QandA with Author Joe Powers

Someone is stalking and killing the residents of a homeless shelter in Beaverbrook, from a Penitentiary, over a thousand miles away — Seventeen Skulls by @JoePowersAuthor

Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?

I will sometimes have more than one on the go at the same time, but that generally means I’ve put one aside for the time being and am working exclusively on another one. I don’t actively work on more than one at a time; I prefer to give my full attention to each thing I write. But sometimes, a work in progress needs to marinate for a while. At those times I might go back to something else and putter with it until I’m ready to return to what I was doing before.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

One of the most common things I come across that people struggle with is, believe it or not, actually writing. It sounds so simple and basic – writers have to write, right? But many aspiring writers seem to have a hundred reasons why they don’t have the time to write. The thing that I try to impress upon my students is that you will never find the time to write. You have to MAKE the time. Job, kids, spouse, social life, pets, all this and a lot more demand your time and attention. Scattered in among these things are little slivers of time that a writer has to claim as their own. Maximize the time you do have. Even 200 words a day – a paltry amount that the average person will eclipse many times over each day in the form of texts and Facebook posts and such – works out to 73,000 words in a year. It’s doable.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

Ideally you hope your original ideas are what readers want! But I think it’s important to write things you enjoy and not worry about chasing fads or trying to please a given demographic. What’s popular changes frequently and unpredictably. Write what you enjoy, write often enough, well enough, and hopefully the readers will find you and follow along.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from other genders?

It’s difficult in one sense, because you’re attempting to write from a perspective you have no firsthand knowledge of, or experience with. It’s a concern any time I write something from the female perspective that I’m going to get it all wrong, lose all credibility, and break the reader’s suspension of disbelief I’ve worked so hard to immerse them in. 

On the other hand, I think it’s important to bear in mind that people of all genders are just that – people. We’re all individuals. If I ask myself “what would a woman do in this situation?” I remind myself that there is no catch-all answer, that individual women will think and react differently to a given scenario. Of course, I’m more than willing to go to the source, so to speak, and ask some of the women in my life about generalities that may be more likely to apply. Ultimately I trust my instincts and hope that what I’m writing will come off as believable, and won’t insult anyone’s intelligence.

Seventeen Skulls
by Joe Powers
Genre: Horror, Thriller

Someone is stalking and killing the residents of a homeless shelter in Beaverbrook. And he’s doing it from a cell at the Garden Island Super-Maximum Security Penitentiary, over a thousand miles away.

Notorious serial killer Eldon Grant has discovered the ability to travel through the Shadow Realm – a dark and sinister conduit that lies in the murky fissures between the physical and astral planes. This allows him to return to his old stomping grounds and resume his rampage without leaving the cozy confines of his cell. It’s the perfect crime.

But his actions haven’t gone unnoticed.

As the bodies pile up, shelter worker Jennifer Brennan vows to get to the bottom of the murderous spree. Along with a disjointed group of companions, she sets out to learn who’s responsible and figure out a way to stop him before they draw his attention and become his next victims.

Read an excerpt:

Excerpt 1

Note: this is from a scene in which the reporter, Amy Watson, is interviewing serial killer Eldon Grant. She’s the first one to be granted an interview with Grant in his nearly three decades behind bars.

Amy quietly watched and waited for him to finish. She recognized his actions for what they were. He’s playing with me, establishing dominance. That was fine with her; she had no intention of butting heads with the man, just keeping him in a good mood and getting him to talk.

Grant smiled again, his attention once more fully upon her. “So, what is it I can do for you today, Amy? I don’t know how much time we’ve got, so we might as well get down to it.”

The question confused her. “Do for me? It’s my understanding that you requested this interview.”

“Poor choice of words, maybe. You’re the one asking the questions, so I guess that’s my way of saying, what are your questions? You’re in charge here.”

Yeah, right. “Well, okay. Before we get started, would you mind telling me why exactly you’ve agreed to speak with me today? I understand you’re not exactly enamored of the media.”

“Well, some of ‘em have done me wrong from time to time, you know. But that’s a long while ago now,” he said. “Back around the time of the trial, and especially while I was, shall we say, on holiday, there weren’t a lot of nice stories being written about me. But no hard feelings, not really. What would be the point now? Most of ‘em are probably long gone anyway, dead or retired or just moved on. Life’s too short to hold a grudge.”

Amy stifled a laugh at Grant’s use of the term “on holiday,” an obvious reference to the period during which he had escaped from custody and was on the loose. “So why me? Why now?”

He shook his head with a thin smile. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe I just figured it was time someone heard my story. The real story, not what some of your colleagues have been feeding the public.”

