Monthly Archives: June 2013

I Have a Brother I’m Very Proud of…

Stylin' circa ummm...probably 1967.

He’s on the right there, in his stylish suit.  I’m on the left, and our sister, Kim, is in the center.

His name is Robert, which is what our mother calls him now.  But in his youth he was Bobby, and even today I can’t really bring my mouth to wrap around the word “Robert” when I speak with him or of him.  To me, he’ll always be Bobby…even though he’s 48 years old now.

When he was a youth–when it was just the three of us kids together, me, him and our sister Kim–he was…let’s be delicate about this shall we?…a shit.  Or rather a shit disturber.  He was the proverbial middle child…willful, sullen, bothersome, always doing something (usually negative) to bother someone.  We shared a room for a while, a horrible Odd Couple experiment that my parent’s wisely ended when they remodeled the basement and put their bedroom down there in the first house we grew up in.  He was a neat freak, I was a slob.  Probably should have known even then, but who thought of such things?

Growing up, we weren’t estranged or anything, it’s just that we were both very, very different, with completely separate interests and groups of friends.  I paid little to no attention to the person he was becoming or what he was doing.  Hey, it happens. He spent most of his free money on clothes.  I spent most of my free money on books and music.  Probably should have known even then.

I grew up, he grew up.  He moved to California nearly three decades ago with a friend and never looked back.  He was, of all the people I know, born to live there.  Tall, thin, handsome, stylish, he was made to be there.

Our lives went on.  I got married, had kids.  He and a friend moved in together.  Into a one bedroom place in Long Beach.  Questions were raised in the family, silently.  My sister Kim and I, though, had finally put two and two together.  But why wouldn’t he say anything?  He had to have known that his family would be supportive.

Well, during a trip to California several years ago, Kim finally brought it up, point blank, and Bobby quietly said, “Yes, I’m gay.” I often stop to think of the years he’d gone through feeling as if he couldn’t say anything to his own family.  How horrible to have to live like that, how horrible that this society–this often stupid, weirdly religious, weirdly conservative society–exacts such a terrible toll from some of its best members.

But he “came out,” I guess you’d say, and his family met him with open arms.  I’m really proud of my parents and how they reacted during this period, especially my dad–an ex-marine, ex-cop tough guy who easily could have gone the other way.  But didn’t.  Bobby was his son, just as much as me, and just as much entitled to love and be loved as anyone.

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That’s me on the left, recently, one of my bestest friends, Chris, then Bobby, then Bill on the right.

So, we fast forward.  California allows same-sex marriage, yanks it from the books, then last week the Supreme Court decides, in not necessarily the bravest or forward thinking of ways, but decides nonetheless that, perhaps, DOMA was a bad idea.  Perhaps we shouldn’t discriminate against an entire class of people.  Perhaps we should learn from the mistakes of discrimination in the past.  Duh.

Bobby and his partner, Bill, at 24 years together, now have the longest relationship in our family, save for my parents, who just celebrated their 50th anniversary.  My marriage ended years ago…thank god.  Kim has been married, I think, 20 years now.  My sister Heather is awaiting a proposal.  And my baby sister, Bri, just got married last fall.  She’ll be 24 this year.  I’ll be 50.  Same parents.  Yeah, freaky.

This past week, Bobby and Bill got their wedding license in West Hollywood, California.  This week, they will get married, just like I and my sisters and parents did.  He will now be able formalize his relationship, which may not seem like anything to some, but it is something.  Something very big.  Especially when your country has denied this to you.

I am very, very proud of my brother and Bill.  I am happy for them, happy that their relationship has lasted this long, happy that they can stand up now in society and affirm that relationship before God and everyone.

And though this isn’t a political rant or a religious rant, let me say one thing.   I believe that probably the two most important documents written by man over the last 2,000 years are The Bible and the Constitution of the United States.  One was written to affirm love.  The other to affirm freedom.  I don’t believe in the mythology of the first one, though I can get behind the message. However, I take the second one very seriously.  And when people, for whatever reason, use either of these documents to deny love or freedom to a group of people, for whatever reason, you have lost me.  You haven’t just lost me as an adherent to your particular philosopy.  That’s a given.  You have also lost my respect for your particular philosophy.  Period.

