At the tail end of May, my wife and I were watching a few episodes of Food Network's CHOPPED. It had been a while since we'd last seen the show, and the opening credits had gotten a bit of a makeover in our absence. As the sequence ended, the camera flashed on a weird, tentacly creature that surprised us, and we weren't sure if it was a squid or octopus, or what. I made a joke, something like, "In tonight's basket: Cthulhu!"
It was one of those stupid off-handed comments, but for whatever reason an idea took root. It must have been a Thursday, and by that weekend I was off to the races, writing more than three thousands words each day. By Monday, after a feverish writing sprint, the first draft of the story was finished.
I hadn't written anything quite like it in a while. When I explained the premise to my wife, her first reaction was "Isn't that a bit out of your range?" I've only dabbled in horror, long ago, and my last serious effort was a bit of a non-starter, one that aborted early on. In fact, for a look at my first and only published horror story to date (until CONSUMPTION releases on Oct. 14, that is!), you'd have to go back a whole decade, to June 2004, when my short story CATECHISM was published in the magazine REVELATION by Fourth Horseman Press. Since then, I've been much more on the side of consumer than producer in the realm of horror. This story, though, was an ugly little baby, and I couldn't turn away from it.
The initial concept was a bit of extreme cuisine by way of H.P. Lovecraft, a sort of satirical look at foodporn culture and Instagram dinners by way of a splatter-gore creature feature. Granted, I'm guilty of indulging in foodporn culture myself. I love food, and if it's presented well enough I have no problem commemorating such a dish. The Food Network is my go-to station; CHOPPED, IRON CHEF AMERICA, even some of their home-cook turned celebrity shows are entertaining. I am an unabashed fan of Anthony Bourdain. And I think that NBC's HANNIBAL is one of the best damn shows on television and is the perfect representation of culinary horror.
So naturally, I wanted to take this stuff to the point of excess and linger over some of the more disturbing intonations of it all. Originally, I was going to call the story YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT but that was a bit too on the nose for my tastes, and felt like more of a parody title than what I was going for. CONSUMPTION was more evocative to me, more mysterious, darker, and captured the sort of predatory feel of the piece itself.
My wife is right, though. It is a bit out of my wheelhouse. It's more experimental that my previous science fiction novel, CONVERGENCE, but experimentation is one of the joys of writing and self-publishing. I can try whatever the hell I want and let readers decide how worthwhile it really is. There's certainly a part of me that prefers being a writer as a whole, rather than pigeon-holed into a single category or type of writer. I want to dabble. I want to play with all kinds of ingredients and different flavors, if you will. On the other hand, I fully embrace the category of speculative fiction, which is broad and murky in its definition. All you need is a 'what if.' And CONSUMPTION began with one hell of a what if, one that, quite literally, consumed me for days on end.
Almost as soon as I finished writing it, I began editing. I carved away quite a bit, added new stuff, fleshed out the characters a little bit more, and amped up the gore. If the first draft was about just carving loose a horror story, then the second draft was a very deliberate attempt to make readers feel dirty by the end of it. By the end of the second draft, I felt that I had a tighter, better written piece, and that it was ready to go to a professional editor (and author herself) for the next round of work, and Carol Davis did a bang-up job fixing my mistakes.
For the cover design, I turned to Debbie at The Cover Collection for a custom job. While I was writing, I was also thinking about what sort of image would best represent CONSUMPTION. I very much wanted to see a kind of old-fashioned butcher's chart, and came across this vintage diagram:
Instead of a pig, cow, or chicken, I wanted a nasty looking beastie. Debbie sent me a terrific stock image, and I asked for some specific alterations to bring it more in line with the creature of CONSUMPTION. The end result is a pretty close, neatly dissected representation, that was then grunged up a bit, and which focuses on the culinary themes of the story.
Hopefully you're ready and willing to join me on this little adventure of food-gore. I hope you're well fed, perhaps full of long pig, and well-satiated, yet ready for one more small morsel as the night deepens.