Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 29: SAMSARA Behind the Scenes [Greg F. Gifune]

"You've seen Hell.  And not from a distance, so close you could feel its touch.  Hell does something to the eyes, to the face.  It changes them.  Those who've seen its truth wear that change like an iron mask, just as you do." ~SAMSARA by Greg F. Gifune
I'm often invited to take part in various anthologies publishers are putting together, most of which have particular themes.  Unless I already have something that fits the bill, or happen to be working on something at that point that might fit, I rarely accept, because, first, I write very little short fiction these days and mostly concentrate on novels, novellas and screenplays, and secondly, I don't normally like to write fiction on demand, especially if it has to have a specific theme.  Rather than writing what I need and/or want to write, the latter forces me to write to spec, in a sense, something I have the ability to do if I have to, but have never been particularly comfortable with.  So, when Chris Morey at Dark Regions Press first approached me about writing a piece for his new novella anthology, I AM THE ABYSS, which dealt with visions of the underworld and afterlife, and specifically 'with the concept that after we die our consciousness inverts into ur own realms of subconscious thought,' I was pleasantly surprised.  He was looking for a novella, not a short story, and the theme not only fit perfectly into what I generally do anyway, I happened to have a concept I was just about to begin, and I knew it would be a perfect fit.  I AM THE ABYSS, Chris explained, would feature novellas about those 'whose journeys in the Birth World have come to an end.  Each individual was a dark or tortured soul, each story a perilous yet enlightening adventure through a personal afterlife.'  Sometimes I get lucky.  This one was right up my alley.

            And so, my novella SAMSARA was born.  Although a good part of the story takes place in an eerie desert town that's bracing for a huge storm, at its heart, the novella is a love story about a soldier dying on the battlefield in WWII, and missing his wife, the love of his life back home.  The lead character is a man who has everything he ever thought he wanted or needed, until an innocent mistake costs someone their life, and in the process, destroys him as well.  The entire piece is a study in guilt, regret, love, life, death, and ultimately (what is hopefully), transcendence.

            SAMSARA (Saṃsāra) is a Sanskrit word that means 'wandering' or 'world' and refers to the concept that all life exists in a cyclical sense, and that we are at once released and bound to the material world through an endless karmic cycle of death and rebirth.  So for my purposes, this worked well as a title for my novella, because the concept tied in with the story of a man caught between this life and the next, and his struggle to survive and transcend both worlds, one where he is dying and  has essentially sacrificed himself because he cannot find a way to forgive himself, and one where he will live on and have to find a way to exist until he is reunited with the woman he lost and loves so desperately.

            The reason I decided to make him a soldier is because I felt it was a chance to show the  horror and (ultimate) futility and profane nature of war, and how it not only crushes people physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well.  My father, a combat veteran in WWII, was a man deeply affected by his time in the South Pacific, and carried not only physical, but emotional scars from those days for the entirety of his life.  Like many combat veterans, he rarely spoke of those experiences.  When he did, it was usually only to me, and always when he'd had too much to drink.  The stories he told me were often difficult to hear, and watching and listening to this otherwise amazingly strong, highly intelligent and well-educated man struggle not only to share those hellish experiences with me, but to somehow come to grips with and understand them, even though they'd occurred years earlier in his life, was absolutely heartbreaking.  A deeply spiritual man, my father's biggest struggle with those experiences, it seemed to me, was that even though he was a soldier at the time, and these horrible things took place in the context one would hope might allow for even a modest semblance of  justification, it was far more than just the things he witnessed and survived that haunted him.  Just as crippling (if not more) were the things he'd done, and his inability to forgive himself for having done them and for surviving when so many others who fought beside him did not.  I remember one of his more tame stories concerned coming upon the body of a young Japanese soldier.  On some island in the Philippines they had just taken, he and the rest of his platoon were walking to their next destination when they came upon a body in a ditch.  My father, who was only about twenty at the time himself, said the soldier could not have been more than seventeen or eighteen years old.  He lay on his side, the top of his head open and lying next to his body.  "Like an egg that had cracked and fallen open" was how my father described it.  "His skull had come apart so perfectly to reveal his brain that it almost looked like it had been done surgically.  But all I could think at the time was that even though he was the enemy and we were both there to kill each other, this was someone's child, someone's son, someone's baby.  And now he was in a ditch with the top of his head open, dead before he'd even had a chance to live."  When he first told me this story, all I could think about was that boy's mother or father down there in that ditch with him, holding their child and crying for their baby.  That vision has never left me, and to this day it leaves me shaken whenever I think of it.

