying game, which led to main characters starting off as low-powered boots on the ground and ended several books later with them fighting archangels with ancient swords and punching the devil in the face. I wanted to know why so many worlds had huge, global organizations to keep supernatural things a secret when those creatures had consistently kept themselves in the shadows for most of human civilization. I watched as story after story focused on spectacle and coolness factor without providing the sort of atmosphere, hard character choices, and gray areas I'd come to love.

That said, I have a rule when it comes to complaining. Don't criticize unless you're willing to step up and swing for the fences. That's why I decided to create my own modern fantasy world.

Chicago Strange and The Little Gods of The City

My goal in writing "Little Gods" was to craft a short, sharp story that would grab readers by the back of the neck and shove them face first into the demimonde. I wanted to bring readers to a place where the shadows are deeper, the alleys narrower, and the secrets more blasphemous than they're used to. A place where old magic rots in the meat beneath the concrete scabs of the city, and where horrors the uninitiated will never know dance in the darkness.

A place ruled by the Little Gods.

You can hear them if you pray hard, and listen harder.
What are the Little Gods you ask? They are the gods of the city, and the myths of the modern men and women. The Shoot-Up Man, who hands you a needle full of poison and a smile full of promises as you pass him on by. Skid Row Sue, the pretty girl in the tattered dress who wants you to take her home to join the bones in the basement. The Hook Man, who slavers and babbles while he stalks lovers' lane with murder on his mind. They're urban legends whose myths are told and re-told, keeping them vital and powerful.

The Little Gods are not omnipotent though; they can be killed. Their mantles, their crowns, their titles can be passed on to someone else. That's why urban legends take on new names, new faces, and their stories change over the years. There's always a killer lurking on highway two, and before the Hook Man it was Bloody Jacob with his father's straight razor. Before him it was Katey Hatchet the butcher's daughter. Before her it was the Wendigo, and before the Wendigo probably something else.

Our story opens up when someone decides to steal the crown of the Little God of Murder.

Darker Shades of Gray

The tale begins with the Sterile Saint putting word on the street that she wants Richard Blackheart to come find her. The warlock-for-hire comes looking for the Saint, and finds out that she has a plan to rob the Hook Man of his glory. All she needs is muscle, and she's willing to pay his price. There's more to Blackheart than his reputation suggests though, and his client finds out too late that when you buy trouble from the Bad Luck Man you get every penny of what you pay for.

There are a lot of reasons for you to read The Big Bad II in general, and "Little Gods" in particular. It's a story that provides all the darkness you could ask for, and an extra serving of grit for you to swish around in your cheek. It paints a picture of a uniquely bizarre world, and it gives you a snapshot of the kinds of macabre wonders that lurk in out-of-the-way places. Lastly though it strips out good and evil, leaving you in a world where there is only power and those who use it.

Who's the hero? Who's the villain? That's up to you when you get your copy of The Big Bad II.

As always loyal readers, thanks for stopping in and checking out what I have to say. If you'd like to help support me and this blog then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you're worried you might miss an update then make sure you also follow me on Facebook and Tumblr to stay in the loop.

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