Publisher: STORGY Books | Release Date: April 1, 2019 | Pages: 400 pages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Naomi Booth and publisher Storgy were contacted by Mallum Colt, the proprietor of Shallow Creek’s local curiosity shop, to collect all of the strange accounts in his town. What they delivered was Shallow Creek, an anthology featuring 21 stories covering all aspects of life in this creepy coastal community. It’s one of the most ambitious anthologies I’ve seen in a very long time, and while there were a few hiccups along the way, the end product is something magical to behold.
Storgy held a competition in 2018, with Naomi Booth as judge, for authors to take a crack at building the mythology of the fictional town Shallow Creek. Authors were given a map, some information on the citizens and locations of the town, then let loose. Stories range from character studies, to bizarre events, to legends, to cosmic tales. While each story isn’t connected, what we get is this very complete story of Shallow Creek, with Booth and Storgy as the architects, weaving characters and locations through the 21 different authors’ stories. You could almost think of it as a single author’s book simply due to the continuity of all the players, yet the truth is everyone wrote what they wanted to tell and the overall story is that much richer. It’s an amazing feat that I was constantly awed by.
However, there were some stories that didn’t work for me. I found a number of them were so focused on world-building and playing within Shallow Creek that they became too dependent on the theme. If you took the story out of the anthology and tried to put it anywhere else, it wouldn’t stand on its own. I noticed this the most when I reached the end of a story and it felt more like a chapter of a novel. This is the hard part when it comes to something so interconnected, the stories come across as incomplete or like we as the reader are missing something. The stories were fun to read, and they usually did a great job building the mythology of Shallow Creek, yet as a stand alone story left something to be desired.
With all of that said, looking at the anthology as a whole, I loved it. The connective tissue between all of the stories adds a whole new depth to everything you are reading. I constantly found myself flipping back and forth, a big smile on my face, as I confirmed the main character of one story had a line or two a few stories back. It’s almost like someone took the whole Stephen King connected universe concept and condensed it down to 21 short stories. You’ll quickly find yourself sucked in to it all and wondering when and how someone is going to pop up next.
The stories themselves almost seem to build on themselves, not quite in sequential order, but like a fourth dimensional view that you can scroll through. They give us a progression of madness that was rooted in the past and let loose in the present. We are introduced to Krinkles the Clown and his cereal that has more than addictive sugar in it. The ocean and creek is a constant danger in town, calling citizens out to its murky depths or revealing the evils buried beneath. The police department has a knack for being in the middle of multiple strange occurrences. Then there is the fairgrounds and asylum, which as we know, are always sources for trouble. Each author adds their voice to these people and locations to make them their own yet somehow a believable part of the same town.
There are a lot of amazing authors in the table of contents that it would be hard to pick who to highlight. Since this was a competition I think it’s okay to at least point the three winners out. J. Stuart Croskell was the third place winner with Dave Danvers’ Final Foray Into All Things Woo Woo, the opener to the anthology and maybe the start of all the trouble for Shallow Creek. Daniel Carpenter won second place with his story Arrowhead, a haunting story about the hunt for plastic toys that come from cereal boxes. Our first place winner, Brian Wilson, brought us a haunting and sad story about the worst thing you could lose as a father in Distraction.
It’s also worth mentioning that each story is accompanied by a piece of beautiful artwork. Michael To found the essence of the story and captured it in some amazing black and white drawings. I loved looking at them and trying to figure out what the story was about.
Shallow Creek is a place that you’ve heard whispered on the wind, the urban legend hidden in dark alleys, the name breaking through the static between commercials. Storgy, Booth, and the 21 authors all took a trip to that haunted town and came back with a tale. And while a couple of the stories might have stumbled a little, as a whole, this is a stand out anthology that’ll have you wishing we had more like it.