‘The Rockland Horror 3’ and the Model T

The next installment of The Rockland Horror series is set in 1917, early in the age of the automobile. 

That, of course, means Henry Ford’s iconic Model T. The Ford Motor Company  manufactured  the Model T between 1908 and 1927.

The Model T was mass-produced with simple specifications. The car originally came only in black, though a few other color choices were added in later model years.

The Model T was also quite affordable. The base price for a 1916 Model T Runabout was just $345, or $8,324.76 in 2021 dollars.  This was, obviously, much cheaper than just about any car manufactured for the U.S. market today.

But this simplicity came at a price. If the Model T was cheap (even by early 20th-century standards) it was also far more difficult to use than modern vehicles.

The Rockland Horror 3 (now in production) will be a horror novel, not a book about early automobiles. But the story does involve some car chase scenes, and I wanted to make these scenes reasonably authentic.

My maternal grandfather was born in 1921, and even he never owned a Model T. Driving the Model T is one of those experiences that has passed out of “living memory”, so to speak.

I therefore went to YouTube, where there were, indeed, a few videos about starting and driving the Model T. I’ve embedded two of them here.

You probably already know about the crank start. But even that isn’t the worst of it. To start a Model T, you had to arrange a series of switches and levers inside the car in the right combination. Then you had to “choke” the engine by priming it with gasoline, and then…

Let’s just say it’s complicated!

Experience ‘The Rockland Horror 2’

The Rockland Horror 2 is available on Amazon!

(But you’ll want to read the first book in the series, The Rockland Horror, first.)

Both books are filled with murder, betrayal, evil spirits, zombies, supernatural monsters, and characters you’ll never forget! 

Here’s a sample chapter from The Rockland Horror 2:

Chapter 1

August 1882

Ellen Briggs, née Ellen Sanders, was in her own house, and she was absolutely terrified.

Of course, this was not really her house, was it? It was her marital residence, where she now effectively lived in a state of captivity.

Not to mention…absolute terror.

She had married Theodore Briggs—railroad tycoon, necromancer, and murderer—only a few months ago.

In the early days of the marriage, Briggs had warned her: Stay out of unfamiliar rooms. Although the house was not old, it was home to many old secrets, Briggs had explained.

But she had forgotten his warning, in light of all that had happened since then…

Today Ellen had been wandering through the first floor of the massive house. Since her escape attempt earlier in the summer, Briggs seldom allowed her leave. But she could not sit still within these walls. If she remained in one place, she would go completely mad.

So today she had gone wandering, even though she had known better.

That was how she came across the undead child…

The door to the room containing the undead child was located adjacent to the first-floor ballroom. Ellen had opened the door, not realizing that the room connected to the basement via one of the home’s labyrinthine internal tunnels.

She reckoned that only later—after it was too late.

It was in the basement that her husband kept his worst secrets. Bodies were buried in the basement—and they didn’t always stay buried. Sometimes, they found their way to other parts of the house…

Nevertheless, this miscellaneous room had seemed harmless enough when she had first entered it. Heavy draperies were drawn on both of the room’s high windows, but some late afternoon sunlight filtered through.

The room seemed made for casual exploration. Various works of art had been stored within it. Paintings bound in frames, but not yet hung, stood stacked against all four walls.

Throughout the floor, in a random arrangement, were various statues: of nymphs, cherubs, and Greek deities. There was one life-size replica of the Venus de Milo. There were waist-high vases, and teak dividers carved in what looked like Turkish patterns.

The fortunes of Ellen’s husband were vast. He had no doubt purchased most of these items in bulk from a broker, with the intention of placing them around the house at a later date.

That work might have been left to Juba, the maidservant whom her husband had ordered killed, for her part in Ellen’s escape attempt. That same escape attempt had also resulted in her husband murdering Wilbur Craine, her former beau and would-be rescuer. 

As she made her way through the cluttered room, Ellen endeavored to push those thoughts from her mind. She couldn’t think about Juba now. And certainly not about Wilbur.

She was kneeling down on the hardwood floor, admiring one of the paintings leant against the wall, when she heard something shift from a corner of the room.

Ellen immediately looked away from the landscape painting, toward the movement. She stood up. Something had stirred behind the teak screen in the room’s far corner, near one of the windows.

