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

My last Halloween (the true story)

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.

***View 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN on Amazon***

YouTube and audiobooks

Author Lindsay Buroker, one of the genuinely nicest people in indie publishing, began loading some of her audiobooks onto YouTube in 2020.

Buroker has a substantial following. She quickly racked up subscribers and views, and her channel received monetization approval. Buroker soon reported that she was earning more from YouTube views on her audio content than she was earning on some audiobook platforms. 

Then (see above Twitter thread) YouTube demonetized Buroker because her audiobooks aren’t “original content”. 

Of course, YouTube still reserves the right to run ads on her videos. Buroker just won’t receive any share of the revenue. Buroker has said that she’ll likely leave the first-in-series audiobooks up as lead magnets, and take down the rest. 

***

There are two sides to this, as there are to most things.

On one hand, YouTube provides a completely FREE video-hosting platform. Uploading videos to YouTube is not only FREE, but also easy and frictionless. Unless you’re posting something inflammatory, sexual, or sensational, you can post pretty much anything you want to. 

That said, all social media is essentially about digital sharecropping, from a content and monetization perspective. This includes YouTube (though YouTube does at least provide something valuable for free).

The takeaways are:

1.) On the Internet, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.

2.) YouTube is still a good place to help build your brand. But it is not a reliable place to  build your business. 

**Buy Lindsay Buroker’s books on Amazon**

Original story idea vs. execution: which is more important?

The other day, one of you emailed me to get my take on an age-old debate in writing, filmmaking, and storytelling circles:

Which matters more…the big, highly original idea, or the execution of the story, regardless of its originality?

Many writers fret constantly about people “stealing their ideas”. They put off writing because they “don’t have any original ideas”. They worry about forgetting ideas.

So which is more important? There is evidence for both.

Star Wars took off in 1977 partly because it was such an original idea. Here we had the rough equivalents of cowboys and samurai warriors in space. There had never been anything like that before.

In 2013, I first read about The Americans in the television and movie review section of a magazine. The highly original premise of The Americans— deep undercover Russian spies in Reagan-era America—instantly intrigued me.

The Americans intrigued a lot of people. The Americans ran from 2013 to 2018. During that time, the Cold War period drama received high marks from reviewers and viewers alike. The series has a 96% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Google composite review score is 4.8 out of 5. That’s pretty close to unanimity, at a time when people widely disagree about almost everything.

Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine The Americans having become nothing more than a Tom Clancy-esque knock-off for cable television. Why didn’t that happen?

The Americans is, indeed, based on a highly innovative “big idea”, what movie and fiction folks like to call “high concept”. But it is in the execution that The Americans really shines: the depth and arc of the characters, the nuts and bolts of each episode.

Plenty of stories succeed in the world of books and film without being very “high concept” at all. Consider the success of Downton Abbey. There is no high concept in Downton Abbey. It is little more than a soap opera set in Edwardian England, in fact.

When I watched the first episode of Downton Abbey, I didn’t know what I was going to think of it. But I was blown away. Not because of the “big idea” (there was none), but because of the execution: characters and individual episodes. The success of Downton Abbey is all in the execution.

An example in the book world would be Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Jonathan Franzen is inconsistent as a writer. (He takes an average of about 6 years to write each book.) He is eccentric as an individual. But he scored a home run with The Corrections in 2001.

I remember getting my hands on this book over the Christmas holiday of 2001. I sat down and read it cover-to-cover, over a period of about 48 hours.

There is no high concept in The Corrections, either. A highly autobiographical novel, The Corrections is a fictionalized adaptation of people and events from the author’s life. But the world that Franzen creates in this book, while mundane, pulls you in. It pulled me in, and it pulled in millions of other readers, too.

***

On the opposite side of this coin are the high concept stories that fall flat because of poor execution.

We have all been bored by stories with incredibly high stakes: literally the end of humanity, in some cases. They bore us because of flaws in characterization, pacing, or depth.

This shows up in a lot of 2- and 3-three star Amazon reviews, that begin with phrases like, “I really wanted to like this book, but…”. Others outright say, “Great idea, but poor execution.”

