Why I love Halloween

It’s that season of the year again!

Last night I went out for a walk in my neighborhood around 7 pm. (We’ve had an unseasonably warm spell here in the Cincinnati area.) I didn’t take into account how quickly the dusk settles in this late in the year. I was only halfway out when it suddenly became very…well, dark.

I therefore walked back to my house in the dark. The houses around me were festooned with various Halloween decorations: skulls, black cats, and even some cool Halloween projector lights.

I love Halloween. For me, Halloween is the time when we mortals come to terms with two constants of human existence: a.) the unknown, and b.) the inevitability of death.

The celebration of Halloween is an act of acceptance. Our lives will always contain tragedy, dissatisfactions, and uncertainty. But we cannot allow ourselves to paralyzed by fear…or by sadness.

Halloween is a time when we laugh at death, and embrace our mortality.

A few years ago, I wrote a Halloween novel called 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. This nostalgic, coming-of-age horror tale is set on Halloween night, 1980. Check it out here.

New extended preview: ‘The Consultant’

I’ve added an extended preview here on the site for The Consultant.

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.

View the preview here!
View THE CONSULTANT on Amazon!

Horror on Kindle Unlimited

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.)

Eleven Miles of Night

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.

12 Hours of Halloween

A coming-of-age story set on Halloween night, 1980. This is a tale of supernatural events in the American suburb. A classic horror tale for Generation X.

Revolutionary Ghosts

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.)

Luk Thep

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 Rockland Horror saga

Spanning a nearly 140-year period from 1882 to 2020, The Rockland Horror is a series about dark events at a cursed house in rural Indiana.

Hay Moon & Other Stories: Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense

This was my first short story collection. Although all of these stories contain speculative elements, there is quite a range in plot and subject matter. In this collection you’ll find vampire and ghost stories, but also a few crime stories with a “twist”. Oh, and there are also several “creature feature” stories that are kind of fun.

I Know George Washington and Other Stories: Five Dark Tales

Five dark tales of murder, hauntings, and the undead, set in locations from Tennessee to Mexico.

The Headless Horseman returns

How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts

Or…

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 was  beheaded 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…

View REVOLUTIONARY GHOSTS on Amazon

‘The Maze’: a parallel world fantasy in Kindle Unlimited

Just a quick book note here: The Maze is now available again to readers in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. You can also purchase the ebook outright, or get the paperback version. 

This is a modern-day “portal”, or parallel world fantasy.

The Maze was originally published in 2013. It had good reviews, but there were a few changes I wanted to make. The book is now back on Amazon with an updated cover.

Jack Reacher and short fiction

I’ve just finished listening to Lee Child’s Three More Jack Reacher Novellas: Too Much Time, Small Wars, Not a Drill and Bonus Jack Reacher Stories.

I’m a longtime fan of the Jack Reacher series. Jack Reacher, along with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, is one of my favorite characters in crime fiction.

I have sometimes felt, though, that full-length Jack Reacher novels have a tendency to become a bit repetitive. There are (sometimes) a few too many reversals and fight scenes, as if Lee Child is padding out the story.

And that may very well be the case. Authors in traditional publishing are required to write novels to a certain length, usually within a tolerance of a few thousand words. This is a result of the pricing and distribution scheme that has become part of the traditional publishing business model.

Jack Reacher stories are far more fast-paced (and much less repetitive) in the shorter format of the novella/short story. The tales in this collection contain no fluff, no wasted words, or excessive, looping plot circles. If you’re already a Jack Reacher fan, you’ll love this collection. If you’re new to Jack Reacher, this might be a good place to start.

At present, this collection seems to be audio-only. I’m not sure why that is. Dick Hill does a decent job on the narration, but—for me, at least—Scott Brick remains the gold standard of audiobook narrators.

Anyway, if you like audiobooks and crime stories, you might want to check this one out.

**As I have noted before, I listen to a lot of audiobooks during the summer lawn-mowing season. Nothing breaks up the monotony of yard work like an audiobook. I listen to audiobooks that I’ve downloaded onto my phone, via my 3M WorkTunes headset.

