The Scariest Part: John C. Foster Talks About DEAD MEN

Dead Men Hi Res

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is John C. Foster, whose debut novel is Dead Men. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Roaring south in a black Cadillac, John Smith is on the road trip from Hell through a nightmarish version of Americana, a place of rotting hollows and dusty crossroads, slaughterhouses and haunted trains. He doesn’t know how he woke up after sitting down in the electric chair, where he got the black suit with the slit up the back or even the cigarettes in his pocket. All he knows is that there is a woman guarding a great secret and he’s supposed to kill her.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for John C. Foster:

I write about scary things. I enjoy reading about scary things and Dead Men has accurately been described as a nightmare. But nightmares don’t scare me much. I have them all the time, shake ‘em off and get on with the serious business of sleeping.

Making the decision to write a first novel was certainly scary, but mixed in with that fear was profound relief. After decades of toiling away in public relations and making a few forays into screenwriting, I was finally attempting what I had long said was my defining goal.

That first, blank page is fucking daunting, to be sure. Mixed in with that kind of fear was the certainty that I was an idiot. I’d never finish. I had no idea what I was doing. But the exhilaration of cracking the twenty-page mark and being so excited I had to call my gal in the middle of the workday just to share the news? That stuff knocks opening page jitters to the ground and kicks sand in its face.

Writer’s block left me wandering in confusion for weeks with no idea how to get back on track. It filled the pit of my stomach with a dull ache of unease. But I learned how to climb past that one and was gifted with not only moving forward in the story, but a bit more confidence. A sense of almost suffering a knock out in round five but coming back strong before the bell. I knew I’d get hit again but also that I might have a boxer’s chin. I might be able to take it.

And then one day I was done. I rewrote. Enter drudgery, but drudgery isn’t scary. And if you’re like me, you’re so intensely focused on this last phase that you have no idea the closet door is swinging open behind you to reveal something tall with knuckles that drag the ground and teeth built to crack bone.

Wham-bam, several drafts were done and it was time to get my book published. To send it out to people that weren’t trusted beta readers. To have it read by unknown folks who might be cruel, might confirm all those fears I thought I’d left behind. I was no longer in control. This bird had to fly on its own and I understood that for all of my newfound confidence, I had no idea if all this working and dreaming and learning had produced a book that was any good.

Terror.

Look, I’m a nobody without a literary pedigree or circle of publishing contracts. I had no way to shave the odds in my favor. Dead Men had to make it, be judged as a good book, all on its own.

That big thing from the closet was all over me.

Here’s the thing, having a novel published is something I had always held out before me to give me some hope in rough times, some excitement about the future. I realized at this point how much of my marrow coursed with this wish and was fearful of what might happen if the book face-planted. I was attending some writer’s events by this point and experienced the solid shock of reality. About writing one, two, three books before a publisher said, “Yes.” If they ever said, “Yes.” I was terrified that in my forties I didn’t have any reserves of foolhardy strength left if the publishing world told me my book was shit.

I began submitting it to a publisher here or an agent there. Carefully. Professionally.

I heard crickets.

Then my dad died and I lost any ability to combat this fearful phase. I put the book away and fled into my next novel, The Isle, where I drew on the pain of divorce and maybe drained a little of the wound from my dad’s passing. It was a long and internal book where I applied the lessons learned in writing Dead Men. I kept my eyes on the page and studiously avoided looking at the big scary thing salivating in the closet behind me.

Months later, maybe a year later, there’s a lot of haze in that part of my memory, I opened up Dead Men and wondered if I could shave a few thousand words. I did that and submitted it to Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing before continuing revisions on The Isle.

They said, “Yes.”

Not too long after, a second publisher said yes to a novel entitled Mister White. Two books were going to be published in the same year. The Isle has mostly sat unread but I plan to kick it out of the nest soon and give it a shot.

The fear isn’t gone but it’s not so big any more. I can take it.

John C. Foster: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Dead Men: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Kobo

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 his lady, Linda, and their dog, Coraline. Dead Men is his first novel and was published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in July 2015. His second novel, Mister White, will be published by Grey Matter Press later this year.

Neonomicon

NeonomiconNeonomicon by Alan Moore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What starts out as an interesting supernatural procedural in a world where Lovecraft’s mythos is real is all but undone by Moore’s nearly adolescent preoccupation with sex. It wouldn’t be an issue if the sex were portrayed as healthy and positive — I could get behind that — but here the sex is entirely non-consensual. A female character is raped during an orgy of cultists and then raped again, repeatedly, by an inhuman monster with an insatiable sexual appetite. But it’s okay, Moore assures us, because in the end it cures her of her sex addiction. Um, what? Monster rape takes up pretty much the latter half of this graphic novel, replacing everything else that was interesting about the story, to the point where entire plot lines and characters are all but forgotten. It’s too bad. There was something good here, until Moore decided he was more interested in rape scenes and monster sex than in following through with the story’s far more compelling setup.

View all my reviews

The Necronomicon

The NecronomiconThe Necronomicon by Simon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is baloney. I can’t believe I wasted my money on it. I cast every spell in its pages and nothing– Wait. What’s that noise? No! A clawlike hand at the window! AAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE!

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The Scariest Part: J.A. McLachlan Talks About THE OCCASIONAL DIAMOND THIEF

cover odt

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is J.A. McLachlan, whose latest novel is The Occasional Diamond Thief. Here’s the publisher’s description:

What if you learned your father was a thief? Would you follow in his footsteps, learn his “trade”? If you were the only one who knew, would you keep his secret?

