Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Interview...With Me!

Hey, everybody. Fellow horror writer Mark Carver (who recently stopped by this very blog for an interview of his own) has graciously invited me to his blog to chat about my inspirations, my fascination with the horror genre, and the perils of trying to sell a story about flesh-eating monsters to the traditional Christian market.

Here's a sample, and be sure to head over there to read the rest!

"Horror, however, is all about tearing away safety and this sort of illusion that we are in control of everything. It reveals the unspeakable monsters that lurk just outside of our peripheral and, in my mind, causes us to run screaming to God for protection. Horror, to me, forces me to consider something larger than myself and seek answers in God."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Adios and Shalom: Looking Back At The Merkabah Rider Series

Today we're doing things a little different 'round here. 2013 was a big year for me, seeing the completion of The Coming Evil Trilogy--but 2013 also marks the end of the critically acclaimed and brilliant Merkabah Rider series written by my pal Ed Erdelac. In honor of this momentous occasion, I've asked Ed to stop by the blog and share his journey, taking us from the Rider's inception, to the final chapter in his tale. It's a great read and should prompt you to immediately run out and buy all four books!

Take it away, Ed!


This month saw the release of Merkabah Rider 4: Once Upon A Time In The Weird West, the last installment of my Judeocentric weird western series.

For those unfamiliar with it, it’s about a Hasidic gunslinger tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers to the Great Old Ones of the Lovecraftian Mythos. Along the way, the Rider (so-called because members of his order, The Sons of The Essenes, assume a title to obfuscate their true names from malevolent spirits) encounters half-demon outlaws, a mystic cannon, a brothel full of antediluvian succubi, shoggoths, invisible monsters, Doc Holiday, zombies, an undead gunfighter constructed from the body parts of famous outlaws, and a pissed off animated windmill among other dangers.

Beyond the weirdness and adventure, it’s also a story about the testing of a man’s faith in the face of overwhelming cosmic horror and indifference, and, at its core, I like to think, the beneficial nature of tolerance.

 The stories of the Rider started for me in high school. I had just read Robert E. Howard’s stories The Thunder Rider, Old Garfield’s Heart, and The Horror From The Mound, and I was thinking about writing weird westerns. I tried my hand at a few, two of which show up greatly expanded upon in Tales Of A High Planes Drifter (namely The Dust Devils and Hell’s Hired Gun). In their original incarnation, the hero of those stories was an ex-soldier, an objector to the heinous Sand Creek Massacre who was shot and left for dead by his comrades, and rescued by a Cheyenne medicine man who sewed a mystical hide shirt to his skin that allowed him to shrug off bullets.  I wrote a couple more of these featuring that character “The Ghost Dancer,” but I lost interest after a bit as The Dancer’s mission was solely vengeance bent, and not really very engaging. I wasn’t ready yet to create a compelling central character.

I think my seeing the TV series Kung Fu when it was rerun on TNT in freshman or sophomore year of college planted the seed in my mind for a fish out of water individual traveling through the west, but it wasn’t till nearly ten years later, when I had moved to an orthodox Jewish neighborhood and my wife picked up an angelology book (Angels A To Z) that the Rider finally reared full blown into my mind.

I came across this entry –

Merkabah Rider – An ancient Jewish mystic who fasted and prayed to reach an ecstatic trance. While in this trance state, he sent his soul upward through the heavenly halls in an attempt to reach the Throne of Glory that is supported by the chariot of Merkavah (the fiery vehicle seen by Elijah). The objective of the Merkabah Rider was to join himself with the Universal Soul. During this journey, the Rider was constantly plagued  by demons. The Merkabah Rider used prayer, magical talismans, incantations, and asceticism to enlist the aid of angels, who would protect him throughout his journey and ultimately defeat his antagonists.
I also found an illustration by Gustave Dore for John Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Empyrean, which depicted the Heavenly Host turning as a great wheel or flock around the brilliant presence of God in the middle. It’s at once beautiful and harrowing.