I personally recommend this hearing protector headset for anyone, as it syncs easily with my iPhone, and provides great hearing protection. (Also, you can get it on Amazon.)

‘Billy Summers’? Yes, I’ll probably get around to reading it

A few of you have emailed to ask if I’ve yet read Stephen King’s latest novel, Billy Summers.

The short answer is: not yet.

Here’s the longer answer. I was a rabid Stephen King fan in the mid-1980s. I mean: rabid to the point where I spent a year (1984-5) devouring everything he’d written to that time, and reading virtually nothing else.

Then I read It in 1986, and I noticed a change in his narrative style. Let me explain.

King’s early novels—‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Carrie, Christine, The Dead Zone—are all written with a disciplined narrative style, and fast pacing. His first short story collection, Night Shift, includes some of the best short genre fiction ever written. Read “The Lawnmower Man”, “The Mangler”, or “Trucks”. There is not a single wasted word in any of these stories.

Then around It, King shifted to a much more verbose, more meandering style. I remember thinking at the time that It was about three hundred pages too long. That was probably me being generous. It was more live five hundred pages too long.

I have since struggled to finish some of Stephen King’s more recent books: 11/22/63, Doctor Sleep, The Outsider. I was unable to finish Under the Dome, Cell, Dreamcatcher, or Lisey’s Story.

Right now, I’m midway through his 2020 novella collection, If It Bleeds. I won’t lie: I’m struggling with this one, too.

No matter what I think, Stephen King is still one of the most commercially successful writers in history. That means something.

A writer can sometimes catch a wave simply because a particular editor or publishing company really likes his or her work. Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut novel, City on Fire, was published to great acclaim in 2015, and at a large price tag for the publisher. But the book received very mixed reviews from critics and readers alike, the consensus being that it was over-written and overly focused on literary navel-gazing. Hallberg hasn’t published much since then.

But that’s one flash in the pan. Stephen King, by contrast, has been commercially successful since 1974. I was in the first grade in 1974. I’m now in my fifties. That puts his long career in perspective.

The simple explanation is that Stephen King’s work has changed since the mid-1980s. He’s acknowledged that himself. I prefer the earlier Stephen King. I know plenty of people who prefer his later stuff.

Moreover, I am no longer the same reader that I was in 1984 or 1986. I was in my teens then; and I’m now creeping toward late middle age. Perhaps Stephen King and I have simply grown apart.

King still pleasantly surprises me once in a while. I did like Joyland, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and Mr. Mercedes. I enjoyed all of the stories in Everything’s Eventual, and at least half of the stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. I also found Full Dark, No Stars to be quite entertaining.

So I am by no means “done” with Stephen King. The early reviews for Billy Summers are strong, and I’m intrigued by the book’s premise: a troubled Iraq War veteran turned hitman, carrying out one final assassination.

I’ll almost certainly get around to reading Billy Summers…eventually. But right now, there are just too many other titles on my TBR list.

Listening to ‘Fevre Dream’ by George R.R. Martin

Long before he was known as the novelist behind the HBO series Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin wrote a vampire novel called Fevre Dream.

Fevre Dream is set on the Mississippi River, just before the American Civil War. Abner Marsh is a riverboat captain who is down on his luck. Joshua York is a vampire who needs a human partner for an atypical “mission”.

Originally published in 1982, Fevre Dream is one of GRRM’s best works. I understand that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones has become a veritable force of nature in recent years. But many of Martin’s earlier works are just as good, and require much less of a time commitment. (Martin also wrote tons of short stories and novellas, many of which have been compiled into two collections that you can get on Amazon.)

The vampire of Fevre Dream is not a supernatural creature, but a separate-but-similar race of quasi-humans. This alternative interpretation of the vampire is now common, but it would have been innovative in 1982. 

The interplay between the two main characters is the best part of Fevre Dream. Abner Marsh is a gruff but good-hearted riverboat man. Joshua York is an urbane antihero who is trying to overcome his bloodthirsty nature. Abner and Joshua need each other, and yet their basic worldviews are very much in conflict. The perfect dramatic setup.

