John F.D. Taff is an author with nearly 30 years experience in all sorts of writing…public relations, marketing, sales, journalism and creative. He’s a published author with more than 75 short stories and soon to be six novels in print. His writing tends to be categorized as “horror,” though most of it has a weird, pulpy Twilight Zone vibe to it. He also writes fantasy, suspense and some science fiction. Over the years, six of his short stories have been awarded honorable mentions in Datlow & Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror.
John is a fascinating human being (yes, he’s writing this), with diverse interests in history (Ancient Egypt and the Civil War, particularly), spiritualism, the paranormal, cooking, movies, music and reading. He resides in a lovely house down by a river that likes to, every so often, overflow its banks and spread alarmingly over the countryside, sweeping aside mobile homes, swine and meth labs. He shares the house with his two wonderfully cute pugs, Sadie & Tovah. He shares his life with his wonderful fiancee, Deborah, who puts up with a great deal from him.
Hello John, it’s been just over a year since we last sat down for a chat. How has the last 12 months been for you?
Hectic, exciting, fulfilling, life affirming. How's that for an answer? My fiancee, Deb, and I spent the last nine months renovating her home in order to put it on the market to sell. We're trying to sell it in order to move two hours away to live nearer to her parents so we can sort of watch over them a little more closely. We also got married this week, which was wonderful.
Oh, yeah, and I've been writing, writing, writing.
And there's been the release of my latest book, a five-novella collection entitled The End in All Beginnings, published by the inestimable Grey Matter Press, this September to fantastic notices and rave (almost literally) reviews.
The last time we spoke you had just become engaged, has Debbie made an honest man of you yet?
Hah, yes, as I said above, Deb threw the wedding thing into the mix just because neither of us, apparently, were stressed out enough. We put the whole thing together in about a month…ok, let's be honest, Deb did…and it turned out great. Small, mostly family wedding, intimate setting, very heartfelt and wonderful. So, did she make an honest man of me? Well, probably not. But legal, yes.
And have there been any more scathing reviews of your work that you felt compelled to post on your website?
No…well, at least none that have crawled under my skin. Honestly, I've gotten to the point with reviews that I really don’t pay all that much attention to them. Except the bad ones. Wink-wink. Actually, The End in All Beginnings has received some fantastic, really humbling reviews, such as this one from Michael R. Collings.
You know, some people will like your stuff and some won't. Some will have good reasons for not liking your stuff and some won’t. It's reality. I've learned to deal with it.
Your first collection Little Deaths can be classed as a roaring success, looking back at the point just before its release did you have any idea that it was going to be so successful in terms of sales and public response?
Oh, lord no. Does anyone? I mean I was satisfied and proud of the stories collected. I was thrilled with the presentation of the book; the cover is terrific. But did I hold out any thought that it would still have legs more than two years after its publication? No. Absolutely not. But I think that it struck a nerve, that the stories offered something different than what readers were seeing elsewhere. So the sales and the attention and the real emotions people have expressed for the book are gratifying. And again all the more since they were unexpected.
Other than the obvious reason of good writing what do you put its success down to?
Ummm…sacrificing the right small animals to the right gods on the right feast days? I dunno. Wish I did, because I’d bottle that shit and quit writing forever.
Honestly, I just think the stories were a little different than most of the horror stuff out there, and that difference struck a nerve with readers who were more inclined to favor a more…umm…I hesitate to say "smarter" horror because it makes me sound like a pompous ass. But maybe a more literate horror. Well, that sounds just as pompous, don’t it? Look, my stories are different, a bit moodier, less gory, with a flowing, kind of poetic language and characters that (to me, at least) behave like real people in unreal situations. Other than that, I got nothing.
Short story collections are sometimes hard to sell to readers, why do you think this is?
This is true and very, very perverse. Every other aspect of the world seems hell-bent on evolving into smaller, shorter, briefer versions. Sound bites, quick-cuts in movies, stuff that satisfies the increasingly short attention spans of people, smaller tech devices, etc. But somehow, short stories haven't caught on in the same way. Oh, there's always an audience for them, but it never seems to be quite the audience that there is for novels or whatnot. Why that is I can’t fathom a guess. I think short stories are harder to write well because they impose so many limits on what a writer can do; they demand an economy of language and succinctness of tone that is difficult for many authors to do well, even those who are great novelists. A well-written short story is a gem and harder to accomplish, I think, than a well-written novel. Novels are more forgiving. But somehow that all seems to work against short stories. I dunno. I've always had the feeling that many readers feel somehow gypped by a short story, as if its very brevity is viewed as some kind of stinginess on the part of the author.
In terms of your voice and style do you think you have changed in any way on the two years since Little Deaths was released?
Yeah, I think that my style has evolved into a somewhat more visual, flowing, poetic style. I really pay attention to the words in the sentence, so that they say what I want them to mean, but also so that they sound like I want them to sound in the sentence. It's all important to me. And also being visual. I like for readers to be able to see the story, the characters, the setting in their minds. I'm not of the Hemingway school of terse, journalistic writing. That doesn’t mean my style is florid, but it also doesn’t mean it's arid. I think there's a happy medium between the two, though certainly for me at least, closer to florid. Well, that sounds bad, doesn't it?
