My newest book ROAD KILLis here!
Take a trip to Munsonville, Michigan, wander into the haunted woods, walk among the trees, commune with the spirits…and run for your life.
Available in paperback and as e-book.
My newest book ROAD KILLis here!
Take a trip to Munsonville, Michigan, wander into the haunted woods, walk among the trees, commune with the spirits…and run for your life.
Available in paperback and as e-book.
A town born from secret horror.
A stranger with a hidden past.
A doomed destiny that entwines two friends and binds them in blood.
The road kill is coming.
My new novel ROAD KILL will be released on April 6.
When I started writing Road Kill as a kid some thirty years ago I envisioned it as two friends, obsessed with killing animals and heading down a very dark dead end.
It wasn’t going to end well and it didn’t.
It was about the idea that if the wrong people get together their evil can be amplified and intensified.
The story was one of supernatural retribution as well as the animals the boys had killed took their revenge in the end.
When I lost the story, having put the notebook I wrote it in on my mom’s car before she had driven off some place, the heartbreak from that loss lasted decades. I always loved the idea of that story and the main character of Bubba Diem stuck with me over the years. I kept thinking about revisiting the story but could never bring myself to do it, though I did start a sequel that didn’t get too far. It was the main story that had captured me.
Over the last few years I have been trying to clear old projects off of my plate, wanting to take care of writing projects I had begun but never finished. It was one of those things where I just wanted to feel as if I had told the stories I had meant to tell once upon a time, before time ran out for me.
Road Kill was the last of those stories.
The last story that was still waiting to be told.
Things have changed a lot for me over those years and so too did the story change. Bubba is the secondary character now with Spector taking the lead. I started mapping the story out in my head over the last few years and have lots and lots of notes as I started guiding the story forward. There was one image that stuck with me early on and that image stayed through the new version of the story. An image of the end, because I always knew how it was going to begin and how it was going to end, it was getting there that I never knew. The funny thing too is that the book continued to surprise me with the directions it took. I wrote in fits and spurts, never really focusing completely on it, but I managed to buy into the story I was writing and followed that through, to where it lead.
I am not sure that this was the story I meant to write initially, nor had begun writing. I can assure you that it’s not the story I wrote sa a kid.
This is darker, deeper, and while the name of the book stands true, it has a different meaning.
This is a mean book.
When I was a little kid Christmas was the most important thing in my life. I loved everything about it. I loved the music, the lights, the church service, spending time with my family, spending time with my friends, like I said, I loved all of it. Christmas, with its mythology, and its mystery was what the magic of childhood was all about for me. Sure, my birthday was always nice but there was something about Christmas that was different. I suppose that something was Santa. The fact that there was a man that watched us, that judged us, kept track of what we did, and who rewarded us or punished us out there somewhere and no one stopped him fascinated me. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in him, I sorta had to or else, according to my older sister who insisted that once you stopped believing that you stopped getting presents, but the idea that this man, this god, existed was incredible. Any questions I had were answered with kiddie books, television specials, or old songs and nothing else. It was as if he existed above and beyond anything but God Himself. So, there I was, a seven-year-old just a few weeks shy of eight and as excited by Santa as I was just as frightened by him. That fascination ruled my childhood, until I was seven and then that fateful Christmas Eve came and changed everything, for all of us.
We were not a rich family, not by a long shot, but dad had a good job and mom did some floral work for a funeral home and they did OK. We weren’t rich but me and sis never wanted for anything and mom and dad seemed happy as far as I could tell. Christmas meant a lot to our family. We weren’t really religious, going to church on Easter, on Christmas Eve, and a couple times in the summer, but mom and dad drove into us that this was a time of year for giving and of honoring the sacrifice of the Savior. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that Savior guy but they told me that Santa served the Savior and I figured, well, if that was the case then he must be a pretty good guy. Late at night sometimes though I have to admit that the idea that the man that watched and judged me was serving someone else, well, that gave me the creeps because it meant someone was watching him watch me. It was a lot for a little kid to worry about so I tried to push all of that out of my head to focus on the good things about the holiday. Every Christmas there were presents under the tree and we’d all go out together and pick out and buy something for a family from town that weren’t doing as well as we were and that was part of the joy of the season for us. Christmas Eve night, after the midnight service, we came home, said a prayer, and then went to bed with Christmas music playing on the radio all night and the tree left on as well. I would lay in bed listening to that faded holiday music, staring out my bedroom door at the glow of the lights and slowly I’d drift off, wondering whether Santa would think I’d been a good boy or not that year.
