Hey all, we hope you are well, and we are happy to welcome you to this, part two of our Semi-Live conversation with John C. Foster. This is where we really get down to the nitty gritty, people, so grab your beverage of choice and let’s dig in with out further ado.
If you haven’t read part 1, click here.
Part 2 of 2
Hey people! I hope you all are well today and I hope you’re in the mood for something fun and SUPER insightful. Anyone who’s followed me for a while likely knows I’m a huge fan of John C. Foster and Rich is no different, but for being maybe a little more emphatic about his fandom than I. He’s young, I’m old, that’s why. Simple.
Anyway, where was I? Oh. Over the years, John and I have developed something of a rapport and I believe that’s true of Rich and him but I can’t confirm for sure. They may hate each other. But Foster and I like each other and we have become comfortable in our friendship and in conversation so it was an easy choice when Rich and I first brainstormed this somewhat unorthodox method of doing an interview. We needed a gullible victim. John was just such a target, and we’re eternally grateful to him for falling into our trap. I know you’re going to dig this so stick around.
I’m’ going to tell you briefly what we did here, and then we’ll get on with it. We wanted to do a live interview but we have neither video or audio capabilities so we decided to improvise. Using a Google Hangout, we did this “semi-live” interview in real time, firing questions and answers back and forth and having a blast doing it. Below is the transcription of Part 1 of our somewhat lengthy conversation and we hope you have as much fun with it as the three of us did.
Legend: J = John, R = Rich, S = Shane
S: We came along similar pipelines to our current reading tastes. I’m still a die-hard fan of things like Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone and the darker stuff like that and some SF, but yeah, it all lead to this mixture of crime and horror that is my go to now. Let me ask you this, since you already teased us with that little “All the Teeth in the World” name drop. I bet there’s not a goddamn thing you want to tell us about that yet, but do you have anything else you want to tell us about? Also, do you need beta readers for Teeth? haha.
J: Wait, first I have to wallow in the glory of Michael Moorcock!
In fact, his work is probably one of the factors that started guiding me towards horror…Elric in particular, Arioch and Mabelrode, a soul drinking sword. Heh, I was a big D&D player and one Easter my parents gifted me with the Elric role playing game…which was basically all about summoning demons for power. Little did they know!!!
Quick pause whilst I refill a glass
S: While John is away we can trash talk him Rich.
J: Hah! I have returned with wine!
S: It’s on. I’ve got whiskey!
J: Fuck yes!
Okay, back to biz
All the Teeth in the World is a horror novel that should be ready in the next few months, I hope – I’ve been working on it for over a year based on an idea I’ve carried around for a long time…without going into too much detail, it involves a malefic nature spirit that has been drawn into NYC. And actually I will need a beta reader for the next draft!
S: I know a guy. 😉
J: I have another straight up crime novel I’m kind of sitting on – Rooster – that is set in the present day but really exploits noir style and language. I wrote it as a love letter to New York and is loosely based on a screenplay I wrote a long time ago…actually, the script that got me my first agent. If the stars align, I’d like Rooster to become a series character in the vein of Parker.
And there’s another book – a suspense novel with a sci fi twist – that I wrote as an experiment while working on Teeth. See, with each novel, I try to do something new that will expand my abilities as a writer, and this time I tried to write two books at once. What a bitch! Once I’m done with Teeth – all done – I’ll go back an continue working on drafts of that novel, which is called The Ascension Trait.
R: A lot of writers have early moments of when they first discovered their love of writing. Not accomplishments or sales, but what moment did you realize you were meant to write?
Also you mentioned a screenplay. Did you have a lot of experience in that area prior to writing books? A lot of reading – for me- is crafting visuals in my mind while reading. Does your experience with screenplays help you in crafting scenes in your work? Though they are different forms, I think there could be a lot of overlap
J: It’s funny, I was told by people that I was a writer when I was a kid, long before I ever thought of it as a choice I’d make. I was a reader – a voracious reader – so that improved my language skills…but I was so tuned out of school that being a writer didn’t seem like a reality. Looking back, i can see that a lot of my early training in writing was in creating elaborate adventure scenarios for D&D and other role playing games, scenarios I knew would never be played. The act of creating them was worthwhile enough. I remember having an epiphany during my fourteenth summer – “Hey, I could try to write one of these fantasy novels!” This happened while I was undergoing double session summer practices to get ready for the football season and I would scribble a bit in my bedroom before the guys came to pick me up, but I kept it totally secret. The world of writing about magic and elves and such was so totally separate from trying to fit in as a high school freshman…just wildly dissonant. But I guess that was the first time I gave it a whack.
