Uncovering the Dreamquest Beast

(For fans and friends voting in the Critters Readers Poll, you can scroll down to instructions at the bottom of the post)

Discover the story behind the strange obsession of Camelot’s strangest knight.

Two volumes of “Camelot vs. Cthulhu?”
You know you want it.

As an author, the two things I hang my proverbial hat on are Arthurian mythology (via my Bel Nemeton series) and Mythos-infused historical fiction. So, when 18th Wall Productions put out a call for “Camelot vs. Cthulhu” stories for an upcoming anthology, I knew I had to be involved.

As it turns out, 18th Wall got so many quality submissions that the resulting anthology, Shadows Over Avalon, encompasses two volumes, both edited by the ever superb Nicole Petit. Volume I focus on tales of traditional Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and it’s filled with names who do not disappoint, such as Simon Bucher-Jones, Edward Erdelac, and Josh Reynolds. Volume II channels Lovecraft’s other side, stories of shifting perceptions and realities, fantastical journeys, and dreams. There, you will find my novella “The Dreamquest Beast” along with stories by worthy authors such as Georgia Cook, Kara Dennison, Lukasz Furmaniak, Sophie Iles, and C.L. Werner.

“The Dreamquest Beast” is a non-canonical story set in my Bel Nemeton universe (leading my beloved wife to observe “So, you’re writing your own fanfic now?”).

Taking place a generation before the start of Bel Nemeton, when Arthur is an infant and Merlin still known as “The Wanderer,” northern Britain bakes under an unending drought unlike any in memory. As brave warriors and shield maidens take up the quest to discover what afflicts the land and set matters to right, the would-be champions invariably fail and fall. After the quest claims his much loved older brother, Prince Pelinyr (or “Pellinore” in more contemporary renderings) of Damnonia becomes the unlucky 13th to take up the challenge.

“So, you’re writing your own fanfic now?”

My wife (who, and I say this not only because it’s true but also because she may be reading this, is my biggest fan)

On the surface an unlikely hero, Pelinyr has all his life been plagued by nightmares and strange occurrences surrounding his dreams. In this desperate endeavor, he is joined by his friends: the gregarious Prince Cynfarch of Gorre, the clever Prince Tuadel of Alclud, and Jana, Pelinyr’s childhood playmate, now a shunned sorcerer and seer haunting a cursed Roman amphitheater. Together, the four will cross the wild frontier into the kingdoms of the dreaded Saxons before descending through a black tower without name or builder into the land of dreams themselves.

Once in the Dreamlands, the challenges and dangers only grow. The company will meet gods, battle monsters, take caravans into deadly jungles and endless deserts, pour over tablets written in unearthly tongues, and solve riddles that are a matter of life of death for the companions and for millions back in the waking world.

The Questing Beast drinks from a river (perhaps the good, strong Adamandara) – illustration by Arthur Rackham (1917)

Pelinyr has always been one of my favorite members of the Round Table as well as, to me, one of the most fascinating. Along with Galahad and Percival, he is one of the knights that is “touched” in a way Arthuriana usually reserves for its Druids/Magicians/Whatever you want to call them. For Galahad and Percival, that mania is clearly religious in nature. With Pelinyr, however, its source is never clearly defined. Certainly, it seems to be connected with the “Questing Beast,” the strange creature which he is sworn to follow but which only he can see – but whether the beast is a cause or effect of Pelinyr’s madness is unknown.

This characterization of Pelinyr is surprisingly consistent throughout Arthuriana: from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, where it is implied he is afflicted by his relation to the Fisher King, to the eccentric and slightly senile figure of T.E. White’s Once and Future King.

This aspect of Pelinyr has been incorporated into my Bel Nemeton series. Pelinyr is a minor yet significant figure in the second book, Caledfwlch. The book opens with a friendly duel between Arthur and Pelinyr, as Merlin looks on and frets about Pelinyr’s instability manifesting during the combat. And Caledflwch ends with, in a fit of inspiration, Pelinyr being the one who finds the true name of Arthur’s new blade and becoming the first significant British noble to pledge fealty to Arthur.

