My father was my gateway to genre fiction in a lot of ways. I read the Tom Swift novels he had collected in his childhood, listened to his vinyl double album copy of the Star Wars soundtrack on the family turntable (back before cable TV and VCRs made watching the movie itself at home a possibility), and generally followed him down various rabbit holes from a young age. Eventually I went my own way and discovered my own particular fandoms. My father was never the horror fan I grew up to become, nor was he ever taken in by the mythological or dystopian overtones of heavy metal. Still, there's no denying that he got me started on the path, from way back when to where I am now.
Somewhere in the middle, though, there was the point in time where I was outgrowing child-friendly versions of science fiction and fantasy and moving into more mature material, still about aliens and magic and so forth but with explorations of moral gray areas and other existential ambiguities, as well. I was a precocious kid and a voracious reader, so this transition came young enough to be somewhat problematic. My father never forbade me to follow my own interests, but I do remember him having conversations with me about whether or not I really understood what an anti-hero was and that they were not exemplary role models. I promised him that I knew the difference, which may have been motivated as much by wanting to tell him what he wanted to hear as objective truth, and I like to think that time bore out the promise, but I leave it to others to judge how well-adjusted (or not) I truly turned out to be.
Over the years I often found myself returning to these ideas, the things we learn from our parents and the interests we share in common with them, and how many of those things are or aren't considered acceptable and appropriate. Once I finally had children of my own, I gained more insight into how it all looked from the other side. A staggering amount of insight, really, as anyone who has undergone the fundamental life shift of having children knows. Picking and choosing which parental interests to investigate further as a child is a luxury; determining what to offer and what to withhold from a child as a parent is a responsibility, wrapped up in the ongoing efforts of trying to mold and shape a halfway decent human being.
Somewhere in the never-ending process of sorting through all of the above, my story "Red Screamy" started to take shape. As with many story seeds, it grew from taking something I believe in and extending it far beyond the usual rational limits. I encourage my children to be unique and independent and free-thinking, and if that means outsiders might perceive them as a little strange, so be it. But what if that strangeness became its own kind of gateway to forces beyond a child's understanding, or even beyond my own? That struck me as a tale worth telling.
Another compelling wrinkle occurred to me as the story played out in my head: what if two parents fundamentally disagreed on where to draw the line between fair game and out of bounds? I'm very lucky, and eternally grateful, to have a partner in real life who shares both a good proportion of my interests and my philosophical outlook, and we've never experienced major conflict and strife over what our children are exposed to or encouraged toward. But in the world I was inventing, I could see how it would be easy for opposites to attract and then clash over the young, impressionable spirit they are both responsible for.
Ultimately I invented a portrait of a family to reflect that notion, and "Red Screamy" was the end result. So it's a little bit autobiographical, but also pure fiction. It's a little bit realism, but also fantasy. It's a little bit thought experiment, but also a cautionary tale. And what exactly is being cautioned against may certainly be open to interpretation.
Be sure to check it out May 31!