For me, The Expanse fell into this category. This was true of both the book(s) and the Syfy series.

The premise of The Expanse did intrigue me: neither a near-future alien encounter tale, nor a space opera set in deep space, The Expanse is set a few centuries from the present, within our solar system.

But when I actually dug into the first book, it left me cold. The characters were flat, and there were too many of them. The narrative was unfocused. I had the same reaction a few years later, when I tried the Syfy series. I just couldn’t get into it.

Some of you will disagree with me, of course, but I’m not the only one who found the execution of The Expanse lacking. And I am not someone who dislikes science fiction. I loved the original version of Battlestar Galactica in the 1970s, as well as the “reimagined version” in the 2000s (though with some reservations).

Battlestar Galactica, whether in the hands of Glen A. Larson in the 1970s, or SyFy in the 00s, featured good execution.

But was Battlestar Galactica high concept? Highly original?

20th Century Fox certainly didn’t think so. In 1978, 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios for allegedly ripping off Star Wars. The lawsuit claimed that Battlestar Galactica had filched more than thirty distinct ideas from Star Wars.

Whether you accept this notion or not, there is no doubt that the original BSG rode the coattails of Star Wars, which was then a monolithic phenomenon of popular culture.

And the rebooted BSG wasn’t original at all. It was based on the 1978 series, which owed much to Star Wars.

***

I’m therefore going to come down on the side of execution over big, original idea.

There are so many stories that we’ve all seen time and time again:

The rough-edged police detective who chafes against “the brass”, but will go to any length to catch a criminal…

  • The star-crossed lovers…
  • The ex-green beret whose daughter has been kidnapped…
  • The sympathetic vampire
  • Aliens/zombies/other monsters disrupt human society…
  • and so on…

Nevertheless, both novelists and filmmakers continue to find fresh new angles on these old ideas…new ways to execute them.

Join Amazon Prime – Watch Thousands of Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now

***

For example: I recently enjoyed the final season of Bosch on Amazon Prime Video.

Bosch is based on Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels. The Harry Bosch novels are about a big-city homicide detective, Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.

I don’t think that Michael Connelly would mind me saying: that’s a very old idea. Nothing original at all in the “concept”! But the Harry Bosch novels represent some of the best genre fiction out there.

Why? Because Michael Connelly’s execution of the character of Harry Bosch, of the murder cases, is so darn good.

Originality, in other words, might be overrated. To be sure, there is a place for it. (It is also a bad idea to jump on literary bandwagons; but that’s a separate topic for another day).

It is probably better to focus on the superlative execution of a “good” story idea—even if it’s been done before—versus waiting around for one superlative idea to come the writer’s way.

Horror sequels and haunted office buildings

Book 3 of The Rockland Horror saga is now live on Amazon. There will also be a Book 4. (I already have the basic story mapped out, in fact.)  At present, though, I’m working on a sequel to Eleven Miles of Night.

Eleven Miles of Night is set in 2013, and was published in that year. The next book in what will become the Jason Kelley series will take place eight years later, in 2021. It will involve Jason’s re-entry into the world of paranormal research.

(You may recall that Jason swore off paranormal research at the end of Eleven Miles of Night, because he was so shaken by what he encountered on the Shaman’s Highway.)

In the next book, Jason’s challenge will be not a haunted road, but a haunted office building.

Why an office building? Oh, trust me, office buildings can be very creepy after-hours. And I have a very creepy one planned for Book 2 in the Jason Kelley series.

If you haven’t yet read Eleven Miles of Night, now might be a good time to do so!

Goodbye to Goodreads

I’ve closed both my author and personal accounts on Goodreads. My books will still be listed there, of course; but I’ll no longer maintain an active presence there.

Since its launch in 2006, Goodreads has inspired both enthusiastic fans and detractors. There are controversies about the outdated design of the site, and whether or not Goodreads has declined since it was acquired by Amazon in 2013. I’ll leave those debates to others.

Since I first dabbled with Goodreads almost a decade ago, I have found it to be neither a uniformly good nor bad experience. Goodreads is social media. And all social media is a mixture of good and bad, best encapsulated in the acronym, YMMV.