            Once you read SAMSARA, you will see how I incorporated this story (conceptually) into the novella, and in many of the battle scenes I  used (often with a few minor changes) a great number of the things he told me about and the thoughts he told me he had when they were happening, again with some changes to suit the story.  My father died, far too young, in 1989, and though I likely still can't truly appreciate the full scope of his impact on me as a man with my own abundance of torments and demons, to say these experiences he shared affected my life would be an understatement.  I've written about them before, not only for cathartic reasons and to help me process it all, but also as a means of better understanding who my father was, why he was the way he was, and how he transcended it all as best he could to become the man he ultimately became: A respected educator, a beloved husband, and an adored father and grandfather.  In the end, it only made me love and respect him more.

            And so, using these very personal concepts, I wrote SAMSARA.  Set in the 1940s, it's the story of a small town cop that makes a mistake he can never forgive himself for, and runs off to war because of it, leaving behind the woman who makes his life worth living in the first place.  It follows his life in this world, the next, and the strange and ominous haunted desert town full of lost souls that bridged the two.

            I hope I have been able to marry the very personal aspect of this tale with some solid storytelling that encompasses the full concept and spirit of I AM THE ABYSS.  And should you choose to come along for this ride, I hope SAMSARA will move, affect and entertain you, along with the rest of the amazing work featured in the anthology.  I AM THE ABYSS collects an incredible lineup of authors, including Michael Marshall Smith, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jeffrey Thomas, William Meikle, Nicole Cushing, John R. Little, Reggie Oliver, and Douglas Wynne.

            Finally, special thanks to the always fabulous Meghan Shena Hyden, for being kind enough to invite me to share the background on SAMSARA and what it means to me.  I hope you've enjoyed this brief behind-the-scenes glimpse of how it came to be, and why.

Greg F. Gifune
November 16, 2017
New England. Night.

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About the author:
Greg F. Gifune is a best-selling, internationally-published author of several acclaimed novels, novellas and two short story collections.
            Working predominately in the horror and crime genres, Greg has been called, "The best writer of horror and thrillers at work today" by New York Times best-selling author Christopher Rice, "One of the best writers of his generation" by both The Roswell Literature Review and horror grandmaster Brian Keene, and "Among the finest dark suspense writers of our time" by legendary best-selling author Ed Gorman.
            Greg's work has been published all over the world, translated into several languages, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus and others, and is consistently praised by readers and critics alike, and has garnered attention from Hollywood.
            Two of his short stories, HOAX and FIRST IMPRESSIONS, have been adapted to film.  His novel CHILDREN OF CHAOS is currently under a development deal to be made into a television series, and his novel THE BLEEDING SEASON, originally published in 2003, has been hailed as a classic in the horror genre and is considered to be one of the best horror/thrillers novels of the decade. 
            Greg resides in Massachusetts with his wife Carol, a bevy of cats, and two dogs, Dozer and Bella.  He can be reached online via email, or on Facebook and Twitter.


About the book:
I AM THE ABYSS contains human minds whose journeys in the Birth World have come to an end.  Authors Michael Marshall Smith, Nicole Cushing, Reggie Oliver, Steve Rasnic Tem, John R. Little, Jeffrey Thomas, Greg F. Gifune, Douglas Wynne, and William Meikle give us windows into the personal afterlives of unique individuals trapped in self-created worlds.

You can PREORDER the book here.

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