Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 32: Among the Stacks with John C. Foster


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Welcome to The Gal, John.  It is a real honor and pleasure to have you here today.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

John C. Foster:
I live in Brooklyn with my longtime love Linda Jones and our dog Coraline (the clown), and divide my time these days between writing, cooking and muay thai. I have too many books, which simultaneously stresses me out (because I can’t read them all) and comforts me (because I’ll never run out of books to read). I’ve lived in NH, Boston, Los Angeles and NYC and the latter is my favorite, even when it drives me nuts.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

John C. Foster:
Let’s see… I wanted to be a military pilot until I got glasses in the seventh grade. I was a terrible student for the most part and even failed English in my junior year of high school. I was accepted into the Boston University Theater Conservatory in the acting program, but dropped out in my first year. I moved out to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter when I was 20, though I’d never seen Los Angeles or a screenplay. Oh, and I’m terrified of heights.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

John C. Foster:
There was a book that I think was called The Hound of Ill Omen that I read in the fifth grade. It was the first book I read just for pleasure… but I can’t seem to track it down. The next book I read was the formative novel Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had never imagined books could contain such wonder and excitement.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

John C. Foster:
I’m just finishing up Butcher’s Moon by Richard Stark.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

John C. Foster:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?

John C. Foster:
I came to writing from reading, as I suspect many do. It never occurred to me as a kid in NH that writing was a real career path, though a number of adults in my life were pushing me towards some kind of profession that involved words. I spent a lot of my teenage years pouring my creativity into creating elaborate D&D campaigns while occasionally dipping my toe into fiction…the first story I remember trying to write was at the age of 14 – I would sneak in a few scribbled pages in between double session football practices that August, careful not to tell any of the guys on the team what I was doing. Later, when I moved to Boston for college, I realized that writing was something I could actually pursue and hurled myself at the goal with equal parts vigor and ignorance.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

John C. Foster:
My office. On the best days my dog comes in and snores on her bed in my office while I work.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

John C. Foster:
It took me a long time to get here, but now I just do it. I used to need something approaching ritual to get into the right headspace, which created a real barrier. I can remember the moment when I threw that away—I was working on my first novel, Dead Men, and couldn’t find a coffee shop to write in but there were pages burning to be written…so I jumped up on a loading dock and wrote with people walking by mere feet away. That was a big breakthrough in my process.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

John C. Foster:
Patience. I am not patient by nature and writing requires patient attention at every stage of the story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

John C. Foster:
Oh wow, it’s hard to answer that because I learn something new each time I write a story. Can I choose something that was recently satisfying? My short story “Armageddon Baby” (published in Lost Signals) was very satisfying. I’d struggled for months with the basic concept until one day, a noirish voice started speaking and wove together seamlessly with the weird horror of the idea. When that happened the story just worked.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

John C. Foster:
Heh, how long have I got? Inspirational writers who have impacted my style include Stephen King, Andrew Vachss, Neil Gaiman, M.R. James, and Raymond Chandler. But I look at others as well. Peter Straub to remind myself to be patient and elevate my sights. Jack Ketchum if I’m afraid of what people might think if I write something. Shirley Jackson for character. As for specific novels, I’ll go with Salem’s Lot by King, American Gods by Gaiman, Shella by Vachss… crap I forgot to include Roger Zelazny. His novels, especially those following Corwin of Amber, had a huge impact on me creatively and stylistically. Dammit, I forgot to include Gillian Flynn

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

John C. Foster:
There is no single thing that makes for a good story. Different writers wield different weapons to greater or lesser effect. Honesty, however, is one element. Honesty in character, in dialogue, in tone…this is critical to creating a good story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

John C. Foster:
Part of it is putting aside the fear of judgment. What will people think if I embrace such and such character honestly and allow them to do what they need to do? There are some characters that I love from the moment they appear – Hoodoo Girl in Dead Men and Night Roads. Burden Ipswich in my forthcoming novel The Isle. Others worm their way in… Spike in Dead Men, Uncle Gerard in Mister White. As to how it’s utilized… if I find a character loveable, more so than just compelling, they create a point of risk for me and the reader. My stories have a way of seeking those characters out and, well… sometimes things break the way we want and sometimes they don’t.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

John C. Foster:
If you blended Gerard from Mister White and Hoodoo Girl from Dead Men, you’d be headed in the right direction.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

John C. Foster:
Yeah, a cover is important. If it’s generic or unfitting or just fucking ugly, I’m much less likely to pick it up whereas a cool cover catches my eye and guides my hand. I have limited involvement in cover design and that’s how it should be – I’m not a visual artist. I’d rather say, “I like this idea” and see what someone with greater skill in that area can create.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

