The long, agonizing wait between my last book and now is finally at an end! And just in time for Christmas, too!
In all seriousness, this book was a pretty massive undertaking for me, and it’s pretty short. I think it’s just shy of official “novel” word count, by maybe a few thousand words, so this is technically a bloated novella. I couldn’t imagine writing a 500-page behemoth. This 161-page runt took a lot out of me, over the course of many years.
This is my second book and my first novel. Whenever I premiere a book, I always feel like I’m at an open mic night and I’m tuning my guitar and I’m saying, “This one took me years,” and I just know you’re all going to be disappointed.
“So, what’s it about?” you may be asking yourself. Well, wait a damn minute, and I’ll tell you!
According to the embarrassing synopsis I wrote myself on Amazon: ‘Lycanthropia Americana’ is a novel of pure horror. When Kevin, Brad and Chito are attacked by an animal one night, their lives are forever changed. They must navigate their lives at a crossroads and deal with immeasurable heart-ache, loss and change… in more ways than one. Horrifying, nostalgic, funny and sad all in equal measure, ‘Lycanthropia Americana’ is about small-town life and about losing your innocence. It’s about watching yourself change and being powerless to stop it.
And that’s about as good a blurb as I’m going to get. But, I’ll go into a little more depth.
Lycanthropia Americana is semi-autobiographical, a nonsense term I excised from the official synopsis because I hate it. I hate how accurate it is and how smug it makes me feel tossing it around. I based large parts of this book on myself and my own life, and I also stole names, stories and anecdotes from my friends. Kevin is a real guy. Brad is a real guy. Chito is a real guy. They’re nothing like the characters I wrote. They’re all combinations of multiple real-life people. I tried to make it feel different than other “rural” dramas. It’s not Hillbilly Elegy, where I’m looking down my nose people while placing them on a pedestal. If I’m going to compare it to something else, I think in spirit it feels more like David Gordon Green’s George Washington than anything else. Everyone is just trying to make their way the best way they can. I was always a little afraid that, throughout all my drafts, everyone was sort of “too likable,” like I don’t really go for any type of serious flaw, but I figured I put my characters through enough hell. I didn’t need to arbitrarily slap some edge on them because it makes for a more interesting read.
Large chunks of it are pilfered from real life and given a fictional narrative to help it make sense. I went with horror because I had the idea one evening as a teenager, standing outside, staring at the sky, and a few events surrounding my life had come together. My friends had been talking about werewolves this, werewolves that, how scary would it be if we saw one right now. I thought it was interesting because I had never given a shit about werewolves before, but I became obsessed with the idea of writing a story about being one in a way that had never really been portrayed before. Almost a sort of Lovecraftian idea of madness taking hold, but I wanted it to take place in my old hometown, a place I always thought was very, very scary. We were on an episode of “Sightings” once! Many of the scary stories mentioned in the novel are “real” stories. My narrative sort of veered, naturally, toward comedy because it felt more real. I never sat out to make it a horror-comedy, I wanted it to be a horror story populated with real people, and real people, I think, especially young people, are funny.
I’ve always felt at home in the horror genre because you have so much freedom with it. In my novel, I have a story about the terror of becoming a werewolf, to feel yourself driven mad and driven to violence, unable to control what happens. It’s also a story about friendship, romance, growing up, losing your innocence. Having this elements in a werewolf story? Not weird at all! It makes the story bigger, truer… it makes it feel real. But if it was a romantic story and I threw in a werewolf? That would require some skills as a writer to pull off that I do not have.
With that, I wanted to give you a little sneak-peak. I’m going to include my dedication below, along with the first chapter. If you like it, great. You can buy it on Amazon in both Paperback and Kindle versions.
If you buy it, read it and like it, please review it on Amazon.
And now, a sneak-peak for Lycanthropia Americana.
This book is dedicated to my mom and my dad and to my friend Trankie Romero, both great men who died in 2020. My dad died before I finished this book, even though I had been working on it, off and on, in some capacity, since I was a teenager. My mom is alive and well.