There had been no plan to stay up to see Santa the night I did. I had been lying in bed, thinking, my mind bouncing between thoughts of presents and thoughts of coal – or worse – when I noticed someone go past my door and out towards the living room, where the tree was. None of us put presents out before Christmas Day, mom saying that the time between Midnight and seven were Jesus’ and that our presents could wait. I didn’t know what that meant but I went along with it because so long as I stayed in bed until seven in the morning there were presents out there waiting. One year my sister had gotten up early, when I was still really little, and because of that there’d been no presents until noon that day. We didn’t get up early after that. My first thought was that Paula was out there, snooping for some reason, and so I was up immediately, wanting to make sure she didn’t get us both punished. I got up and out of bed as quietly as I could and slowly padded out of my room and down the hall. The closer I got to the living room the brighter and louder things got, the hall lit up in a rainbow of warm colors and sounds from the tree and radio. Even then, knowing I was risking trouble I couldn’t stop the lightning that I felt in my heart and hands as I approached the living room.
There was carpet through the house which softened my steps but I felt like there were eyes on me just the same. A chill ran through me as I thought of Santa watching me then, wherever he was, and knowing I was awake during Jesus’ time. Knowing and judging. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop moving. It was as if someone else was in control of me and driving me forward. In two more steps I was at the end of the hallway and I finally got control of myself and stopped, looked around, then leaned my head forward and started to speak when I saw that my sister wasn’t alone. My mouth dropped open as my eyes adjusted to the blinking lights of the large tree that sat in the far corner of the room and I saw who the two figures were.
I closed my eyes and shook my head like I had seen people do in the movies.
I opened them and looked again.
It was him.
A large man, taller than dad, which put him close to seven feet tall. He wasn’t fat and jolly but looked stocky and thick, his stance wide. Sitting on the floor beside him was a worn black sack. I watched as he approached my mom, removing a sequined green glove, and held his hand out to her. His hand looked strong in the dim light and as her own small hand took it a shiver ran through me. Mom wasn’t a tall woman, barely standing over five feet, but he dwarfed her, making her look like a child. I closed my eyes again and shook my head. I had to be wrong.
I suddenly remembered that silly old song about Mama kissing Santa Claus and realized that this was just dad. Dressed up and playing. I hadn’t seen right because of how dark it was and how much nervous energy I had. Dad. Geez. I opened my eyes and smiled at how stupid I had been. My smile dropped as I looked again and saw mom kiss the back of the large man’s hand.
It wasn’t dad.
It wasn’t Paula.
It was my mom and a stranger.
It was mom and Santa.
The cold reality of the full scene poured into my brain – Santa was real.
He was real and he was here and he was trying to kiss my mother.
I felt a scream well up in my throat but before it could get free, I was grabbed from behind and pulled back into the hall. I turned, horrified into silence, and saw my father, the rumor of scruff on his face and his eyes bloodshot and ringed in darkness.
“No. No. You can’t see that. You’re not meant to see that.” Dad whispered.
I opened my mouth to speak but dad pushed his hand against my mouth to stop me.
“No. Come with me, into your room. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything.”
Saying that dad turned and headed for my room, stopping only for a moment to look over his shoulder, not at me but towards the living room, before disappearing into darkness. I turned and looked into the living room and saw the large man embracing my mother as he leaned down towards her, eyes closed. He had a hand on her side and his right hand I couldn’t see but knew it was on her hip. Or lower. I saw mom turn her gaze to me and watched as a tear ran down her face then I retreated into the hallway and into my room.
Dad was waiting for me.
“Paula doesn’t know, and I beg you not to tell her. I know you have questions but please, just listen. OK.”
“I found out about Santa when I was your age. All I had wanted in the world was proof that my brother, your uncle, was wrong, and that Santa was real. I waited behind the tree, hidden by presents, for him to come. I was asleep when I heard the sound of bells jingling. I looked out between the branches of our tree, all lit up in red, and saw the man in the suit. It was the best moment in my life. It was proof. Proof that the story was real. I started to step out from behind the presents and tree, to speak to him, when I saw my mom. She looked like she was in a dream, her hair in curlers, her tattered blue robe open revealing something red and silk that showed more skin than I had ever seen before. I felt myself blush. She went to Santa and he held his hand out to her and she kissed it and he grabbed her, rough, like he owned her. I watched them kiss, watched him grab and hold her in a way I had never seen dad do and then I closed my eyes. I had seen to much. Too much. I heard the bells again and they seemed to get louder, louder, louder and then I felt hot breath on me and I opened my eyes and looked up and there he was, as large as god, bent and staring at me with dead eyes, empty eyes. As if he saw something but not me. ‘Shhhhhh,’ he told me, then reached towards me but my mom grabbed him and begged him ‘no!’ and he stopped and turned and left me and I watched as he put an arm around her waist, put a finger to his nose and then they were gone. Just gone. That’s why you never met your Gramma Ann. She’s, she’s just gone, son. Gone. With him. One of his…brides.”