“Why don’t we start with the original story, and then we can talk about your version.”

He raised an eyebrow, his smile faltering slightly. “My version, eh? Well, that’s fair enough, I suppose. As for the ‘original,’ as you put it, you know all there is to know about that. The trial, the transcripts, all of that. No need to dig up those old bones again, am I right?”

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “To be honest, Eldon, nobody’s really written much of anything about you in a while. You’ve been in here a long time. I’m not sure anyone even remembers why you’re here.”

He chuckled at this. “Oh, I think they remember just fine. I haven’t met a new guard or inmate in all these years who didn’t know exactly who I was and what landed me in here.”

She hesitated, worried she’d offended him. “I just meant that—”

“Not exactly front page news any more, I know it.” He studied her face. “How old are you, late twenties maybe?”

“Twenty-nine.”

He nodded. “You’re just a little too young to really remember much of anything about me then. First-hand, anyway. Where are you from? Back east somewhere?”

“No, I grew up outside of Toronto,” she answered. “North York.”

“Well, there you go,” he said, sitting back in his seat with a look of satisfaction. “Just a kid from half a country away—no wonder you don’t know anything about me. But I have a feeling that’s all about to change, little lady. With any luck, the whole country’s going to know who Eldon Grant is before long.”

Excerpt 2

Note: This is from a scene in which RCMP officer Mike Nelson and former journalist Bernie Rose confront one of Grant’s old partners in crime, and learn a bit about what Grant is capable of.

Phil nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Arright, gonna hold ya to that.” He scratched his stubbly chin, lost in thought. “Eldon, ya say. I ain’t thought much about him in a good while. Kinda prefer it that way, truth be told. He die or somethin’?”

Mike shook his head. “He’s still alive, far as I know. We’re just looking for some information, thought you could help since you had some history together.”

“Yeah, we knew each other back in the day,” he said, reaching for another beer. “Why you askin’?”

“I’m curious,” said Mike, walking slowly to where Phil sat. He helped himself to one of the beers in the cooler, cracking it with a satisfied smile. He raised the can to Phil, who glowered but said nothing. “What was he like back then? I mean, I know he was a thief, and the cops were always after him for something or other, but what was he like? Did he like to fight?”

“Eldon? Nah, he never cared much for that sort of thing,” Phil said. “I mean sure, he could handle himself, he just didn’t have to very much, I guess.”

“Didn’t have to? Why not?”

“People who messed with Eldon had a way of running into bad luck,” he said. “I dunno how to explain it any better’n that. They’d have an accident, break an arm or somethin’. Or their car’d burn up. He was never around when that stuff happened, but it happened.”

“Not sure I’m following you, Phil,” said the cop. “Are you telling me you and your buddies would take care of Grant’s dirty work?”

“I ain’t sayin’ that at all,” he snapped. “I never done anythin’ like that. What I’m sayin’ is, this stuff just sorta seemed to happen.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Phil. Things like that don’t ‘just happen.’”

“They did where Eldon was concerned,” he continued. “He had a way of doin’ stuff without actually doin’ it.”

“What does that mean?”

Phil licked his lips and drummed his fingertips on his knees as he looked back and forth between Mike and Bernie. He started to reach for another beer, realized he still had one on the go, and instead set it down long enough to fumble another cigarette from the pack in his pocket.. As an afterthought, with a grunt he offered the pack to Mike, who declined with a wave of his hand. Phil slipped the pack back into his pocket, took another drag, and stared at a spot on the ground near the cop’s feet.

“Eldon had a trick he used to use sometimes,” he said. “He could look into a house we was casing and just know the layout, whether folks were home, everythin’. He’d just close his eyes and sit real still, hardly breathin’, all slumped over where he sat. After a few minutes he’d come out of it again, sit back up, and tell us what he’d seen. Sure as hell, it’s be just like he said, right down to the detail.”

“Is it possible he’d been there before and he was just fooling people? Messing with you?” Bernie asked.

Phil ignored the question. “Sometimes he could do more than just go have a look. He could do stuff while his mind, or whatever, was off doin’ its thing. One time, we was settin’ up to rob this place. Eldon, he says ‘let me go check it out,’ and he goes into his trance, or whatever. He comes back, says it’s all clear, and in we go. He sent me in first, once we busted the lock. I go in, and the first thing I see is a piece of paper lyin’ on this table by the door. It had writin’ on it, and what it said was ‘Phil was here.’ I picked it up and looked it over, sure it was some sort of joke. But it was real, it wasn’t no joke. He’d put it there, ya see, to mess with me. Somehow, while he was off imaginin’ the place, part of him was actually inside there. Not only that, but that part of him was able to write a note and leave it for me to find. That scared me, because I knew then he could see you wherever you was, and if he seen somethin’ he didn’t like, he could do somethin’ about it.”