So, the idea of “Dreamquest Beast” (a kind of titular portmanteau of Arthuriana’s “Questing Beast” and Lovecraft’s “Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”) as a thought-experiment exploring how Bel Nemeton’s Pelinyr “got that way” and the origins of the Questing Beast was extremely appealing. Like many previous authors, scholars, and artists, I connect the Questing Beast with the mythical creature known as the camelopardus or camelopardalis. Additionally, I thought it would fun to take two of the foils from Caledfwlch (both based on historical 6th century British rulers), make them Pelinyr’s boon companions in “Dreamquest,” and explore the roots of their own transitions from friend to foil.

I am Cameleopardus
From the Serpent, Master of Cunning, comes my Head.
From the Leopard, Lord of Fleetness, is taken my Body
From the Lion, King of Bravery, are drawn my Haunches
From the Hart, Emperor of Virtue, are given my Feet.
And from Sacrifice, I take Breath and Mind and Life

The Riddle of the Questing Beast, from “Dreamquest Beast”

As a writer, I’ve dropped elements of Lovecraft and the Mythos into my stories dozens of times. Doing it with “Dreamquest,” perhaps because I was cutting from the whole cloth of the Dreamlands rather than picking and choosing an element or two for what was essentially my own world, was different. I felt a tremendous sense of pressure, even obligation, to be “good enough” and “get it right.” For all that, it was enormously exciting, one of the most exciting things I’ve done as an author, both to be able to use my favorite elements of the Dreamlands and to add more than a few things of my own.

I also peppered “Dreamquest Beast” with Easter eggs, weaving in nods and shout-outs to stories, myths, and legends from Herodotus to Jim Henson, which also play with the dreamlike, the surreal, or the radically fantastic. Likewise, I endeavored to keep things fresh by occasionally using established Mythos creatures without naming them or renaming them in accordance with cultures involved in the stories (such as using the Saxon “barrow wights” for Lovecraft’s ghouls).

Play along at home! Use this card to track the Easter eggs, shout outs, and obscure references I’ve tucked into “Dreamquest Beast.”

As part of giving “Dreamquest Beast” a distinctive and appropriate atmosphere, I also played with the language of the story. For those of you familiar with my other work, no part of “Dreamquest” is quite in my usual authorial voice. In the first and third acts, taking place in the waking world of 6th century Britain, I have leaned hard into the conventions of epic poetry. For the second act, occuring in the Dreamlands, I have attempted to channel the distinctive language Lovecraft used in the Dream Cycle.

I am very gratified that “Dreamquest,” despite only being released in December, has already been nominated for “Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Short Story of 2022” in the Critters Readers Poll. For fans and friends interesting in supporting me, I’ve included directions for voting below:

  • Go here
  • Scroll down until you find “The Dreamquest Beast / Jon Black / 18th Wall Productions and then tick the circle
  • Scroll down again and enter your name and email address in the appropriate fields
  • Jump through their “I’m not a bot” hoop by looking at the random book cover they show you and entering the name of its author in the appropriate field 
  • Click “Submit Vote”
  • You’ll get a confirmation email sent to you, click the link in the email to confirm your vote.

“The Dreamquest Beast,” part of Shadows Over Avalon: Volume II from 18thWall Productions, is available in paperback and ebook formats.

Caper Crusaders: The Caper/Heist in Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Beyond

I recently participated in a panel on Cross-Genre Capers: A Discussion of Capers and Heists in Fantasy and Science Fiction at ArmadilloCon. I had the honor of joining Mark Finn, Marina Lostetter and Marshall Ryan Maresca for a discussion, moderated by Lauren Teffeau.

Of course, there is never enough time on a panel to get out everything you want to say (unless you’re willing to risk becoming one of those panelists), so I thought I’d put some of my extra thoughts into a piece here.

Silver Screen Sleuths, featuring “A Scandal in Hollywood”

While capers are not my bread and butter, I do have a toe in the genre. My novelette, “A Scandal in Hollywood” is a counter-caper (see terminology, below) featuring actor Basil Rathbone stepping into the shoes of his most famous role, Sherlock Holmes, to thwart an existential threat to 1940s Tinsel Town. “Scandal” is a tongue-in-cheek love letter to Holmes and Doyle that was voted “Best Short Story of 2018 (all other genres)” in the P&E Readers Choice Poll. You can find it in the anthology Silver Screen Sleuths from 18th Wall Productions.