Dad was crying. Shaking. He took a breath and continued.
“Santa is real. Christ I wish he wasn’t, but he is. I dunno what he is, what he really is, but he’s real. How many people know he’s real I can’t tell you but it’s not everyone. He doesn’t come see everyone. Not anymore. Maybe there was a time when he could, thousands of years ago, but he can’t anymore. Heck, maybe he can. I dunno. I think I have met three people in my life that knew he existed and they were other kids whose mothers disappeared at Christmas just like mine had. They knew. I think, I suspect he takes a new bride every year. When he visits your home he leaves presents, special presents. When he leaves with a bride, he leaves something…else.” I opened my mouth to ask him what it was but dad shook his head in response.
“I don’t know what he leaves, if that’s what you were going to ask. I saw the present, clear as day, but dad opened it that Christmas and it disappeared afterwards without me ever seeing what was in it. I just don’t know. We knew he was coming this year because your mom started having the dreams. Dreams of him. Dreams just of him watching her and over the last month he got closer in the dreams until tonight. Tonight, he came. She told me about the dreams and I knew what it meant. What it means. I never told her about my mother. Never. And I never told her what might happen tonight. I don’t think I needed to. I think…I think she knew.” He grew silent.
“But…is he going to take her?”
“I don’t know, son. I just don’t know. I know enough not to try to stop him. There are stories, if you look for them, about disappearances and deaths on Christmas Eve. Stories passed down in families and in the news. Stories that tell you that you shouldn’t try to stop him. You just pray that he doesn’t decide to take your, your…” He sobbed then clamped his hand over his mouth quickly.
In a moment he spoke again.
“We just pray, son. We pray that he takes his kiss, what he usually comes for, that Christmas kiss, and nothing else. This is his holiday, we are his, and if we don’t do as he wants, as he demands then…” He grew silent again and we sat in the dark, sitting on my bed and waited silently.
Five, ten, twenty minutes went by and then we heard the sound of bells jingling and getting closer, and closer, and closer, then we heard them next door, in Paula’s room. Dad grabbed my hand. We held our breath and then heard the bells again and heavy strides moving down the hall. We heard mom scream and dad was up and out the door before I knew it. He ran down the hall and I sat on the bed, staring out into the hallway as the lights of the tree cycled through their colors. I sat listening to mom and dad as they screamed and moaned, the lights flashing red, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and trying not to think of anything at all. Santa’s face forced itself into my mind. The long, thick beard, matted and yellow. His calloused hands. The one thick gray brow that crossed his forehead. The leering smile. The way he had looked at my mother, as if she was a thing. A possession. I thought of these things and I suddenly thought of Paula, my sister, and I started to cry.
My sister disappeared on Christmas Day when I was seven years old. We don’t know what happened. She was thirteen and headstrong and dad told the police that she had been upset about not getting something for Christmas that she really wanted and had threatened to run away because of it. I didn’t remember things that way but the more time has passed the more it sounds about right. The truer it becomes. It’s been twenty years since that night, dad is gone, mom is in an elderly home. We never celebrated another Christmas after that year. We put the decorations up. We shopped for a donation present. We went through the motions, but we never celebrated. Never gave or got gifts in the family. And we never went to church again. We did what we had to, and that was all. Because he was watching. He was always watching.
I never married. I never dated seriously. I never got close to anyone. Not women. I can’t tell you why. I just didn’t want to. I keep to myself, mostly. I go to see mom when I can but the later in the year it gets the quieter and more distant she gets. When Christmas finally comes these days I take time off of work, I hole up in my house with some liquor and a gun and I wait, and I wait, and I wait for a sign that Santa’s on his way.
A million years ago, back when I was still a kid that had never even thought about writing more than occasionally and certainly never had thought about putting a book out, I wrote a story called Roadkill. In my mind it was a novella but in reality it was probably just a long short story. I was in my mid-teens and had handwritten the story in a spiral-bound notebook. I thought I had written a great story. It was about two friends who had a bad habit of running animals down with a car. Things escalated when things with the boys went awry and the end was a bit of comeuppance from Mother Nature.
Ah, but that book was never meant to be.
I still remember my foolish mistake when I, carrying the notebook around with me after the story had been completed, put it on top of my mom’s car and forgot about it.
I was heartbroken at the loss of that story and for about thirty years I have been wanting to revisit that story, to re-visit and re-write the story. I even planned a sequel and started working on it. As I started writing more regularly, and doing shows though, I never seriously sat down to write that story. It slowly evoloved over time and I started to think about it but never wanted to write it. I just didn’t have an interest in writing a novel, let alone THAT novel. It was sort of the same mentality I have with video games – if I get stuck I just sorta shrug and move on. I dunno if it’s me giving up or if its me deciding that the frustration isn’t worth it. The fact was though that I was heartbroken to have lost that book and hated the thought of re-writing it from scratch. Maybe that was silly but it was how I felt.
WHen I started putting books out I started working through the stories I had been sititing on as well as putting together new stories. Over the last few years I have been working to clear the books, as it were – trying to finish projects tha I had started but never completed. That lead to the completion of A SHADOW OVER EVER and CEMETERY EARTH, as well as the conclusion of the Meep Sheep trilogy. I just wanted to get these stories that had been sitting around for a while off my mind and conscience. Because it felt like something to do with conscience – that I HAD to get these stories written and out. As if it had been a pact I had taken on with myself.
That brings us to ROADKILL.
I am of two minds with my writing –
On one hand I don’t want tp keep putting books out that very few people are interested in or buying. It just seems silly. I love writing, I’ll always write, but I don’t want to become a joke.
Then there’s the part of me that wants to keep writing and producing stories, which means putting them out. I don’t want to chase markets and try to get published in a magazine or something like that because I did that before and it was nothing less than frustrating. Would I love to get published traditionally? OF COURSE! But I just don’t want to change my focus to that because as many markets as there are, there are still ten times more authors than that and man, I just wanna write stories. That’s all.
Over the last couple of years I have started wanting to get back to this story and to finally tackle it. I fully admit though that this was the story, the book, that has haunted me for a while because it’s lingered for so long that it started to freak me out. Do I try to re-do that exact story or write something new?
Slowly I started to take notes to try to get the story down in my mind. I knew it was still a story about two friends. I knew it was dark. Very dark. And I knew it happened in Munsonville, my made up Michigan town where SHADOW takes places as well as some of my other stories. Then it became a matter of – OK, I need to write this. Another slow process where I’d write a little here and there. I knew how it started. I knew how it ended. The rest? Yikes.
Over the course of 2018 I have worked on and off on the book with a need to get it done but no drive to do the work. When I lost my job in October suddenly a lot of time opened up and the excuses had run out – It was time to finish the book.
I wasn’t sure where it was going.
I wasn’t sure what it was about.
I wasn’t sure how to get where I needed to be.
So I did what I do – jumped in and just started writing, letting the story and characters make their own direction. The book changed, a lot, from what I had been thinking. The ending was close to what I had been thinking but what it meant and how I got there changed. I also discovered some answers to mysteries I hadn’t even known existed. As I wrote the story got clearer and clearer and finally I had found the heart of the book and drove right through it.
I finished the book a week ago today and it still feels weird.
It’s been the longest gestating of my books and I hope that is a good thing.
I hope it’s good.
Heck, I hope it’s great.
I just know it is what it is.
And what it is, is DONE!
There’s a lot of work to do, editing, revising, and fleshing out, but it’s written and honestly, the rest is the easier part and to some degrees the part that is more fun because it means I get to start making this thing work better. What I have after that, well, we’ll see. I don’t see it being something a lot of people will want to read because, as I said, it’s dark, and it’s just weird.
It’s all so new still so I am thinking of things to add, things to flesh out, and that will keep happening. My plan is to let the book sit for a month or two and then dive back into it and then we’ll see what we see.
For now though, it’s good to have it done, my strange story of two friends on a dark path.
I loved revisiting these people and this town, and it’ll be ineresting to see what comes next.
When I started writing the last thing I was worried about was selling myself.
Or my stories.
I wanted to write.
I wanted to tell stories.
I’d think that most, not all but MOST, authors are driven by the same engine – the desire to tell a story.
It’s only when you find yourself writing story after story after story of varying lengths that you realize that, oh, gosh, I suppose this is a thing.
I suppose I should think about all of this.
And then you start looking past the stories and towards getting them to people.
Art, meet commerce.
Because if you do something like this, if you do art, there’s a point where either you are very good at it, or love it so deeply, that you want it to be more than a hobby.
You want it to pay for itself so it will allow you to keep DOING that thing you love.