The teak screen was suspended above the floor on a set of wooden legs. In the gap between the screen and the floor, Ellen could see two small feet, clad in simple leather shoes. The shoes were caked with dried mud.

The feet moved toward the edge of the screen, but not in proper steps. One foot dragged behind the other.

A small figure stepped out from behind the screen. It was short, between four and five feet tall. The very sight of it was absolutely terrifying.

Chapter 2

Ellen immediately recognized the figure as a child. And at the the same time, this was not a child at all.

There was an unholy, yellowish glow in the thing’s eyes. Ellen had seen this glow in the eyes of Ni’qua, Briggs’s undead first wife. Ni’qua lurked around the house, and appeared before Ellen when least expected.

But this child was even worse. Ni’qua had been dead for decades, after all. This victim had been taken only months ago.

“Come play with me!” the thing croaked hoarsely, through rotting lips.

Ellen didn’t speak. There was nothing to say to this thing; and that would only slow down her escape, anyway.

She needed to think.

No—she needed to get out of this room. Immediately.

Ellen turned and bolted for the door.

Behind her she could hear dragging footsteps. The child was giving chase, but Ellen moved much faster, owing to the damage Briggs and his valet had done to the child’s injured leg prior to burial.

The thing was now cursing at her—using the vocabulary of some ancient language that she did not understand.

A few more steps, and Ellen was at the threshold, then beyond it.

She had never moved faster in her life, she thought.

Then she was on the other side of the doorway.

She did not want to turn around, did not want to look back. She knew, however, that it would be necessary to close the door, lest the thing pursue her out into the hallway.

When Ellen turned around, the creature was within sprinting distance of the doorway, if not for the ruined leg.

As Ellen reached for and grasped the doorknob, an expression of bottomless rage contorted the already rotting and grimacing face. This evil before her was intelligent; it knew what she planned to do.

Ellen ignored her terror, for the time being, forced herself to focus.

She yanked on the doorknob, and slammed the door shut behind her.

Then she twisted the external catch on the doorknob. Another strange thing about this house: Her husband had designed it so that many of the rooms locked from the outside.

That done, the thing was effectively contained inside the room. A second later, there was a loud thud, as a creature that had once been a human child slammed into the closed door.

“Let me out!” it roared. The voice was ancient, booming. It echoed against the walls of the hallway.

Ellen stepped away from the closed door. She looked in one direction, and saw that the hallway terminated there in a bare wall.

In the other direction, from which she had arrived here, the hallway ended in another doorway.

With the thing still pounding on the door of the storage room, still cursing in that hideous language, Ellen made her escape through the high-ceilinged hallway. She fled toward the doorway.

There was a locking door here, too. Ellen closed it behind her and locked it.

The undead child was now locked behind two heavy doors. Was that enough to make her safe?

She shook her head at the very notion. There was no such thing as true safety in this house.

View the book on Amazon!

‘Blood Flats’ sequel in the works

A number of readers have asked me if there will ever be a sequel to Blood Flats. Lee McCabe’s long, gun-blazing flight through the badlands of Kentucky remains one of my more popular stories, even though this was my first novel.

As it so happens, I have been giving this some thought. In fact, I am working on a new series based on the 2011 novel.

I began Blood Flats in 2009/2010; and that is the approximate timeframe in which the novel is set. In the original story, Lee McCabe is a twenty-something former marine, recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom. The action in Blood Flats begins when Lee is blamed for a drug-related double homicide that he did not commit. Lee faces deadly opponents on both sides of the law as he fights to clear his name.

The new series will fast-forward into the present. Lee will be working in law enforcement in Kentucky. (Of course, he will now be in his thirties, rather than his twenties.)

I have an outline, though I’m not ready to reveal too many details just yet. If you were a fan of the television series Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant, I think you’ll like the upcoming series based on Blood Flats, starring Lee McCabe.

The first book in the series should be out in the fall of 2021. More details to follow.

In the meantime, now would be a good time to read the original story, if you haven’t done so already.

Supernatural horror with an American gothic twist

The Rockland Horror 2 is now available!

Recommended for fans of:

  • Stephen King
  • Peter Straub
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Joe Hill
  • Bentley Little

And, of course, readers of the first book in the series (or my other horror novels).

The Rockland Horror continues!

