Currently, The Middle Reaches is my serial story on Amazon Kindle Vella, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a pretty cool digital reinvention of the type of one-short-installment-at-a-time prose storytelling that peaked in the heyday of Charles Dickens.
I’ve been publishing one episode every Monday since the end of February 2023. I’m writing in fifteen-episode “cycles,” comparable to TV seasons. Cycle One: Shadow Man, just ended; Cycle Two: A Rift in Time and Space started this week. I find this type of storytelling exciting and didn’t want a break. Cycle One is, taken together, like a longish novella, so you can binge it and catch up quickly.
The story as a whole deals with a surreal, otherworldly place, horrific but drenched in an inexplicable erotic allure, that calls people to venture more deeply into its secrets while it tries to devour them psychologically and physically with assaults from distorted monstrosities. I’ll get into more particulars of the cycles momentarily.
Before The Middle Reaches became a prose fiction serial, however, it was (and still is!) a screenplay by the same title, which I adapted into Cycle One. The screenplay has won some awards; I’m most proud of Best Horror Script from Hollywood Horrorfest (nice people, and the fest is basically in my neighborhood). It’s one of my favorites from among my many creative offspring. It’s basically a road narrative, which seemed like it would lend itself well to a serial structure. For these and other reasons, when I learned about Vella, the idea of adapting it seemed natural.
This apparent naturalness—and the reason why this story ranks highly among my favorites—require scrutiny. First, it’s my most successful engagement with the weird tale, for which H.P. Lovecraft is known, and creating such a thing was something I’d long wanted to do. I wanted tentacles, damn it!
My psychological investment was more than tentacular, however.
The setting is key. To get to The Middle Reaches and what lies beyond, you start in an overgrown area into which two streets with the same name, Acton Way, dead end, and then you follow the creek that runs through it. The same creek runs through the backyard of a boy who disappeared in The Middle Reaches, Sheldon Vere. The creek also runs through the backyard of Steven Marks, who, with his older brother Gordon, killed some kids in his basement. Before that happened, Steven used to play in his backyard, as well as at the dead end of Acton Way, with Bobby Lightfoot, who disappeared years before Sheldon. People generally assume Gordon killed him.
The overgrown area between the two Acton Ways and the creek, as well as the Marks boys and Bobby Lightfoot, appeared in my first, still unpublished (at this point quite deliberately so), horror novel, Curiosity. More on said novel after a brief, very important, note.
Before I wrote about the two Acton Ways and the creek, I was a kid who lived in a house with a creek in the backyard, and the creek ran down to where my street dead-ended, an overgrown area on the opposite side of which another street dead-ended. Both streets had the same name, a name very similar to “Acton Way.” If I followed the creek, I ended up in increasingly wild woods that always engaged my imagination.
So, in Curiosity, I used a central location of my childhood as the setting, as the imaginative world, for some of the most horrific stuff I’ve ever written. That novel came from a really bleak time of life recollected in relative tranquility. About a decade later, in another bleak time, I wrote another handful of stories in which the creek, the Acton Ways, and the Marks boys showed up. You can read those stories in the last “blot” of Stains of Atrocity. I also published (though it’s no longer in print) the first chapter of Curiosity as a standalone short story called “The Family Pet.”
The new stories linked my first imaginative horror world to my next, the world of Dr. Allen Fincher, featured in my published novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as in short stories that appear in Leaping at Thorns (out of print), Peritoneum (out of print), and, again, Stains of Atrocity (it’s got the best ones from Peritoneum). The new stories, in contrast to Curiosity, have a much more fantastic flavor… the flavor I wanted for The Middle Reaches, first the screenplay, then the serial.
This imaginative world of dead ends and a creek, a world with roots as deep as possible in my writing and almost as deep as possible in my life, became the world of The Middle Reaches. If I needed a world for a serial, which could go on and on… I thought I might as well make it one that intersects with a lot of my life and preexisting work…
… and if you happen to have read my novel Crazy Time as well as Cycle One of The Middle Reaches, you probably noticed that Middle Reaches character Leslie Jarndyce is working on a legal case for MFS (Mansworth Futures and Securities), the corporate shadow falling across Crazy Time hero Lily Henshaw’s life. So, I’ve brought in the potential to use even more preexisting work… and I’m not going to squander it… I have plans, people, plans…
The Middle Reaches are a bridge between realities. So, too, do they connect my realities.
Cycle One of the serial introduces the place, aspects particular to this cycle as well as aspects that span cycles, as Sheldon Vere’s old friends reunite and try to figure out what happened to him when they were all teenagers and spending time between the two Acton Ways. They become mired in The Middle Reaches, and mired in longing that mixes the adolescent with the present, lured onward but terrified by the monsters that haunt them at each step. The serial deepens characters and relationships from the screenplay while adding more touches of both horror and dark fantasy.
Cycle Two, now in progress, goes deeper into the lore of The Middle Reaches, bringing in Bobby Lightfoot, Gordon and Steven Marks, and others, most of whom are teenagers. Drawn toward different ends but following the same creek and dealing with the same tensions between horror and desire, groups of characters play out what seems to be a more cosmic game as they go farther into the otherworldly place that wants them.
FYI, I plan for the series to run for four cycles. The audience so far is small but growing. If you read it (and if you haven’t, please do!), I hope that, with all its jumbled timelines and bizarre details, it still seems like a natural fit for your episodic yearnings. However, if it ever seems a little overwrought—kind of like this blog post—please remember that it twists together an awful lot of me.