I recently completed Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana!, a paranormal comedy sequel to The Substitute. While The Substitute was written for the fun of it, with no objective except to make people laugh, the sequel covers many seedy social issues in a comical way. On acceptance of the manuscript, the Solstice Publishing editor offered, “I found it to be a humorous, gory, graphic, moral and ultimately satisfying tale.” That is exactly what I intended. In fact, the book is written like a saw blade, with sharp transitions that will make the reader grimace in one moment, and laugh out loud in the next.
In The Substitute, Miss Havana proved more conniving and evil than Lucifer, and eventually caused him great pain. People like it when the devil is defeated; it was easy to get laughs at Lucifer’s expense. The plot was both complex and simple. Simple because it depicted a war between shades of darkness; complex because it presented an accurate account of the rise of the Antichrist. I tried to follow biblical teaching, but presented the story in comical ways. In fact the Antichrist would have won, except for the insertion of Miss Havana in the mix. Yes, Miss Havana played an instrumental role in defeating Lucifer, but she did so for all the wrong reasons. And that’s where Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! begins.
In The Substitute, Miss Havana’s evil but comical nature doesn’t change over time. She likes the way she is and sees reason to change. She believes the world and hell owe her everything because she’s beautiful—that’s enough for her and it should be enough for them. But she performs a single selfless act during her afterlife, and there are unintended consequences associated with that, even if done for the wrong reasons. The act enables her to leave hell, but lands her in heaven’s probation. That’s where things get complex. I wanted to gradually transition her character from a horrid state-of-soul in hell, to a kinder, gentler state-of-soul at the outskirts of heaven, yet retain her core evil nature.
Miss Havana’s growth in probation is slow and awkward, and writing her transition was a challenge. I didn’t want to be too blatant about it. In fact, I wanted to gradually increase her decency and likeability without her knowing she was growing as a spirit. It was a tough road to walk as an author. While she could act in evil and depraved ways, she always did so with the best of intentions. She eventually assumes the role of The Angel of Death, and begins stumbling into social horrors, like domestic violence, serial killers, terrorism, the sex slave trade, orgies, snuff clubs and piracy. She consorts with the worst of felons she works to eliminate the evil she finds, especially the shadow creature known as Waldo (because he’s so hard to find). At one point, she even borrows a few dozen high-risk demons from her daughter, Lilith, the absolute ruler of the underworld, and releases them on the surface.
The complex social issues Miss Havana deals with are so terrifying it was difficult to discuss with them in a gentle way, especially while keeping comedy in the loop. The excerpt below gives some insight into how the comedy was approached with one serial killer. In this scene, the spirit of Miss Havana takes over a serial killer named Jesus Moses, AKA “The Red Reaper”, and prepares to give him some of his own medicine. For those of you who read The Substitute, you will recognize that Miss Havana is creating a pit of judgment on the surface for The Reaper, very much like she created eternal pits of ironic judgment when she ruled as The Queen of Darkness.
I linger at the front porch until a panel truck approaches—probably the transport he uses to move his bicycle near the kill location when he’s ready to act. The Reaper jumps out of the truck and heads toward the tool shed with apparent purpose. I drift along behind him and watch as he loads his backpack. When he picks up the fully-charged Multi-Cutter, I take over and speak to his mind in the same low growl that caused so many to shit themselves when I dispensed judgment below.
“Hello, Jesus. Are we going out for a stroll?”
He’s so stunned a trickle of urine leaks through his jeans. He crouches down, opens a small door under his workbench and pulls out The Judge, a Taurus pistol capable of accommodating either 410 shotgun rounds or .45 caliber conventional shells. Fighting to control his shaking hands, he verifies it’s fully loaded with 410 rounds. Whoever whispered to him is close, he knows that, but he has no idea just how close.
I growl again, “Wrong weapon, Reaper.”
He slams himself against the wall and peers out through the small window toward the house but sees nothing. He slides his back down the wall and stares at the door. Only his ragged breathing penetrates the silence.
Leaves rustling outside become an ominous and immediate threat. Using both hands to control his the tremble that consumes his body, he points the revolver toward the door. His breathing quickens; he waits. Breath degrades to the shallow puffs of the dying while his heart beat hammers against his ear drums and his eyes dart around the small space that is growing smaller by the second. The death knoll of the hunted chews at his stomach; bile fills his esophagus. The terror his victims felt the last few minutes of their lives invades his mind.
I like the irony of this, and believe Lilith would enjoy it too. I wish she were here to play this game with me. I will play it out until he quits, but he will never play again. His fear gives rise to a massive urge to defecate, something I should encourage. I hiss out loud enough to peal through his mind, “Reaper! It’s time to reap what you’ve sown!”
It works. He pisses and shits himself. I love this, but my fun has just begun. I take over partial control of his body, enough to command his muscles, but not to feel his pain. I gently set the revolver on the floor while he fights to keep it, and then reach for the cutter. I hold it before his eyes, turning it on and off for effect. Its gentle whirr is comforting to me, almost like music, but the sound strikes terror in his heart. Lilith really should get some of these.
