I Know When You're Going to Die
by Michael J. Bowler Genre: YA Mystery, Thriller
Leonardo Cantrell is a painfully shy sixteen-year-old who cannot look people in the eye. One night while he’s volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old man forces eye contact and gives Leo the power to see Death.
His best, and only, friend—J.C. Rivera—thinks this new power is cool until Leo accidentally looks into J.C.’s eyes and “sees” his murder, a murder that will occur in less than two weeks. Stunned and shaken, the two boys sift through clues in Leo’s “vision” in a desperate effort to find the killer and stop him before he can strike.
Aided by feisty new-girl-at-school, Laura, the boys uncover evidence suggesting the identity of the murderer. However, their plan to trap the would-be killer goes horribly awry and reveals a truth that could kill them all.
After lunch, we head to a nearby McDonald’s and buy bags of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries to give out on the streets. I make momentary eye contact with each person I hand a bag to because I want them to know they’re human like me. But I can’t hold it for more than a second until, beneath the dim shade of the freeway overpass on Main Street, this one man grasps my arm as he takes his bag. He’s a regular named Hank, an older guy with a limp who always wears a dirty Dodgers cap and mismatched clothes I’m sure he found in a dumpster.
“Thank you, Leo.” Hank’s voice is strained, but sincere.
I force myself to look into his grateful eyes and our gazes lock. I can’t seem to look away. It’s like I’m being drawn into Hank’s very soul. Then I see it! Gasping, I lurch back and yank my arm away from him.
He recoils, looking stung by my action, and I want to apologize, but no words come. I’m paralyzed by what I just saw and can only offer him a silent nod.
Gripping the bag with gnarled fingers, Hank lurches down Main Street until he reaches the corner and turns out of sight.
J.C. steps around in front of me. “Hey, Leo, you okay? You look like you saw a ghost.”
“I know… when he’s… going to… die.” I barely get the words out.
J.C. stares at me. “Huh?”
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author who grew up in Northern California. He majored in English/Theatre at Santa Clara University, earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and a master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. Michael taught high school in Hawthorne, California for many years, both in general education and students with disabilities. When Michael is not writing you can find him volunteering as a youth mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, volunteering within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles, or caring for his newly adopted son. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, and hopes his books can show young people they are not alone in their struggles.
With more than one of my books, readers have written that the story is unlike any they have read before. As a reader myself, I love unpredictable tales that aren’t photocopies of what I’ve already read. I do feel, however, that I’m in the minority in this regard. You know how children love hearing the same story over and over or watching the same videos over and over? I’ve come to the conclusion that most adults are the same. They want the same movies – just with different actors. They want the same books, just with different cover art and character names. I think this is why there are so many stories that are so similar, and so many reboots of older tales that continue to be cranked out. New spins on classic fairy tales are popular. Romance is one of biggest book genres, but romance books without all the familiar tropes don’t usually succeed in the marketplace. I think the same is true for mysteries and horror.
When I craft a story, I never think about what it’s similar too. Thus, when it’s finished and I want to submit it to agents or publishers, I can never find similar “comp” titles that those organizations demand. They want to know that my story is similar enough to something that has already been a bestseller or they’re not interested. My five-book contemporary urban fantasy Lance Chronicles series is ostensibly YA because the protagonist is fourteen in the first book and eighteen in the fifth, but there are prominent adult characters who drive the narrative and the book can easily be enjoyed by teens and adults. These books are so different from other books under the YA banner that I have nothing else to compare them too. My horror novel, Spinner, combines elements of The Omen and The Exorcist, but is too different from those stories to necessarily entice their fans.
My latest book, I Know When You’re Going To Die, has already been described as unusual because I use a first person narrator to tell a mystery thriller that some readers seem to think should be told in the third person. I guess I probably should pay more attention to what’s popular and write my books with those stories in mind because I’d likely be much more successful. But I write the stories that come into my head and populate them with characters I think are interesting. So, when I’m asked the question, “do you try to be original or to deliver to readers what they want,” I have to go with original. I need to love what I write or I can’t spend all the time necessary to craft it. I just have to hope there are at least a few readers out there who might love my stories, too.
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