Excerpt 3

Note: This is from a scene in which Grant has seen an opportunity to take revenge on old nemesis Bernie Rose and kill him, and in the process reveals his special powers to Bernie.

Bernie rounded the corner and leaned against the wall outside his door, fishing for his room key. He withdrew it and pushed his way into the room with a grunt. The door banged open and swung half closed, the key still in the lock. Bernie stumbled past the bed to the bathroom, leaving that door open as well. He leaned on the wall with one arm, groaning with relief as he pissed on the floor next to the toilet.

His head swam as the room slowly spun around him, threatening to knock him off his feet and send him sprawling to the tiled floor. He splashed water from the sink onto his face and sagged against the wall. “What the hell was I thinking?” he muttered to the empty room. He dug the pill bottle from his pocket, realized he was feeling no pain, and tossed a small handful back anyway. The boat ride in the morning ought to be a real joy after this. Might as well try to sleep off as much of it as I can.

Stepping back into the main room he stopped suddenly, staring at the shadowy form in the open doorway. “Sorry pal, this room’s occupied,” he slurred.

The dark figure didn’t move, not flinching or even seemingly breathing, remaining stone still. Bernie shifted uncomfortably. His hand slid into his jacket pocket and he pressed the button on the small recording device he carried with him. He often did this out of habit when confronted or placed in a situation where he felt a record of the events might prove useful. He took a step toward the bed and slumped down on the edge.

“Come on buddy, keep moving. No party here tonight.”

The figure stepped into the room. Bernie noticed, in a vague, detached way, that the man hadn’t stepped out of the shadows—they had followed him into the room.

He blinked hard and gave his head a shake. “Well okay, if you insist. Could you flip on the lights on your way by?”

The figure drifted closer—Bernie thought it strange he didn’t see the dark stranger’s legs moving when he walked—and stopped directly in front of the bed. Bernie squinted, trying to make out the facial features of the intruder, but could see nothing in the darkness. He struggled to grasp what was going on through the haze of alcohol.

Then the stranger spoke. “My old nemesis. How are you, Rosie?”

Bernie felt a jolt of adrenaline. That voice was unmistakable. “How is this even possible? What’d you do, escape?”

“No, sadly, I’m still inside. Well, mostly. I do venture out once in a while though, for special occasions.”

“You stay away from me, Grant,” Bernie said, suddenly more alert. He tried to stand but his feet got tangled, and he dropped to the floor with a painful cry.

“You should have stayed home, Rose. Or better yet, you should have bled to death on the courthouse steps.”

“Fuck you.” It sounded less forceful than he’d intended, but the pain that shot through his leg made his voice shake. He reached for his pills and fumbled with the lid.

“I should have done this years ago.”

Grant drifted toward Bernie, arms outstretched. Bernie cowered at the foot of the bed and struggled to push himself back and away with his good leg. In desperation he lurched to his feet and took a stumbling step toward Grant. He tried to dodge around his assailant and past him to the door, but in his state was too uncoordinated and nearly stumbled directly into Grant. He tried to twist to one side as he fell, and landed awkwardly with a painful cry. Grant stood over him and reached for his chest, hesitated, and grabbed him by the throat instead. Bernie tried to scream but it came out as a strangled choking sound. He flailed at his attacker but his hands passed through easily. He felt a tightening around his neck like a vise, with a searing heat burning into his flesh. As he slipped toward unconsciousness he heard a muffled exchange from somewhere nearby.

“What the hell…? Hey man, you okay?”

“What’s going on? Is he all right?”

“I don’t know, go get some help.”

Neither voice was familiar. He thought one was male and the other female, but he wasn’t sure. He only knew that neither of them were Grant. And as blackness closed over him, he found he didn’t care either way.

***************

Excerpt from Seventeen Skulls by Karen Randau. Copyright 2021. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

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Joe Powers is a Canadian horror writer and long-time fan of all things scary. From his introduction to the genre on a stormy Saturday night at the age of six – his first viewing of Bride of Frankenstein – he’s been hooked. Among his many inspirations he lists Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Michael Crichton, Rod Serling and Richard Matheson. He enjoys introducing the reader to flawed, believable characters and leading them on dark journeys with an unexpected twist. His work has appeared in various anthologies and collections. Seventeen Skulls is his second novel, following 2019’s western/horror crossover Terror in High Water. In his spare time he’s an avid hockey fan and creative writing instructor. He lives in New Brunswick with his wife, Sheryl, and an assortment of furry creatures. Follow Joe at http://www.joepowersauthor.com.

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