So, my brother, Bobby, will get married next week.  He will give me another brother-in-law, and that’s great.  And the world will go on spinning, let me assure you.  But I think it will go on spinning a little better, a little truer because of that.

Congrats Bobby and Bill!  I am proud of you and happy for you!  I will give you a sister-in-law soon.  Promise!


And Now, Some Stoat on Stoat Action!

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Stoats.  Sword fighting.  That’s All.  Enjoy!


Ummm…Another Great Review for Little Deaths!

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OK, so yet another great review for Little Deaths, this one from Alicia Banks over at Horror News Network!  Alicia posted her review tonight, and you can head over there to see it. But here’s a little of what she said.

“Short stories rule. I love a good short story. I love an entire collection of good short stories even more. That’s what you get with John F. D. Taff’s Little Deaths.

Little Deaths is Taff’s first published book though you’d never believe that once you start reading it. Given, he’s been writing for about 20 years now, so it’s not like he’s a novice to the art of words. I’m simply surprised this is the first book he’s had published.

When I finished the collection this morning, I sat in the quiet of my kitchen for a moment. I sipped my coffee. And then I pulled out my laptop to see if John’s new book, The Bell Witch, has been released yet because I need more. Nope, not yet. Be on the lookout for it, Dear Reader. And in the meantime, pick up Little Deaths to tide you over. And drop John a line on Twitter if you’re so inclined @johnfdtaff. He’s friendly, and he doesn’t bite. You can keep up on his blog at https://johnfdtaff.com/ too.”

Alicia really liked the book, and she’s got something nice to say about almost all of the stories.  My favorite line of hers from the review is, “‘The Tontine’ tells the new vampires of the last 10-15 years to go fuck themselves. I dig that.”  So do I, Alicia!

Take a minute to head over to Horror News Network to read Alicia’s entire review, and poke around…it’s a cool site.  And thanks, Alicia!  Glad you liked the book!

Remember, Little Deaths is still for sale at Amazon.  Pick up your copy here today!

And more information on The Bell Witch in the next few weeks…promise!

 


Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Reviews…

Woke up today and, as I often do, I checked the status of my book, Little Deaths, at Amazon.  I was surprised to see that I’d finally garnered my first one-star review.  It was a momentous occasion, to say the least.  Here’s what my 1-star reviewer had to say:

“All stories ended in the same way. No real impact and very flat characters. It didn’t strike a nerve at all….a very sad thing for a horror fiction novel.”

Aside from the fact that Little Deaths isn’t a novel, this reviewer is certainly entitled to her opinion.  I and most of my readers would respectfully disagree about the other points she makes, but that’s OK.

Little Deaths has racked up 32 reviews so far on Amazon.  Of those, 19 are 5-star reviews and 8 are 4-star.  Four of them are two-stars, and now my badge of honor, the 1-star review.  Let me point out here, also, that most of these reviews, the lion’s share by far, are from people I don’t know.  They’re not from friends or family, for the most part, because, as I have learned, getting your friends and family to review your stuff on Amazon is like asking them to lop off a limb for some reason.  (To those of my friends and family who have left reviews, thanks!)

Normally, I’d be pretty upset.  I am most certainly not.  Is it because I think I’m such a great writer that I’m above criticism?  Nope.  Is it because I think all readers will love my writing?  Hells no!  I learned long ago that people like what they like, and that everything I write won’t appeal to everybody.  In fact, some readers won’t like anything I write.

And that’s cool, because I don’t write for everyone.  I write primarily for myself.  If others like it–and this 1-star review to the contrary, Little Deaths has been awfully well received, if I do say so–that’s great!  If not, OK, not your cup of tea.