My dad died before I could finish the book, and what’s funny is that I’m writing this dedication before the book is finished, too. I’ve always been the kind of artist who has to work on the thing that is most frantically calling at the time. If I don’t drop what I’m doing and write the thing calling to me, I’m afraid that I’ll lose it. What often happens is that I just forget about the thing I was originally working on, which is what happened to Lycanthropia Americana so many times. It began life as a screenplay, but the chances of it ever being made into a film were fantastically low, so I translated it to a more narrative format. I actually dedicated myself to the work quite well, working on it for at least an hour a night–sometimes two, sometimes three if I was finding a very good groove–for five nights a week. I gave myself weekends off so I could reflect on what was coming next and adequately prepare for the work ahead. I was about three quarters of the way done when my wife answered a call from my friend Bret.
My wife and I, you see, were on our way that weekend to see Bret and Trankie. This was about four months into the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, and we were going a little stir crazy and needed some socialization. Bret and Trankie, we knew, were very well quarantined and we thought it would be a safe bet to see them and spend a few hours shooting the shit, watching movies. We thought that’s what the call was going to be about. Instead, Bret informed us that Trankie had died suddenly. I was ripped to shreds by this news. I still am. I could go on and on telling stories about Trankie, but I’ll leave it at this: He was one of my favorite people I’d ever met. I’ll miss him forever.
My wife and I still went over, as planned, but the circumstances were completely different. We hung out with Bret and kept him company as he put together some of the pieces of his life. We brought him food, kept him company and washed dishes, while he dealt with a whole world of things he had to deal with.
About a week after we saw Bret, I got another call, this time very early in the morning, from my brother. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t good. It was my dad. He died suddenly.
Suddenly, the idea of writing my book that dealt with loss, sadness, death, horror, monsters and everything else was just too much. So I put it on the back burner for such a long time I even forgot I was writing it. When I opened up my file to begin work again, months later, I saw that I had stopped writing mid-sentence, when I had found out about the tragic news about Trankie. The first night back to writing was very hard for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I’d been through in a year.
Sometimes I wonder what my dad would think of this book. I think he would have thought I featured the monster too much. He was always talking about the best fear as being the fear you can’t quite see, that you can’t quite put your finger on. And I agree. This, to me, isn’t a book that derives fear from the monster, but from the idea of knowing something is wrong with you, but not knowing quite what. I think he would have liked that, but would have still insisted, “There’s too much of the monster in it.”
I wonder what my mom will think of the book when I’m done. I’m sure she’ll like it–partially because she has to–but, again, like my dad, I don’t think the “werewolf” aspects will scare her. My mom was never a big fan of horror, but she was never very easy to scare, either. What scared her always seemed much more tangible and real: Human cruelty, meanness, that sort of thing. I think the monster of the story is just a skeleton to hang ideas off of, and some of the vignettes are stolen straight from her, stories of things that scared her.
I think Trankie would have liked it. Even if he didn’t, he would have been happy for me that I finished a novel. Even if it was the worst dreck he’d ever read, I believe he would have still sincerely felt happy for me that I put a lot of work into something that got completed.
So, with that, I hope that you, too, enjoy this novel: Lycanthropia Americana, a classic werewolf story about small-town life, monsters, love and everything in between, through the perspective of being young and on the cusp of adulthood. It’s about growing up, it’s about a loss of innocence and it’s about letting go of the things that hurt us. It’s about losing control, which I’ll never find not amusing, given that I began writing this long, long, long before I ever admitted I was an alcoholic, and finished it well after. Large swaths of the original text had been conceived of and written while drunk, and the whole thing has, hopefully, been coherently assembled while sober.
“Okay, so here’s how this is going to work,” Brad said, indicating with his hands- large, dramatic gestures. “Kevin, you’re going to head down that dirt road, turn around, then head back up until you’re going pretty much as fast as you can be–55, 60 miles an hour–and when you pass me, I will toss this bag of fake blood onto the windshield. When edited correctly, it’s going to look like you hit someone with your truck and they pretty much popped and blood went everywhere. First, though, we’re going to get a shot of you reversing the truck away from me while I’m screaming, but when we reverse that and speed it up a little, it’ll look like you’re barreling down on me.”
Brad turned to Chito.