**The terrifying second installment in the multigenerational saga about a cursed house in Southern Indiana**
A young wife, an older husband, a haunted house

In 1882, twenty-one-year-old Ellen Sanders finds herself trapped in a macabre marriage to Theodore Briggs, a semiretired railroad tycoon, Civil War hero, necromancer, and murderer.

She resides in a luxurious Victorian mansion filled with evil spirits, supernatural creatures, and the undead.

Infidelity and bloodshed

As Ellen begins a rebellious extramarital affair with the Italian laborer Silvio, she sets in motion a chain reaction that will end in murder and suicide.

Horror descends on the town of Rockland

With blood spilled, the full horrors of the haunted mansion are unleashed on the town of Rockland, Indiana.

Only three people know the truth: a local lawman, a young woman with psychic powers, and an agnostic Roman Catholic priest.

But can they solve the secrets of the Briggs House in time to prevent another wave of death and destruction?

Get The Rockland Horror 2 on Amazon!

(Or, if you haven’t read Book One, start with The Rockland Horror.)

Coming soon: ‘The Rockland Horror 2’

Sometime later this week or early next week, The Rockland Horror 2 will hit the virtual bookshelves on Amazon.

The Rockland Horror series is for fans of:

  • Stephen King
  • Jennifer McMahon
  • Peter Straub
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Jeremy Bates
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Adam Nevill
  • T.J. Payne
    among others!

This story will pick up where The Rockland Horror left off. In the summer of 1882, the town of Rockland, Indiana is reeling from the wave of murders and kidnappings that occurred in recent months.

One man, George Marston, has been tried, convicted, and executed for these crimes.

The people of Rockland believe that the terror is over.

But two young women, Ellen Sanders Briggs and Louisa Goodwin, know better.

Since marrying the reclusive railroad tycoon Theodore Briggs, Ellen (nee Sanders) Briggs has found herself living in a state of captivity and abject terror. She is trapped in a big mansion filled with evil spirits, the roaming undead, and her cruel, mercurial necromancer of a husband.

Louisa Goodwin was given psychic powers of insight following her near-death experience. Louisa is struggling to recover from the personal tragedies she suffered during the preceding spring: the deaths of her parents and younger brother.

Louisa’s visions tell her that the situation in Rockland, Indiana is about to get much, much worse.

I’ll be posting links for The Rockland Horror 2 here on the blog as soon as the book is available. If you haven’t read The Rockland Horror (published in February 2021) get it here, or via the link above. As these books are both parts of a series, you should really read them in order.

More updates to follow!

$0.99 book deals for this week (March 1st through 3rd)

It’s the beginning of March. Two months of 2021 are already in the rearview mirror!
 
To celebrate March, and the imminent start of spring, I’m putting two titles at $.99 for the first part of the week (through Wednesday).
 
One is a horror novel, the other is a corporate thriller.
 
12 Hours of Halloween is a coming-of-age supernatural horror novel set in 1980. On Halloween night, three young friends must face the trials of a ghostly curse in the suburbs of Cincinnati.
The Eavesdropper is a workplace/corporate thriller set in a large electronics company. A purchasing agent named Frank Joseph has just discovered that three of his coworkers are planning a murder. One of the conspirators happens to be his boss.
 
Will Frank stop the murder conspiracy, or will he become its next victim?

Both  The Eavesdropper and 12 Hours of Halloween will remain at $.99 (on Amazon Kindle) through Wednesday, March 3. Hopefully that will give everyone a chance to check them out!

New book: ‘1120 Dunham Drive’

I’ve launched a new series: Clint and Jennifer Huber Mysteries. These novels are classified in the “amateur sleuth’ category. 

The first book in the series, 1120 Dunham Drive is out. 

Amazon description:

Introducing Clint and Jennifer Huber: amateur sleuths who must investigate a very personal mystery—the web of obsession, betrayal, and violence surrounding their “dream house” at 1120 Dunham Drive.

The problems begin with a former owner who refuses to leave quietly, and strange disturbances during the middle of the night.

Oh, and there’s something sinister about a room in the basement.

1120 Dunham Drive is a suburban mystery/thriller that will keep you guessing to the last page.

***

Preview the book below!

Chapter 1

Summer, 2014

To thirty-four-year-old Jennifer Huber, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive seemed pretty close to perfect. If only, she would later think, there had been something wrong with it—something that would have sent her and her husband Clint running, never to return.

