Medallion Press publishes Desperate Souls, the second volume in my horror thriller series “The Jake Helman Files,” as a trade paperback on October 15th. The series began with Jake Helman’s origin story,Personal Demons, which won the IPPY Gold Medal for Horror, and continues with Cosmic Forces in 2010 and Tortured Spirits in 2012. Audible.com recently acquired the audio book rights to both Personal Demons and Desperate Souls. I’ve plotted a total of six novels in the series, but hope to continue writing Jake Helman chillers for a long time to come. This project started for me two decades ago.
I’m not just a novelist, I’m also a filmmaker, best known for my 1988 cult horror film SLIME CITY, which has been released several times on VHS and DVD, and its new sequel, SLIME CITY MASSACRE, which is currently playing at horror conventions and film festivals around the country. My films and novels are very different; the films are meant to be fun and goofy, almost campy, while my novels enable me to eschew budgetary restrictions and tell big stories with large scale action sequences. Novels also allow me to get deeper into my characters’ heads, so my goal is always to achieve a deeper emotional resonance.
In 1989, I wrote a screenplay entitled THE FOREVER MAN, which first presented the origin story of Jake Helman, a homicide cop addicted to cocaine whose life falls apart, and who subsequently finds himself embroiled in a caper involving a reclusive billionaire, a serial killer who steals the souls of his victims, and the biblical Cain and Abel. I found that combining supernatural elements with noir tropes enabled me to deliver more surprises than if I had worked in either genre alone.
I conceived a trilogy of Jake Helman screenplays, but found raising the budget to sufficiently tell any of the stories as films beyond my means, and I loved the first script too much to try to sell it; as an independent filmmaker, controlling my projects is critical to me. My first attempt at novelizing the screenplay was a disaster, so I set about learning the craft, which included joining the Horror Writers Association a decade ago and submitting my first draft manuscript to an expensive and drawn out Writers Digestprogram (joining the HWA proved far more productive in the long run).
I submitted the first novel, re-titled Personal Demons, to two publishing contests. The first passed, although the sponsor offered me an e-book contract, which I declined. The second, the Inaugural Anubis Award for Horror, with T.M. Wright as its judge, selected me as a finalist and I won; I still remember learning the news after returning home from work on my birthday. Terry Wright is a hero of mine; his novel A Manhattan Ghost Story was one of my favorite books of the 1980s, and actually inspired one of the scarier sequences in my book, so it was a thrill not only to win the award (as it turns out, the inaugural Anubis Award was the only Anubis Award), but to have been chosen by someone whose writing I truly admired.
Broken Umbrella Press published Personal Demons as a Limited Edition hardcover in 2004, and as a trade paperback in 2005. The reviews were glowing, something I was not used to as a filmmaker. I was pleased with both editions, but quickly learned how little promotion a small press is able to do for an author. Determined not to let years’ worth of work fade into obscurity, I took out full page ads in Fangoria and Rue Morgue magazine. The novel continued to garner favorable reviews, but I had no luck finding a mass market deal for the book, and saw no point in writing another Jake Helman yarn until I did.
I novelized another screenplay, Johnny Gruesome, hoping a mass market publisher would acquire it and I’d have an easier time pitching Personal Demons. My scheme worked: in 2008, Bad Moon Books acquired Johnny Gruesome as a Limited Edition hardcover, and Medallion Press acquired the mass market trade paperback rights. I told Adam Mock, the president of Medallion, that Personal Demons was much closer to my heart, and suggested Medallion acquire it as my second book, and that by the time it was published, my third novel, The Frenzy Way, would be finished. Adam seemed skeptical until he read the book. After that, I believe he coined “The Jake Helman Files” as the series title, and he even collaborated on the first book’s cover with artist Dan Plumley. Medallion published Personal Demons as a mass market paperback in 2009, and as soon as I completed The Frenzy Way I started work on my second Jake Helman novel, which had been gestating for several years.
In my envisioned screenplay trilogy, Jake went to prison at the end of the first script, and the second story was set behind bars. Things didn’t turn out that way in the novels: Jake grew smarter and wiser in the 14 years that passed between the screenplay and the novel, and he managed to elude incarceration. The second script, never written, was to involve rival prison gangs using voodoo against each other. I took that basic idea and jettisoned the prison, using the streets of New York City as Jake’s battleground.
I knew that for Jake to continue battling cosmic evils, the second novel had to be superior to the first in every manner, so I loaded it with more character development, more action, and more surprises. Desperate Souls is the first novel I wrote without an existing screenplay to serve as its template, and it was my first experience writing one in which I felt everything clicking during the process. I’ve since completed Cosmic Forcesand am editing Tortured Spirits, and writing each book has proven an exciting experience. Persistence is such a key factor in making your publishing dreams a reality.