I just read a Tweet by a writer whose profile includes the fact that one of his stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Pushcart is an award given to small press publishers every year for stories deemed to have some literary merit. And it reminded me that I had a story nominated for a Pushcart once, and being the shy modest guy I am I never mentioned it to anyone. But that was then and this is now. Now I realize in this day of total self promotion you cannot pass up any opportunity to let the world know everything about you that’s worth knowing. And so here’s the tale of the story that was nominated for a Pushcart but didn’t win.
It was 2013 and Miles Boothe, editor/publisher of Emby Press nominated my short story, “The Shape of a Cage” for one of those Pushcarts. “Cage” is the story of monster hunter Mordecai Slate’s battle to retain his identity after he’s bitten by a werewolf, and for a while, turned into something halfway between human and wolf. It’s also the story about cages. Slate finds himself trapped in a cage in a traveling carnival. The surface level of the story focuses on how he can escape his imprisonment and get rid of the half of him that’s a wolf.
Through other characters, however, he learns there are all kinds of cages people can find themselves trapped in. Slate gets help from an Apache medicine man and a girl who does a mermaid act in the carnival. The girl claims she once swam with mermaids in the sea but is now trapped on dry land by the owner of the carnival. An Apache medicine man is trapped by the government on a barren reservation from which there is no escape. The two of them, separately, try to help Slate escape from the cage that his own body has become.
The story first appeared in Emby Press’s Use Enough Gun, Legends of the Monster Hunter III. It’s a Jim Dandy collection of stories about monster hunters in different eras and locales that includes stories by Joshua Reynolds, Rob Pegler, Marc Sorondo and about nineteen others. It’s also now included in Flying W Press’s Hunting Monsters Is My Business, which is a complete collection of the Mordecai Slate tales written so far.
You may think it’s a little late to be mentioning this now, and kind of pointless, especially since I didn’t get an award. But I just want to say it is really encouraging to a writer when someone recognizes the value of what you’re writing, that what you are trying to do is more than just produce slice and dice horror/action fiction. When that someone is your editor it means a lot. So, even though there was no prize, I just want to say thanks to Miles for nominating it. As they say, winning isn’t everything. But from now on, don’t forget, folks, “Here he is, Pushcart-nominated author, John M. Whalen! Let’s hear it for him!”