One day in the early spring of 2018 I traveled to a rural part of southern Indiana to attend to some family matters. (I live in Ohio, but I’m half Hoosier. My dad grew up in nearby Lawrenceburg.)
I spent most of that day in Switzerland County. You’ve probably never been there. Switzerland County, Indiana looks nothing like Switzerland. In early spring, that part of Indiana, along the Ohio River, can look a little bleak.
(Portions of the 1988 Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy movie, Fresh Horses, were filmed in Switzerland County. McCarthy said of the area, “There’s the whole starkness up there; it helped the mood of the movie.” )
Southern, rural Indiana is home to several large casinos. I ordinarily have no interest in gambling venues. I ate lunch at the nearby Belterra Casino that day, though, because…there weren’t many other dining options in the vicinity.
My visit to the casino got me thinking: What if a young couple in debt visited the casino in a make-or-break effort to get ahead financially? What if they were lured there by a special offer? $300 worth of ‘free’ gaming chips?
What if their beginner’s foray into gambling went horribly wrong, and they fell further in the hole? Then suppose that a narcotics kingpin offers them an alternative plan…another way to get ahead.
All they have to do is run an errand for him. What could possibly go wrong?
That’s the premise behind my 2020 casino novel, Venetian Springs. Set in a fictional version of Belterra Casino, Venetian Springs is a story of two down-on-their-luck high school teachers who succumb to the lure of easy money. They soon discover that easy money doesn’t exist. But this is a lesson that may cost them both their lives.
In 1938, the planners in Nazi Germany know that war is coming. They are eager to acquire the atom bomb.
They are working against Allied governments, operating both in Germany and abroad. (And not all of the Reich’s accomplices are German nationals.)
A group of ordinary Americans and Germans are forced to choose sides. Their choices will lead them into a web of betrayal, murder, and espionage.
Their paths meet in Cairo, Egypt, where the Reich is hunting a fugitive atomic physicist.
The main characters:
Betty Lehman is a 19-year-old girl from Dutch Falls, Pennsylvania. Her family is active in the German-American Bund. Betty has been recruited to betray her country in the service of the Reich.
Rudolf Schenk is an undercover agent of the German Gestapo. He wants to do his duty. But can he abandon his last shred of conscience?
Jack McCallum is an American treasure hunter in Cairo. He falls for two women: one who is working undercover for the Third Reich, one who is fleeing the Gestapo.
Heinrich Vogel is a physicist who fled Germany for Egypt. He and his young adult daughter, Ingrid, face a daily game of cat-and-mouse with the Gestapo. His goal: to reach Britain or America before the Gestapo reaches him and his daughter!
Not far from where I live, there is a stretch of Ohio State Route 125 that has been dubbed Dead Man’s Curve.
The spot is just a few miles from my house, in fact. I’ve been by there many times.
According to the urban legend, if you drive this section of rural highway a little after 1 a.m., you might see the faceless hitchhiker. From a distance, this male figure may look relatively normal. Once you get close, though, you’ll see that he has no face.
Sometimes the hitchhiker isn’t content to stand there by the side of the road and watch you. There have been reports of the phantom actually attacking cars.
Yeah, I think so, too….
Dead Man’s Curve on Ohio State Route 125 has a long and macabre history. Route 125 is the main road that connects the suburbs and small towns east of Cincinnati with the city. But much of the road (including Dead Man’s Curve) was originally part of the Ohio Turnpike, which was built in 1831. (Andrew Jackson was president in 1831, just to put that date in perspective.)
That section of the Ohio Turnpike was the scene of many accidents (some of them fatal), even in the horse-and-buggy days. The downward sloping curve became particularly treacherous when rain turned the road to mud. Horses and carriages would sometimes loose their footing, sending them over the adjacent hillside.
In the twentieth century, the Ohio Turnpike was paved and reconfigured into State Route 125. In 1968 the road was expanded into four lanes.
