W. P. Johnson

Dreaming Of Transylvania In My Phone

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm


I’ve never been to Kansas. Hell, I’ve never even been west of Pittsburgh now that I think about it. And the places I have been are so vague in my own memory that I don’t know if I could do them justice if I sat down to write about them. It’s a short list: Baltimore, New York City, Boston, several cities of Honduras as well as the Bay Islands, Florida (Key West, Orlando, and Miami), New Orleans, Tennessee (Memphis, Nashville, and Gatlinburg), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Beach Haven). I’ve spent several hours in parts of the Caribbean that I saw during a cruise. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for close to eight years, but even this city escapes me when I sit down to write about it accurately. Google Maps is my friend.

When it comes to research, it’s a strange time we live in. Within seconds a writer can see pictures of Thailand, hear the voice of Egyptians, or read descriptions of London during the late eighteenth century. A person can know with authority the type of topography that exists in Rome, the weather in Los Angeles, the food of China, and the fashion of your common Parisian. When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he did so from the comfort of London, researching all the details of Transylvania through articles. It’s interesting and strange to think that had he lived today, he could’ve researched the novel through his phone.

As for myself, when I researched “A Witch In West Kansas”, I watched numerous videos on harvesting wheat. I quickly learned that there was something called the “wheat belt” in the middle of America comprised of states like Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. I also learned the drastic effects weather can have on a crop and the short window of time a farmer has to effectively harvest wheat. Wheat has to be dry in order to harvest it, otherwise it’ll rot or sprout, rendering it useless. Hail in particular is the death of a mature crop, as it’ll not only bruise and flatten a crop, but leave behind moisture as well, making it impossible to harvest anything of value. Wheat farming is a lifestyle that demands a lot of attention, patience, and then quick action. An entire town can be focused on the harvesting of a particular crop and its fairly common for the jobs to be compartmentalized with some people owning combines while others simply tend to the land itself, and a third group of people whose jobs are involved in the storing and selling of harvested wheat.

When I had the idea for “A Witch In West Kansas”, it was nothing more than the vague image of a field under dark clouds and an old woman that demanded blood payments from all the surrounding farmers in exchange for a successful harvest. Those who didn’t pay would likely become the victims of hail, of damp wheat. I didn’t really know anything about farming wheat. In fact, I knew zero about it, and I knew even less than zero about Kansas, and even less than that about the motivations of a witch demanding blood payments. Around the same time I started writing this story, there was a call for submissions by Thunderdome Press for their anthology Cipher Sisters. The prompt was simple enough: a pair of twins were found dead with no information regarding their identities. Write their story.

I won’t reveal the context in which I introduced these sisters in “A Witch In West Kansas”, but I will say that the revelation will seem a tenuous connection upon the first read, and a relevant development upon further consideration. The circumstances under which the story was written was one of those rare moments when an outside seed was planted in an already growing organism, changing it for the better. The foundation had been laid, the research had been done. I just needed that one last puzzle piece, the crowning decoration. To put it crudely, I just plugged these girls into the story and hoped for the best. But on the other hand, their presence forced to me reevaluate the kind of story I was telling and why it mattered that they were there at all. When the motivations became clear, the story clicked and everything fell into place.

It’s one of my better stories if I have to be honest. It has elements of horror, but it has depth too and forcing myself to write about a place I’ve never been too forced me to try something new, to describe the wheat fields of Kansas in a way that fit how I write about places like Philadelphia and Chester County. The layout of Cipher Sisters is special, with accompanying pictures and designs that make it worth buying a physical copy. If a physical book isn’t your thing, it’ll be available in kindle format soonish (the print is currently available at amazon).

Until then, here’s to being scary.



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