Thursday, November 8, 2012

In the Red by Selah Janel: Character Interview


Live like a rock star.

Dance ‘til you die.

Are you in?


What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? That’s what Jeremiah Kensington is thinking after an unsuccessful bar gig one night. Then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right?

But what happens when they refuse to come off?



They’re mine. I’m really holding them, Jeremiah realized. I’m holding history that isn’t supposed to exist. When The One took the stage, any competition turned tail and ran. It was said that the one time the singer revealed what he looked like the crowds were moved to tears by his beauty and sophistication, and tore each other apart because they couldn’t get to him. Some said it was a conspiracy that complete copies of his songs didn’t exist because the music was too potent to release to the public. There were people who still worshipped the mystery, the music, the outfits, and the boots.

And now those people would come to him.

“Go on. Try them on,” Jack encouraged. Jeremiah nodded and carefully put the platforms on the floor. Shaking with nerves, the youth sat and guided his feet into the cherry red sheaths. Electricity crackled along his instep and through his toes. He tugged the vinyl up over his calf and gasped. Jeremiah was overtaken by a sudden burn, a sudden ant-crawling of power that worked its way through his skin and into his very soul.

“What the—” he choked. The plastic spasmed, tightened around his foot, and then relaxed. The left boot stretched itself a little higher up his calf and extended its sole and heel a little more to adapt to his needs. Jeremiah thought he had imagined it, but the right boot immediately followed suit. The matching sets of the laces squirmed and rippled, settling into a slightly different pattern than when they were taken out of their box. A quick look around proved that while everyone in the room was looking, Jack was the only other person that actually saw. “Did they just…?” Jeremiah couldn’t bring himself to say something so bizarre. He barely managed to hold back a cry when a thousand tiny needle teeth nibbled his skin from toes to knees. A tingling sensation spread under his skin and Jeremiah was filled with a rush of violent confidence that almost made him swoon.

“Good. They fit,” Jack said. Only his tiny, mysteriously cruel little smile hinted that he was aware of the boots’ strange behavior.

The longer Jeremiah looked at himself the more he realized that he could do no wrong. My life just changed. With these on my feet, my past is gone. I’m going to be better than I ever thought possible.

All around him the yes-men and hangers-on gaped.

“You look so good!” the store footman practically swooned. His vinyl and lace frock coat danced under the fluttering movements of his hands. His sharp, pale face flushed with excitement underneath the stylized Victorian wig.

“I’m gonna cry you look so good!” the blonde assistant squealed, gripping Jack’s knee as if she’d keel over if she didn’t have it there to support her. “It’s like I’m witnessing history!”

The faces that surround him were positively thunderstruck and at his mercy. The camera kept right on clicking. Jeremiah got to his feet and struck a few more ambitious poses, dropping into a low crouch before kicking a leg up in an insane bastardization of a round kick. It didn’t matter that he’d grown up looking like every other average guy in Middle America. It didn’t matter that he’d been more accustomed to cotton T-shirts and washed-out blue jeans than the clothes Jack had him wearing. The overall look wasn’t complete, but the boots pulled everything together. The added height evened out his lanky proportions. In some unlikely way the platforms made his stubble-sporting, angular face look downright exotic. His eyes blazed liquid brown heat and his dishwater hair almost glowed under the dressing room lights.

Jeremiah sashayed around the tiny space and leapt onto the low podium at the room’s center, full of a burning drive to do something. He wanted to sing. He wanted to rock. He wanted to dance, and he’d never had that sort of urge before in his life. Every school dance he’d ever gone to had involved him either playing in the band or drinking contraband beverages with his friends outside the building. “Guess I’m a natural!” he laughed. He knew he was lying, Jack knew he was lying, but there was no reason for anyone else to know the truth. Why bother with the truth when the image in the mirror was so much better?

He had expected his balance to be shaky in the tall platforms, but it was like the boots were built for him. He hadn't thought to check the size. Maybe The One wasn't the original owner; maybe they conformed to whoever wore them. Jeremiah’s face glowed when he looked at his mirror image. His reflection looked as giddy and ecstatic as he felt. Why do I care what they are? If they work, they work! His eyes dropped to the new footwear. He was just able to see the tiny, warped image of his face in the shiny toes. Everything’s going to be amazing from now on. As he admired his distorted image via his feet, all of his hang-ups and personality drained out of him. Who needs a personality with boots like these?

Jack Scratch watched his protégé glided round the room, that same tiny, dangerous smile just barely curling his full mouth. "Just think. What you have on represents everything that you want to be," he coached. His words drilled through the rocker's ears and hardwired themselves into the deepest parts of Jeremiah’s heart and soul. "They’re everything you want on your side. These boots are temptation and chaos, just like you. I've got it," he declared. "I've got your name."

"Give it to me," a raspy voice in front of the mirror breathed.

"Forget Jeremiah Kensington: folk singer, blue jean rocker, country boy, small town loser,” Jack breathed, his giant hands fervently patting down his front until he found which jacket pocket his cigarettes were hidden in. It was amazing that he didn’t gouge himself in the chest given the sharpened tip of the massive silver ring that enveloped his right forefinger. The manager leaned back against the sofa and lit up, never once taking his eyes off his new golden boy and meal ticket. “From now on you are J.K. Asmodeus, rock star and corrupter of the masses." A thin plume of smoke stretched up to frame his intense expression.

J.K. looked from Jack to the man in the mirror, saw how the red glitter of the boots was echoed in his eyes. "Yes."

The two ignored the gasps and commentary around them as everyone texted photos and alerted the necessary paparazzi. The pair shared a slow smile as Jack inhaled another draw of nicotine. “It’s time to sign,” he murmured. The smoke crept in front of his face and turned his pleased expression into something that bordered on animalistic. He removed the top sheet of the stack he’d been examining and held it out to the younger man.

I should wait and consult a lawyer. I should take my time. These things need to be done with care, a distant echo of a Midwestern conscience chided. J.K. ignored it, grinned back at his manager, and reached for the fountain pen the manager handed him. His expression was almost as malevolent as Jack’s, though there were still traces of wholesomeness that had yet to drain away. “Let’s do it.”

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Here, the author/Reporter (SJ) is talkng with J.K. Asmodeus from In The Red.

Just when the world thought that dance and party music were going to be a constant, J.K. Asmodeus has swept in to teach us all a lesson…whether we believe in it or not. Whether you’re of the opinion that he’s re-inventing a genre or simply re-packaging it, it’s very hard to ignore him and his band, Sons of Pandemonium. They’ve seemingly crawled up from nowhere and have taken the country by the throat with their debut album, Defiling Jezebel. A rough and raunchy album that has its feet firmly planted in the rock genre, it also has a few introspective gems that sneak in every now and again. For every hard rock/blues mix like Tempt Me Down, there’s a softer gem like In Circle Nine or Looking for Beatrice.
 They’ve been compared to Zeppelin – they’ve been compared to just about everyone – but one thing is for certain: J.K. Asmodeus is his own entity and refuses to listen to those comparisons. And he definitely knows how to put on a show. His most recent tour dates have all been packed and word has it that larger venues are quickly being sought out. Fans love him, critics love to hate him, but what does music’s new Prince of Perdition have to say for himself?
I was allowed to sit down with J.K. for a brief interview, though like every other reporter I found that it’s nearly impossible to talk to him without his ever-present manager, Jack Scratch, standing by or listening in. His company, Voland Entertainment, has been accused more than once of not only being possessive of its talent, but being downright maniacal about it. While I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary from Mr. Scratch, there was no doubt that I was playing by his rules.
At first glance, the singer is everything you see on stage. Tall and lanky, he quietly sweeps into the room and takes automatic command of it. He’s polite and soft-spoken though there’s something in his eyes that knows he’s where he’s supposed to be. Dressed to kill in a fitted suit and motorcycle jacket, he seems fairly relaxed, though I get the impression that a distant part of him would rather be anywhere else. For the most part his confidence is palpable, and he seems game to answer whatever questions I have to ask – except for the fact that they’ve been pre-approved by Jack Scratch ahead of time.
SJ: So this is your first album, yet you’re already attracting massive attention and sales. How does it feel to be so successful so fast?
J.K.: I’m honestly not surprised. I knew from the start that this was what I was destined to be. Plus, let’s face it: it was time for someone to bring good music back to people. The world needs more than manufactured noise; people were forgetting what actual songs were supposed to sound like.
SJ: So it’s more than just performing and making music then? This is some sort of mission for you?
J.K.: Not necessarily. By default, maybe. People need something to believe in, and if my music manufactures enough emotion in them to make them feel something, then that’s a step in the right direction. Music really isn’t meant for anything. It isn’t connected to any higher power or something. It’s just a way for people to feel better about themselves. I’m willing to be that thing they believe in.
(I decide not to pursue that line of thought because from the smirk on his face we could spend the entire interview debating his reply. From the quiet grin on Jack Scratch’s face in the corner, I’m guessing that that’s exactly what he’d like to happen.)
SJ: A lot of your critics say that you’re just re-packaging what so many other bands have already done, and done better.
J.K. Of course they’d say that. That’s what they cling to; of course they’ll defend it. People hate to admit that there are those like me who are better than what they grew up with. I may happen to share some qualities with a lot of other bands, but it’s because they got things started and set an example so that I could come along and do it right. It’s why I won’t do covers – there’s no point trying to re-hash material that’s worn out and beyond my ability to fix.
SJ: And what about all of those critics who bring up morality issues? Your offstage antics aren’t exactly tame. There have been rumors about assaults on opening acts, destruction of hotel rooms, recreational habits, and a string of encounters that would make the metal bands of the eighties blush.
J.K.: (He leans back in his chair and flashes a sharp grin) Does anyone even say antics anymore? It’s cute how you’re trying to word it all nice and neat. We’ve had some unfortunate incidents with some of our opening groups, but that comes with the game. Touring can be rough and if they can’t handle it, they can’t handle it. As to everything else: I’m not dumb enough to retaliate with details just so you can make me look bad. Sure, the stories are great press, but it’s ridiculous how you reports go after the sundry details just to defame a hard-working musician! Look, I work hard. I deserve to play hard. Besides, it’s expected. What would people want me to do, lock myself up with a Charles Dickens novel and some weak tea? A proper rock star has to act like one, and I’m not going to shy away from the opportunity.
SJ: Some would say that some of your behavior’s offensive.
J.K.: Probably those who I wouldn’t be caught dead giving a second glance to.
He throws a glance over to Jack Scratch, who flashes him a subtle thumbs-up from among the folds in his massive black trench coat. He looks rather like a living shadow in the corner, dressed all in black with his dark hair streaming out from a black fedora. I’d been expecting J.K. to be opinionated – it’s part of who he is – but it’s proving for a frustrating interview, especially when it’s obvious I’m just another excuse for him to put out a few choice quotes to rile tempers. As much as J.K. says he doesn’t want to look bad, he’s more than willing to take the negative press and run with it, even encouraging it.
(J.K. cont.’) Look, I really don’t care what people say. No one’s really getting hurt, and the show is just an act. Just because I sing about Hell doesn’t mean I’m the devil. I’m only one if people make me one. Would people really pay attention if they weren’t a little worried? If I kept my head down and apologized for my success, if I acted nice, was celibate, and did everything everyone wanted, would that amount to the sales and attention I’ve gotten so quickly? It wouldn’t do a damn thing for me, so why bother trying to be something I’m not?
SJ: So you’re saying this is all you? You’re exactly what I’m seeing in front of me.
J.K. (shrugs) I’ve got nothing to hide.
