Subscribe to email updates

Monday, November 19, 2018

How I Came to Write the Lovecraftian Tale: "The Strange Case of James Kirkland Pilley"

Edward Hawthorne had no premonition of the at first disturbing and later horrifying consequences that would result from his joining the Friends of Pilley Park Garden Society.

Thus begins The Strange Case of James Kirkland Pilley, which one reviewer said out-Lovecraft. Thought I'd tell the back story of how I came to write

Shortly after we moved into our house south of The Plaza here in Kansas City, they started draining the pond at Loose Park, one of KC's most beloved walking spots.

In one of the stately mansions that faced Loose Park occurred an horrific murder. A brother and sister lived in the house and one night the brother beat the sister to the proverbial pulp. I followed the story in the newspaper. At first appearance the brother sat in his bench banging his head against it. The next day the newspaper reported the man had died in his cell. A few days later the autopsy report said the man had died of "total system collapse," a cause of death I had never seen before nor since.

Loose Park was also the site of a major Civil War battle in Kansas City.

Something clicked. I had been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft since high school. I had just finished a writing project and I wanted to do something in a completely different style. TheStrange Case of James Kirkland Pilley.

Here's what an early reviewer thought of it:

"Back in college when everyone seemed to be reading Tolkien, I was entranced by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was one of the writers from an earlier era who depended more on a creeping feeling of unease instead of over-the-top gross-out effects that seems to be favored by modern writers.

"Now Lovecraft has been reborn for a new generation in Randy Attwood's The Strange Case of James Kirkland Pilley. The story has no vampires or werewolves that seem to proliferate in modern thrillers. Instead, it follows the path laid out by Lovecraft. There's the modern every-man who slowly descends into increasingly weird situations. There's the "bad guy" who may not be really bad, just a bit toys-in-the-attic crazy. Then there's the setting ... in this case, as in some many of Lovecraft's stories, a passage that goes further and further into the earth toward ... well, to say more would spoil the story. (I always wonder what Freud would say of Lovecraft's frequent use of damp, dark underground settings, but I digress.)

"Amping up the creepiness factor are a Civil War backstory, hordes of workers who seem kin to zombies and the dry rattle of bones coming from cells along the passages of this underworld. Together is makes for top-notch story telling. This isn't the type of horror that makes you gag on grossness. Instead, it's the kind of story that's the literary equivalent of a shudder caused be a cold hand brushing against you in the dark."

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Collection of Stories Set in Kansas

I decided to collect all of my shorter works set in Kansas and publish them. The title is pretty trite: Kansas Stories and the cover is a sunflower, but it’s a nice big sunflower picture taken by Kansas City photographer Roy Inman.

There are eight stories in the collection, although one of them, Hospital Days is made up of 10 short-short works. The longest is around 30,000 words.

I guess I would classify the genre of each story as “literary.” Hope that doesn’t scare you off. The ebook version is here. The paperback version is here:

(A thank you to my friend Rob McKnight for suggesting this collection.)

Below are the titles and a link to the individual story if you’d rather just read just that one:

A Kansas snowstorm forces a car of college students returning home for the holidays to take refuge in the hotel of a small town where they encounter a fellow traveler who also seeks shelter and has a story to tell about the consequences of another snow storm decades before when a hideous truth is revealed about an old woman, stuck in her own time slot.

Reviewer: “It’s no small feat to write such a richly-layered story that spans several decades in a scant 62 pages, but Randy Atwood has managed to pull it off. One More Victim is a coming-of-age story, a love story and a story about extraordinary secrets hidden by outwardly ordinary people. Most of all, it’s a story about how war can leave victims in its wake long after it has officially ended.”

Opening: There really is a Kansas sky, wide as the land is flat. On fall mornings it seems as if the stratosphere drops down just before dawn to touch the trees, make crisp the leaves of brown and red and yellow, rise again to paint the sky a deep blue, and leave the air as clean and as fresh as a newly-cut lemon.

This Saturday the crystals of the first light frost melt on the buffalo grass and wet my shoes as I go to catch a ride to town on the bus for the insane.

No reader yet has foretold the ending to this story.

Reviewer: “Loved it! The ending came too soon, being so captivated by their story. This is a story I would recommend to my reader friends. This is also an author I will be following and waiting for more amazing stories. So much was told in a short leaves you wanting for more…”

Reviewer: “An absolutely gorgeous story, voluptuous descriptions that just beg for someone to paint the scenes in oils. Who thought that a short story about golf could be so intense, so vivid and so engaging - I literally walked out to the mailbox with my Kindle in my hand, reading. You don't want to miss this latest from Randy Attwood - go get it, and his other works while you're at it. You really won't regret it.”

