Scary Stories for a Good Cause: Eric Esser on "Fable of the Box"

By L.S. Johnson (

Eric Esser lives in San Francisco with his wife Courtney. He is a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a member of the Codex Writers’ Group. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Schoolbooks & Sorcery, Pseudopod, and Fictionvale, among others.


Tell us a little about your story, “Fable of the Box.”

It’s a story about wanting to be more than you think you are, and how that takes you places you would not expect, and maybe shouldn’t go. There are a lot of other influences packed in there too. I’ve always been fascinated by the Sumerians’ idea of the underworld, where instead of receiving a reward for your actions in life you become a shadow of what you once were. This piece is also part of a series of stories I wrote inspired by southwestern Shropshire, a place I find interesting because it’s on the edge between England and Wales, where mythologies and cultures mixed, and where, back in the day, people were far enough removed from major population centers that they had a greater sense of the unknown and therefore of possibility.


As the title suggests, your story reads like a fable, or a fairy tale … what inspired you to choose that form?

I was writing a series of stories that played with telling over showing. I think there can be something almost hypnotic about a story that’s mostly told rather than shown, and I was working on that here. It also let me experiment with wide arcs over short page counts, which let me see more clearly how certain structures play out, and how turns of plot can be reminiscent of turns in poetry.


What is your relationship to California, and does California influence your work?

I was born and raised in California, so the short answer is that it influences me down to my bones. I see California as what America as a whole used to be: diverse, vibrant, looking toward the future instead of longing for the past, defining ourselves by whom we embrace rather than who we vilify. Maybe this is part of why I write speculative fiction, which is always trying to see the world from previously unimagined perspectives, and making us better for it through aspiration or critique.


As writers, we constantly use our imaginations, sometimes in terrifying ways. But can you imagine a hopeful future for California? What might that future look like?

A hopeful future is one that people embrace and shape rather than run from. This often involves giving as much respect to the needs of others as to our own. For example, with respect to the housing crisis, you have to accept there will be more people here in the future than in the past and then figure out ways that are both realistic and just to deal with that. It’s not always easy because in our world people often have to fight so hard for what they have that when any change comes their self-defense instincts kick in. But I think California has a better chance of getting it right than most, in the end.


Where can readers find more of your work?

I have links to some of my stories on my website I have a young adult urban fantasy story coming out later this year in the Schoolbooks and Sorcery anthology, a collection of queer-friendly stories from Circlet Press’ Ultra Violet Library imprint. Another story in the series I wrote working with Shropshire and forms of telling is “Thing in the Bucket,” available in print in Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology and in audio in Pseudopod Episode #430.  


"[A] brilliant collection of truly creepy tales by horror's hottest voices! Dark, funny, heartbreaking, and bizarre. Highly recommended!"
-Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of V-Wars and Glimpse

Scary Stories for a Good Cause. From Bram Stoker Award-nominated editor of the cult magazine Morbid Curiosity comes Tales for the Camp Fire, a new charity anthology of short stories to help support wildfire relief efforts. Through these pages roam werewolves, serial killers, a handful of ghosts, plenty of zombies, Cthulhu cultists, mad scientists, and a pair of conjoined twins.