CCSP Story Notes (Part 3): “Caution: Contains Small Parts”

[This the third in a series of four posts concerning my soon to be published Twelve Planets collection, Caution: Contains Small Parts. No spoilers, I promise!]

There’s not a lot I can say about “Caution: Contains Small Parts” (the story) without giving the game away. If there is an explicit theme to my Twelve Planets volume, it would be that all the pieces are very much concerned with haunted people. They’re not all ghost stories — which is merely one kind of haunting — but “Caution” definitely belongs to that ilk. A couple of years ago, I went through a ghost story patch: lots of ideas filtering through my brain, a few of the better ones written into stories. A well-established trope of Gothic horror, ghosts remain rich and full of resonance for me — as both a reader and a writer — and there seems no end to the variety of ways in which we can imagine, interpret and interrogate them. They are, quite literally, the past pushing into the present, refusing to sit down and shut up, reminding us of everything we drag along behind us as we live our lives … and as we end them. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading really good, intelligent, emotive ghost stories. Ever. And if a particularly good idea drifts across my internal creative landscape, you better believe I’m going to grab it with both hands and do my very best to pin it down.

The idea for “Caution” was one of those. It took me a few months to work out the precise mechanics the story needed — who was being haunted, and why, and for what reason. It was tricky, getting the balance right and making sure of … well, stuff I can’t talk about without the dreaded spoilers. Suffice to say, once you read the story, you’ll most likely appreciate the sensitivities involved. Unlike “Horn” and “What Amanda Wants”, this story was written very quickly once I had the mechanics in place. A week or so of near consecutive evening sit-downs with My Friend the Asus and it was finished. Each night, as I lay in bed with the lights out waiting for sleep to find me, I would plan out what needed to happen in the next scene, and then the next evening I would write that scene. I didn’t get stuck once. Unexpected textual turns threw no curve balls; instead they added depth to the narrative in that spectacular way that makes every writer wonder at some point, “Where the hell did that even come from?”

Sometimes, stories are blessed in that way.

I offered it up to my crit group once it was done, tidied up some copy edits following their suggestions, and then, just as I was considering where to submit it for publication, the Twelve Planets invitation from Alisa dropped into my inbox.

Sometimes, stories are blessed in that way too. 🙂

Toy DogRandom Trivia: I like to ground my stories in the real world, often to to point of obsessive googling and online mapping to get the smallest details right. For me it’s a necessary part of integrating the non-realist element that most of my work includes, and making it as believable as everything else. For “Caution: Contains Small Parts”, I knew I wanted a wooden pull-along dog as the mysterious toy that my protagonist, Tim, is sent at the beginning of the story. I did a quick search on eBay for “wooden toy dog” just to see exactly how they were made and one of the first listings that popped up was perfect — old and battered and kinda creepy looking. I wish I’d downloaded and kept the image from eBay now, but at the time I didn’t think of it, just went back to my story and wrote up a description. Hell, I wish I’d bid on the thing! The photo here is fairly close except that there’s no bell on the tail and this dog just looks too damn cheerful. Oh, and the eyes. The eyes on the eBay dog looked vacant and infinitely knowing all at the same time. Definitely creepy and, as I wrote in my story, I did wonder what kind of person would buy a kid a toy like that. Or what kind of kid would want one …