I've often asked myself, where do writers come up with the ideas for their stories and if posed with the same idea, would different writers eventually come up with the same tale. Brian James Freeman takes that idea on in a new compilation from Cemetery Dance Publications. In the tenth volume of their Signature Series, six authors are shown a piece of art by Alan M. Clark and asked to write a short story based on what they see in the artwork. The final outcome is Dueling Minds, a compilation of horror tales edited by Brian James Freeman and illustrated by Erin S. Wells.
In the introduction by Brian James Freeman, we learn that the idea for this sort of writing project is not new. In fact, it was the basis of Freeman's now defunct webzine DuelingMinds.com, which featured four or five stories based upon the same piece of artwork. The idea was to give the readers insight into how the way an author interprets or is inspired by something can bring about a very different tale when the same object of inspiration or interpretation is placed before another author.
The only similar aspects of the stories in this anthology are the fact that there are balloons in the tale and that they all involve some sort of horror or supernatural aspect. In the first tale, Purple Reign by Brian Keene, the balloon is a bomber of sorts, a carrier for a chemical that alters the minds of the inhabitants it is unleashed upon. In Bargain by Gary A Braunbeck, the balloon is a means of travel for sold souls. Between the Dark and the Daylight by Tom Piccirilli, the balloon is the means to a disastrous death and the vengeance of the insane mind that was a means to the horrific end.
In Falling Off the World by Tim Lebbon, the balloon is a sentient thing, capturing people at will. Although the individuals it captures may believe they are helpless, this particular balloon's captive's stronger mind yields another option - a freedom only the strongest of minds could take advantage of. In That Which Binds by Jenny Orosel, the balloon is the site of a love lost, hopes dashed and suicidal tendencies. In The Breath of Bygone Spirits by Gerard Houarner, the balloon is a ways and means for spirits to be carried off and put to rest.
Each of the tales are captivatingly written and beautifully illustrated. My favorites are the straight up horror found in Purple Reign and Between the Dark and the Daylight and the haunting tale of That Which Binds. My least favorite tale was The Breath of Bygone Spirits in which the main focus of the painting doesn't make its appearance until the end of the tale. When it does appear, it is not as a hot air balloon as in the picture, but as a regular helium balloon that expands in size until it grows to become as large as a hot air balloon. Perhaps the author's vision of a spirit locked inside was brought about by the skull-like features on the balloon and the glowing spot at the very bottom of the balloon. Either way, the balloon inspired this author to go in a completely different direction that most of the writers in this anthology.
Dueling Minds does exactly what it set out to do: show how, given a single piece of artwork, each author approached will come up with a different interpretation of what is going on in that artwork and be inspired to write vastly differing tales from one author to the next. This anthology makes for an interesting study and one that I thoroughly enjoyed - especially when I came up with my own idea as to what the balloon was and what intentions lay beneath its flight. Dueling Minds is a great addition to the Cemetery Dance Publications Signature Series. I would recommend it to any fan of the written word, especially aspiring writers out there who might want to try their own hand at interpreting Alan M. Clark's artwork.