Speaking more to the panel’s focus, I’ve written a Weird West/light steampunk caper novella, The Clash at Crush (which my publisher assures me will be out any day now). Set against the backdrop of H.G. Wells’ War of the Words, “Clash” indulges my fondness for historical cameos with three historical figures among the caper crew and introduces an atypica wrinkle when Martian tripods inconveniently show up as the caper reaches its climax.

Obligatory Note on Terminology

It’s the Italian Job … but it is an Italian Heist or an Italian Caper?

The terms caper and heist are often used interchangeably. But is there a difference? And if so, what is it? Mark Finn posits the difference between the two is that humor is a key element of capers but mostly absent in heists. That’s a division I find both intriguing and useful, and one I continue to ponder. But the one I have used and, at least to this point, continue to use is that in a heist, the target is always a tangible object and material and the crew’s plans emphasize the physical and technological. A heist is, in essence, always a burglary – no matter how fancy. In a caper, however, the crew’s ultimate goal may or may not be a something physical, and elements of social engineering (Con jobs, impersonation, blackmail, whatever.) play a much larger role.

There is also the counter-caper story, where the antagonists are planning and executing the caper and it falls to the heroes to foil them. While one could technically subdivide this into counter-caper and counter-heist categories, I will use counter-caper to serve for both.

My Favorite SF/F Caper Canon (and Horror, too!)

There is arguably a streak of sci-fi even to many capers set in what is ostensibly the modern, mundane world. These stories often involve very-near-future, clearly-on-the-horizon technology or deploy existing technology in creative ways which sometimes stretches credibility. With so many capers showcasing talents, expertise, or technology that stretches the believable, it’s only a short hop to introducing magic and technology.

Cyberpunk’s persistent shadow economy of highly skilled experts is perfect for capers/heists.

That been said, many classic caper/heist stories explicitly fall under science fiction or fantasy:

Going all the way back to that foundational classic of the genre, Neuromancer (an assembled crew of criminals and other experts on the margins of society steal the hardcopy of downloaded consciousness), it would be difficult to find a cyberpunk story where a credible case cannot be made for it being a caper/heist.

But Sci-fi capers are not limited to the near future or the morally ambiguous confines of cyberpunk. A New Hope is rife with caper/heist elements: escaping Tatooine, helping Leia escape the Death Star, and the off-screen caper of Bothan spies acquiring plans for the Death Star (which, of course, makes Rogue One a caper story as well – and, while it may not be a great Star Wars story, it’s a good caper story).

Star Trek IV may be one of the most unique caper stories in any genre. Not only does it piggyback time travel on top of science fiction, but its heist object (a pair of humpback whales) is as distinctive as it is unforgettable.  

Star Trek IV: 60 tons of McGuffin

Speaking of Star Trek, the normally straight-laced, goody-goody Next Generation bangs out an incredibly smart, funny caper story with a healthy dose of meta in the season two episode “The Royale:” [Oversimplification Alert] The crew of The Enterprise becomes trapped in a pocket universe created by aliens based on a (fictional) caper novel also called “The Royale.” As their only sample of human culture, the aliens are under the mistaken impression that the third-rate novel reflects humanity’s preferred lifestyle. Ultimately, to escape the pocket universe, the away- team has to successfully pull off the caper referenced in the novel.

Heist Crew, Hyperborean style.

Fantasy takes to caper/heist stories very early in its history. Many of Fritz Leiber’s stories of Fafhard and The Gray Mouser revolve around capers or heists. Especially notable in this regard are “Ill Met in Lankhmar, “Jewels in the Forest,” and “Bazaar of the Bizarre.” Similar tropes can be found in Howard’s Conan stories. These are on full display with the 1982 pastiche film adaptation of Howard’s most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian, as Conan’s party (crew?) sneaks into the Snake Tower to steal a legendary jewel and then penetrates Thulsa Doom’s temple complex.

Caper Crew, Florin style.

Conan isn’t the only overlap of fantasy and caper among 80’s cinema classics. The Princess Bride is an excellent caper story (and one of the best and most endearing examples anywhere of how “assembling the crew” can become an adventure in its own right). The same, of course, can be said of William Goldmann’s original novel, though I would argue the caper flavor is more explicit in the movie than the book.  

