I hope the Nooksters amongst you will be intrigued enough to check these titles out.
I hope the Nooksters amongst you will be intrigued enough to check these titles out.
ROAD RASH is October’s Book of the Month, but I’m going off piste today as it’s Halloween. People always ask where my stories come from. Sometimes it’s not where the stories come from, but what things happen to me to make me the person I am. This story is true and helped instill the sensibilities I possess as a person and as a scribbler of spooky stories. So maybe this piece isn’t as off piste as I thought. Please enjoy MY OTHER SISTER.
MY OTHER SISTER
I was seven when I met my other sister.
As a child, it wasn’t uncommon for me to wake up during the night craving something to drink. I usually slept with a glass of water or juice on the nightstand next to my bed. On this particular night, I’d drained my glass and found I still hadn’t quenched my thirst. I hopped out of bed and, glass in hand, left the bedroom I shared with my sister, three years my younger. I switched on the landing light so I wouldn’t disturb anyone and trotted downstairs to the kitchen. I made myself a drink and took it back up the stairs.
As I reached the top of the stairs and turned to face my bedroom, a full-length mirror next to my sister’s bed reflected my image. I wasn’t alone in my reflection and I froze. Behind me was my sister wearing her black polka dotted nightdress. She was lying on the top stair, her face stricken in pain, reaching out to grab my bare ankle. She fixed me with her totally black eyes. There were no whites in her eyes at all, just solid black. Her mouth opened and closed as if trying to say something, but no words made it out.
My mind whirled. How had my sister followed me down the stairs and sneaked behind me without me noticing? What had caused her eyes to turn black? My mind snagged on the falseness in the reflected image, preventing me from answering the questions. For to the left of the mirror, my sister slept soundly in her bed, her face turned away from me. The fact she was wearing a flowered nightdress and not the polka dotted one only confirmed the impossibility of the distressed girl in the reflection being my sister.
My other sister’s hand continued to reach out for me and was within inches of grasping me. I couldn’t tell if she existed only in the reflection or whether she was right behind me. I didn’t dare turn my head to find out. In the reflection, my view of her was at least twenty feet away, but if I turned to face her, then those black eyes would be right on top of me.
Whether my other sister really meant me harm or just needed my help, I didn’t have the courage to find out. I bolted for my room, throwing my drink into the air and screaming all the way. This meant running directly at the mirror and if my other sister existed there, then I was running straight towards the creature and not away from it. In the mirror’s reflection, my other sister made a desperate lunge, missed me and collapsed on the landing, but she lacked the strength to give chase. I hurled myself on the bed and buried my face in the pillow and bedclothes.
My screams woke my sister and my parents. My mother had to pry me from the mattress that I clung to in the fear that it wasn’t my mother who had me, but a false mother like the false sister I’d seen in the mirror. Even when she managed to unpeel my fingers from the mattress, I refused to open my eyes in fear that I was in the arms of a phantom. But when my mother shushed me and rocked me, I knew no false mother would treat me with such tenderness and I opened my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” my mother asked. “Why all the screaming?”
Through my sobs, I choked out the event I’d witnessed. My mother showed me that my sister, although crying herself from being rudely awakened, was okay, and more importantly, that her eyes were okay.
“You were dreaming,” my mother insisted.
How could it be a dream? I’d made myself a drink. I told my mother this.
“Well, whatever you saw, it isn’t there now,” she said.
“How do you know?” I demanded.
“Because we would have seen it when we came into the room. Come on, come look.”
My mother tried to show me, but I clung to my bed. She wrenched me free and I went with her, even though I dug my toes into the carpet. She showed me that nothing lurked on the landing, other than my father cleaning up my spilled drink.
At some point when I’d calmed down, my parents put me to bed, but I failed to fall asleep straight away, fearing my other sister would return to get me. Finally, exhaustion claimed me and I slept through until morning.
After that night, I developed a fear of mirrors after dark. Once the sun had set, I averted my gaze or closed my eyes when passing a mirror. I wanted to hang something over the mirrors, but I didn’t want to expose my fear. If I woke during the night needing a drink, I let my thirst go unquenched. Nothing would get me out of bed after dark. I never wanted to meet my other sister again. I feared my escape might not be guaranteed.
Two weeks after the incident my sister was struck down by a nasty bout of flu, which kept her, confined to her bed for several days. The nightdress she wore when the flu hit was her black polka dotted one.
I don’t know if the phantom sister I saw was a premonition of some kind, but I never saw my sister in that stricken pose on the stairs during her influenza bout or at any other time and she never possessed those black eyes. I wonder if the phantom was some form of guardian spirit trying to warn my family of a threat to my sister’s welfare? Regardless, I didn’t look into a mirror at night for another seven years fearing a repeat encounter with my other sister or some other phantom that lurked in mirrors.
