I’m not going to get into a long, drawn out introduction of John C. Foster. As part of my first Author Spotlight feature, I interviewed him yesterday and I’ll be babbling incessantly about his new novel, MISTER WHITE, tomorrow, so you’ll be getting enough of me to make you want to puke by the time the week’s over. John is a writer in a class of his own and he’s a smart dude, too. I hope you enjoy this outstanding essay as much as I did.
Get Yourself a Good Mantra or a Good Length of Rebar
An Essay by John C. Foster
We’re in the business of fear, so it’s only natural that we’ll occasionally succumb to that gibbering hag, Other People’s Opinions, and change the course of our writing because of what THEY might think. For the record, THEY have no business leaning over your shoulder while you work, particularly on a first draft when the focus should be on bleeding freely across the page. You can clean up any spillage later when you’re talking to trusted beta readers or publishers.
And somehow even knowing this, THEY still manage to slip into my office and drool their opinions all over my collarbone during first drafts.
Stephen King once said, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” I keep this mantra ready at hand like a length of rebar leaning against my desk. When I feel my courage faltering for whatever reason, I pick up the rebar and start swinging.
It’s come to mean different things for me over the years, and with my most recent work, has flipped entirely in what it enables me to do. The first time I used it to real effect was in writing my third screenplay, back in my twenties. I’d written two derivative scripts before that, got nowhere, and while trying to find a fat pulsing vein to tap for a new project, I developed an intensely violent and increasingly kinky story. Oh shit. No way. What would people think? Producers? Friends? If I kill a dog in the story will people be afraid to let me pet-sit for them? I managed to put the fears aside and write the sonofabitch with all the unflinching fury I could muster and wouldn’t you know it, I landed my first agent and manager. I was convinced the story would come off as sexist and burn me with female executives in L.A. and wouldn’t you know it, I was called to take meetings all over town, for the most part with female executives. So other than learning I knew nothing about other people’s expectations, I came away with a gem…write passionately and without fear and – assuming you have writing skills at your disposal – people will respond to the honesty of the work. The same attitude came into play in writing my first novel, DEAD MEN, a savage and nightmarish story published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in 2015. Hey, there’s a cannibal front and center in the story and while I ended up removing a chapter dealing with necrophilia for reasons of pacing, I had to push back hard on THEM when I sat down to write it.
It was with my third novel, MISTER WHITE, that I learned to wield my mantra-rebar for a very different effect. I had just finished a first draft of THE ISLE (more on that at a later date), a long and deliberately twisting story full of tributary sub-stories, dark, often internal. I wrote it with no barriers on word count or duration of the project. But I had another project I wanted to work on, expanding my short story of spies and occult horror “Mister White” into a novel. I had already put down 15-20,000 solid words and wondered if I had it in me to turn my back on the strategy of my previous work. I gave myself a three month deadline and deliberately set a tight word count of 60,000 words as a kind of test. I was leery about sharing this notion with other writers as it seemed to fly in the face of “put the art above everything else,” but I had a weird sense that these restrictions were an organic part of this process. As a result I worked with a different kind of boldness, fast, even recklessly at times. Without giving away too many spoilers, the story moves back and forth between various European locales and a quiet, impoverished town in New Hampshire. I discovered what I was really writing about deep into the work (this often happens to me) and bolstered chapters I needed to tell the tale of a fragmented family fighting to come together in the face of secret agents and supernatural evil. Because I had no time to spend brooding when I hit sticking points, I was brutal in sniffing out the truth of every situation, resulting in plot changes and unexpected character deaths that gave the process an exhilarating quality. The energy of the work, I think, somehow translated into the writing itself. I feel some confidence in saying this because the first two people who read the completed book did so in a single sitting.
I’m not making the case that this deliberate restriction of time and words is how every novel should be written, nor do I expect I will write every future book in this manner. I recently completed the rough draft continuation of the DEAD MEN story, NIGHT ROADS and found that while it went easier and quicker than the first book, the process was much slower than MISTER WHITE. Nor am I arguing that the process of rewriting can be handled with such a “Let them eat cake!” mentality. The revision process of MISTER WHITE was thorough and at times grueling, as it should be. But I never would have reached the place where the publisher wanted to revise the book if I hadn’t unleashed the wild dogs on that first draft.
MISTER WHITE is coming out from Grey Matter Press this April and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Here’s a taste of the story: In the shadowy world of international espionage, when American spies unleash a malevolent force that feeds on fear, a young family finds themselves in the crosshairs of a frantic supernatural mystery.
You can keep up with Mister White news including pre-order announcements at:
And if you’re interested in DEAD MEN, please visit:
http://www.amazon.com carries DEAD MEN and will carry MISTER WHITE upon its release.
About John C. Foster
John C. Foster lives in New York City with the actress Linda Jones and their dog, Coraline. His short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies and his first novel, Dead Men, was published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in 2015. His second novel, Mister White, will be released in April 2016. For more information, please visit www.johnfosterfiction.com.