Horror also offers us at least one noteworthy entry. Lovecraft’s “The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is a classic counter-caper narrative with diabolic antagonists Joseph Curwen and crew engaged in multiple capers: their body-snatching and necromancy ring as well as their efforts to keep the Curwen’s resurrection a secret and return him to his former glory.  Conversely, the protagonists, led by Marinus Bicknell Willet are trying to thwart those plots (at which they are ultimately successful) and preserve young Charles Dexter Ward’s life (at which they are not).

The Lord of the Stings

The author of a famous caper story?

More than a few people have argued for The Hobbit as a caper story. I respectfully disagree. True, the whole segment at the Lonely Mountain with Smaug is definitely a caper/heist. However, while that is the company’s ultimate goal, it is only a small part of the story as measured both by page count and emotional journey. It would be like a version of Oceans 11 where the main characters spend the first 90 minutes driving to the casino.

On the other hand, I see a much stronger case for Lord of the Rings as a caper story: the crew spreads out across Middle Earth using stealth, guile, magic (gadgets), and the occasional bit of muscle with the ultimate goal of sneaking the McGuffin of Power through Mordor to Mount Doom.

(Somehow, I suspect the notion that he might have written a caper story would send Tolkien spinning in this grave).

Meanwhile Back in Our World

And, because it doesn’t really seem to fit anywhere else, two my favorite non-SFF caper stories are both from the world of 90s cinema. A third comes from prime time cartoons.

“All he’s asking for is peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” Martin Bishop, Sneakers.

Sneakers (1992) has a cast that has to be seen to be believed: Robert Redford, Sydney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, and Stephen Tobolowsky (you might know him as Ned … Rhyerson!).

Hudson Hawk (1991) is admittedly a tough one to classify. It does have hints of magic (or at least alchemy) and miracles alongside a dose of clock-punk, but takes such a light touch with them that I feel it round up to a real-world, if very cinematic, reality. While technically a ‘90s film, Hudson Hawk, in all its glorious cheese, actually has more of an ‘80s aesthetic.

Two decades later, in 23rd season of The Simpsons, the episode “The Book Job” sees a motley collection of Springfield residents collaborate on a get-rich-quick scheme to publish a young adult novel, which turns into a caper when the group is screwed over by their publisher. An appearance by Neil Gaiman, playing himself as the crew’s Ringer, transforms an already strong story into something truly special.  

Why Do We Love Caper Stories (And Why Do I)? The Big Picture

At their most fundamental, caper stories are underdog stories. Crews run the gamut from lovable rogues with hearts of gold to full-blown anti-heroes in all their amoral glory. Exposition sets up social contexts in which there are perceived winners and losers, in groups and out groups, enforcers and renegades, underdogs and overlords. But caper stories play with the ambiguity and fuzzy corners of those worlds. With the right crew, a good plan, and a little bit of luck, the underdogs can come out on top. 

Definitely Underdogs and Outsider (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels)

Caper stories further endear themselves to us because, rather than brawn or superior resources, in capers the underdogs almost always triumph by being cleverer than their opponents. Most of us don’t have phenomenal strength or martial prowess among our assets, but we like to think of ourselves as clever. It’s enjoyable to see a little of ourselves in the caper crew and wonder “hey, could we do that?”

A final part of the genre’s appeal is the humor which permeates so many of these stories. This emphasis on humor serves several roles: it diffuses tension, it showcases the close relationship between members of the crew, and it gives further evidence of that all-important “cleverness.” It also underscores the underdog and “loveable rogue” nature of protagonists.

Why Do We Love Caper Stories (And Why Do I)? The Details

One of the reasons we all love Caper/Heist stories is that we know them, their tropes, their characters. But that doesn’t mean that every one of those aspects resonates with each personal equally.

For me, the most exciting part of caper stories is assembling the crew, with its rich spiderweb different and sometimes conflicting experiences, backstories, and assumptions somehow all coming together to pull off “the job.” In terms of my personal enjoyment of caper stories, the completion of crew feels like the climax of the story. Everything else is just denouement.

Another joy for me are the social interactions between the caper crew and the forces of law (order, the establishment, whatever you want to call them). That’s one reason I tend to favor caper stories with heavy social engineering/con aspect to them.

