I want to pause and talk about dreams. It saddens me to know there are people who do not dream, or at least people who lose their dreams to the ether the moment they wake up. Just last night, I dreamed in vivid color and sound and character about an alien invasion, about a great discovery of human emotion. While I did not wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested (dreamers hardly ever do), I did wake up feeling inspired, in awe, and more than a little cool (because we’re almost always the hero in our own dreams). This is the magic of our dreams and why our Of Rust and Glass’s first speculative fiction anthology is entitled Dream of Rust and Glass.
So, we asked Midwest writers and poets to do just that: dream. These men and women ask the question, “What if?” (something our minds already do for us when we shut everything off and just listen for a while) and their answers take us to strange, surprising, and surreal new worlds. But who are they? In this Blog series, we are thrilled to introduce you to a selection of Dream’s contributors. It’s not often we lift the proverbial curtain, but these people are more than their work. They are dreamers.
Today’s dreamer is Jen Mierisch, whose story “The Train to Piper Hollow” caps off this wonderful collection. Before we learn more about Jen and her writing, here is an excerpt from her story, which will keep you captivated from beginning to end:
“The Train to Piper Hollow” Excerpt:
“My turn for stories,” said Jason. “I got a good one for ya.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Is this another Amazing Stories episode that you’re gonna pretend you made up?” I said, smirking.
“Nope,” he said. “This one’s a true story. And it happened right here in this town.” He leaned over and switched off my transistor radio, cutting off Madonna in the middle of “Live to Tell.”
In the sudden quiet, the crickets’ chirping sounded like chalk screeching across a blackboard. I drew up my knees and hugged them. The flickering flames reflected in Jason’s eyes as he began.
“A hundred years ago,” he said, “there was a little girl named Julia. Her mother abandoned her, and her father died of dysentery.”
“Dysentery?” I laughed. “Like in that game Oregon Trail?”
“Yup. He pooped himself to death,” said Jason. I rolled my eyes.
“Anyways,” he continued, “little Julia was an orphan now. She survived by drinking from scummy ponds, stealing clothes off people’s laundry lines, and eating whatever frogs and rats she could catch.”
“Grody to the max,” I said.
“Hey, when you’re starving, you do what you gotta do. Julia was only six, but she was faster than a cheetah. She’d catch the rats with her teeth and swing them around by the tail to get rid of the flies, and then she ate ‘em raw.”
I stretched my head to the side and fake-barfed.
“So, Julia went to an orphanage, but she hated it there. They made her clean the headmaster’s boots with her tongue and muck out the horse stalls with her bare hands. She kept hoping somebody would adopt her, but nobody wanted a rat-eating thief, so she was out of luck.
“There was this one train that ran through town. The exact same train tracks that run behind our school today. Every day Julia would wander over to those tracks and wait for that train to come by. She would just stand there and stare at it, because more than anything she wanted to get on that train and go away from her miserable life.
“One day, when Julia was watching the train, she saw a beautiful woman in the window. The woman wore this shiny, brightly colored dress, and Julia felt shy, because all she ever wore was nasty gray rags. The woman waved. And Julia was happy, because nobody ever waved to her, they spit on her. Then, as the train passed, the woman called out something to Julia.”
“She said, ‘Three more days…’”
Question: What was your inspiration for “The Train to Piper Hollow?”
Answer: Growing up in the 1980s definitely influenced this story. Courtney is about the age I was in the mid-80s, when it was not unusual for kids to roam the neighborhood until dusk. I’m also fascinated by trains. There’s just something about train travel that says adventure and possibilities.
Q: Did you know how your story would end when you started writing it? If not, did plans change while writing or did you improvise when you arrived?
A: I definitely did not know where this story was going at first. All I knew was that I wanted some kids and a haunted train that carried off children like the Pied Piper. I wrote it for a submission call for horror stories set in the 1980s. As often happens, the place I wrote it for rejected it, only for me to go back and revise it and have it be accepted somewhere else later.
Q: How is your Dream story typical or atypical of your writing in general?
A: I love horror and this is a very typical story for me. However, it’s the first one I set in the 80s.
Q: Besides writing, what is one thing you couldn’t live without?
A: My kids! And coffee. Definitely coffee.
Q: If a genie could grant you 3 wishes, what would you wish for?
A: (1) For my kids to live long happy healthy lives, (2) for wine and cheese to be a nutritionally complete meal; and (3) the stamina to keep writing for several more decades.
Q: Would you describe your writing process? For example, do you write in a specific place, have music playing or is that a no-no, lean toward outlining specifics, or are you a pantser?
A: I do all my writing late in the evening after the day job and chores are done and my kids are in bed. I like to take the laptop to bed with me and write while propped against pillows – not ergonomic, but very cozy.
Q: When faced with the dreaded “writers block”, how do you push through and find inspiration? Is there a ritual or process you have to get yourself back on track?
A: If I’m having trouble writing, usually that’s a sign that I need to step back and do more reading or watching movies or just living my life for a while. I think every writer has had the well run dry at some point. Visiting an antique store can be great inspiration, with each object or old postcard or mysterious engraving a potential story. If I’m stuck on a particular story or scene, sometimes I put it away for a few weeks or months. Inevitably, my subconscious will be chewing on it, and often the perfect solution will come to me out of the blue while I am doing something brainless like walking my dog.
Q: If you could pick one place to sit and write, where would it be?
A: Chicago’s lakefront parks. They are great for people watching, and it’s a lovely place to hang out when the weather is nice.
Jen Mierisch’s dream job is to write Twilight Zone episodes, but until then, she’s a website administrator by day and a writer of odd stories by night. Jen’s work can be found in Horla, Dark Moments, HAVOK, and various short story anthologies. Jen can be found haunting her local library just outside Chicago, USA. Read more at www.jenmierisch.com or follow her on Twitter @JenMierisch
Dream of Rust and Glass can be found in print/e-book anywhere you buy your books online. Follow the link below, and delve into Dream to explore worlds created by some of the Midwest’s finest creative minds. Be sure to read Jen’s story, “The Train to Piper Hollow,” and leave us a review when you’re done!