Austin author, ‘Doctor Strange’ screenwriter puts his short story skills to test

Many short story collections bring together previously published work, assembling in one place pieces that an author’s fans might struggle to find in the wild.

“We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories,” the first short fiction collection from Austin-based author and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, is not such a set.

“We Are Where the Nightmares Go” is the work of a man whose hands do not rest.

“I have a really dedicated work ethic,” Cargill says from his new home in Austin, which he just moved into the day before with his wife. “I make sure I am doing some writing at all times.

“When I am not working on a movie, or I’ve got a novel that’s been turned in, I don’t just take a couple of weeks off and play video games,” he says. “I take ideas that have been knocking around and write it down.”

Some of these ideas become novels and movies. Cargill co-wrote the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie “Doctor Strange” as well as “Sinister” and “Sinister 2” with his screenwriting partner Scott Derrickson. On his own, Cargill wrote the novels “Dreams and Shadows,” “Queen of the Dark Things” and “Sea of Rust.”

But some ideas feel best as short stories, stories that Cargill kept and didn’t do anything with. “I wasn’t really gung-ho to take them to short story markets, because there aren’t very many short story publications that most people are familiar with,” Cargill says.

Only three of the stories in this collection have been published elsewhere. “A Clean White Room,” which Cargill wrote with Derrickson, appeared in “The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares,” and “I Am the Night You Never Speak Of” showed up in “Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed,” both anthologies to which Cargill was asked to contribute. The third story, “As They Continue to Fall,” only appeared briefly online.

The other seven stories in this collection are brand-new to readers and run the fantasy and horror gamut. In “The Town That Wasn’t Anymore,” an Appalachian sheriff has to deal with a persistent possession problem. “Hell Creek” pits two dinosaurs against unknown forces. Two guys named Jake and Willy contemplate the end of the world in the perfectly titled “Jake and Willy at the End of the World.”

And the book’s closer, “The Soul Thief’s Son,” is a new, 74-page novella that acts as a sequel to Cargill’s fantasy novels “Dreams and Shadows” and “Queen of the Dark Things.”

Cargill started in the early 2000s as a film critic right as the film blog movement was getting off the ground. He wrote for sites such as Ain’t It Cool News, and, among others. His first feature, “Sinister,” directed by Derrickson, earned $87 million against a $3 million budget. The sequel, “Sinister 2,” also did well. And “Doctor Strange” was one of Disney’s 2016 tentpoles.

Last year’s “Sea of Rust,” Cargill’s post-apocalyptic tale of a world ruled by the robots left behind after humanity has kicked the bucket, is one of six nominees for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a British prize for the year’s best science fiction novel. The winner will be announced July 18 in the U.K.

So it feels like something new to see Cargill engage the short story, a format long considered the lifeblood of fantasy, horror and (especially) science fiction. Cargill sees a lot of growth potential in short-form audiobooks. “People want to sit down and listen for a half an hour to a short story,” he says. “They’re perfect for commutes.”

And there’s stuff you can do in short fiction that you can’t in film or novels. “Especially in terms of themes and crazy endings,” Cargill says. “The audience will accept things in a short story that novels and films just aren’t allowed to do. You can kill off all your characters in a really interesting, inventive way in a short piece, and the audience will love you for it. You spend 400 pages reading that (and then kill them all), the audience can get a little hacked off.”

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