But we’re talking specifically about Capers/Heists in science fiction and fantasy. In those genres, on a meta-level, I enjoy seeing how exposition is handled (and sometimes mishandled).

When a caper/heist is set in the mundane present day, or even a well understood historical period, a lot of exposition can be omitted. Readers/viewers already understand the technology, the traps, the weapons, law enforcement, and the social and economic relationships well enough to fill in the gaps. But when the caper is sci-fi or fantasy, all those axiomatic elements are now up in the air. What does magic allow? What does new technology allow? How do law enforcement and the legal system work? What are the social and economic relationships informing the caper?

This is a challenging tightrope for authors to walk. We have to explain how all the caper tropes apply to the world in question so that the plot points feel earned and twists believable … without throwing up giant “Chekov’s Gun” red flags while doing so.

To illustrate that point by going a little ad absurdum, if an author informs us that “the three-headed hounds of Gnarr are the realm’s most fearsome guard animals but, when both moons are full in twain, the hounds are afraid of flying shrews,” the reader can safely assume that’s going to come up later. The challenge is seeding that information so that, when the crew uses the musk of flying shrews to bypass the evil Duke’s three-headed hound, it was not obvious ahead of time but still feels earned when it occurs.

On Gadgets

Gadgets are not only a major trope of caper/heist stories, they are huge part of their fun. Unless a caper story is very strong in other areas, the lack of any sort of gadgetry, technical wizardry, or Rube Goldberg-esque silliness is going to be keenly felt. However, for science fiction and fantasy capers, the challenges of exposition go double for gadgets.

More broadly, creators need to balance the sense of wonder gadgets create in a reader/viewer without leaning on them to heavily for support. I would hesitate to utilize more than one major gadget or two or three minor ones in the course of a story. The more heavily a story features gadgets, the more important it becomes to balance the narrative scales a bit. Perhaps the forces of the establishment have gadgets of their own to throw at the crew. Or maybe one of the crew’s gadgets fails, possibly in a spectacular fashion.

So … you need a gadget?

Thoughts on Writing Capers

First, to support the genre’s tropes and conventions, a certain level of social complexity and technological development in the world is required – say at least equivalent to earth’s Bronze Age. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s no way to write a Neolithic heist or a caper story involving egalitarian hunter-gatherers, but I’d love to read it, because I don’t know how you’d do it. (As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that Quest for Fire is basically a fantasy Neolithic heist story, with fire as the heist object. So maybe treat my preceding statement as a loose guideline).

As with any form of genre fiction, don’t bust your ass trying to come up with something nobody’s ever seen before, because its an almost impossible task. Rather, spend that time thinking about combining the elements you love in fresh and exciting ways. Don’t be afraid of tropes, they’re not necessarily your enemy. After all, those tropes are at the heart of the comforting feel that people seem to like about capers/heists. We know these stories and that’s a big part of why we love them.

With advanced technology and other areas of niche expertise playing such a strong role in caper stories, many authors anguish over the appropriate level of detail, research, and accuracy needed. These are valid questions but, as with so many aspects of writing, don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Write to the level you’re comfortable with. If you’re already published, you know the level your audience will enjoy. If you are not yet published, write to the level of the audience you want.

I cannot stress this enough: Unless you are a world-class expert in cryptography, information security, digital intrusion, etc., no matter how much legwork you do, you are not going to be write to a level that will satisfy every reader. If you try, you’re going to lose a lot of the people you really want, so steel yourself and ignore the handful who will never be satisfied.

Where are Capers Going?

In moderating the panel, Lauren Taffeau made there interesting observation that:

We’re going through a period in history right now where it feels like espionage and other crimes are happening right out in the open instead of all the cloak and dagger from an earlier age.

In light of those developments, Tafffeau posed the question

How have current events changed expectations for writing capers?

This is an interesting and important question, and one where I admit to not having much in the way of concrete answers. We may very well see that kind of open, smarmy malfeasance reflected in the kinds of targets caper crews go up against, using classic caper skills to hit those targets on the back end. On the other hand, it’s possible we may see crews engaging more openly as well. We could see the emergency of the “spin doctor” as a variation on the traditional “face” archetype in crews (for a rather prescient foretaste of what this could look like, check out the antihero crew of the 1997 dark comedy Wag the Dog).