SJ: I’m glad to hear you say that, because I really want to know about where you came from and how you got here. I’ve done some digging and heard that you grew up in the small town of Clarksville, Indiana. What was it like making the transition from small town guy to the rock star everyone’s talking about?
J.K.: (shifts uncomfortably and looks decidedly confused) I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never even heard of Clarksville.
SJ: Are you sure? I actually talked to a few people-
At this point Scratch interrupts and points out that we’re short on time and that J.K. doesn’t like to focus on anything that’s not the present.
SJ: Your manager seems to be very devoted.
J.K.: He’s great at what he does. He gets things done so fast, and he always manages to be there when I need him. It’s uncanny.
SJ: He helped you put together your band, didn’t he?
J.K: Somewhat. We went around and chose the best of the best. A lot of underground musicians were just waiting for a chance to do something worthwhile.
SJ: A lot of praise has been heaped on Sons of Pandemonium. Some say they’re the real driving force to your success.
J.K.: At the end of the day, they’re here for me. They play by my rules, my themes, my conditions. They’re there to back me up. They do it well, but they’re not the be-all end-all of who I am. They couldn’t go out there and have nearly the amount of success they’ve had without me to front them.
SJ: It’s funny you say that, because some of them have had pretty good careers before working with you. I’ve even heard it mentioned that some of them write for you without being credited—
J.K.: What the hell is this? I didn’t sit down so I could have a bunch of lies slung at me! We have our own way of working, but the music is mine. Do you think they could do what they do without me? Do you think they could get crowds to fall at their feet without me? Do you think they could dance like me?
SJ: Now that you bring that up, what about your infamous footwear?
At the mention of the notorious boots, J.K. bounces one of his legs. The movement almost seems to catch him by surprise, as if his leg was operating without the consent of his mind. He quickly puts it on the ground and coughs, patting his jacket for a cigarette. The red boot is hard to miss; it’s as bright as the most garish lipstick and runs all the way up to his knee. Even though he starts talking, for some reason I find it hard to look away from his foot and I can’t help but think that I’m actually interviewing one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known.
J.K.: There are a lot of stories about these things. They were the boots that made The One the most legendary, influential theatrical rocker of all time…they can only be controlled by certain people…they come with a price for those who wear them. I’ve heard them all.
SJ: Do you believe them?
J.K.: (His foot starts tapping on the floor and he glances down, grits his teeth, and forcibly stops it).  Of course not. You know the kinds of wild stories get passed around in rock folklore. They’re just a pair of boots Jack had flown in to complete my look.
(J.K. props his foot against his opposite knee and casually rubs his calf, almost as if he’s in pain. Jack Scratch brings up the time again and J.K. runs a hand through his black and red streaked hair, noticeably unnerved.)
SJ: All right, we’ll wrap it up. I know you have a busy schedule. So what’s the future hold for J.K. Asmodeus? Where do you plan to go from here?
J.K.: Simple. I’ll be putting out more albums and taking over the world.
(Jack chuckles and seems very pleased by this statement. J.K. must notice my raised eyebrows.)
SJ: No specific plans then?
J.K.: Nothing I want to tell too early. At the end of the day, though, it’s not about what album I’m going to be putting out next or what genre I’m going to be experimenting with. It’s not about the music at all. It’s about the success and my relationship with the fans, making sure they know I’m here, waiting for them to listen to me.
I had thought he was kidding, leading me on with yet another sound bite, but he looks dead serious. His foot starts bouncing again and he brings things to a close, claiming to really need to be on his way. For a moment, I can understand why people are drawn to him. He says some outrageous things, but he has his points. He has the success that all of us want to have and the confidence to pull it off. Don’t we all wish we could strut around and act like we’re above regular rules and conventions? Don’t we all just want to do what we want at some point? The red of his shoes is reflected in his eyes for a brief moment as he gets up, making his face look cold and aloof. I immediately find myself rushing in to say one last good-bye.
J.K.: You’re drawn to them, aren’t you? The shoes.
SJ: What do you mean?
J.K.: Everyone is. Whether they think they are or not, whether they notice them or not, they’re always affected by the boots.
Now that he mentions it, it was hard to look away from them during the course of the interview. They’re so red, and in the morning sunlight streaming from the window they gleam like fire. I had expected them to look ridiculous, but instead they make J.K. Asmodeus look every inch the star. He flashes a wan, maybe even melancholy smile and shakes my hand limply one last time. There’s something in his brown eyes that is betrayed, just for a moment. There’s a quiet helplessness behind the confidence, or maybe it’s just stress and lack of sleep.
It makes me wonder if what he said about taking over the world is really something he believes, or feels he has to. Maybe he’s still trying to prove himself, if not to the world, then to his own mind. Maybe his real competition isn’t those who have come before him or the other members of the band, but his image that no man could live up to, those legendary boots that are supposed to carry such a heavy burden. They may be urban legend, but watching him be herded out the door by Jack Scratch, I can’t help but think that that story may become a self-fulfilling prophesy.


Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading, the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either. She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror, but can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane.

 She has four e-books with No Boundaries Press, including the historical vampire story ‘Mooner’ and the contemporary short ‘The Other Man’.  Her work has also been included in ‘The MacGuffin’, ‘The Realm Beyond’, ‘Stories for Children Magazine’, and the upcoming Wicked East Press anthology ‘Bedtime Stories for Girls’. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to hold their own.

Catch up with Selah and all her ongoing projects at the following places:


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