Most of the people I interacted with on Goodreads were pleasant. I also ran across a few yahoos, of course. Once again: social media.

But it’s important to remember that Goodreads is for readers, not writers. I don’t want to be the author on Goodreads who is shouting “buy my book!” Nor is anyone served by the writer who hovers over reader-reviewers.

Nor does a Goodreads account really serve me as a reader-reviewer at this point, because I mostly don’t do that anymore. Once I started seriously publishing my own fiction, I became hesitant to review other people’s books on Amazon, etc. That’s a bit like Ford Motor Company reviewing the latest Toyota Camry, right? If I really want to say something about another author’s book (and that isn’t often), I generally say it here, on my own website.

Finally, throughout this past year I’ve been reassessing my relationship with social media. Since the whole social media thing began about fifteen years ago, I’ve been on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the now defunct Google+. At least I never had a MySpace page.

I’ve really gained very little from social media, either spiritually or monetarily. (YouTube, though, is useful if you want to know how to fix a leaky toilet.)

And so it goes with Goodreads. I don’t exactly hate Goodreads, but nor do I particularly like it or need it. This is not a personal boycott or a blanket condemnation of Goodreads. If the site works for you, then by all means continue to use it. But it no longer works for me.

Fiction/release updates

The big item here is The Rockland Horror 3, which is presently in the editing/final revision stage.

The Rockland Horror 3 will be somewhat longer than the previous two books in the series. Both The Rockland Horror and The Rockland Horror 2 were around 72K words. The third book will be closer to 90K words.

This is one reason why it’s taking a bit longer to complete. But  I think you’ll like the final result.

I’m working on some other projects as well, including a World War II epic. More details to come.

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***

Kindle Vella: first impressions

Kindle Vella is Amazon’s newest subscription e-reading program. Several of you have asked me via email if I plan to write new stories for it.

I might start with the basic question: What the heck is Vella? Vella is a serial fiction platform. The best analogy I can think of for US readers is Wattpad, which seems to be mostly oriented toward teenage girls (given the prevalence of YA romance stories there). Online serial fiction is not especially popular among adult readers in the United States (yet), though it is popular with adult readers in Asia, especially those in China.

At least one major Chinese web novel publisher is now actively targeting the US market. Wattpad, moreover, has become a major online publisher within the YA romance niche.

I suspect that Vella is Amazon’s way of trying to eat the lunch of Wattpad and the Chinese web novel publishers. The creation of a paid platform for web fiction has some complicated aspects, of course; but it would be easy enough for Amazon.

You can’t read stories on Kindle Vella just yet. Kindle Vella has yet to be unveiled to readers, though Amazon is encouraging publishers to create content for it in advance of the launch.

Michael Kozlowski of Good E-Reader has done a detailed write-up of the fine print. There are some positive points: Vella will allow readers to get the first few chapters free, and the “pay as you go” system should discourage many of the scams that have plagued Kindle Unlimited.

On the downside, Vella content must be exclusive not just to Amazon, but to the Vella program itself. If a writer wants to republish a serialized story as a complete book, she will have to take it out of Vella.

Then there is the question (which Kozlowski raises) of whether or not Vella is likely to be a hit with readers. As Kozlowski notes, Amazon’s 2012 Kindle Serials program languished in obscurity and was eventually discontinued. But that was almost a decade ago. That’s a long, long time in  publishing.

I have mixed feelings about all this. My writing dream was born in the 1980s, when “writing” meant writing a book that would (hopefully) find its way to a shelf at Waldenbooks. Nowadays, most of my readers get my books on Amazon Kindle (though I do sell quite a few paperbacks some months).

I’m not opposed to the idea of digital serials, but I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach to Kindle Vella. I want to see how Amazon rolls it out and promotes it first.

I have also flirted with the idea of serializing a few long-form stories here on my site. Don’t get me wrong: I love Amazon, as a reader, writer, and general consumer. (I just ordered some vitamins for my dad from Amazon.) But I don’t want all of my content to be exclusive to one company and one website. That would be a bad business strategy. And exclusivity tends to be the first rule of play with all of these Amazon programs.

