Finishing the Set

I hope I didn’t leave you hanging too long.  Autumn is always such a good time for mood reading that I had a couple of books I wanted to be sure to cram in before finishing Austin Dragon’s two-volume Sleepy Hollow Horrors set.  I wrote about volume one, Hollow Blood, some weeks back.  I wanted to read The Devil’s Patch to finish out the series before I forgot too much about the first one.  The subtitle is the same as it is for the first volume: The Hunt for the Foul Murderer of Ichabod Crane.  This imaginative retelling shifts the action away from Sleepy Hollow, although part of it takes place there, to the eponymous Devil’s Patch in upstate New York, near the Canadian border.

Instead of focusing solely on Ichabod’s avenging nephew Julian Crane, volume 2 adds an ensemble cast.  The first half of the novel provides the backstory for ten characters who will eventually accompany Crane to the Devil’s Patch to confront the Headless Horseman on his home turf.  The conceit here is that the Horseman, for some reason, has tried to kill each of the posse who eventually form to dispatch him.  Perhaps there’s some prophecy or something that he’s heard.  In any case, once Julian Crane recovers from his own encounter with the Horseman in book one, he begins to gather a group in Sleepy Hollow to go with him further upstate to take care of business.  The group of ten constitute his posse and Brom Bones goes along too.  They encounter the evil and defeat it.

There’s always a sense of accomplishment in finishing a set of books.  What has dawned on me in the process of all this reading is that the story was already told by Washington Irving in one of America’s first literary collections.  If fans want to engage with the story they need to take it in different directions, or tell it from a different perspective.  This is sometimes done cinematically and, increasingly, in literary form.  For me this is an autumn story.  That makes sense since Irving set the climatic scene during a fall party at the Van Tassel estate.  That tradition is frequently carried on in retold versions, but not always.  Whether or not they are set in autumn, they seem to be appropriate reading for this time of year.  That’s in keeping with the spirit of the season, whether in Sleepy Hollow or not.

Sleepy Hollow West

You’ve got to admire those who are determined to be writers on their own terms.  As someone who’s tried and tried again to break into even indie presses, I know few established publishers will even consider fiction from someone who’s not already established.  As my regular readers know, I’ve been reading a lot about the Legend of Sleepy Hollow lately.  So I came across Austin Dragon’s Hollow Blood.  Part of a two-volume novel set, the story takes a creative approach while retaining several of the original characters, even having clever nods now and again to the wording in the original.  Although clearly self-published, Dragon is able to let his imagination go on this one.  Julian Crane, Ichabod’s nephew, is out to avenge his uncle’s death.

In Sleepy Hollow he confronts Brom Bones with the crime, but wrongly.  It turns out that the Marshal—there are elements of the old west in this too, with cowboys and showdowns—knows where Crane has settled and offers to take the nephew to him.  So unfolds a story that feels a bit more like a western than a horror story at points.  I don’t want to give away too much since Dragon, like most of those who make their living by writing, needs to move copies to stay solvent.  The thing is, Sleepy Hollow seems to be an evergreen subject.  America keeps coming back to it.  Many writers try to take it on as the basis for more modern reboots.  Of course, I have to read the second volume to find out how it really ends.

I can’t help but think that the internet has made it difficult for writers by allowing anyone to establish him or herself as one.  If you can build a fan base, you can make a living at it.  The publishing industry faces problems of its own, of course.  Paper shortages are a problem.  Not only the pandemic, but the assumption that ebooks were going to spell the death of print led paper mills to cut production.  Funny thing—print has been seeing a resurgence of interest.  Large media seems surprised, scratching its metaphoric head and saying “People like actual books—who knew?”  But I digress.  The simple tale of a love triangle in the 1790s with a ghost on the loose has spawned a great number of offspring.  Some published the traditional way, and others on a writer’s own terms.  It’s a story worth the retelling.