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The Writing of ASH: RETURN OF THE BEAST - Or How I Learned Not To Be Afraid Of The Dark

One of the interesting things about writing a novel is that the process often requires the writer to reach down inside in order to access the storehouse of thoughts, feelings and life experiences that he’s accumulated over the years so he can apply some of it to the story and make the words on the page reflect some semblance of “reality”. I guess that’s a long-winded way of repeating the old adage, ‘Write what you know’. But what if you have a story idea that requires you to write what you don’t know or, worse yet, to write what you’re uncomfortable with?

If you’re going to write what you don’t know, there’s always the option to do the research necessary to familiarize yourself with a formerly unfamiliar topic. Writing what you’re uncomfortable with is something else again. That’s what I had to wrestle with when it came to writing my second novel, Ash: Return Of The Beast (

I remember when the idea for the story first hit me about three years ago. I was browsing the shelves at a used-book store and came across a biography of the infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Due to my life-long fascination with all things paranormal, I was at least somewhat familiar with Crowley. I knew he was considered a master of ritual magic or what some call the Dark Arts. I knew his picture appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album and I knew that several musicians of the hard rock variety were into him. I knew he’d been branded by the British press as The Wickedest Man In The World’ and I knew Musolini had kicked him out of Italy. I even had a copy of a strange little book entitled The Book Of The Law that was allegedly dictated to Crowley by a nonhuman entity near the Great Pyramid in 1904. What I didn’t know, until I read that biography, was that his body was cremated and that the urn containing his ashes had mysteriously vanished. Wait. What??? I had to flip the page back and read it again to make sure I’d read it correctly. Wow, I thought. If that isn’t the foundation for good mystery novel, I don’t know what is. 

At first I was super motivated and eager to start writing. But as I continued to sketch out a story I soon began to realize this was not going to be the same sort of creative experience that I’d had with my first novel, The Ezekiel Code ( Sure, Code contained its share of bad guys sneaking around in the shadows, a couple of murders and some foul play. But it was all pretty much standard fare for an adventure/mystery novel. Ash, I could see, was going to be darker. Much darker. Darker than maybe I was prepared to go. Could I dredge up something that disturbing from the depths of my own storehouse of life experiences? I don’t want to spoil the story for you here, so I won’t disclose any details. I’ll just say, after I thought about it, I realized I didn’t have anything quite that disturbing in my life experience. So how was I going to bring any sense of reality to it?

Clearly, I was going to have to do some research and learn how real people have endured such experiences, how it affected them emotionally and psychologically and what effect it had on their lives after the experience. So, I did the research to familiarize myself with those issues to the point where I felt comfortable enough to incorporate it into the story. But feeling comfortable enough with it and actually writing it were two different things. I found out I was afraid of the Dark, the Dark within. I told my best friend that I felt like I had to go wash my hands or take a complete shower after writing the first incident of one specific heinous activity.

However, I believed the story was too good to abandon and I knew if I just let it go it would haunt me for the rest of my days. So I carried on even though my own sensibilities were rebelling against me. Much to my surprise, I actually got used to it. In fact, I got to the point where I enjoyed it. I was no longer afraid of the Dark. So, how did that happen? Pretty simple, really.

Once I got far enough into the development of the story, the characters ceased to be mere concepts in my head. They began to take shape, physically, emotionally and psychologically. They became real people involved in real situations. It wasn’t me who was doing those awful things to the characters. The characters were doing those things to each other. That’s when, as a writer, you’re “in the Zone”. I love being in the Zone. There are no boundaries, no limitations in the Zone. It’s the place where the writer experiences the freedom to let the story evolve as it will and any intimidating sensibilities that might otherwise get in the way... well, they’re just out of luck. The story must go on.

And so it did. Now, three years after the initial idea hit me, Ash: Return Of The Beast is finished and available on Kindle for just $3.99. I hope to have a paperback edition available by the end of January, 2012.


Description of the book:

Ash: Return of the Beast is an occult mystery-crime-thriller based on a little known factoid about the death of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the occultist the British press once called "The Wickedest Man In The World".

Crowley’s body was cremated and the whereabouts of his ashes has remained a mystery… until now.

This diabolical tale carries the reader through a series of the most curious (and sometimes unsettling) events spanning the years from Crowley's death in 1947 to the 1990s and the coming of age (and eventual stardom) of a death-metal rocker named Rodney Duckworth.

The time-line shifts to the present day where Brian Kane, a gruff and gritty, street-worn Seattle Police Detective, reluctantly teams up with the mysterious Rowena Ravenwood, an attractive female FBI agent. Their task is to figure out why good, healthy, God-fearing preachers in their fair city are suddenly dropping like flies.

What are those strange symbols branded onto the bodies of these hapless victims? Are they all part of some bizarre cult? Is it really murder? Where’s the evidence? And what is the disturbing secret that Detective Kane is holding so close to his chest?

The investigation eventually catapults Kane and Ravenwood into life-threatening situations as they wind their way through the strange, dark labyrinth of the world of the Occult and ritual magick.

Problem is, the clues to help solve the case are in terribly short supply. Worse yet, so is the amount of time left to stop the mysterious killer's reign of terror before all Hell breaks loose. And – according to Special Agent Ravenwood - that’s not just a figure of speech.

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