Immediately my brain conjured this image of a Hasidic Jew in long black coat and hat, riding a horse made of flame.

I started tackling Jewish folklore and mysticism, reading everything I could. Little details began to fit into place. The Rider’s mystically embossed blue glass spectacles, etched with Solomonic seals that allowed him to look into the spirit world at its unseen denizens. His adorned Volcanic pistol (a favorite design of firearm for me – the protagonist of my straight, no ghoulies western novel Buff Tea carries one), the mystic symbols allowing him to carry it into the astral plane. Much of his asceticism I took from Jewish kashrut or kosher teaching, but some I culled from Kung Fu’s shaolin monks (the Rider’s refusal to ride a horse, for instance).

Only a year earlier I had discovered H.P. Lovecraft, and was thinking a lot about the deities of his indifferent universe. I needed a foe for the Rider to face, but the Jewish view of the Devil is quite different from Christianity’s. Satan is not directly opposed to God. He works for God, testing the souls of man and maintaining Sheol/hell as a crucible for the human spirit. He’s not the blasphemous entity popularized in horror films and books.

So I got to thinking, that in an ordered universe, the ultimate nemesis would be chaos. And in researching Jewish mystic thought, I came across another passage (in the fantastic reference The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth Magic and Mysticism) –

Rahav – A cosmic sea monster first mentioned in the biblical book of Isaiah….God slew him when he refused to help in creating the earth. The oceans conceal the lethal stink of his carcass, which is why the sea smells so strange.

Sounds like Cthulhu, right?

So then reading more, I found references to a forbidden area of mystic study, that which precedes Creation – the Olam ha-Tohu, The World of Chaos.

I had found my heavy for the Merkabah Rider series, and the more I researched and read, the easier things began to fit in with each other. That’s when I know I’m on to something – when I don’t have to force anything. When references just start making themselves known to me.

For a direct physical villain, again, the character just made himself known to me. I was watching a lot of Doctor Who and enjoyed the character of The Master – a diametrically opposed Time Lord and foil for The Doctor. I decided a failed Merkabah Rider who worships chaos might be interesting, so I came up with Adon (whose name means “Master” or “Lord”). When the time came to present a story for Adon, I happened to read the Jewish fable of the sages who entered Paradise.

Four men entered the pardes — Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher [that is, Elisha ben Abuyeh], and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher severed the root; Akiba entered in peace and departed in peace.

In some mystic schools of thought, our souls or astral selves are bound to this world by an astral tether which reaches from the corona of our head.

In the world of Merkabah Rider, I had established that this tether anchored the soul to the body and thus the physical world. It was a root, and Elisha ben Abuyah had cut it. He had severed himself from his body, but because he had done so before the Throne of Glory, he had somehow gone on (perhaps due to Merkabah Rider training), a disembodied spirit, able to possess other’s physical forms.

But what had the Sages seen that had caused such drastic reactions?

I decided, the Outer Gods, slumbering in the world of Chaos that bordered the universe as created by God.

What would such knowledge do to the Rider? That became a central point of the series. Could the Rider maintain his faith? Would it change anything for him? Would he go the route of Adon?

In the meantime, I could let my imagination run wild, and I did, borrowing or adapting creatures and people from folklore and literature (Ambrose Bierce’s Damned Thing shows up as a servant of the Old Ones in The Damned Dingus) history, and the Bible, and exploring my love of the Old West at the same time.

It was a wonderful experience, writing Merkabah Rider, and the positive response it’s received from those who have read and enjoyed it are very dear to me – particularly the unsolicited reader reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, LibraryThing, and Shelfari.

I want to share just a few that I treasure –

“It is, quite simply, one of the coolest things I've ever read. It feels like something tailor made for me, and it feels genuine and sincere.”

“The best book I read last year. You don't need to like westerns to like his work--he is a genius. The Merkabah Rider Series is better than investing in gold. It will make you feel awesome inside---like maybe you finally read a book that meant something---he is that good.”

