Friday, March 21, 2014

Last Request: A Victorian Gothic

Last Request: A Victorian GothicMy story Last Request is finally seeing the light of day as a self-published novelette. This piece has taken a long road to publication and doubled in size from a 6K short story to a 12K novelette along the way. I wrote the bulk of original story while vacationing on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Why I would write this particular story while watching the sun rise over the boundless Atlantic is hard to believe. If you read the story, you'll understand just how odd that is.

I sent the story off to a magazine that specializes in Victorian-era tales, penny dreadful kind of stuff. Last Request was short-listed. It didn't make the final cut, but the editor asked me to do a rewrite. I waited and waited for feedback to guide the rewrite. The editor responded to my queries to tell me that they hadn't forgotten me. I waited over a year. I developed my own ideas for revisions, changes that would push the story well beyond the 7500 word mark, the upper limit for most magazines. I decided the longer story could stand on its own. Thus began my first experiment in true self-publishing, putting out a work that hasn't appeared anywhere else. I contracted an editor, whose suggestions strengthened the story and added more scenes and words.

Here's the description from Goodreads (click here to add Last Request to your to-read list):
"For the love of God, cut off my head." The last request in Uncle Silas's will shocks everyone speechless, everyone except his favorite niece, Anna. More than death itself, the claustrophobic Silas fears a premature burial. Will Anna's elders carry out Silas's request? Anna is certain they will not. It's up to her to do the right thing, even if it is a bit grisly. Armed with butcher knife and candle, Anna heads for the crypt underneath the church in the dead of night. All does not go according to Anna's careful planning.

Step inside a dark story in the tradition of the penny dreadful, at times humorous and horrifying, but don't close the door behind you. Someone might lock you in.
And here's an excerpt:
Anna sighed, closed her eyes. She recalled her last visit with Uncle Silas. She intended to keep it, to impress every detail firmly in her memory: walking through the empty doorway, sitting on the edge of his bed, on the variegated quilt, holding his bony hand rippled with veins and dappled with liver spots.

“Do you remember the story,” he had asked. His voice screeched like a rusty hinge. Speaking must pain him, she thought.

“Of course I do. How could I forget?”

“I don’t have the wind to tell you again.”

“Don’t talk, Uncle Silas. Don’t strain yourself.”

“Talk is all I have left.”

“I’ll tell you the story. How is that? And you can just listen.”

“Would you dear? That would be so nice.” He squeezed her hand. The sudden strength of his grip startled her. Raising his head from the pillow, he fixed her with an earnest stare. “Don’t forget it. Don’t ever forget the story.”

His grip slackened as his head fell back on the pillow with a groaning sigh. For a moment, she feared he had expired, but his eyes twitched and his eyebrows raised, expectant. Anna told the story, playing both parts now for her uncle’s entertainment. He slipped into slumber as she spoke but she finished the story anyway. After kissing his forehead, she left him and passed into the hall.

When she reached for the banister to descend the stairs, a shriek arrested her.

“Help! Help me!” The scratchy cries of an old man came from Silas’s room. Anna lifted her skirts and rushed back down the hall. A door barred her entrance. “Help me! Oh, Anna, help me!”

“I’m coming, uncle.” Anna jiggled the handle. The door popped open. The quilt covered the entire bed from footboard to headboard, and Uncle Silas’s arms and legs struggled beneath it. Anna ran to the head of the bed. Grasping the edge of the quilt, she flung it aside.

A bloodless stump of a neck indented the pillow.


  1. It must have been hard for you to get the Victorian details right. (Just the thought of writing a historical and formatting for self pubbing scares me!!) The blurb is brilliantly conceived and written! If I need help on my next book blurb, I know where to go. :)

    1. It was fun reading about the Victorian era. I learned that there were loads of books on household management. That was one of those unexpected finds that fit well in the story line.

  2. I'm reading it at the moment - and enjoying those Victorian thrills very much.

  3. Enjoyed this one, Jeff -- same editor you worked with on Highway 24, right? You make a good team.

    1. Thanks, Milo. Yes, same editor. I promised her my next story won't involve any crypts or exhumations.