(ten shorts)

Reviewer: “This is a different type of read. It takes the reader into the life behind the scenes of a hospital. It is not like a TV show with heroics and handsome doctors getting all the attention. This is the grittier side of life with a true feel to the happenings as the reader is shown the life of a candy striper at first would like to be a doctor, but after what he sees in the real raw world a change of occupation might be in order.”

A tale of innocence lost, as two adventurous boys discover tragic hidden secrets and their own true nature.

Two teen boys take on the Roman Catholic Church.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Read the Original Version of SPILL

The original version of SPILL is now available as an ebook. One day before my publisher was scheduled to publish the book they got cold feet because I used Bob Dole and Dan Aykyroyd in cameo appearances, which was really hilarious. I would have had to pay a significant amount of money to buy the book back from them so I knuckled under and made changes and the scene still works pretty well. But not as well as the original. The rights have now reverted to me so I've published my version. Fred Underwood (Yes, I used the Underwood name well before House of Cards) is a failed and fired English teacher who makes his living as a small package contract delivery guy. One day he gets an idea how he can scam the political system and it works: he gets the girl, the money and a really cool skateboard video game. SPILL is a damn fun read. Take that, Big Oil! $3.99

Friday, August 24, 2018

Two New Special Readers for Crazy About You

Crazy About You continues to find new readers and I learn about it in the most unusual and delightful ways. One reader, Sandi Roper, asked to be my Facebook friend, and when I visited her page I found this:

"Just began reading Crazy About You  by Randy Atwood. The more I read, the story became eerily familiar. I took another look at the book's setting, synopsis and author and then I knew why. Mr. Atwood was telling MY story as well as his own. I also lived in Larned KS, and graduated four years after him. My dad was a minister, and part of the revolving clergy sent into the asylum to try and comfort its miserable inmates. I often accompanied him and came to know many of the higher functioning patients. They were my friends, but to my shame, I told as many sensational horror stories as anybody else about the big brick compound which swallowed up our little town. My first job was at the drugstore Atwood described the druggist's wife, it was surreal, because he described her spot-on! I later went to work for the old "Tiller & Toiler" he mentioned. Ironically, I later bought that old drugstore building and opened a gift shop there. After this remarkable trip through my memories, I will buy and read every book Atwood puts out. He is a remarkable writer and every Larned-native is sure to enjoy this book. I will now be "following " him on FB, and am anxious to read the rest of his books. Hope to become a friend on FB.

"And all you (Larned) natives, pick up this book . It's good a great read!"

And then the other day came this pleasure jolt.

We get a yearly termite exam and the guy who came today I recognized from the past. He greeted me and said "I really enjoyed your book" and I remembered from last year he had seen my books in a box in the basement and asked if I was a writer. Ended up selling him a novel. So I asked him what book he had read "Crazy About You. I couldn't put it down." How neat is that? This time around he bought SPILL.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Like Novels That Creep You Out?

From time to time I pick one of my novels to promote. Decided I'd spend some time on Blow Up the Roses. I have to admit I was surprised when the small press Curiosity Quills accepted it for publication. I believe it was one of their first choices. It's a very dark work, but the CQ founder thought it also the kind of gem a small press could discover.

Here's what one reviewer had to say:

Blow Up the Roses is a very dark story about murder, kidnapping, rape, pedophilias, and a variety of other human conditions of the most debase, debauch, perverted and deplorable nature. While this story is very, very disturbing . . . it is no more so than many movies that touch on the same themes. So, a reader should be aware of what you are getting into before you take up this book. Yet, Mr. Attwood is a master storyteller and his characters are genuine and authentic, even when they are monstrous. But, within this hellish, perhaps even demonic cast of characters, love literally blooms, and a story of hope, comfort, renewal and healing emerges in the midst of a nightmare. The story takes the reader to places you cannot begin to imagine and leads to an outcome that is terrifying, yet satisfying, too.

I have never known the end of a book when I start it. I always felt knowing the end was a fraud upon the reader. The characters should discover their own ends. In Blow Up the Roses, I didn't know why Mr. Keene deserted Mrs. Keene. I didn't know the horrible truth about Mr. Brown, who rented the other side of the duplex from the Keenes. I didn't know why Mr. Califano had this recurring nightmare of a rose garden blowing up around him. I didn't know why I didn't trust Mr. Griswald and his Amway sales program.

When I found out, I almost stopped writing the book. But sometimes characters demand their lives be put on paper. And sometimes it is far easier to create characters than destroy them -- until they destroy themselves.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Four Novels Discounting to 99 Cents

Over the next four days a different title will be discounted to 99 cents for a week. The commonality of the novels is that they were all published by the small press Curiosity Quills.

