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Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight novels–A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner. His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies. He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook. He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office. He is currently working on a sequel to Spinner. His goal as a YA author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world.
From as far back as I can remember I loved horror films and scary stories. Back in the day when I was a child, I got hooked on the old Universal horror flicks from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. My best friends were Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon . I watched these movies endlessly on the Saturday afternoon movie channels or on Creature Features. I had them memorized. No joke. I could recite complete scenes word for word, and perform the lines in the same accents as the actors. People like Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and even Maria Ouspenskaya (I could remember the spelling of her name before I was ten) were the celebrities I favored, not the rock stars of the day like my peers. I fell in love with the music scores, most of which were composed by German-born Hans J. Salter. I’d put a cassette recorder up to the TV speaker and record the films onto audiocassette so I could listen to them over and over again. Okay, I was a weird kid. LOL
I didn’t understand until much later in life that my love of these films and characters fed the sense of isolation I felt from everyone around me. I was a shy kid, yes. But more than that, I was born with a hearing loss that impaired my ability to understand with clarity what people around me were saying. There were no hearing aids at the time that could help me, and no one in the family or at school had hearing loss like me. Even my grandmother could hear better than me when she was ninety years old! So I was very much in a world of my own, a true outsider that no one around me could fully understand.
Horror films are otherworldly, about people outside the “normal” spectrum, often shy loners like me who didn’t fit in. I felt immense empathy for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, uprooted from his home, brought to a strange place, and put on display for people to gawk at. Frankenstein’s monster, especially as portrayed by Boris Karloff in the first three films, was incredibly sympathetic. He was misunderstood by everyone. All he wanted was love and acceptance (like all of us.) His ugliness frightened people so they rejected him. Those films inspired me to read the original book, and through that story I felt an even greater kinship with the monster. I wasn’t physically ugly like him, no, but I was “weird” in the eyes of my peers. I would give strange answers to questions, or respond oddly to a statement, or react incongruously to something another child did simply because I couldn’t hear correctly. But because I wore no hearing aids and the disability was invisible, even I would forget it was there and think I was just stupid or dumb for how I responded or acted in a given situation. I struggled in every group activity because the noise and chattering from other kids made it much harder for me to understand them clearly. And team sports? Let’s not even go there!
So horror was, for me, an escape into a world where even weird people have a place and a purpose in life. Horror films helped me manage my own fear when I’d be confronted with something new and scary. My favorite TV show as a child was “Dark Shadows,” a daily soap opera populated with outsiders like me. The main character was a vampire who didn’t want to be a vampire, just like I didn’t want to be hard of hearing. Barnabas Collins tried so many ways to “cure” his vampirism, but they all backfired on him. The message to me, a young boy, was that even as a vampire he could still be a good person, successful and well liked. And that meant maybe I could be, too. Those characters got me through middle school. They were my friends when I didn’t have any. They taught me lessons about life and death, love and fate. Good horror always does this while also stimulating our imagination and filling our hearts with dread.
In Spinner, I attempted to create this kind of horror tale, one that will engage all the emotions, not just fear. The teen characters are like me, outsiders with disabilities who don’t fit the “norm.” But they accept very quickly that something dangerous and otherworldly is happening to them and they use the skills they do have to solve the mystery and save lives. Spinner has lots of traditional horror “scare scenes,” but it also features action, excitement, sadness, the power of friendship and family, and the overriding need for all of us to find our place in the world. Horror helped one lonely boy find his way through life. Maybe, with Spinner, that boy can pay it forward to someone else.
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