BRINGING A SIREN TO LIFE
From a Melodic Obsession to a Famous Monster!
By John Everson
Originally Published on the Dorchester Publications blog, Spring 2011
Music is one of the most important things in my life. It always has been. I really don't do anything without listening to music, if I can help it. I listen to my iPod to cut the grass, or when on a plane, or as I fall asleep in hotel rooms. It's always playing in my home office, in my car, in my basement... I choose the places where I go after work to write my novels based in part on whether they have a good soundsystem and band/DJ. Music is the love of my life.
I was playing the organ and piano when I was five, and the first things I wrote were songs, not stories; I did the usual stints in forgettable garage bands, and spent 20 years as a music critic; I even recorded music that was used for the background of a comic "serial killers in love" play and for a horror fiction anthology on CD-ROM.
It was somewhat inevitable that eventually I would write a novel that had a heavy anchor in song. Siren is that novel. My first three books—Covenant, Sacrifice and The 13th—all dealt with supernatural, erotic horror. Demonic obsessions, possessions, ritual sacrifices and ceremonies color many of the chapters of those books a deep red. When I sat down to think of what I wanted to work on for my fourth book, I quickly came up with some more demon-based ides... I love writing in that realm.
But I said no.
Instead, I decided to look harder for something a bit different to work on. Something a little deeper. I wanted to spar with a deadly creature that was a little more real than a demon. And perhaps, a little more human, with all the inherent shades of grey that go with the flesh. I didn't want to work with the usual horror tropes of vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. I wanted something a little more flexible; a monster that had been done, but not to exhaustion. Then one of the oldest "dark tales" occurred to me—the song of the Siren. A song that has lured men for centuries to their deaths.
And so was born Ligeia, a woman frequently found nude in the depths of night, singing in an amazingly alluring cadence on the rocky finger that extends out into the ocean from the shores of Delilah, California. She is a modern Siren, firmly based in the "new world." But for all our modern contrivances, her song still can bring a man to the brink of ruin. For the small press collectors edition of the book, artist Travis Anthony Soumis used one of the models who appears on the hardcover collector's edition of The 13th to create a chillingly evocative portrait. It's a great green-tinged counterpoint to the equally seductive blue-based Leisure cover.
Siren is not simply the story of Ligeia. It is also the story of Evan, an aquaphobe who ironically, lives near the ocean. Evan's backstory is that he was unable to save his son from drowning due to his phobia of the water, and at the start of the novel he is essentially "the walking dead", just going through the motions of life while being eaten alive from the guilt of watching his son die. I, by the way, am not an aquaphobe—I love the water (in fact, I'm writing this while on vacation at a beach!)—but since I finished my first two novels, I became a parent. And one of the most horrible feelings that I think every parent has is the fear that you can't protect your child from the bad things in the world. That's a "paralysis" of sorts along the same lines as Evan's aquaphobia. You simply can't save your children from everything they are likely to face in their lives. That's one of the most frightening feelings you can have, I think.
Evan is enticed by the lure of Ligeia's song and rampant sexuality to put the little that is left in his life—his relationship with his wife—at risk. And when he finally comes to his senses and decides to reclaim that life, well, think of it this way...a woman scorned is bad. A Siren scorned is mythologically bad.
Siren allowed me to tap into one of my deepest fears—the fear of not being able to save my child—while at the same time dealing with one of my long-favored themes—the dangers of obsession. And it let me bring to the background of all of that a rich tapestry of dangerously seductive song. Where my last novel, The 13th allowed me to give homage to the '70s grindhouse and euro-sleaze horror cinema that I love, Siren allowed me to recognize my real muse, Music, and give her a dangerously seductive form.
Music as Muse:
For those who always wonder about an author's process, I had a very specific writing routine for this book. Once a week, I worked at my usual neighborhood bar after work to write for 3-4 hours (I can get far more done there without distraction than I can at home). But during the rest of the week, I got up early in the morning, before leaving for work, to write for an hour or so a day. Because of the ethereal, otherworldly allure of Ligeia, I wanted to play very specific music as I wrote in my home office that would evoke those qualities and thus help inspire my own creative landscape. And so for weeks, every morning before work when I sat down at dawn to write, I put on Cocteau Twins music on my computer. To me, there has never been a vocalist quite like the Twins' Elisabeth Fraser. Her vocals soar and dip and tantalize. She's like listening to an angel; chillingly evocative with an emotion that is hard to describe, and yet always moving. Most of the time the words she sings are incomprehensible (despite being in English), but nevertheless, the feeling rings through, crystalline pure. She communicates in the most basic form—with the tremors of vibrato and longing. Joe Kieran, my protagonist in Covenant listens to Fraser as he drives around the cliff outside of Terrell, so I've "nodded" at the power of the Twins before.
For Siren, rather than simply giving The Cocteau Twins a "call out" in the text of the novel, I actually used their music to help me create the mood I wanted to build as I wrote. They provided the soundtrack of Siren, and I wish that every reader could listen to The Moon and The Melodies or Treasureor Heaven or Las Vegas as they read the novel because that's the "drug" the words were written with. There's no way to capture the sound with words. But in passages of Siren, I did try.
I hope you'll hear a faint but seductive note or two as you read the book.
Launching the Novel:
Siren was written over the spring and summer of 2009, and when it was finished, I sent the manuscript to Peter Schwotzer, the book review editor of the new Famous Monsters of Filmland to take a look at. He had given The 13th a great review and he absolutely loved Siren. He did a "preview review" and wrote "I must say this is one hell of a story and Ligeia is one hell of a creature. The best part being, she knows who and what she is and revels in it. She doesn’t deny her powers, insatiable desires and hunger for human flesh. John's Ligeia is the best monster to come along since Mary SanGiovanni's Hollower. John Everson is an original voice and rising star in horror fiction today. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don't give his books a try. Siren should be at the top of your must read list and I highly recommend it."
Famous Monsters was behind the book. And so when the magazine decided to stage Famous Monsters Con in Indianapolis in July 2010, the same month the book was being released, well... it was a no-brainer for me try to collaborate with them. I ended up being an Author Guest at the con (I think the only one!) and Siren officially debuted there on July 9, 2010, more than two weeks before it got into stores.
What does debut mean? Well, it means I had a big table with lots of books, with a big sign for Siren, and I hung out there for three days and talked to horror fans. Is there a better way to spend the weekend? I don't think so! I mean, they even sold beer in the hallway. Beer + books = bliss! I think one of the more amusing moments of the weekend was when I sold copies of three of my books to a woman I'd never met before, but who happens to live and work about four blocks away from where I work—Four hours away from where the convention was!
Over the weekend I was in the company of a multitude of film stars, with actors like Billy Drago and directors like Mick Garris... and cast reunions from films like The Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead, The Lost Boys and more. And Terrance Zdunich, the graverobber from Repo: The Genetic Opera as on hand, which generated plenty of excitement, especially among those who acted out part of the movie when it was shown at a midnight showing at the con. I didn't really get to talk to many of them, since I was cloistered at my own guest table... but it was exciting to be in the same place with so many icons of the horror genre. And I even got to do a live radio interview with the guys at Eerie Radio, who were on hand broadcasting from the lobby of the con all weekend long.
I've already heard from a bunch of the fans that I met at Famous Monsters who've since read the book, and they've enjoyed the twisted tale of Ligeia and Evan, as I hoped they would.
I hope you will too.
Just a word of advice. Remember when you're swimming in a remote location, to always use the buddy system. And if you should happen to hear a woman singing in a beautiful, ethereal tone somewhere just a little ways down the beach...don't go looking for her.
Just get out of the water.