I've excerpted the following essay from my website page 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.
As a single story, "Elmer Phelps" nevertheless is the longest piece in 'Oddities & Entities', perhaps because of the tricky ground that it traverses.
What can I say about this story? Oh, Elmer, Elmer, Elmer. . .where do I
begin? It's difficult to discuss this story without giving too much away, as so much of what happens that might be considered strange, disgusting, and gruesome all find their subjective justifications and explanations. And that, if nothing else, is what lies at the heart of "Elmer Phelps", and was touched upon for a moment in "Boneview": the idea that once one crosses over the boundaries of everyday life, the common rules of morality we know might not apply in the ways in which they are accustomed. The challenge of "Elmer Phelps" was not only to portray such a situation, but at the same time maintain an awareness that some things, regardless of how they might attain understanding and even moral equivocation, are still to be rejected to maintain a basic sense of humanity.
"Elmer Phelps" had its origins in something much more ordinary than the story it came to be. I've always been interested in writing a zombie story, not just for my private enjoyment of almost all things zombie, but for the challenge of writing a different kind of zombie tale. I still like the idea I developed, so I won't discuss it here in case I do flesh it out (no pun intended) to a full length book, but in its original conception as a novel entitled "Elmer Phelps" I found there to be some deep problems in the basic logic structure of the story. Despite that I typed up a short two page story treatment, as I often do for a book, containing some basic plot points, character profiles/motivations, and some of the underlying themes.
After that, it collected dust for a year, though it never left the back of my mind. In the meantime I took up another book project, a yet unpublished piece of main stream fiction by the title of 'Snowflake', and started hammering away at that. As the title might suggest, it takes place in a wintry climate. To make this seeming tangent relevant, I mention all this because while I was toying with the ideas of a wintry setting and what type of symbolic and aesthetic elements such a setting could lend to a story, the ideas for "Elmer Phelps" welled up once more, to the point where I put 'Snowflake' aside and dove into Elmer's story. I backed off from the zombie idea, and went for something more subtle, and perhaps more penetrating, as subtle things tend to be.
All that aside, "Elmer Phelps" was meant to do what I like to often do with my writing, and that is present the reader with a set of circumstances that on their surface defy explanation but at the same time challenge the innate compulsion to condemn such things. In this gray area there lurks not only a creeping chill for the story but the the anchor point of what I was trying to map out with 'Oddities & Entities'. Life does not always present itself to us in black and white and, as Elmer realizes, it's up to the human mind to make sense of things - "the human mind, with all its three pounds of eternity."
Although Elmer appears as the second to last story of 'Oddities & Entities', it was the last piece I wrote for the anthology, and I wrote it with the direct understanding that it was to lead into the final story, which was already completed, a story by the title "Appendage".
Stay tuned for the last installment...