Singing the Siren’s Song
By John Everson
They’re soft, they’re sweet, they’re warm, they’re loving. Just don’t make them mad.
I’m not talking about gremlins or Mogwai here… though there are some similarities if you feed them the wrong thing after midnight. And that wrong thing does includes doses of B. S., by the way.
No, I’m talking about women. Those amazing, beautiful, complex creatures that rule our race, no matter what any patriarch may claim. They’re what most men want the most in life. They’re also what most men are most afraid of.
I’ve spent half my life writing about fears. With five short story collections in print and an equal number of novels, I’ve covered a lot of ground in creepdom. But there’s been a constant theme I find myself coming back to: Intimacy gone wrong and its related prism of sinister, seductive obsessions.
We’re all afraid of that which we can’t control-natural disasters wiping out our homes, car crashes erasing the ones we love, crazed serial killers climbing up the back stairs because we forgot to lock the garage door…
Those are all valid fears. The world is a crazy, mixed up place that we can’t control, not really. But there is a fear that nests even deeper in our paranoid back brains.
That’s the fear of opening your heart to someone whose inner desires and motives you will seriously never completely understand… because when you expose your heart to someone outside yourself, you risk your very soul.
I’ve had two great loves in my life. One is my wife, my high school sweetheart. And the other is music. I was a musician before I was a writer, and I went on to write about music as well-I was a newspaper pop music critic for 20 years. My wife has always said that if I had to choose between her and music, she’d be a solo act in no time flat.
I tend to avoid that particular conversation.
When I began to think about what I wanted to write for my fourth horror novel, I made a conscious effort to do something that was not related to demons. My first two novels, Covenant and Sacrifice, were connected by the dark spirit Malachai, and a race of Curburide demons.
My third novel The 13th (unrelated to the first two books) dealt with a different take on ancient entities (are they demons? gods? Are they even the bad guys in this story? You decide).
For my fourth novel, I wanted to work with a threatening force that was actually corporeal for once, but not one of the standard tropes (i.e. no vampires, zombies, werewolves…).
But then… what?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to work with, until I saw a classic painting that depicts the three siren sisters of Greek mythology lying nude and supine, with the carcasses of half-eaten men strewn behind them.
There it was just like that. Murder and Lust and Gluttony incarnate. And presumably, they sang really well too.
As you probably do, I’d always had a mental image of sirens as beautiful creatures who sang to sailors from the rocky shores and lured men to their deaths on those rocks. Grisly enough for horror, I suppose, but when I saw the painting, I realized that sirens perhaps had a much darker streak than I’d imagined. And, I hadn’t seen them worked with as feared entities in modern horror.
Ligeia, a modern day siren, was instantly born in my mind.
I knew I was onto something here.
But what about her foil?
It’s funny how our perspectives in life change, depending on our age. When I wrote Covenant 10 years ago now, kids were not a part of my mental landscape. I was the oldest of five children, so I’ve certainly spent my time around kids-I babysat my younger siblings all through my teenage years. But I didn’t really understand the stresses and fears of a parent until I was one.
And then with the birth of my son, I found that I suddenly had a whole new arsenal of fears and became protective in a way I’ve never been, and more afraid of the worst possible things that could happen. I was no longer afraid for my own life, as I once was. Now I was afraid for my son’s.
Those fears are what created the focus character of Siren and Ligeia’s foil-Evan, a middle-aged guy who has not only lost his son, but lost his son because he could not protect him.
Here’s where the fiction comes in.
I’m a middle-aged guy who wants to protect his son, right? So in that, I share Evan’s sensibilities, one-hundred percent. But… my third great love in life is the water. If it means anything, I’m a Pisces, and I will walk miles to get to the shoreline if I’m near an ocean (trust me, I’ve done it).
So, fiction pen in hand, I set Evan widely apart from my personality and postulated that Evan was an aquaphobe. Someone deathly afraid of water… so afraid, he hadn’t been able to save his son from drowning.
I have a hard time understanding that particular fear, but I’ve known people who are afraid of the water. And damned if they aren’t physically, visibly petrified.
But Evan is also a male, with all the desires and drives inherent in that biology. Siren begins when he’s reached the end of his rope of grief over losing his son and wants to cash it all in, but then hears an intoxicating song slipping across the water. And he sees a gorgeous naked woman, there by the bay… the beauty of her and her song intervenes in his plans and then Evan’s life begins to change.
People ask every writer, “Where do you get your ideas?” Well… I just outlined for you the intersections of life and fiction that created Siren. Fear of unveiled intimacy. Fear of the loss of a child. Fear of putting everything on the line for the one thing that every man wants the most: hot sex with a hot woman…
But Siren isn’t just about Evan’s weaknesses and fears. If the demons in my novels Sacrifice and The 13th were somewhat oblique-evil creatures whose motives were unfathomable-in Siren I wanted a “dark” creature who had good reasons for her actions. Ligeia is not just some monstrous force that devours those that get in her path.
She has a history. And a long trail of motives.
When I first began to write Siren, I was only dealing with Evan’s half of the story. But then I started thinking more about Ligeia. Who was she? Why was she on the Northern Coast of California? What did she want from Evan? What did she fear from Evan?
And so a critical part of the book was born halfway into writing it that I had not anticipated when I began.
There is a parallel story inside of Siren that is one of my favorite parts of the book. If on the surface the novel is “Evan’s story,” well, 100 years or so ago, there were a string of events that make up “Ligeia’s story.”
I had a lot of fun taking that particular cruise with her. Ligeia has been wronged (mostly by men) and she’s found that she can most definitely hold her own against that negative force in her life.
That is, until she finds Evan.
I’ve said that Siren is my most personal novel, and I think that’s really true. Not because I’ve met an alluring siren by the ocean (I walked the Gulf of Mexico today, in fact, and for the record, no sirens were in evidence), but because the novel, in the end, deals with so many things that are important to me-the conflicting lures of love, lust, family, the ocean, music…
I enjoyed meeting and getting to know Ligeia. And I suppose there’s bit of me that lives in Evan. I hope you’ll take a walk on the beach with them and confront your own personal angels and demons.
Just remember not to be lured by the beautiful song that they may sing.
And not to feed them after midnight.
That really does only make dark matters worse.
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