As part of the expansion, the spot known as Dead Man’s Curve was leveled and straightened. (As a result, the curve doesn’t look so daunting today…unless you know its history.) This was supposed to be the end of “Dead Man’s Curve”.
But it wasn’t.
In 1969, there was a horrible accident at the spot. The driver of a green Roadrunner—traveling at a speed of 100 mph—slammed into an Impala carrying five teenagers. There was only one survivor of the tragic accident.
Shortly after that, witnesses began to report sightings of the faceless hitchhiker during the wee hours. (The hitchhiker is said to be most active during the twenty-minutes between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m.) There have also been reports of a ghostly green Roadrunner that will chase drivers late at night.
Oh, and Dead Man’s Curve remains deadly, despite the leveling and straightening done in 1968. In the five decades since the accident involving the Roadrunner and the Impala, around seventy people have been killed there.
Is there any truth to the legend of Dead Man’s Curve?
I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is that I’ve heard many eyewitness accounts from local residents who claim to have seen the hitchhiker. (Keep in mind, I live very close to Dead Man’s Curve, and it’s a local topic of discussion and speculation.) Almost none of these eyewitnesses have struck me as mentally imbalanced or deceitful.
I know what your last question is going to be: Have I ever driven Dead Man’s Curve between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m. myself?
Uh, no. But perhaps I’ll get around to it someday, and I’ll let you know in a subsequent blog post!
How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts
Can an ordinary teenager defeat the Headless Horseman, and a host of other vengeful spirits from America’s revolutionary past?
The big idea
I love history, and I love supernatural horror tales.“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was therefore always one of my favorite short stories. This classic tale by Washington Irving describes how a Hessian artillery officer terrorized the young American republic several decades after his death.
The Hessian was decapitated by a Continental Army cannonball at the Battle of White Plains, New York, on October 28, 1776. According to some historical accounts, a Hessian artillery officer really did meet such an end at the Battle of White Plains. I’ve read several books about warfare in the 1700s and through the Age of Napoleon. Armies in those days obviously did not have access to machine guns, flamethrowers, and the like. But those 18th-century cannons could inflict some horrific forms of death, decapitation among them.
I was first exposed to the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” via the 1949 Disney film of the same name. The Disney adaptation was already close to 30 years old, but still popular, when I saw it as a kid sometime during the 1970s.
Headless Horsemen from around the world
While doing a bit of research for Revolutionary Ghosts, I discovered that the Headless Horseman is a folklore motif that reappears in various cultures throughout the world.
In Irish folklore, the dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless, demonic fairy that rides a horse through the countryside at night. The dullahan carries his head under his arm. When the dullahan stops riding, someone dies.
Scottish folklore includes a tale about a headless horseman named Ewen. Ewen wasbeheaded when he lost a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. His death prevented him from becoming a chieftain. He roams the hills at night, seeking to reclaim his right to rule.
Finally, in English folklore, there is the 14th century epic poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. After Gawain kills the green knight in living form (by beheading him) the knight lifts his head, rides off, and challenges Gawain to a rematch the following year.
But Revolutionary Ghosts is focused on the Headless Horseman of American lore: the headless horseman who chased Ichabod Crane through the New York countryside in the mid-1790s.
The Headless Horseman isn’t the only historical spirit to stir up trouble in the novel. John André, the executed British spy, makes an appearance, too. (John André was a real historical figure.)
I also created the character of Marie Trumbull, a Loyalist whom the Continental Army sentenced to death for betraying her country’s secrets to the British. But Marie managed to slit her own throat while still in her cell, thereby cheating the hangman. Marie Trumbull was a dark-haired beauty in life. In death, she appears as a desiccated, reanimated corpse. She carries the blade that she used to take her own life, all those years ago.
Oh, and Revolutionary Ghosts also has an army of spectral Hessian soldiers. I had a lot of fun with them!
