You'd think that putting together a short story collection would be relatively straightforward.
Well, I did anyway. Three years ago it seemed a simple enough prospect, and one I already had a head start on. I'd written a ton of short fiction - maybe sixty stories at that point - and it so happened that a chunk of those were thematically and tonally similar enough that they'd sit nicely together in one book. I'd had a lengthy phase of being under the spell of a bunch of writers who tend to get lumped together, folks like Lovecraft, Machen, Poe and Blackwood, and of trying to unpick just what it was I loved about their work. Yet at the same time I'd been struggling to find my own voice as a writer, and the result was a number of tales with an interesting, somewhat tense relationship with those great innovators of horror and fantasy. How hard could it be to throw them all together into one book and get it out there?
But I guess I've answered my own question. Because if everything had proved that straightforward, it's a safe bet I wouldn't be writing this three years later.
Having decided I had the makings of a collection, I set about figuring out the best means of getting it into the world. It happened that around the same time, one of the stories I had in mind, novelette The Way of the Leaves, won a chapbook competition being run by a British small press, and it occurred to me that my proposed book was within their wheelhouse. I approached the owner and he seemed interested. I told myself that was the job more or less done.
Sadly the actual experience would prove to be a nightmare worthy of anything I'd written: an endless-seeming parade of ignored e-mails, excuses, missed deadlines and prevarication that dragged on for more than two years. But in the meantime, I was still working to improve the collection that would eventually become The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories. I'd long been considering projects to work on with my artist friend Duncan Kay, and eventually I asked if he'd be up for illustrating a few short stories. Duncan, whose tastes in dark fiction run close to my own, was entirely up for it, and over the following months went on to produce some astonishing pieces.
In fact, in that and many other ways, the delays proved a blessing. If nothing else, they made me think hard about what I had and what I needed. Many stories got redrafted during that time, and were greatly improved for it. A few new pieces were added, including my personal favourite. Almost my first project when I began to write full time at the tail end of 2013 was to put together a novelette, The War of the Rats, to shore up the collection, giving it a second significantly longer piece. It also occurred to me that an introduction might not be such a bad idea, so I approached one of my absolute favourite fantasy authors, Adrian Tchaikovsky, who was good enough to agree to help.
In short, the book just kept getting better. So it was that when I finally parted ways with the publisher I'd originally signed on with and approached Canadian outfit Digital Fiction Publishing - with whom there would prove to be no ignored e-mails, excuses, missed deadlines or prevarication at all! - we both felt that the project was something a little special.
Now that The Sign in the Moonlight is finally out there, I can see that there were two huge challenges in putting my first short fiction collection together. The first seems obvious in retrospect, but perhaps it took having such an uphill struggle for me to see it: above and beyond the actual stories themselves, a great deal of energy went into making the book the best it could be, so that it might have a hope of standing out in a crowded marketplace. As for the second, that came down to finding a publisher who was as enthusiastic about and committed to the project as I was - which, thinking about it, is perhaps the hardest part of any book. I count myself lucky that both things came together in the end, and I couldn't be prouder of the results.
The GRSBKBLOG review is here: