It’s a scary place. Down in the bowels of John C. Foster’s imagination. There are dark and deadly things lurking there and it’s best to tread with caution should you ever visit. I was first exposed to this darkness when I read his story, “Mister White,” collected in the Grey Matter Press anthology, DARK VISIONS: VOLUME TWO, and again in his story “Burial Suit,” in the anthology, DEATH’S REALM, from the same publisher. Then Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing comes out with this freaky fucking good novel, DEAD MEN, the first book in the Libros de Inferno series and the first book under John’s publishing belt and I’m sold: John C. Foster’s the real deal and the things he dreams up have the power to scare the shit out of you. I attribute that to the fact that he’s afraid of the dark. Turn off the light and leave him alone and he’ll be a blubbering pile of gelatin within seconds. People with fears that intense often have extremely vivid imaginations.
But enough rambling from me. I got my John Foster insult in and I’ve introduced the guy
to death so I’ll get on with this. John’s got a new novel coming out from Grey Matter Press
this spring. The book grew from his story, MISTER WHITE, and bears the same innocuous title. I’ll be reviewing that in a few days but in the meantime, John agreed to let me
victimize him for a few days as part of my new Author Spotlight, first in the form of this interview, then tomorrow in the form of a blog takeover by the man himself. So, without further babble from me, let’s take a look into John C. Foster’s darkness.
Hi, John. Happy New Year and thanks for being here! For those of us who aren’t familiar with you, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Happy New Year to you as well and thanks for having me on (is that just a broadcast expression?) – it’s a great way to kick off the year. So, me: I live in New York City (where I’ve always intended to live) but was raised in southern New Hampshire. I fell in love with reading in the 5th grade when I picked up the novel Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs…little did I know that it would lead to becoming a writer. I spent a long time in Los Angeles dancing around the edges of the entertainment industry and public relations before rolling the dice and throwing myself wholeheartedly into writing. That might be the best decision I ever made.
What sort of things do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I’m a long time gym rat and martial arts enthusiast, though for the last year or two I’ve spent more time learning to cook than exercising (with predictable results). I get a charge out of the sensory exploration involved in cooking. It’s a creative process without the pressure I put on myself when writing. I enjoy seeing live theater with my girlfriend (the actress Linda Jones) and playing with our dog Coraline, an irrepressible Shepherd-Pit mix. I’d rather hang out at a quiet dive with a pal than a noisy club (Jameson in the winter, gin and tonic in the summer) and when I travel, I wander off the beaten path and try to blend in with the locals.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Oddly enough, I had people telling me in junior high that I should be a writer before I gave it serious thought. Up until high school I was pretty sure I was going to join the CIA. It wasn’t until high school that I started to write my own stuff (usually involving a teenage boy “sucked into another world” to have adventures). I remember in the summer before starting my freshman year it hit me – WHAM – I could write my own stories! I started writing in between double session football practices that August – a fact I was sure to keep secret because it seemed weird. In hindsight, I can see that writing wasn’t weird, I was weird. I think before that, I used a lot of the same creative muscle in conceiving elaborate Dungeons & Dragons scenarios, often with no intention of ever playing through them. I dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles to break into the movie business and be a screenwriter…not the most sound plan because I had never been to L.A. or even seen a screenplay. Learning to write scripts was excellent training, however, because it’s such a restrictive and dialogue heavy form. I enjoy prose more, but I can see the influence of screenwriting in my work today.
Who are your strongest influences/inspirations?
Stephen King, Raymond Chandler, Roger Zelazny, Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Lovecraft and M.R. James should be on the list. It was reading Jackson’s story “The Lottery” in school that first opened me up to the notion that “literature” could be as cool as the sci-fi paperbacks I was devouring by the dozen.
I’ve noticed in interacting with you that you seem to be a spontaneous sort. Does that trait flow over into your writing? Or do you follow a strict routine when you write?
I think I’m simply confused. Half the time overly thoughtful and brooding, other times a fey “Screw it” attitude comes over me and I leap without looking. Writing is very much an exploration for me. I have a pattern I follow in that I keep regular office hours and write in what I think of as three sessions per day, but I don’t have a word count expectation and instead of outlining, I keep a running series of notes. Character is king, so I’ll abandon a planned direction if a character is demanding I alter the path. That definitely happened in Dead Men more than once and happened again as I wrapped up Mister White (with profound and fatal consequences for more than one character). Sometimes those discoveries are terrifying, but they’re often exhilarating at the same time. It’s like hooking a big fish when you’re not expecting it. Maybe you’re reeling in a delicious Cod…but it might be a shark that will bite you in half. You have to play it out to see what the end result will be.
