Sirens Call Publications recently released Brent Abell’s creepy, supernatural novella titled The Calling and we sat down with him to ask him a few questions about it and his writing process.
For those of you who aren’t yet acquainted with Brent Abell, he resides in Southern Indiana with his wife, sons, and the spirit of his beloved pug who haunts the space next to his desk. Brent enjoys anything horror related and also enjoys a good cigar. In his writing career, he’s had stories featured in over 30 publications from multiple presses. His books Southern Devils, In Memoriam, The Calling, and his Wicked Tales for Wicked People collection are available now. He is also a co-author of the horror-comedy Hellmouth series. Currently, he has completed the second book in the Southern Devils series and an upcoming novella. You can hang out with him at his blog “Our Darkest Fears” at http://brentabell.com.
Sirens Call Publications: Welcome Brent! What made you decide to become a writer?
Brent Abell: Writing had been something I began dabbling in while in high school. After I graduated, I took a few years off before going to college. It was something I always wanted to do, but didn’t do anything about until a few years ago. I wrote a few things and found some quick sales. It planted the thought in my mind that I could do it on a more professional level. Right now, I’m trying to make my morning commute to the coffee pot and back.
SCP: What is The Calling about?
Brent: The Calling is my love letter to 1970’s occult movies. I grew up watching any horror I could find on the television. It didn’t matter how cheesy it was, I’d watch it. Late night shows usually focused on the 70’s and 80’s low budget fare. I devoured them. The Calling is the beginning of the White Creek cycle. White Creek is my little small-town slice of Hell. When Carl Volker awakes to find his wife gone, he figures she finally split town on him. As more bodies turn up and the crows begin to hang out around his farm, Carl isn’t sure what’s happening to him. His friend, Sheriff Frank Hill, has to solve the puzzle to keep the town safe from an unholy force rising in the town.
SCP: What is the one thing you’d like readers to know about The Calling before they read it?
Brent: This is the first book in the White Creek Cycle. There is another book, In Memoriam, but you don’t have to read one to understand the other. I’m building a mythology around the town and it’s a good place to start.
SCP: What is your writing process? Do you consider yourself to be a planner or a pantser?
Brent: My writing process is to randomly bang my fingers on keys until words form. I am a slow and terrible typist, so it takes some time to finish something. My wife does think I’m the fastest hunt-and-peck typist in the world. To answer the second part… I’m a pantser. Usually, I’ll have the opening and the ending figured out; then make stuff up as I go for the middle. Sometimes, however, it means in the end I may have to tweak a few things to get everything lined up.
SCP: If you could cast your favourite story in the collection, who would you choose to play your main characters?
Brent: I would cast Sam Elliott to play Frank Hill, Mitch Pileggi as Carl, and Robbie Amell as Pratter. Nobody else would even be let in the door to audition as Frank.
SCP: What is the hardest challenge that you have faced as a writer?
Brent: The hardest challenge I’ve faced about writing has been trying to find the balance. It can be a very difficult task when you have to juggle a job, your family, and the writing. Sometimes, I go without sleep or sometimes I lock myself away and sacrifice some personal time to write. Finding time to do anything outside of those becomes hard to do. But, if I want to drop the job part, they are sacrifices that have to be made.
SCP: In your opinion, what sets The Calling apart from other books of the same genre?
Brent: I tried to tell a story of friends who have been secretly at odds. As Frank and Carl’s story unfolds throughout the book, I wanted to explore lost love and how it impacts relationships. Sometimes the people we thought we know the best are the ones we really know nothing about at all.
SCP: Are you reading anything right now, or have you read anything recently that is worth mentioning?
Brent: I’m trying to catch up on my Dean Koontz books. I’ve been very lax about keeping up-to-date on them and I’m a few books behind. I finished his novel The City and I finally am reading William Peter Blatty’s Legion.
SCP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite novels?
Brent: My favorite authors would be Brian Keene, Wrath James White, John Everson, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Joe Hill. If I had to pick a favorite book from each one; I’d say Keene’s The Rising, White’s The Resurrectionist, Everson’s Covenant, Koontz’s Night Chills, King’s Salem’s Lot, and Hill’s Horns.
SCP: How do you define success as a writer? Have you been successful?
Brent: This is an area where my answer has evolved over time. When I wrote and sent off my first few stories, I thought success was being published. In the beginning, I thought having my work in print was success enough. As it went on and I had more stories published and more for money, my attitude shifted. I began to see it as a possible career shift and began to focus on longer works. The goal is to write full time, so I’m not there yet. Have I been successful? Yes, but there is still a long way to go.
SCP: Do you have words of wisdom about writing that you want to pass on to novelists and writers out there who are just starting out?
Brent: Don’t be afraid, don’t listen to the negative voices in your head, and write what you want to write.
SCP: What should readers walk away from your book knowing? How should they feel?
Brent: I want them to feel White Creek is a pretty messed up place and they should come back to visit soon. The town always has its welcome signs up, but if they get to leave is another matter. White Creek invites all the readers back to watch friendships twist and the secrets buried in the past unearth themselves. All readers are welcome anytime…
Carl Volker has a problem. After waking one morning with a hangover to find his wife gone, he notices a crow stalking around his yard. As days go by with no word from his wife, more and more crows gather.
Frank Hill is sheriff in the seemingly pleasant town of White Creek. Up until recently, his job has been fairly mundane but after a recent spree of murders, bodies are beginning to pile up and Frank has no clue as to who the killer may be.
White Creek has kept its secrets hidden well over the years but the sins of its past are coming to light; the town harbors an evil and the bindings that keep it in check are beginning to unravel.
As Frank and Carl’s friendship is tested and their destinies are revealed, the dead accumulate while the crows watch and The Calling begins!
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And now for a quick excerpt of The Calling…
Carl Volker awoke that morning with a hangover that split his head in two and the rooster outside calling out the dawn didn’t make things any better, but instead drove the alcohol’s wedge deeper in his brain. Rolling over, he felt for Maggie’s body and found her half of the bed empty. The early morning light streamed into the window and hit Carl like a sledge hammer. He rubbed his blood shot eyes and pulled the pillow over his head. He drifted off to sleep again, the pillow blocking out the sounds of the rooster and the outside world.
Two hours later he awoke and found the other side of the bed was still empty. He sat up and sniffed the air, hoping to catch a whiff of breakfast cooking or any faint scent of recently cooked food. He smelled nothing and wondered what the hell Maggie was up to. This late in the morning, she usually would have some food cooked up for him before he headed out to the fields for the day. Carl swung his legs over the side of the bed and put on his slippers. His bladder was killing him and his stomach rumbled in hunger.
Carl wandered through the house in his boxer shorts, first visiting the bathroom to unburden his bladder, and then heading down the stairs to fix the stomach issue. He sniffed the air again and was once more denied the smell of breakfast. Stopping in the kitchen doorway, he opened his eyes fully and saw nothing had been moved or used. The skillets lay in the sink where they were left the night before and the loaf of bread sat with no other slices removed. He scratched his head in disbelief.
“Where the hell is that woman?” Carl muttered to himself as he sat down at the kitchen table. “Not even any damn coffee either.”
He turned his head to the window to see if maybe Maggie had headed out to the fields to feed the cows and the pigs. From his vantage point, the cows were lined up at the fence waiting for food and the pigs were poking around in their pens seeking a bite. Carl started to be very concerned, not only because he had no coffee or breakfast, but because Maggie seemed to be gone and that was highly unlike her.
Carl began to retrace his steps, only this time he decided to keep his eyes open. The morning hadn’t been kind and his vision remained blurry no matter how many times he rubbed them. He trudged back up the stairs, all of his fifty-two-year-old body protesting every step. This time when he opened the bedroom door, he noticed that Maggie’s clothes were thrown from her drawers and strewn across the floor in a crumpled pile. Carl scratched his head and went to the closet door. Opening it up, he saw that the suitcase was gone. He still didn’t compute what was going on until he peeked into the bathroom and saw her makeup case missing too.
Carl scratched his head again and said, “Well ain’t that a bitch,” to nobody in particular at all.
The chores were done by three in the afternoon and Carl decided to leave the field alone for the day. He had to figure out just where his wife went. The last thing he remembered was drinking his whiskey straight from the bottle while Maggie downed glass after glass of wine. They laughed, they drank, they made love, and they drank some more. As he thought back, he couldn’t place anything that Carl thought would make her want to walk out on him. He hung his hat up by the back door and walked to the fridge and grabbed a beer. He removed the church key from the hook besides the fridge and opened his Busch Light. Carl found himself dismayed that supper was not being cooked for him and decided to sit on the porch swing while he finished his beer.
It was when he saw it for the first time; the crow perched in the tulip tree next to the birdbath.
Carl fixed his gaze on the jet black bird that stared back at him; its red eyes burning Carl straight down to his soul. The crow’s beady little eyes unsettled him greatly.
