Andersonville On Tour

andersonvilleReviews for my new Random House-Hydra novel Andersonville are coming from Lit Reactor, Publishers Weekly, and Examiner as well as Goodreads and so far they’re pretty positive across the board.

Gef Fox interviewed me about the book at his blog and the always friendly folks at Fantasy Book Review lent me some space there to talk about the development of the novel, so please check those out.

Andersonville is doing the rounds of a slew of blogs across the ether, so please take a look at these fine sites. They’ll be featuring reviews at the appointed times or thereabouts.


Monday, August 17th: Stephanie’s Book Reviews….100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, August 18th: Fourth Street Review

Tuesday, August 18th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 19th: The Reader’s Hollow

Wednesday, August 19th: Tynga’s Reviews

Thursday, August 20th: A Book Geek

Monday, August 24th: Bewitched Bookworms

Tuesday, August 25th: Kissin’ Blue Karen

Wednesday, August 26th: Kari J. Wolfe

Thursday, August 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, August 28th: Vic’s Media Room

Monday, August 31st: It’s a Mad Mad World

Tuesday, September 1st: SJ2B House of Books

Wednesday, September 2nd: Historical Fiction Obsession

Thursday, September 3rd: Kimberly’s Bookshelf

Friday, September 4th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, September 7th: From the TBR Pile

Published in: on August 20, 2015 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Excerpt From Andersonville

My historical horror novel Andersonville is due out August 18th from Random House/Hydra.


In 1864, 30,000 half-starved men pray for a way out of the disease ridden confines of Andersonville prison, unaware that they are about to become part of a dark ritual enacted by a madman to swing the course of the Civil War.

One man fights his way in to stop him.

Here’s an excerpt.


The exhausted tunnelers were rotated out to disposal and lookout duty.  Enderlein went first into the passage with the shovel, then Bill, then Barclay, taking over the relay duty. It was two hours of painful crawling back and forth in the cramped tunnel with buckets of earth. One of the Irishmen, O’Bannon, manned the bellows, and though it did provide a gush of fresh air whenever Barclay neared it to pass the bucket up, he couldn’t imagine the meager air Bill and Enderlein were getting further down the tunnel, if any.

fig28The work was taxing, and the thought of the tons of shifting sand waiting to come down through the crumbling clay ceiling of the passage caused Barclay’s heart to hammer in his chest.  He kept his breaths shallow and quick, but the blood pounded in his ears. They worked mainly in darkness, it being too close and the air too precious to burn away with candlelight. The only sign that they were not in the grave itself was the pinprick of light from the flickering candle O’Bannon kept on the dug out shelf in the vertical shaft that was their umbilical to the surface.

They did not speak as they worked, but the huffing of their breath let each man know the others still lived.

Then, when Barclay felt he couldn’t stand the dark closeness any longer, Bill whispered to him.

“Enderlein figures another couple feet and he’s past the outer wall.”

Barclay inched laboriously back to O’Bannon and watched the Irishman smile through his feet when he passed him the word.

Then there was a strange sound from up ahead, and Enderlein shrieked once in alarm. It was the sound of rushing water.

God, thought Barclay. Had they misjudged their direction and double backed to the creek? Had they struck some underground spring they hadn’t anticipated?

O’Bannon reacted quickly, and gripping Barclay by the ankles, yanked him out of the tunnel into the shaft.

They had three ropes made from braided cloth tied around the leg of each man in the tunnel proper.

O’Bannon grabbed one and began to furiously pull.

Barclay sat up and pulled the other.

High above, Skinny’s face appeared over the hole.

“What’s the matter?” he called down in as loud a whisper as he could manage.

“I don’t know! Trouble! Underground spring maybe or….”

At that moment the water gushed from the tunnel and spread across the floor of the shaft.

Except it wasn’t water.

It was blood.

Not some dark mud as Limber had suggested the night he’d pulled the red tipped root from the ground. As before, Barclay could smell the copper taint, feel the consistency as it swiftly rose to his ankles. It was blood, and it was filling the tunnel like a giant capillary.

“My God!” O’Bannon exclaimed, pausing in his work at the sight of the stuff pooling around his ankles.

“Keep pulling, goddammit!” Barclay yelled over the rushing blood, now threatening their calves.

Barclay pulled for all he was worth, and in a few moments he was rewarded as Bill Mixinisaw came kicking and splashing out of the tunnel, entirely painted red.

So O’Bannon had a hold of Enderlein.

“What happened?” Barclay asked, pulling the spluttering Indian up out of the stuff.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said Bill. “Enderlein was digging and he stopped and stuck the spade in the ground. It all just started rushing in. There’s something in there.”


“I felt something claw at me.”

“Here he comes!” O’Bannon bellowed triumphantly.