Kia is training to be a universal interpreter. Her plans go awry when she is co-opted into traveling as an interpreter to Malem. This is the last place in the universe that Kia wants to be — it’s the planet where her father caught the terrible illness that killed him — but it’s also where he got the magnificent diamond that only she knows about. Kia is convinced he stole it, as it is illegal for any off-worlder to possess a Malemese diamond.

Using her skill in languages — and another skill she picked up, the skill of picking locks — Kia unravels the secret of the mysterious gem and learns what she must do to set things right: return the diamond to its original owner.

But how will she find out who that is when no one can know that she, an off-worlder, has a Malemese diamond? Can she trust the new friends she’s made on Malem, especially handsome but mysterious Jumal, to help her? And will she solve the mystery in time to save Agatha, the last person she would have expected to become her closest friend?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for J.A. McLachlan:

At first, considering this post, I didn’t think my book, The Occasional Diamond Thief, is scary. It definitely isn’t traditional horror. But then I began to think about the nature of fear. Sure, soul-eaters and zombies and paranormal occurrences are frightening — but they’re scary the way a roller-coaster is scary: you’re screaming as you plunge downward, but at the bottom you’re laughing, because you know the frightening thing was never real. It could never happen to you.

What is real, what is truly terrifying, are the things that could happen to us. Fatal illnesses destroying our body or our mind; public humiliation; failure at something that matters vitally to us; falling from a great height. A near miss with something horrifying doesn’t entertain us; it haunts us, appears in our dreams, and jumps out at us in all its gruesomeness when we try to ignore it.

One sunny day back when I was in university, a young man jumped from the top of a building where I was having a class. His body had been removed by the time I left my class, but the outline of his landing was there on the concrete, along with blood and bits of him. A friend of mine had been walking by when he jumped and was still shaking as he described with chilling detail seeing the young man land near him.

From that day, I have been afraid of heights — or, more specifically, falling from them. I have to steel my nerves to drive over a tall bridge. Ferris wheels, which I used to love, now terrify me — I mean, really, you’re not even strapped in! I imagine not the landing, but the long fall, knowing all the way down that I am going to hit, hard, and there’s no preventing it. I have nightmares of being on the top of very high, narrow buildings which begin to sway unsteadily in the wind…

The scariest things are things that are real to us because we have seen them ourselves and we know it could happen to us. My novel isn’t horror, but it is suspenseful, and Kia, the main character, has to face a number of terrifying things — exposure to the plague that killed her father, imprisonment, and the brutal justice of Malem, where the story takes place. While I haven’t written my fear of heights into Kia, I have given her the experience of witnessing something terrifying that might well happen to her, and then having to face that fear again and again.

In the following excerpt, Kia and her friends Agatha and Hamza have been rounded up along with all the citizens of Malem to watch justice being executed in the public square:

“Don’t look, Kia,” Agatha whispers to me. Her mouth moves in a silent prayer. Her face is so white that even her lips are a pale ivory color.

“You must look, both of you,” Hamza says quickly. “The guards are watching to see that we do. Try to look without seeing. Stare straight ahead but focus inward. If you can’t do that, watch the priest, not the boy. Under the law he’s still a child; they’ll only take off two of his fingers, not the whole hand.”

I swallow, hard.

In a loud voice that carries across the square, the priest cries out the name of the boy and his crime: theft. The priest’s face is impassive but in the sunlight I can see beads of sweat on his forehead. He grasps an axe which is leaning against the wooden block, and raises it. He holds it aloft for one terrible moment while he takes aim.

He won’t do it, I think, staring at the axe as it trembles in the air. It flashes down so quickly I don’t believe it’s really happening until I hear it thunk deep into the block of wood.

I lean forward and throw up.

That night, Kia has a nightmare…

I wake hours later. It is pitch dark. My left arm, minus the hand, lies heavy across my chest. I can feel the stump of my wrist above my breast. I cannot breathe, cannot move. I lie there paralyzed with terror. A strangled whimper gurgles in my throat, and I am breathing, sweating, but still too afraid to move, my every sense focused on the arm across my chest. Is there a hand or not? As nightmare and sleep recede, I force myself to raise my right hand, to feel along my forearm… and grasp my left hand with a relief so great it leaves me dizzy. I become aware of Agatha lying beside me in our bed, her breathing deep and regular. I am safe in the house on Prophet’s Lane.

Not safe. None of us are safe, stranded here at the mercy of barbarians.

I think of my bags and what’s in them, and close my eyes. My left hand is still cradled in my right, but I am no longer reassured. I listen intently: all is quiet. I get up and grope by touch in the darkness through my bags until I feel the smooth, hard surface of the little box of thieves’ tools Sodum gave me.

Oh, did I mention that Kia is in possession of a stolen diamond, not to mention a box of thieves’ tools? For the rest of the novel she is vitally aware of what will happen to her if they are discovered; she’s witnessed it first-hand. Yet she has to use both the diamond and the tools, risking their discovery, in order to save herself and those she cares about.

That’s like asking me to sky-dive in order to save people I love, after I’ve seen what happens to someone who falls from a great height. Believe me, I’d far rather be chased by zombies!

J.A. McLachlan: Website / Facebook / Twitter

The Occasional Diamond Thief: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Indigo / Goodreads / Kobo

J.A. McLachlan taught college ethics and has published two textbooks on professional ethics through Pearson/Prentice Hall. She is currently a full-time writer with two published science fiction novels: Walls of Wind and her most recent book, a young adult science fiction novel titled The Occasional Diamond Thief, published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.

 

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