Throughout the book, there is a competing group of evil vampires in Louisiana, who will ultimately come into conflict with Abner and Joshua (who gathers other “good” vampires to him). This plot device, too, is now common. But once again, it would have been original in 1982.

The Mississippi River is also a character in the book. George R.R. Martin is originally from New Jersey. But he spent some time as an instructor at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa during the 1970s. Dubuque is situated on the upper Mississippi. Martin would have gained a familiarity with the river during his time in Iowa, and that familiarity definitely shows up Fevre Dream.

I initially read Fevre Dream back in 2009. My rule of thumb is: If ten years have passed since I read a particular book or saw a particular movie, the story may be worth experiencing again. None of us is the same person we were a decade ago, and so a story will mean something different to us after an interval of ten years. (We’ll also, in most cases, have forgotten significant portions of the plot.)

Another difference is that this time, I’m listening to the audiobook version of Fevre Dream. As I noted in a previous post, I have developed the habit of listening to audiobooks while I mow my lawn and do other yard work. And this is July, the season for such things. 

**View George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream on Amazon**

H.P. Lovecraft and first-person narration

A small addendum to my earlier post on HP Lovecraft.

I have noticed that H.P. Lovecraft has a strong preference for first-person narration.

First-person narration is neither intrinsically good nor bad. I’ve used it myself in a handful of novels, including The Eavesdropper, Termination Man, Revolutionary Ghosts, and 12 Hours of Halloween.

I suspect, however, that Lovecraft’s excessive reliance on first-person narration traces to his generally weak sense of character and characterization. As I previously noted, every Lovecraft character is essentially the same person: a solitary male engaged in arcane pursuits, often with the assistance of an uncle who is a professor at Miskatonic University.

But all writers, I should note—me included—have their quirks and habitual crutches. This is not a condemnation of Lovecraft, but merely a literary observation.

Rereading Lovecraft in 2021

I’ve been working my way through that body of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction that is loosely based around the Necronomicon, or the Cthulhu Mythos cycle. (Actually, I am listening to the audiobook edition, mostly while I mow my lawn and work out at the gym.) This edition, read by various narrators and published by Blackstone Audio, is the edition authorized by the Lovecraft estate.

The readings are well done. The narrators take Lovecraft’s frequently purple prose seriously, without overdoing it. If you like audiobooks and you like Lovecraft, you’ll enjoy this audio collection.

Lovecraft’s body of work is partly nostalgia for me. I read most of Lovecraft’s stories during my college years. I discovered Lovecraft while browsing through the shelves of the University of Cincinnati bookstore in 1988. Also, Stephen King had mentioned him in several of his essays.

Reimmersing myself in Lovecraft after all these years, a few things stand out, both good and bad.

Let’s start with the good.

First of all, H.P. Lovecraft had an incredible imagination. When he wrote these stories, there were no horror movies. There wasn’t even much fantasy fiction as we know it today. Lovecraft died in 1937, the same year that The Hobbit was published. Yet Lovecraft created so many horror/dark fantasy tropes and conventions from thin air.

Working within the constraints of the pulp fiction era, Lovecraft did a fairly decent job of establishing continuity across his stories. The Cthulhu Mythos cycle isn’t technically a series. These stories were published individually, at different times, in various pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. The marketplace more or less forced Lovecraft into the short story/novella form, and every story had to begin with a blank slate. The writer couldn’t assume that any given reader had read his previous works. Nevertheless, when Lovecraft’s stories are compiled, there is a discernible consistency running through all of them.

And yes, his purple prose. Lovecraft was hyper-literate. You can’t read, or listen to, Lovecraft’s stories without increasing your vocabulary.

Now for the not-so-good.

His narrative style. Lovecraft was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” or Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, and you’ll definitely see the differences.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald wrote in a style that we would recognize as modern. Hemingway, in particular, was well-known for his direct, economical prose. But both Hemingway and Fitzgerald thought in terms of showing, rather than telling.

Lovecraft, by contrast, writes more like Herman Melville or Thomas Hardy. Rather than creating scenes on the page, Lovecraft often simply tells you what happened. This makes his writing occasionally cumbersome to wade through, and less accessible to modern readers.