The left foot of Enderlein broke the surface of the well of blood as O’Bannon dragged it from the tunnel with effort.

Enderlein’s leg was not attached.

thedescentcrawlerInstead, a terrifying face breached the surface of the frothing blood. It was thin and skull-like, devoid of hair, yet not entirely fleshless, for it had flabby, overlarge ears and a bat-like nose that flared and inflated twin bubbles of blood at the first taste of air. Its jaw was clamped down on the ragged end of Enderlein’s disembodied foot, at the ankle, where the torn flesh exposed a piece of crushed bone to which it had affixed its double rows of triangular, serrated, bloodstained teeth. The brow was downturned in the extreme, the red painted flesh of the forehead wrinkled in astounding, almost mesmerizing patterns, amid a blanket of ugly, tumorous growths so large they flapped independently with every movement of the grotesque head.

Then, from that scarlet mask, the vertical lids covering its two bulbous eyes slid open.

The shaft was filled with blinding yellow light, as if from a theater spot, blazing from the eyes of this horror paddling into the shaft.

“Don’t look in its eyes!” Barclay warned, throwing his back to the well and shielding the glare with his hand.

The blood was up to his thighs now.

The thing screeched shrilly, dropping Enderlein’s foot, and leapt from the tunnel, spreading out impossibly long, thin arms that ended in dramatically curved red talons, like the claws of a digging mole.

It bore down on O’Bannon and dragged him beneath the surface of the ever-rising pool of blood.

Bill screamed and started to climb the shaft, throwing his feet against one wall and his back against the opposite, hopping nimbly up.

The blood covering Bill now drizzled in a red rain down on Barclay, who groped in the pool for O’Bannon, trying to snag hold of his thrashing arms and legs. He gripped a limb and pulled, but found he had gotten hold of the thing’s arm. Its hard flesh was scorching to the touch, and burned his fingers red before he let go with a yelp.

He straightened and looked up. Bill was halfway up the shaft. Suddenly the sandy wall against which his back was braced collapsed inward. Two sharp clawed red hands burst out and wrapped themselves around his torso, pulling the Indian in.

The blood was up to Barclay’s waist, and O’Bannon had stopped fighting.

Now the thing surfaced and stood in the shaft, popping its jaws, rending some unidentifiable hunk of O’Bannon to stringy sinew.

Behind it, the tunnel opening, nearly submerged, expelled a third blood covered thing into the pit with him.


Published in: on August 9, 2015 at 3:39 am  Comments (1)  
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With Sword And Pistol from Ragnarok Publications

Hot on the heels of my Random House novel Andersonville next month is With Sword And Pistol from Ragnarok Publications, my first book with them and my first fiction collection.

With Sword And Pistol assembles four dark adventure novellas.

First up is the long out of print Red Sails, a horror themed pirate adventure in which a British marine and a Dominican Blackfriar are captured by a cruel vampire captain and marooned on a cannibal isle to be hunted under the full moon by his crew of savage werewolves.

Second is Night of The Jikininki, which originally appeared in Comet Press’ DEADCORE anthology. Three disparate men, a casteless bandit, a sadistic samurai sword tester, and a vile, mad child killer band together to fight their way out of a feudal Japanese prison as it fills with the walking dead.

Next is Sinbad And The Sword Of Solomon, a high fantasy Arabian Nights style sword and soul adventure in which the titular sailor and his motley crew undertake a mission from the Caliph of Baghdad to retrieve a magic sword from a demon on an enchanted island. This one first appeared in Sinbad: The New Voyages Volume 2 from Airship 27.

Finally, my dark urban horror novella Gully Gods, first printed in Four In The Morning, about a young South Houston gangster who joins up with a seemingly unstoppable clique of Liberian ex-child soldiers to take over a Chicago neighborhood from their Latino rivals, and learns the malicious source of their terrible power.

Here’s a peek at the killer cover from Joe Martin and Shawn King. With Sword And Pistol goes on sale August 17th.


In Thunder’s Shadow Now Appearing In Edge Of Sundown

My story In Thunder’s Shadow is now appearing in Edge of Sundown, a new weird western anthology from Chaosium and editors Brian Sammons and Kevin Ross.

The table of contents includes –

John Shirley, “The Claw Spurs”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Cemetery Man”

Kelda Crich, “Jiang Shi in Chinatown”

Don Webb, “Innocents Abroad”

Cody Goodfellow, “Forked Tongue”

Christine Morgan, “The Buzzard Women”

Bruce L. Priddy, “The Flute Players”

Andrew Kelly, “Silver Wolf”

Mark Onspaugh, “Whisper”

Jeffrey Thomas, “The Dark Cell”

John F.D. Taff, “The Two of Guns”

Lawrence Berry, “Red Shadows in Terror Canyon”

Brian M. Sammons, “Feast of Famine”

Michael G. Szymanski, “Son of the Wild Moon”

Pete Rawlik, “Drake Takes a Hand”

Sam Stone, “The Puppet Master”

C.L. Werner, “Uncle Gunnysack”

Eric Red, “The Buzzard”

The cover is by the ridiculously talented Daniele Sera, who did the cover to my western novel Coyote’s Trail.


jun07_tombstonesflying_250My story, In Thunder’s Shadow was inspired by a supposed 1880’s newspaper article printed in the Tombstone Epitaph describing the discovery of a pteranadon corpse by Arizona cowboys.

Cope and Marsh

Cope and Marsh

I had also read a bit about the fascinating 1880’s Bone Wars waged by prominent American paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh and Cope waged total war against each other’s careers, racing across the American West to claim the latest and greatest fossil discovery, resorting to bribery and outright sabotage in their personal bids for supremacy.

My story follows an intrepid but inexperienced Yale University student traveling to the Arizona mining town of Delirium Tremens in search of bones for OC Marsh. My readers will recognize Delirium Tremens of course. This is a couple years before the Rider and company descend on the town. The student soon takes up with a wild-eyed old game hunter named Neb, who swears he can lead the student to something much more exciting than mere bones….


AsF6s“Hell, Mr. Pabodie,” Neb said, passing the fossil back (it swiftly disappeared into its swaddling in the cushioned depths of Pabodie’s knapsack), “that thing’s older’n I am.  I figured it was fresh bones you was out after.”

“Well,” Pabodie said, allowing himself a snicker, “we’d be hard pressed to find fresh bones. I’m afraid this species died almost eighty million years ago.”

“Naw,” Neb said, waving his weathered hand and sipping his potion. “I seen one, ‘couple ‘o months back.”

Pabodie smiled slowly.

“I hardly think…”

“I said I seen one,” Neb said, plainly challenging him to voice his doubt again.

Pabodie shook his head, but said nothing.

Neb set aside his cup and took out his tobacco and makings.

“Dan Spector down at the Moderado promised me fifty dollars gold if I could catch him a live bear for a bear garden he wanted to build out back of his place, on account of the Thursday night cockfights over at the Mexicans’ down the street was cuttin’ into his business. I’d heard tell of black bears high up in the Huachucas where the conifers grow, so I got me a cage and a string of goats. ‘Spent a couple weeks up there till I got one.”

Neb finished rolling a cigarette and lit it. The match glow shined in the hollow of his eye socket, but did not penetrate its depths.  Pabodie’s attention was drawn to it. It was like peering into the end of a gun. The wide black iris of his intact eye hardly looked any different. Pabodie knew then that he was sharing his fortunes with a madman, for this was no greening session; what the hunter told next, he sincerely believed.

“I’m hitchin’ the bear cage up to my mules, when of a sudden, this big shadow comes up in front of the sun, cools everything down.  Even the bear looks up. And the noise! Sounded like a hunnerd widows screamin’ all at once in the belly of a lion.”

He planted the cigarette in the corner of his lips and held out his arms for emphasis.

“Swooped down and picked up that bear, cage and all, just about ripped my mules out of their traces.”  He pantomimed a rifle shooting.  “I cut loose on it with old Mazeppa, but it took a high grain load like a buffalo cow takes note of a mosquito’s peter. Flew way up, off over the mountains.”

He threw up his hands and blew smoke.

pterodactylus (1)“Cost me my gold and the price of the cage. ‘Had to sell off my mules. Been lookin’ for a way to get back up there and go after it. Then along you came, all providential like. What I figured was, it was a thunderbird like the ‘Paches talk about. You call it a terra-whatsit, whatever you want, but,” he shrugged, “same thing. You’re welcome to all the bones we can carry back, Mister Pabodie. I want somethin’ else…”

Pabodie’s smirk had spread wider throughout the story. Neb presently noticed it and frowned deeply beneath his bushy mustache.

“You still disbelieve me.”

“Well…,” said Pabodie, not wanting to give offense and thinking swiftly of a placation. “What you saw was most likely some sort of condor.  For instance, the California gymnogyps has a thirteen foot wingspan…”

“Its wings stretched fifty feet if they were an inch. You think I’m talkin’ about some goddamned buzzard?” he exclaimed, the whiskey on his breath beating upon Pabodie like heat from an open furnace. “I ain’t touched in the head, though by that smarmy goddamned look, you think so.  Dan Spector gimme that look too.  Him and all them goddamned drunkards in the Moderado, when I told ’em what happened. I been huntin’ up and down this land for goin’ on twenty years, Mister Pabodie. If I say I seen a goddamned thunderbird, who in the hell are you to…”

Neb’s tirade was cut short by the sound of thunder like the reverberant crashing of a gargantuan washtub tumbling across the sky. Outside, Pabodie’s horse and the mules screamed.

“They’re afraid of the thunder?” Pabodie asked anxiously as Neb drew up his rifle case from the corner of the tent.

Neb threw open the case and bought out the big Sharps rifle he affectionately called Mazeppa.

“They’re afraid of somethin.'”

He pushed a long bullet into the breech of his rifle as lightning turned the tent walls blue. Another avalanche of thunder exploded over the empty land.

The rain jarringly ceased its incessant pattering on the canvas, as if someone had dammed up the flow in heaven. The animals outside whinnied their anxiety. One of the cries abruptly altered in pitch and rose above the rest.  It was one of the mules, braying like Pabodie had never heard an animal do before.  It was a prolonged, harsh sound, as of a woman being murdered slowly.

“One side!” shouted Neb.

Pabodie stared as Neb jammed his battered hat on his head and went out into the silver flecked darkness. The lantern threw a shaft of light on the bucking animals. Pabodie’s horse and the remaining pack mule strained against their tethers on the tall saguaro cactus to which they’d been tied, tripping in their hobbles to get away.

Of the second mule, there was no sign.

11-800Then Pabodie narrowed his bespectacled eyes and perceived the missing mule’s braided tether still fastened around the trunk of the saguaro, pulled taut under its curved arms, trailing mysteriously into the dark sky like a Hindu rope trick.

The wind was tremendous, threatening to buckle their shelter. The rain was still driving all around. Yet it did not strike their tent, or the horses, or the ground encompassing their small camp, as if a great umbrella hung overhead.

Then there was a second tremulous flicker of lightning. The camp lit up like a photographer’s studio.

Pabodie caught a glimpse of a massive shape suspended overhead, a huge, black shadow whose bulk shielded them from the rain like a tarpaulin.  For a minute Pabodie thought that was just what it was –a large revival tent canvas uprooted by the tempest, hovering overhead by some unlikely trick of the converging winds. Dangling from the middle of the gigantic shadow was the missing pack mule, bugging out its eyes in terror.

Something clutched it by the spine. It hung limp as a kitten in its mother’s mouth.

Even as the sky went dark again, Pabodie knew what it was. The Kingsport boy in him who had waded hip deep into the churning ocean imagining legendary beasts and cities beneath the waves with all the desperate faith of one born out of time let out an exultant scream that rang in his book and data scarred brain. Though that mature part of him that had attended two universities and sobered through the years as a teetotaler of wonder curled up in fear and bewilderment, the wide eyed boy in him gripped what he all too briefly beheld above the camp in both hands and guzzled the sight until drunk. This was something neither Marsh, nor Cope, nor any stodgy old ditch digging professor had ever seen.

This was his alone.


Edge of Sundown is on sale now!

The Writer’s Block with Jim Christina

On Thursday July 23rd from 8-8:50pm I’ll be on The Writers Block for LA Talk Radio, talking westerns weird and otherwise (and probably my new novel Andersonville) with friend and fellow author Jim Christina (Taggert, Still Waters, and more), so head over here and check it out –

Be warned though – I’m a better writer than I am a speaker.

Published in: on July 22, 2015 at 2:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Philopatry Appearing In Flesh Like Smoke from April Moon Books

April Moon Books’ latest anthology Flesh Like Smoke is out now.

wolfmanWerewolves are probably my favorite classic monster. I’ve been enthralled by them since Lon Chaney Jr’s two memorable turns as ‘the Wolfman.’ I was also a tremendous fan of Fox’s Werewolf TV series, especially Chuck Connors’ turn as Janos Skorzeny, a salty old one-eyed shapechanging sea captain who made the main character’s life a living hell.

Werewolf_by_Night_Vol_1_4In my middle school years of (appropriately?) middling grades my parents picked up a near complete run of Marvel Comics’ Werewolf By Night at a flea market and used the single issues as a kind of incentive to get me to do my homework. I eventually earned them all, so I guess it worked, but I’ve probably retained more about Jack and Lissa Russell, Topaz, and their best friend Buck and the Darkhold than I ever did about math or science.

When Neil Baker put out the call for a shapeshifter anthology, I whipped up Philopatry, a tale of a South Boston Irish priest who calls on a notorious hitman and ex-altar boy to take out a vicious serial murderer plaguing the neighborhood. The bare bones of this story originated way back in high school, when I wrote and lost a story called The Hit with a similar premise, though set in my native Chicago.

