"Bob's No-Kill Monster Shelter" by Ian Creasey — story background

I was hoping to lead this month's newsletter with the results of our breeding programme: to save yetis from extinction, we're backbreeding them by crossing white demons, bigfoots and shriekers.  We've just had the first litter, and they're so cute!

But I guess I should begin by confirming that — as you may have seen on TV — one of our monsters has escaped.  We're getting a lot of questions about this, so here are the latest additions to the FAQ.

This is very much a story that began with the title, although it did have a precursor.  I mentioned a monster shelter as a throwaway joke in my 2004 novelette "Best In Show", but the original version of that story described it differently: "Bob's Slime Pit, the shelter for abandoned monsters".  (The name Bob was an homage to the "Bob's Monsters" sketch in Gary Larson's Tales from the Far Side.)

In 2014 I noticed that animal shelters were often describing themselves as "no kill" shelters, with slogans such as "we never destroy a healthy dog".  It occurred to me that Bob's Slime Pit could be rebranded as Bob's No-Kill Monster Shelter, a snappy name that could easily be a story title.  An obvious slogan for the shelter was "we never kill a healthy monster", which suggested an intriguing dilemma: how exactly do you deal with incredibly dangerous monsters, if you're committing to never killing them?

Initially I assumed that this would be a conventional story with a conventional plot.  My first idea was that a mysterious egg had been left on the shelter's doorstep, and Bob took it in; then it hatched into a monster that turned out to be part of a supervillain's nefarious scheme.  The problem with this was that the plot inevitably concentrated more on dealing with the supervillain antagonist than on the day-to-day work of running a monster shelter.

I therefore decided to abandon the conventional narrative format, and write the story in the form of a newsletter.  This gave me more scope to focus on the shelter's everyday doings, with jokes about the feeding schedule, the merchandise, the fundraising gimmicks, and so forth.

Yet I still needed some kind of hook, to prevent the story from feeling like a random series of disconnected jokes that didn't go anywhere.  The newsletter required something newsworthy as a headline splash.  I therefore came up with "one of our monsters has escaped" as the lead item.

Even this had its problems.  If the newsletter was presented as having been written before the escaped monster was found, then the monster's fate couldn't be resolved in the story, leaving a major loose end that readers might find dissatisfying.  Conversely, if the newsletter was written after the monster had been found, then the lead item would be "our missing monster has been recaptured", which has much less dramatic tension than "one of our monsters has escaped".

A newsletter is a static text, but I needed some way to incorporate the passage of time, so that the situation could develop and be resolved.  I addressed this by assuming that the newsletter was published on the Internet, on the shelter's blog, since a blog post can accrue comments over time.  This allowed the newsletter to set up the situation of the escaped monster, and the blog comments to resolve it.  It also afforded me the opportunity for some extra jokes in the form of wacky commenters, blog spam, etc.

I wrote the story specifically to submit to Alex Shvartsman's series of spec-fic comedy anthologies, Unidentified Funny Objects.  He'd announced that UFO volume 4 would focus on dark humour, so I figured that my story about a monster shelter should be a good fit.  Luckily, he agreed and bought the story.

For the sake of continuity, when I reprinted "Best In Show" in my collection Escape Routes from Earth, I changed "Bob's Slime Pit" to "Bob's No-Kill Monster Shelter".

Page last updated: 29 March 2016