My Brain Wears A Black Hat


And she that sat him’s name was Imagination. (Photo credit: Kevin Zollman)

My head is full of frontiers.

I put this down to the countless hours I spent watching science fiction and western movies with my dad back when I was a much smaller terror than I am now. All those towns with a single dusty street, all those galaxies beyond the edge of known space.* And all the characters that are made by those settings: the hard ones, the daring ones, the abject cowards and the morally questionable.**

This comes out in my writing, I think. Looking back at a lot of my stories, I notice a trend. The ones I love best tend to take place on borders of some kind. Occasionally they occur within the confines of a larger setting—a modern city, for example—but the main action always happens somewhere outside of the light, like the lawless confines of a hidden underground dog fighting ring. Places where normal morality has been suspended.

And now that I’ve recognized this, I’ve taken a fresh look at some of the stories I’ve been stuck on. You know the ones: they just didn’t work out and you’ve got no fucking clue why. They died of Story SIDS. But now I’m thinking that maybe a few tweaks of setting might breathe new and terrifying life into them.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has a place inside their head. All writers do. Maybe yours is an ancient city, steeped in history and corruption, layered in beauty and horror and fabulous inventions and terrible crimes. Maybe it’s the cozy confines of a small town, its casual simplicity overlaid with a Byzantine tracery of friends and neighbours and obligations and old secrets. Maybe it’s the clinical sterility of a spaceship or a lab or an institution. Or the broken post-apocalyptic landscape. Somewhere, there’s a place where your imagination feels at home.

So, what would we see if we cracked open your mind? Where does your imagination put its clawed feet up and relax?

Mine’s riding into some wild dead-end town right now, magic and horror following behind.

*Not hard to see why I love Firefly, is it?
**I’m aware that variants of these appear in almost all settings, but in the frontier, there’s much less accountability. There might be a token of the law, sometimes embodied by the character themselves, but ultimately they have to make choices based on what they can live with at the end of the day. It makes for strong protagonists, if often damaged ones.