Practice. I need practice. I make a few shallow cuts across his opposite arm, being careful to avoid bleeder veins and arteries, and am delighted the device cuts fabric as easily as flesh. Nice. He screams in pain. The cut is indeed ragged; I had hoped for that.
In Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana!, our heroine’s spirit acts as both assassin and advice columnist, and much of the comedy is revealed when she takes over a beautiful columnist named Miss Jackie, who works for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Controlling Miss Jackie, Miss Havana confronts serious social issues head-on, and does so in a comical way. I have included one such piece of advice below as an example, but please…don’t follow it.
Gag me with a bulldozer, it’s all crap. I’m so short of time, I resort to an advice concept I saw floating around the Internet some time back—a general purpose letter to eliminate a significant other. There are many pertinent requests for advice related to that topic, and even though the Internet advice was a joke, the concept was good. To use a general response, I need a general question, so I create a composite request for advice from many individual letters.
“Dear Miss Jackie: If a man is lucky enough to have a dog that loves him unconditionally, but kicks the dog every day when he comes home, even the dog will grow to hate him. I am that dog. My boyfriend has been an ass for so long I’ve lost track. I want out, but it’s like shaking shit from my finger—I can’t get the stink off.
“It’s always something: the children need us both; he’s out of work and needs my help; he’ll contribute more than child support if I let him sleep on the sofa; he’ll change, no matter how long it takes; etc., etc., etc. It’s all bullshit. I know that now. He won’t change; he can’t change. Even if he could, I still wouldn’t want the lazy bastard. He stamped out any love we shared years ago. How can I cut this cancer out of my life? Sincerely, Ready to Move On.”
I stretch my arms, interlace my fingers and crack my knuckles as I prepare to write a stinging response of truth. “Dear Sincerely Ready: Hand him this column with one hand while taking the key to your apartment back with the other.
“I regret to inform you that you have been eliminated from further contention as Mr Right. If it will help you adjust, I will keep your name on file should a future opening become available, but don’t hold your breath. That’s not likely to happen; however, to aid your search for future romantic endeavours, allow me to offer some reasons you were disqualified from competition:
“(1) You are violent. When asked what to say to a woman with two black eyes, you joked in response, ‘Nothing, you’ve already told her twice!’ You were dead wrong. The real answer is, ‘Get a gun and be prepared to use it!’ I did, and I am.
“(2) You are unreliable. I am tired of trying to make ends meet with your leftovers. Your inability to find and keep a job eliminates you from both the list of hunters and gatherers. Our dining experiences have left my wallet a little lighter, and your pants a lot tighter! Take your piece of cardboard to some other corner.
“(3) People like you are the reason we have middle fingers. I can’t stand you. Your last name is so objectionable I can't imagine taking it or hyphenating it. Your first name is so offensive I can’t picture myself ever yelling it out in a fit of passion.
“(4) You make people question God because, if he made you, he isn’t perfect. Everything is about you, always, and you have repeatedly failed the twenty question rule. I ask twenty questions about you before you ask one about me. I’m tired of asking, even more so of your lame lies.
“(5) Your frequent references to ex-girlfriends lead me to suspect you are a psychotic stalker. Your constant e-mailing and texting confirms it. You have too much time on your hands—go to work! Leave me the hell alone or I’ll have you arrested.
“(6) You are a child. Grow up! Your ability to belch the alphabet is not a trait I’m seeking in a permanent partner. You are dull and stupid. Even though you claim a photographic memory, you lack film. Your inability to fix my car or anything else is extraordinarily unappealing. Light travels faster than sound, which is the reason you appear bright until you open your mouth.Your wardrobe of sports uniforms is also childish.
“(7) You are too short for your weight, and the only exercise you get is pushing your luck.You believe you have the body of a god but, unfortunately, it’s Buddha. If you ever gain the ten vertical inches you need to bring yourself into balance with the rest of humanity, you may resubmit your application, but even then don’t hold your breath. Any son we might produce would, without a doubt, be beaten up at recess. Thank God we only had girls.
“(8) Finally, you must face the fact I am out of your league. Set your sights lower next time. Find a woman who doesn’t need help supporting her family, finds immaturity in a male appealing, likes being mistreated and enjoys servicing you and your friends on a continuing basis. Good luck with that.
“I leave you with one parting thought: If you go around acting like an asshole all the time, eventually you'll be covered in shit.
“Sincerely, The Woman of your Nightmares (if you don’t get the hell out of my life.). P.S. Re-read the real answer to number one above.”
Yes, Miss Havana came into her own in Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! She settled some scores that desperately needed settling, but drew God’s ire in the process. God’s response to Miss Havana’s misbehavior is shocking, and as much a surprise to her as it will be to the reader. I simply can’t share the ending—you’ll have to buy the book for that.
As always, thank you for reading,
James L. Hatch