Yuhanna-MercuriusThe story draws inspiration from the hagiography of St. Philopater Mercurius, a Roman soldier who fought the Berbers under Emperor Decius. When Decius saw the numbers of the Berbers, he was afraid, but Mercurius prayed to God and saw a vision of the Archangel Michael bearing a sword, which he then gave to the saint. Mercurius wielded the sword to great affect and routed the Berbers utterly.

It also refers to the ancient Greek writings of the Cynocephalae, the Dog Heads, and proposes that what Michael gave to Mercurius was not a literal ‘sword’ at all.

It’s also a return of sorts to the Gate Of Heaven parish, which featured in my last published story, Thy Just Punishments, in Ragnarok’s That Hoodoo, Voodoo, That You Do.

Here’s an excerpt….

Outside it was still cold but the rain was dying off. The cars swished through the leavings and the gutters gurgled as they sucked the streets down to a tolerable level.

Their breath puffed out like fog as they talked.

“What do you know about the murders at Gate of Heaven last week?” Father Mike asked.

Terry had seen it on the news. A pair of teenaged girls had been found in the alley behind the church on East Fourth Street. The dee-techs were out all over asking questions. You could tell them from the real people by their cheap shoes and neat hair. They looked like wannabe FBI. A little too eager, or a little too old. Kid table feds. Anyway nobody knew enough to tell them.

“Couple of hoodies out after dark,” said Terry. “News said they got done same as that gook kid over on Washington two weeks ago.”

“Do you know what happened to that boy?”

“Somethin’ bad I heard. O’Malley says some sicko cut him up. I don’t know the particulars.”

They stopped at the traffic light, watching a Honda full of drunk townies swerve into the turn. A beer can rattled and spun in the gutter.

“He was torn to pieces, Terry,” said Father Mike, his lips trembling, and not just with the cold. “Like a piece of tissue paper somebody wiped their ass with. His liver and his heart were torn out. They were eaten.”

“Fuck,” said Terry, appreciatively.

Father Mike turned to him as the light changed, splashing his skin red as the Devil’s.

“And I know who the skid is that’s doin’ it, Terry. I know!”

Father Mike looked ready to blow his top. His fists came out of his pockets shaking. One gripped a little brown pill bottle, which he rattled and wrestled with for a minute before Terry reached over.

“Here lemme get that, Fadder.”

Elderly woman opening bottle of cholesterol pills medicationHe twisted the child proof cap. It was a bitch, even for him, let alone an old guy with failing bones in the cold and a weight like he had bearing down on him. He handed it back.

Father Mike turned the bottle over and shook a pill into his quivering palm. He slapped his hand to his mouth.

“What’s that, for your blood pressure, or something?”

“Yeah,” said Father Mike. “I gotta get out of this cold.”

They double timed it up the block to Dunkie’s. Terry sprang for a pair of regulars and skipped the honey dip, but got a box of munchkins for home. He didn’t think he’d have the appetite for it, but who knew what he’d feel like tomorrow.

They took a quiet corner booth and sat holding the coffees between their hands, feeling the warmth radiate. It was bright white in there, like a hospital.

“You zooin’ on me about this, Fadder?”

“God’s honest truth,” Father Mike replied, staring into his coffee but not drinking.

“How you figure you know who the nutjob is doin’ this?”

13_12_20_confessionalThe old man’s eyes flitted up, the steam ascending from the bottom of his face, dissipating in his white hair, a wispy mask of fog.

“The bastard told me as much in the confessional this past Saturday. He told me everything. How he follows them, stalks them, like an animal. What he….does to them.”

He made a rapid sign of the cross, put the hot coffee to his lips. He winced, but kept drinking.

Terry leaned back in his chair.

“Ain’t it a sin for you to be tellin’ me this? I mean, ain’t you got some kinda confidentiality rule about the booth? Like a lawyer?”

“Don’t you think it’s a sin to just let it to go on?” he said, putting the half empty cup down.

“So don’t I,” Terry said, nodding, rubbing his eyes. “So don’t I.”

“Terry,” whispered Father Mike, leaning across the table. “I was told….I asked around. And I was told that you….that you’re….”

Terry gave him a stony look and held up his hand.

Everybody knew Terry Dunne around the parish.

They knew about the shootout in Mattapan back in the 90’s, where four trigger happy micks who’d robbed an armored car and killed the guards under the nose of the Winter Hill outfit had been left bleeding in the gutters and how Terry Dunne started driving a Lincoln after that. Everybody knew who put the body of the wiseguy in the shipping container at Conley’s yard; the one that rotted in there all summer, froze, and blew up in the spring, so the cops had to pour what was left through a colander to find the bullet.

southbayThey knew how Pat Lonnigan, who’d stuck up a Cumbie’s just to get pinched so he wouldn’t have to pay all the horse money he owed Mickey O’Callahan, had somehow rolled out of the top bunk in the cell he shared with Terry at South Bay and busted his head wide open on the floor in the middle of the night. Everybody knew about the Jamaican nurse that had moved into Terry’s ma’s place that week and took care of her till they carried her out.

