Author Archives: John F.D. Taff
Today Shane and I are excited to welcome author Brian Kirk to Ink Heist. Brian reached out to us a few weeks ago to talk about his upcoming book from Flame Tree Press, Will Haunt You. Through the course of our discussion, Kirk revealed a strange event he experienced that inspired his book and we asked if we could share that story. Kirk agreed, but due to the length of the story, we are partnering with a few other horror sites to share it. I was pretty unnerved when I read it and I have a feeling you will be as well when you read it. Below we have included Kirk’s recollection of the events that inspired Will Haunt You and the screenshots he managed to grab of the incident.
The idea for my next novel Will Haunt You was inspired by a couple from my neighborhood who mysteriously disappeared…
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The end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 are bringing out reviewers’ Best of lists for the year, and luckily enough Little Black Spots and some of the individual stories within it are making plenty of these lists. I thought I’d update the six or so of you who read this.
First the venerable spec fiction site Tangent Online (which, incidentally gave Little Black Spots a very nice review) chose two of the stories for inclusion in its 2018 Recommended Reading List. The stories are “A Kiss From the Sun for Pardon” and “Gethsemane, In Rain.” Go here to see the entire list.
Next, Little Black Spots made the Best of 2018 lists from the following reviewers/review sites so far. I’ll update this as more come in.
And a few of my stories have made the Recommended Reading List for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award. (Now, this doesn’t mean they’re nominated or anything, so I don’t mean to imply that, but it is the first step in the process.) Little Black Spots has made it onto the Recommended Reading List for fiction collection. The story “Purple Soda Hand” is on the list for Long Fiction, while “The Bunny Suit” and “A Winter’s Tale” are both on the list for Short Fiction.
If you want to take a look see at what all the fuss is about, go pick up a copy here.
And don’t forget, my epic novel THE FEARING is coming in April. Some big news soon.
So I was in Providence earlier this year (actually after having managed to avoid Providence for 54 years, I was there twice in six months this year, but that’s another story)… Anyway, Providence. I was there for StokerCon this year, and had a great time. I spent mucho time with my good friend Erik T. Johnson, got to meet all sorts of great people, including Victor Lavalle.
One of the people I got to meet was Alan Baxter, an author my publisher, Grey Matter, had just signed. I’m always interested in the authors Tony at Grey Matter signs, so I was eager to meet him. We met. Really nice guy, all the way from Australia. As we chatted, something clicked in my tired, all brain. This was the guy who wrote Crow Shine, a fantastic collection of short stories I’d read probably about a year earlier and had thoroughly enjoyed. Duh. Well, then I really enjoyed meeting Alan.
Grey Matter has published two works of Alan’s now–a novella entitled Manifest Recall and a novel called Devouring Dark. I really, really enjoyed Manifest Recall, which was a powerful mashup of crime fiction and horror. And I’ve started Devouring Dark. Again, really, really well done.
Alan’s a great guy. He’s got a terrific young family, his kid’s as cute as anything and his wife is a powerful, talented artist. So, I wanted all of you (at least the six or so of you who read this) a chance to meet Alan, too.
So, here’s Alan…
Why Do You Write Such Horrible Stuff?
By Alan Baxter
I want to thank John for offering me his digital home for this post. What I’ve got here is actually a new version of the Afterword from my first short fiction collection, Crow Shine. But with the recent release of my new horror novel, Devouring Dark, the subject is apposite, so here we go!
The question is often asked, “Why do you write such horrible stuff?” And it’s weird, because I don’t think I do. I certainly write dark stuff because, in a nutshell, I think it’s more honest. But it’s not simply horrible. It’s necessary. We don’t live in a world with happy endings. Everyone dies, everything breaks, all things ends. Entropy is the only certainty. Now that’s not to say I’m a nihilist. I love life, I think the world and nature and at least a few people are wonderful and beautiful and awe-inspiring. I adore showing my young son the wonders of the world. But there’s already a lot of people writing about that. I explore things darker, because things darker hold my interest more. If I come to a fork in the road and one way is a well-lighted street and the other a dark alley, I’ll take the alley. I apply the same principles to my fiction. If there’s a literary rabbit hole leading underground, I won’t turn back when the light fails. I’ll follow it all the way down, however dark it gets, and I’ll see it through to the end, because I want the honesty of its totality. Horror is the genre of honesty.
