LEISURE TIME w/ GLENN ROLFE
COVENANT by John Everson
Welcome to Leisure Time. I’m your host, Glenn Rolfe. While I should be hard at work writing a new short story or finishing a novella or a new novel…instead, I’m here with you sharing my thoughts and love for my favorite line of horror books ever.
Leisure Books was the king of mass market paperbacks in the late 90s and throughout most of the 2000s. They were the “cheap” place for horror books before the eBook explosion of the late 2000s. They were led by acquisition editor extraordinaire, Don D’Auria (Samhain Publishing, Flame Tree Press) and rostered some of the greatest horror writers of our time. From the late greats Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon to upstart newbies (at the time) such as Brian Keene, Ronald Malfi, and John Everson, the list is huge and amazing. We could fill this column up with names like Sarah Pinborough, Ramsey Campbell, Edward Lee, Wrath James White, and hundreds more, but let’s get to this week’s first title instead.
Each month, I will read or re-read a novel from the vast Leisure Books catalog. We are kicking things off with the Bram Stoker Award-winning debut novel from John Everson, COVENANT.
COVENANT came out in November of 2004 and won that year’s Stoker for Best First Novel. While it was originally published by Delirium Books (and that’s when it won the Stoker), Don D’Auria was a man with his finger on the indie horror pulse. Don quickly snatched up COVENANTand released it with Leisure in 2008.
The story takes place in a small town called, Terrel. We have a sinister cliff where happy young adults with everything to live for are throwing themselves to the rocks in the sea below. Enter new-to-town newspaper reporter, Joe Kieran. Joe lands in Terrel just prior to the latest “suicide”. After doing a little research, he finds a pattern that should be easy enough for locals to get edgy about; only no one wants to talk about it. Alas, our good reporter has caught the scent of a story and sets out to uncover this town’s secrets one by one.
John Everson busts this baby open straight out the gate with a great seaside setting, a perfect character we know we’ll be following into places he shouldn’t be going, and a mystery that certainly is promising to pack a punch.
In now-classic Everson style, the story introduces a couple of beautiful women into the life of our trusty reporter. These women both (separately and on different days) make plays for Joe’s affections and give him the time of his life. First up is the fortune teller, Angelica. Joe is directed her way by the janitor at the paper who says Angelica is the one to talk to about the cliff. Joe winds up at the fortune teller’s table and gets little out of her except the fact that her accent is fake and so is she. Upon his second trip to Angelica’s, Joe gets a little more. A night in the sack! What? When she puts the moves on him he does not resist.
Next we get Cindy, the just home from college girlfriend of our latest jumper. Joe just wants to comfort her, but it very quickly blossoms into something more. They make plans to discuss Cindy’s knowledge of the cliff and its effects on the residents of Terrel. When Joe goes to meet her at the beach, she’s in a skimpy bikini and ruining Joe’s concentration. Joe forgets all about Angelica and quickly falls for the younger woman.
Now, at this point in the story, I was jumping up and down, yelling at Everson “what the fuck? He just screwed the gypsy lady and now he’s in love and ready to fuck this “younger” girl? And, hey! Her boyfriend just killed himself.” Now, also, Joe makes a point of Cindy being much younger than him. I believe Joe is 25 and Cindy is 18 or 19. Not that far off in this day and age, but it’s an inner hurdle that Joe manages to jump.
As all this is going down, Joe discovers the dates of the suicides is May 20-something (I’d have to go back and look) for the last few years. BUT he also discovers an even bigger number of jumpers on Halloween for, like, the last 100 years! Only unlike the recent May jumpers, the Halloween rock smashers are mostly out-of-towners. And supposedly, no one has put these annual deaths together…or have they?
Everson does a fantastic job bringing in the back story. There’s a demon (there’s always a demon) named, Malachi. Malachi made a covenant with four young ladies enticing them with a bizarre orgy in a cave at the base of the evil cliff. He offers them each one talent…for a price.
Malachi gets off on sex and other people having sex, so he really adds the spice and horror to this novel. It does get graphic and frightful in parts. Everson is really good at this and you will come to despise this demon whole heartedly, trust me.
There’s also an old lighthouse that is nothing now but ruins atop the cliff, and theirs a journal detailing the old lighthouse keeper’s original covenant with Malachi to save the then-young town of Terrel.
All in all, some really cool background stories that intertwine wonderfully with the present piece to bring you a well-rounded small town horror book.
I’ll stop there, so I don’t give away the entire book. You should totally find a copy or order a copy and check it out for yourself. For all my jumping up and down over Joe’s easy love life and these women’s crazy choices, Everson does have answers for all of it. Trust me, and it’s all good.
We’re talking a covenant, a demon, and some really wild sex shit.
COVENANT is awesome. It’s small town, demonic horror at its best.
I’ve been fortunate to call John a friend since we first shared a Samhain Horror table at a Horrorhound Convention a few years back. Another aspect of this monthly piece I will try to add is an interview with the author, and sometimes, the editor.