The Spirit of ’76
Most of the novel is set in the summer of 1976. An Ohio teenager, Steve Wagner, begins to sense that something strange is going on near his home. There are slime-covered hoofprints in the grass. There are unusual sounds on the road at night. People are disappearing.
Steve gradually comes to an awareness of what is going on….But can he convince anyone else, and stop the Headless Horseman, before it’s too late?
I decided to set the novel in 1976 for a number of reasons. First of all, this was the year of the American Bicentennial. The “Spirit of ’76 was everywhere in 1976. That created an obvious tie-in with the American Revolution.
Nineteen seventy-six was also a year in which Vietnam, Watergate, and the turmoil of the 1960s were all recent memories. The mid-1970s were a time of national anxiety and pessimism (kind of like now). The economy was not good. This was the era of energy crises and stagflation.
Reading the reader reviews of Revolutionary Ghosts, I am flattered to get appreciative remarks from people who were themselves about the same age as the main character in 1976:
“…I am 62 years old now and 1976 being the year I graduated high school, I remember it pretty well. Everything the main character mentions (except the ghostly stuff), I lived through and remember. So that was an added bonus for me.”
“I’m 2 years younger than the main character so I could really relate to almost every thing about him.”
I’m actually a bit younger than the main character. In 1976 I was eight years old. But as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m nostalgic by nature. I haven’t forgotten the 1970s or the 1980s, because I still spend a lot of time in those decades.
If you like the 1970s, you’ll find plenty of nostalgic nuggets in Revolutionary Ghosts, like Bicentennial Quarters, and the McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes of 1976.
Also, there’s something spooky about the past, just because it is the past. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
For me, 1976 is a year I can clearly remember. And yet—it is shrouded in a certain haziness. There wasn’t nearly as much technology. Many aspects of daily life were more “primitive” then.
It isn’t at all difficult to believe that during that long-ago summer, the Headless Horseman might have come back from the dead to terrorize the American heartland…
As many of you will know, I recently wrapped upThe Cairo Deception, my 5-book World War II series.
One of the final chapters of the book depicts the Beatles performing in Hamburg, West Germany in December 1962. (I won’t go into more story detail than that, so as to avoid spoilers.)
This is actually true. When I discovered this lesser known piece of rock music history, I just couldn’t resist putting it in the book, as an Easter egg for Beatles fans.
The Beatles both resided and performed in Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962. The Beatles’ Hamburg residence took place shortly before they became a global phenomenon. The band also performed at a music venue in Hamburg called The Star-Club, as described in Postwar: Book 5 of The Cairo Deception.
The Beatles of the Hamburg period involved a slightly different lineup of the band: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. After the group returned to England at the end of 1962, Sutcliffe and Best left the band, and Ringo Starr was hired on as the new drummer.
The Consultant is the story of an American marketing consultant who takes a business trip to Osaka, Japan, and talks to the wrong woman in a bar.
One thing leads to another, and he ends up in North Korea.
The story is loosely (I emphasize loosely) based on real events.
The North Korean government has carried out targeted kidnapping campaigns of civilians over the years. Most of the known targets have been South Koreans and Japanese. But there is no reason why an American couldn’t be the target of such a kidnapping. This novel explores that scenario.
The Consultant is a good read for Tom Clancy fans who also like James Clavell…or James Clavell fans who also like a bit of action.
How egg-throwing teenage boys ruined my last trick-or-treat
My novel 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN is a supernatural coming-of-age tale about three young friends who endure the trials of a 12-hour curse on Halloween night, 1980. To survive the night, they must battle vampires, animated trees, and the horrific creature known as the “head collector”.
12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN is one of the most autobiographical novels I’ve ever written. Like the characters in the novel, I was 12 years old in October 1980. The suburban Cincinnati, Ohio setting is very similar to the one in which I spent my formative years.
