Mel Brooks summed up my feelings about life in the title song of his film, The Twelve Chairs: “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”
In The Devil and Leo Persky, you’ll meet Leo Persky, the living embodiment of that philosophy. Under the penname “Terrance Strange” (the earlier pseudonym of his grandfather Jacob, himself a monster-hunter and journalist of the weird), Leo is a columnist for World Weekly News, a supermarket tabloid of the supernatural and strange in a world where every Bat Boy, Bigfoot, alien baby, Satan visiting, Elvis sighting story is the truth. A world where vampires exist, magic is real, and extraterrestrial visitations routine.
What you may not know about me is, I was once a reporter for Weekly World News (1979 – 2007), the black and white tabloid that billed itself as “the world’s only reliable newspaper.” There was truth in that statement; you could rely on virtually every word in it to be made up, excluding the trivia column and the 6-point type warning at the bottom of page two that virtually every word in it was made up and suggesting readers suspend their belief for the sake of enjoyment. From 2005 to 2007, I wrote close to 100 bylined stories for the paper, as well as ghost writing at least that many more under the names of our numerous fictitious columnists ranging from “Miss Adventure, the Gayest American Hero” to “Ed Anger” to “Lester the Typing Horse” and “Sammy the Chatting Chimp” once I was on staff as Executive Editor from February 2006 to the end in August 2007.
In 2010, I was asked to contribute to an anthology about vampires. At first, my thinking went down the more traditional road of dark, angsty tales of cursed people, but I was having a hard time tapping into the necessary melodrama of the situation. Horror had never really my cup of tea; the tame, old timey black and white horror movies I grew up on from the 1930s to the 1950s weren’t really all that horrifying, and, in fact, looking back at them with modern eyes, are pretty campy and funny. And the modern blood-spurty “don’t go in the basement” kind are all formula and no surprise. Comic book horror stories of the time were equally lame, published under a code that prohibited every single horror trope imaginable. The only time I’ve ever really been frightened by horror was the moment in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” when William Shatner lifts the window shade to find the face of the gremlin staring in at him. My brothers and I jumped, screaming as one, and slept with the lights on that night. I was 8 years old.
I did a lot of stories about the supernatural for the News… I even wrote a multi-part tie-in/crossover story with the CW-TV show Supernatural! There wasn’t a serious bone in the body of any one of any of those articles. So when I needed a horror story, I decided to go at it from the angle of a reporter for a tabloid in the aforementioned world where all this stuff was true. And because I’m a wiseass, I made my reporter one too because, you know, it makes writing dialogue that much easier. Write what you know, they say, so I also made him kind of a nebbish. And 5’ 7”.
I had so much fun with Leo in that first story that I returned to him five times for further adventures over the next decade (well, technically four, since one of the stories, another vampire tale, “Come in, Sit Down, Have a Bite,” stars Leo’s mom, Barbara, herself a retired monster-hunter), including in stories for the Crazy 8 anthologies Bad Ass Moms, Love, Murder, Mayhem, and Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021. Those 6 stories and an all-new 27,000-word novella are now available as The Devil and Leo Persky, all under a sterling cover by my buddy, artist/poet/performer/mensch/designer Rick Stasi. And speaking of old friends, at the made-up World Weekly News, Leo Persky’s editor is Rob Greenberg, a highly fictionalized take on fellow Crazy 8’er Bob Greenberger (not a vampire!), who had been the Weekly World News’ managing editor with me.
I start off writing every story hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Some I have to chase all over the damned place before I finally find the story I had been trying to write from the start, believing without doubt that I’d spend countless days and thousands of wasted words before having to abandon the effort as hopeless. But Leo has never given me a moment’s doubt. I didn’t usually have any more of an idea where a Leo story was headed than I did with those that gave me trouble, but I always knew he would get me there, sooner or later, snarky wisecracks and all.