That wasn’t the way things worked out, though. On a sun-scorched Saturday afternoon in mid-July, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive drew the Hubers in.

Or at least the house drew Jennifer in. The seduction began in earnest in the realtor’s car, as Jennifer, Clint, and Tom Jarvis (the realtor) pulled into the driveway.

“It’s a Tudor!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“And what would that be?” Clint asked.

“This style of home,” Jennifer replied. “This is what they call a Tudor-style home.”

Jennifer had a fairly extensive knowledge of residential architecture, and she had studied the house’s spec sheet on the Internet the previous night. So she already knew that this would be a Tudor-style home. Her surprise had been feigned: It had simply been a gambit to prod Clint into showing some more enthusiasm about what they were doing today.

“You’ve got to admit, hon: It looks good from the road.”

“It’s a good-looking house,” Clint allowed.

Built in 1940, the house had a look that was simultaneously homey and classic: It had steeply pitched gables (a prerequisite of the neo-Tudor style), decorative half-timbering on the exterior walls, and brick inlays around the ground-floor windows.

“Let’s have a look-see,” Tom Jarvis said, turning off the engine of his Lexus and opening the front driver’s side door. Jennifer didn’t wait for either Jarvis or Clint.  As soon as the vehicle was parked, she was out of the overly air-conditioned back seat and racing ahead of the two men.

“It looks like somebody really wants a house,” she heard Jarvis say conspiratorially to Clint.

Who wouldn’t want a new house? Jennifer thought. That’s the sort of thing we work for, after all.

That thought reminded her of the job she hated and the secret that kept her bound there. She pushed these thoughts away. Today was a happy occasion. She wasn’t going to think about her job at Ohio Excel Logistics. Not on a Saturday afternoon like this.

“Check this out,” Jennifer said, pulling her husband Clint by the hand. “Japanese maples.”

The front garden did indeed have three Japanese maples, plus several small pine trees, and a whole lot of ivy. It was the sort of landscaping that took years to develop—either that, or a whole lot of money.

“Connor would like the yard,” Jennifer observed as Tom Jarvis bent down and retrieved the key from the lockbox on the front door.

“He probably would,” Clint replied.

“And best of all, it’s in the Mydale school district.”

Their son, Connor, was going to be a first-grader in a mere two months. The public schools in Mydale were regarded as the best in the Cincinnati area.

And then there was the most important thing about the house—the factor that made this a real possibility: The asking price of the home at 1120 Dunham Drive was within the Hubers’ range. Most of the homes in Mydale were a lot pricier.

By now Jarvis had unlocked the door. He smiled and held the door open for them.

Jarvis smiled again as Jennifer walked by and looked down. He wasn’t overly obvious about it, but the realtor had clearly taken the opportunity to check her body out.

It wasn’t the first such glance that she had noticed from the real estate agent. Nor was it all in her imagination. Clint had remarked the other day that Jarvis had taken so many liberties with his eyes during their real estate office meetings and home viewing excursions, that he owed them an additional ten percent off the asking price of whatever house they eventually settled on. 

She asked Clint if it made him jealous—Jarvis looking at her that way. Clint had scoffed in reply: Jarvis was an old guy, basically harmless.

Jarvis was indeed older than them, maybe in his mid- to late-forties. He was balding and could have dropped ten pounds; but he still carried himself with the swagger of an ex-jock. Jarvis had probably been a “hound” back in the day; and his manner strongly suggested that he still considered himself a claimant to that title.

As Jennifer walked into the cool house and out of the midsummer heat, Jarvis closed the door and briefly loomed over her. He finally looked away, but not before allowing himself a furtive glance down her blouse.

Okay, that one was a bit much, she thought, but did not say.

Since roughly the age of thirteen, Jennifer had noticed that a large number of men noticed her. That seemed to go along with being thin, blonde, and reasonably pretty. Most of the time it wasn’t a big deal; and for a period of her life it had been undeniably flattering.

But she had been married for most of a decade. She was a mom now; and she was devoted to Clint.

Or at least she thought she was. Would a woman who was totally devoted to her husband and son get herself into the jam she was in at work?

Is there something wrong with me? she wondered. Do I give off the wrong signals?