“If you’re gonna preach to me now….”

“I wouldn’t Terry,” Father Mike said. “Bless you, I wouldn’t. But somebody’s got to put a stop to this.”

Terry shifted in his seat.


Art by Neil Smith

Art by Neil Smith

With One Magic Word: Happy Anniversary Captain Marvel

Here’s a repost of the article I wrote for the San Diego Comic Con 2015 Souvenir Book, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Captain Marvel, my favorite super hero.

auggiehalloweenFor the umpteenth time I explain to the other Halloweeners and their parents that no, my three year old son’s meticulously homemade costume is not a poorly cobbled together version of the Flash. The Flash? Seriously? Does the Flash wear a cape? Do you see a mask? It’s a screen accurate reconstruction of Tom Tyler’s Captain Marvel (or Shazam, I say, hoping for a spark of recognition that invariably doesn’t come, except in the delighted eyes of a select few comic book readers), which is in turn a pretty faithful rendition of C.C. Beck’s original depiction in Whiz Comics.  1,200 miles away in Indiana my mother worked day and night to assemble the red costume and gold boot covers from scratch, coordinating with my wife, who sewed the gold-trimmed half cape and lightning bolt emblem – the emblem which looks nothing like the Flash’s, at least to my eye.

marveltyler“Don’t worry, Auggie,” I say to my son, who really has no inkling who Captain Marvel is either. “In four years when the Rock movie comes out, everybody’ll be wearin’ one of these.”

He’s not worried. He’s got a pumpkin bucket full of candy.

He’s at that age where we can still pick his costumes. Last year was my wife’s choice, the Tin Man. This year, the World’s Mightiest Mortal. I should’ve dressed as an ironic Billy Batson, but the idea came too late.

marveltvThe first iteration of the Big Red Cheese that I can remember was the TV show with the lustrous-maned Michael Gray bombing around California in a Winnebago with Mentor (Les Tremayne), speaking the power word SHAZAM to summon the crack of lightning which turned him into the strapping Jackson Bostwick (later John Davey).  I had a big oversized treasury edition comic book tie-in from DC that featured a bevy of colorful characters I now know to be Mister Mind, Dr. Sivana, Black Adam, and the whole extended Marvel Family, including Uncle Dudley, whom I knew from the Filmation cartoons.

At some point in the fog of my childhood I lost Captain Marvel, or maybe I felt I had outgrown him. He’s the ultimate boy’s fantasy. With one magic word all the troubles of childhood are gone. All the bullies become puny and powerless, all the girls adoring, and all the naysaying adults stand stricken in awe of the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.

marvelbillyOn into young adulthood, I moved from optimistic heroes like the captains Marvel and America and from Superman to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, The Punisher, the violent and short-lived 1980’s Shadow, and Wolverine. Captain Marvel and Superman I dismissed as boyhood phases.  Teenaged me wanted gritty realism and drab-clad loners growling at the crushing injustice of the world, answering atrocity with Hammurabian atrocity.

Except it turned out it was the other way around.

Some years later, as an adult father with a bit too many responsibilities and not enough bank to be constantly buying single issue comics, I picked up a friend’s hardcover copy of DC’s Kingdom Come and read the awesome, but at its core, heartbreaking clash between Supes and the Lex Luthor-controlled Captain Marvel. It was like unexpectedly finding a dusty old teddy bear, once a constant companion, crammed in the back of a closet while you’re rummaging for the Christmas ornaments.

marvelrossOld memories flooded back, of that dusty Winnebago, and of that treasury edition comic which I ‘read’ so many times (I couldn’t really read then, so I just flipped through the pages and imagined the story) at the dinner table between bowl after bowl of my great grandmother’s chicken noodle soup that the grease spotted cover tore off and my mom had to tape it back together. I remembered going around with my Shazam Underoos under my clothes, and then, hearkening to some plaintive call for help, jumping behind the couch, and yelling SHAZAM! I would hastily disrobe (making crashing thunder sounds the entire time), stuff a white dishtowel down the back of my shirt, and go running up and down the tiny halls of my old house, which were cavernous to me then, stopping taxiing Cessnas full of escaping bank robbers, and punching out crunchy evil doers.

Although I couldn’t quite commit to following the monthly comics in which my old hero now appeared, I could still delve back into the past and pick up the occasional Archive Edition of the original C.C. Beck iteration, so I did that.

marvelbeckIt’s entirely possible to have nostalgia for an era you’ve never lived in. The original deceptively simple illustrations of Captain ‘Thunder’ (later Marvel) duking it out with foreign powers and evil cowboys, and blushing at the ardent advances of his arch enemy Sivana’s gorgeous daughter Beautia, who is totally unaware of, and constantly rebuffed by his bemused boy alter ego, are a blast to read.

