by SS Hampton Sr.
“Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.” (Speculative Fiction, Wikipedia)
Now that that’s out of the way, everything begins with “What if…?” What if something strange and mysterious found its way into our world? How? Where?
I remembered an article I saw on the Internet about one of the earliest trees—archaeopteris, from the Devonian Era. And, in the 1990s a hiker in Australia discovered a grove of trees whose physical appearance matched prehistoric tree fossils some 200 million years old. The newly discovered trees, proven to be descended from the prehistoric trees, were named Wollemi Pines.
Sooo… Where is this archaeopteris discovered? Some place remote, out of the way. I thought of Minnesota, overrun with lakes and forests, which has some of the oldest rocks in the world. On a map, I saw a mountain range called Mesabi, and thought the name sounded delightfully strange and mysterious. Add to that, the area is also known as the Iron Range. Thus, the Mesabi Iron Range was born. Giving the trees an ordinary nickname, such as Yarmouth Fern, was just yanked out of the air.
Aaand… I’ve lived in Colorado, and always wanted to grow a few Christmas trees.
The character of a crusty old Clint Eastwood-type sitting on the back porch of his home in the Colorado Rockies with an AK-47 across his lap was born. He watches the sun go down, and the valley that contains a branch of his Christmas tree farm is filling with shadows and mist. And he’s staring at a grove of Yarmouth Ferns in the marshy terrain across from his home.
But, I remember reading about fairy trees (ash and oak trees, and hawthorn bushes). Each one reputedly has magical properties, but when all three are found together…
Finally, I have the mysterious ferns, the location, the character, and the idea that where something “prehistoric” and alive, is growing, something else might happen. Maybe something like a doorway opening, especially during a full moon (I’ve always wanted to believe that there’s something magical and mysterious about the full moon).
I open with the sun going down and the old guy sitting on his porch having a beer. He knows there’s something in the Yarmouth grove across from his home. He hears stealthy movements.
Then, flash back to his first hearing of the Yarmouth Ferns, ordering a dozen, and planting them. Add to it the passage of time and (hopefully), a rising tension of something in the valley. His hired help senses something too, and they blame the ferns. The workers report “shadows,” and sometimes see something out of the corner of their eyes. The old guy discovers that the ferns have spread through releasing spores, and small, wild groves have taken root throughout the valley. Add that the weather doesn’t feel right—the clouds are grayer, darker, and the atmosphere is oppressive. Sometimes at night he wakes with a sensation that something is lurking outside his bedroom window. Finally, the workers quit and he’s left alone.
Back to the present. The full moon rises, an ocean of moonlit mist creeps into the valley, and something is moves in the grove. The story ends with gunfire and the old guy screaming in terror.
For me, there have to be enough facts to blend with fiction to create something believable. Add a believable character, and build the suspense—build the suspense—relying on what makes most people nervous, or even fearful—a gut feeling, something in the air, and shadows. Perhaps the most frightening thing of all is the feeling of being in danger, yet you can’t see what’s closing in on you.
My approach isn’t the only way—there are as many successful ways to write speculative fiction as there are writers. As long as you have a goal and map your route to that goal, the details will fill themselves in.
Good luck, and I hope I didn’t bore you too much!
SS Hampton, Sr. is a published photographer and photojournalist, an aspiring painter, and is studying for a degree in anthropology. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from MUSA Publishing, (The Lapis Lazuli Throne), Melange Books (Intimate Journeys; R.U.S.H.; Christmas Collectibles 2010; and Hearts of Tomorrow), Ravenous Romance (Back Door Lover), and Dark Opus Press (In Poe’s Shadow), and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, Lucrezia Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. In 2012 he has another story forthcoming in an anthology from Edge SF & Fantasy (Danse Macabre), as well as a stand-alone story releasing from MuseItUp Publishing.