Do you have a favourite story in the collection?
In Little Deaths, my favourite is "Here," a fictionalized ghost story based on the death of one of my dogs. Probably because it's the most personal story for me, and I'm very much an animal lover.
This past year has also seen the release of a couple of your novels The Bell Witch and Kill/Off, one thing that I have always wondered with writers, is how do you decide on whether the initial story idea is going to be a short story or a longer length?
To me it just presents itself with the initial idea. I don't recall ever spending a huge amount of time debating the length of the story. It just comes with the idea. Here's an idea about X and it's gonna be a novel. Or here's an idea about Y and it's gonna be a short story. Rarely do they stray from their initial scopes.
And at what point does the initial idea push you in the direction of a particular genre?
Most of my ideas tend to hover around the horror spectrum. Just the way I'm wired, I guess. I have other ideas that are more suspense or scifi or fantasy, but most are horror. And the idea itself dictates that. I just go with the flow.
Short stories, horror and thrillers, which do you find to be the most rewarding to write?
Short stories are very much rewarding to write, because when I write what I think is a good one, it's very fulfilling. Doesn’t matter to me what genre they fall into, short stories always leave me feeling as if I've accomplished something.
The Bell Witch is based on one of America’s most famous hauntings, why do think that even after all this time the story still holds so much fascination with the public?
As I say in the Afterword of that novel, what caught me was that fact that it was, for me at least, the first truly American ghost story I can remember reading. Everything else in the genre was, at the time, mostly veddy British, with ye olde castles and moors and all the English trappings. Spooky and unsettling, but hard to relate to for a Midwestern American kid.
Kill/Off is a straightforward thriller that has a shadowy organisation recruiting people to snuff out various people. If you were to be recruited and got one free kill, who you choose to kill?
I decline to answer due to the fact that should the person (and they no doubt know who they are) turns up dead, I don't want this interview to point a finger at me.
These sort of books always use flowery language to describe the actual act of assassination, terms such as snuffed out, sanctioned, wetworked. What’s your favourite euphemism?
I like "whacked." It's got a violent, though somehow casually gentle connotation.
Why do you think shadowy organisations are so beloved by all of us? We all love reading for them and we all at some point have fantasised about being in one, which organisation would you like to join?
I think shadow organizations appeal to people's desires to believe that coincidental, seemingly random things aren't that at all, but carefully planned and executed. Same reason people love a good conspiracy theory. It imposes an order (albeit usually laughable) on an incoherent, random universe. I'd like to join the Stonecutters that was featured on The Simpsons, with Sir Patrick Stewart as my lodge head.
You just launched your latest collection The End in All Beginnings, does the title have a specific meaning to you?
Yes, we launched it in September! The fine folks at Grey Matter put out a special advance edition for this year's World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon, and the general release was in September in all the usual outlets, in all the usual formats. The title is a reflection on the nature of the stories contained in the collection. That the end of every story, everything in life is firmly embedded in its beginnings.
You have taken the rather unusual step of having the book composed of five novellas. Did you ever consider releasing these individually? Or did the fact that novellas seem to be so hard to market enter into the equation?
Novellas were a kind of unexplored territory to me, at least in terms of sales. I'd written a few of them, but honestly where do you go with them? Most publishers don't want anything over 5,000 words (and indeed won't pay for anything over that limit). So mine just sat in my digital "Finished" file, gathering virtual dust, until I met R.J. Cavender at the World Horror Con in New Orleans in 2013. (Also, where I proposed to Deb!) R.J. wanted novellas and had the idea to package a few of them, and that's where The End in All Beginnings came from.
Can you tell us about this collection, are there any underlying links or themes?
The collection has been arranged along the lines of a great idea by Tony Rivera, the publisher of Grey Matter. He saw that the stories could be arranged as a kind of "age of man" motif. But the themes are love, loss, death, memory, the eternal question of when to hold on and when to let go. All of this comes into play in the stories. Plus, I'm not referred to as the "King of Pain" for nothing. All of the stories have a poignancy that hopefully makes the underlying horror ache all the more.
The book sees you mix up the styles of writing, is it important for you to vary the style of stories that you write?
I don’t know if it’s important, but it just happens that way and I let it. I think the style I write in is (and should be) dictated by the story itself. Not the other way around. So I think it's natural that the style changes from story to story, and I think readers appreciate this. It ensures all of my stories don't sound the same, which I think in a collection is vital.
The book’s conception was due to your first ever convention, do you believe in serendipity?
Absolutely. My wife, Deb, can affirm that my motto is "Things work out the way they're supposed to." You've just got to have enough sense (and faith) to get out of your own way and let things happen.
The book had a special launch at World Horror Con, how did that go?
It seemed to be received very well. I know that I will never, ever regret screwing up my courage and putting a signed copy of the book into the hands of Jack Ketchum. That resulted in him saying publically that it was the best collection of novellas he's read in years. So, I got that going for me!
The End in All Beginnings has some big name authors giving it a cover blurb, how do you decide on who you would like to give a blurb to?
