Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How Horror Stories Saved A Lonely Kid with Michael J. Bowler

How Horror Stories Saved A Lonely Kid
From as far back as I can remember I loved horror films and scary stories. Back in the day when I was a child, I got hooked on the old Universal horror flicks from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. My best friends were Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon . I watched these movies endlessly on the Saturday afternoon movie channels or on Creature Features. I had them memorized. No joke. I could recite complete scenes word for word, and perform the lines in the same accents as the actors. People like Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and even Maria Ouspenskaya (I could remember the spelling of her name before I was ten) were the celebrities I favored, not the rock stars of the day like my peers. I fell in love with the music scores, most of which were composed by German-born Hans J. Salter. I’d put a cassette recorder up to the TV speaker and record the films onto audiocassette so I could listen to them over and over again. Okay, I was a weird kid. LOL

I didn’t understand until much later in life that my love of these films and characters fed the sense of isolation I felt from everyone around me. I was a shy kid, yes. But more than that, I was born with a hearing loss that impaired my ability to understand with clarity what people around me were saying. There were no hearing aids at the time that could help me, and no one in the family or at school had hearing loss like me. Even my grandmother could hear better than me when she was ninety years old! So I was very much in a world of my own, a true outsider that no one around me could fully understand.

Horror films are otherworldly, about people outside the “normal” spectrum, often shy loners like me who didn’t fit in. I felt immense empathy for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, uprooted from his home, brought to a strange place, and put on display for people to gawk at. Frankenstein’s monster, especially as portrayed by Boris Karloff in the first three films, was incredibly sympathetic. He was misunderstood by everyone. All he wanted was love and acceptance (like all of us.) His ugliness frightened people so they rejected him. Those films inspired me to read the original book, and through that story I felt an even greater kinship with the monster. I wasn’t physically ugly like him, no, but I was “weird” in the eyes of my peers. I would give strange answers to questions, or respond oddly to a statement, or react incongruously to something another child did simply because I couldn’t hear correctly. But because I wore no hearing aids and the disability was invisible, even I would forget it was there and think I was just stupid or dumb for how I responded or acted in a given situation. I struggled in every group activity because the noise and chattering from other kids made it much harder for me to understand them clearly. And team sports? Let’s not even go there!

So horror was, for me, an escape into a world where even weird people have a place and a purpose in life. Horror films helped me manage my own fear when I’d be confronted with something new and scary. My favorite TV show as a child was “Dark Shadows,” a daily soap opera populated with outsiders like me. The main character was a vampire who didn’t want to be a vampire, just like I didn’t want to be hard of hearing. Barnabas Collins tried so many ways to “cure” his vampirism, but they all backfired on him. The message to me, a young boy, was that even as a vampire he could still be a good person, successful and well liked. And that meant maybe I could be, too. Those characters got me through middle school. They were my friends when I didn’t have any. They taught me lessons about life and death, love and fate. Good horror always does this while also stimulating our imagination and filling our hearts with dread.

In Spinner, I attempted to create this kind of horror tale, one that will engage all the emotions, not just fear. The teen characters are like me, outsiders with disabilities who don’t fit the “norm.”  But they accept very quickly that something dangerous and otherworldly is happening to them and they use the skills they do have to solve the mystery and save lives. Spinner has lots of traditional horror “scare scenes,” but it also features action, excitement, sadness, the power of friendship and family, and the overriding need for all of us to find our place in the world. Horror helped one lonely boy find his way through life. Maybe, with Spinner, that boy can pay it forward to someone else.

Michael J. Bowler

Genre: teen horror/mystery

Publisher: YoungDudes Publishing

Date of Publication: August 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9946675-1-9

Number of pages: 464
Word Count: 138K

Cover Artist: Louis C. Harris

Book Description:

Fifteen-year-old Alex is a “spinner.” His friends are “dummies.” Two clandestine groups of humans want his power. And an ancient evil is stalking him. If people weren’t being murdered, Alex might laugh at how his life turned into a horror movie overnight.

In a wheelchair since birth, his freakish ability has gotten him kicked out of ten foster homes since the age of four. Now saddled with a sadistic housemother who uses his spinning to heal the kids she physically abuses, Alex and his misfit group of learning disabled classmates are the only ones who can solve the mystery of his birth before more people meet a gruesome end.

They need to find out who murdered their beloved teacher, and why the hot young substitute acts like she’s flirting with them. Then there’s the mysterious medallion that seems to have unleashed something malevolent, and an ancient prophecy suggesting Alex has the power to destroy humanity.

The boys break into homes, dig up graves, elude kidnappers, fight for their lives against feral cats, and ultimately confront an evil as old as humankind. Friendships are tested, secrets uncovered, love spoken, and destiny revealed.

The kid who’s always been a loner will finally learn the value of friends, family, and loyalty.

