“Monster in the Mountains” appears in the webzine Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. “Monster” is my second professional sale but the first one to see “print.” I wrote “Monster” in a single weekend, and revised it with the able assistance of two regular readers (my brother, Dan, and our friend, Aaron) both of whom deserve my thanks. The title came from some notes on possible titles that were provided by Aaron.
Since it was written specifically for Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, I’m doubly-excited that it was accepted and published. I am grateful for the help of David Farney, one of the fine editors at HFQ. He was stern enough to show me where my story could become better and stronger than I had imagined and kind enough to brace me for the shock of seeing an editor’s mark-ups on my prose for the first time. I hope that I have the opportunity to work with him again.
People regularly ask writers where their ideas come from. As a fan of DVD commentaries and “Making of…” features, I thought it might be fun to share the origins of “Monster in the Mountains” and a little bit of my own creative process, especially as the story is the product of three different events or ideas over the course of nearly 10 years.
About 10 years ago, while in graduate school, I read Sir Gowther, a fifteenth-century poem about a monstrous child, sired by the devil, who surrendered to his inhuman nature, repented, served his pennance, found redemption through bravery, got the girl, and became human and heroic. The story struck me at the time as a perfect candidate to be retold as a fantasy tale. I even spent some time taking notes and trying to plot out a novel, but life and various projects got in the way, and so I never saw it through.
In one of my many meanderings on the web, I discovered the Arts, Grace & Guts Oracle, a tool designed to generate adventure ideas for tabletop role-playing games. I thought it would make a good engine for generating pulp fantasy style short story ideas (and I still do). One round generated the idea for an innkeeper on a lonely mountain road who murdered his guests while possessed by a spirit from a nearby tomb. I could never find a satisfactory protagonist or resolution for the story, so it settled in the back of my brain where these things usually sit and wait for their moment.
This particular moment came when I read that a new web publication, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, was starting up. They were looking to publish stories like the old sword & sorcery fiction, or as they put it: “an older age of storytelling — an age when a story well told enthralled audiences” with stories “deliver action, reaction, and repercussion — and rarely divulge the thought processes that guide a character.” I’d always wanted to try my hand at something directly in the mold of Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, Andrew Offut, and (to a lesser degree) Michael Moorcock.
I thought about what ideas I had that would be suitably pulpy and yet interesting enough, and that’s when I realized that Gowther would make an excellent protagonist for my possessed innkeeper story, as his own troubled past and inhuman nature would provide the perfect complement to the evil spirit and the troubled innkeeper. A couple hours of note-taking later, and the innkeeper had become a farmer, the theme of human vs. monster had solidified, and “Monster in the Mountains” was born.
If you’re here, it’s probably because you read “Monster.” I hope you enjoyed it, and feel free to provide comments and feedback on this post and on the story.