My first novel, THE EQUINOX, garnered a lot of love. People love monsters, and I believed, when I wrote it, that they were worn out on vampires and zombies. So, I wanted to write something beyond the usual trends. In retrospect, I might have to rethink that, considering that the vampires and zombies are still around. Walking Dead, What We Do in the Shadows, and so on…
In the case of THE EQUINOX, our protagonist Daniel Blackbird has been banished from the Chocktee Village known as Spirit Woods. Why has he been expelled? Well, first he got the Chief Elder (his grandfather) killed, but worse he has let loose upon the world his peoples curse. The curse comes in the form of a shape changer, known as a skinwalker, that kills people daily and then dines on their internal organs. Blackbird heads out into the world following a debris trail of murder and mayhem., chasing an impossible task that will last 14 years. His quest takes him from that northern village to the red-light district in Chicago, and eventually to a small prairie town called Thomasville, where police are investigating the serial murder of 17 young boys.
When I set out to write this book, I drew my inspiration from author John Farris’ THE FURY, and also from a newscast I heard as a child, and an article I read in a men’s magazine in my early teens.
Let’s talk about Farris first.
In THE FURY, a father who works for an intelligence agency gets double-crossed when they abduct his son to exploit the child’s telekinesis. There’s plenty of double-dealing, gore, and intrigue, but it was the quest of a father to find his son and reap vengeance upon the abductors that fascinated me. I truly loved this book, and by the time I finished it, the paperback was dog-eared and beaten. That quest idea stuck with me, and I thought that one day, far in the future of the 12-year-old kid who had read it, I would pen a story with a quest to right a wrong.
Inspiration came on two other occasions where art would imitate life. One morning in 1978, the news reported on a killer, named John Wayne Gacy, arrested after 26 bodies were found buried in the crawl space of his Des Plaines home in Illinois. All the victims were teenage boys, first molested and then killed by Gacy. The victim count would rise to 33, and Gacy would be sentenced to death. Strangely, not long after I read another account of multiple child murders in Houston, Texas, at the hands of Dean Corll, who abducted, tortured, raped and murdered 28 plus boys with the help of two teen accomplices, named David Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley. While both crimes were horrific in nature, the Corll murders stuck out because Brooks and Henley were both around the same age as their victims. Why would they become a party to such evil? In reading about the excavation of these bodies, in horrendous forensic detail, I understood that monsters walked among us in the guise of everyday citizens.
Dean Corll would never see the inside of a courtroom after being shot dead by accomplice Elmer Wayne Henley. Henley had angered Corll, who was a homosexual sadist killer, after bringing a female to a party which involved drugs and alcohol at the Corll residence. When Henley awoke, he found himself and his friends bound, and only after pleading with Corll to release him and agreeing to kill his friends, Corll made the fatal mistake of untying Henley who then shot and killed his partner in crime.
When the police arrived, Henley was first thought to be a hero, but then the story between Brooks and Henley began to unravel. Both David Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley confessed to their involvement in the abduction and brutal sex slayings. They led authorities to four separate dump sites. The bulk of the victims were found wrapped in plastic buried in the floor of a boathouse. In a filmed phone call to his mother, Henley confessed, “Momma, I killed Dean.” What would follow would be a view into a world of absolute revulsion. Investigators exhumed body after body, most so deep into decomposition that authorities measured out equal amounts of bones into bags, only to be later sorted and identified by forensic experts.
Gacy would find his end in a death chamber when an intravenous needle was inserted into his arm, and a cocktail of deadly drugs was be administered by the state of Illinois. But justice, if the death penalty could be considered so, only came 16 years after he was arrested. I watched an interview with Gacy, in which he claimed not to be the killer, but an accomplice guilty only of running an illegal graveyard. Both men were master manipulators, but Gacy maintained his innocence until he was executed.
I had no illusions of Gacy’s guilt. One does not live above the decomposing bodies of murdered children without involvement in the crime. He tortured and killed his victims, but his outlandish claim stuck with me and played into writing my first book, THE EQUINOX.
So, I got down to writing. My protagonist, Daniel Blackbird, sets out on a quest to stop a monster that kills daily and feeds on the internal organs of its victims. Blackbird’s hunt leads him on a decade-long chase that will take him from Chicago, Illinois, where prostitutes are being killed. After a near-death confrontation, he is drawn to a small prairie town called Thomasville.
In Thomasville, police are investigating a farmer/serial killer, named Stephen Hopper, whose backfield holds the bodies of 17 missing children. Blackbird is drawn to the town, just as he was drawn to the creature’s other killing fields. The Chief of Police, David Logan, is informed by the killer that he is merely a caretaker and that the real killer is a demonic monster demanding to be fed.
I’m not going to tell you any more than that about the plot. You can read the book. But I will tell you that this story is full of native mysticism, otherworldly creatures and plenty of action. The Equinox is, at its core, a monster story. It is an exploration of native mythos coupled a with a serial killer, known as Stephen Hopper.
Along with writing, I dabble in art and photography. So, when I wrote Equinox, I also began to render pieces of digital art and decided one Halloween to create a life-sized skinwalker. Although I don’t consider myself a commercial artist, I created the creature which you see in the pictures. The sculpting of the skinwalker took a long time, first starting with the head and then moving on to the body. By Halloween night, the skinwalker, named “Skin,” was staged on my front lawn amid cornstalks and other creepy crawlies including giant spiders, vampires, gravestones and the odd demon. It also caught the attention of local media. Two reporters came out for a look. THE GRIMSBY NEWS and the SAINT CATHARINES STANDARD conducted separate interviews with me, and “SKIN” made the front page of THE GRIMSBY NEWS. I thought that was cool, and I have to say that the kids who came, loved the layout and were fascinated by the creature. The only downside was that after being overrun by hundreds of children, we ran out of treats to give the kids darn quick.
When it was over, I packed up my monsters, gravestones, and Skin for future Halloweens. When I moved from Ontario to Alberta in 2015, Skin was picked up in a yard sale, and is presumably entertaining children at someone else’s Halloween Haunt.
That is how I work as a writer. I employ everything I have in my artistic toolbox. Writing, rendering and even sculpting. I am happy that THE EQUINOX has found a second run with my new publisher, WildBlue Press. It gives new readers a chance to read this exciting book about monsters. In revisiting the manuscript, I was, again, reacquainted with a story I started thinking about when I was a kid.
In future blogs, I will talk about my other books and the journey of creation. With each new project, comes an odyssey, and in the case of my second book, a real adventure.
Thank you for tagging along, and I hope you’ll join me as I revisit these stories and recount their genesis.