“This is great--no, stupendous adventure fiction, the kind that I often crave and rarely find.”

There are just a few, and I post them not to inflate my own ego, but because they mean a great deal to me, as all of them do. Even the negative ones. These are people that went out and bought the book on their own and got something from it, and in the age of file sharing and buying and selling reviews, that’s something to me.

Now I just hope nobody retracts their previous good opinions when they’ve read the last one.

In closing, it’s been a wonderful trip writing Merkabah Rider. There are still small stories about the Rider that can be told (one, The Shomer Express, has already appeared in anthology called The Trigger Reflex), and characters from the series might still appear here and there in related works, but for now, I turn my attention to other things.

The Rider and his onager walk off into the sunset.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What's Next?

Now that The Coming Evil Trilogy is over, the question I get asked most often these days is "What's next?" I mean, I've only been working on this series for my entire adult life--where do I go from here? Well, as a matter of fact, I do have a lot of projects going on, but as for my next series, it's already started--and it fits squarely in the world of The Coming Evil!

"You can’t even begin to understand the places in between, the unknowable depths of eternity, the mind-shattering realizations that wait just beyond your rather limited peripheral understanding of space and time."

This line is uttered by the Strange Man in Dark Hour, the final book of The Coming Evil Trilogy, and serves as a hint at my new book Rift Jump!

Rift Jump came out last summer through Splashdown Darkwater, my publisher for Dark Hour. In it, readers are taken to this "In Between" that the Strange Man was referring to and discover it to be the supernatural plane where all the angels and devils in all my stories, including the Strange Man and his gremlin hordes, originate. The In Between is the metaphysical glue that holds together the near-limitless worlds of the multiverse, an intricate network of alternate realities and parallel dimensions.

Rift Jump introduces us to Michael Morrison, the young man chosen by the Light to journey across this multiverse, combating some great Evil that is worming its way through the In Between, trying to consume the multiverse. The Strange Man knows this particular Evil very well and, if you've read The Coming Evil Trilogy, you might recognize it too, and already know the damage it could cause.

While The Coming Evil centered on the battle of good and evil across the landscape of small town Greensboro, Rift Jump takes that same battle to the cosmic stage. It's a clash of titans in this book, and shows what larger battles exist in the world--the multiverse--of The Coming Evil.

I have one more book to write in this new series, I believe. Among my many other projects, I'm slowly working on the follow-up to Rift Jump, that will bring to resolution whatever dangling plot threads remain after that first book. But, in the meantime, you can purchase Rift Jump from Amazon for its new low price in print or Kindle.

When Rift Jump was initially released, it was sort of lost in the midst of The Coming Evil Trilogy. But now that the Trilogy is finished, I'm hoping people will take another look at the book. It's already starting to get a little more attention out there in the world, garnering me a great new review and has even been nominated for a 2013 Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction.

I hope you all go check out the book and get a look at the larger mechanics operating in my fictional world. Rift Jump is an action-packed wild ride, straight into the In Between where devils lurk and back again. Don't miss it!

Today, I'm over at Lisa Godfrees' blog, discussing all things Rift Jump, as well as offering two free copies of the book! But the giveaway only lasts for a week, so hurry over, read the interview, and leave a comment (over there) for your chance to win!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Interview with Gothic Writer Mark Carver

Flipping through facebook the other day, I came across a fellow Christian horror author who has penned a very interesting new book. It's called The Age of Apollyon, and here's the description on Amazon.

"Notre-Dame Cathedral lies in ruins. The mangled corpses of the possessed are scattered in the shadows beneath the pulverized Gothic towers. This is the aftermath of the Manifestation....

Satan has revealed himself to the world, which falls trembling at his feet. Religious genocide sweeps Europe and Asia, and the world's greatest fortresses of faith are smashed to the ground. The New World and Australia become safe havens for refugees fleeing Lucifer's wrath.

Heaven remains silent. The followers of Christ cry out: Where is God?"