And it occurred to me why Captain Marvel is still my favorite superhero.

It’s not simply that the fantasy has reversed. It’s not just that I’m looking fondly back on my boyhood and wishing I could now with one magic word be Billy Batson and turn off adulthood like a switch, though that’s certainly part of it.

Adults gloss over childhood. We sometimes forget the tribulations of growing up. The constant limitations imposed by peers, by family, by our own insecurities. Billy Batson was a homeless orphan. His life wasn’t great outside of Captain Marvel before he rejoined with his long lost sister and formed his own extended family, necessarily maturing more than a little in the process.

And don’t forget Captain Marvel Jr.

whiz25bAs bearers of the Batson name, Mary Batson, Tall Billy, Fat Billy, and the even more unfortunately named Hill Billy could all gain the powers of Shazam by speaking the name of the wizard that appointed Billy. But Captain Marvel Jr. derived his strength from Captain Marvel himself.

A clash between Captain Marvel and the nefarious Captain Nazi led to the death of Freddy Freeman’s grandfather and the near-death crippling of Freddy. Billy took it upon himself to save Freddy’s life by granting him a portion of his own power.  Freddy need only speak the name of his benefactor Captain Marvel (not Shazam) to become Captain Marvel Jr. The act of doing this lessened Captain Marvel’s strength a fraction.

Fatherhood is a bit like this.

Before my kids, a world of options open was to me. With a moment’s notice, I could’ve headed out the door for Samarkand (is it still called Samarkand?) if I could’ve scraped together the money, which there was more of, or at least an impromptu midnight show or dinner with my wife and friends.  I could divert some of my income and living space to collecting long boxes of all the Captain Marvel adventures I missed out on over the years. I had a wealth of time to devote to my own leisure, to writing, to reading, to myself.

With each subsequent child, I shaved a bit more of these ‘superpowers’ of young, unattached adulthood away. Time became more precious. Money a bit more spread thin. Personal space diminished.


Yet in doing so, I feel I moved a little bit closer to the selfless ideals of Captain Marvel which the wizard Shazam spoke of on his subterranean throne. I love more completely and deeply than ever before. I care more about the world my children inhabit, and this I hope, informs my actions. I want to be the hero that diverts the course of troublesome rivers, so my kids can continue safely along wherever they’re headed.

Sometimes, at heart, I am still a kid, bewildered by the adults around me, confused and frightened by the occasionally cruel ways of the world.

But that’s my secret identity, which my own Marys and Billys don’t get to see.



*Thanks to my friends Arron and Jeff for nabbing extra copies of the souvenir book for my family.

Edward M. Erdelac is the author of eight novels including the acclaimed Judeocentric Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider. His fiction has appeared in over a dozen anthologies and periodicals including most recently, Atomic Age Cthulhu, After Death, and Star Wars Insider Magazine. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his Marvel-ous family and a trio of cats whom he suspects have the the wisdom of Salamander, the strength of Hogules, the stamina of Antlers, the power of Zebreus, the courage of Abalone, and the speed of Monkury.

My Favorite Americans: Mary Elisabeth Bowser AKA Bond, Ellen Bond

I’ve tried to post about some of my favorite personalities in American History for Independence Day in the past. I’ve previously covered John Brown and Geronimo.

This Fourth, I’d like to write a bit about a lady who I only recently discovered, while researching the Black Dispatches for my novel Andersonville, whose main character is Union Creole deep cover agent.

Black Dispatches are a lesser known aspect of American Civil War history. They refer to African American espionage agents who played an active role in the Union military intelligence effort. Much of the record of a lot of these men and women have been lost to time.


Allan Pinkerton


Harriet Tubman

One of the most celebrated is John Scobell, an educated ex-Mississippi slave who worked under Allen Pinkerton during the war. Scobell was by all accounts an accomplished actor, and used his skin color as his cover, lulling Confederate soldiers and agents into false security by mimicking ignorance or subservience, often working in conjunction with white intelligence agents, posing as a slave. Another is Harriet Tubman, well known for her establishment of the Underground Railroad, she also managed an active African American spy network in South Carolina, organized intelligence gathering expeditions, and personally led a devastating Union raid against Confederate positions along the Combahee River that freed 750 slaves.

But the account that really jumped out at me was that of Mary Elisabeth Bowser, perhaps one of the most important Black Dispatch operatives.

