It began as a zombie story, actually.
But you must understand, I’m an idea guy, and ideas change and evolve. I keep a myriad assortment of scavenged notebooks filled with what appear to be the scribblings of a madman—mostly images, character quirks, and brief snippets of dialogue. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Even when I wasn’t writing seriously, I wrote things down. Here, let me see, if I flip to a random page…
Statues wrapped in plastic make it look like they’re making faces.
--Rustling plastic, smiling & frowning—screaming
Flip to another page:
Everything seemed fine until our mom started collecting clocks and they began to appear all over the house, ticking maniacally, all a little out of sync
Random objects begin appearing in weird places
Dead tree in the city—draped with old sneakers
Some of these make sense to me now and some of them don’t. But, as you can see, they’re not really story ideas. I don’t really know what to call them. Since I’m feeling generous right now, I’ll call them “Notes for Inspiration,” but that’s a little grand for most of these.
My point is: I’m an idea guy and “Fevered Hills” began as a zombie story.
A couple of years ago, looking for ideas to write some short fiction, I found this note:
Destroyed landscape, wrecked world. Character travels land seeing horrible things
--Imply zombie stuff in the background, but we're never sure
So, I wrote a short story—inspired by some of the intense, “literary” writers I was reading at the time like Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon—about a marching line of prisoners going to an encampment in the jungle. The story was basically an exercise in description and contained very little actual plot movement. As I recall, I was rather proud of it and sent it out to several markets to be published. It was soundly rejected many, many times.
I wrote a lot of stories that year and the next. One of them opened with a man perched atop a cliff ledge, painting the valley before him, until he was interrupted by a plane flying by, dropping bombs over the hills he was trying to paint. Another story involved a horde of kids ripping a priest apart with their bare hands. All of these stories had a similar flaw; they were all based around visceral and visual moments, but were incomplete stories. They were all rejected for publication, and rightly so.
But I began to see patterns in some of my writing, similarities in setting, and a running theme. I compiled everything I’d written that seemed to be set in a war-torn world. I found a story (an actual story!) I wanted to tell, about a young and troubled man, who had always wanted to be an artist, learning to live with some strange characters and his nightmares. Then I began to write “Fevered Hills.”
So, where did the inspiration for “Fevered Hills” come from? Well, it came from a collection of notes I’ve been compiling for years. It came from my desire to write something really gruesome, something shocking and grotesque. It came from the strange and twisted dreams I have regularly. It came from the dark depths of my imagination, from that soft pink spot, from the feverish haze. I can only hope it finds readers interested in walking these hills with me for a while, in taking a little stroll. With a grin and a wave, I wish you luck on your journey...