At daughter's urging, MU prof turns his writing from the scientific to the supernatural

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The stories that Stephen Paul Sayers had bouncing around in his head back in Cape Cod in the 1970s began to come alive after his daughter, Kaylee, inspired him to write novels.

Sayers, who works as a physical therapy associate professor and researcher at MU, has written two horror novels that were published in 2018. The first, “A Taker Of Morrows,” came out in June and was Top 10 international bestseller on Amazon. The second, “The Soul Dweller,” was published in November.

Sayers obviously is excited about his success, especially since he is at the start of his writing career.

Stephen Sayers' two horror novels Stephen Sayers has written two horror novels, “A Taker of Morrows” and “The Soul Dweller.”

“I didn’t expect this to happen,” he said. “There are so many stories about people who normally took years to publish their books. What more could a writer wish for?”

Sayers’ books are available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and in hard copy at Skylark Bookshop and the Mizzou Store in Columbia as well as five bookstores where he grew up on Cape Cod. He said he was pleased when he was able to see them on shelves.

“That moment was the payoff for a lot of hard work,” he said.

Anne Miller, a Columbia author of history books, is among Sayers’ fans.

“I stayed up all night to finish ‘A Taker of Morrows’ and am anxiously awaiting the second,” Miller said. “I devour Preston and Child’s books, and ‘Taker of Morrows’ reminded me of them in all the best ways.”

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are American authors and collaborators of thrillers, among them the Agent Pendergrast series and the Gideon Crew series.

Journey toward writing

Growing up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Sayers surrounded himself with fiction novels and horror movies such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Venus series and science fiction television shows. He enjoyed being a reader, and his imagination conjured many of his own stories, though he didn’t plan to write a book of his own.

Instead, Sayers developed a career as an exercise physiology researcher focusing on aging.

He moved to Columbia in 2003 to teach physiology at MU. About five years ago, his daughter urged him to pursue a literary path.

Kaylee Sayers, a senior at Columbia Independent School who also enjoys writing, shared one of her short stories with her father. He was impressed by her talent.

“I couldn’t believe the skills she’d developed so early and the depth of her emotion and insight,” Sayers said in an interview with his editor, Linda Kasten, that is published on his personal website.

Kaylee asked her father to write along with her and to share stories. During that process, Sayers said he found his passion for writing, especially within the horror genre.

“The work I do, the science, is not so creative, and scientific writing can be rather dull,” Sayers said. “I enjoy trying to have more of a creative outlet.”

His daughter said, “It’s really cool to have a writers’ family. ... That’s something we could share together.”

The writing process

Sayers said the writing process for his books has gone smoothly. He started working on a rough draft of “A Taker of Morrows” in the summer of 2017, and the plots just popped up when he needed them.

He created characters called “caretakers” who protect earthly souls against evil “jumpers” who prey on the living, taking over their souls to carry out their vengeance. Central to the plot is the theme of people fighting evil and confronting death.

Once the novel was finished, Sayers said he felt good about it but wasn’t confident it would ever be published.

“I was really writing it for my daughter,” he said.

Around that time, a short story called “The Promise” came to him. It’s the story of a man who has to face the ghosts of his past in order to move on from tragedy. Sayers submitted it to Unfading Daydream, a small literary journal that specializes in sci-fi, fantasy and horror, and it was accepted.

“That experience made me think maybe I can do this,” Sayers said. “And sometimes that’s all it takes to feel momentum and keep at it.”

Finding a publisher has been Sayers’ biggest challenge. He sent copies of his first book to almost 45 publishers, and six expressed interest. He began to doubt his work until online publisher Hydra Publications of Goshen, Kentucky, took the lead.

“It was actually the first one I sent the copy to,” Sayer said. “It took six months, but it was worth the wait.”

The entire process for both books — writing, editing, submissions, cover art and other production work — took a year.

“It’s standard for me,” Sayers said. “Even if I retire someday, it will still take me about one year per book.”

Jumping between worlds

The leading character in the Caretaker Series is Robert Granville, a college professor in Boston who studied at Boston University, loves the ocean and lives for the opportunity to get away to Cape Cod. Just as Sayers himself often does.

“All characters reflect part of the author,” he said.

Themes of death and the afterlife permeate Sayers’ horror fiction. He’s curious about what happens after people die and puts the notions he imagines in his books.

Love, such as the relationship between fathers and sons, is also an essential topic. The love he describes could be protective — or dangerous. The love Granville received from his father, for example, is basically the same kind of love that another character, Victor Garrett, gave to his son.

Garrett, however, became so filled with rage and anger after he lost his son that he comes back as a “jumper” when he dies. He and Granville are on opposite paths.

“As a horror writer, I had to include the flip side of the coin, that there may be darker souls out there trying to harm you, too,” Sayers said.

Writing as an independent life

Sayers avoids mixing his career as a professor with his work as a writer. By day, he’s an ordinary university research professor. At night, he enters the world of the supernatural.

“I try to keep these two different areas of my working life separate from each other,” Sayers said. “I even use my middle name in my fiction writing to keep it distinct from my published research writing.”

Despite his early success, Sayers sees writing as a lifelong learning process. He attends conferences such as those organized by the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. That’s where he met Kasten, his editor, and where he is learning additional writing skills and tricks.

“Writing is important, but learning the techniques is important, too,” Sayers said, adding he never wants to stop trying to improve. He finds that getting rejected by publishers also motivates him.

“Writing is subjective. Even if you write a good book, some people might not like it,” Sayers said. “You have to get a lot of rejections before you get that acceptance. (To) keep writing is the most important thing.”

Sayers is working on his third book in the Caretaker Series, which he hopes will publish in the fall of 2020, but he wasn’t quite ready to share the title.

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