Her unpleasant thoughts were pushed aside by the interior of the house. The front hall was high-ceilinged and spacious. Their footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor. Unlike many older houses, this house wasn’t dark and dingy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The windows of the downstairs flooded the first floor with natural light.

“I think I love this house.” Jennifer declared, setting aside what she knew to be her habitual skepticism about being sold anything at all. Clint, who was standing beside her, gave her a curious look.

Then the realtor said what Clint must have been thinking:

“Well, Mrs. Huber, you’ve only just seen the front yard and the front hallway. But that’s a good start.”   

It’s like he doesn’t want me to get my hopes up, she thought. They had toured numerous homes with Tom Jarvis—most of them homes that Jennifer and Clint had preselected through exhaustive, late-night Internet searches. Practically none of those homes had given her instantly warm and fuzzy feelings.

But this one did. And Jarvis wasn’t exactly right about her having seen only the front yard and the front hallway. Having spotted this house online and grasped its potential, Jennifer had pored over the available photographs of its interior and landscaping. She had bookmarked the home’s portfolio in her web browser, and had returned to it numerous times, in fact.

 

On the drive over from the realty office, Tom Jarvis had said that the situation surrounding this house was “complicated”. He had started to explain; but apparently the act of giving an explanation was complicated, too.

“For now let’s just keep our options open,” he’d said. But what exactly did that mean? Was Tom Jarvis planning to ultimately steer them toward another house? Maybe a turkey of a house that could only be unloaded on a naïve young couple making their first home purchase?

Well, she thought, the unknown motives of a self-serving and mildly lecherous real estate agent were not going to dissuade her if this house turned out to be as perfect as it seemed. Real estate agents were always working their angles, she’d heard. None of them, she had been warned by friends, were to be trusted.

She didn’t want to make a negative generalization about an entire profession. Still, she and Clint would have to be careful. The Internet was filled with horror stories about dishonest and prevaricating real estate agents. Tom Jarvis knew they were first-time homebuyers. That might lead him to the conclusion that they could be easily led.

One thing was undeniable: For some reason, Tom Jarvis didn’t want them to purchase this house.

New series: “White-collar mysteries”

I spent more than 20 years in the corporate world. There are a lot of good stories there. (And they’re even better, when embellished a bit.) Some of those storeis have become novels, for me. 

For those of you who like stories about “corporate employees in trouble”, consider my series, WHITE-COLLAR MYSTERIES

The series is new. I wanted to group together some of my books that are best described as thrillers-in-the-corporate-workplace.

At present, I have two existing titles in the series:

THE EAVESDROPPER: A purchasing agent at an electronics firm discovers that three of his coworkers (including his boss) are planning a murder. Will he stop them, or become their next victim?

TERMINATION MAN: A business consultant makes his living by going undercover to “eliminate” problem employees. But will he draw the line at actual murder?

More titles will be added as they’re written!

An American abducted by North Korean agents

The writing of THE CONSULTANT.

For fans of:

  • James Clavell
  • Vince Flynn
  • Brad Thor

Here’s a little about the story, and why you’ll enjoy it if you like a.) East Asian settings, and b.) adventure.

North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens

In my prior professional existence, I was deeply involved with Japan. I learned the Japanese language, and even worked as a translator for a time. I also worked for years in the Japanese automotive industry. I made many trips to Japan.

One of the ongoing issues I learned of in Japan was the so-called ratchi mondai 拉致問題, or “abduction problem”. This intractable matter came up whenever there was talk of Japan and North Korea resuming ordinary diplomatic relations.

Throughout the 1970s and part of the 1980s, North Korean agents abducted numerous Japanese citizens on Japanese soil. (Japan and North Korea are quite close, geographically.) These ordinary Japanese people, who happened to become targets of the North Koreans, were taken to North Korea and forced to work in a variety of capacities. Many were employed against their will as Japanese language instructors.

North Korea’s abductions didn’t stop there. In 1978, North Korea abducted Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee. Shin Sang-ok was a well-known South Korean movie director. Choi Eun-hee, his former wife, was a successful actress. The pair spent about eight years in North Korean captivity. They worked directly for Kim Jong-il, the future Supreme Leader of North Korea. Shin and Choi were tasked with making films for North Korea’s movie industry (against their will, of course.) They finally escaped in 1986.