‘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!

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.

Three early novels back in Kindle Unlimited

Most writers tend to change over time. Stephen King’s most recent offering, If It Bleeds, is quite distinct from his early breakout novels like Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining. If It Bleeds is almost like a book from a different author. 

King is  one of  the best-known examples of writers who’ve changed, but there are many others.

***

I haven’t been writing and publishing for as long as Stephen King, of course. But I’ve been at it for about a decade now, and that’s long enough for my story interests and narrative style to undergo significant changes.

Relatively early in the game, I wrote and published a short story collection, along with three novels: Blood Flats (2011), Termination Man (2012), and The Maze (2013).

The short story collection, Hay Moon and Other Stories, has remained on Amazon since 2011. Readers have liked it, and it sells fairly well, as short story collections  go. 

But the aforementioned novels were a different matter. These are all standalone novels, and in a mix of genres. A marketing nightmare. Although reviews were generally positive, sales languished.

***

These three novels are all long books, well in excess of 100K words. (Blood Flats is about 180K words). This past year I decided that it would be a good idea to take the books off the market for a time, give them a thorough reread, and decide if they needed to be altered, republished as originally written, or scrapped.

I’ve written so much in the intervening years, that rereading these books was a bit like reading three books written by another person. I remembered the general plots of each novel, of course; but I had also forgotten huge swaths of the stories.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of these novels are, well…pretty darn good.

I subjected these books not only to an author’s reread, but also to an external proofread. A handful of typos were found and corrected (though not many). 

I’ve rereleased these books and put them back in Kindle Unlimited. Here they are, with Amazon links and descriptions:

Blood Flats: Lee McCabe is on the run from the law, mafia hitmen, and rural meth dealers. A gun-blazing chase through the badlands of Kentucky.

Termination Man: Sex, lies, and corporate conspiracies! A workplace thriller for fans of John Grisham and Joseph Finder.

The Maze: Three ordinary people step into an alien world of magic and nonstop danger. A modern-day parallel world fantasy with the soul of a thriller!

***

If the above story descriptions appeal to you, then I think you’ll like each of these books. And you can presently read them for free in Kindle Unlimited. 

A father, his daughter, and two serial killers

The story that came to me while I was waiting in line at the cable company…

“The Van” is one of five long short stories included in the collection: I Know George Washington and Other Stories: 5 Dark Tales

The basic setup for the story is this: a divorced father is driving with his 13-year-old daughter through East Tennessee, near Knoxville. Under the custody agreement of the divorce, the girl spends the summers with her dad in Ohio. As the story opens, the summer is coming to a close. Father and daughter are on their way to Florida, where the man’s ex-wife (the girl’s mother) lives.

That route—from Ohio to Florida—takes them through the eastern corner of the Volunteer State, where trouble awaits. 

They stop at a barbecue restaurant, not far from Knoxville, to eat dinner. It’s been a long day on the road, and they’re both feeling tired.

The man happens to notice two men standing in line with them. The men look suspicious, and they are ogling his daughter.

“The Van” is the story of what happens next…

***

The trigger for this story came to me one day at the branch office of my local cable TV company, of all places. I was standing in line to see about an irregularity on my bill. There were about a dozen people in the line with me.

I looked at the faces around me and thought: What if one of these people is a serial killer?

That was the kernel of the story: a wait in line leads to a random encounter with human evil.  

Stories often begin (for me, at least), with single images or ideas like that. Something will happen—often something very mundane—and it will get me thinking.

A trigger idea always needs work, of course. So it was in this case. “The Van” is not a story about my trip to the cable TV company. A middle-age man (yours truly) standing in line at the cable company is not very exciting.  But what about a father who must take daring actions to save his daughter from two very bad men? Well, that’s something else entirely. That’s something we can work with.

I chose the location of East Tennessee as a setting for several reasons. First of all, I’m familiar with it. I’ve been through that area quite a lot. Secondly, this is  a portion of the country that you would pass through if traveling from  Ohio to Florida, along the I-75 corridor. 

