A Soundtrack to a Story
by KJ Charles
I have a number of bad habits—biting my nails, inadvertently swearing in public, intentionally swearing in public, putting too much chilli in food—but the current worst is probably saying, “Sure, I’ll write a story for that!” without knowing what the story’s going to be about. This summer I found myself having once again done this, with a 15K queer horror story to write, a deadline fast approaching, and a screen as blank as my mind.
I actually find it had to convey how stuck I was. I spent the whole of a Sunday making compote as avoidance therapy, while listening to my favourite album (the cast recording of the recent Sweeney Todd stage production). I had no ideas at all. I went and moaned in my online writers group, where we all firmly agreed I just needed to think of one damn thing and if—
Sorry, wait, hang on, shut up. Did you say Sweeney Todd?
A lot of people will tell you Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who murders people and makes them into pies, is either a folk myth like Robin Hood, or a real person like Jack the Ripper. But Sweeney was a literary creation, from an amazingly weird, dark and horrific early Victorian pulp tale called The String of Pearls, serialised weekly in 1846-7. This Sweeney is an unrepentant murderer, nothing like the wronged man driven to insanity in the Stephen Sondheim musical.
Sondheim repurposes a lot of the original tale’s characters, as so many people have over the years in adaptations. Johanna, the brave and determined heroine of The String of Pearls, becomes a helpless victim in the musical, confined to a lunatic asylum by an abusive judge (as happens to a different woman in the book). Sondheim invents a young romantic hero, Anthony, rather than using the original love interest, Mark Ingestrie, a man gone to the bad and presumed dead who is imprisoned by Todd to make the famous pies. Mark’s role as victim is taken in the musical by a boy, Toby, who also works for Todd in the book. The book uses as investigator a character ignored by Sondheim, Colonel Jeffery, seeking his friend who was murdered by Todd. (And when I say friend, they are specifically said in the book to have had an “almost romantic friendship… Thornhill made the colonel’s breast the repository of all his thoughts and all his wishes, and a freedom of intercourse and a community of feeling ensued between then, which, when it does take place between persons of really congenial dispositions, produces the most delightful results of human companionship.” Draw your own conclusions.)
The original Sweeney Todd is a brilliant read. The musical is one of my all time favourites; I’ve seen four different stage productions. The whole story has been reconfigured again and again by different writers with different preoccupations, taking the elements and characters, rolling the dice. What the hell, it was my turn. I bet my writing group a pot of freshly made compote that I couldn’t come up with a queered version of Sweeney Todd, and had a full plot and two thousand words by lunchtime the next day.
Just like Sondheim and everyone else, I repurposed the characters. So Johanna’s friend Arabella Wilmot became her lover; Colonel Jeffrey remains an investigator with a missing man to find; Johanna’s lost, wretched love Mark takes on a new role. I resurrected a brilliant piece of London history about the liberty of Alsatia, an area where the laws didn’t apply for the story, and I rewrote the British Empire while I was at it, because why the hell not.
And I had the soundtrack of Sweeney Todd in my head all the time, whispering, threatening, shrieking.
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
He served a dark and a vengeful god
What happened then, well, that’s the play
And he wouldn’t want us to give it away
Not Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street.
(Those who know the musical may pick up a few Sondheim quotes in the story. Happy spotting!)
About All in Fear Anthology
Company by Roan Parrish
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous . . . and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.
Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Palmer’s life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he’s found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.
When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.
How could he have possibly been so stupid?
The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?
His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?
Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:
REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]
ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.
Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.
Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.
Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.
Steve Berman: Steve Berman loves to tell stories that are both queer and weird. He was a Zeta Psi back in his college days at and remembers being hazed. He survived and graduated and even earned a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies. He has written and sold over a hundred articles, essays, and short stories. His YA novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award.
Find out more at Steve’s Website.
KJ Charles: KJ Charles is a writer and freelance editor. She lives in London with her husband, two kids, and a cat with murder management issues. KJ writes mostly historical romance, mostly queer, often with fantasy or horror in there.
Find her on Twitter, pick up book info and free reads on her website, get the infrequent newsletter at kjcharleswriter.com/newsletter, or join her Facebook group, KJ Charles Chat, for sneak peeks and exclusives.
Avon Gale: Avon Gale wrote her first story at the age of seven, about a “Space Hat” hanging on a rack and waiting for that special person to come along and purchase it — even if it was a bit weirder than the other, more normal hats. Like all of Avon’s characters, the space hat did get its happily ever after — though she’s pretty sure it was with a unicorn. She likes to think her vocabulary has improved since then, but the theme of quirky people waiting for their perfect match is still one of her favorites.
Avon grew up in the southern United States, and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal midwestern college town. When she’s not writing, she’s either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together, already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert and will never say no to candy.
At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.
Roan Parrish: Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.
Sign up for her Newsletter to receive updates about new releases, works-in-progress, and bonus materials like sneak peeks and extra scenes! Find out more on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Kris Ripper: Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a little kid, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns because they’re freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.
J.A. Rock: J.A. Rock is the author or coauthor of over twenty LGBTQ romance, suspense, and horror novels, as well as an occasional contributor to HuffPo Queer Voices. J.A. has received Lambda Literary and INDIEFAB Award nominations for Minotaur, and The Subs Club received the 2016 National Leather Association-International Pauline Reage Novel Award. J.A. lives in Chicago with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.