I've excerpted the following essay from the page of my website, devoted to 'Oddities & Entities'. Check it out at www.rolandallnach.com
For the full book tour, visit my earlier post, or my page at TLC Book Tours.
"Shift/Change" was originally published in Aphelion webzine, but I decided to include it in Oddities &Entities for two reasons. First, I thought it dovetailed rather nicely with "Boneview", as it shows a rather dark and dingy interaction between something 'more than flesh and bone'. And while it was nice to use that quote for the back cover of the book, as it opens so much of what the theme of O&E explores, the story - for all its darkness - does hint that even at the darkest interactions between the world outside our normal existence and our mundane world harmony can be established, or at least a semblance of balance. The second reason I included "Shift/Change" is a bit more self serving. For marketing and promotion purposes, I figured it couldn't hurt including a story that some readers might already know, and so entice them to take a dive into O&E.
Without giving too much of the story away, I'll discuss some of the story's elements. I wanted a creepy, Gothic style to the setting of the story, so even though much of the story takes place in a hospital morgue, a plain old morgue would not suffice. There is an abandoned state mental hospital near my childhood home and, over the years as I grew up, the state closed the hospital in stages as care moved away from massive, centralized, multi-building facilities to more suburban, less intimidating settings. Nevertheless, I remember how those old buildings looked at night. They were creepy, and they've grown more so over the years as they decay. Built in stages in the early 1900's, the buildings were interconnected by underground tunnels so staff could move about during winter without having to brave cold howling winds blowing across the open fields between the buildings.
While not a direct inspiration for the setting of "Shift/Change", this impression of hidden places and tunnels to abandoned places set a seed in my head. Being underground can be a surreal experience, once you are severed from references such as the sun and sky. The hollow places beneath us are their own world, a world which is crafted by those who fill its space, which leads to the cast of rather decrepit characters inhabiting the underworld of "Shift/Change".
It is a tale of redemption, though, so set against the less savory characters are the two leads, neither of whom seem too promising as human beings in their first appearance. In the original draft of the story the supernatural aspects of John Smith had little mystery to them, and his place in the realm of existence outside of our physical world was rather traditional. Despite his crime and punishment - which compose the underlying drive of the story - I came to feel the spiritual nature of his existence was laid out in too much detail, so much so that there was little mystery left to him. This, combined with interludes of his own thoughts upon his crime and punishment, defused the suspense of his inevitable unveiling before the fallen woman he is trying to save. In successive revisions I had to gut several parts of the story. Out went those interludes, out went his exhaustive, thinly veiled accounts of his true identity, and out went some clumsy dialogue that even in a story with supernatural elements was simply unrealistic.
With that done, and the story stripped to its core, I rebuilt it around the notion quoted on the back cover of O&E: there is more to this world than flesh and bone. Though other realities exist with us, it's not necessarily a good thing when they intersect with us. Using that as a guiding point, the story took on a new life, and with John's hidden nature left somewhat vague and open for interpretation, his other-worldly nature not only gained force, but gained some menace as well. Where he was an agent of good that had taken a bad turn in the original version of the story, he was now somewhat ambiguous, and even though he has learned the lesson of his crime, there is a threatening edge that remains to his intellect: he may be acting to redeem himself but, at the same time, he is not a being to be crossed. With all the elements in place and in the focus I wanted, the title itself gained the deeper meaning I always hoped it could possess: the 'shift/change' phrase is not meant to be strictly temporal (the end of the night shift), but meta-physical as well (the transition of John's character, and the effect on those he victimized with his crime).
More to follow...