John C. Foster:
I have to be ruthless with myself.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

John C. Foster:
A key set piece scene in Dead Men stymied me for weeks… it was the moment I really came to understand the need to let my characters act honestly, even when it ran afoul of my own plans. Once I allowed that character to do what he should do (it was John Smith) the rest of the book opened up.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

John C. Foster:
There are so many great writers out there that it’s hard to answer this without sounding like a prick. But I make a real effort to create prose that moves. I also work hard to create very real people and moments, even when the story involves the fantastic.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how idd you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

John C. Foster:
I think the title is very important and I usually have a title in mind very early on. I shapes and defines the feel of the piece while I’m writing. Every story is unique and sometimes I don’t find my title until later, but that’s the exception and not the rule.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

John C. Foster:
A novel. The sheer effort required to complete a novel and then wading through rigorous pass after pass during the revision process creates the space for enormous satisfaction when the job is done. This is not to say that the “story” in a novel is superior to that in a short or that there aren’t times when the short story process isn’t more satisfying. But it’s hard to match the achievement of writing a novel.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

John C. Foster:
My books tend to be intense and frightening, whether the stories are more internal (The Isle) or more kinetic (Dead Men). I expect my readers to bring themselves to the party and do some thinking—I don’t hand everything over on a silver platter. I also expect them to accept that we’re all at risk when we get sucked into the story. I won’t deliberately set out to trick someone into loving a character, but the story may hurt or kill them and everyone should know that going in. That being said, there’s a lot of love and kindness in my stories, especially the novels, but any heroism usually carries a great cost and the backdrops tend to be dark and dangerous. I hope my readers take away great joy and excitement in experiencing the story. That for a little while they were able to walk in another world, even if it was a frightening one.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

John C. Foster:
There’s a big sequence that we cut out of Night Roads, a funeral sequence with singing and coming together and good feelings. I wrote it after a long, violent and frightening sequence that takes place in a hospital and felt a need to give myself and readers a chapter that redeems humanity a bit. But… it wasn’t absolutely necessary for the plot so we trimmed it out. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

John C. Foster:
Next Spring we’ll see a macabre mystery/horror novel titled The Isle and I’m currently working on another horror novel with the working title of Pagan. I’ve also finished a crime novel entitled Rooster that will make its appearance sooner or later and the third book in the Libros de Inferno trilogy will be published by PMMP at Halloween 2019.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?

John C. Foster:
Readers can find me online at my website.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

John C. Foster:
I’m grateful to everyone who picks up one of my stories because I’m having the time of my life writing them. Thanks a lot for this interview!


About the author:
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.  His new novel, Night Roads, is out now.  For more information, please visit his website.

About the books:
In the shadowy world of international espionage and governmental black ops, when a group of American spies go bad and inadvertently unleash an ancient malevolent force that feeds on the fears of mankind, a young family finds themselves in the crosshairs of a frantic supernatural mystery of global proportions with only one man to turn for their salvation.  Combine the intricate, plot-driven stylings of suspense masters Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, add a healthy dose of Clive Barker's dark and brooding occult themes, and you have an idea of the horrifying world of supernatural espionage that the chilling novel MISTER WHITE will reveal.  John C. Foster's MISTER WHITE is a terrifying genre-busting suspense shocker that answers the question that should never be asked: "Who is Mister White?"

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 from sitting down in the electric chair, where he got the black suit with the slit up the back, or even the cigarettes in his pockets.  All he knows is that there is a woman guarding a great secret and he's supposed to kill her.

"Great powers comin' your way and you need to prepared," Godmamma said, voice a papery whisper.  "The harpies of the north manipulated a holy man into a great working but it's all fallin' apart. Men that was dead walk again.  You know them, chile.  You seen their work."  Light slashed across the far wall.
            "Them in the black car?"  She remembered the big man with icy eyes laying waste to her people.
            "Them in the black car," the old woman said, voice rising over the engine's growl.  "Four of them.  Tied to you."
            "I didn't want--"
            "They an insult to the natural order and so was that Hand of Glory you worked," Godmamma interrupted.  "When you reached out with that dead hand," and here the old woman closed her eyes and mimed feeling about blindly, "they cleaved to each other's wrongness an' you grabbed their strings."
            Godmamma clenched her hand in a fist, knuckles bulging as if they would split her skin.  "You worked a mighty hex and someone used your play for they own ends.  Now them that was below is comin' up.  The end of what we know and beginnin' of somethin' new.  You gotta do your part, Hoodoo Girl."

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