No, I’m not upset because I’ve actually been expecting this.  I mean, come on, it’s bound to happen, really.  I’ve got 4 two-star reviews.  And all of these “bad” reviews say the same thing:  slow, boring, endings that are incomprehensible.  I get that.  I really do.  Even though Little Deaths is presented as a “horror” collection, the stories therein don’t fall into the “normal” horror conventions of gore, splatter and things jumping out at you.  There aren’t really any zombie, vampire or werewolf stories in it.  It’s a different take on horror, a more quiet, Twilight Zone kind of thing, and I know that this doesn’t appeal to those who want to see blood spray and body parts consumed.  That’s OK, I just don’t write much of that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you expect to write, if you expect to put your art out into the public, you have to be prepared for rejection.  I think a lot of writers expect rejection to end when they actually have things published, but it doesn’t…not really.  There are always going to be people who don’t like your stuff, some of it or all of it.  And you have to be OK with that.

I am OK with it.  In a weird way, these “negative” reviews make me believe in myself and what I’m doing even more.  In a weird way, they legitimize the 5-star reviews I’ve received on Amazon.

Not that I like them, agree with them or want any more of them.

I’m pragmatic.  Not crazy.

P.S.  It’s just come to my attention that the “person” who left the review also left 63 others on the exact same day.  Hmmm.  Seems kind of spammy to me, so I reported it to Amazon.


Interview with BOTD Author Justin Robinson. Yes, He Makes a Boogie Nights Reference

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So, today we have a little off-the-cuff, extemporaneous interview with Justin Robinson, author of Everyman, just published by Books of the Dead Press.  It’s a great book, go get it.  And here’s a little background about the guy himself.

Q.  OK….Ahem…so here with are with Justin Robinson, author and newly minted Books of the Dead writer. So, tell me a little about yourself here at the start.  At least as much as you’d like to share.  Any closet skeletons would be deeply appreciated.

A. Let’s see.  I’m married.  I have six fish, all named Nigel and I’m pretty sure my cat has vertigo.  I’ve been a writer for a while now and I’ve worked in just about every medium there is.  I did some time as a script doctor, I’ve worked in comics, and I wrote a couple articles for these things called “magazines” that used to exist.

Q.  Magazines.  Fascinating.  That’s where my career centered, before magazines, as a viable advertising medium, began their long, slow burrowing towards the earth’s core.    Do you have a fish license? (Sorry, somewhat obscure joke.)  How did the pendulum swing from non-fiction, more journalism-centered writing, to fiction?  And why?

A.  It was actually for a gaming magazine called No Quarter.  I play miniature wargames — starting with Warhammer 40K, then moving onto Warmachine and Hordes.  No Quarter was the in-house magazine for Privateer Press, who make Warmachine and Hordes.  It wasn’t really journalism.  I wrote flavor articles for fake monsters and whatnot.  It’s not really a big shift from that to this.  Back then I just wrote about where someone else’s monster came from.  Now I write about my own and get to add whole stories.

Q.  That’s cool.  I’ve seen these types of games in comic book stores and often wondered about them.  My kids and I got into Heroclix for a while when they were younger.  Do you remember the first fiction piece you wrote?  What was it about?  What was it that drove you to writing rather than, say, sports or acting or the chess club?

A.  I played Heroclix!  One of my favorite moments was when I decided to play the Gotham Police Department.  Jim Gordon got into a fistfight with Doc Ock, and my dice were hot, so the old man kicked the crap out of the supervillain.

I think in the first grade I wrote a story about a dinosaur taking a walk.  I’m going to assume he made it there.  Well, sports, I wasn’t any good at unless you count fencing, and then only so-so.  I acted in high school, but it turns out I’m not that good looking.

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Q.  So, writing…what was the impetus for Everyman?  Where’d the idea come from, and how did you know it was a novel rather than a short?

A.  Well, before “Coldheart” I didn’t really do shorts, so I wasn’t thinking in that mode.  I’ve found that the form something takes generally depends on my mindset.  When I was writing screenplays, everything was a movie.  When I was writing comics, everything was a 4-6 issue limited series.  I had been writing novels — Everyman was the sixth I’d done at that point — and so that’s where my head was at.

The initial inspiration came during a roleplaying game.  I play a lot of thieves/rogues/sneaky guys, and in one of these games I thought to myself, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone could steal an object and with it become someone else?”