Wow! That sounds like some pretty heavy stuff! I was immediately struck by the idea and hunted down author Mark Carver, asking him to stop by the blog and share some of his thoughts behind the creation of this terrifying new vision in Christian Horror. 

Greg Mitchell: Hey, Mark, it’s great to have you here. Tell us about yourself. Born in Queens and moved to China! That’s got to be an adventure. 

Mark Carver: I spent the first ten years of my life in Queens, NY. My family then moved down to Atlanta, GA, where I lived until I graduated from college. After finishing school, I wanted to see a bit of the world, so I took a teaching job in China. I was only planning to stay for a year, but I enjoyed living and working in China, so I decided to extend my stay another year, and then another year, and another… I’ve been here almost eight years now. I’m married, have a son, and another baby is due next month. It’s been quite an experience here, and it’s had its positives and negatives, but I like where my life has taken me.

GM: Tell us about The Age of Apollyon! Reading the description on Amazon, it sounds crazy! We’ve got Satan manifesting himself and visibly ruling the world, with the Church of Satan the predominant religion! 

MC: I wanted to imagine what the world would be like under Satan, but I didn’t want it to be (too) cheesy and exaggerated. It’s easy to go overboard with supernatural/occult themes, especially for shock value, but I wanted my take to be a bit more serious. The book isn’t about Satanism as much as it’s about a world where God is little more than a memory. True Satanism isn’t about sacrificing babies and drinking blood from goat skulls…that’s Hollywood. Satanism is about simply following one’s carnal instincts without any concern about morality or consequences. A quote at the beginning of the book sums up Satanism quite well: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

GM: Take me back to the beginning. Whatever possessed (ha) you to write this book? What was that initial seed of inspiration? 

MC: I’ve always been drawn to atmospheric melodrama in the dark/Gothic vein, and I wanted to write a book that I would love to read. It started when I saw an electric transmission tower with four points, and I thought it resembled a pentagram. I thought: “What if Satan ruled the world and people built monuments to him, as if he were a god?” That was where it started, and movies and music fed the fire, until finally I just had to get it out.

GM: Needless to say, this isn’t your typical “Christian fiction” fare, as the book is touted as being very dark and Gothic. What has the reception been like from readers? And might you say to those, perhaps, more timid readers who are hesitant to read a book about a world outright ruled by Satan? 

MC: Many people are a bit cautious initially, but I have been very upfront and clear that the book presents Satanism in a very negative light, and that reassures people who might have reservations. I know that it’s not the kind of story you’d find at a Christian bookstore, and I didn’t write it with an inspirational message in mind, other than to plumb the depths of mankind’s depravity when God is totally removed from the equation. It’s a Gothic action thriller, first and foremost, and you can’t get any more Gothic than a Satanic world :) But the hope of redemption is present at all times; it just remains to be seen if the characters in the story will realize it before it’s too late.

GM: I find the concept fascinating, with lots of different directions you can take it. What I think is most interesting is that, especially in America, it seems Christians think that things are as bad as they’ve ever been—at least as far as Christianity’s place in America goes—but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that having Satan visibly walking the Earth and a Church of Satan on every corner has got to be a new low. I would think it puts things in perspective. Was that something you were shooting for—an exaggerated sense of “Christianity on the decline” and how maybe we’re not so far gone yet? 

MC: Certainly, but I didn’t want to pen a diatribe against “the sleeping church” or anything like that. I’m in no position to judge the church, American or otherwise, in its present state, but I did want people to take notice of the many faces of Satanism that they might not think about. As I said, Satanism isn’t theatrics and rituals – it’s the conscious decision to turn one’s back on God and be one’s own master. That kind of idea is easy to fly under the radar of many Christians but it’s just as dangerous for a person’s soul.

GM: What were the challenges of writing in this world? It’s a world where evil is lawful and considered “good”. Were there lines you were hesitant to cross in terms of what you were willing to describe? If so, was it hard defining those lines?

