Monday, December 30, 2019

#114 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "To Wallow In Ash and Other Sorrows" by Sam Richard

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****Sam Richard’s TO WALLOW IN ASH AND OTHER SORROWS is #114 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrows. I played with a few others on the same tone. To Wallow in Ash and Other Grief, To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrow, To Wallow in Ash and other Anguish. Sorrows feels the best rolling off my tongue.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? October 11th, 2019, by NihilismRevised

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? Most of these stories were written over the last twenty months, but two are a few years old.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? I alternate between sitting on my couch and sitting at my desk. It’s probably around a 50/50 split and largely depends on my mood.
I recently moved my desk out of my back bedroom office and into the ‘dining room’ in my house (which I never use as a dining room) so that it will be more present in my day-to-day life and will encourage me to use it more.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Most of the time I write on my laptop. Typically, my little ritual is to grab a beer and a bourbon, put on one of the Cryo Chamber mixes on Youtube, and let my brain pour through my fingertips. Occasionally I’ll swap out the ambient sounds for black metal and I don’t always have a drink or four. I tend to write in the evening and, if I can, I tend to go late into the night. But I work early Monday through Friday, so late nights are typically reserved for the weekend.
I’ll write on my lunch break at work, too, sometimes, though lately I’ve been using that time for other tasks associated with the publishing side of things for my small press Weirdpunk Books ( and out upcoming David Cronenberg tribute anthology, The New Flesh.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Aside from the two older stories that I’m including, everything else in this collection has been written in the wake of my late wife’s death. These were all difficult to write and several of them are the most painful pieces of art I’ve ever created. A few are exorcisms of elements of grief and others are explorations of me trying to figure out how to keep living. The stories vary, but all have strong elements of loss, grief, sorrow, and/or the annihilation of the self.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? This is from the titular story from the collection. To Wallow in Ash. It was initially published in NihilismRevised’s Strange Behaviors anthology
The narrator’s wife has died recently, tragically. This is about mid-way through this story. Everything up to here has been about the nature of loss and grief; about the smoldering crater his life has become in the wake of her death and him trying to confront his new reality.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