There isn’t much we can say about Lovecraft’s characters, because his characters are paper-thin. They exist only as observers of the supernatural phenomena in his stories.

There are notably few exceptions here. The two main characters in “Herbert West—Reanimator” stuck in my mind a bit longer than the characters in the other stories, who disappeared as soon as the stories were over.

The typical Lovecraft character is a scholarly male recluse who is drawn into arcane research and observations by chance, or by idle curiosity. Lovecraft has virtually no female characters. Not even any damsels in distress.

In some literary genres in recent years, there has been a tendency to depict every female main character as a tough-talking heroine who can whip every male villain she encounters, even if they’re twice her size. We often see this in television shows and movies, and no one believes it.

But Lovecraft errs in the opposite extreme: I don’t want to read female characters that were obviously crafted for the sole purpose of making a feminist statement. But I don’t want to read a fictional world that is entirely comprised of guys who can’t seem to find dates, either. 

Lovecraft’s writing also reveals his prejudices, which were extreme and extensive even by the standards of his time. Lovecraft looked down on just about everyone who wasn’t an Anglo-Saxon New England brahmin. His stories are filled with savage Africans and “swarthy”, conniving Greeks and Italians.

Not that he cared much for white, native-born rural people, either. Multiple Lovecraft stories discuss the degraded hill people who live in the backwaters of Vermont, for example.

There has been much writing, and much posturing, in recent years, about “canceling” Lovecraft because of his attitudes on race. His name was removed from a prominent award, and some book bloggers have even declared that Lovecraft’s fiction is no longer suitable for people with the “correct” attitudes on social and political issues. The hand-wringers often forget that while Lovecraft certainly didn’t like African Americans, he didn’t like much of anyone else, either. Lovecraft was an equal-opportunity snob/bigot. 

I am not going to make a show of being offended by a piece of pulp fiction that was written eighty or ninety years ago. But an undeniable fact remains: H.P. Lovecraft comes across as a rather narrow-minded person with a narrow range of experiences and interests.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read his fiction. As I said by way of disclaimer: I’ve already read all of these stories at least once. (I believe I’ve read “The Colour Out of Space” four or five times, the first time in 1988.) The scope of Lovecraft’s imagination was so broad, that these stories are worthwhile for any reader drawn to horror, dark fantasy, or so-called “weird fiction”. Lovecraft was a flawed man and a flawed writer; but he nevertheless produced some very engaging tales.

The novels of W.E.B. Griffin

I’m presently reading The New Breed, the 7th book in W.E.B. Griffin’s Brotherhood of War series. This novel follows the lives and adventures of several U.S. Army personnel involved in covert operations warfare during the 1960s, particularly in Vietnam and the Congo.

Like most W.E.B. Griffin novels, The New Breed is not simply a series of combat scenes strung together. Nor is this a novel in which the Fate of the World rests on one man’s shoulders.

The New Breed is more a slice-of-life look at fighting men and their wives, girlfriends, and children. The entire series is like that. What Griffin wrote was not so much military fiction, but fiction about people who are in the military. Griffin’s novels are light on action, as novels set in global conflicts go. There are, in fact, quite a few W.E.B. Griffin novels in which not much seems to happen.

But when he was at his best, Griffin wrote engaging characters that drew you in to the story. I’m working my way eagerly through the Brotherhood of War books. Many readers have gone before me, and many more are sure to follow. 

When he was not at his best, Griffin’s books tended to ramble. Griffin was most on-point when he wrote stories set narrowly within the US military. When he strayed beyond that, he sometimes seemed to lose the plot.

Speaking of plot: I may be wrong, but I would be willing to bet that Griffin was a discovery writer—that is, he did not compose from an outline, but simply wrote down the story as it came to him. This kind of writing makes for memorable characters, but occasionally ersatz and meandering plots.

The consumption of alcohol is a big part of Griffin’s stories and characters. I’m not talking about drunken bacchanals here, but simply the demonstrated conviction that a grown man must be properly lubricated with spirits at all hours of the day and night. This was no doubt a real part of the postwar military culture in which Griffin came of age.