Do you need background noise such as music when you’re writing? If so, what sort and how does it affect your output?
I’ll put on something as white noise if I can hear jackhammering from the street, but generally I work in quiet. Sometimes, if I’m stuck, I’ll put on something atmospheric to get me in the mood, Aklo, John Carpenter movie themes, something like that. When I do listen to music while writing it has to be instrumental and I usually put on something like Miles Davis or Sonny Rollins.
What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given?
“BLANK isn’t selling. Nobody wants BLANK.” Fuck that noise.
What genres of fiction do you like to read and how does your reading shape your work?
Horror and weird fiction is where I spend most of my time, but I love hardboiled crime fiction and of late have been reading very dark thrillers from a bevy of new writers. I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy and occasionally return to my roots there. While it’s been awhile since I picked up a spy thriller, tales of espionage are high on my list as well.
What are your favorite books/authors?
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is my number one favorite book and I’ve read it a dozen times. I also think it’s the best of his novels. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is another favorite and Gillian Flynn is tops, I’ll read anything she writes but Sharp Objects is her best so far. Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House is definitive. I love the John Sanford novels about Minnesota cop Lucas Davenport and the newer series about Virgil Flowers. We live in a time of literary riches and I could go on forever. Barron, Grau, Ketchum, Kaufmann, Ligotti. Josh Maleman’s Birdbox was incredible as was Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts.
Was there any one standout book that you really enjoyed in 2015?
That’s a hard one because I read so many great books. But I think the top of the heap was Peter Straub’s Koko. Sheer brilliance on so many levels. Honorable mention goes to Tom Piccirilli’s A Choir of Ill Children.
Name one thing that your readers/fans don’t know about you.
I was accepted into Boston University’s Theater Conservatory acting program.
Boxers or briefs? Everyone wants to know. (honestly, I should have seen this answer coming)
You’re assuming it’s one or the other…
The first work I ever read by you was a story called “Mister White”, published in the groundbreaking Grey Matter Press anthology DARK VISIONS Volume Two. How did that story come to pass and how did it evolve into the full length novel of the same title?
I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of “who watches the watchers” and a few hundred years ago I was actually developing an idea around CIA agents gone bad with a production company, though that idea died in development hell. I approached the idea again a few years back with a supernatural twist, curious if I could combine the excitement of a spy thriller with the inevitable dread of a horror story. The result was “Mister White.” After Grey Matter published the story I realized I had more to say and expanded the idea into a novel, keeping it tight and fast moving but adding a greater degree of humanity. When I was finished I only had one publisher in mind and was very happy when Grey Matter wanted to publish the book, the first in what will be many novels from a house that really gets dark fiction and is great to work with. As a matter of fact, I remember when they published the short story thinking that the process had been so great, I was hoping I could establish some kind of relationship down the line. Little did I know that would lead to a novel.
Talk about your work in general if you don’t mind. Anything you’ve already done that you want to talk about and anything forthcoming that you are free to talk about.
Mister White is coming out in April of this year and I’m very excited about it. I think it will appeal to horror fans and thriller fans alike. And right before the holidays I finished the rough draft for Night Roads, a continuation of the story that began in Dead Men. It’s a big, savage book and I think fans of John Smith and Hoodoo Girl will have a lot of fun with it, particularly when they meet a man who calls himself Kismet. Oh, I don’t want to forget the short stories. “Girl Six” is in Dark Moon Digest issue #22 out this month and “Dead Air” will be in the anthology Lost Signals, out this summer from PMMP.
What question(s) do you wish interviewers would ask you but never do? And what is/are the answer(s)?
I don’t know the question but the answer is 42.
Well, John. I really appreciate you taking the time for this and I hope to have a chance to talk more in the future. Anything else you’d like to talk about before we wrap this up?
Hey, thanks. I better not go on any longer. Coraline has parked herself next to my desk and is giving me a look that says, “Enough computer time, now we wrestle!” If I don’t get up she’ll start climbing on me.
(It should be noted that Coraline is John’s dog, not his significant other, although I suppose the answer could have been much the same either way.)
You can order all of John’s books and shorter work from Amazon (including the story MISTER WHITE) and watch for MISTER WHITE coming in the spring from Grey Matter Press.
About the 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. His upcoming novel MISTER WHITE will be released by Grey Matter Press in March, 2016. For more information, please visit www.johnfosterfiction.com.