Into “Pioneer House”: A Look at the Award-Winning Short Story

I’m honored that my story “Pioneer House” has been voted Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Short Story of 2021 in the annual Critters Readers’ Choice Poll. My heartfelt thanks to all the fans and friends who made this possible.

Set in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, “Pioneer House” brings big Stranger Things energy to a classic weird-fiction tale inspired by Lovecraft’s “Strange High House in the Mist.” It is my third published story to be set in Junzt County, a fictional Texas Hill County country that is my answer to Lovecraft’s Arkham.

Told through the eyes of Essie Parr, an archetypical ‘80s small-town Texas girl who dreams of escaping the narrow confines of her small town and the life that seems foreordained for her there, “Pioneer House” is story of her closest friend, Gavin Sadler. One of those sublime creatures who is in the world but not of it, possessing an uncannily broad vision even as child, Gavin finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Pioneer House, a local landmark wrapped in mystery. The structure becomes Gavin’s true passion and obsession.

Gavin was an extraordinary person in an ordinary world. I think he felt connected to Pioneer House, with all its mystery, wonder, and terror. It was a window to something beyond the banality surrounding him. His nature wouldn’t let him choose otherwise. I doubt he even wanted to.

Essie Parr, Pioneer House

And what about Pioneer House, the ‘strange, high house’? In the 1830s, when the non-native settlers first arrived in what would become Junzt County, Pioneer House was already there. The Georgian-style mansion, two and half stories tall, with its steeply-sloped roof, wrap-around porch, and diamond-paned windows, sits empty atop Brockenburg, a lonely granite dome towering over the surrounding hills.

The Brockenberg Lights

As Gavin and Essie dig deeper into the riddle of Pioneer House, they discover a legacy of ghost lights, anomalous fog, strange electrical effects, and unexplained disappearances.  Along the way, they confront high school bullies, gatekeeping librarians, janitors with mysterious pasts, and an enigmatic man donning the attire of centuries past – building toward a climatic encounter with the ultimate threshold guardian, Pioneer House itself.

Behind the Story

Junzt County originated as the setting for a Call of Cthulhu campaign I ran in 2014. I wanted a fictional setting in a region I know well (in this case, the Texas Hill Country) that I could populate with people, places, and folklore that felt authentic in the same way Arkham feels authentic. While, over time, I found Junzt’s County’s own distinctive flavor and heartbeat, my earliest strokes of world-building following strongly in Lovecraft’s footsteps. Inspired by the eponymous dwelling in Strange High House in the Mist, Pioneer House became one of the first data points to appear in my mental map of Junzt County. But, other than a name and image, Pioneer House took years to flesh itself out in my mind – the details, the history, the enigmas.

Enchanted Rock, the inspiration
for Brockenberg.

Brockenburg, the granite dome that is home to Pioneer House, is based on Enchanted Rock, a real-world geological formation in Gillespie and Llano Counties, Texas. Of course, having the chance to remake it in accordance with genre conventions, I made it bigger, lonelier, weirder.

When I began writing fiction in 2016, I realized Junzt County made a very natural setting for a certain kind of story. To date, I have about ten Junzt County stories published, penned, or in progress. While the original Call of Cthulhu campaign that birthed the region was set in the ‘80s, the Junzt County stories’ settings range from post-Civil War to the present day.

The ‘80s also felt right for “Pioneer House,” contemporary enough that most of its elements of childhood and adolescence would feel familiar to readers, yet enough removed from the present to allow it a certain dreamlike or fairytale quality. On a more pragmatic level, technology available in the 80s and early 90s allowed some interesting narrative possibilities…but not so many possibilities as to make the protagonists’ task too easy.

Currently, Pioneer House is available in “Pizza Parties & Poltergeists,” an anthology of ‘80s-themed supernatural and horror stories from 18th Wall Productions. Later in 2022, it will be rereleased as part of a collection of Juznt County stories, also from 18th Wall (I’m very grateful for their ongoing support for my Junzt County endeavors). In addition to “Pioneer House,” the collection will contain two previously published stories: “Totmann’s Curve” (now expanded to novel-length) and “So Lonesome I Could Die.” It will also feature three new stories: “The Eyeteeth,” “Family Style,” and “Everybody Needs a Friend.”