One of my earliest stories is “In The Shadow Of The Equine.” That one made it into several anthologies and when I conceived Hell, Delaware and decided to include one story about a lighthouse, I figured why not both? So we see the transformation of Hell over the decades, that particular site going from a cult of literal mind-controlled religious fanatics spreading the “word” of a god to an area where strange mammoth creatures exist, some hidden from us, living among us, controlling us when necessary. There’s a lot of connected stories in Hell, some subtle and some more involved over multiple stories. #storiesfromhell
It’s been 10 years since my father passed. I still hear his voice. See his face. After he passed, I wrote a story that I workshopped at a writers bootcamp (yes, that one). The reception on the story was mixed, about 50/50 on it, so I was anxious to hear the feedback, good and bad, because that story meant a lot to me. And for those 10 long years I just couldn’t figure it out. I hadn’t, in fact, until just before the release of HELL, DELAWARE, and in time to include it. I put a lot of our relationship in that story, so I read it at Authorcon. But I don’t think I’ll read that one again, as I got quite choked up right at the end. That story is “Stamp Collector” if you’re interested; a story inspired by his passing and this little black box he always kept his special trinkets in. #StoriesfromHell
I THINK I DIED WHEN I WAS FOUR. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here… Recently, I was asked to write a little behind the scenes non-fiction piece for my novella, A Season in Hell(Crystal Lake Publishing, September 7, 2018). Having just finished that, feeling the joy in writing such a piece, I decided to dive into the behind-the-scenes inspiration for two of my releases this year. Those two books would be From Death Reborn (Silver Shamrock Publishing, April 13, 2021) and Storm Shadows (JournalStone Publishing, November 12, 2021). The two are actually connected in a way, so let’s dive in and see what inspired these stories.
Okay, back to the beginning… When I was four, lightning struck my window and formed a skeleton across the pane. Those of you who have already braved Storm Shadows recognize this as a scene in the book. But let me explain how this ties into From Death Reborn, and why I didn’t write an afterword for each book, due to this intersection. Laying there in my crib at four, that was something I had not expected. I was far too young to understand the purpose of the lightning rod just outside of my window, but I understood fear all too well. That house, and I mean this with all of my heart, was the scariest fucking place I’ve ever been. My family experienced a wide range of haunting, including seeing ghost dogs jump in through windows at night, knobs sliding up and down the door, hearing a deep voice warn us to leave, and many more. So yes, I knew fear better than most at that young age, and so I was terrified by the skeleton formed on my windowpane that night.
I know, I know… You’re thinking, “But you said you think you died?” Yes, that is true, and here is why and how that ties into From Death Reborn. After the lightning struck, I crawled out of my crib and headed for my parents’ bedroom. The house itself was a two-story model, one in which an old doctor supposedly killed his entire family and then himself (yes, I know it’s a very common story, but in this particular case it happens to be true). My bedroom, as well as my parents’ room, was on the first floor. On my way to their room, I stopped at the front door, and something compelled me to open that door. When I did, everything was gone. No trees, no houses, no ditches or small swells, no nothing…just flat land as far as I could see, save for some storm clouds hovering ominously in the sky above me. And as I walked out into our yard, and kept walking, eventually I found myself far away from my home, which I could no longer see. That’s when it happened.
For those who don’t know, I consider myself a spiritualist. What does that mean? I do believe in a higher power, and I think of myself as a Christian, though I doubt most of them would be very accepting of my beliefs, as science plays a big role. Regardless of my beliefs, the one thought I hold dearest is that people can make up their own minds about reality. It isn’t my place to judge anyone, and yes, that is ultimately what separated me from the church. I was told I was going to Hell for the music I listened to, for wearing tie-dyes, and other assumed wrongdoings. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when my mom approached me with a religious book, I refused to read it. She asked me time and time again, each time with me avoiding doing so. Until one day when she convinced me to read a few paragraphs she’d earmarked. In that small section, the author detailed a near death experience (NDE) and spoke about meeting God to the exact details of my own story. Imagine my shock. The afterlife has always fascinated me, but that was the birth of a story, right there, standing in my mother’s living room—a little nugget to build upon.