Also, it’s very clear that Griffin never bothered with what are now called “sensitivity readers”. There is a scene in the The New Breed in which one of the characters actually describes a woman’s breasts as “knockers”. Regular readers of this blog will know that I loathe political correctness; but even I would think twice before using this word in an unironic manner.

W.E.B. Griffin’s work largely avoids the ever-vigilant gaze of the culture nannies, though, because the culture nannies don’t read much military fiction. (So please, don’t link to this blog post on Twitter. Okay?)

W. E. B. Griffin (1929 – 2019) lived to within a few months of his ninetieth birthday. This is probably a wonder, as most photos of the author show him to be rather rotund, and smoking a big stogie.

After a childhood split between New York and Philadelphia, Griffin joined the U.S. Army in 1946. He therefore missed World War II; but he was involved in the military occupation of Germany. He also served in the Korean War.

Griffin was modest about his own military career, however. He once told an interviewer, “My own military background is wholly undistinguished. I was a sergeant. What happened was that I was incredibly lucky in getting to be around some truly distinguished senior officers, sergeants, and spooks.”

Nevertheless, the level of detail in Griffin’s military novels could only come from an author who has actually served in uniform. These books are extremely popular with veterans, as well as less qualified readers like me—who never served, and sometimes regret their failure to do so. 

Most of the Brotherhood of War series was written during the 1980s (with the exception of the final installment, Special Ops, which came out in 2001). All of these books are still in print, however, and available on Amazon in multiple formats. Highly recommended to the veteran and nonveteran reader alike.

***View the Brotherhood of War series on Amazon***

I discovered Zane Grey

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to listen to audiobooks while I mow the lawn. This past weekend, I started listening to a new title, The Fugitive Trail, by Zane Grey. I had about four hours worth of yard work to do, so I made my way through about half of the novel.

I’ll confess that I’ve never been a big fan of westerns. This may be partly due to generational factors. I started watching television and movies in the 1970s, just as our culture was becoming more cynical and “ironic”. The post-Vietnam cultural shift diminished the market for the big John Wayne-style western, with all-American heroes, and unambiguous lines of good and evil. Watch a cowboy movie made prior to 1968 today, and you’ll find any number of violations of political correctness.

I’ve watched Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, the films he made with Italian director Sergio Leone during the Vietnam era. I generally like Clint Eastwood, but the antiheroes he plays in these films are not endearing. The John Wayne version of the cowboy, while arguably less realistic, is far more sympathetic.

Zane Grey (1872 – 1939) lived, wrote, and died long before our culture turned against itself in the 1960s. His most popular book, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was published the year the Titanic sank…before World War I.

I’d been vaguely aware of Zane Grey for years, of course. I’ve been told that my paternal grandfather was an avid reader of Zane Grey’s novels. (He used to read them during his breaks on the night shift at Cincinnati Gas & Electric, according to my father.) But I’d never gotten around to reading any of his books myself.

Until I happened upon a discounted audiobook version of The Fugitive Trail, that is. I began the book prepared for anything—including the possibility that I might hate it. But as chance would have it, I liked the book a lot.

Zane Grey was a master of “pulp fiction”. He wrote fast-paced stories with passionate heroes and heroines, driven by universal human drives.

Speaking of modern sensibilities: The heroine of The Fugitive Trail, a young woman named Trinity Spencer, is no helpless damsel in distress. She takes the initiative in determining her own outcomes, and has no qualms about standing up to the men in her midst. Imagine that: popular fiction had strong women characters decades before anyone was “woke”.

That said, some of the language and dialogue in the book is dated, even clichéd. But that’s part of the fun.

Zane Grey probably won’t become my favorite author. This is fortunate, I suppose, since he’s been dead for 82 years and won’t be writing any more books. But The Fugitive Trail won’t be my last Zane Grey book, either. I already have my eye on the aforementioned Riders of the Purple Sage.

Check out The Fugitive Trail on  Audible.com

(BTW: While not a western novel as such, fans of western novels (and good vs. evil adventure tales) may want to check out my Kentucky crime novel, Blood Flats.)

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!

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.)