Eventually, when I summoned up the courage in my teens to stare into a mirror at night, I saw nothing, although I broke out in gooseflesh fearing that I would. Now, I’m in my thirties, and if I’m honest, I still fear what I’ll see in a mirror. If I have to get up at night, I don’t turn on the lights and I keep my eyes averted. My other sister has never shown herself again, but I can never be sure it will stay that way…
Hopefully this tale has put you in the mood for your Halloween celebrations. If you’re looking for something a little spooky to read, I hope you’ll pick up
ROAD RASH or my other darker titles THE SCRUBS and DRAGGED INTO DARKNESS.
November should be an exciting month when I introduce a new title and a new book release.
From time to time someone will take me to task over my characters—usually my protagonists. The usual complaint is over my hero’s “goodness.” The remarks usually center on, “You know, if your main guy had done the right thing in the beginning, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into all that trouble.” And those people are right. My good guys have usually done something to put themselves in the position they find themselves in. It’s somewhat of a personal belief. If you stray from life’s straight and narrow, then life’s probably going to bite you in the ass and keep biting.
I’m happy with this trait of my stories. Squeaky clean characters blazing a trail for all that is good and right don’t excite me. I like fallible people. People who know to put on oven mitts because they’ve gotten burned a couple of times, not because they’ve been told not to touch hot things without them. I guess I identify with these sorts of characters. I’ve committed a few minor infractions in my time and the repercussions have snowballed. I think it’s the gathering pace of the payback that intrigues me and drives my fiction. The fear and panic experienced when a situation goes sideways makes for great stories, if not for real life.
I must admit it has colored the way I look at the world. I’m not a glass half-empty kind of a guy but more a glass half-filled with something corrosive tipping over and spilling everywhere kind of a guy. I have a habit of predicting how a bad situation will get worse. Once you’ve tempted fate, it has its own gravitational pull that is inevitable.
The spark that ignites my storylines is a moment of weakness. The character is presented with a situation that nine times out of ten they’d ignore, but circumstances are skewed this one time. He’s out of a job. She’s just been dumped. These characters are in a weakened state when an opportunity is presented. Instead of blowing it off, they throw caution to the wind and act out of character. Naturally, it doesn’t pan out and it is going to take a whole lot of fixing to set everything right again. Moments of weakness are dangerous currency.
ROAD RASH’s hero is James Straley. He’s a bank robber. When a bank job goes wrong, he’s on the run when he stumbles across a car wreck. Instead of helping the victims of the wreck, he steals one of the vehicles at the crash site. Not particularly likable of him, but he’s a ruthless and desperate man. But in that desperate moment, things change for Straley. He’s struck down with a rash that makes his problems up until seem like small fry. This is his tipping point. He either continues on a path to ruin or change his ways. Over the course of a story, Straley makes the biggest change of any character I’ve ever written. He starts off as a nasty piece of work and becomes something quite different by the end, figuratively and literally.
I guess I like my shop-soiled heroes, maybe not to hang out with, but to read and write about. It has a lot to do with how someone reacts under insurmountable odds. There’s more at stake than the mystery or the crime to solve. The character’s soul is at stake as well. And I can’t help root for someone in that position. Everyone loves a comeback kid. I think I also identify with human frailty and characters like James Straley. We can all do bad things, but how we atone for our mistakes makes us redeemable and interesting.
Categories: book of the month
October is Halloween month, so I thought I’d showcase one of my more creepier tales. So October’s Book of the Month is ROAD RASH. It’s one of my few tales that blends horror and crime. So this is what to expect:
James Straley might think his life is cursed, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead of him on life’s highway. He’s on the run with the proceeds of a botched bank robbery. It’s all he has. His crew is dead and his getaway car just died on him. He’s on foot with the cash when he comes across a two-car pileup. There’s no saving the drivers, but he can save himself and steals one of the wrecked cars. But he boosts the wrong set of wheels. Within an hour of driving off, he develops a rash that eats away at his flesh. No doctor can help him–only the car’s original owner. If Straley wants his skin back, he must journey on the road to redemption, which ends in the heart of Central America.
“Road Rash is a wild collision of crime caper and supernatural thriller that works on every level. Lightning-paced, darkly funny, deeply creepy, and highly recommended.”
— Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of The Dragon Factory
“Simon Janus understands the darkness inside us all and nails it to the page. Fast-paced and gut-wrenching, pedal-to-the-metal thrills.”
— Scott Nicholson, author of The Red Church &
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories and background that led to the writing of this book. Stick around. 🙂
Categories: book of the month
I have a love for damaged heroes. I’m not interested in characters who always land on their feet. I think it’s far more interesting for a character to have a few skeletons in his closet, to have done something he’s ashamed of. That way when that character does something heroic, that act has value and depth. I suppose I’m attracted to the concept of redemption when it comes to a hero. It’s easy to hide from our mistakes, but it takes a special person to face up to them and do something about it. and what makes redemption even more attractive to me is that in a lot of ways redemption is a fool’s errand because it can never truly attained. A wrong can never be righted. Forgiveness can never illuminate guilt. A mistake can never be undone. However, it’s something distinctly human to try because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the damaged hero succeeds or fails in his quest, because it’s about their growth as a person. It’s why I just love the folly of the damaged hero.