First up July 18 will be Tortured Truths, the first in the Phillip McGuire series that I was inspired to write because of my admiration of John D. MacDonald and his Travis McGee series. You read that mystery/thriller series not so much for the story but because you wanted to hang out with Travis again. I was hoping to create that kind of character. Mine is a burnt out foreign correspondent who returns to his college town to buy and run a bar. Adventures come his way. In this first series we learn how his hand got mangled and how he coping with a mangled psyche. It’s not often you get to meet the person who tortured you, but Phil gets that opportunity.

On July 19 the second in the series, Heart Chants, goes to 99 cents. Two Navajo girls have gone missing from the local Indian college and Phil is asked to harbor a Navajo girl. He’s also met an interesting woman from China and the plot interweaves the two. Heart Chants contains, I believe, the best, most complete retelling of the Navajo creation story available in a work of fiction. Several Tony Hillerman fans have said they like my book better than Hillerman’s works, and that high praise.

(I’m at work on the third in the series and it’s off to a good start. I hope to complete it this fall.)

Next up will be SPILL on July 20. SPILL is a riot to read. Fired English teacher who has failed at about everything comes up with a scheme to run for his state legislature in his rock solid red city as a Democrat. He gets his enticing bartender to also run so there will be a primary. He runs as an atheist, anti-gun guy also calling for the nationalization of Big Oil. He theorizes that Big Oil and the NRA will donate to his opponent and they can split the money. Works better than he could have imagined. This was great fun to write and many readers have found it great fun to read.

Blow Up the Roses is the first book of mine Curiosity Quills published. It’s a very dark read and between SPILL and Roses you get a feel of the range of my fiction. Mrs. Keene lives on a cul d’sac where many terrible things are happening, including the disappearance of her own husband. But what her renter is doing in the basement of his side of the duplex is chilling. Several readers said they almost stopped reading, but felt compelled to continue. Goes to 99 cents on July 21 for seven days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Very Quirky Tales at 99 Cents for a Week

Next up in this summer of discounting my works to 99 cents for seven days is a collection of quirky tales aptly titled Very Quirky Tales. Six stories are in this collection, each with a back story. Here they are:

During my binge reading of science fiction in high school I discovered Philip K. Dick, long before he became the mega star of the sci-fi genre. One thing I admired about his writing was how quickly he could snare a reader and keep them turning the page. Tell Us Everything is my homage to PKD, as he is known to his fans. Its main character was inspired by a pretty quirky bartender at my local watering hole.

I suppose most of us have had someone tell them that they saw a person that looks just like us. Sometimes we run into someone who does look like us. At one point in my life I was told I looked like Woody Allen and indeed when we went to New York I kept wondering why people were looking at me. It didn’t help when a friend who was traveling with us called out when our car to the airport arrived: “Woody! The limo’s here!” Anyway, I got to wondering what it would be like if you saw someone who did look like you, but the you when you were 30 years younger. It Was Me (I) is Very Twilight Zone-ish or something the Outer Limits may have done (which, if you haven’t seen, can be found on YouTube).

I went to the University of Kansas and once rented a house with several other people. My room was the windowed summer porch at the back of the house and in the hallway was the access pull down stairway to the attic. I really did store, for what reason I can’t remember, a notebook up there. Years later when I drove by the house I got to wondering if the notebook was still there. That prompted The Notebook. No reader yet as foretold its ending.

I don’t remember what piece of fiction I had finished but I remember I wanted to write something in a completely different style. H.P. Lovecraft was also an early favorite of mine. I loved the moods he was able to create and the dark, complicated situations in which his characters found themselves. We had just moved into the house were we still live here in Kansas City near Loose Park. There was a stately brick house near the park where a brother and sister lived. One night, the brother beat the sister to the proverbial bloody pulp. The paper reported at first appearances the brother sat at his bench banging his head against the back rest. That night he died in jail. Later the paper reported the results of the autopsy that he had died of “total system collapse,” a cause I had never seen before or since. The Strange Case of James Kirkland Pilley resulted. Facebook is full of HPL fans now and one reviewer said I had “out-Lovecrafted Lovecraft.” High praise.
Mormonism has always fascinated me. The founding story is so preposterous. Joseph Smith finds these golden tablets written in an unknown language but he is able to decipher them and create The Book of Mormon. And then the tablets are lost! How could anyone believe that? Yet thousands did and today more thousands do. I was thinking of trying to do a series of stories based on the idea that a group of people could buy a planet and emigrate en mass to it to set up a society strictly based on their beliefs. I wondered what such a world would then look like and A Match Made in Heaven resulted.

While working as Managing Editor at The Olathe (KS) Daily News I took an evening writing seminar at the University of Kansas from the classic and highly successful science fiction writer James Gunn. He was an excellent teacher. By Pain Possessed was written for that class and Gunn actually provided its ending sentence. One favorable reviewer noted how difficult it is to create a true alien and that I had done so.