The clouds began to spread, the sky opening up, and what I saw beyond was a clear blue sky lit by a bright and shining sun. And then He appeared. Or, at least, I assume it was a he; it could have very well been a she or a them or something I cannot even comprehend. Whatever the case, I found myself standing beneath this hole in the sky, encountering a being comprised of billions of tiny glass prisms reflecting light in every possible color imaginable. And He/She/They spoke to me. What they said, I have no idea, and I don’t recall anything after that moment other than finding myself back at home. In fact, I completely disregarded this experience for many, many years, until my mom brought it up early in my marriage.
The other truth in From Death Reborn revolves around the death of my niece, just sixteen at the time, who was killed by a drunk driver. Aleia (and yes, if you’ve read the book, you can make a correlation with the name) has appeared often in my stories in one way or another, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Her death changed me, as it would anyone. And the car accident in From Death Reborn is, in a way, a tribute to that, and the story itself a means of me working through my issues in losing her, including reuniting with her in the afterlife, should that be possible. While the core of that book is probably more dark fantasy, it includes many horror elements, but I like to refer to it as my superhero story. If you’ve finished all the way to the end, you might know why.
When we moved away from that house shortly after that incident, our new house also proved to be haunted. Perhaps it’s something inside of me, something unlocked by that NDE, that allows me to see things through the thin veil that hides them from others. The day we moved in I set off to explore the house, and soon I found a terrible looking stuffed gorilla in an oddly placed attic within the upstairs closet. That gorilla tormented me nightly, causing me to lose a lot of sleep. I was also the new kid in town, and a group of bullies had taken a liking to me and decided to torture me as frequently as possible. Those were grueling days, going without sleep and then finding myself face down on the ground, being pummeled and my face forced into the wet grass. Some would call those formative years; I call it trauma I’ve not soon forgotten. Did it make me stronger? Sure, but I’d rather have not gone through it all. So here’s my clear message on that: bullies suck. That is all.
Lying asleep at night, strange sounds often awoke me. And yes, all houses make sounds, and over time you might grow accustomed to them. It takes time. But in this instance, each time I awoke, I found that stupid gorilla standing in the middle of my room, staring at me with its awful orange eyes. I tossed it back into the attic, but it showed up in my closet weeks later. I threw it in the trash, and still it came back to my closet. Chucked in up the sewer tunnel of a nearby creek, and still it returned. I don’t think I rid myself of that gorilla until I was twelve and we moved to Pennsylvania, believe it or not. And, of course, all of this, the gorilla, the bullying, me trying to get rid of it, is in Storm Shadows. But there’s more…
Yes, the shadow people really did come for me in that second house in the suburbs of Chicago. One night I went to go to the bathroom and there he was, standing in the window of the backdoor, his shadow cast by the porchlight I had just turned on. That occurred a few times over the next few weeks, and eventually, one night while I was asleep, that shadow appeared from behind my bedroom door. It strangled me through my sheets, trying to kill me. I managed a peep, barely audible call to my mother, and the shadow took off. Who knows, maybe it was some entity coming to reclaim a soul it felt was stolen from the afterworld, but for whatever reason, that was the end of it. And soon after, we moved to Pennsylvania.
It should come as no surprise that even now I have real horror stories. I’ve seen things in near every house, things that cannot be explained away. I’ve seen things with friends, things that changed us, and terrified us. Perhaps this is why I write horror, as I try to reconcile the things I’ve seen, explain them in some way. Where that takes me, I often don’t know—I am a pantser, after all. But I hope you enjoy the ride when you take a chance on one of my books. I hope it keeps you lying awake at night wondering whether that shadow on your wall really did just move.
I’ve always been a lover of short story collections. Even more so than novels perhaps. I find something infinitely satisfying about the short form, and I think a single author collection is a great way to introduce yourself to a writer, the range of which he or she is capable. Multiple author anthologies can provide of smorgasbord of different talent, introducing me to writers I may have missed otherwise.
