Today we welcome Stephen Morris! If you like some history interwoven with your horror/occult thrillers, this is your kind of book!
Witchcraft! Ghosts! Vampires! Tarot cards!
An old crone is bound to a stake in the Old Town Square of Prague and consumed by flames in 1356, her vengeful words setting in motion a series of dark events that unfold across the centuries, culminating in the historic flood of August 2002 that threatens to destroy the city.
In the summer of 2002, two academics attending a conference at the university – a Jesuit priest and a beautiful Irish professor (who is also a voracious Irish vampire, known as the Dearg-due) – develop their own nefarious agendas. To access the enormous potential power to which the dead witch holds the key, they dupe a secretary into helping destroy the city by unravelling the protective magic built into the Charles Bridge itself that has defended the city since its construction. A small group of academics at that same university conference discover the threat and are forced by circumstances to practice the folk magic they have previously merely researched. Drawing on the power of the Tarot, always especially associated with Prague, they battle the Jesuit, the Dearg-due, the unwitting secretary and the forces of evil that threaten to destroy the city. The academics realize that once free, these forces will unleash a dark power that could undermine all of western civilization. The final confrontation occurs as the historic flood of Prague in 2002 is conjured to destroy the magical Charles Bridge which has protected the city for centuries.
The novel alternates chapters set in medieval Prague and contemporary Prague (summer 2002). The chapters set in 1356-1357 incorporate a number of local Prague folktales and legends. These 1356 events alert Nadezhda that something very wrong indeed is afoot in Prague. Together with an elderly rabbi from Prague’s famous Jewish Quarter, she sets out to avert the impending disaster.
How long have you been writing horror/thrillers and what drew you to the genre?
I have always been fascinated by black magic and the misuse of power – my first true love was the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz!” The bad guys – especially the supernatural bad guys – were always the most interesting characters and seemed to have the most fun. In high school, I toyed with the idea of writing an epic that followed a particular family of wicked people who would eventually produce the Antichrist but I have yet to write that book. Occult thrillers are now my favorite reading – I’m always looking for another great book or series or author to add to my Kindle!
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
I was reading a history of medieval monastic curses against the nobility who would attempt to encroach on monastic land or privileges and as I read one of the cursing prayers, I immediately saw a witch being burned using those same words to curse the mob who had brought her to the stake. I also visited and fell in love with Prague and discovered several Czech legends that could easily be seen as the result of some of those curses. As my friend Rob and I were standing on the Charles Bridge at sunset when spring evening, he said, “You know everything about medieval theology and witchcraft and Prague history and legends; you should do something with it!” In that moment, it all clicked and I knew immediately what the story of COME HELL OR HIGH WATER would be.
If you could erase one horror cliché, what would it be?
Do the good guys ALWAYS have to win?!?!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel about an Estonian werewolf who flees his homeland in 1890 to find someone who can free him from the wolf-magic that he has lost control of. He makes his way from Estonia through Latvia to Lithuania and Poland. He finally reaches Prague and hopes to find a “cunning man” or a “wise woman” to free him from the curse he has brought upon himself, but he only seems to find frauds and charlatans – poor Alexei!
Favorite horror movie and book?
It may sound cheesy but the 1970s made-for-tv movie CROWHAVEN FARM still gives me the shivers! I think Kate Griffin’s MIDNIGHT MAYOR series are the best occult thrillers available and her MAGICALS ANONYMOUS series are the best books with a slightly more light-hearted take on that same material.
Stephen has degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy. A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous academic writing has dealt primarily with Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life.
He is also the Chair of the CORE Executive of Inter-disciplinary.net and organizes annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, evil and wickedness, and related subjects. It was an I-D.net project that took him to Prague for the first time in 2001 and he immediately fell in love with the city! He has been back many, MANY times!
Stephen, a Seattle native, is now a long-time New York resident and currently lives in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot.
This occult thriller explores the legends of medieval and modern Prague. Magdalena, a bored administrative assistant in Prague, discovers the ghost of Fen’ka, an old woman burned alive as a witch in 1356, and agrees to help her pursue justice. Magdalena becomes more and more involved with the occult: She communicates with the spirit of Madame de Thebes, a fortuneteller murdered by the Nazis, and seeks out powerful demons to aid Fen’ka. Her story is interwoven with the novel’s strongest chapters, set in medieval Prague, which dramatize the effects of Fen’ka’s last dying curseon the city. Well-versed in 14th-century Prague, Morris draws heavily on folk legends to create a window into the lives of characters from various walks of life, including righteous priests, wealthy merchants and budding thieves. Each self-contained medieval chapter builds tension fairly well; the chapters set in modern times…. culminate with powerful demons let loose in Prague and the development of a compelling theme regarding Magdalena’s temptation to gain power and the price she’s willing to pay for it. Although the dialogue could use more subtlety… the plot and portrait of the 14th century are gripping enough to keep readers engaged…. (From Kirkus Reviews)
” As eloquently told as it is informative and thought-provoking, ‘Wellspring’ is a title worthy of standing on the shelf alongside acclaimed works such as those in The Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series penned by the mother of all things occult, Anne Rice.” – Red City Review
“Well-versed in 14th-century Prague, Morris draws heavily on folk legends to create a window into the lives of characters from various walks of life, including righteous priests, wealthy merchants and budding thieves.” – Kirkus Reviews
This supernatural suspense… is the beginning of a trilogy that has the potential to be a genre-transcendent epic a la Deborah Harkness’ bestselling All Souls trilogy (A Discovery of Witches, et al.) — Blue Ink Review
This is a book that you just do not want to put down! It is all about the past, and how the energy from the past lives on in the present…. This is a well researched book, from the point of view of medieval history, the Tarot itself, occult practices, the church, and the psyche behind what motivates people to act as they do. — Perspectives on Tarot
“Morris generates some genuine chills and thrills in this entertaining series opener that alternates between the 14th and 21st centuries…. The author’s background in medieval history stands him in good stead in the 14th-century sections, as he slips in interesting details to help make the fantastic plausible.” – Publishers Weekly
“…Out of the many characters we meet, Father Conrad is a standout. The priest who instigates Fen’ka’s burning and is to blame for another death in the book, rises from hand-rubbing villainy to something far more clever. You sympathize with his passions, and his ultimate fate is perhaps one of the book’s best moments…. A well-crafted yarn, which takes you deep into the year 1325, mysticism, religion, and pagan rites in a quaint Prague town, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, PART ONE: WELLSPRING is an epic journey worth taking.” — Indie Reader Discovery Awards
Where to find Stephen
Please see Stephen’s website for more information on upcoming novels and his most recent blog posts:
You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org