What Screams May Come: Blood Covenant by Alan Baxter

banner What Screams May Come by Rick Hipson

Blood Covenant by Alan Baxter
Cemetery Dance, May 2024

The Synopsis

cover of Blood CovenantWhat should have been a breeze of a bank heist for James Glenn and his crew goes violently wrong, forcing them to flee, blood-stained and angry. They stumble onto a remote lodge that doesn’t open for another month — a perfect place to lie low until the heat’s off.

Except it’s occupied.

The Moore family, just arrived to prepare for the season, are taken hostage by the criminals, but not without bloodshed. And when blood gets spilled, something ancient notices. Something malevolent. Something ravenous.

Their only hope is the youngest Moore, teenager Rueben, outside and unseen when James and his gang arrive. It’s up to Rueben to get help and save his family, but the influence of the ancient evil is taking a toll on him as well…

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: Alan, I love it when a tale with a supernatural menace at its core first draws us in with human characters. When the seed for this book first germinated in your mind, was it the supernatural element or the botched bank robbery and very human desperation which first begged to become your next story?

ALAN  BAXTER: For me, a novel is usually a combination of several ideas. The bank robbery was the start of a short story that didn’t really come together, so I kept it in mind. The supernatural element of the hotel and the Moore family was another idea I wanted to explore. When I realized I could use both those elements and have the robbers against the Moores and both groups against the supernatural thing, that’s when the book came together.

What for you is intriguing, is most fun and interesting, about blending human nature with the supernatural?

There are no limits. Anything goes when you blend the supernatural and fantasy into real life, so you get to explore unlimited depths.

Are there any aspects of the storytelling process of blending the real with the unreal that you tend to find most challenging? 

Not really. I think the most important thing is to get the real stuff as accurate and authentic as possible. If readers feel that you’re telling a real story well they’ll come along for the ride when things get weird.

I think it’s fair to say true crime is often far worse than what can be found in even the most extreme horror stories. Can you tell us about some of the true crime authors or subjects that have resonated most with you, perhaps ones which have influenced your own storytelling the most?

Honestly, I tend to a read a lot more crime fiction than true crime, but I am fascinated by both. It’s true that real life is often far more disturbing than anything we horror writers pen. The crossover is often the most confrontational though. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door springs to mind, for example. I take inspiration from all of it.

Of all the crimes you could have had to kick off the terror to come in Blood Covenant, why a bank robbery?

It’s an indicator of the socio-economic situation that’s driven James and his gang to be the way they are. There’s a lot of crime they could engage in, and quite a bit is alluded to at various points in the story. But a bank robbery is the ultimate heist. The score that will lift them into a place of financial stability and remove the need for further crime. At least, that’s James’s underlying thinking, but as the book reveals, there’s more going on.

Did you do much research regarding bank robberies for this one? Maybe not from a method writing approach, but as far as making the crime as believable as possible by studying real cases from the relative safety of your workstation?

I did read up a little bit, but mainly I drew inspiration from the news and cases I remember from the past.

Let’s talk about that cover for a moment, shall we? Another gorgeous cover art from the always breathtaking Francois Vaillancourt. Was there much collaborating between you and Francois for this, or did he just go ahead and nail it?

Francois is a legend. He did an amazing job with Sallow Bend and I’m so glad he’s back for Blood Covenant. He always collaborates closely with myself and Cemetery Dance. He gives us a few sketches of ideas, we pick the one we like best and he nails it, every time.

Do you find writing with a true crime element grants you the bonus of promoting it to an even larger audience base, or do you tend to treat each book launch about the same?

I wish that were true, but generally I don’t see my stuff really crop up with crime readers. I’m not sure if the horror element maybe puts them off. Perhaps it’s on me to promote more into the crime spaces. Hopefully each new book raises my profile a little more and I’ll slowly reach more crime and horror readers.

Speaking of book launches, Alan, considering the respectable back log of books you’ve published over the years, do you tend to follow a similar process for each new book you publish? Any best practice tips for authors looking to make their own book launches as successful as possible?

photo of author Alan Baxter
Alan Baxter

I do try to push as hard as possible online every time a book comes out and take every opportunity to promote it. The tyranny of distance is at play –– Australia is a great place to live, but it’s a long way from anywhere else, so actual launches in the real world are hard. But I do try to get to as many events as possible as well, be it around launch or afterwards. I need to get out of Australia more often, but that’s a really expensive exercise. Otherwise, being heavily online helps, but not just yelling about your book. Be present and authentic, talk about lots of stuff including other people’s books you enjoy, and that gives you the opportunity to talk about your book as well without it being the only thing you’re there for.

When it comes to representing yourself not just as a horror novelist worth keeping an eye out for, but also as an Australian author, do you feel your environment lends itself to certain styles or sensibilities that differentiates you from writers in other regions of the world? Obviously, The Roo is a clear representation of your Aussie roots, but I wonder if there are other, more subtle signposts that let us know we’re in Aussie horror territory.

Oh, I absolutely embrace Australia as a source of great horror inspiration. My novella collections The Gulp and The Fall are unashamedly Australian small-town horror and lots of my short stories are set here. My Alex Caine series of novels has an Australian protagonist, as does Devouring Dark even though that’s a supernatural crime novel set in London. It’s important to me to represent Australia in my fiction. My latest novel (currently with agent) is another one set in small-town Australia, in the same fictional Aussie geography as The Gulp and The Fall. That’s a real coming-of-age story that leans into not only Australia itself, but my own slice of Aussie small-town horror.

Your bio has you pegged as a whiskey-soaked swear monkey and a martial artist. I find it fascinating that your martial arts and your writing life are so related that you wrote a book about the relationship between the two with your chapbook, The Martial Art of Writing. Can you share a bit of wisdom about how your martial arts training continues to inform your writing life to this day? 

That chapbook contains a variety of essays and articles covering all aspects of writing, in fact. But martial arts and writing are both arts, they’re both disciplines that require dedication and practice and patience. The parallels between the two are legion. In the same way that you’re always a martial artist whether you’re actually practicing it at any given moment because it informs everything about your life, so too are you a writer even when you’re not actually writing. Existing as a writer means always thinking like one. These two things absolutely shape the way I live and interact with the world.

For guys like yourself and fellow martial arts practitioner and author, Joe R. Lansdale, writing realistic fight scenes probably comes quite easily. Clearly enough non-fighters get it wrong enough that you felt compelled to write a sort of guidebook on the subject called Write the Fight Right. What do most writers get wrong when incorporating fight scenes into their stories, and what are a key point or two they ought to bear in mind in order to get the fight right in their writing?

People without fighting experience almost always write a fight scene as a kind of transcription of a movie fight. But movies are two-dimensional and turn-based. In writing we get to be inside the character’s head, we can experience the fight from the inside with all its visceral emotion and senses other than just sight and sound. People need to understand that and write more from that perspective. Also, fights need to be the fastest, most intense moments in a story, so keep it short and sharp. No long sentences, no detailed descriptions, no lengthy monologues. Make it punchy!

While you’ve done great work on your own and have amassed some fantastic awards and accolades for your solo work, you’ve also got several published novels with your constant collaborator, David Wood. When story ideas present themselves to you, how do you determine if it’s one you plan to take on yourself, or one in which you bring in your pal David to write it with you?

Dave and I work on two series –– The Sam Aston Investigations are monster thrillers, and The Jake Crowley Adventures are occult action/adventure stories. So if we’re working together it’ll be on those series. Otherwise, Dave’s solo stuff is more action adventure, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage kind of stuff, and mine is more horror, dark fantasy and crime. We bring our two styles together on the two series we collaborate on.

Back to your most recent publication, Blood Covenant, you leave it up to an unlikely teenager to carry the weight of saving his family upon his shoulders, and against insurmountable, evil odds. If feels like an unfair spot to throw one of your characters into, but why do you think it works so well as well as creating added tension to the overall tale? Was it always going to be up to this character to be so up against it, or did this story aspect inform you as you went along?

Well, the best stories are when you put your characters through hell, right? This aspect of the story was always going to be a kind of coming-of-age tale based around Rueben. And something I explore with it is how rubbish kids can be sometimes. They’re just kids, after all, it’s entirely reasonable for them to not be able to carry huge, adult weight, and they shouldn’t have to. If anything, Blood Covenant is a book about family and that’s where strength lies for everyone in the story.

In the pantheon of your writing so far, what do you feel Blood Covenant provides to your overall legacy as a writer, and to the overall expectations your constant readers have for your work?

More than anything, I hope it provides another exciting time. First and foremost I write to tell a compelling story, for people to disconnect from real life for a while and be transported by a good yarn. Like I mentioned before, this one is definitely about family, and the lengths people will go to for their loved ones. All my books do tend to have an underlying theme, but I often don’t realize what that is until I’ve written them!

And finally, what are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I’ve just handed edits on a new book back to my agent (that’s the one I mentioned earlier). Hopefully that will be going out on submission soon. Since then I’ve written a new short story set in Tasmania for something I was invited to contribute to. Hopefully there’ll be more news about that before too long. And I posted another short story to my Patreon, as patrons there get exclusive fiction not available anywhere else. Next up I have a really tricky rewrite to do on a novel that my agent and I decided to change up –– it needs some significant reworking and I’ve been putting it off. But I think I have to face that next.

Thanks so much for letting me take the time to pick your brain, Alan. This is such a pleasure!

Thanks for having me.

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