MC: I had to do a lot of research into Satanism proper - its rituals, symbols, etc. It’s a very, very dark world, and I had to pray constantly to keep my mind in the light. And since I wanted to use Satanism explicitly, rather than simply paganism, I had to incorporate a lot of unsavory elements that were unpleasant to dwell upon, but I had to think about them long enough to write them down. I did intend for the story to be shocking at times, but the purpose was to expose the ugliness at the center.

GM: No doubt you’ve got to be a horror fan. What were some of your inspirations growing up? Favorite monsters, movies, stories?

MC: Actually I’ve got a weak stomach for horror. Little-dead-girl-in-the-hallway movies really creep me out, and I’m not interested in the ultra-violent “torture porn” that’s the rage these days. I’m a sucker for atmosphere though, and films like The Crow and Underworld threw a lot of wood on the fires of my imagination. I like films that are eerie but not freak-out scary. While writing The Age of Apollyon, I watched a lot of films that dealt with the occult and Satanism in a fairly realistic way, such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and other classics. I also fed myself a steady diet of Gothic classics, such as Stoker’s Dracula, Lewis’ The Monk, Bowen’s Black Magic: A Tale of the Rise and Fall of the Antichrist. I had to keep my mind in a dark place in order to write my story, and I was glad when it was finished.

GM: It’s a question I’m constantly faced with as an openly Christian horror writer, so I’ll hit you with it. What role, if any, do you see the horror genre playing out in the life of a Christian? Is it something to be feared and avoided, or are there things we can learn from it? 

MC: As long as evil is presented as evil that can be overcome with the love and grace of God, then the sky’s the limit. Everyone loves a good scare now and then, and that’s fine. But it shouldn’t be glorified or revered, which I see in a lot of serial killer/torture horror stories. A black current of evil and terror runs beneath our world, and there’s plenty of real life horror if one looks closely. But in the end, light always overcomes darkness. Not every Christian horror story needs a happy ending, but it should point to God in one way or another.

GM: Tell us a bit about the sequel, recently released, correct? 

MC: Black Sun just came out, and it’s a bit more intimate than its predecessor. The Age of Apollyon is much more broad in scope, setting the stage and fleshing out the world the story inhabits. Black Sun is more personal, focusing on the characters, and it has a lot more action. The horrific elements are not as prominent, but the focus shifts to the horrors that people inflict on each other, regardless of religion. I suppose I would say that with Black Sun, the tables have turned, but the darkness grows deeper.

GM: Do you have more books planned in this series?

MC: I just finished the rough draft for a contemporary fiction story that is not part of the series. After that’s edited and cleaned up, I’ll start working on the final book in the trilogy. I’m also going to release a short story series about the events leading up to The Age of Apollyon at two or three month intervals, beginning in late spring/early summer. The final book will be called Scorn, and I expect it will be out early next year.

GM: Where can folks find you? 

MC: Here’s my homepage:
On Amazon: 
I’m also on Goodreads and Facebook, so give me a shout. I love hearing from readers and other writers.

GM: Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to sit down and talk!

MC: Thanks for having me.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Mark's books are available for Kindle at his Amazon page for $4.99 a piece. Give 'em a shot!

Monday, April 8, 2013

"Dark Hour" Commentary--Part III

Hey, all. Today's the third and final installment in my commentary for Dark Hour. As always, the following is filled with spoilers for Dark Hour, so read no further if you've yet to read the book and want to be surprised.


Still here?

If The Strange Man was my love letter to '80s monster movies like Fright Night and The Monster Squad, and Enemies of the Cross was my turn at The X-Files, then Dark Hour was certainly my ode to Lovecraftian terrors. In essence with Book Three, I wanted to write a full blown monster war. It is the Apocalypse--at least as far as the small town of Greensboro is concerned. We have men turning mad and becoming shambling monstrosities, we have the lake being possessed of sin sludge and turning into this giant pillar of tentacles that lash out at everything. There's a man who becomes a winged gargoyle. Rosalyn, herself, sprouts a cancerous growth that has eyes and teeth and tentacles.

