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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."