eSpec Books interviews Michael A. Black, contributor to the anthology Horns and Halos edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.
eSB: Please tell us a little something of your story.
MAB: I’ve always been fascinated by the similarities between disparate cultures, and there are a lot those between Christianity and Native American mythology. American Indians have more of an affinity with nature and tend to see things along an interrelated continuum. My late friend, David Walks-as-Bear, used to tell me how the various animals and plants were all signs and prognosticators of various conditions and situations to come. He was one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known. I tried to include some of that sense of wisdom and Indian mysticism in my story, “Seven Ravens.”
eSB: Angels and Devils are a common theme in fiction. How did you make yours stand out? How much of a challenge was it?
MAB: The challenge for me is always to try and write a story that will engage and entertain the reader. I try to do this every time out. Fashioning a story around a certain theme is sometimes difficult, but I tried to use it as a starting point. The next step is figuring out the plot and putting in some interesting characters.
eSB: Is your story based on a particular lore or legend, or did you take the broad concept and run with it?
MAB: I’ve been writing a lot about Native American culture lately because I’ve been doing so many westerns. When the opportunity to write a horror story involving angels and devils came up, I had a vast amount of material to look at regarding Indian folklore. I chose one particular legend about a terrible monster that was based in tribal lore from the Ojibwa and other tribes that were prevalent in the Midwest. Like all legends, each retelling enhances it a little, so my version included some extrapolation.
eSB: Is your story set in an existing universe or fresh and new for this collection?
MAB: My story is set in our universe during present times. Naturally, the subject matter dictates that it tiptoes along the thin tightrope between literary reality and the universe of the unknown.
eSB: Are your characters here ones that you plan to revisit?
MAB: Well, I hadn’t planned on revisiting them, but if the opportunity arises, I’d be glad to bring them and the monster back for round two.
eSB: Is this your first time writing for a themed anthology, or have you done so before? What draws you to such projects?
MAB: This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been in numerous themed anthologies. What appeals to me about doing them is my goal to be published in as many different genres as possible. I’ve always believed that each genre offers a unique opportunity to reach different readers, and, hopefully, they’ll look up some of my other work if they like this one. Regardless, I’ve always believed that good writing is good writing, regardless of the type or genre, so I give it my best each time out.
eSB: What devilish thing have you done as an author?
MAB: I’m usually pretty well behaved during my author appearances, although I do try to be entertaining. I once held a board in front of me and broke it with a karate blow, if that counts. Another time I sang a song as part of a reading. I’m sure some people in the audience thought that the devil made me do it.
eSB: What angelic thing have you done as an author?
MAB: I’ve donated several stories to anthologies where the proceeds go to charity or worthy organizations. Like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, for one. One police procedural story I wrote for an anthology donated all the proceeds to the National Police Memorial in Washington DC. I have two friends whose names are on that wall due to being killed in the line of duty. So I’m sure there are two angels looking down on that one.
eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your books?
MAB: I was a featured speaker at an out of state conference once in Colorado. I arrived and saw that my books weren’t there. I contacted the book seller, who assured me he’d have them there, and he said they were on the way. I made the best of it, doing my panels and speaking engagement. I even won second place in this extensive mystery trivia contest, narrowly losing to a pair of librarians. Well, needless to say, after drumming up all that interest, my books never arrived. I flew back home to Chicago only to find an email from the book seller saying my books had arrived and asking if I wished to purchase any before he sent the returns back.
eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?
MAB: I’m an animal lover, but this is common knowledge to anyone who knows me personally. One of the most dangerous calls I had when I was on the police department was rescuing a kitten from a tree. Well, it was more like a full grown cat. The day before it had been chased pretty high up a huge tree by some animal, and the little girl and her mother were down at the base crying. A retired fireman lived in the area and brought over a ladder and extended it upward. As soon as I arrived, he said, “I was going to try to climb up there, but since you’re here…” I didn’t mention to him that it seemed more Firemanish that Police-like to be climbing a ladder, but I ventured up anyway. The cat was originally about thirty feet up in the crux of this tall maple, but as the ladder was placed against the trunk, the animal scampered up to the next crux, which was about forty-five feet above the ground. I slowly ascended the ladder, hoping that the cat would somehow know I was rescuing it and not venture higher. Did I mention that I never was fond of heights? Well, I made it up to the top of the ladder and reached out, trying to make soft mewing sounds. The cat hissed a bit, but I grabbed it by the scruff to prevent it from moving and held it against my chest. It immediately dug all twenty claws into the material, and I managed a slow descent. When I got to the bottom the little girl was ecstatic to get her pet back. Before handing the cat back to its owner, I admonished the animal that it had eight lives left, and to use them wisely. I also advised the mother to try keeping the kitty inside so I wouldn’t have to climb any more ladders. I then looked up at just how high I’d climbed and realized it must have been close to sixty feet. Of course, the height seems to taller every time I tell this tale, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I used to get called any time there was a call involving an unusual animal. I rescued countless raccoons trapped in dumpsters, an opossum for a lady’s bathroom one night, brought a red-tailed hawk to a bird sanctuary, and even relocated a stray deer that had become trapped in an auto junk yard. One time when I was working on the police department one of my guys called me and said he had a “situation.” Apparently there was a very large snake crawling about in the parking lot of a strip mall near a liquor store. My guy said it was no ordinary snake and had to be someone’s pet. I went over as saw the reptile was indeed pretty long and unusual. It wasn’t enormous, but it was about four feet in length. Snakes are for the most part non-aggressive, but this one was surrounded by a crowd and a bit agitated. I instructed one of my guys to get a large paper bag from the liquor store, and then I grabbed the snake by the tail and held it at arm’s length until he returned. I then tried to place the snake into the bag, but that proved harder than it looked. Finally, I had two officers hold the bag open with their batons and while I guided the creature into the bag. After the critter was secured, it calmed down a bit and I was able to call a herpetologist to take charge of the snake.
eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?
MAB: Well, I’m currently working on a new series involving modern-day bounty hunters called the Trackdown series. The protagonist is an ex-army ranger who served time for a war crime he didn’t commit. Now he’s out to try and clear his name. It should be coming out in October 2020 if all goes as planned. In the meantime, I’m writing the Gunslinger western series under the name AW Hart, who’s a bestselling author. My latest two in that series are Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, and Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost. The latter has a mystery element to it so I’m particularly proud of that one. I also do the Executioner series under the name Don Pendleton. My latest one in that series is Cold Fury, which takes place in Alaska and Canada.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
MAB: As I said, the Trackdown series is the next one coming out under my own name. Each title will have Trackdown as the header, then a subsequent title. For instance, the first two books in the series are slated to be Trackdown: Devil’s Dance, and Trackdown: Devil’s Fancy. I’m really excited about this one.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
MAB: My website was hijacked by pirates (no kidding) but I’ve got an author’s page on Amazon, and my bio and books are listed on Crossroadpress.com and Wolfpack Publishing.