The first short story collection that really grabbed my attention was The Twilight Zone. I know what you’re thinking – that wasn’t a collection but a television show. Well, yes, but it was an anthologytelevision show. Instead of providing one continuous story with recurring characters, instead it offered the TV equivalent of short stories. Each episode was a self-contained tale with a beginning, middle, and end. One week I might get science fiction, another suspense, another horror. It was my first experience with that sort of storytelling, and I instantly fell in love with it.
So when I got older and became a voracious reader, it is not at all surprising that I would be drawn to short story collections. One of the first books I ever read by Stephen King was his first collection Night Shift, and I delighted in all the different tales I found between the covers. To this day, I get excited when I find out a writer I like is coming out with a new collection. And I love writers who release multiple collections. King, Gaiman, Lansdale, Hodge, etc.
I also became a huge fan of anthologies. In my formative years, I remember devouring anthologies with titles like Under the Fang, Prime Evil, Book of the Dead, Shock Rock…eclectic collections of stories by some of the top talent in the horror genre of the day. Every new anthology was like a trip to heaven for me. So much treasure in one book.
As a writer, I enjoy writing novellas and novels and even the occasional poem, but short fiction has always been my truest love and greatest passion. And I dreamed of having multiple collections out there, just like my favorite writers.
And I’m thrilled that I have made that dream come true. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the privilege of working with a myriad of wonderful publishers who also believe in the power of short fiction.
My latest collection is BOOK HAVEN AND OTHER CURIOSITIES (April 26th) from Crystal Lake Publishing. I published a previous collection with them, and what really impressed me about them is that they promote a collection as hard as a novel. BOOK HAVEN contains the title novella as well as 20 short stories of various lengths. I touch on different subjects, different tones and themes. A lot of horror, some straight dramatic pieces, and even a few poems. The reader will definitely see the Twilight Zoneinfluence in a couple of the pieces.
I am beyond ecstatic to have a new collection coming out into the world. I think this is an assembly of strong stories, and I look forward to getting feedback from writers.
A Season in Hell tagline: Just one season can change everything.
Where to read this book:
Crystal Lake Publishing
Blurbs: “Kenneth W. Cain takes timely social topics and explores them against the backdrop of America’s pastime. What begins as a baseball story quickly delves into something rich, deep, and dark.” – Mercedes M. Yardley, author of Pretty Little Dead Girls
“…a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking story. You won’t soon forget Dillon or Keisha. Her struggle is as timely today as ever.” —John Palisano, Vice President of the Horror Writers Association and Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author of Night of 1,000 Beasts
“Kenneth W. Cain hits a grand slam with this tragic tale of baseball.” – Armand Rosamilia, author of A View From My Seat: My Baseball Season With the Jumbo Shrimp
“…a powerful microcosm of what’s wrong with our world. And a reminder of how the courage of one can change things.” — Tom Deady, Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author of Haven
From reviews: “Rarely does a book actually break me. There are a lot of books that make me stop and go, “Oh my God, what did I just read”; but not many that just make me feel broken. A deep down, soulful, broken.” – Goodreads review
“I know zilch about baseball, but I know about racism, bigotry, sexism, abuse, and violence. I also know about the human tendencies to blame, to ignore, and to think violence is an appropriate tool. I am aware of all that, and so is author Kenneth W. Cain, who created a novella that made me cry, copiously. Then, his brilliant, incisive, Afterword made me weep all over again.” – The Haunted Reading Room
“A very quick read that will break into your very soul, and maybe change it a little.” – Goodreads review
“…both thought-provoking and haunting, in the sense that the story will stay with me for a very long time.” – Goodreads review
“Keisha’s story is narrated so realistically that it read like a true story. This intensified the suffering that Keisha is subjected to, making it raw, easy to imagine and full of anguish. Though this is a short novella, it evoked very strong emotion in me.” – Banshee Irish Horror Blog
“…a powerful story, and not at all what I thought it was going to be. This is fiction but it feels so real and given the history of misogyny in sports and the current struggles for women it is a different kind of horror story. Anyone who has been bullied or unfairly treated can relate to A Season in Hell. I think it would make a great teaching tool in high schools.” – I Smell Sheep
“…a powerful read, there are lessons to be learned. You know, when you pick up a horror book it usually because you want to be entertained, escaping reality for a while but real horror is much darker than that. Real horror is the reality of how and what man can do to another. The pain inflicted might not show on the surface but it’s there… deeply ingrained in your psyche for all eternity.” – Horror Novel reviews
All stories have a genesis, a birthing into the world from writers’ minds, through their fingertips and into their computer (or onto paper for those who still write first drafts longhand). In part one of this essay I wrote about how I came up with the idea for my novel People of the Ethereal Realm and a bit about the writing process. If you haven’t done so already, you can read part one at Craig Saunders’ blog. I’ll be here waiting for you when you’re finished.