North Korean abductions and Americans

I knew there was a story there. I wanted to write a story about an American kidnapped by the North Koreans, though. So far as my research could determine, there had never been a documented case of the North Koreans abducting an American on foreign soil.

But why couldn’t it happen? After all, thousands of Americans travel to Japan and South Korea every year. Many are skilled business and technical experts, human assets that Pyongyang would surely covet. And North Korean agents are known to be active in both Japan and South Korea.

An American abducted and taken to North Korea

THE CONSULTANT is the story of Barry Lawson, a successful business consultant from Chicago who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And then he finds himself in North Korea.

Barry Lawson is an aging Lothario in his late forties. He has a way with the ladies, and this has often gotten him into trouble. Barry is divorced, with two children.

When Barry is approached by an attractive woman at a bar in Osaka, Japan, he can’t resist….even though he knows better.

This is a decision that he’ll soon regret. Within hours, Barry Lawson, successful business consultant and ladies’ man, must find a way to survive in—and hopefully escape from—the hellhole that is North Korea.

He’s not the only foreigner there, though. Barry he meets a Japanese man, Shoji Tanaka, whom the North Koreans abducted from Hokkaido (in northern Japan) when he went out for cigarettes one night.

Barry also meets Anne Henry, a woman who knows the Korean language. Anne, it turns out, has a traumatic abduction story of her own.

***

That’s all for now. I don’t want to ruin the book for you.

THE CONSULTANT is available in paperback and Kindle. (An audiobook is in the works.) You can presently read THE CONSULTANT in Kindle Unlimited, as well.

Want to preview THE CONSULTANT? You can do so below.

Winter wonderland, writing updates

As the above view from my front porch suggests, Ohio’s plunge into the Ice Age continues unabated.

This afternoon we had about three hours of ice pellets on top of last night’s snow. So…the snow that was already on the ground now has a thick, icy glaze.

I believe I’ve had about enough winter until the 2030s, thank you.

But as long as the power holds out, the writing continues.

At present I’m about halfway through Book Two of The Rockland Horror saga. You can preview Book One below. And remember: For the time being, at least, you can read it in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.

I’m working on the first two books of another series as well, but I’ll provide more details on that later.

Wherever you are, dear reader, I hope the weather is nicer there. But if you’re anywhere in the mainland United States, odds are that your weather is pretty bad, too. This has been a rough February, weather-wise.

1970s blizzard years

Those awful, wonderful winters from 1976 to 1978

This past week two consecutive winter storms dropped more than a foot of snow on Cincinnati. I managed to shovel two driveways, twice, without a.) throwing out my back, b.) re-repturing my 2005 hernia, or c.) having a heart attack. At my current age of fifty-two, I consider that a not unnoteworthy accomplishment.

The winter of 2020 to 2021 has been a rough one so far in Cincinnati, especially compared to the past three or four. Yet more snow is forecast to arrive later this week.

Of course, for American adults around my age—especially if they grew up east of the Mississippi—there are two childhood winters that stand out in memory: those are the back-to-back “blizzard winters” in the mid-1970s: the winter of 1976 to 1977, and the winter of 1977 to 1978.

The winter of 1976 to 1977

The winter of 1976 to 1977 was the winter of record-breaking, pipe-bursting, river-freezing cold. Here in Cincinnati, there were three straight days of record cold in January 1977, in which the temperature stayed below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time.

The Ohio River froze solid—for the first time since 1958, and only the thirteenth time on record. In the Cincinnati media archives, there are photos of people walking across the Ohio River, and even driving across the ice that month. The freezing of the Ohio was quite a novelty, much talked about on the local news. One of my older friends has told me about driving his car across the Ohio River that winter on a dare. He was then nineteen years old, and he’s now in his sixties. So he obviously made it across.

January of 1977 was also a snowy one. Cincinnati had 30.3 inches of snow that year. (The usual figure for Cincinnati in January is six inches.)

Photo: Kenton County Library
Photo: Kenton County Library

The winter of 1977 to 1978

The following winter of 1977 to 1978 was just as bad, with almost as much cold, and even more snow. On January 25, 1978, one of the worst blizzards in U.S. history pummeled Cincinnati with almost seven inches of snow. There were already fourteen on the ground.

