Something Foul This Way Comes: How a profound synchronicity led to the title of THE BRIMSTONE DECEIT
I am pleased to - at last - announce that my second book, The Brimstone Deceit: An In-Depth Examination of Supernatural Scents, Otherworldly Odors, and Monstrous Miasmas , is available for purchase online.
I'm just so damned excited. The birthing process on this one has been a bit arduous (1,022 endnotes and something like 660 sources), but certainly worth it: I can say with certainty that this is the first book of its kind, and absolutely the most attention ever given to the odors associated with spirits, UFOs, and Sasquatch. "BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!" as they say on TV. Some sections of this book were particularly fun for me, since they allowed me to dip my toes into waters I tread less often: smells associated not only with faeries, but lake monsters, Alien Black Cats, black dogs, dogman, goatman, dragons, Men-in-Black, Black Eyed Kids, el chupacabras, Satan, star jelly, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon... there's a lot of stinky things out there.
Enough flogging the book, though. I actually want to talk about the extreme synchronicity I came across while trying to come up with a title. Purveyor of fine Fortean literary wares (and my patient publisher) Patrick Huyghe and I had bandied about some titles, some good, others... less so. Something Stinky This Way Comes. Uncommon Scents. Kevin said it best in Home Alone.
None of them seemed to stick, and for a hot minute I was afraid we'd be saddled with a less-than-spectacular name for this thing. I was wracking my brain incredibly hard for a viable choice, obsessing over finding wording that was catchy yet imparted the serious nature of the book.
I was so consumed that, on a hot July 14th in Georgia (is there any other kind?), I drove an entire hour to my dentist in complete silence (this is strange, unprecedented behavior for a podcast-loving musician - I'm either listening to music or a podcast). I walked into my dentist's lushly-appointed waiting room, checked in at the front desk, and picked a random corner of the room to sit.
Like all good synchronicities, this requires a little bit of backstory. My dentist's office - the whole thing! - looks like Bass Pro Shops and a Disney World queue line had a love child. A giant elk's head looms over a stacked stone chimney, surveying walls lined with antique fishing rods and firearms. It's cozy, but you'd think you were in a Colorado steakhouse, not a place where root canals are routine. Seriously, look.
Because of his penchant for the outdoors, my dentist keeps not only the usual waiting room tripe (looking at you, People), but also a variety of outdoors-themed publications. In my single-minded rush out the door, I'd failed to bring a book along, so my hand reached for the nearest thing - the latest copy of Sporting Classics. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this particular periodical collects short fiction, all pertaining to hunting, fishing, camping, etc.
I open to a random page, and the first thing (literally!) my eye lands upon is this sentence:
"It smelled bad." Having just spent the better part of two hours thinking about odors, I was floored. But that wasn't the best part. Literally less than a paragraph was the word "brimstone."
What in the world was I reading, I wondered? I immediately flipped several pages back, where I discovered that this was The Man in the Black Suit, a short story written by none other than Stephen King. Throughout the short story, the smell of brimstone is either mentioned or indirectly compared (i.e. burning matches) several times. From Wikipedia:
The Man in the Black Suit recounts the tale of Gary, a nine-year-old boy, whose brother has died, not long ago, due to a bee sting. One day Gary goes out fishing and falls asleep. When he awakens, he's startled to discover a bee hovering just above his nose. Although he does not share his brother's allergy to them since a bee killed his brother, he is still very scared, but then suddenly he hears a clap and the bee is dead. Turning around, he discovers a man with burning eyes looming over him. Dressed in a black, three-piece suit, the man has pale skin and claw-like fingers; when he grins, he exposes horrible, sharp, shark-like teeth. The man—whose body odor smells like burnt match heads—tells Gary terrible things: that his mother has died while he was away, that his father intends to molest him, that he (the man) intends to eat him. At first, Gary doesn't believe him, but he soon realizes that the man is actually the devil. Throwing the fish he caught at the man, he makes his escape; the man in the black suit swallows the fish whole and pursues the boy to the outskirts of the forest, though Gary loses him. At home, Gary finds his father and makes up a lie about what happened when he went fishing, although he does insist that his mother has died. His father denies this, and the boy isn't sure if he believes his father or not till he sees his mother in the kitchen. The things the man said were false, Gary decides. Even so, he's haunted by the incident for the rest of his long life.
For those playing along at home, let's examine the things that had to come together for this Synchro-Bingo:
I write a book where the smell of sulfur (brimstone) is prevalent in paranormal cases;
I focus on the subject matter for several days, then nearly two hours straight;
I sit in a random chair at my dentist's office;
I grab the first magazine I see, which has nothing to do with Forteana;
I open to a random page, and the first sentence I see is "It smelled bad," in reference to brimstone, in a horror story (and one with a somewhat Fortean title, I might add).
I immediately felt it all a bit much to be random, and took this as a sign that "brimstone" had to be in the title. I'd been avoiding it because the book is about a lot more smells than sulfur (I suspect sulfurous smells are a plurality, if not a flat out majority, of paranormal odors, but I didn't want to undersell the other stinks). But, upon reflection, I realized how central sulfur was to the closing chapters of the book. Brimstone. The paranormal. Manipulation. The Brimstone Deceit.
Here's what people a lot smarter than me have been kind enough to say about it: “The Brimstone Deceit can rightly be called an instant classic because it articulates a refreshingly original approach to the paranormal and more importantly, how witnesses interpret their experiences. Joshua Cutchin carefully builds his case with fascinating, startling, and entertaining accounts from throughout history to show us that when it comes to UFOs, Bigfoot, and other High Strangeness, the nose may really know what has been knocking at our doors for millennia.” — Greg Bishop, author of Project Beta
"This book stinks! The Brimstone Deceit brings a fascinating new dimension to the anomalistic sensorium.” — Mark Pilkington, author of Mirage Men