Today, I have a special guest, fellow author published through Books of the Dead Press, John F.D. Taff, author of Little Deaths and the upcoming novel The Bell Witch.
WK: Welcome, John, and thanks for coming. You can put that cigar out anywhere… well, anywhere but there. Do you realize that’s a real stuffed Tasmanian Devil you just ashed on?
JT: Sorry ’bout that. I’ll find you a new one that looks a bit less ragged next time I’m in the area.
WK: Thanks. Now, John, a common question I’ve been asked is about inspiration. It seems like something all writers have to address, so what about you? What is your inspiration for writing?
JT: Everyone. Everything. Eveywhere. Every moment. And that's not a joke.
WK: Well, that’s one way to put it. You can find inspiration for stories everywhere you look, at least from my experience. Once I was even inspired by this fine-looking woman. After our business was transacted I had to—wait, that came out wrong. She was my good friend’s mother and a finely dressed estate agent. You should have seen her… Nevermind. That’s a story for another day. So, what made you write The Bell Witch?
JT: I've been fascinated by The Bell Witch since I read about it in grade school. It's one of the best-known, well-documented poltergeist cases ever. And most of the ghost stories I'd read as a kid were set in Ye Olde Englande. So, that this was in America (OK, nearly 200 years ago) made it more visceral to me. So, it's been floating around back there in the recesses of my brain for a long, long time.
WK: I find a lot of garbage floating in the recesses of my mind at times. It takes time to sift through it all and find the gems amongst the trash. Often, it’s better to just go with what you know. Does your inspiration ever come from people you know?
JT: Absolutely. To be a reader is to be a listener and an observer. Characters I write are all little pieces of just about everyone I've ever encountered. I think you take away pieces of people you meet. If you're smart, you incorporate them into your work.
WK: Well said. I couldn’t agree more. Life is chock full of people and events to draw from. While not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
JT: I read… a lot. Mostly history—Civil War, Ancient Egypt & South America—some fantasy and scifi. What don't I read a lot of? Horror. And the reason for that, simply, is I don't want a lot of that floating around in my brain when I sit down to write.
WK: That’s certainly understandable. Sometimes I wonder if maybe something I wrote was subconsciously pulled from another story or something I saw in passing. I would never intentionally copy someone else’s work, but you never know where some of these ideas are coming from. People sometimes say, “That sounds just like so-in-so.” It’s almost like they are accusing you of plagiarism. Thankfully, normally whoever is mentioned isn’t anyone I’ve heard of, so I haven’t had to worry about unintentionally copying someone’s idea, or at least being confronted by it. Either way, the stories would be different, but I strive to be original, as I’m sure you do, too. Speaking of famous people we like to copy (just kidding), who are your favorite authors?
JT: Peter Straub. Hands down. The Throat is, hands down, one of the best books I've ever read. I like Jack Vance, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Stephen R. Donaldson in fantasy and scifi. I like travel writer Bill Bryson a lot. Tolkien, King (of course), Gaiman, Barker.
WK: I recognize a few of those and agree wholeheartedly. Now, you just finished a novel that is coming out today if I recall correctly, The Bell Witch. Do you have a celebration activity or something you like to do when you finish a novel?
JT: I sigh a sigh of relief, and then sigh again because it's time to work on selling it.
WK: What about characters? How do you choose character names, and are they important?
JT: Character names are vastly important. They have to sound "right." I spend a lot of time in picking names. What makes me laugh these days is so many writers think their characters have to have interesting names, rather than ordinary, everyday names. I won’t point fingers, but look at Will Smith's character's name in the abysmal After Earth: Cypher Raige. Ugh.
WK: I haven’t actually seen that one yet, but I’m a fan of Will Smith movies in general. Which movie/drama series do you love the most?
JT: I'm a big Star Trek fan, though the latest two films aren't my favorite. I enjoyed the remake of Battlestar Galactica. And I am awaiting with immoderate joy the arrival of the final book in Stephen R. Donaldson's decade's spanning Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Last Dark.
WK: Star Trek is great. The Trouble with Tribbles was classic. You should have seen this tribble one time in band camp… just kidding. No, I wouldn’t go there. So, what genre do you enjoy writing about most and why?
JT: Here's the thing. I find that most of the stuff I write isn't truly, really horror. I mean, I have more of a Twilight Zone-vibe to my stuff. It's dark, sure, and creepy, and there's an atmosphere of dread, of something wrong in my work. But some people don't think it's horror. OK with me. It's what I enjoy writing. No, really, it's not even that. It's what I write; what comes out of me, regardless of whether I like it or not.
WK: Well said. It isn’t like we have control over the words coming out of our mouths or through our pens. What do we look like, journalists? Creativity exists without limitations or much structure. So, speaking of structure, what's your writing routine? In other words, where, how, when, any strange rituals?
JT: No strange rituals, I suppose. I am a night owl, so I don't really get going until late afternoon. I write mostly at night. When I'm really going, I like some hot tea and a cigar. Other than that, no strange rituals.
WK: Great, so no greased pigs or mud wrestling. You’re missing out on all the fun, John. What about your room? Maybe it’s more fun. Describe the room where you write? Music or no music?
JT: I live on the banks of a very rural river. My house sits a moderate throw from said river, and the windows of my main room open onto it. I love the country. I love trees. I love wide, sweeping vistas. I am not, so much, a fan of crowds and people and houses jammed cheek-by-jowl together. So, my desk faces out the window. I have a swanky laptop and a nifty 27-inch monitor so my aging eyes can actually see what I type. I listen to music when I write, but it has to be wordless…classical or movie soundtracks, just something to make a little white noise.
WK: Exactly. Sounds just like how I write… boring with few distractions. Sounds like we’d get along just fine. Here’s a little test—rejection letters… save 'em or throw 'em out?
JT: I used to save them, amassing a rather startlingly large file folder. But I find them mostly distracting and disheartening. And I have a rather mawkish predilection for going back and reading and rereading them. Does me no good. So, now I save them in email form, just to remind me where I've sent stuff and where it's been rejected. But I don't revisit them in any way.
WK: John, it sounds like you enjoy abusing yourself… just a little. I’ve gotten so many rejections, I know what’s in them. Half the time you wind up hoping to find a check, dollar bill, feather, chocolate, anthrax, something besides the inevitable words of rejection—even when it’s the same letter you’ve read for the eight thousandth time. Don’t do that to yourself. I’m glad you’ve drifted away from the predilection for the time being. And thanks for coming, John.
JT: Thanks for having me.
WK: Would you mind taking the stuffed Tasmanian Devil with you? He’s looking a little crispy around the edges where you’ve been snubbing that cigar?
JT: Sure, anytime.
WK: Thanks and remember folks, The Bell Witch will be out today. I got a special pre-release look at it and was blown away. The cover is incredible too. Get your copy. You won’t regret it. I’ve included my review below.
The Bell Witch Review:
by Weston Kincade
Need a good haunting? John F.D. Taff has certainly given the Bell Witch folktale new life. The Bell Witch is a superb story that grips you early, keeps you guessing, and will linger in your mind long after the last page has come and gone. As Taff says, “get a cup of tea, light up a good stogie, stoke the fire, and settle down in your easy chair.” The Bell Witch will keep your eyes blazing across each line and your heart pounding as this torturous ghost story unfolds. Don’t pass it up.
Available on Amazon.com.
Available on Amazon.com.
Weston Kincade ~ Author of the Altered Realities series, A Life of Death collection of novels, and Strange Circumstances