Thursday, August 13, 2015
Guest blog: Spinner by Michael J. Bowler
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
Number of pages: 464
Word Count: 138K
Cover Artist: Louis C. Harris
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
Juan was scared. He knew he shouldn’t be. There had been bad storms before, and power outages, too. But this felt different. This felt bad, like something bad had descended on this house. Jane’s room was upstairs and she’d never come down to check on him. Neither would Carlos, who had the other second floor bedroom.
Juan stood at his window dressed in a t-shirt and sweat pants watching the hard rain sleet against the glass. The wind was so strong that the individual drops made a pop pop pop sound like bullets he’d sometimes hear in the neighborhood at night.
He shivered. The power had only been off for an hour, not long enough for his room to get this cold. Something bad. That’s what it was. His abuelita would say the Devil was afoot, though she’d say his name in Spanish – Diablo – and that always made him sound more real. But she wasn’t there, and El Diablo was.
He grabbed the thick hoodie draped over his desk chair and slipped it on, hoping the fleece would shield his skinny frame against the intense cold. He felt so chilled he didn’t think he’d ever get warm again. Suddenly, he didn’t want to be alone. He knew it was stupid. He was fourteen-years-old. He’d been arrested. He’d been in juvenile hall. But this was different. This was scary.
Using the tiny flashlight he kept in his drawer, Juan left his room and moved into the darkened hallway. Flashes of lightning outside the windows sent grotesquely shaped shadows dancing across the floor and walls. The house was locked up tight. Jane was paranoid about stuff like that. Still, he inched his way slowly along the carpeted floor, his rubber shower shoes squishing slightly with each step. Another flash from the open kitchen door blasted its way into the hall, and Juan gasped.
Fear gripped him like a vise. He inched his way to the door and peered cautiously around the jam into the dark, empty kitchen. The door leading outside was closed. Weird shadows danced outside the curtained windows, but nothing moved. And there were no sounds except the pounding of rain against the roof and the glass, and the rumbles of thunder rolling through the night every so often.
Juan stepped cautiously into the kitchen, waving his tiny beam of light around in every direction, knowing nobody was there, but feeling a presence nonetheless. The door leading down to Alex’s room was closed. Alex wouldn’t laugh at him, or tell him he was acting like a baby. Alex would protect him.
He reached out and gripped the knob, pulling the door open slowly. He looked into the small elevator shaft leading down to the basement. The lift was at the bottom, which likely meant Alex was, too. Just to one side of the shaft was a metal ladder attached to the wall so people could climb up and down. Jane told Alex the previous owners had a crippled kid like him and set the room up special. That’s why social services placed Alex there, because the setup was ideal. The ladder existed in case of emergencies, and in Juan’s mind, this was an emergency. Alex could climb it if he needed to, so he must be okay down there. And “okay” was what Juan needed to feel.
Another blast of thunder, and a streak of light illuminating the shaft spurred him forward. He turned and gripped the top rung of the ladder, swung his feet around, and quickly descended to the floor. He alighted quietly to the carpet and turned to scan the room with his beam. The cold was worse down there, almost like being inside a freezer. He shivered and pulled his hoodie more tightly around his torso, flipping up the hood to warm his frigid ears. There were leaves all over the floor and water dripped from above. He raised his beam, followed the dripping water upward, and gasped.
The outside door stood open, and the elevator platform on that side of the room was at the top. Alex was there, sitting on the platform staring out the open door. Rain blasted in from all directions because of the twisting, frenetic wind. It splattered Alex and dripped from the edges of the platform, coloring the white carpet a dark, ominous black. Yet Alex did nothing. He sat there like he couldn’t move, and Juan’s heart began pounding even more.
“Alex?” he said, his terrified voice barely a whisper against the thunder and pounding rain. “You okay?”
There was no response. Juan moved cautiously across the room, the beam of light wavering because his hand shook. The outside lift had some kind of backup power in case Alex needed to escape a fire or something, so he went to the power switch and flipped it to “Down.” The motor whirred to life, startling Juan with its invasion of the otherwise disturbing silence, and the platform slowly descended.
He shuffled nervously back and forth, his flashlight beam aimed at the descending platform, his breath visible on his lips. The whirring motor ceased its grinding as the platform came to a halt.
A flash of lightening revealed Alex's face.
He stared straight ahead like a zombie. Juan moved around to face him, lowering his beam to the floor as he did. With one trembling hand, Juan reached out to squeeze Alex’s shoulder. He felt something sticky and yanked back his hand. Whipping up the flashlight, he shone the beam onto his hand and gasped. Blood smeared his fingers and palm – fresh blood. He raised the beam to Alex’s face. Blood droplets were sprinkled on his soft, white cheeks. Heart thumping, Juan lowered the beam to Alex’s shirtfront. He recoiled. The shirt was soaked with a mix of water and blood.
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.