I moved out to LA when I was 20 to become a screenwriter…though I’d never been to LA or seen a screenplay. Frankly, I was as enticed by thoughts of escape and by the glamour of Hollywood than I was by any artistic notions. The reality of LA was a hard punch in the nose, but I eventually learned how to write screenplays while stumbling upward in an unexpected public relations career and that knowledge definitely helped me learn to write short stories and novels. I suspect that a beginning in writing for the screen is where I derive some of my need to keep the story moving at a certain pace – which is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but definitely something I do.
S: Pacing is one of your strongest fortes so it definitely paid off. When it comes to pacing, the guys I think about immediately when I hear the word are Piccirilli, Ketchum, and Foster.
J: Oh, wait – for another suggestion of folk horror, check out Adam Nevill’s The Ritual!!!
S: Oh, yeah, one of the best modern examples I can think of.
J: Jesus, that’s a heckuva a compliment. Thank you. Like a lot of people I idolize Ketchum and have specifically looked to his work when I’ve been afraid to write something…he was fearless.
S: The bravest of the bunch I think. Okay, I’m going to spin a few more questions out and then I’ll let Rich take the helm for anything he’s got hanging out there. Then I need to take of and go get my wife some meds.
S: You are drawn to emotionally broken, severely fucked up, amoral protagonists like Bone (don’t deny it, I’ve read your work), and I’ve noted myself that those characters tend to be among the best. What is it that makes them work so well in both your writing and in the works of others?
J: There’s probably a Mary Sue element at play, in that I’m kind of fucked up and my morals are questionable, but the defensible answer is that they’re just more interesting. It’s so much harder for them to do the right thing that when they succeed, it’s a major achievement. Everybody expects the Lone Ranger to run into a burning building to save the cat, but how much more meaningful would it be if hardbitten Jesse James did it? I like to put damaged people – damaged by their own choices – in a position where they can do “the right thing” but at great cost, and watch them struggle to decide and take action. It’s the kind of redemption story I like, even if the character ultimately fails in the big battle, they’ve made one spot of good in a bad world. Thin about the mean as Hell character of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, who shows his fucking mettle when he saves the young girl after she was bitten by rattlesnakes? I was cheering when I watched it on screen…and my favorite thing is that he went right back to being aprick afterward. This is also the backbone of noir, of course, and why I love the genre so much.
S: Yeah, you hit the heart of it there I think. Everyone loves a great redemption story–THE ISLE is such–and it’s important for that character revert back to asshole mode even after doing “the right thing.”
One more from me.
J: hit me
S: What sparks the inspiration for the character names you come up with in your stories? Like “Burden Ipswitch?” What well of artsy wonderful weirdness did you draw that up from?
J: Heh, they were fun names to come up with. When you grow up in New England you’re immersed in the history of the pilgrims and such, so those kind of names were already lurking in my subconscious. The first Foster of my line came to Massachussets in the early 1600’s – Deacon Samuel Foster – so I dig looking at old cemeteries in MA and tasting the names…but really, the biggest influence of all was Linda’s parents, Duane and Carol Jones, who are genealogists. They have all kinds of books and records tracing the various lines of their family back to Ireland and Wales, etc., so I was talking to them and getting names…like Hatevil Nutter? He was a real guy. Increase Mather I lifted from history – he was a puritan clergyman during the time of the Salem witch trials (the jerk). Once I had an understanding of puritan names, I was able to craft my own…the best of this lot being Burden Ipswich, who is also my favorite character in the book.
S: Okay, I’m done. All yours, Mr. Duncan.
R: I’ll hit you with two more John and then we will set you free.