Born a slave in Richmond, Virginia to the prominent Van Lew family, when patriarch and hardware merchant John Van Lew died in 1843, Van Lew’s widow freed her at the behest of her daughter Elizabeth. Although, due to unfortunate circumstances common to most recently emancipated Blacks, she remained employed as a household servant, Mary impressed Elizabeth with her intelligence and eidetic memory, and Elizabeth sent her to Philadelphia to be formally educated at the Quaker School for Negroes. After graduating, Mary lived for five years in a missionary community in Liberia, returning to Richmond in 1860, whereupon she was arrested and jailed for four months for the crime of ‘traveling without papers.’ She married Wilson Bowser four days after the rebellion began, and lived outside Richmond with her husband.


Elizabeth ‘Crazy Bet’ Van Lew

As a Quaker and die hard abolitionist loyal to the Union, Elizabeth Van Lew set to work establishing a spy network in Richmond. She feigned addle-mindedness so as to disarm suspicion, and became known around the city as Crazy Bet, due to her habit of mumbling to herself. In reality, Van Lew enlisted the help of local baker Thomas McNiven in providing food and medicine to Union captives at Libby Prison, even shuttling escapees out and secreting them in her mansion.

Van Lew’s prime accomplishment though, was definitely enlisting Mary Bowser. Mary took the name Ellen Bond and, in the manner of John Scobell, mimicked meek and subservient behavior expected of Negroes in the Confederate capitol. She joined the staff of Confederate First Lady Varina Davis’ household and utilized the natural invisibility of her own skin in antebellum culture and station to effectively infiltrate the Confederate White House.


The Confederate White House

Quietly cleaning and serving food for President Jefferson Davis, she was ignored during top level conferences, and was able to pass intelligence directly back to Van Lew via McNiven’s regular delivery wagon. Van Lew then ushered information on to her Federal contacts. Not only was Mary Bowser privy to meetings, as she was assumed to be illiterate, confidential documents were left laying open in Jefferson Davis’ personal study, and under the pretense of tidying up, her photographic memory enabled her to recall detailed reports and battle plans, which in turn affected the command decisions of General Ulysses S. Grant from 1863-1864.

Thomas McNiven was discovered as a spy and Mary Bowser fled Richmond in Janurary, 1865 to avoid capture. Her last act, probably to cover her escape, was an unsuccessful but undeniably spirited attempt to burn down the Davis home.

Much of America’s intelligence history during the Civil War years was deliberately destroyed to protect the identities of Southern agents in the Reconstruction era from reprisal. Compound this with the tendency to downplay the achievements of Blacks in a traditionally Eurocentric culture, and the exact records of Mary’s exploits simply no longer exist. A wartime diary she kept was short-shortsightedly discarded by relatives as late as the 1950’s. No photograph or illustration of her even survives.

But here was a minority woman who transcended her slave origins and wielded her frightening perception and intelligence as a weapon to strike back against the heart of her oppressors.

Bowser was inducted into the US Army Intelligence Hall of Fame at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, on 30 June 1995.

Published in: on July 4, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Andersonville Gets A Starred Review on Publishers Weekly

My latest historical horror novel, Andersonville, due out from Random House next month, just garnered a short, starred review on Publishers Weekly, which I hope you’ll take a moment and check out.

This has spawned a Reddit, thanks to my friend and fellow author Tim Marquitz, whose Ragnarok Publications will be publishing my collection With Sword And Pistol.

Please stop by and say hey.

Andersonville is up for preorder on Amazon.

Published in: on July 3, 2015 at 8:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Flesh Like Smoke Up For Preorder from April Moon Books

April Moon Books, who put out the great Dark Rites Of Cthulhu anthology a while back and will be publishing my ninth novel, Mindbreaker, is set to publish their lycanthropy anthology Flesh Like Smoke, which includes my short story Philopatry, in which a Catholic priest enlists the help of an ex-convict to stop a streak of serial murders in his south Boston neighborhood after hearing the murderer’s confession.


Also featuring –

Her Father’s Skin – Christine Morgan
Chaney Jr. Overdrive – Glynn Owen Barrass
Blood and Bone – Tim Waggoner
Bruce, Waking Up – Paul McMahon
Purity Ball – Cody Goodfellow
Were…? – Darrell Schweitzer
Scoop – Sam Gafford
Hunter’s Moon – Don Webb & D.A. Madigan
The Abraxas Protocol – Scott R Jones
Claw and Fang, Stone and Bone – Konstantine Paradias
The Weathered Stone – William Meikle
Survival of the Fittest – Sam Stone and David J Howe
Things Change – Pete Rawlik
Though It Be Darkness There – Damien Angelica Walters
Blood and Dust – Brian M. Sammons

And here’s a preview of the illustration accompanying my story, drawn by Neil Smith.


Preorder here –!flesh-like-smoke/c1x91


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