Revelations: A. R. Morlan’s Ewerton Cycle

Banner for Revelations, the column written by Kevin Lucia for Cemetery Dance

Around 2012, after a life-changing night with F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone and Stuart David Schiff, I began searching used bookstores far and wide for seminal works of horror I’d missed out on. I came to the horror genre late — both as a reader and a writer — so all I knew of horror was Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub. There’s nothing wrong with these writers, of course. But after that night, my head spun with the names of the dozens of writers I’d never heard of before. I decided that to be the kind of writer I aspired to be, I needed to widen my reading palate.

Hence, the reason for this column. A recounting of all the writers I’ve discovered over the years, and the writers I keep discovering.

This past spring, we vacationed with family in Michigan, and I re-visited one of the very first used bookstores where I found books by the masters of the genre, Jellybeans Used Books and Music. There, I bought my very first Charles L. Grant, Al Sarrantonio, and Ramsey Campbell novels. Every time we visit Michigan, I always make sure to visit Jellybeans to search their stacks, always on the hunt for more.

cover of Dark Journey by A.R. MorlanThis year, I found a nice assortment of works, mostly by authors I’ve grown familiar with. However, I did grab one book by an author I’d never heard of before, Dark Journey, simply because it sported one of those gloriously bombastic eighties horror covers, with a fanged monster looming over a carnival at night. I gave no more thought to it than that, however. Just a shot in the dark, that’s all.

Ironically enough, Dark Journey turned out to be the perfect example of why this column exists. Within minutes of posting my bookstore finds online, I started getting comments on what a wonderful writer A. R. Morlan had been, and speculations of what her career could’ve been like if it hadn’t been for the tragic circumstances of her life. Intrigued, I searched the internet for more information, and was shocked at what I found.

I’m not going to relate any of that here, however. The details behind A. R. Morlan’s eccentric, enigmatic, and definitely tragic life are easy enough to find online. What shocked me even more was Dark Journey itself. Within pages I was hooked, and when done, I realized I’d just finished one of the greatest small-town horror novels I’d ever read…almost like Salem’s Lot by way of Peter Straub. A multi-layered, multi-generational story of epic proportions. And here I’d pulled it off the shelf at Jellybeans on a whim. Just like so many books the first time I visited their store ten years ago. And even better?

A. R. Morlan had created her own mythical haunted town, in which she’d set another novel, and wrote over thirty short stories in. Once more, I’d discovered another horror author I’d never heard of, and even more: one who had slipped through the cracks almost completely.


I said I wasn’t going to mention the specifics of the tragic and difficult aspects of A. R. Morlan’s life, and I’m not. However, I can sum it up by saying it was very apparent she struggled in maintaining and safe-guarding her more important relationships, and her childhood relationships were fraught with tension and hardship, also. Knowing all this turns her fiction into literal Rorschach Ink-blots of her life.  Her creation of Ewerton, Ohio, and its damned inhabitants ends up being a master-class in taking real-life traumas and converting them to fiction. However, she was a master storyteller and craftsman, so none of her work comes off as being preachy in this aspect. You only see the emotional echoes of her scars in the stories she wrote after you’ve read a bit about her background.

As a result, Morlan’s fictional town of Ewerton reads like a hybrid of Ray Bradbury’s Green Town, Charles L. Grant’s Oxrun Station, Gary A. Braunbeck’s Cedar Hill, and even Stephen King’s Castle Rock. This is especially evident in her massive and impressively diverse collection of short stories set in Ewerton, Ewerton Death Trip. 

The collection offers touches of a very Bradbury-esque magical realism (“From the Far Away Nearby,” “The Cat With the Tulip Face,” and “The German Lady”), early Stephen King pulpy horror, (“When the Bad Things Come,” “Street Coffins,” “Hunger”), the working-class despair which throbs in Braunbeck’s Cedar Hill stories (“Garbage Day in Ewerton,” “Osaka’s Children,” “Simon Says”), and the free-floating eeriness of Grant’s Oxrun Station (“Four Days,” “The Holiday House,” “Reedeem My Soul From the Power of the Grave”). 

cover of Deathtrip by A.R. MorlanIt’s clear that short fiction was A. R. Morlan’s specialty, because Ewerton Death Trip is only her collection of Ewerton short stories. Over the course of her career, she wrote enough short stories to fill eight other short story collections containing tales ranging from horror, folklore, science fiction, humor, and erotica.