Sometimes authors are divided on sequels or shared universes because they want works to stand alone and move forward to other ideas that call to them. How do you feel about possibly revisiting your works in the future? The thing that jumps out to me is the organization that first summoned Mister White. There is a lot there, but man that feels like a killer story begging to be told.
What were some of your favorite reads of this past year (could be 2018 releases or new to you)? Who are some writers that you’d like to introduce to Ink Heist readers?
J: I think every story, be it a novel or short, has to stand on its own as complete – even in the trilogy I’m writing with PMMP, I made sure that Dead men and the second book, Night Roads, could stand on their own, as will the final book when it’s finished. That being said, I’ve spoken to Grey Matter Press about a possible return to the world of Mister White and the publisher, Anthony Rivera, had the brilliant idea of writing a prequel. So…nothing is signed or has been set in motion but I have an idea and it’s not out of the question that I’ll return to that world, because I love the violent uncertainty of it. That being said, new ideas are always calling to me, so it kind of needs to find just the right moment to ‘click’ and then I’ll know it’s time. I also have some ideas of returning to the world of The Isle…but we’ll see. In both Mister White and The Isle there are a number of questions deliberately left unanswered and it would be an awful lot of fun to lace up my boots and hike back in there…
R: I had that same thought about The Isle. If that happens, I know a lot of people who would be thrilled!
J: I read a lot, bouncing back and forth between reading to further my own work and reading for fun (which also furthers my own work). But there were some stand out books this year and stand out writes that I’d love to point people towards. First off, everybody should be reading Megan Abbott. She’s amazing. She has a number of suspense/thrillers that are set in the present day, but I learned that she’s an old school Chandler fan like myself and has also written in that classic noir style. Queenpin is one of my favorite books of the year. Christa Faust is a badass and her Angel Dare novels are sexy, hardboiled gems. The novel Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin is another absolute stand out book, a wilderness noir. Laird Barron wrote Blood Standard, which is starting a series, and it is a perfect thing, hardboiled and literary at the same time. Victor LaValle’s The Changeling and Lauren Davis’ The Grimoire of Kensington Market are two very different takes on a modern fairy tale that should be read. John Claude Smith, John F.D. Taff and Nadia Bulkin have amazing collections of short stories out now and if people aren’t reading Matthew M. Bartlett, they should fix that. Oh – I remember that Shane first pointed me towards She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. Wait, one more – The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware is wonderful old school gothic crime in a modern voice! I could do this all day, but I’ll stop now.
R: That’s an awesome list John and more than a few of those will likely wind up on the Ink Heist lists we have coming! Thanks again for talking with Shane and I, this was a blast. Before we let you go any parting words?
S: Damn John. I could damn near write that up as John Foster’s favorite reads of 2018, haha!
Oh just a minute, I have parting words.
J: Shane – I still owe you a best five crime reads of 2018 if you want it. (S: It’s on the record now, Foster!)
S: John, this has been a pure joy for me to do this and I know Rich agrees. We do want that list. And let me just say it is an Ink Heist consensus that Mister White used to be your best book but The Isle is that book now. I know Rich agrees, I KNOW our readers will agree, and any of you out there who haven’t read this thing should unfuck that soon!
J: This has been a blast, guys. I love your enthusiasm for writing and your generosity – I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that it helps to read Ink Heist when the black dog is barking, reminding myself of all the great work that is happening. And if I can go off topic a bit – I know 2018 was a tough year for a lot of people. I really do hope that this year is brighter for all of us.
Ink Heist: Okay, Rich and I would like to say thank you to John for taking the time to rap with us, and thank you to all of you who stuck around for this outstanding conversation. Keep your eyes glued to Ink Heist, kids. We fell in love with this interview format and we intend to do many more of them in the very near future.
About John C. Foster
John C. Foster was born in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and has been afraid of the dark for as long as he can remember. A writer of thrillers and dark fiction, Foster lives in New York City with the actress Linda Jones and their dog, Coraline. Dead Men was released by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing on July 22, 2015 and Mister White by Grey Matter Press on April 5, 2016. Mister White the Short Story was included in the anthology Dark Visions Vol. 2 in 2013, also by Grey Matter Press. For more information, please visit http://www.johnfosterfiction.com.