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The Milk Has Teeth
A Vignette and Some Updates
The breath of autumn carries the voice from unseen lips to my ears.
“The milk has teeth,” it whispers.
The voice is light and airy, not quite childish, but young just the same. I stop on the way to my car. Glance around at the inflatable decorations, fiery trees, and front stoops adorned with pumpkins. Everything is orange, purple, and black. The speaker is nowhere in sight, though the voice sounded so close. Like a whisper, not someone shouting from a passing vehicle.
I take out my keys and get in my car. At work, I forget about the voice until the mid-morning coffee break. Teeth pour out of the milk carton, splashing into the coffee like tiny ice cubes—baby teeth, still red at the root with blood.
I close my eyes, set down the carton, and empty the mug into the sink.
Somebody must be onto me.
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I don’t know what that is. A story? The beginning of a story? A dream, perhaps?
Let’s call it a vignette. I hate the word “drabble;” it sounds like something that runs down your chin while you’re sleeping.
Anyway. Welcome to Fiction for the Cosmically Disturbed, the newsletter formerly known as Less Than Pulp. It’s a place for you to get caught up on all things me. I’m Lucas Mangum, and I’m glad you’re here.
Rewriting Barn Door to Hell is going well. Shane McKenzie has been helping me stay on track from a structure standpoint. The dude is a 10th-degree black belt in story structure. He’ll tell you that’s from all the screenwriting he’s gotten up to in his years since stepping away from prose, but if you’ve read books like Muerte con Carne or Pus Junkies, you know he’s always had the gift. It’s now simply more refined.
He, Wrath James White, and I have been doing writing sessions every other Sunday. I’ve known both of them for years, but it’s still more than a little surreal sitting at a table with these heavy hitters of horror fiction, all three of us working on our respective manuscripts and talking shop.
On Barn Door to Hell, I’m spending less time in my characters’ heads, more time with action, dialogue, and moody descriptions. Time in the characters’ heads is fine, but too much time there is for first drafts. Because I’m not a thorough outliner, my early drafts often serve as my outlines. They’re where I learn about my characters, the setting, the theme … you know, the important shit that I need to know intimately, but my readers only need to understand.
Sometimes, I forget this is my process, and I write something that I think is more done than it is. Thankfully, I have people looking at my stuff who I trust and who aren’t afraid to call me on my bullshit. These are crucial resources to any writer, and if you don’t have them, you should find them. Editing isn’t just fixing typos and grammar. It’s making sure your story is structured and paced properly. It’s making sure characters are well-drawn, with clear goals, motivations for those goals, and something stopping them from reaching those goals.
A thing that’s dawned on me recently—something I discussed with J. David Osborne on the phone a few weeks ago—is that I’m a literary writer who enjoys pulp. That means the writing itself is my top priority, with things like plot and character coming in second place. Nothing wrong with that, but if I want to write pulp (which I obviously do), it’s important to treat story structure with the same reverence I’d pay a clever turn of phrase or a clear, concise sentence. I’m not saying I haven’t done that with my previous works. I am saying that I’m more aware of my process now, getting to know myself.
Ancient philosophers said that’s important, and they’re not wrong!
Speaking of philosophy, one of my favorite YouTube channels just posted this great video essay all about the various interpretations of Hell. Everything from Dante and Homer to Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and Stephen King’s “The Jaunt” to notable (and notorious) evangelists and a video game called Soma all get nice coverage. Check it out if that sounds like your thing.
I’m excited to show the cover for Hunted Highways: Road Trip Horror. Featuring novellas by myself, Carver Pike, and Rowland Bercy Jr., this anthology deals with the horrors of the open road. You won’t find any romanticizing of travel here. Instead, you’ll run across classic monsters, cryptids, and other creatures ruining trips and rest stops for unsuspecting travelers. My story is “Dracula and the Devil Walk into a Bar.” The book drops on January 26th through Crystal Lake Publishing as part of their Dark Tide imprint. Check out this cover by Ben Baldwin.
In the latest episode of Make Your Own Damn Podcast, Jeff and I look at Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a movie that I’ve watched at least twice a year since I was eight. You can hear all about it right here.
Do you remember the book In a Dark, Dark Room? Even if you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve heard the stories in it before. Check out my latest video where I dive into them.
Currently reading: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Night Frights by J.B. Stamper, and Spooky Stories by Author Unknown.
Currently watching: The Platform (2020), The McPherson Tape (1989), Back to the Future (1985), and Designated Survivor (2016-19)