It's some pretty gross, terrible stuff.

And I loved writing every bit of it.

I came to know of horror author H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos in my early to mid twenties. Perhaps my first exposure to the Cthulhu mythos wasn't Lovecraft at all, but rather John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness which was sort of an homage to all things Lovecraftian.

I didn't get this movie at all when I first saw it as a teen. I thought it was weird and didn't make any sort of logical sense, and was just maddening. But, hitting my twenties, I deduced that was the beauty of Lovecraft's work. He writes of Evil older than man, awakening outside the stars, and coming to reclaim the Earth. It's nihilistic, shrouded in mystery and terrible vagueness, with this poetic sense of impending doom. I get a kick out of Lovecraft, despite his dark subject matter. His stories are made up of the very best of ghost stories told around a flashlight or campfire, as there's never any real resolution--just the sense that IT is "out there" and IT is "coming soon".

In Dark Hour, I wanted to essentially write my take on a Lovecraftian tale, but fusing it with Scripture and the sort of Biblical underpinning that The Coming Evil Trilogy was built on. There's madness and tomes of strange unpronounceable words and this promise that some Dark Master is coming to "change" the world of men, turning them into monsters.

Yet, as you read Dark Hour, you will discover it's all the Strange Man's ploy. It's a joke. There IS no uber-monster, no apocalypse--except that which we bring on ourselves. And that's where Dark Hour diverges from Lovecraft. I'm a firm believer that Mankind is a great evil unto itself. In true Lovecraft fashion, the characters in Dark Hour are looking to the stars in dread, fearing what monster is out there--however, they have yet to realize that THEY are the monsters, and they always have been. That's where Christ comes in. To destroy the real monsters, we have to destroy the sin within ourselves, and we can only truly do that by being made new through Christ.

Dark Hour is about a war with monsters, but a war fought without guns or magical swords or talismans. It is fought with faith, hope, and love. Patience and mercy and kindness. It was super important to me that Biblical principles save the day, rather than human might--but let me tell you, that was not easy writing these huge battle sequences where my heroes have no weapons!

In the end, the only thing that can save us from destruction, is simple repentance.

As I understand it, Lovecraft was an atheist. Indeed, his monsters are not demons, as some Christian critics have supposed, but simply alien beings that are above the simple minds of man. What is interesting about Lovecraft's writings is that religion and science, both, break down in the face of such unspeakable creatures. His stories convey a mood of hopelessness, but, in a weird way, I find them incredibly hopeful. Because, as a theist, I believe that nothing is outside of God. And, in my own life, I discover that the more "mundane" a situation is, the more I worry about it. I worry about fixing things that I know I can fix. I stress over bills, over deadlines, over getting to places on time--all things I have some semblance of control over. But it's the big things that bring me to God. I see that I am incapable of fixing something so huge and it sends me running, fully reliant on God.

What could be more huge than the Apocalypse of Great Old Ones returning to Earth? :p So, in a weird way, Lovecraft doesn't tear down my belief in a God who will protect me, but causes me to consider that, should such catastrophes be on the horizon, I can only find solace in God. That was what I wanted to convey in Dark Hour. In the face of The End of All Things, our heroes can't really turn the tide by punching some giant tentacled beast in the eye. The only thing they can control is how they're going to go out: fighting with dignity, with honor, with courage, with love, with hope--and leave the rest up to God.

In the end, I suppose that's all any of us can do.

Thanks for hanging around as I poke at the book a bit. Certainly there's much more to discover in Dark Hour, indeed the entire Coming Evil Trilogy, than I can cover in three simple commentary installments, but I'm anxious for you all to discover them yourselves!

With that, this concludes the commentary for all three books. The Trilogy is finished! I'm still reeling from that revelation as I spent so long working on it. Thank you all for reading and, for those who haven't started yet, all three books are available to your immediate right. Check them out!