Was that a segue or was that a segue? Well, in terms of who we selected, we targeted some authors that I respect and asked them. It's hard because these guys aren’t just busy with their own writing, they're being bombarded with other authors like me wanting them to read their work. But we managed to get Jonathan Maberry and Kealan Patrick Burke and Jack Ketchum (or as I like to call him Jack Fucking Ketchum!) You rolls the dice and takes your chances. I wanted Peter Straub, but couldn't get him. But someday, oh someday, I will.
It appears that you have a brilliant relationship with two publishers, Grey Matter Press and Books of the Dead. How vital is a good publisher to an author in this day and age of self publishing?
Absolutely vital. You've got to find publishers that are in line with your way of thinking. Not just some company that will "publish" your book, but who will treat you with respect as an author. Who respects you, the work and the process. Who respects the readers. Anything less does a real (and sometimes all too real) disservice to your career as an author. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about publishers, and I can say that Roy Daley at Books of the Dead and Tony Rivera at Grey Matter are two of the very best out there.
We have all heard horror stories about bad publishers, how does an author ensure the publisher that they signing up to is a good one?
Common fucking sense. I mean, come on, this is a business, and if you have no common sense as an author, you'd better find someone with common sense to help you on the business side. If it seems like a bad deal, it generally is. Don't sign it. Don't be so enthralled that someone has agreed to publish your work that you sign away your soul. If a company doesn't treat you with respect beforehand or in its contract for you, it's not going to do so after that contract is signed.
One of your future publications, I believe, is based on the legend of the Pied Piper. I’ve always found this legend to be ultra-creepy, especially now that I have children, does your story delve into the primal instincts of child abduction as well?
Infestation is the name of that book, and it should be coming out soon from Books of the Dead. It really plays on the theme of what is looked on as "vermin" in our society—not just rats and mice and insects, but also the homeless. That's how it all starts, as a progression of things that ultimately leads to the Piper taking something truly valuable—a city's children. So, no, not truly about child abduction, though that figures in.
Some people would argue that he was a misunderstood figure, how does your take on him deal with this?
All villains are misunderstood. Otherwise they'd be heroes, and all our stories and legends and myths would have decidedly different cants.
When is the book out?
Soon or so I hear.
So what else does the future hold for you?
Hopefully years of wedded bliss with the delightful Deb. A move soon. Settling in. A novel of epic proportions entitled The Fearing that I am chipping away at and have promised to have done for Tony by the beginning of the year. A super-secret standalone novella soon to be announced from Grey Matter. Various short stories. Lots of cool stuff! Stay tuned at johnfdtaff.com, greymatterpress.com, booksofthedeadpress.com or follow me on Twitter @johnfdtaff.
Once again John thank you for taking the time to do this, it is always a pleasure to interview and author who likes to be interviewed, do you have any final words for the readers?
As always, thanks for reading!
Enter the Ginger Nuts of Horror Giveaway to Win THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS by John F.D. Taff
Ginger Nuts of Horror is giving away one autographed, limited edition paperback copy of John F.D. Taff’s latest collection of emotional horrors, THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS, published by Grey Matter Press. One winner will be selected at random after the close of the sweepstakes (12:01 AM CST on November 17, 2014) and will be announced here at Ginger Nuts of Horror. Register through November 16th to win a rare, autographed copy of the volume that horror icon Jack Ketchum calls “one of the best novella collections I’ve read in years,” John F.D. Taff’s THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS.
THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS is a collection of horror that’s a literary tour de force through the emotional pain and personal anguish of the human condition. Praised as one of the best collections of heartfelt and gut-wrenching horror written in recent history, it’s a disturbing trip through the ages exploring the painful tragedies of life, love and loss.
Each of the five masterfully written novellas included in THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS examine complex themes running the gamut from the loss of childhood innocence, to the dreadful reality of survival after everything we hold dear is gone, to some of the most profound aspects of human tragedy.
As one of the best storytellers of the modern age, John F.D. Taff takes readers on a skillfully balanced emotional journey into nostalgia, through personal pain and beyond the everyday terrors that are uncomfortably real over the course of the human lifetime. His straight-forward, nuanced writing style is at times darkly comedic, often deeply poetic and always accurate in the most terrifying of ways.
Evoking the literary styles of horror legends Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker, in THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS also pays homage to modern genre masters Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling and Clive Barker, solidifying author John F.D. Taff as modern horror’s new King of Pain.
PRAISE FOR THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS:
“THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS is accomplished stuff, complex and heartfelt. It’s one of the best novella collections I’ve read in years!” – JACK KETCHUM, Bram Stoker Award®-winning author of The Box, Closing Time and Peaceable Kingdom
“Taff brings the pain in five damaged and disturbing tales of love gone horribly wrong. This collection is like a knife in the heart. Highly recommended!” – JONATHAN MABERRY, New York Times bestselling author of Code Zero and Fall of Night
“Taff is a standout talent. Look no further than this collection for evidence that not only is horror not dead, there are new proponents of the craft capable to carry it into the future.” – KEALAN PATRICK BURKE, Bram Stoker Award®-winning author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Jack & Jill