Blah, blah, blah.
People have been speaking to that point as long as there is art and commerce.
Is it better to be a true artist and starve or a fed merchant with no artistic soul.
I leave you to sort all that out, though I’d offer that if someone is so naïve as to think that the person creating art they love should be taken care of, or held aloft above common art merchants then kid, you should take a walk, get some air, and call me later.
The weird thing for me about getting ‘serious’ about writing was the selling.
The fact that it wasn’t enough to just write my stories.
I had to then find ways to get them to readers and better, to get readers to want to PAY for those stories.
And I did the thing, I took my wandering path that lead me to where I am today – in a mag, published online, published in anthologies, self-published, and honorably mentioned a couple times in a well-regarded yearly collection twice.
None of that really got me anywhere, awesome as it has been.
So I had to market myself.
And uh, well, I don’t really have a brand.
I can’t figure that part out.
Branding to me would be like making myself a personality.
A larger than life figure.
I am not that.
I am just a guy writing stories.
Sometimes they are dark, sometimes they are cute, most times they are weird.
So brand never stuck with me.
I still work at the marketing. I do my bloggies, I post on the Tweets, and I still do shows when I am able. How that leads to a brand, I can’t tell you. I have been working at this for twenty years but haven’t figured that out.
A lot of us don’t.
A lot of folks don’t.
I suppose maybe that’s why a lot of us don’t go further than small shows and blogs and occasional sales.
We don’t have a brand.
The problem is when the brand becomes bigger than the stories.
When the brand is the focus.
And that happens too.
That’s the easier way for a publisher to sell and market that author’s work – to focus on past deeds, past works, and to lean on that to sell the new stuff.
And you know what, these folks earned that.
They worked, they found success, and they earned it.
And odds are that they aren’t the ones choosing that their works be sold as the new JOE STEEL product, like KILLER SOCKMAS mixed with DEAL OF THE NEVER-EVER-EVER.
We wants brands.
We want that short cut that tells us – oooooh, I am gonna like this.
There’s nothing wrong with being able to brand your work, so long as the brand doesn’t become bigger than you or the work itself – save, again, some of the legends, who stand as titans in their field outside of the norm.
The rest of us, well, we need to find a way to get people’s attention.
We need to be able to get their attention on the work.
Most of us don’t want to shill, to be salespeople, but if we want to be able to work on our art more then we need to be able to afford to do that and that happens when we make more time…which happens when we make more money.
It is what it is.
And a brand can come easy to some.
They have a persona.
They have a niche.
They have something for people to latch onto.
‘AH, that’s so and so, they do such and biscuits’.
But it’s a real thin line you walk, that brand.
Because the brand can betray you.
Build something from it and it can be the noose you have woven that hangs you when you don’t live up to it.
Or it can make you a clown or actor, always having to be ‘on’, like many comedians are expected to be, and always that character you’ve created to brand yourself.
It becomes a brand in every sense of the term.
And it can become a joke.
I have done enough shows where I saw the schtick.
I saw the brand.
It can go on and on. Sure, some sold, absolutely, but at what cost to themselves.
I remember one artist I’d always see at a big comic show and she had become her brand – same outfit every day, same schtick, same aloof act.
Maybe it worked for other folks.
It just made me grind my teeth.
For some, the brand is everything, the brand is bigger than anything else.
It is their one thing, becoming bigger than the work, becoming all there is because that brand, that hook, is what keeps them fed and the machine they have built working.
They focus on it so much that they lose sight of everything else.
Even all sense.
Branding isn’t new.
It’s not evil.
This is no missive on the woeful state of the poor artist.
We make the choices on what we pursue and what we pour our time and passions into.
It’s just an interesting thing, the notion of a brand.
The notion that part of the deal is being a showperson.
I still have trouble with that and suppose I always will.
I guess that’s why I don’t sell much and don’t do well.
Hmm, maybe that’s my brand though.
Maybe that’s my ‘in’.
“Oh, hi, is this your work? What is it about?”
That’ll knock them dead.
If there is something you should do when you are able to release a book it’s have a book release of some sort. For Red Dreams I wanted to celebrate with friends and family so I had people come over to where I live and we invaded my friend and neighbor’s apartment for some delicious food and cookies and a lot of talk. It is a real honor to be able to celebrate the release of a new book with people I love. Now comes the work of getting the book out to the world at large but hopefully that will be just as rewarding and just as fun.
Want to see what the hub-bub was about? Read more about RED DREAMS
Prefer something with a little more whimsy? Try THE MEEP SHEEP