If he survives…

Available at Amazon


As Roy stepped into the room, flickering light from behind the door caught their attention. Alex swung the beam to his right, and stiffened.
Roy’s breath froze as he followed the beam of light. Off to one side, against the same wall as the door, stood a kind of altar, with black candles flickering and guttering softly, casting a creepy glow on the contents of the table. Glancing around nervously, Roy hefted the slipping Alex a bit higher and inched toward this strange looking table with its weird items.
He leaned closer to get a better view. There were two carved statues about as big as his hand, a male and female, but distorted and creepy, with jeweled eyes that flickered in the candle light and seemed to follow him as he moved. What looked like a goat skull sat in the middle with big curved horns. The white of the bleached bone sent chills down Roy’s spine. Several stone bowls filled with different colored powders were set on either side of the two statues. The candles were numerous, arranged in a triangle. Set within the triangle of candles was some kind of webbing, almost like spider silk, but thicker. And under the webbing, like food awaiting the spider, was Alex’s music box.
“There it is!” Roy blurted, quietly cursing himself for the outburst.
“Yeah,” Alex agreed with a nervous sigh. “And look what’s covering it.”
Roy studied the webbing again, and something clicked in his memory, but before he could say it, Alex spoke again, “It’s the necklace, Roy, the one I found.”
Roy stiffened. That was it! It was the same.
“Put me on the bed,” Alex whispered urgently.
Grateful for even a brief respite, Roy backed a few steps to the edge of the bed and sat carefully so as to not crush Alex with his weight. He released Alex’s legs and Alex let go, and then Roy was free. He scooted over next to his friend, feeling the warmth of Alex’s hand brush his as he did, and shuddered at the weird stuff laid out before him.
Alex offered a grin. “Don’t tell Izzy we was on her bed. He’ll freak.”
Roy almost laughed, and that felt good. His stomach was knotted up and his back ached from carrying Alex. That second of relief meant a lot.
Alex slipped the medal out from under his shirt, and shone his flashlight beam on it. It was identical to the web protecting the music box.
And then it began to glow.
“Oh, shit!” Roy blurted, clamping a hand over his mouth as he recoiled.
But Alex didn’t say anything. He just stared at the glowing medal in his hand and then looked at the larger version covering his property.
It began to glow, too.
“What do you think it means?” Roy whispered anxiously, his heart thumping.
Alex turned to him. “An alarm maybe?”
Roy’s eyes grew so wide the whites flashed. “You mean she knows we’re here?”
Alex shrugged, shivering. “Somebody does. You feel it? We’re bein’ watched again.”
Roy leapt up and snatched the flashlight from Alex, shakily waving its beam back and forth around the room. There was no one there. “Are you sure?”
Alex nodded. “Sure.” He glanced at the table, and his music box. “Think you can get that out from under?”
Roy swung the flashlight toward Alex so fast that his friend blinked furiously. Roy lowered the beam. “Sorry,” he said, his voice barely functioning as he gulped with terror. “You, uh, you want me to, like, reach in there?”
Alex looked at Roy with obvious embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Roy. I would, but I can’t.” He indicated his position on the bed and the table several feet away.
Roy gulped again, and nodded. He stepped forward slowly, half expecting something to come flying at him like the other night in his garage. But nothing moved except the candle flames. He stopped just before the table. The colored powders looked scary in the guttering candlelight, and he kept his eyes off the goat skull altogether. He examined the glowing web, and the fancy-looking music box beneath it. 
“Think there’s electricity if I touch it?”
Alex shrugged, glancing around nervously. Roy knew he could still feel eyes on them, and decided he’d better hurry. Turning to the web, he exhaled, fought his thrumming nerves, and reached out to touch the tip of his index finger to one of the strands. Revulsion filled him, and he yanked it back, his whole body trembling.
He turned, his heart pounding, his eyes wide with disgust. “It felt like….” He couldn’t say it.
“Like skin?” Alex offered flatly.
Roy nodded with surprise. “Yeah. How’d you….”
Alex held out the medal dangling from his neck. “This feels the same.”
Heart thudding more desperately, Roy returned his gaze to the webbing, and the music box. He leaned down to get a side view, gauging how much space there was between the webbing and the table. The music box was at least as tall as his middle finger and the webbing didn’t quite touch the top of it. Yes, he could slide his hand under. But what would happen when he touched it? Would the webbing suddenly grab his hand and not let go?
Alex’s eyes were fixed on the open door to the hall. Roy followed his gaze, but saw nothing. It was now or never. Sucking in another breath and releasing it slowly, Roy squatted on his haunches and slowly, with extreme care not to touch the webbing or the tabletop, slid his hand between the two and inched it closer and closer to the music box.
Silence surrounded him. There was Alex’s breathing, and his own raspy, anxious breaths, but nothing else. He touched the plastic of the music box. Nothing happened. He exhaled and relaxed slightly. Cautiously wrapping his long, slender fingers around it, he slid the music box toward him.
With a hideously loud screech, the cat landed on the table behind the webbing and swiped at his face with a massive forepaw.
Roy yelped in surprise, yanked out his hand and tumbled back, landing on his butt and scuttling up against the bed. Alex’s leg brushed his shoulder, but he kept his eyes riveted to the massive, crouching animal before him. It opened its mouth. Sharp, jagged teeth gleamed in the candlelight, and it let loose with a fierce growl that sounded more like a tiger than a housecat.
He jumped when Alex’s hand landed on his shoulder. “You okay?”
Roy nodded.
“Did it scratch you?”
Roy shook his head. He wanted to look at Alex because that would make him feel strong. But no way would he turn away from that cat.
And that’s when his phone vibrated insistently in his pocket.
Oh, shit! He fumblingly slipped it out and opened the call. Izzy’s frantic voice poured forth, “She’s coming, she’s coming! Get the fuck outta there!”
The voice was so loud even the cat looked momentarily startled.
Alex reached for the phone and said, “Izzy, stay calm, man. Stop yelling or she’s gonna hear you. Where is she?”
“Just went in the front gate,” came the frantic, but quieter response. “Hurry!”
“Got it.” Alex ended the call and handed the phone to an anxious Roy. “We gotta jet now.” He glared fiercely at the cat. “Fuck you, bitch! I’m gonna get my music box back. You’ll see.”
Roy turned to look at the cat. It titled its head. It was listening, and it understood.

About the Author:

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently working on a sequel to Spinner.

His goal as a YA author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BradleyWallaceM


Michael Bowler said...

Thanks for hosting me today. Much appreciated. :)

Jay Hawke said...

Looks like another great book, Michael. Can't wait to read this!