The story of my book: The Great Unknown
While I was writing my thesis I’d get hooked on different TV series and watch episodes at night while my partner was at work. I managed to turn my Simpsons marathons into a chapter in my exegesis, and it was while watching the original series of The Twilight Zone that the book The Great Unknown was born. We can also thank social media.
I tweeted one night about entering the Zone and Bronwyn Mehan, the publisher at Spineless Wonders, told me she’d always wanted to put together an anthology based on the show. I wrote straight back to let her know I would be so keen to edit such an anthology. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve really fallen in love with Rod Serling’s spooky – and often overtly political – masterpiece of a show, but I remember clearly my first introduction to it, on the ‘Tower of Terror’ ride at Disney MGM Studios when I was 10 years old.
You wait in line outside the crumbling Hollywood Tower Hotel, left in its ‘original state’ since a spooky incident in 1939. Inside, you enter an elevator which takes you up several floors. Here, the elevator moves forward, through a hotel hallway, complete with morning newspapers and room service trays. The elevator rises further; I recall a series of strange visions and apparitions—a ticking clock, a ghostly family, stars—while that famous music played. And then Rod Serling invites you to enter the fifth dimension.
Then, you drop. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating.
Like Serling, I’m interested in what fear can tell you, and how a peek into the ‘unknown’ can broaden the possibilities of your imagination.
While the authors in our anthology were encouraged to take inspiration from the Zone (particularly using the strange, the spooky and the futuristic to reflect aspects of contemporary society), they were also influenced by other retro and new texts where mysterious things happen (from The X-Files to Stephen King’s novels). Since Bronwyn and myself are also passionate about Australian literature, we decided the stories should each also have some connection to Oz. It is, after all, a rich setting for the strange and macabre, and an interesting (perhaps, at this time, horrifying?) place to reflect on socially and culturally.
I requested power and Bronwyn was very kind to give it. So I invited some of my favourite writers to contribute stories, from Paddy O’Reilly to Ali Alizadeh, Krissy Kneen, Kathy Charles, AS Patric and many more—and the rest came through the Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award, which I also judged. The invited authors were chosen because I know they can tell a story, and many of them explore dark, mysterious or forward-thinking themes in their work, though often subtly. I also commissioned the cover images from Archibald-shortlisted artist Michael Vale.
I’ve been travelling this year, so I carried the stories and submissions throughout England and Scotland, and finalised the competition around the time I was chairing panels at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I have been spooked, impressed, and truly creeped-out in two hemispheres and all the way across the ocean. Alex Cothren emerged as the winner of the Carmel Bird Award, with his excellent (and very TZ-esque) near-future story, and I was so excited to hear that The Great Unknown will be his first publication.
Being the editor of a fiction anthology is an incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve read the stories and I think they’re a fantastic (in both senses of the word) blend, from abandoned motels to reality shows, children and animals with too much knowledge, haunted sat-navs and empathy machines, night time visions and haunted words. They’re fun, they’ll give you shivers, and some of them will reveal more layers later on when you’re lying in bed trying to get to sleep…
Angela Meyer is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer. You can find her at literaryminded.com.au.