Edo van Belkom has built a career around things that go bump in the night. There have been vampires, werewolves, and a rug that digests anything beneath it. And let’s not forget the trucks.
The award-winning Canadian author of horror stories — and inspiration behind the Wolf Pack television series on Paramount+ — is revisiting some of his terrifying 18-wheelers in the 25th anniversary edition of the Death Drives a Semi short story anthology.
Inspiration for the title story emerged during commutes to a job at the Cambridge Reporter, as he watched tractor-trailers pass him by. The truck born from his imagination, though, is steered by a phantom presence. If it passes someone three times, it steals a soul.
“It’s the coolest title,” he adds, referring to Death’s position on the anthology’s cover.
But it’s not the only place where trucks play a central role.
Trucks and terrors
Trucking is also featured in the story of Ice Bridge, inspired by a Toronto Star article that explored life on Canada’s ice roads. “It had all about the pressure cracks [in the ice] and how they would follow you for miles,” van Belkom recalls. “I said, ‘That’s the story. It’s got built-in suspense.” After conducting related research with a forestry industry reporter, he had the details to bring the fictional story to life.
“I always wanted to write these kinds of stories, and the turning point in my goal was reading the October Country by Ray Bradbury,” he says. Quarry Press in Kingston, Ont., pulled its favorite entries from a collection of 50 that van Belkom had created at the time, and his book was published in 1998.
It wasn’t the last time trucks played a role in his work. Looking to promote Death Drives a Semi, he approached Truck News, and those discussions led to the Mark Dalton: Owner-Operator short stories that followed the adventures of a heroic trucker.
A few of his fans blurred the lines between reality and fiction when visiting the author at various truck shows in the years that followed. “Hey Mark,” one said in New Brunswick. “Remember when the prostitute stole all your money?”
“He was convinced I was Mark,” Van Belkom says. There was no convincing him otherwise.
Mark Dalton: Owner-Operator
Over 15 years, that project led to 55 stories, two audio books, and three novels commissioned by Natural Resources Canada to help teach fuel-efficient driving techniques. “The idea was to take a workshop and get all the information in there, and put it into the book so guys could read the information and learn it while on the road.”
“I had a lot of fun, and a lot of fun meeting the truck drivers,” he says, referring to public appearances in Quebec, Alberta, B.C. and New Brunswick. It even led to a first-hand experience on the ice roads outside Yellowknife.
He didn’t forget the love of horror along the way. Work at Truck News also gave birth to Blood Road, the novel about an aging vampire working as a longhaul trucker in search of victims. “It came out of the idea of how a vampire would operate in today’s days,” he says. “The trucking industry is happy to have a lot of people work throughout the night.”
The anniversary edition of Death Drives a Semi, though, offered a chance to revisit some of his earlier characters.
“I was impressed with how well the stories held up. There’s not a clunker in there,” van Belkom says. “These stand up and I’m quite proud of it.”
From school bus to Wolf Pack
His original plan was to be a science fiction writer, penning stories like Baseball Memories, about a man so enthralled with baseball statistics that his mind begins discarding everything else in his life. (Van Belkom was a sportswriter earlier in his career.)
Time driving a school bus left more time to refine his craft and form a few insights about youth like those featured in the Wolf Pack series of young adult novels. “I witnessed how cruel young adults could be to each other,” he says. Young werewolves simply add a different dimension to such challenges.
Van Belkom admits he was initially a bit disappointed that more of his book didn’t make it into the series. But he’s come to appreciate his role. “I trust that [series creator] Jeff Davis knows what he’s doing. He’s doing his thing, and I have to be content that my book is the inspiration for it and not the guidebook.”
After years of writing horror, there are still stories that can haunt him. “What scares me is when bad things happen to people you love and you can’t do anything about it,” van Belkom says. It’s something that he says plays a central role in successful horror stories overall. “The thing is to be real. I write about things that frighten me, not just, ‘I’m going to scare you.’”
For now, he holds out hope for season 2 of Wolf Pack, a decision that has been delayed by Hollywood strikes. Davis has said he wants the author to play a cameo in a future episode. Van Belkom would love that.
“I hope I get killed,” he says of his potential role on the screen.
What would be scarier than that?
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