Read on for my interview with John Everson:
Leisure Time: Covenant was your first book with Leisure Books, what was it like signing with Don D’Auria for that first ride?
John Everson: It was a dream come true! I pitched Covenant and other ideas to Don D’Auria at the World Horror Conventions in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006… and then, during the mass author signing event at World Horror Convention in Toronto in 2007, he took me aside and offered me a two-book deal for Covenant and its sequel, Sacrifice. We were standing in a hotel hallway near the coat check when he made the offer — an unlikely, and yet memorable spot to be sure! When I have given talks on writing at colleges and libraries, I always use that experience under the heading “Persistence pays off.”
LT: It was also your first novel, and it is brilliant. What are your strongest memories about writing this book?
JE: Thanks! My memories largely revolve around how it took to finish! I started the book in the mid-1990s and didn’t finish a first draft until 2000. I set it aside many times for months at a time because I just didn’t believe that I could finish a novel. I had written dozens of short stories at that point – but most of them were less than 3,000 words. So doing 75-85,000 words – all about one story arc — seemed an impossible task. But… I took the manuscript out and dusted it off every year, and eventually, I did finish it. The original draft was only around 65,000 words and was called The Cliff. But then after a couple years of rejections, in 2002 I took it to my dad’s cottage up in the north woods of Wisconsin and spent a solid week alone closeted away in the middle of nowhere. I rewrote paragraphs on every page, added scenes, and came back with a novel retitled Covenant that clocks in around 85,000 words. That rewrite experience is probably what I remember most. I’ve never had the opportunity to completely immerse myself in a novel-writing project for that long of completely interrupted time since. I used to have a work trip to Santa Fe every summer, and I got into the habit of spending an extra couple days there on my own to work on writing – intense, 12-hour writing episodes. But I’ve not gotten to dedicate a solid week like that since Covenant.
LT: I really love Joe and what we find out about Cindy as the story unfolds. Was it fun for you to work their complicated relationship?
JE: It was! Cindy is younger than Joe – still a late teen to his 20something – so it’s kind of a “forbidden” or “nearly forbidden” kind of romance. (Some reviewers have criticized Joe for this, as if relationships like this don’t happen all the time!) Her energy attracts him and her youth brings out his protective side. In fact, most of Joe’s female relationships over the trilogy place him in the position of being a kind of “protective older brother” figure.
LT: Anything in particular that influenced Covenant? I know you make reference to Hannibal Lector in the book. As soon as you mentioned the fava beans, I heard Anthony Hopkins voice every time Malachi had his invasive conversations with the people of Terrel.
JE: Covenant was actually inspired originally by a newspaper article that my boss gave me back in 1994. She knew I liked “the weird stuff” and gave me a clip about a cliff in England. There was/is a lighthouse there and a bar at the peak. People would go up, have a last drink and frequently jump to their deaths. I don’t have the clip anymore, but looking back on it now (thanks, Internet!) I believe it was an article about a famous place called Beachy Head. It is one of the most popular suicide spots in the world. For whatever reason, that image of people jumping off a cliff stuck with me, and months later, I started writing the first words of what would become Covenant. Only, in my take on the subject, there was something far more sinister afoot than a tall cliff and a bunch of suicides.
LT: Of all the writers I read, I think you handle sex the best. A lot of your books and stories have an erotic touch to them. Some people think writing sex into a book is easy. As a fellow writer, I can assure people it’s not. Bad sex, sure, but believable sex that fits in the story? That’s a talent. What do you attribute this to? Are you secretly a teacher of all things tantric at Sting’s School for Lovers?
JE: Ha! No… I’m afraid I am not giving lessons. I just have a big imagination. For me, if there’s not some salacious content in a story, I’m just not that interested in reading it. So… in my own work, there just always is some sexual element as an integral part of the story. It’s a given for me and in stories like NightWhere and The Family Tree, the plots wouldn’t exist without the sexual element – because it’s the main driver of those books. I always laugh a little when I see reviews that complain that they would have loved a story if it hadn’t had “all that sex” in it. Apparently these people are nuns and monks in their own lives then that they don’t think sex is and should be part of every human’s story? Me? I don’t know why you’d want to read it if that content was removed.
When I was just writing short fiction, back in the ‘90s, I always wanted to get one of my stories placed in the Hot Blood series of anthologies – because those were anthologies that I loved to read. Tease and Terror! It’s what keeps me interested in reading stories, and so naturally it appears in the stories I write. I think that sexuality is core to the story of every human, and our engagement in sexual encounters is the thing that makes us most vulnerable – and thus, is a crux for horror. If you’re naked and vulnerable – completely exposed and defenseless — bad things can happen right?
LT: I believe you released four books with Leisure (Covenant, Sacrifice, The 13th, Siren). These were all mass market paperback books; we’re talking pre-eBook still, pre-Facebook even, right? What was it like promoting and getting reviews back then? Harder or easier? And which era do you prefer working/promoting in?