Q.  The Doppleganger and the Gestalt Entity featured in Everyman are two wildly original ideas in horror, and they bring a depth and underpinning to the book not often seen in horror novels.  Where did they come from?

A.  The Doppelganger came out of that initial thought.  I was still sort of in the headspace of The Dollmaker, which was my first true horror novel, and that was about a guy who basically through a combination of insanity and genius, gives himself superpowers.  So when I wrote Everyman, I had that idea rattling around there.  So once I decided that I was going to write about the Doppelganger from his perspective, I started to think about what kind of combination of traits would enable someone to take this power from the universe.

The problem was, I didn’t have a book.  I had this sociopath running around stealing lives.  Where does he go?  Who’s trying to stop him?  I was already wrestling with the idea of his chapters being repetitive, and that was something I had to fight.

I started to consider his victims.  What happens to them?  Thematically, you have a character (the Doppelganger) who can become anyone, but the irony is, there’s nothing underneath.  Ian Covey is a void.  So I took someone with something in there, and then started mashing them together, over and over.  So to counterbalance the idea of someone who can look like anyone, but inside is no one, I created the Gestalt Entity, which looked like no one, but inside is everyone.

Q.  Which is great, because they’re opposite sides of the same coin, in a way.  And the opposing powers of these two is what keeps the narrative…umm….lively, shall we say.  So what was the easiest part of this book, for you?  And then, of course, what was the hardest?

A.  While writing it, I joked to my wife that the Doppelganger chapters were the hardest because I was writing a monster, the Gestalt Entity chapters were hardest because I was writing something for which no human has a frame of reference, and Sophie chapters were hardest because I didn’t have anything supernatural to fall back on.

Q.  And yet, you were able to give each one a distinct, unique voice.  As a writer, what comes easiest to you–plot? Characters? Dialog? Description?

A. Probably plot.  When I started out, it was as an aspiring screenwriter, so they really get you to be a technician when it comes to writing plot.  The three act structure is like gospel in pitch rooms.  It’s versatile, and definitely a good way to teach budding writers how to tell a compelling story.  I brought it with me to comics, and there it’s even more binding since there’s a finite amount of space to fill.  Novels, by comparison, have more room to breathe.  I wouldn’t necessarily say plot came easiest in terms of it being natural to me, but it came easiest in the sense that I put in the work first getting to know that aspect of storytelling.  The other stuff is catching up.  Hopefully.

Q.  I was going to ask you how your screenwriting experience comes into play.  That’s interesting.  What’s the hardest for you…and why?

A.  I know when I’m rewriting, descriptions are the things I’m most likely to tear up and try again.  When you’re writing a screenplay, you’re writing for someone who doesn’t like to read, and so your descriptions should be pretty short and vague.  It’s a house.  It’s a castle.  It’s a sex dungeon.  Your standard executive has seen all three of these things, and he doesn’t need to know specifics.

With comics, you’re describing something to an audience of one: your artist.  So you’ll say things like “the table is 4″x6” or “it’s the size of that dining room table on How I Met Your Mother, and you know what, you can get it at Ikea, and here’s a link.”  Not the most poetic of language, especially since the purpose of descriptive language in a book is to have someone not even notice how awesome it is.

Then, you’re dealing with what voice you’re writing in.  The standard thing these days seems to be this hybrid 1st and 3rd person (I use it in Everyman), where it’s ostensibly 3rd person limited, but your PoV character is commenting on the action.  In that case, do you write the description in an approximation of the PoV character’s voice?  The answer appears to be “sorta,” which probably isn’t that helpful.

Q.  OK, so what’s your favorite part of the writing process?

A.  Boogie Nights is one of my favorite movies of all time.  There’s a scene in it when Burt Reynolds and Ricky Jay are watching a rough cut of the first Brock Landers film.  Reynolds drifts into his old man whiskey-and-Marlboros voice and says, “This is it.  This is the one I’ll be remembered for.”

That’s not my favorite part.  My favorite part is when Jay responds with just the right touch of wonder in his voice, like he can’t quite believe what he’s saying.  “It’s a real film, Jack.”

