Interview: Al Michaud, on "The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D."
Al Michaud–author of “The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D.,” which appears in our June 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is the tale of a hapless lobsterman who finds himself the subject of a horribly objective haunting. "His haunter isn’t just any old ghost, either — she’s the most fabled phantom of local legend, a centuries-old decapitated young lady known in folkloric circles as ‘the Silent Woman,’" Michaud said. "For reasons that elude him, Clem discovers that he and the headless gal have virtually tied the knot, so with the help of his best man — a clam-digging buddy of his from way back — he begins the quest to annul this blissless wedlock and permanently uncouple himself from his otherworldly significant other. Along the way he makes new friends and incurs new enemies, some with agendas misaligned with his own."
The story idea grew out of Michaud’s longtime interest in haunting cases that are alleged to be true. "My bookshelves are weighted down with that kind of stuff — some are very obscure cases, while others are more in the mainstream, with Amityville Horror likely being the most recognizable of the lot," he said. "From reading such accounts I began to wonder what it would be like to escape one of these supernaturally-diseased houses only to discover that the place had never been infested at all — it was you who was playing host to the paranormal parasite! I placed the concept in a humorous framework that I’d used before and the story wrote itself from there."
The protagonist of the story, Clem Crowder, previously appeared in two other of Michaud’s stories published in F&SF (“Clem Crowder’s Catch” and “Ayuh, Clawdius”). "Clem Crowder is a lobster-fisherman who resides on a small island off the coast of Maine," Michaud said. "You’ve probably seen Clem on the packaging for Gorton’s Fish Sticks, but don’t let that fool you: he’s put on weight since that picture was snapped, and years of continual browbeating by the persnickety Mrs. Crowder have given him an ineffaceable hangdog look. His life is best described as ‘one damn thing after another.’"
Michaud said that the story was not personal in any meaningful way, other than the amusement he gained from writing it. "Hopefully the reader can experience that fun along with me," he said. "My fiction aspires to nothing more than straightforward entertainment."
The research for the story was minimal, but Michaud does draw heavily from his background as far as characterization and theme are concerned. "Though I currently reside in the heart of Dixie, I was born and bred in the more northerly reaches of New England," he said. "That corner of the world stands solidly on two traditions. One is the horror story, which has been a major export of the region through a whole slew of authors from H. P. Lovecraft to Stephen King. The other is a peculiar brand of drollery sustained by provincial raconteurs — mostly from Maine and Vermont –generally known as ‘down-east humorists.’ I try to incorporate both of these longstanding traditions into my repertoire when writing a Clem Crowder story."
Michaud said that he’s afraid more horrors (and laughs) are in store for Clem Crowder and his cohabitants: He’s currently writing three new adventures with several more in the works.
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