Though for me it’s many-layered, not unrelenting blackness. In my fiction there are facets of light and shade. Certainly there are moments of horror, weird shit happening, bad people making nasty choices and good people making bad decisions, but alongside it there’s a fight for good too, and a hope for the light. There’s optimism and realism, though perhaps not in equal measure. G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” This is something I think is absolutely true and incredibly necessary in our stories. But you know what? It’s not entirely true. Because sometimes the dragons win. Sometimes they’re not beaten. And survivors need to live with that truth. Or if the monster is beaten, at what cost? That’s the purpose of dark fiction. To help us live with those truths, to prepare us in some way for the shit that will go down.
Bad things happens to good people for no reason at all every single day. We can interrogate that with our fiction, and we can look for our own optimism in someone else’s tragedy. Now there’s a dichotomy on which to meditate. I write dark fantasy and horror wherein sometimes the dragon prevails, but not always. I write it because there are monsters everywhere, and we must face them, win or lose. Sometimes losing is not the worst thing and sometimes the victories are pyrrhic. In Devouring Dark I explore these ideas in great depth, especially in terms of justice, redemption, and death. Especially death – who deserves it, what does it mean, how can we cope with it?
I love the lens of horror, tightly focussed on the visceral, powerful nature of humanity and life. That most honest delving into the rabbit hole and not flinching. Using fantasy and the supernatural allows us to create and explore the deepest rabbit holes of all. After all, what horrors might await when all the rules are taken away? Or new, impossible to decipher rules take over?
All stories are magic. I think it was Albert Camus who said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” All my stories come from one place or another of personal experience, and Devouring Dark is no exception. In many ways it’s the most personal story I’ve ever written, it was made by tapping directly into a deep well of pain and personal trauma.. There are lines put into the mouths of characters in this book that I took directly from the mouths of loved ones as they lay dying. I don’t think I could possibly be more honest than that with my fiction. I wonder if you’ll recognise any of those sections of dialogue? But personal as this book is, like all my work it’s greatly leavened with imagination and what if, with dread and tension. I don’t believe it’s true that you need to be in pain to make good art. Fuck that. I make my best art when I’m content and happy. But it’s no lie that drawing on pain can inform our art.
I’ve always struggled at a gut level with injustice, unfairness, bigotry, ignorance, lack of agency. I’ve seen way more terminal illness and premature death than I’d like. All these things and more I explore in my stories. I also try to simply tell a good yarn. To spin a tale that will entertain you, discomfort you, confound you, engage or perturb you. Whatever the result, if there’s any emotional resonance in my work for you, then I’m happy. Why do I always write such horrible stuff? Because the world is a horrible place, and horror is the genre of honesty. But there’s light and hope too. When we read dark fiction, it gives us tools and mechanisms to survive the slings and arrows of unjust existence. And it helps us to look for the light and the hope and the wonder, and gravitate towards it.
Alan Baxter is a multi-award-winning British-Australian author who writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural thrillers, rides a motorcycle and loves his dogs. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, and two crazy hounds. His latest book is the horror novel, DEVOURING DARK, which explores death, guilt, and redemption, set against a backdrop of crime and corruption in modern-day London. Read extracts from Alan’s novels and novellas, and find free short stories at his website – http://www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.
Find DEVOURING DARK in paperback or ebook wherever you usually buy books, or order it at your local bookstore or library. Here are a few direct links:
OK, so I screwed up and forgot to post this when I promised Julie I would. Ugh…it’s been kind of hectic here at Taff Lodge. My sweet mother-in-law, who’s slowly sailing into Alzhemier’s, fell in her home about two months ago and broke her hip. Serious for any 78-year-old, but even more troublesome for someone suffering from this insidious disease. So, yes, this is my bald-faced attempt to generate some sympathy for forgetting to post this as promised.
I’ve “known” Julie (in the odd modern way we know digital peers) for about six or seven years now. She was one of the inaugural group of authors assembled by Books of the Dead, of which I, too, was one. Julie’s book, Running Home, was a beautifully written tale of vampires steeped in Japanese mythology, and she did very well with it. With Books of the Dead’s demise a year or so ago, Julie struck out on her own and has continued to write and publish.
I love Julie and I think, after reading this, you will want to read her novels. And you will love her, too. Take it away, Julie:
THE HURT IN HORROR
By Julie Hutchings
Pretty Scary Author
I wrote this book, THE HARPY, and let me tell you a thing: it was scary. Not scary because of the mutilation and viscera, not because of the hellscape setting, not because of the monster Charity Blake turns into, not even because of the horrible past she survived.
The real horror is in what that past has made Charity feel about herself.