Mona’s friend Chris asked for a little bit of her ashes, before I returned her to nature. He talked about getting them tattooed into him. I hadn’t thought of that before, but I immediately purchased a small cache of mini-urns, to give a few close friends and her family a little bit of her to keep, or spread wherever they wanted.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the tattoo idea. Four days after she died, I got a tattoo of a Satyr and a Dryad dancing on my leg. It was the image that had been on our wedding invitation, an old illustration from the 1920s. We always talked about having that as our couples tattoo. We joked that it was us: her, ever the ethereal and earthen and me, often seeking the sensual and excessive. Initially we wanted a gentleman devil dancing with some sort of sprite or nymph, but that image eluded us. The moment we saw this one, we knew it was perfect.
They never tell you that ashes in an urn are also in a plastic bag. They really never tell you that getting them out of the bag but having them remain in the vessel is a pretty tedious and messy process. Her ash got on the table and all over me. She was fine but gritty and almost had no smell beyond that clean, burnt scent. This was the first time I had tasted my lover since she passed.
        I supplied the small group of friends and family with their vials of Mona, for them to do with her what they wanted. I took a small amount and had it added to the ink upon my next tattoo session. I thought that, Amy, one of Mona’s former coworkers, would be slightly resistant to the idea, but they took it in stride and didn’t really even comment on it. The ladies at the shop were all going through their own dark nights, and I think they understood this grief in a way that few others could. Mona was their sister. They all said that none of them were each other’s favorite, that they loved each other equally, aside from Mona, who was all of their most favorite. It felt good to bond in pain with them, and to be bonded in blood and cinder to Mona. It felt like I was making it impossible for her to slip away.
        Haunted by the knowledge that her being a part of me would force the memories to stay, like a donated organ receiver taking on behaviors and mannerisms of the donor, I desired more of her to unify with me. So I tasted her again, this time on purpose. I licked my finger, dipped it into the ash, and pulled it out. A light grey coating stuck to my skin, clouds of it dusting off as I moved my hand. Lifting it to my mouth, I said a mental prayer to her, asking her to stay with me, to not leave.
        The ash was salty from the urn, but also bitter and burnt tasting. It coated my mouth and left me coughing, gasping for a drink. Pouring myself bourbon, I washed it down and let the alcohol numb my parched tongue. I felt awful. How had I landed at this place? Trying to consume a bit of my deceased wife’s ashes in the name of keeping her memory close to me, what the fuck had happened? I spent weeks hating myself, wondering how she would have felt about it. But the honest answer was that she would have thought it was sweet. I know this for a fact.
        After we first started dating, just over five years ago, she read a true story about a couple who decided that instead of exchanging rings, they would bite the tip of each other’s ring finger off, at the small knuckle between the bones. She told me about it, not knowing that I too had heard the story and had been fascinated by it for years. Apparently, they soaked their fingers in ice for a half-hour and then bit on the count of three. He bit cleanly, but she tore a little of his skin off. Due to this, while the baffled doctors were able to stitch her finger up neatly, he had a little bit of bone that was showing, forever.
        When Mona told me this, I told her how sweet I thought it was, but that the one thing they got wrong was spitting the fingers out. It would have been more romantic, to me at least, had they swallowed the bits of finger, as a sort of blasphemous communion. This is my body, broken for you. For you, and you alone. Instead of looking at me like I was crazy, she agreed on the romantic nature of the situation. She thought I would be weirded out by it. I thought she would be weirded out by my reaction. We were both wrong.
        After the initial waves of guilt and shame subsided, I kept coming back to this story, to her urn, to her ashes. It was sitting on a shelf in my dining room, awaiting the day that I would finally decide to illegally bury it in the bank of the Mississippi River at low tide. I wanted her to be able to make it down to New Orleans, a city that lived in her heart, and then out to the ocean to be one with the whole world. What if I kept a little more of her? Would that be ok? Not just one vial, maybe I’d buy two or three, just to have her around. And I kept waiting. Maybe I didn’t need to bury her at all. Maybe she could stay with me forever. But that made me feel worse. She wanted to return to nature, not be cooped up in our house forever. How much was enough to give to the earth?”

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I wrote this story 16 days after my wife died. It was written in one horrible sitting while still suffocated by shock and total, black despair. This story was everything going on inside my mind as I tried to reconcile the reality of my wife’s death with my interior life. It just came gushing out of me and gets incredibly dark as it goes.
     One thing I’m struck with, upon re-read, is that I initially used her name. She wasn’t a fictionalized version, I was just writing about her. In this version, as it will be in the book, I have changed that aspect.
     The weird stuff in the story like the tasting of her ashes and much of which comes later is fiction, but almost all of the context and events surrounding it are just my life and emotions on that day. This is what widowhood looks like.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I edit as I write, so I don’t keep previous versions around. I think of it as building up rather than reconstructing something over and over again. I’m sure there were many deletions, I just am not sure what they were. I tend to have the rough story-beats laid out in my head and that allows me some flexibility to improvise and meander as I go.

Other works you have published? I have edited and co-edited several anthologies through my press Weirdpunk Books, the most recent being Zombie Punks Fuck Off (co-released with Clash Books). I am also currently co-editing another called The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute To David Cronenberg which will be out later this fall. I’ve got pieces in Strange Stories of the Sea, Breaking Bizarro, Dark Moon Digest, Clash Magazine, and a few other places.
Also a few friends and I got together and each wrote our own 80s Mall-Horror stories. The result is a 3 story anthology called LAZERMALL which will be out very soon through Filthy Loot. Additionally, I am currently working on placing a small-creature horror novella.

     Sam Richard is the owner of Weirdpunk Books. He is the co-editor of The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg, editor of Zombie Punks Fuck Off, and co-editor of Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits. His writing has appeared in such varied publications as Strange Stories of the Sea, Breaking Bizarro, Strange Behaviors, Dark Moon Digest, and many others. Recently a widower, his primary focus is on writing weird horror with an emphasis on grief. He slowly rots in Minneapolis, MN with his dog Nero.
IG: @SammyTotep
Twitter: @SammyTotep / @WeirdpunkBooks


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“To Wallow In Ash and Sorrows”

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