“Get the hell out here ya’ bastard!” Carl hollered out to the bird. He reached down and took off his boot. He stood up quickly and chucked the shoe in the direction of the tree. The boot fell far short of its intended target and thudded harmlessly to the ground. The crow called out like it was laughing at Carl and it really pissed him off. First his wife vanished, he still was hung over, and now a damn crow mocked him. After thinking about it for a few minutes, he figured it would be better if he just fired up the Ford and went into town to have supper and get a drink or five at Telly’s Tavern.
Taking one last look at the crow, it spread its wings and took off into the darkening sky. Carl tossed his empty beer can off the porch and went in to get ready to go.
An old black man sat up in front of the bar and picked the strings on his beat up old guitar. The instrument looked like it’d been through Hell, but the blues ringing out from it sounded like Heaven to the crowd at Telly’s. The farmers and hands all drank while they tapped their feet and smacked the heavy wooden bar as the music struck a chord with the working men. A cloud of cigarette smoke hovered in the air and the haze grew thicker the further away from the bar one got.
Carl sat hunched over a beer at the bar and he stared off at the various signs hanging behind Telly.
“What the Hell wrong with you Carl? You’ve been sitting there quiet as a mouse all evening. Maggie got you in the dog house?” Telly bellowed and laughed.
“Ain’t seen her all day,” Carl answered and took a long pull from the beer bottle.
“What do you mean you ain’t seen her all day? Don’t you control your wife out there at the farm?” Telly prodded and let out another loud laugh.
“You let me worry about her, Telly. Why you got an old Negro in here playin’?”
“Times changed a long time ago you old bastard and he picks the best blues strings for miles,” Telly retorted.
Carl took another long pull from his beer and emptied it. Slamming the glass on the table, he tossed a few dollars beside it and got up from his stool. “Well, I gotta go and see if she’s come back yet. See ya tomorrow, Telly.”
Telly watched Carl stager from the bar to the door and he shook his head. If he knew Maggie like he did, her splitting was a permanent thing and she wouldn’t be back no matter how much Carl begged. He’d known Carl since high school and he knew he would never beg her to come back. What did surprise him was if what happened was terrible enough she left, she didn’t say anything. His cousin knew how to argue and she’d let Carl have it on her way out of the door. Someone hollered for another round, so he buried his thoughts and went back to work.
The first thing Carl noticed when he pulled his old Ford truck in the drive were the four crows perched along the fence by the well. None of them flew off and their heads followed him as he parked the truck and opened the door. In the dark, Carl felt their bright red eyes burn through him.
Picking up a rock, he hurled it at the fence and it smacked the post with a loud thud. The rock bounced to the ground and the crows sat there glaring at him, none of them taking flight.
“Go on! Get outta’ here ya’ bastard birds!”
He ran at the fence waving his arms around like a mad man yelling and screaming. The crows stayed perched and remained still.
Caw, caw, caw, the crows sounded out in unison.
Carl froze a few feet from their perch. They stared at him and he felt his booze laced blood go cold. Their eyes locked onto his and he held their gaze for a moment. Neither moved nor blinked. After a few seconds, Carl turned and stormed off into the house.
Inside, he heard the crows begin their song again. The four birds and their constant calling grated on his nerves as he rushed to the hall closet. Flinging the door open, he grabbed his twelve gauge and broke it open to make sure it was still loaded. Everyone told him keeping a loaded shotgun in the house wasn’t a good idea, but he figured at some point, he’d need to defend his property.
Right now, he needed to clean the yard of some annoying birds.
“Here you go you bastards!” Carl cried out as he kicked the screen door open. He brought the shotgun up and fired it at the fence.
Flames danced from the gun’s muzzle and he heard the buckshot pepper the fence posts and rails. The sound he didn’t hear pissed him off. He didn’t hear the crows die. Instead they sat motionless, still perched on top of the fence. Quickly, he cracked the casing open and ejected the spent shell. Slamming another shell in, he closed the barrel and aimed at the fence.
The crows were gone.
Carl walked to the fence and studied it. He found splintered wood along the top rail and on the center post where the crows were sitting. Running his finger along the wood, he felt the deep grooves, but he couldn’t find any blood or sign the crows were even there.
“I know I saw them sons a bitches,” he muttered and dropped to his knees. “If them crows were here that long, they must have shit.”
The grass below the fence appeared to be all green without a trace of white. Frantically, Carl ran his fingers through the cut grass and only found clippings from where he cut it three days ago. Shaking his head, he stood up and sulked back to the house. Once inside, he poured a shot of bourbon and watched out the window with his shotgun leaning up next to the kitchen door.
He wanted the crows to return…
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