My favorite part of the writing process is when I can look at a manuscript, and in that same tone of bemused wonder, think, “It’s a real book, Justin.”

Q.  Amen.  I agree.  When it’s all done, produced and you’re actually holding the thing in your hand.  OK, that was one of your favorite films.  I think an author’s favorite films are instructive.  What are some others?  What about authors?  Who are some of your favorites and their books?

A.  It’s usually before I’ve got the finished product.  It’s the rough cut, the vomit draft as I like to call it.  That’s when I have something.

The Thing is my favorite movie, period.  The Godfather, Alien, Double Indemnity, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski, The Warriors, I could probably keep going till Judgment Day… oh wait, Terminator.

Stephen King.  Probably The Shining or Carrie would be my favorite from him.  James Ellroy, and The Big Nowhere (that sounds like the title of an amazing Roald Dahl book).  I love the Ice and Fire stuff from Martin.  Caves of Steel by Asimov.  Dashiell Hammett.  The Thin Man, definitely.  You don’t get much better than The Thin Man.  I fell in love with Larry Doyle’s Go, Mutants!, but I’m not sure it’s a favorite yet.  And Catch-22 is my favorite novel of all time, though I have yet to read any more Heller.

Q.  So, what’s next?  What are you working on that you will unleash on the unsuspecting world soon?

A.  I’m working on a pair of sequels for two of my early novels.  One is with alpha readers now.  The other one I started way back in 2008 and am only now getting back to.  Turns out I wasn’t that good back then.  I’ve been describing it as a cross between Brokeback Mountain, Scarface, and Little Shop of Horrors, which isn’t that far off.

Q.  That’s sounds like a fantastic, trippy combo!  Well, congrats on Everyman!  It’s a fantastic read.  

A.  Thank you!  This was a lot of fun.


Another Great Review for…Oh, You Get the Idea

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Rick Hipson over at Hellnotes just posted a fantastic review for Little Deaths.

Often poetic, Taff infuses his craft with an obvious flare for the macabre.  You’re not going to find any hack ‘em slasher tales here that rely on shock and gore alone.  Prepare to come face to face with a brooding, permeating fear, the kind of living thing that crawls from the pages and burrows deep into your subconscious where it festers long after the lights go out.

“While most of the tales tend to have at least some form of supernatural element, certain selections like one of my personal favorites, “Box of Rocks,” rely on the malevolent side of man’s own deed.  The author proves that as effortlessly as fear transcends all borders, so, too, does John’s writing style stretch beyond the boundaries of any singular arena that might otherwise restrain his unchained muse.  With stories like “Snapback” or “The Mellified Man” (another personal favorite) it’s easy to say well, that’s sci-fi or that’s horror, but more often than not the only common string connecting each tale, other than the poignancy of the environments in which they’re created in, is that they don’t exist in worlds where happy endings have any chance of survival.

“…maybe the greatest fear of all is knowing that each of us has a little death waiting just around the corner whether we recognize its face or not; a haunting reality that John F.D. Taff captures with razor sharp effect, ultimately making Little Deaths a definite must read for the fear connoisseurs among us.”

It’s a great review, thanks, Rick!  Go here to take a look at the entire review.

And Little Deaths is for sale at Amazon.  Why not pop over and pick up a copy?


A Pre-Pub Review for My New Novel, The Bell Witch

Got a little piece of nice, unexpected news this evening from Rob Errera, author of Hangman’s Jam and Autism Dad, and reviewer at Bob’s Book Blog.  The book comes out sometime in July, but I provided Rob with a pre-pub copy for his review.  And he posted it tonight.

Here’s a piece of what he had to say:

The Bell Witch is an atmospheric Southern Gothic—an all-American ghost story—born of regional folklore and Taff’s fertile imagination. The Witch is a memorable haunt, a spook with a conscience and a purpose, a ghost that gets drunk, horny, and lonely, but never waivers in her mission of vengeance. I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The Bell Witch will haunt you long after you finish this well-crafted, all-American ghost story.”

Go to Rob’s site to read the whole thing.  He’s got some great reviews of other books there, too.

More information here when I have it about the cover and publication date for The Bell Witch.

 


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