That said, the main character of the story, Jeff Schaeffer, doesn’t have much in common with me, or with the boy I was more than 40 years ago. And while I had a group of friends, neither Leah nor Bobby is an exact representation of anyone I knew back then.
Oh, and I never did battle with any of the supernatural creatures that appear in the book.
Here is another point of fabrication: I went on my last trick-or-treat in 1979, not in 1980.
I set 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN in 1980 because some of the themes I wanted to explore required an adolescent perspective; and I was twelve in 1980, not in 1979.
But like the characters in the novel, I was somewhat torn (as were the adults around me) about the appropriate age for giving up the trick-or-treat ritual.
In the culture of those times, you were generally okay for trick-or-treating up to age ten or eleven. But once you reached junior high, well, people would give you funny looks if you showed up at their door on October 31st, asking for candy. And once you reached high school, you were definitely too old.
In 1979, therefore, my friend Ken and I decided to go out for “one last Halloween”, kind of like the characters in the novel. (Ken, being a year older than me, actually did turn twelve that year.)
I wore a prefabbed costume from Kmart. I don’t even remember what it was. (I seem to recall a green skeleton, but I can’t be sure.) Ken, however, had one of the coolest Halloween costumes I’ve ever seen—before or since.
This was the early Star Wars era, and every kid was a fan. Ken was no exception. His mother made for him a very elaborate imperial stormtrooper costume. This was not something store-bought. She made the whole thing from scratch. It was amazing.
Halloween 1979 in the Cincinnati area provided a clear, pleasantly cool autumn night. We set out a little after 6 p.m., and everything went fine…at first. Then we crossed paths with a group of teenage boys, a hot rod, and some eggs.
One thing I’ve noticed about the 21st-century: suburban teenagers are less mischievous than they used to be.
This could be because of helicopter parenting. How much trouble can you get into when your parents are tracking your movements on a smart phone app? Kids today are also very absorbed in virtual worlds of different kinds.
In the late 1970s, however, adolescent entertainment consisted of whatever was on network television (cable TV didn’t become common until about 1982), books, and other young people.
And since there were no parental tracking apps, your parents typically had only a vague sense of your whereabouts at any given moment.
In this atmosphere of fewer ready-made distractions and much less supervision, there were more motives and opportunities for getting into trouble. And plenty of teenage boys jumped at the chance.
This particular group of teenage boys, riding around on Halloween night 1979, had decided that it would be fun to throw eggs at the kids who were still young enough to go trick-or-treating.
They were obviously selecting their victims at random. I will retroactively blame Ken for our being singled out. His solid white stormtrooper outfit really did make him a target.
The car—it must have been a Dodge Charger or a Trans Am—slowed down as it approached. Ken and I had no time to assess the situation, let alone take evasive action. Then someone in the passenger seat threw some white objects at us via their rolled-down window.
The car roared away before we realized what had happened: they had pelted us with eggs.
Ken had been walking closest to the road, and he was a mess. The stormtrooper outfit his mother had so painstakingly crafted was now smeared with dripping yellow egg yolk.
Some of the eggs had splattered on me, too…though not very much.
After that, we decided to call it an early night. Neither one of us wanted to walk around dressed like an omelette.
At least the boys didn’t throw rotten eggs at us, I would think later.
My guess is that the egg-throwing foray was a spur-of-the-moment thing for the boys.
Speaking of the teenage boys: I never learned their identities. Whoever they were, though, they would all be pushing sixty in 2021.
So that was how my last Halloween went, in 1979 and not in 1980. By Halloween 1980, I decided for myself that I had had enough of Halloween and trick-or-treat. It was time to let that childhood ritual go.
Halloween, nevertheless, retains a strong grip on my imagination. 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN was therefore a very fun book to write as an adult.
Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s main subscription ebook reading program. Kindle Unlimited gives you virtually unlimited (hence the name) reading privileges to a wide variety of titles, for a low monthly fee.