If “The Van” sounds like an intriguing story, you might check out the aforementioned collection. I Know George Washington and Other Stories: 5 Dark Tales is available in both Kindle and paperback at Amazon.

What kind of horror do I write?

This is a question I received the other day on Twitter.  It isn’t a frivolous question, I suppose. About a third of my titles are classified as horror, after all.

Perhaps I should begin by clarifying what kind of horror I don’t write.

I don’t do excessive gore/violence.

I have never been interested in horror fiction that fetishizes violence and cruelty for the mere sake of wallowing in such things. (If that’s your goal, then why not just watch one of those ISIS beheading videos?)

This means that graphic depictions of torture (for example) don’t appear in my books. Cannibalism is pretty much out, too. (Gross.)

I’m old enough to remember the capture of Jeffrey Dahmer in 1991. Suffice it to say that I am not interested in exploring the most extreme possibilities of human depravity in fiction. Again, what’s the point?

Are you into “splatterpunk”? You probably won’t like my books. Do us both a favor, and read something else.

I don’t like horror tales with unlikable characters.

Likewise, I don’t care for horror stories that simply involve horrible things happening to horrible people.

You’ve certainly seen horror movies that involve the following scenario (or something like it): A group of obnoxious, unlikable people enter a house, and they’re killed off one by one.

But the thing is…you don’t care! The protagonists were all awful people, anyway. (Maybe you were even rooting for the monster.)

I don’t do comedy-horror.

Do you like the Zombieland movies? My horror fiction probably isn’t for you.

I love comedy films—Airplane, Blazing Saddles, etc. Cheers from the 1980s can still make me laugh.

But horror is serious business. There can be moments of levity amid the darkness. There are many of these in some of Stephen King’s novels. (Cujo and The Stand stand out in this regard.) But when the monsters come out, it’s all business. Monsters are serious.

***

So what kind of horror do I write, then?

My influences are Stephen King, Peter Straub, and the campfire ghost stories of my youth.

I have always been fascinated by urban legends. I am endlessly interested in the dark house at the end of the lane, the one that all the kids say is haunted.

A good horror story should involve characters that you care about. If you don’t care about the characters, then you won’t care if the monster gets them. 

A good horror story should involve redemption. The evil is defeated in the end. Or some crucial lesson is learned. Or the human condition is in some way illuminated.

Redemption is a key element of most of the horror stories that we love best. The salvation of Mina Harker at the end of Dracula. The closing scene of The Stand, in which Frannie Goldsmith and Stu Redman wonder aloud if people ever really learn from their mistakes. The last scene in The Dead Zone, in which the shade of Johnny Smith assures Sarah that nothing is ever really lost, nothing that can’t be found.

Note that redemption doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending. But there has to have been a point to it all.

***

I like ghosts, monsters, things that go bump in the dark. My sainted grandmother was a direct descendant of immigrants from County Cork, Ireland. And every Irishman (even a diluted, generations-removed Irishman like me) loves a good ghost tale.

Let me give you some examples. Here are a few of my horror novels, to date:

Eleven Miles of Night

A college filmmaker takes a walk down a notoriously haunted road, in order earn a $2,000 fee for documenting the phenomena he sees.

This novel contains ghosts, demonic beings, and a long-dead witch who inhabits a covered bridge. Oh, yeah—and hellhounds!

View Eleven Miles of Night on Amazon

12 Hours of Halloween

On Halloween night, 1980, three adolescent friends go out for “one last Halloween”. But they have been cursed by an entity known as “the ghost boy”. As a result, their familiar neighborhood is transformed into a supernatural landscape filled with vampires, wayward spirits, and trees with minds of their own.

View 12 Hours of Halloween on Amazon.

Revolutionary Ghosts

In the summer of 1976, an Ohio teenager named Steve Wagner discovers that the Headless Horseman has returned to terrorize twentieth-century America. The Horseman has brought other ghosts back with him, including the once beautiful (but now hideous) Marie Trumbull, an executed Loyalist.

View Revolutionary Ghosts on Amazon

I have others; but these are the three you might check out first. They are usually enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, which means you can read them for free if you subscribe to that service.