“Chito, you’re going to be filming the whole thing. Keep the camera pointed at the windshield the whole time.”
Kevin and Chito nodded in agreement. Chito jangled the camcorder with his hand looped in through the strap for added emphasis.
“Any questions?” Brad asked.
“I have a question,” Chito said.
“What is it?”
“Is this going to actually look good?”
“Yeah! It’s gonna look great! It’ll… it’ll look good. It’ll look totally fine. We can always fix it if it doesn’t. It might not look very good. Kevin, man, you’re good? You know what you’re gonna do?”
“Sounds easy enough for me,” Kevin said. “Drive fast, then splat.”
As agreed, Kevin and Chito reversed Kevin’s hand-me-down 4Runner away from Brad, who over-acted as someone about to be hit by a truck, then sped down the dirt road and made a three-point turn to ready their position to haul ass toward him.
It was a warm day, but a cool breeze blew through the air. It had been a dry fall and winter, so the grass on the side of the road was all dead. A few grasshoppers leapt through the air, their wings buzzing and casting a colorful red against their drab backdrops. Cicadas hummed to themselves not too far off. There was an omnipresent smell of smoke in the air. It was fire season in Southern California.
Brad, Kevin and Chito all knew each other since they were very small. Brad and Kevin knew each other when they were three years old because their parents had met and became friends. They met Chito in kindergarten two years later and he’d been with them ever since, the trifecta now complete. They were now seniors in high school 8 weeks before their graduation date.
He couldn’t remember how, exactly, but one day Brad decided he wanted to make movies. He saved every cent he could from every possible means until he had enough money to buy a camcorder, and it had been glued to his hand ever since. It wasn’t easy to make money without a job, and it was damn near impossible to get a job while living in the country without a car, but Brad had his ways. Sometimes he’d skip lunch and sock away the lunch money his folks gave him, he’d recycle his old man’s beer cans, and he’d find odd jobs here and there.
Kevin had no idea what he wanted to do after graduation, but he was taking the next year off to figure it out. He heard that’s what they did in Europe and that sounded good to him. He planned to keep living with his mom and stepdad, save some money, party a little, then decide if he wanted to go to college from there.
Chito had already been taking community college classes at night while going to high school to get a headstart on his degree. In just over a year, combined with the AP classes he was taking, he would have enough for his Associate’s, then getting his Bachelor’s would take just another two more. He’d always had a bug up his butt about graduating early. He always wanted to have his life figured out early so that he could just enjoy it. He was a big guy, both wide and tall, and had a natural athletic build.
The three of them were always more than happy to take a weekend to make movies together. Their movies were always violent, but it was so easy to get away with making action movies and horror movies in their little small town of Anza. Just a few miles drive, they were far away from anyone who would call the police for hearing screaming and cries of bloody murder. They could dress each other up in bloody bandages, run over dummies with cars and make a much cheaper version of the kind of Hollywood bloodlust fantasies they loved watching. None of them wanted to live in Anza forever, but they enjoyed it for what it was while it lasted. They had a freedom now they would never have again, and they knew it.
Brad readied himself with the bag of blood. The thing was the size of a pillow and weighed as much as a small dog. It was a five-gallon freezer bag filled to the brim with corn syrup and red food coloring, then taped down so its contents were now under pressure and ready to burst.
Kevin put the 4Runner in drive and then stepped on the gas. Before long, he floored it and began to pick up speed, the speedometer needling higher and higher, now nearly at around 45 MPH.
Chito gazed at the black and white world through the viewfinder, the little red [REC] icon in the lower corner blinking. “How ya doin’, Kevin?” Chito mimicked the vocalizations of an annoyingly chipper early morning TV show host interviewing a celebrity.
“Dude!” Kevin responded. “The road, the road! Film the road! If you miss this shot, Brad will murder you man!”
“Oops, sorry!” He snapped the camera back toward the middle of the windshield.
The speedometer now rested its needle at 55 MPH. A dust trail kicked up behind Kevin. He gripped the steering wheel tight, feeling the violent vibration underneath his hands as he sailed over the washboard in the road.