People of the Ethereal Realm was published as my second novel, however it was the first novel I’d written. That’s not to say that I didn’t have opportunities for the book to be published before Post Mortem Press released it in July. Bringing this book into the world began with several years of false alarms and disappointments that taught me a lot about the small press in the process.
So, after selling a number of short stories, I’d written my first novel, and I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. I hit the Web and searched for viable publishers to send my manuscript. This was before Post Mortem Press had opened for business, so they weren’t yet on my radar. I’d sent the manuscript to a number of publishers, some of whom I had short stories published with, others with a sparkling clean reputation, and yet others I had little knowledge of. The first thing I learned (something I should have learned from submitting short stories) was that research, particularly concerning unknown publishers, is a must. I also learned to go with my gut, to listen to my heart. To ignore intuition is a fool’s game.
So I had several poles in the water and I got a bite from a publisher—whose name will remain concealed—that I had no prior experience with. They emailed a contract that could have been an offer on a new house it was so big. I read every word of it, mostly the same jargon typical of a publishing contract. They offered a twenty-five dollar advance, and then later in the contract I was given the option to have my advance applied to the cost of the twenty books I was required to purchase at full price within a certain number of days after publication.
Let that sink in for a second. How much is the average price for a trade paperback? Somewhere around fifteen dollars give or take a buck.
I was shocked, so I ran a Google search (yep, should have done that first!), and found a great deal of bitching and complaining about this publisher. They were a pay-to-play gig, and from what I read, they didn’t put much force behind their horror titles, as evidenced on their website where there were plenty of thriller and romance but no horror novels to be seen. This is what I mean about following intuition. That had struck me as strange from the get go.
Needless to say, I politely rejected the contract and waited for bites from the other poles I had in the great pond of small press publishing.
Soon enough another publisher emailed me with an acceptance letter, contract to follow. The contract never showed up and they were unresponsive to my emails. As of this writing, they seemed to have fallen off the face of the planet. Dodged a bullet there, I suppose.
I was beginning to think that this book was destined for disaster.
Next I sent the manuscript to Twisted Library Press. I’d had many a story published in their anthologies and even edited two of them (was taking submissions for a third anthology at the time). I could see the signs on the wall, beginning with so many anthology submission calls that there would be no way for a publisher to possibly follow through with each one. I also saw that there was what seemed like an equal number of novels to be published by an ever-growing list of imprints. But still I submitted my novel when I should have taken a moment to realize what was very clear.
The book sat in limbo for a year. The cover had been designed, it had gone through an editing process, and I had even started promoting it. The contract expired and soon after Twisted Library Press became defunct.
During the period of time that I had edited anthologies for Twisted Library, I discovered a brand new publisher: Post Mortem Press. I sent Eric Beebe a story and it was published in their debut anthology Uncanny Allegories. My novella “Cemetery Tour” was included in the PMP release The Road to Hell, as well as a few more shorts in other anthologies.
Having been with PMP from the beginning, I’d watched them grow. It was all the research I needed. In Eric Beebe I found a trusting publisher and a man of determination and dedication. I submitted my manuscript, and when I received the acceptance letter, I knew that People of the Ethereal Realm was finally destined for something good.
I learned a lot during the process of getting this book published, but I am no fool and realize that there is so much more to be learned in the strange and sometimes discouraging world of publishing.
On a final note, I would like to thank Ken Cain for being gracious enough to allow me the use of his blog. I appreciate it, man!