Over the past month, Grey Matter Press has orchestrated and sometimes hosted an Uncovering Evil blog tour to promote the anthology Equilibrium Overturned. As one of the authors included in the book, this week, the exploration of the nature of evil falls to me.
Over the past month, as this blog tour has been going on, I’ve been working a lot of extra hours at the dayjob. A lot of 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. shifts. Almost everyone at my work has – it’s our busiest time of the year. I’ve also been short-staffed, making it worse than usual. And maybe that’s why the nature of evil crystallized for me so perfectly just a couple days ago, when I went to press the handle on the coffee dispenser in our lunchroom, and all that came out were some frothy spurts of brown air. That’s when it all became clear.
Evil is an empty pot of coffee.
OK, well, not the pot exactly… evil is the person who walked away with the last cup of coffee at 9:30 a.m. in the morning without taking the simple action of emptying the old grounds, dropping in a new filter, opening a pre-measured bag of coffee and dropping it in said filter…. and then pressing the Brew button so that the next over-stressed person to walk into the kitchen could pour him or herself a cuppa.
That person who took the last cup and walked away, was evil. They knew that someone would come after them looking for coffee and they chose to gyp that person by not fulfilling the code – you finish it, you make the next pot.
Anyone within earshot of the lunchroom heard my lightning bolt realization as I found the coffee pot completely empty and proclaimed with loud and unapologetic judgement: That was evil!”
Evil is ultimately, selfish action. Good, on the other hand, is selfless action.
Neither state – good or evil – is some floating cloud of pregnant celestial baggage, waiting to land and overwhelm some unsuspecting host. I don’t believe there is some black spirit flitting around that is “pure” evil looking to undo the world. At its simplest, evil is selfishness. It could be grandiose selfishness – inviting a dozen people into your home one by one, and killing each of them, to fulfill whatever snuff kink gets your brain dancing. It could be a medium selfishness – holding up a convenience store with a gun, risking the life of the cashier in order to take what isn’t yours… because you really want it, even though it’s not your due.
Or it could just be, taking the last cup of coffee in the lunchroom and walking away without filling the pot.
Does that make the coffee shirker Darth Vader? No. But there was a touch of evil there. As there is in all of us. I don’t think anyone is all evil or all good.
I don’t believe in absolutes. Life has never been black and white to me. Life – and good and evil… and all of us – live in the gray.
In my story “Amnion,” from Equilibrium Overturned, a self-absorbed scientist sees nothing but his quest for the fountain of youth. And a woman will use him in any way necessary if it means bringing her her life’s dream –a genetic reprogramming. They’re both obsessed with self… and they will ultimately hurt people in their colliding, obsessive quests. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, because I’d love for you to read it (come on back after you do and we’ll talk later!). But all of the characters in this story pursue their own desires at the expense of others.
That’s evil to me.
And you know what? There’s a little bit of that in all of us.
For more of the Uncovering Evil musings on the nature of the “dark” from Tony Knighton, Jeff Hemenway, Stephen Vessels, JG Faherty, S.G. Larner, Sean Eads and more, visit the Grey Matter blog.
To find out more about Equilibrium Overturned… click the scary eyes below!
My erotic horror collection CAGE OF BONES & Other Deadly Obsessions is on a Kindle Countdown Deal this week for just 99 cents! I’ve always been really proud of this book — CAGE OF BONES was my very first short fiction collection — hell, my very first book, period — originally issued as a limited edition hardcover from Delirium Books way back in 2000. Only 300 copies were printed (they were all signed and numbered as a collectors edition release). It’s now available in paperback and e-book from Dark Arts Books.
CAGE OF BONES includes 20 stories, most of them erotic horror. Several of them have been reprinted a number of times, including “Pumpkin Head,” which has become one of my most popular stories (originally printed in Grue Magazine) and “Cage of Bones” which originally appeared in the Necro Publications magazine Into The Darkness.
The last reader review on Amazon sai,d “If I could give this six stars, I would!”
Another reviewer wrote: “While they were billed as ‘erotic horror’ I wouldn’t have said they were that naughty. They were more horrifying and the sex was in context. I applaud the author for being able to take me on a terrifying non stop rollercoaster ride, leaving me breathless and gasping at the end of each story. Great stories but don’t read them alone or with the light off.”
This week, Glenn Rolfe, a fellow author in the literary trenches of the dark, did an interview with me as I gear up for the release of my eight novel, The Family Tree, next week. He asked some fun questions, and I had fun with the answers. Any interview that covers microbrews, the business of books and the guilty pleasures of Ke$ha is a good time in my book.
Check out Glenn’s blog and my interview here.
And don’t miss the bonus “soundtrack” extra at the end.
While you’re at it… take a read of Glenn’s own The Haunted Halls! After all… it’s October. The perfect season for haunted halls!
There are actually a few copies out in the world already… we sold some pre-release copies at the Samhain Publishing booth at HorrorHound Indianapolis a couple weeks ago, and tomorrow night, it will have its Chicago debut at the Chicago Horror Film Fest, where I’ll be a guest.
The first review, from Horror Fiction Review, says: “THE FAMILY TREE has a typical horror novel set up that has been done thousands of times (city slicker finds ancient evil in rural town). But Everson is one of a handful of writers who is able to make this work and even seem fresh. Like most of his novels, this one is heavy on the sex, and the prose pulled me through in two quick sittings. The second half is suspense-filled and had me cheering for Scott until the final page. This is Everson’s eighth novel and it’s a sure-fire hit for anyone who loves 70s/80s-styled pulp horror.” Read the full review here.
Here’s the back cover description:
Its roots are old… and twisted!
The blood of the tree is its sap. It has sustained Scott Belvedere’s family for generations. It’s the secret ingredient behind the family’s intoxicating ale and bourbon, among other elixirs. But only when Scott inherits The Family Tree Inn, deep in the hills of Virginia, does he learn anything about his family, its symbiotic history, or the mammoth, ancient tree around which the inn is literally built. And after he stumbles upon the bony secrets hidden in its roots, while in the welcoming arms of the innkeeper’s daughter, he realizes that not only is blood thicker than water—it’s the only thing that might save him from the hideous fate of his ancestors…
I’m really looking forward to hearing what readers think of this one.
What do Stephen King and John Everson have in common?
THIS WEEK MARKED a pretty big milestone for me. A new original story of mine called “Voyeur” (written early this spring) appears in a new anthology — Qualia Nous — which also includes stories by William F. Nolan (author of many Twilight Zone scripts as well as Logan’s Run) and … Stephen King!
I’ve published a lot of stories in lots of books and magazines over the past 20 years, but this is the first time I’ve ever shared pages with King. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I learned that he had joined the project a few weeks ago.
The anthology was edited by Michael Bailey and just came out over the weekend from Written Backwards Press. You can read a bit about the book on the Written Backwards site here.
Here’s the description on Amazon.com:
A literary blend of science fiction and horror, Qualia Nous contains short stories, novelettes, and poetry from established authors and newcomers from around the world. Featuring the imaginations of Stephen King, Gene O’Neill, William F. Nolan, John Everson, Lucy A. Snyder, Thomas F. Monteleone, Elizabeth Massie, Gary A. Braunbeck, and many others.
Check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Qualia-Nous-Michael-Bailey/dp/0578146460/
YEP, THIS WEEKEND, I turn 48 years old. I guess time flies when you’re constantly staring at a computer screen!
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. We met back when I was 28… which also turns out to be the same year I started publishing fiction. It was great catching up but… damn… how did 20 years slip by so fast?
I won’t get all melancholy about it though. This weekend is shaping up to be a fun one — centered around catching up with friends and family. I’ll be having dinner with my friend Jerry from Synapse Films tonight, with my friend Brad and his family on my actual birthday tomorrow night (at my beloved Hofbrauhaus!) and with my dad on Sunday. And in between… I’ll be hanging out all day at a book table on Saturday talking with horror fans at the Indie Horror Film Festival. It’s being held this year at Schurz High School on 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago, so I’m hoping to see some more friends from the Chicago area at that event!
Next weekend, I’ll be returning to DanCon in Orland Park — so I’m hoping to catch up with even more horror and dark fantasy fans then at the Orland Civic Center next Sunday, March 23rd. It’s going to be a blast!
I figured I’d have a little fun with the whole 48 thing, so I’m advertising a “.48″ sale. I put my horror books that I personally have control over (most of my books are with other publishers) on sale this month at $1.48 or $2.48. So if you don’t have them yet, pick up Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, Vigilantes of Love or Failure on sale for cheap at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and Amazon (sort of). Amazon has only adjusted the price of Vigilantes of Love so far, but hopefully the other two will follow. If you already have these books, please post a quick review about them on Amazon — and help spread the word about the sale Here’s how you can find them:
I hope everyone has a great Valentine’s Day weekend — sharing the joy that only romantic love can bring. While I don’t quite buy The Beatles’ “Love is all you need” sentiment, love is pretty high up there on the list. My son was busy this week making Valentines for the kids in his class, and that exercise reminded me of this short story I wrote 20 years ago; it remains one of my favorite short fantasy tales that I’ve written. It originally was published in Sirius Visions magazine in 1994 and was reprinted in my Vigilantes of Love collection. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
TRICIA TUGGED AT THE HEART on her sleeve. Her face wrinkled in complaint, but after awhile, it came loose, ripping from her arm with a sound like Velcro separated under water. She held the heart with pincer fingers, avoiding its clumsy pulsing attempts to reattach itself.
“Would you take this?” she asked the boy sitting at the other end of the bench from her. “I don’t want it anymore.”
His name was Mark Fisher, and his sleeve was not marred by any such organic accoutrement.
Mark scratched the back of his head. “It’s kind of gross,” he said quietly. “But it’s also kind of cool. Sure, I’ll take it…”
Tricia surrendered the drippy organ to the soft-spoken boy.
She’d seen him sulking around school a lot, and earlier had decided he’d be just the kind of sucker who’d accept the harness of a heart.
Let him, she thought, watching him toy with the steadily throbbing muscle. It climbed up his arm, a centimeter at a time, coming to rest just above the elbow.
She felt a strange hollow pain her chest and throat when a smile crossed Mark’s face. Determined to enjoy her new freedom however, Tricia skipped away, leaving her heart in the hands of the grinning boy.
Tricia thought she’d be ecstatic about getting free of the heart on her sleeve, but the farther she got from the bench where she’d left it, the slower her steps became. It had been a burden, she reminded herself – always announcing to people it was there, making it difficult to blend into a crowd, getting her into trouble in school and with her parents because of its compulsions — she was much better off without it. But as she answered the bell to return to class, her face hung listless, her arms dangled limp as muslin drapes in a house with no windows.
“Hey Trish – you wanna come over today after school?” a voice called from down the hall. Sally Ketchal, the most annoying kid in class. Tricia had found excuses for not going home with Sally a hundred times this year, but now she found her mouth dry of words. She shrugged and nodded.
“You will?” Sally squeaked. Tricia winced inside, but said nothing. “Great! We can play Barbies and maybe my sister will make brownies and…” Sally chattered beside her all the way to class, but Tricia didn’t hear a word.
In Tricia’s head, over and over, she listened to the slurping, tearing, horrible sound of the heart leaving her sleeve – and wondered why it had taken her will with it.
Math class seemed to drag on forever. Until something strange happened: Mark Fisher actually raised his hand and answered a question. She couldn’t remember ever hearing him speak in class before. But now, as he did, she saw her heart — now his heart — beat faster in satisfaction.
That night, Tricia tried to remember why she had wanted to give away her heart. From the moment it had left her arm, she’d felt empty — and bad things kept happening to her.
Mrs. Engelbright had called on her in class and she hadn’t been able to spit out the answer. Everyone around her smirked and whispered. Then she’d had to endure the inane prattling of Sally all afternoon because she couldn’t seem to open her mouth and change the subject, say shutup or anything. It was not a problem anyone would have ascribed to her before. And then, to top it off, she’d gotten grounded for being late to dinner. Instead of wheedling her way out of it as usual, she’d glumly accepted her punishment (as her parents passed each other sideways glances of shocked surprise).
Mom had lectured her over and over about not speaking her mind to any and everyone, but Tricia had now come to the conclusion that letting her heart rule her head was tons better than having no heart at all.
Lying in bed with tears dampening her pillow, Tricia decided she had to get back her heart, loud obnoxious ornament that it was. Without it, she felt as free as a lion in a cage.
* * * * *
Tom Harris looked up from the comics rack in surprise. It was that dweeby quiet kid – Mark. What could he want?
“Have you seen those Anne Rice comics they’ve got about that vampire? They’re really cool.”
“Yeah,” Tom grunted. “I’ve got ’em all.”
“No way!” Mark gushed, oblivious to Tom’s leave-me-alone stare. But Mark’s newfound enthusiasm was infectious, and the Anne Rice series was one of Tom’s favorites. Soon they were interrupting each other in excitement. By the end of the day, they were fast friends.
* * * * *
The following day during lunch recess, it was Mark who found Tricia, sitting silent on the bench outside. Their positions weren’t totally reversed – he was not there to trade away his newfound heart.
“How ya doing?” he asked, with a cheer Tricia remembered once being her own. “Okay,” she replied, but her eyes seemed far away. Trapped inside her ribs a voice was yelling, “I’m horrible, I want to scream, I want to cry and I can’t open my mouth! Please, please help me!”
But she only smiled sadly.
“Are you still glad you gave this to me?” he asked a little guiltily, pointing at the bright blob on his arm. He didn’t want to give it back, but he knew it must be pretty valuable. It was a very forward question for Mark, but he felt good asking it.
Tricia nodded, but Mark noticed the gleam in her eyes. She looked away, but not before he saw the tear tracing a slick path down her cheek.
He wanted to turn and run. His heart skipped a beat. She did want it back. He wanted to shut his mouth and walk away. But he couldn’t hide from what he saw – not with this heart on his sleeve. It seemed to push him at the girl.
Instead of retreating, he sat down next to her.
“You want this back, don’t you?” he said quietly. She shook her head again, but he pressed on. “Without it, you’re just like I was, aren’t you? You can’t say anything, can’t do anything – nobody sees you.”
She looked at him with a funny expression. “Yes,” she said, her voice trembling.
“I don’t ever want to be like that again,” Mark declared, thinking of all the times his face had reddened as he fled in angry impotence from the taunts and jeers of the other kids. Of all the times his parents had stood behind him nudging him forward, forcing him to stand in the middle of groups of people when he only wanted to run and hide. Of all the times he’d heard adults say things that he knew were just flat wrong, but his mouth had remained locked shut.
And then he smiled as a possibility came to him. It risked everything he’d gained in these short twenty-four hours, but if it worked…
“Maybe… Maybe we could share it,” he suggested.
Tricia looked puzzled. Mark slid closer to her on the bench, and then closer still, until their arms touched.
Her eyes widened and she moved away. She huddled in the corner like a trapped possum, pinned in by the armrest at the end of the bench.
“What?” she whispered.
And then Mark mushed his shoulder against hers, and she felt a familiar tug on her arm. Fingers of warmth and energy flowed into her, spreading through her body. She had felt dead, empty. Now she felt alive again. The scared lines vanished from her face and were replaced by a sparkle in her eye. Tricia felt her tongue loosen, her limbs lighten.
With the joy came a shadow of compassion; she didn’t want to sentence this boy to live in the deadly-quiet pit forever.
She saw his face darken, his lips clench, as the heart began tearing away from his arm. She realized what taking back her heart would mean to the boy. She couldn’t do this to him… not even if it meant her own imprisonment. She placed her hand on his skinny chest, closed her eyes and shoved.
* * * * *
When he pushed his shoulder against hers, Mark felt the vibrance and energy draining from his arm. Suddenly, he was afraid.
He didn’t want to give up the heart; he didn’t want to be the cowed, quiet loser that everyone ignored, a boy trapped within himself.
He desperately wanted to pull free of the girl, keep the heart to himself. But he reminded himself that the heart was hers, and if it wanted to go back to her, then he couldn’t keep it prisoner on his own arm. He understood the feeling of being trapped too well, and he saw in her face that the heart was even now keying open Tricia’s inner lock.
Mark felt his tongue tightening and inwardly cried, “No, don’t take away my voice again!”
Then Tricia’s hand was on his body, pushing him backwards, separating their heart-joined arms. With a rush of indrawn air, he felt their connection cut, and the playground spun dizzily before his eyes. He blinked, twice, trying to slow the divebomb attack on his senses.
Mark shook his head to clear the cobwebs and saw Tricia doing the same.
At the same moment, eyes wide, mouths open in surprise, each raised a finger to point at the other’s arm.
There, above each of their elbows, throbbing contentedly, perched a glowing, red, beating heart. They were smaller by far than the single heart the boy and girl had passed between them, but that didn’t matter.
Mark felt his tongue was tighter perhaps than it had been an hour ago, but certainly more free than before he had taken the quivering heart Tricia had offered him yesterday.
Tricia was smiling. Reaching slowly across Mark’s lap, she took his hand. The heart on his arm beat faster. Hers quickened visibly in response.
“Maybe I won’t get in so much trouble now that it’s smaller,” she mused.
“Maybe they’ll grow,” he answered, and they stood.
Hand in hand, neither yelling nor sulking, they answered the bell signalling the end of recess.
The Kindle and Nook
editions are currently on sale
for Valentine’s for just $1.99.
2013 was the year that we lost one of my personal heroes, Roger Ebert. He was a Chicago critic who I really admired, and he was also a fellow alum of the University of Illinois. I read his reviews and columns my entire adult life.
2013 brought us the second Star Trek reboot sequel, Into Darkness and a monster pop hit in “Blurred Lines,” from Robin Thicke, the son of Alan Thicke, the “dad” on the old wholesome family TV show “Growing Pains.”
OK, 2013 gave us some things to remember too. For me, it was a year of many firsts, frustrations and final victories. And amid all of the stress and craziness, I was able to visit many interesting places, enjoy evenings with many good and far-flung friends, and I sampled a wide array of breweries all around North America — I don’t stop in a city without trying to check out what their local brewery scene is!
I always like to look back on New Year’s Eve at the highpoints of the past 12 months. It’s easy to forget all of the amazing moments that happen amid the endless running around trying to just “keep up.”
When 2013 began, I called it Lucky ’13. I had a lot of hopes for the year, and it definitely turned out to have some special moments. Many of them dealt with my fiction-life, but not all. Here in no particular order are my personal highlights of 2013:
I’ve been traveling more and more for the dayjob over the past couple years, and this year, along with my horror convention appearances, those jaunts kept me out of state at least once a month — and usually more. In 2013 I visited:
As the year wound down, after all that running around, I was more than happy to take the last couple weeks of the year off, and just stay home. I kinda like it here — that’s why I bought the place, after all! And I definitely didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I’d like these past few months.
In the end, the best thing about this year were the little things — barbecuing on my patio for my family, and watching my son grow up — a little bit every week.
It’s been a good year. I don’t wish it away. But I am hopeful that 2014 is as fruitful and kind!
For Auld Lang Syne!
Christmas is the time to celebrate your family and friends. It’s a time to remember and rekindle. It’s my favorite time of the year, not because of gifts, but because it’s when you get together with friends and relatives who you might not see often, if at all, during the rest of the year.
My Christmas week has started out great — I am on vacation for the next couple weeks, and so last night, I staged my third annual Christmas Ale (and bourbon) and Chili by the Pool Table night, with a group of guys from our neighborhood.
Because I was home yesterday, I was able to take a break from my afternoon of chili-concocting to go watch Shaun’s school sing Christmas carols in the gym. I also got to see Shaun throw a pie in his teacher’s face! One of the school’s fundraising drives this year was to sell pies — and my wife Geri was one of the masterminds in charge of this year’s event. To spur on pie sales, they staged an event where if you bought a pie, your kid got entered in a drawing to be able to throw a pie in a teacher’s face at the Christmas party yesterday. Ironically, Shaun’s name was drawn by the principal! It was a fun hour and the kids had a blast… and Shaun got to do something most kids never have a chance to do!
Then I went back to my kitchen to finish preparing my jalapeno cornbread and three flavors of Chili. I’m a “bean” chili kind of guy, so my chili has hamburger with kidney beans and chili beans, along with a healthy collection of sweet red and green peppers, onions, some homegrown tomatoes, garlic and different varieties of hot peppers, some of which I brought back from New Mexico and froze a few months ago:
1) Mild Green Hatch chili pepper and Poblano (the base for all three chilis)
2) Hot Green Hatch Chili Peppers with Jalapenos and Serranos
3) Hot Green Hatch Chili Peppers with Jalapenos, Serranos and Habaneros. Plus Red Hatch Chili powder.
Seven of my friends from the neighborhood came over last night, and we pretty much polished off most of a giant vat’s worth of Chili. I filled a big silver soup pot to the brim during the afternoon before dividing it into three crock pots and adding the different peppers. The little bowl in front of the soup pot in the picture below is all that was left this morning!
Everyone brought their favorite holiday ales, and after the chili, we cooled off the gullets with plenty of those, as well as some bourbon. This year my personal favorites are the Deschutes Jubelale and Boulevard’s Nut Cracker Ale, thanks to their rich, carmel molasses tones, but we also had some of my favorite from last year, Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale, as well as Fistmas from Chicago’s Revolution Brewing and the Christmas Ale’s from Breckenridge and Great Lakes. We spent much of the night around the air hockey and pool table, trading off stream-of-consciousness DJ-ing via YouTube and my iPod library. 3 a.m. came really fast!
After a great evening with friends last night, tonight we went out to a new local brewery — Hopvine — for dinner with another family. Shaun and their boys spent the whole time messing around with the iPad and iPhones while the adults got to catch up. The food and company made for a relaxing evening. And I love the Ben Franklin quote they have posted above the bar there (click the picture to see it).
This is the way life should be all the time — getting together with your friends every week, but we’re usually too busy running around “taking care of business” to make it happen very often.
I wish Christmas came more than once a year!
very year I post a little Christmas cheer on my website – visit my Christmas page for some holiday wallpaper, a special book deal and to hear a holiday song I wrote and recorded with a band several years ago. You can also listen to a demo song that inspired “Will You Spend This Christmas Night With Me?” one of the short stories that appear in my holiday fantasy short story collection Christmas Tales.
To read that story and a couple of my other Christmas fantasy stories, please click the links above to download the e-book from your preferred store (Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com). You can also now get copies at the Apple iBookstore or the Kobo Store.
Here is the Amazon description of the book:
CHRISTMAS TALES offers three “ghosts of Christmas” in its three stories celebrating the magic of the season, as well as the lyrics of four original holiday songs. While primarily known as a Bram Stoker Award-winning horror author, John Everson explores his lighter side with CHRISTMAS TALES. It’s a book with heart that can be enjoyed by all ages.
“Christmas, The Hard Way,” was originally written as a holiday gift to family and friends. The story is a fantastical look at the Christmas holiday from the point of view of Will, a boy who comes from a family of… well… witches. To them, magic comes naturally. But at Christmastime, they pledge to give up magic to rediscover the importance of doing and making things with the sweat of honest labor. That will be a difficult – but important – lesson for Will to learn.
“Frost,” the second tale of the collection, opens with David, a young boy from a broken home on an uneasy trip home for the holidays after visiting with his dad. But his trip takes an unexpected turn when a frost sprite in the plane window escorts him on a sidetrip journey that can only be seen as the start of “growing up”… and the beginning of a rekindled Christmas.
“Will You Spend This Christmas Night With Me?”, a new story written just for this Christmas collection, looks into the heart of a “lost man” who is living aloof and alone. The love in his heart has been buried with the memories of his family. Based on one of John Everson’s original Christmas songs (the lyric also appears in the book), it tells the life-altering story of a lonely man who takes in a homeless child – or is she? – on Christmas Eve.
Heartwarming contemporary fantasies all, CHRISTMAS TALES – which also includes a handful of original holiday song lyrics and a link for readers to hear some original holiday recordings – will bring the spirit of Christmas to your heart.
I hope you’ll enjoy my Christmas Tales this year!