The premise for The Summoning first came to me when I was about sixteen years old. I happened to grow up in a small country neighborhood that consisted of a row of about fourteen houses situated on one acre lots. This isolated row of houses was completely surrounded on all sides by pastures and fields. An irrigation canal across the road from my house supplied the precious water for the surrounding farmland.
Messing around in the canal was a popular pastime for all of us kids growing up in that neighborhood. Whether braving the canal's treacherous rapids in homemade rafts or constructing rickety forts in the trees that grew along its banks, the canal rarely failed to provide ample opportunity for adventure and entertainment.
Even in my teens, after having outgrown forts and rafts, the canal was still a cool place where a few good friends could just hang out and shoot the breeze while skipping rocks, or simply just watch the water flow by. We even made a rope swing that gave us the ability to swing from one bank to the other. We used to make a game of tossing a stick into the water upstream, then we would swing out over the water and snatch the stick at just the right moment as it flowed past.
My best friend and I spent a lot of time at that rope swing, snatching sticks out of the water as we discussed the highly pressing issues of the day: Who would win in a street fight between Hulk Hogan and Chuck Norris? Would you rather be eaten alive by a grizzly bear or a great white shark? What would be cooler, seeing a UFO or a sasquatch? We were really solving the world's problems, one at a time.
Sometimes—especially after the sun had gone down and the canal water had faded to a gurgling, black chasm—the conversations would turn to darker themes: What would you do if, suddenly, a dead body came floating down the canal? What if, all of a sudden, we could hear an old woman cackling maniacally out there in the field? It was while entertaining these kinds of nightmarish proposals that my mind happened upon an idea that sent prickles down my spine.
Out in the field, a couple of hundred yards away, stood four large, ancient trees. They are no longer there but I can still recall them to mind in vivid detail. Throughout my childhood those trees were always there, starkly visible against the skyline, watching—almost lurking—in the periphery. I don't know what kind of trees they were; probably cottonwoods. They were more dead than alive it seemed; I don't remember ever seeing leaves sprouting from those thick, crooked branches. The trees had lost most of their bark, leaving the smooth wood beneath exposed and bone-white. To me, these trees resembled giant, skeletal fingers, slender and sharp, thrusting out of the ground to claw at the sky.
Well, the hideous thought occurred to me: what if those trees were possessed by some kind of evil spirit? And suppose that spirit could reach out into the mind of someone susceptible or in tune to its influence. Maybe it knows your name and calls to you in the darkest hours of the night. It says, "Come to us ... come to us." I immediately conjured up an image of myself. There I am, staring out my bedroom window in the middle of the night, tormented, battling this voice that is somehow irresistible. It's calling me out to the dead trees, and at some point I know, deep down inside, that I'm eventually going to go.
I never indulged the dark fantasy beyond that, but the image of that adolescent boy staring out into the blackness of night and listening to the relentless, beckoning voice of an evil, possessed tree, always remained with me for some reason. So, decades later, when I determined to write my first novel, that image came to me once again, refusing to be ignored. I gave in to the need to find out for myself, once and for all. What happens to that boy? Does he give into the call of the demon and go to the tree? What does the demon want? Why a tree? Why him?
I began to type, having no idea, at the time, where the story would take me. I ended up pulling on some tightly woven threads of my own psyche that I never intended to. I untangled themes that surprised and at times even frightened me: darkness, murder, a demonic evil. And yet, at the same time I found myself constructing a tale about good people who stand up to evil, human struggles, and love's power to heal the deepest of wounds.
What started out as an intended fun ghost story evolved—seemingly out of my own control—into something much more than that. A great deal more of my own heart and soul ended up on the pages of this story than I had ever intended. The characters became real to me. To the point that I actually found myself really caring about what happened to each of them, and I'm sure they will always hold a special place in my heart.
I thank you for your interest and support. I sincerely hope that people will be able to glean just as much enjoyment out of reading this book, as I did from writing it.