What happened next happened in the blink of an eye: Kevin floored it past Brad, and Brad tossed the bag of blood into the windshield and hoped for the best. They only brought the one bag, so getting it right on the first take was critical. The bag did, indeed, connect, right as planned, however the speed of the truck, coupled with the weight of the bag, caused the bag of fake blood to tear through the windshield. The bag connected with Chito–and the camcorder–and exploded. Five gallons’ worth of corn syrup and food coloring were suddenly everywhere. The inside of the windshield. All over the dashboard. The seats. The roof. The floorboards. Kevin and Chito’s clothes and hair. All settling in, soaking in, and creating a caked-in mess. Glass was strewn about. The entire vehicle looked exactly like what they had set out to replicate in the first place: A murder scene.
“Fuck,” Kevin said, softly at first, then raising his voice louder and louder as the reality of the situation began to set in–that his beloved truck’s interior was smashed to smithereens and covered in homemade fake blood. “Oh, man, no. Noooo. Fuuuuuuck! FUUUUCK! MOTHERFUCKER, FUCK! God-fucking-dammit, FUCK!”
Chito said nothing at all. He didn’t even flinch when the bag hit him directly in the camera and exploded. He thought maybe he was in shock.
Kevin continued shouting, “Son of a bit–” when Chito finally turned the camcorder off.
Brad saw the car on the side of the road, and heard the muffled yelling from inside, but had no idea what was going on. He walked toward it, then picked up the pace and began running as soon as he heard the repeated “fucks” emanating from inside. He reached the vehicle and swung around on Chito’s side and saw the blood and had assumed the worst. He thought Chito was dead.
“Oh, my god, I fucking killed him!”
“He’s not dead, you just destroyed my truck, you asshole!” Kevin shot back.
“I’m okay, I just can’t hear that good,” Chito confirmed.
The relief Brad felt nearly literally dropped him to his knees.
“This is great, you know? Just fucking great! What the hell am I going to do now?
“I don’t know,” Brad scanned the truck. A literal puddle of fake blood was pooled into Chito’s lap. There was shattered glass floating around in it. “This is bad. This is really bad.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think. Shit.”
“This is so fucked, dude. I don’t know what the hell we’re gonna do now!”
Brad thought for a bit in total silence. He gazed down at the ground as the thoughts began to formulate in his head until a lightbulb might as well have appeared with a “DING!” above his head.
“What we’re going to do is this: We’re going to drive this to your house, but we’re not going to take any of the major roads. We just stick to dirt roads. It’ll take longer, but we won’t see any cops.”
“We’ll still have to take the highway.”
“Only for a minute. Literally. If we’re going sixty, it’s about a mile, so it’ll be like a minute. We’re on the paved road. We’ll be fine. We’ll go right after the Circle K–”
“And take Mitchell Road to my house.”
“Right. And then me and Chito will throw down on the repairs for the windshield. If we go three ways–”
“Three ways? Three ways? Why do I have to pay anything?”
“Because we’re all at fault here. We’re all equally stupid, man. It was my idea but we’re all making this together. It was a group fuck-up. We’ll pay for it together and splitting it three ways won’t cost much. I have some money saved up–it was supposed to be for a new camera, but this is more important.”
“What about this? What about all this–this–this blood that’s everywhere?”
“I think my dad has a carpet shampooer or something but… Jesus Christ. It doesn’t look good, man. Like, I think this is just going to be a part of the truck now.”
“Fuck. This sucks.”
“I know,” Brad felt bad, then realized that this whole time, Chito was just staring outside the windshield, not saying a word. “Dude, Chito, are you okay?”
“Ah, yeah, man,” Chito replied, pointing toward one of his ears. “I just can’t hear too good, you know? The whole time you two were yelling, I had a hard time keeping up, so I just zoned out. The bag went off right next to my head.”
“Man. I’m sorry, buddy. I’m really sorry.”
“Well, do we get out of here?”
“Shit,” Kevin said, then started the truck back up. “I guess so.”
WOW! What a beginning, huh?! What happens from here? Is Kevin’s 4Runner okay? Where are the freaking werewolves? Questions! You have them! They will all be answered by reading the book.