When DeWildt asked me to guest write for his column, what I really saw was a golden opportunity to write about myself. That’s normal, right? Of course it is.
So, my first exposure to the guy who feels the need to wear a ski mask in his profile picture was the story “McRib Therapy” over at Out of the Gutter. The editors there, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts, had done me the honor of publishing my story “Cheated” previously so I was on that high that writers get when they’re published at a site and they go back and read everything. McRib Therapy popped up and, after I read it, I showered. Then I realized I wasn’t taking my own stuff far enough. That story was messed up.
At the time my six year-old daughter was in this Girl Scouts alternative group called American Heritage Girls (she’s not there anymore, however, but AHG is still better than Girl Scouts because they don’t sell cookies made from aborted babies. That’s a subject for another guest column) which met at a Baptist church. I’m not Baptist—not anymore—so I didn’t feel particularly sinful writing what, in my mind, became my competition story to McRib in their parking lot.
Really what it was, was a fairly obvious rip-off story entitled “Douche.” In both McRib Therapy and Douche a guy and girl go down into the basement of a party house, get high and bone out. Then the girl is or appears dead. So yeah, I ripped him off. DeWildt’s then led off into a conversation with a stolen Ronald McDonald statue, and … well, if you haven’t read it, read it. In my story the guy takes the girl out into the city and sets her on fire to get rid of the evidence, only to find out she was alive the whole time, survived the fire and her brother finds him. But, of course, the douche lies, blames an innocent dude and the brother leaves. The end.
Did I care about the rip-off? Hell no. I’m a douche also. What I did care about was the word count. And Douche’s word count was too long for OOTG. So I shelved it. Not too much later Joe put out on Facebook (what he calls, “The Office”) that OOTG needed subs.
When I think of submitting to OOTG (post-Cheated, of course) I think of how my story has to go neck-in-neck with McRib Therapy. I had been bouncing the idea around in my head about a guy who collects roadkill and makes them his friends. Names them, has tea parties, yadda yadda. Ever watch The X-Files? Season one, episode three, baby. Called “Squeeze.” Features everybody’s favorite creep Doug Hutchinson (the asshole corrections officer Percy Whitmore in The Green Mile) playing a guy named Eugene Victor Tooms who could elongate his body and squeeze through air ducts, chimneys, etc. Well, at one point in the show Tooms worked for the city cleaning up roadkill. He picked up something—squirrel, opossum, raccoon, Muppet, whatever—threw it into the back of his truck, looked around to see if anybody was watching and then voraciously licked his fingers clean. That little tidbit stuck with me.
I wanted to write about that guy, and competing with the glorious McRib Therapy drove me onward and upward. So I wrote a story called “Collection.” OOTG took it, though Joe advised me to seek counseling (it was probably one of those nice things where he meant it, but phrased it as a joke so as not to make me un-friend him on Facebook. Yes, Facebook is that important to us).
My brothers in Zelmer Pulp all eventually confessed they read it, but felt it went “too far.” I only found that bothersome because it’s probably my favorite out of my own stuff. Maybe because it goes too far. I dunno. I never showed the story to my wife. I want to stay married.
So DeWildt has been a pretty big influence on me. Reflecting on this, I probably shouldn’t write that I felt the need to compete. I felt the need to chase. Richard Thomas tells me he chases Stephen Graham Jones. I chased him once as well, but he tricked me and got away.
But seriously, I felt the need to chase. Still do. And the guy keeps batting home runs. I can’t keep up. The thing about DeWildt’s writing is he refuses to blink when people get uneasy. Add that to how DeWildt’s writing is lyrical in tone, and you have a genuinely effective voice. He doesn’t reach for the gross-out or go out of his way to spill buckets of human chum onto the page. He doesn’t need to. While other writers scream the F word and use an entire vat of blood and guts and baby heads to make their readers uncomfortable, to affect their audiences and make them remember the story, all DeWildt does is have his people act on their motivations.
That’s it. Act. I gotta do that, son.
I am chasing DeWildt, though. With a chainsaw. Not wearing pants. And after I catch him I’ll voraciously lick my fingers clean.
Ryan Sayles’s novel The Subtle Art of Brutality is here. Pick it up. And you can visit him here.