Horror comes in many forms, caters to every dark corner, all the recesses. As a writer, if I don’t search out the corners of where the scary comes from, I haven’t given my readers anything new. I have to dig deeper than surface scary, and for me, that’s the scariest part of all. Exposing the ugliness that follows a victim long after the horror has died away.
Charity ran away from her past, made a new name for herself that she hardly lives up to, and destroys herself little by little in a thousand ways because of the lie she now believes: that she’s worthless. Trash. Destroyed already. And as a result she runs straight into an escape that isn’t an escape at all, that rips her limb from limb as she herself rips her victims limb from limb. She becomes the monster she’s believes in. The emotional damage manifests physically, dragging the victim back out while pushing her into the body of a predator. A different kind of predator than the ones who ruined her, but a predator all the same.
The question is, does circumstance excuse becoming evil?
STOP ME BEFORE I START TALKING ABOUT KYLO REN.
The hurt creates the horror. The horror becomes the woman. The woman becomes the horror.
The aftermath of the real horror, the abuse and neglect Charity survived, stays with her as long as the physical scars. (The physical scars that the reader doesn’t even hear about until the last third of the book.) Because the outward hurt isn’t always what makes something truly disturbing. The inescapable psychological damage is where we find something we ourselves fear more than torture, the sight of our own intestines falling out, the idea of our loved ones being brutally murdered when we could have stopped it… Any long list of scary stuff to make us wince is never really as frightening as the thing in ourselves that we strive to keep buried. The constant fear that the ugliness within, the secret, the lie we believe, will come out and change everything we know, even if all we know is the dregs of evil.
In writing a horror that hurts, I was pretty terrified myself, of a lot of things. What people would think, of course. Who I would hurt by making them relive things they’d rather not. I don’t want to hurt anyone—but I’m afraid of keeping things in the recesses that pop into my head. And more than that, it’s my responsibility to deliver something that makes my reader think, makes them feel, makes them read again and again, even if they hate themselves for it. In the end, I hope more than anything that the story helps. Shock value has its own merit, but disturbance that chills places we’d rather not go is important. It draws out the ugly, takes its power away, even just for a moment. It has weight.
So I ask you: what line is too far to cross in horror, or in writing at all?
About THE HARPY
Charity Blake survived a nightmare.
Now she is one.
Punk-rock runaway Charity Blake becomes a Harpy at night—a treacherous mythical monster who preys upon men just like the ones who abused her. Struggling through an endless stream of crappy coffee shop jobs, revolted stares, and self-isolation during the day, Charity longs to turn into the beast at night. Doing the right thing in all the wrong ways suits her.
But a Harpy’s life belongs in Hell—the gruesome Wood of Suicides, where the Harpy queen offers Charity just what she’s looking for: a home where she can reign supreme and leave behind the agony of her past. The choice to stay in Hell would be easy, were it not for a rock-and-roll neighbor who loves her for the woman she is—even when he discovers the creature she becomes—and unexpected new friends with their own deranged pasts and desires who see Charity as their savior. But salvation isn’t in the cards for Charity. Not when her friends see through her vicious attitude and fall in love with her power as the Harpy.
Struggling between the life of an injured outcast and the grizzly champion of a blood-red hellscape, Charity must thwart her friends’ craving for her power enough to fear her corruption—and determine once and for all where her salvation lies: in eternal revenge or mortal love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie’s a mythology-twisting, pizza-hoarding karate kicker who left her ten-year panty peddling career to devote all her time to writing. She is the author of Running Home, Running Away, The Wind Between Worlds, and The Harpy. Julie revels in all things Buffy, will beat you at Tekken, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, forever running a Scholastic Book Fair and awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband, two magnificent boys, and an army of reptiles.
LITTLE BLACK SPOTS continues to garner praise, which is very fulfilling since I think the book contains some of my best short work.
First up, the venerable speculative fiction review site Tangent Online issued a strong review for the book on its site today. I was even told that two of the new stories featured in it made it to the site’s recommended reading list for 2018. I don’t know which stories these are. We’ll all find out when it publishes its annual list, sometime in December.
Second, noted critic and WHC Horror Grandmaster Michael Collings published his review of LITTLE BLACK SPOTS today, too. In a perfect, positive example of when it rains, it pours, he seems to quite like the book as well.
“Taff is capable of direct storytelling, but his greatest strength lies in his poeticism, his ability to transform the gristle and bone of horror into something that passes through the visceral and approaches the transcendent.”
And thanks for giving it a read.