Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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The Story Behind the Stories
  IGMS Authors Share How Their Stories Came to Be
August 2018

The God Down the River by J.P. Sullivan

Kids have a unique way of getting excited about things. Everyone's had the experience of running into a pre-teen kid who wants nothing more than to pontificate at length about the virtues of their favorite interest--whether it's dinosaurs, Disney princesses, Marvel superheroes, or Pokémon, there's often a decided lack of awareness on the part of kids that other people might not be quite as invested in their hobbies as they are. Children are capable of a kind of unguarded enthusiasm that a lot of adults find exhausting. I was no different.

For me--at least for a while--my over-enthusiastic interest was trains. The younger me couldn't get enough of them. From Thomas the Tank Engine to Brio model railway sets to a set of now-quaint and grainy VHS tapes, I probably convinced my poor parents that I was destined for a career with Amtrak. That interest helped inform the ambition of the narrator in The God Down the River--he's a kid who dreams of being a conductor. In this world, technology is progressing a little differently than it did on Earth, but locomotives are the newest and most remarkable invention around.

Though it's first and foremost a sort of pastoral dark fantasy, The God Down the River was also conceived as a kind of coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence tale. The enthusiasm of the main character for the rail lines is intentionally juxtaposed against the foreboding presence of the spectral train that appears towards the end of the story. Kids are often in a hurry to grow up, but often find that the things they were so keen to experience and obtain are very different, or more unpleasant, than they imagined. In SF, that disconnect can be made literal, and more visceral.

Something that is likely not immediately apparent is that this story takes place in the same world as some of my other published stories. "Worldbuilding" is extremely in vogue in SF and related media right now, and it was tempting to include some wink-and-nod connections to my other stories through place names and side characters, but I resisted the urge. I fear a lot of attempts at systematic world-building end up reading a bit dry, like an almanac or RPG sourcebook entry. I tried to limit the scope intentionally to a child's awareness of his world, referencing outside places only obliquely. When dealing with horror elements, I think this has the added benefit of making the story a little more claustrophobic.

If you've stuck with my story (and this column) this long, all I can do is thank you--and ask you to please check out my other IGMS story from August of 2017!

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