Mysterious woman looking out on the coastline

The Harbor-Mistress: short story out now at Cosmic Horror Monthly

I have a new short story out! It’s called The Harbor-Mistress, and it’s been published by Cosmic Horror Monthly in their July edition. To celebrate its release, I wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at the origins of this short story. Think of it like a director’s commentary if you will.

The Harbor-Mistress is a feminist retelling of Robert W. Chambers’ original weird fiction classic, The Harbor Master. The story is in the public domain, and it was written in the early 20th century. Chambers is famous for a little book called The King in Yellow. You might have heard of it…

But he’s also known for inventing strange sea creatures, which have influenced everything from the Creature from the Black Lagoon to Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.

Why a feminist retelling? The original story kind of got me pretty frustrated, actually. I read it and while I can recognise it’s a classic of weird fiction, there’s only one woman in the story. While she’s a talking character, she’s only ever referred to as pretty nurse. So, in my story, the women of Black Harbor don’t have names. I wanted to explore this concept with the nameless main protagonist. She goes by Harbor Mistress, and she looks after all the ships at Black Harbor. When a man comes to the harbor in search of a rare animal called an auk, the Harbor Mistress must help him. Meanwhile, she uncovers something fishy is going on – literally fishy.

She’s also an atypical female character. She smokes a pipe and chooses not to wear stays. At the time I’d been writing the story, I’d been reading about Mary Anning. She’s actually the first person to discover the plesiosaur and the pterosaur in the UK, and was an amateur female palaeontologist at a time where women were excluded from science.

She wandered the coast of Lyme Regis, which is now known as the Jurassic Coast, looking for fossils to pay the bills. She was unrecognised for her contributions to science at the time, but since then, people have recognised the huge contributions she made as an amateur palaeontologist.

After reading about Anning, I had this mental picture of a woman wandering the coastline looking for fossils. It was this combination of fossils, feminism, and early 20th century fiction, which combined to make the story The Harbor-Mistress.

This story was also a study in perseverance. I wrote this story back in 2019 and I tried a few markets to get it published. But then, the pandemic happened, and a lot of family stuff was going on. So, I really didn’t send out a lot of stories in 2020, but I’m so glad it’s found a home at Cosmic Horror Monthly.

You can get a copy of the magazine here.