I remember the night of January 25, 1978 well. I played forward on our fourth-grade basketball team. That night we had a game at a rival Catholic school in the area, Guardian Angels. I remember walking outside at halftime with other members of my team. The air was not exceptionally cold yet by January standards. (It would soon plummet below zero degrees.) But there was a strange fog in the air. I think we all had the feeling that something momentous was imminent. On the way home from the game, the snow began. By morning, it was a whiteout.

Winter landscapes of the memory

At the age of eight or nine, one doesn’t have much life experience to draw upon. I could sense, though, that those two winters were worse than the handful of winters I could recall before. During those two winters, the outside air always seemed to be bitterly cold. Furnaces ran constantly. Fireplaces crackled nonstop. The ground was always snow-covered.

Many people are depressed by snow and cold weather, and winter in general. Not me. I will confess that some of my happiest childhood memories are winter ones, in fact.

I was particularly close to my maternal grandparents. During those blizzard years of the 1970s, they lived just down the street from us. When school was canceled due to inclement weather, I got to pass the day with my grandfather, who had recently retired. We spent a lot of time together in those years. I’m grateful for all the snow.

The cyclical nature of winter weather

It has been my observation that bad and mild winters tend to alternate in cycles. From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, the winters were harsh, with record cold and snow.

The winter of 1981 to 1982 was cold. The Cincinnati Bengals went to the Super Bowl that year. On January 10, 1982, the Bengals won a key home game against the San Diego Chargers. The air temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on game day was minus nine degrees, with wind chills down to 35 below. That game has gone down in NFL history as the “Freezer Bowl”.

I was in the eighth grade in 1981-1982, and going through a (brief, in retrospect) rebellious adolescent phase. This included hanging out with an edgier crowd, and embracing a short-lived fascination with smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.

Even in 1982, smoking and drinking weren’t acceptable pursuits for eighth graders. But hiding these illicit activities from adult authority figures was half the fun. I have many memories of shivering outside that bitter January, as I sipped a furtive drink of whiskey, or smoked a Marlboro. Even today, when I happen to smell someone else’s newly opened pack of cigarettes, or taste an alcoholic beverage, I’m transported back to that brutally cold winter of 1981 to 1982.

The last bad winter I remember from that larger cycle was the winter of 1983 to 1984. That winter brought record cold and snow to the entire United States, including Florida and Texas. As I recall, there was a lot of anxiety about the citrus crop that year, and skyrocketing prices of orange juice.

Over Christmas break in December 1983, my parents decided to embark on a rare family trip to Florida. When we reached Macon, Georgia, it was 4 degrees, with 23 degrees forecast for our destination in the Sunshine State. After spending a night shivering in a Macon hotel room with an inadequate heater, my parents decided to cut our losses. We headed home the next morning. We could freeze in Ohio for free, after all.

But the weather is no more constant than anything else in this world. That cycle of severe winters, from 1976 to 1984, transitioned into a milder pattern over subsequent years. The winters of 1984-1985 and 1985-1986 weren’t exactly balmy; but they weren’t severe, either. Throughout my last two years of high school, classes were rarely canceled due to weather. This was fine with me, because I generally enjoyed high school more than grade school.

And during my college years, spanning the winters of 1986 to 1987 through 1990 to 1991, the winters in Cincinnati were notably mild. I did not go away for college; I lived with my parents and commuted to two local schools. I did not miss a single class due to bad winter weather throughout my entire college career.

That mild cycle continued through the early 1990s, only to go the other way again in the middle of the decade. The winter of 1995 to 1996 was an especially bad one for the entire Midwest, resulting in a rare shutdown of the University of Cincinnati in January of ’96. By this time, I was a working adult in my mid-twenties.

The winter of 1995 to 1996 drew comparisons in the media to the blizzard winters of the mid-1970s. I remember scoffing when I heard this. Having been a kid during those fabled winters of the 1970s, I never took the comparison seriously.

But then, everything seems to happen on a larger scale when you’re a kid…even the weather.

‘The Rockland Horror’: multigenerational horror saga

Coming soon!

Hey, I’ve got a new horror series coming out. The first book will hit Amazon later this week, in all likelihood. (It is in the final proofreading stage.)

Here’s a little about the series:

Origins of the story: The Evil Dead in a haunted house

One of my all-time favorite horror films is Sam Raimi’s cult classic, The Evil Dead (1981).

