I have a bad habit. One of the curse/blessings of the writer is enjoying the act of writing. Not just of seeing their words on the page, of reading them and being satisfied with the final product, but loving the process of thinking and planning, of tap-tap-tapping at the keyboard and watching the letters crawl across the page like ants on a white picnic blanket. So I tend to make these introductions to other peoples essays overly long, windy observations of the work at hand. I’m trying to break that habit, honestly I am, and John C. Foster’s words below are strong enough to stand on their own without any help from me. But I wanted to put in a note here not about the author of the Libros de Inferno series but about the publisher. Foster’s Dead Men was the first book I read from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (PMMP) and I remember thinking that, if that book was representative of the type of work they published, I had found a new favorite producer of great speculative fiction. And it turns out that it both was and wasn’t exemplary of their product line. I’ve since read more of their books than I honestly remember, and each one has been joy to read. But PMMP is about originality. Nobody has told me that, but it’s plain in the fiction they crank out. Every book is different from everything else, different voices, different thematic elements, different genre, you name it. Their focus is not on one particular flavor of fiction, but on producing the absolute best of the particular themes and tropes their authors choose to take on. And you know what? They’re damn good at it. They nail it every fucking time and they blow my mind more often than not. And if you give them the chance, they’ll do the same for you. I guarantee it. So give this outstanding and engaging essay a read, then go get Foster’s books–you want to–and, after that, go get your hands on the rest of PMMP’s catalog of top-shelf darkness.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
PICKING UP WHERE DEAD MEN LEFT OFF
By John C. Foster
You want to know what writing a first novel feels like? Eighteen months under a tattoo needle while slamming back shots of tequila.
When I wrote DEAD MEN, my first novel, I had no idea that I was kicking off a process as grueling as it would be exalting. Highs and lows. Pain and excitement. I began the book with a short chapter about two men in a black car and that’s it.
That’s all I had.
I put my ear against the hood and listened the engine telling me where to drive. The men became John Smith and Alice, two of the titular Dead Men, and the story grew from there. A tale big and violent enough to contain them. Somewhere during that process I realized that I wasn’t writing a book, I was starting a trilogy and with the confidence of ignorance, I stepped on the gas pedal.
If you’ve read DEAD MEN, you know it’s a sprawling road story with a lot of characters, many of whom (SPOILER WARNING) are dead by the end.
Enter NIGHT ROADS, book two of the Libros de Inferno trilogy. The middle chapter. What could be (if I screwed up) the boring chapter that would kill off a reader’s interest in picking up book three.
I needed to find a way to capture the same kinetic quality of the first story but establish the rules for the final struggle. If book one was an introduction of the players, book two needed to have them take their places on either side of the board. White against black…well, in this world it’s more bloodstained soot against black, but you get my drift.
At the same time, the book needed to stand on its own.
So I dropped an Ace from my sleeve. My first concrete decision was that if the first book was John Smith’s, this book would be Hoodoo Girl’s. You remember her, right? A twelve year old hillbillyette who thinks she’s got the gift of hoodoo? With Hoodoo Girl were Sheriff Joe and Connie, a shaman and gunfighter lined up alongside the white queen. I had one side of the board.
Being this is a story written as a series of collisions, I set my characters in motion, realizing that I needed new blood to elevate this story past its older sibling. Enter the witches. Witches of swamp and forest, of abandoned mills and clan cookouts. The powers behind the mysterious Priest that drove the first story stepping out of the shadows to reveal themselves. But I needed another Ace so I checked my boot and wouldn’t you know, there it was. See, there were four Dead Men in the first book, but one of them committed suicide in his first scene.
I brought him back, and he came back more horrible than the other three combined.
Black had its King.
In the middle, slamming back and forth against each other and everyone else they ran into, were the remaining Dead Men, John Smith back from Hell, the Ghoul wounded and insane and Alice, bitter Alice, looking for a way to break free of the cruel Priest. All of their stories weaving together into an overarching theme…they had to choose a side.
So I had my framework: setting up the chessboard. I had my pieces both black and white. The last major decision was to walk around the map of America with my dowsing rod and see where it pointed. Because these books are about the nightmare flipside of Americana, in each one I’m exploring the supernatural quirks unique to different parts of the country. This is the seasoning, the critical texture that separates each book and while the first book had scoured the Texas and Mexican deserts with a dash of Appalachian hoodoo, the second book landed with a muddy splash in the Louisiana bayou.
That’s all I’ll say about it here.
Now, by the time I sat down to write NIGHT ROADS, I had written two other novels in addition to DEAD MEN so I expected an easier ride.
I was wrong.
When a Nascar driver sees a spin out up ahead he drives right at it. That’s how I wrote DEAD MEN. If I was afraid of the content in a scene, I gunned right for it. If I thought it would be beyond my ability to write, I gritted my teeth and dove in. The darkness of the first book got to me. Hoodoo Girl first appeared on the scene to rescue me, because I needed to know that out there under the blood moon someone was fighting the good fight, even if it was only a foul mouthed kid. Stepping back into the carnage of the story to write NIGHT ROADS turned out to be just as taxing as the first book.
But it was worth it. Every minute. I’m proud of this book and damned satisfied with the process, which is entirely different from my other novels. I believe that instead of being the weak link in the chain, book two is even stronger than the first.
I hope you enjoy it, because Hoodoo Girl is finding teachers. Teaching her about Power. Teaching her to fight. And the Dead Men are determining their own destiny, each emerging as something more than they were before.
Especially John Smith, the elemental of violence. The unwitting key to unlocking a flood from below that will consume our world.
I’ve been resting since I finished NIGHT ROADS. Working on other projects while I gather my strength to write the final book in the Libros de Inferno trilogy. But I’ll admit I’m afraid to get started. Afraid because I know how it all ends. I’ve been able to see the last scene as clear as day since book one.
I’m afraid to write that final scene, because I know it’s going to cost me.
John C. Foster’s novel Dead Men was published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in 2015 and his novel Mister White was published by Grey Matter Press in April of 2016. His debut collection of short stories, Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances and Night Roads, sequel novel to Dead Men, were published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in 2017. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Shock Totem, Dark Moon Digest and Dread – the Best of Grey Matter Press among others. He lives in Brooklyn with the actress Linda Jones and their dog Coraline. For more information, please visit www.johnfosterfiction.com.