Not every title listed on Amazon is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Literary fiction from the big New York publishing houses generally is not included. You likely won’t find the latest Jonathan Franzen novel in Kindle Unlimited anytime in the near future.
Kindle Unlimited is heavy on genre fiction. This means: romance, space opera, LitRPG, fantasy, and horror.
I have a fair number of horror titles in Kindle Unlimited. I write supernatural horror, in the tradition of Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft, Bentley Little and E.F. Benson.
And yes (I know this sounds a bit pretentious) Stephen King. I have achieved barely a gazillionth fraction of King’s commercial success. But his formula of character-based, fast-moving horror is always on my mind when I sit down to write a horror tale.
What kind of horror don’t I write? If you want splatterpunk, or “extreme” horror (aka “torture porn”), then you should skip my books and stories. I have no interest in writing horror fiction that is endlessly grim and/or sadistic. My horror fiction is more akin to the campfire ghost story.
Below are the horror titles that I presently have enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. This means that you can read them for free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.
To view one of these titles on Amazon, simply click on the image of any book, or any hyperlink below.
(Don’t have a Kindle Unlimited membership? Click here.)
A college student takes a walk down the most haunted road in rural Ohio for a cash prize. This is a “haunted road” story, basically a tale of being stuck on a cursed country road at night. Ghosts, evil spirits, and hellhounds abound. Also, an evil witch that inhabits a covered bridge.
The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again. This coming-of-age horror thriller is sure to please readers who appreciate character-based supernatural fiction with lots of twists and turns.
The basic idea is: the ghosts of American history coming back to haunt Middle America in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial. (And yes, I’m old enough to remember the Bicentennial, although I was rather young at the time.)
In early 2016, I read an article in The Economist about the luk thep “spirit dolls” of Thailand.
Manufactured and sold in Thailand, these are factory-made dolls with a unique sales point: each doll is supposedly infused with the spirit of a young child that passed prematurely.
The luk thep are intended to bring comfort to their owners. (They are marketed to childless women.) To me, though, the whole idea sounded rather macabre.
And I couldn’t help thinking: what if one of the dolls was infused with a child spirit that wasn’t very nice? What if that same doll ended up in the possession of an American woman who happened to visit Thailand on a business trip? Luk Thep is a fast-paced ghost tale that spans two continents.
The Nazis were evil; they weren’t always stupid. In some scientific endeavors, Nazi Germany actually surpassed the Allied Powers.
For example, one of the first things the Americans did, upon conquering Germany, was to scoop up a rocket scientist named Wernher von Braun. During World War II, Braun was a chief developer of the V-2 rocket program. (He was also a member of the Nazi Party and the SS.)
But after the war, the US faced new enemies. The American government brought Braun to the United States, where he worked on American rocket programs, with both scientific and military applications. Wernher von Braun had a hand in the Apollo spacecraft that would eventually lead to eight crewed lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
That may not come as too much of a surprise to many readers. After all, most people know that Nazi Germany had some advanced weaponry. But did you know that Nazi scientists also raised the alarm over cigarette smoking long before anyone else did?
This historical curiosity provided a scene in Book Four of The Cairo Deception.
In Book Four of The Cairo Deception, Rudolf Schenk tells Jack McCallum that the Nazi government had identified cigarette smoking as a major health concern: a cause of heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. Jack is skeptical; but on this matter, at least, Schenk is actually telling the truth.
The German medical community actively discouraged cigarette smoking decades before those of other countries, including the United States. Adolf Hitler (as noted in Book Four of this series) was personally opposed to cigarette smoking. Hitler was a teetotaler, too.
Smoking was never quite outlawed in Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, official propaganda discouraged smoking among German citizens and servicemen alike.
In this regard, Nazi Germany was ahead of its time, and in a good way. This must be kept in perspective, obviously. Nazi Germany’s prescience regarding the harmful effects of cigarette smoking was overshadowed many times over, by all of the evil that that government committed—both in Germany and elsewhere.