The Evil Dead (just in case you’re one of the rare horror fans who hasn’t seen the film) follows a simple setup and plot:

A group of college students decide to spend a weekend in a cabin in rural Tennessee. One of them discovers a copy of the Sumerian Book of the Dead, along with a tape recorder. Both items were left in the cabin by an archeologist—who has apparently met a bad end.

And, of course, the college students throw caution to the wind, and tamper with both items. Because that’s the sort of thing people always do in horror movies.

Hijinks ensue. Evil spirits are roused, and they take over the college students one-by-one, transforming each of them into homicidal zombies.

I loved The Evil Dead, even though I recognized some of its flaws.

What flaws? you ask. The characters are cardboard cutouts, for one thing. Also, there is Raimi’s fondness for blending black humor with horror. The combination mostly worked in The Evil Dead. It detracted from some of his subsequent horror films.

But flaws aside, The Evil Dead was truly a powerful film, especially for the early 1980s. I recall watching it for the first time back in the summer of 1983. I watched a VHS rental copy of The Evil Dead, on the Zenith television in my parents’ living room. (I was 14 or 15 at the time.) For a full 85 minutes, my eyes were glued to the television screen. The rest of the world receded into the background. Only good storytelling can do that.

My concerns and storytelling style are different from Raimi’s. I like more character development; and I don’t like comedy-horror. But I loved The Evil Dead, nevertheless. I’ve long known that I would someday write a story of my own that would take The Evil Dead as its inspiration.

* * *

One day during the long, turbulent summer of 2020, I decided that I wanted to write a book that might best be described as “The Evil Dead inside a haunted house”. Basically, I was aiming for a story that captured the spirit of Raimi’s 1981 movie, without ripping it off.

I wrote an initial story that more or less followed the plot line of the 1981 movie. It was set in the present day. But as mentioned above, I didn’t want to rip off Raimi. I swapped out the claustrophobic Tennessee cabin of The Evil Dead for a big, old house in Southern Indiana. Like all haunted houses, this one had a backstory. (Haunted houses are usually haunted for a reason, after all.)

As I began writing the book, though, I discovered something: The backstory was much more than a backstory. The house had a long, horrific history—as did the people who lived (and died) there.

I realized that one story simply wasn’t going to get the job done.

So I scrapped my original manuscript, and went back to the drawing board.

Instead of starting the story in the present day, I decided to go back to the very beginning, to the origins of The Rockland Horror.

That is where Book One begins…

A total of nine books have been planned out, and are in various stages of writing and development. When completed, The Rockland Horror saga will cover the horrific history of one cursed house from 1882 through 2020.

‘Kalifornia’: a forgotten gem from the 1990s

The year was 1993. Bill Clinton was president. Almost no one had heard of the Internet yet. (I certainly hadn’t.) Most cars still had cassette decks. And life was much, much simpler than it is today.

But there were plenty of sinister goings-on in the movies. Released in September of 1993, Kalifornia is a road thriller movie starring Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, and Michelle Forbes. It’s one worth watching, even though it got lost amid the sea of good movies to come out around that time. (The 1990s was a good decade for film, on balance.)

Here’s the set-up: A graduate student (Duchovny) and his girlfriend (Forbes) plan to drive from Louisville, Kentucky to Los Angeles. Along the way, they will photograph famous murder sites. (There’s a book deal in the works.)

The problem? They are short on funds. So they place a ride share ad in their campus newspaper. No Craigs List in 1993, alas.

Who should answer the ad but Early Grayce (Pitt), a sociopathic, homicidal parolee, and his developmentally impaired girlfriend, Adele Corners (Lewis). The odd couple begin their cross-country ride, and bad things predictably happen.

Say what you will about Brad Pitt, but the guy is a good actor. He is thoroughly convincing as a sinister redneck outlaw. We haven’t seen much of Juliette Lewis in a while, but she’s good in this movie, too. The following year, Lewis would play a similar role in Natural Born Killers, as the cold-blooded love interest of mass murderer Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson).

(Speaking of Natural Born Killers: I watched that movie shortly after it came out in 1994, and I found it to be one of the most overrated films of the 1990s.)

Kalifornia, by contrast, is a now mostly forgotten gem. If you’re in the mood for something dark and suspenseful from the Clinton years, skip Natural Born Killers, and give Kalifornia a try.