For Appalling Stories 2: More Appalling Stories of Social Injustice, the book’s subtitle preceded the content. I chose to interpret it this way: my contributions needed to be more appalling in this second volume. I wanted to push the envelope without devolving into a tiresome description of disgusting circumstances, which is typical in so-called “extreme horror” stories. Appalling Stories 2 isn’t extreme horror, though many of the events described therein are pretty horrible.
People like to ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” I never know how to answer this question. Even my dental hygienist asked me once. I replied, “In the dentist chair,” which elicited the hoped-for laugh. A novel has to have more than one idea. You can get away with just one in a short story.
For the story Her Bodies, Her Choice, I didn’t come up with the idea myself. Rick Canton, a friend of mine who I used to work with on the website The Loftus Party provided the central concept. On Twitter he asked a prominent feminist, “Why’re you so excited for abortion? Do you eat aborted babies or something?” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the idea. He’s since been kicked off of Twitter for similar offenses. But his question planted the seed: feminists eating fetuses. Disgusting. Horrifying. Compelling. But I had to flesh it out. It had to make sense, it had to entertain, and it had to fit within the theme of the Appalling Stories anthology. The story I eventually came up with takes this idea and runs with it, turning it into a dreadful, far-reaching conspiracy. It even includes a description of a photo I saw in a book on witchcraft decades ago: a woman’s skeleton, freshly disinterred, with huge, heavy screws at her knees and elbows. They’d screwed her bones together to keep her from rising from the grave. That’s how much they feared her, even in death.
My other story, The Deprogram, came as a result of watching the 1982 movie Split Image, starring James Woods and Brian Dennehy. In it, a young man enters a Bhagwan-style cult and his desperate parents try to get him out. The same author who gave me the idea for the Bake Me a Cake story in the first Appalling Stories anthology suggested I watch it, though I can’t remember the context. The movie wasn’t bad, everyone played to type, and it provided fertile ground for a story: in a social justice future, people would have to be brainwashed to accept ludicrous notions like gender being a social construct instead of a biological fact of nature. Political correctness not just run amok, but extended into its necessarily oppressive and unpleasant future, where certain ideas are criminalized and rebelling against the accepted mode of thinking is punishable by government-issued lobotomy. But it had to be realistic. Like the previous story, it had to make sense and fit the theme.
You, the reader, will have to decide if either story was appalling enough, or even more appalling than the previous volume. And I’m not talking about the writing.