As you can tell from the full title, Joel McKay’s first collection of short stories, It Came From The Trees And Other Violent Aberrations (paperback, Kindle), is obviously a collection of warm and fuzzy fairy tales for little kids.
And if you believe that, I have a very nice bridge in Brooklyn available for a low, low price.
In the following email interview, McKay discusses what went into this story collection, which includes a science fiction thriller, a grimdark fantasy story, and a Lovecraftian adventure tale.
To start, is there a theme that connects the stories in It Came From The Trees?
Not in the traditional sense. I purposefully pulled together these five stories because they are so different. Think of it like a street vendor with his wares spread on a table in front of him; these five are a sampling of where I’m at with the craft today.
Is there anything else that connects these stories? Genre? Timeframe of when they were written?
A sense of dread pervades every tale in the book. So, while there is a hard science-fiction thriller story in there, as well as grimdark fantasy and a splatterpunk western, none of them are warm, fuzzy stories. Something bad or transformative is underway in each of them, and often the results are unkind.
How then did you decide what stories to include?
I wanted to showcase the breadth of fiction I’m writing at this stage in my career in one place. This is a sampling of that — a little of this, a little of that. I felt these five stories, as different and disconnected from one another as they are, all kind of work when put together — a bit like a music album.
You kind of just answered this, but what genres are represented by the stories in It Came From The Trees? Because the Other Violent Aberrations part of the title makes me think this isn’t a collection of warm and fuzzy fairy tales for little kids.
You’re right, there’s nothing in here for kids. These are grown up stories. We have a creature feature, a science fiction thriller, a Lovecraftian adventure, a grimdark fantasy, and a splatterpunk Western story.
That said, I tried to write them like old school EC Comics Vault Of Horror / Robert E Howard page-turners. These are pulpy yarns, and they’re meant to be. I want readers to have fun with them.
Some writers, when assembling a collection of their short stories, will include a paragraph or so about how the story came together. Did you do that with It Came From The Trees?
I included commentary on each story, mostly in an attempt to archive what my thoughts were on each story at time of publication. My hope is that Future Joel will look back and read them some day and be reminded of where my head was at the time these were published.
Now, It Came From The Trees is your first short story collection, though you also have a novella out called Wolf At The Door. Are there any writers who had a big influence on any of the stories in Trees, but not on Wolf?
Yes. I would say the writing style and tempo is heavily influenced by the styles of Robert E. Howard and Stephen King. I like to write accessible stories that are clear, succinct, and relatively unambiguous. This is a collection of pulp tales in the classic sense — no homework required in advance, nor is there a certain mood required either. Just pick them up and start reading.
How about non-literary influences? Were any of the stories in It Came From The Trees influenced by any movies, shows, or games?
The title story “It Came From The Trees” is an ode to The X-Files episode “Darkness Falls.” That episode is about a group of loggers who accidentally disturb a parasitic bug that attacks at night and cocoons people. In this story it’s a parasitic beetle that gestates rapidly in the human body and transforms the host into a bug…causing an awful death. Good times.
Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any stories in It Came From The Trees that you think could work especially well as a movie?
“It Came From The Trees” and “The Silent Screamer,” in my opinion, are completely adaptable. They’re both relatively short, self-contained stories that would work well as Creepshow episodes or feature films. I’m a movie nut, so when I’m writing I tend to create stories that, unintentionally, play out the way a movie would.
Since we’re on the topic, I’ve been told by numerous readers my novella Wolf At The Door would make an excellent horror comedy werewolf flick. So if any big studio execs are out there reading this…get in touch.
I also wanted to ask: Along with your book, there’s a scary novel coming out this July by Ally Russell that’s also called It Came From The Trees. What is it about trees that make Its want to come from them? And why not shrubs? Shrubs seems like they could be good places for Its to come from, too.
Yes, you’re absolutely right! Shrubs — brush — is perhaps more terrifying, especially if they have brambles.
My fiction is rooted in Northern B.C. and, well, we have a lot of trees and vast, unsettled wilderness in this part of the continent. The wilderness here is very rough, often difficult to gain access to and dangerous at any time of the year. And you’re dwarfed by the trees, which have always felt to me like a legion of watchful statues. So, yeah, there’s something about trees, the wilderness, the Canadian north that I think lends itself very well to this type of fiction.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about It Came From The Trees?
It’s short; only 130 pages or so. It was meant to be a short read, not an extensive anthology. I wanted to maximize accessibility for the reader and that’s one way you see that reflected in the book.
Finally, if someone enjoys the stories in It Came From The Trees, what warm and fuzzy collection of fairy tales for little kids — I mean, adult short story collection by someone else would you suggest they read next?
Well, here are a few of my absolute favorites: Night Shift and Skeleton Crew by Stephen King; The Horror Stories Of Robert E. Howard; and Never Whistle At Night, an anthology of Indigenous fiction edited by Shane Hawk.