Josh Rountree is joining us today to talk about his short story collection, Fantastic Americana: Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Yesterday . . . a giant lost himself in America, forever running from the supernatural killers who pursued him, and a witch formed one last spell in hopes of resurrecting her murdered son.
Today . . . a desperate mother bargains with wolves, and a man frozen in memories chases a magic portal that might finally lead him to his true love.
Tomorrow . . . survivors of the apocalypse will hunt deadly dirt angels, and an escaped artificial intelligences will relive the Cold War until the very end of the universe.
Travel an American landscape of endless highways, video stores that never close, and lonesome cabins stalked by nightmares. Josh Rountree’s second collection gathers fifteen years of stories, including two originals never before published.
What’s Josh’s favorite bit?
For me, it always comes down to music.
When I’m driving down a backroad highway somewhere in the middle of the night, I want to hear Hank Williams coming from the speakers. When I’m a little sad and broken, Otis Redding can make me believe everyone else feels the same way. When I’m angry and wishing the world was a better place than it is, I’m probably cranking The Clash at maximum volume.
And when I’m looking for inspiration, chasing down a story in my mind that I can’t quite seem to catch, I listen to music, and the words come out of hiding.
So, when I went searching for my favorite bit in Fantastic Americana – a tall task in a short story collection that runs the gamut of dark fantasy, horror, science fiction, and alternate histories – I fell into the undercurrent of music that runs through nearly all of these stories, and realized the music is what means the most to me.
Music is my favorite thing. I like it even more than books, and trust me, I like books a lot.
It’s not always right there on the page. Most of these stories make no mention of blues guitar players or power pop anthems, but nearly all of them are chasing some feeling that eludes me. I listen to a song, soak up everything about the way that song makes me feel, and I try to put that feeling on the page.
This never works, at least not in the way I want it to. I always fall short, because you just can’t capture real music on the page.
But maybe you can get close.
In spite of myself, the characters start to listen. They raise their cigarette lighters in the air and sing along with heavy metal ballads, holding hands with the person about to break their heart. They feel the steady backbeat rhythm of four balding tires on a westward highway and they ride it all the way to the end. Some of them hear rattlesnakes singing for the end of the world, and others close their ears when the muse tells them things they don’t want to hear.
There is music in a quiet hill country haunted by werewolves, and music in the sound of a rocket ship disappearing into the heavens, taking everything you love away from you.
Even when the characters can’t hear it, I can.
In some cases, the music is right there on the page. I read enough music biographies every year to stock a grocery store spinner rack, and a lot of their subjects end up as characters. Like when John Lennon leaves his mates behind in England so he can start a band with Western Swing legend Bob Wills, or when Hank Williams helps Albert Einstein defect to the Republic of Texas.
And like “Fury’s Hour,” a story where the reincarnation of Joe Strummer rages against the specter of twenty-first century fascism. In that one, music is more than a flavor. It’s the driving force. It’s the blood pumping through the veins of every sentence.
That’s me asking if music can really make a difference in the world, and I’m going to answer yes to that question every time.
Music helps us fall in love and it heals us when we’re hurt. It binds our memories close to us and sets a path we can follow that leads to someplace better than here. And for those of us who write and hold music dear, it can inspire us to invest something deeper and more meaningful in our stories.
All we have to do is listen.
Josh Rountree has published over 60 stories in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Realms of Fantasy, Bourbon Penn, Polyphony 6, PseudoPod, PodCastle, Daily Science Fiction, and A Punk Rock Future. A handful of them have received honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Wheatland Press published a collection of his rock and roll themed fantasy fiction, Can’t Buy Me Faded Love, in 2008. Fantastic Americana: Stories is his second collection. Josh lives somewhere in the untamed wilds of Texas with his wife and children.