In our new author series, we’ll be offering a clairvoyant peek behind the veil of who and what makes up TRANSCENDENT. Here’s a glimpse at M.C. St. John and his story “In Comes the Cold.”
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
“In Comes the Cold” came from my own apartment, a well-maintained unit from the 1920s. There are steam radiators in nearly every room, and since the winters in Chicago can be pretty brutal, they turn on at odd hours of the day. They sometimes make a sound like air escaping a hot air balloon, a happy, almost joyful, sound. Other times, though, they sound like the last breath of a dying animal—and those tend to happen in the middle of the night while I’m half-asleep in bed. That sound was what got me thinking about a story, set in the past, when radiators were a fairly novel invention. When the characters starting talking to me in British accents, I knew that the setting was overseas at the turn of the last century. I followed Bernard, the main character, from there.
Did you have to do any research? If so, what kind? What did you learn?
I did do some research, and most of it was through my trusted research assistant, Google. Despite it being such a writer’s crutch, the internet does provide some handy breakdowns of steam heating technology from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (not to mention some great images of the hardware). After getting the basics behind the mechanics, I sat down to write without looking back. A writer needs enough information to ground the story, and that’s it, in my opinion. Additional factoids about steam radiators would get in the way of the Gothic tale I wanted to tell. Speaking of which, I pulled Poe, the Gothic writer with a capital G, from my mental library as I wrote, too.
Can you tell me a little bit about your protagonist?
Bernard is an everyman in this story, one who does something very wrong in a morally ambiguous situation. Funny enough, I was thinking of Martin Freeman’s performance in Fargo, one of the things he’s been in where he is not playing a British character. For Bernard, I saw a bit of the same sheepishness but with a little more passion just below the surface. When the anger comes out for Bernard, he commits to it. Only afterward does he understand the consequences of what he’s done, but by then it may already be too late. What fascinated me was what lengths a decent man would go to save his family, himself, and his sanity—and in that order.
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
Never underestimate human behavior. People have more layers than what we give them credit for. Readers will empathize with Bernard and his desperate actions because they could see themselves doing some version of what he does in the story. Feeling a beating heart behind a gruesome action complicates matters, but it’s also closer to real life—there is a gray scale between the labels of wrong and right we’re taught about as children.
Which phrase are you most proud of in this story?
There is a particular line I enjoy that also is not in any way a spoiler for the story. It’s a description of the connections that enable Bernard to rent a room at the Crawford estate: “The housekeeper knew Bernard as the great nephew of an old friend from church, which was to say Miss Landers hardly knew him, if only in stories over tea in the sanctuary.” The line is stage dressing to the plot, but the delivery was British enough to tickle me. I knew then I was falling into the rhythm of the story.
If your story was front-page news, what would the headline be?
Man warms flat with human misery for family’s survival! Cold-hearted or warm-blooded?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Since I’m defining “best” as “smartest” here, I’d say the first package of 4×6 yellow legal pads I bought. They’re a step up in size from the ones the old-school news reporters used to slip out of their coat pockets to jot down a quote during a press briefing. When I write longhand, which is often, I write in those yellow legal pads. They’ve kept me composing ever since.
If you had to put your name on someone else’s book/story, which would it be and why?
It’s criminal how easily I would put my name on Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. As a midwest writer in love with science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I owe most of my development to the supernova that is Mr. Bradbury’s work, particularly that collection of short stories. I fell in love with the darkness and poetry of those stories—their hope, too. Bradbury has always been my favorite magician on the page, and as I’ve gotten older, my love of his words has only grown deeper.
When did you decide to take writing seriously?
The easy answer is to say my entire life, but that’s not true. I’ve been really working on the craft of writing for about four years now, when I started finishing stories, editing them until they were good, and having publications want to show them to readers. I find the excitement and joy of writing is in the blue-collar rhythm of it. I appreciate the grind more as an older writer.
If you could choose a single superpower, what would it be and why?
For a multitude of reasons, I wish I had the power to slow down time. The one reason I’ll mention is the selfish one: to be able to write more.
M.C. St. John is a Chicago writer. His work has been published in After Hours Press, Aphelion, Chicago Literati, Ink in Thirds, Literary Orphans, Maudlin House, Quail Bell Magazine, Transmundane Press, Word Branch, Unbroken Journal, and Vignette Review. He is the author of the short story collection Other Musicand the e-book FewBlox. Follow him on Instagram under the handle @MC_StJohn.