Dark Journey is easily her best work, a multi-layered, multi-generational tale of small town horror which evokes shades of Stephen King, Charles Grant, and Gary A. Braunbeck. It’s also a wonderfully non-linear story written in a lush narrative which is reminiscent of some of Peter Straub’s best work. It’s also very much like Straub’s If You Could See Me Now, with its themes of evil echoing down through the generations, especially evil born of cruelty and hatred.

Trying to describe this novel’s twists and turns won’t do it justice, but here’s a quick glance: the core of the story focuses on two friends (who are bound closer than they realize) Palmer Nemmitz and Winston Palmer, (there’s a reason their names are so similar) and their respective winding journeys to try and find themselves. Palmer’s begins when he flees an abusive father and family and travels down south to join a traveling carnival. He tries to be a good man and fails, and ends up returning to Ewerton bitter and cynical, his emotions clutched tightly in his fast. 

Winston — after his flings with just about every young woman in Ewerton — enlists in the war effort to try and make his mark on the world. He ends up feeding his basest desires and is dishonorably discharged. He returns home cloaked in lies, is hailed the town “hero” for his “brave service,” and lives out the rest of his life teaching English at Ewerton High, offering “extra credit courses” to his prettiest female students, living a hollow life of shallow artifice as the town lech. Except he’s not as simple as the “town pervert,” because he’s driven by a deep self-loathing for himself.

Then there’s Mauve. A beautiful woman with a dark secret; a secret which found its birth in Ewerton back in the thirties, a secret which not only finds its way to both Winston and Palmer, but also to Palmer’s nephew Brent, whose wife — hometown girl Zoe — bears a haunting resemblance to Mauve.

The novel begins with Winston and Palmer retired and spending most their time sitting on park benches and acting every inch the stereotypical cantankerous old men. It moves back and forth between their childhood, their young adulthoods, and the present. A story like this honestly shouldn’t work (and for many folks, it probably won’t). It has so many moving parts and plot threads, and yet somehow (again, very reminiscent of Peter Straub), Morlan is able to weave everything together in a delightful tale about the repercussions of evil and cruelty.

Along the way, she paints this small mid-western town with the same melancholic shades King uses in his depictions of rural Maine. She depicts the kindness which can exist in a small town, along with the narrow-minded cruelty of a claustrophobic community which knows its own so well because it lives to eat its own in little snapping bites every single day.

cover of The Amulet by A.R. MorlanMorlan’s other Ewerton novel, The Amulet, is much more of a standard horror novel, though still featuring the motif of generational evil — both supernatural and purely human. This is a motif which runs strong in her work, and when you’ve looked up the sparse bits of her personal life, it makes sense why. In any case, in The Amulet, an ancient artifact which bestows eternal life and other abominable powers, wreaks havoc in the town of Ewerton. Though more of a typical (but very well-written) horror novel, The Amulet also offers startlingly vivid portrayals of the social castes which often exist in small towns, and how some people end up living on the margins of life for no other reason than who they are. Again, this powerful characterization seems highly biographical, and I dare say was more than likely culled from Morlan’s personal experiences.

Interestingly enough, Morlan’s two novels are also very much like King’s work in that she roots them very vividly in the nineties, deftly referencing nineties pop culture minutia which I’d long ago forgotten about, even as a child of the eighties and nineties myself. 

Sadly, she didn’t write any more Ewerton stories. Even so, her work deserves to be read, deserves a much larger place in horror history than which it currently holds. I can honestly say I hold up Dark Journey alongside some of the best small town horror novels ever written, and Morlan is just as much a insightful regional writer as Stephen King himself.

A. R. Morlan’s Ewerton Stories:

Kevin Lucia is the Trade Paperback/Ebook Editor for Cemetery Dance Publications. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, most recently with Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Bentley Little, Peter Straub and Robert McCammon. His first short story collection, Things Slip Through, was published November 2013, followed by Devourer of Souls in June 2014, Through A Mirror, Darkly, June 2015, and and his second short story collection, Things You Need, September 2018. His novella Mystery Road was published by Cemetery Dance in May 2020. For three free ebooks, sign up for his monthly newsletter at

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