In THE SCRUBS, Michael Keeler is my quintessential damaged hero. We meet him as an inmate of Wormwood Scrubs prison. He’s weighed down by his crimes. He’s resigned himself to his life sentence handed down to him. It doesn’t matter that his crime was one of an accidental nature, the crime and its outcome is ugly, tragic and incapable of being undone. He knows he can never make up for the misery he’s caused others, but when he’s offered the chance to volunteer as a guinea pig for a dangerous mission, he sees it as a chance to do something selfless and possibly do something redeem himself in his own eyes, even he can’t in those of his victims. His journey changes him. He starts out as a man trying to save his soul, but by the end, he’s a selfless man willing to make any sacrifice for others.
I suppose my fascination for damaged heroes comes from my belief that with few exceptions, no one is truly good and no one is truly bad. We all have the potential for both. I doubt any one of us can claim to be perfect. We’ve all done something we’re ashamed of or embarrassed by. Even the best of us. What’s truly interesting is how we react to our mistakes and wrongdoings? That’s why a damaged hero will always be interesting to me and hopefully to you.
I’m two different writers. No, I’m going through something of an identity crisis and I have two writing identities. And that was a problem. People weren’t sure what I wrote. The problem is that I write in multiple genres. One side of me writes thrillers and mysteries and the other side of me writes horror and dark fantasy. I know a number of writers who flit between genres with no problem and I’d hoped to do the same, but it wasn’t working for me. My writing in different genres confused people. Horror readers thought I wrote mysteries and mystery readers thought I wrote horror. The simple thing to do would be to stick to one genre and have done with it, but I don’t want to. I love writing horror stories as much as I do crime.
So what is a chimera to do? What else, but split.
So I developed a pen name and debuted for THE SCRUBS. It was an easy to assign the penname to my horror identity. Although, my first publishing credits were in the short horror fiction markets, but I hadn’t published a horror novel, whereas all my published and forthcoming novels are thrillers. It would have been too disruptive to reinvent myself in the mystery and thriller world.
I must admit I was quite reluctant to come up with a penname, but I didn’t have choice. My attempts to educate the world to my multi-faceted aspects haven’t worked and it’s getting a little frustrating. People either labeled me as a horror or thriller writer, never both. More than a minor annoyance, the situation was hindering me. Not for the first time, anthology editors had looked me over because they knew me for one genre and not both. It was time to break out the white flag and surrender to the realization that it’s hard being two things at once.
So I came up with Simon Janus. It’s not a random name, but very deliberate. I stuck with Simon as a first name as I find it’s a bugger to sign a different name. Janus is the perfect name to break out with as a penname. If you know your Roman mythology, Janus is the two-faced god. That goes hand in hand with my life in two genres. Also, Janus is the god of new beginnings. The month of January is named after him. Oh, this was too perfect. This really summed up what I was doing at the time. This was fate on a bagel. Finally, Janus sits snuggly on the shelf just before King and Koontz. Hmm…coincidence? I’ll let you decide, but I will say this—sometimes I can be very premeditated.
As Eric Burden of the Animals once said, “I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” It’s not a good situation for a writer to be in—and I’m not anymore.
Categories: book of the month
THE SCRUBS is July’s book of the month. It was the first title to come out under my pen name, Simon Janus. Janus is my identity for my darker work.
I’m heavily influenced by the Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected and THE SCRUBS is a tale that takes the story’s hero down a dark road. Here’s a glimpse into the book.
James Jeter, the notorious serial killer with a sixth sense, holds court inside London’s Wormwood Scrubs Prison. He’s the focus of the “North Wing Project.” Under the influence of a hallucinogen, Jeter can create an alternative world known as “The Rift” containing the souls of his victims. Pardons are on offer to inmates who’ll enter The Rift. Michael Keeler has nothing to lose and little to live for. He’s sent into The Rift to learn the identity of Jeter’s last victim.
It’s a mission where the guilty can be redeemed, but at a price…
Praise for the book:
“The Scrubs is one merciless piece of work.”
— Gary A. Braunbeck, author of Coffin Country
“The Scrubs…it’s a journey to a Twilight Zone of our time.”
— Mort Castle, author of The Stranger
“Lean, mean fear machine – The Scrubs is gruesomely inventive entertainment.”
— Simon Clark, author of This Rage of echoes
“This is, simply put, an incredible novella.”
— Michael Arnzen, author of Bitchfight and Play Dead
“The Scrubs is a superb, fast-paced journey through the hell of incarceration…and way, way beyond.”
— Tim Lebbon, author of Dawn
“If you are looking for a quick read that is sure to leave you breathless until the final page is turned, you cannot do any better than The Scrubs.”
“This is a fascinating, disturbing journey.”
— Dark Discoveries Magazine
“A surreal horror trip.”
— Horror Fiction Review
In the coming weeks post, I’ll talk about the story’s origins, my split personalities and my love for damaged heroes. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt from the book here.
Categories: book of the month