SPANISH FORK — Jeffrey Scott Savage is successfully doing the impossible — or at least the improbable — with his spooky stories.
Not only is "Dark Memories" his 12th book, it's a rare horror novel published by Covenant Communications.
At a time when many authors turn to self-publishing to get their words out there, Savage has three companies, Harper Collins, Shadow Mountain (an imprint of Deseret Book) and Covenant Communications, publishing his books, including the Farworld and Shandra Covington series.
"Dark Memories" is a scary story about a group of little kids who wander away from the class picnic and get lost in an abandoned mine. More than 30 years later, they face the consequences for some horrible choices.
The story involves darkness, ghosts, demons, bats, childhood cruelty, a thirst for revenge and human greed.
It's also absorbing and well told.
There are twists and turns that keep the reader working to guess what is really happening.
For initiates into the horror story realm, it's a "safe" transition, as the solid, straight-arrow police chief comes to terms with some spooky stuff as he deals with crimes that don't seem to stop.
The characters are real and the possibilities not beyond what could happen.
Savage says he's confident that horror stories can be told without blood and guts and even teach some lessons in redemption and forgiveness.
He made it clear when Covenant editor Kirk Shaw contacted him about publishing his book that he didn't want the story softened or changed in significant ways.
He was all right with the minor edits and changes, such as moving the story location from Spanish Fork to a city that doesn't really exist and to a Methodist community rather than a Mormon one.
"I began writing this book about 11 years ago," Savage told the Deseret News recently. "I was the CEO of an Internet company and on planes a lot with time to kill. I started writing a kind of high-tech thriller."
People on the plane started trying to read his stories ("Cutting Edge" and "Into the Fire") as they took shape. He then started on "Dark Memories." His fans, friends and family suggested he send them to publishers.
"At that point, the bug hit me. I loved doing it and enjoyed the feedback." He began to shop it around.
Savage — who writes under two names, Jeffrey S. Savage and J. Scott Savage, to avoid confusion with an author with a similar name who writes youth sports books — said he knew he needed to produce for the national market.
He didn't want to water down his work. "I insisted they leave the horror in. I had to go to the upper management to plead my case."
Savage said horror and supernatural novels can actually be uplifting.
"It can be one of the most redemptive genres ever. I can't make it any more black and white than that," he said.
Savage would love to see "light horror" accepted as a genre and better understood.
He tells a story about visiting with a Spanish Fork resident one day on Main Street as she planted flowers.
"She asked me what I was writing now," he said. "When I told her I was writing a horror novel, she paused and said, 'Well, I guess that's what sells.'"
He wrote "Dark Memories" for the older reader — young adult and up — and cautions that he doesn't let his own young children read his scary stuff yet.
"I have other books for them," he said.
His books for middle readers, including the Farworld series and "Case File 13: Zombie Kid" are fantasy novels. He publishes those under J. Scott Savage.
“I think what I love most about the Farworld series is the fact that you have two characters who are viewed by those around them as disabled," Savage said. Marcus is in a wheelchair and Kyja lives in a world filled with magic, but is immune to magic. "But they don’t look at it that way at all. There’s a scene in the book where the wizard tells them not to be in too big of a hurry to try to get read of their weaknesses, because they can turn into strengths."
He's gotten a lot of positive feedback from casting his characters like that.
"I get tons of emails from kids telling me how much they appreciate heroes that aren’t the best at magic or the best at sports or with all kinds of super powers," Savage said. "There are a lot of kids out there who are viewed as different by their peers and they love to see Marcus and Kyja succeeding not only despite their differences, but at times because of them."
“It’s the midpoint in the five books series, which is when things really kick up a notch," Savage said. "So I’m excited to see the response from people who have been following it. And readers who might be discovering the series for the first time.”