JE: I actually sold five books to Leisure, though you’re right, only four came out in mass market. The Pumpkin Man, my fifth novel, was also sold to Leisure, however, by the time it came out, the imprint was in the midst of shutting down, so it was released under the imprint of Leisure’s parent company, Dorchester Publishing. And it came out in trade paperback instead of the mass market small size. Dorchester also reissued Siren in that format briefly.
E-books did exist then, though they were just really taking off. It was Leisure’s resistance to getting into the e-book market that ultimately doomed the company. The market shifted quickly and during the four years I was signed to Leisure, the profit margins on most of their titles went from black to red because readers had all started downloading cheap e-books instead of grabbing the latest cheap paperback. And Leisure didn’t start issuing ebook editions and trying to market them until it was too late.
As far as promotion… yeah. Those were the days of MySpace! Facebook had launched, but just barely. Amazon and Goodreads existed and were places to get reviews, but … the landscape was different then. People didn’t rely as much on online reviews, as we do now. As an author, you really focused more on getting reviews with print magazines like Cemetery Dance and Tangent and places like that vs. worrying about what Goodreads posted. And you visited bookstores. Like a maniac. I used to do a couple dozen Borders and Barnes & Noble book signing events for every release.
I frankly prefer those days. People browsed bookstore shelves instead of relying on Amazon “people who like this liked that” pages to find interesting releases. It is “easier” to promote now, because you can get instant response on the Internet. But at the same time… in some ways, we’re also now a culture of lemmings. If one person says something online, frequently you’ll find a parade of people who follow – regardless of whether there was any truth to the original post. The cult of instant response has as many negatives as positives.
LT: Leisure had such a fantastic group of authors. Did you ever get to meet up with them, and who were some of your personal favorites?
JE: I met a lot of them, actually. In the early to mid- 2000s, I used to attend the World Horror Conventions every year, and thanks to that, I met and hung out with folks like Brian Keene, Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon, Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Sarah Pinborough, Wrath James White, Nate Kenyon, Jeff Strand, Gary Braunbeck, Teri Jacob, Thomas Piccirilli and more.
Bryan Smith and I once hosted a joint “Blades, Babes, Booze & Barbecue” party together during the Hypericon convention in Nashville to celebrate the release of his The Killing Kind and my The 13th. Which is also where I met Ramsey Campbell (I ended up taking him and his wife to a dinner at one of my favorite BBQ places there – Jack’s BBQ).
In the 2000s, I also became friends with Charlee Jacob, Michael Laimo, P.D. Cacek, Gerard Houarner, Mort Castle, Brian Pinkerton, W.D. Gagliani, Raymond Benson and others thanks to conventions and our Leisure connection. Some of those friendships have truly been among the most important relationships in my life. And once I became a “Leisure author” I sat at the Leisure-sponsored tables at the Bram Stoker Awards a couple times… which was an amazing experience. I remember sitting between Don D’Auria and Gary Braunbeck one year when Gary won multiple awards. That was an amazing night.
LT: Out of the Leisure catalog, any favorite books that stand out for you?
JE: There were so many great ones! For me, Richard Laymon’s The Cellar, Bill Gagliani’s Wolf’s Trap and Edward Lee’s Flesh Gothic and City Infernal were seminal. Plus Michael Laimo’s Deep in the Darkness and Brian Keene’s The Rising, which I actually copy edited in its original edition from Delirium Books.
LT: Lastly, The Devil’s Equinox is your latest release with Don (now at Flame Tree Press). What can you tell us about the book and will you be haunting any conventions this summer to promote it?
JE: The Devil’s Equinox is actually a book that I outlined back in my “Leisure days,” but I never got the chance to write it back then. It’s got a touch of Rosemary’s Baby about it, in that it involves an occult group that needs a baby for its ritual, and a father who needs to find a way to save both his baby, and himself. As frequently happens with my male characters, our hero is tempted by the attractions of the flesh into a situation that he definitely should have avoided. One early review said this about it, which I think would make a great blurb: “Witches, eroticism, devil worship…a little bit of everything in this page-turning thriller!” I’m hoping readers have a fun time with it!
Find more of John’s books here
John Everson is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Covenant, Sacrifice, The 13th, Siren and The Pumpkin Man, all released by Dorchester/Leisure Books in paperback and by Delirium, Necro and Bad Moon Books in limited hardcover. His sixth novel, NightWhere, was a 2012 Bram Stoker Award Finalist. The Family Tree, NightWhere and Violet Eyes, his “creepy spider novel” were released from Samhain Publishing. In January 2017, Redemption, the long-awaited sequel to his novels Covenant and Sacrifice was released. His 10th novel, The House by the Cemetery was released in October 2018 from Flame Tree Press. His 11th novel, The Devil’s Equinox, will be released by Flame Tree in June 2019.