Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: John F. D. Taff

Everyone, welcome John F. D. Taff to the blog. I’m featuring fellow contributors to Death’s Realm, of Grey Matter Press, with a short mini-interview to learn more about the talent involved, a preview of what we can expect from their story, and speculate on what lies ahead in the great beyond.
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Tell us about your background, who you are, and how you came to the writing life.
My background is pretty heavily in writing.  I was an English major in college and worked for many years in the magazine industry–marketing & sales, editing & writing, all the way up the ladder to publisher.  I started writing fiction when I was in grade school, but didn’t get serious until around 1990.  Then I started in on short stories and never looked back.  I love to read and listen to music.  I just got married to my wonderful fiancee Deb, and am father to three great kids and three great pugs.

Gray Matter Press has released an anthology, Death’s Realm, featuring your work, “Some Other Day.” Give us a preview of your short story without giving away too much.

“Some Other Day” is actually a rewritten version of an older story that I somehow lost.  The idea stuck with me, about a boy’s unexpressed grief for his dead mother and how it affects everything around him.  So I rewrote it, even before the call for Death’s Realm went out.

The premise behind Death’s Realm is what happens after death. If there is a great beyond, what do you imagine it to be?

Probably just what you need it to be, what you think it will be, at least for some time after you die.  Until you get acclimated to what death really is, what it means.  I think the afterlife we all sort of mentally go to is a cushion to protect us from a reality that is so much larger than we can contemplate.  And I mean that in a good way…of course.
We thank John F. D. Taff for coming by to share his thoughts. His more recent offering also comes to us by way of Grey Matter Press, the much acclaimed “The End In All Beginnings.” You can keep up with him at his website, here.
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Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: John F. D. Taff

What The Vultures Showed Me

I watch vultures, when I get the chance. I mostly see them the same time you see them — when a truck snags a deer on the highway and you roll past the carnage. By the time you come along, the deer might look as though it laid down and went to sleep by the side of the road. Depending on what condition it’s in, it might look like it had a bar fight just before hand. And if it’s warm out, even if you’re in a more densely populated area, the vultures come.

There are vultures, and then there are turkey vultures. Turkey vultures are huge and monstrous and the best way to describe them if this were a 1 star Amazon review is that they look like understudies for Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. They look like hamburger meat ice-cream scooped onto a scare crow’s body, a scaly beak skewering vomit. One Thanksgiving, I came around a bend of road and nearly took one out with my car. His wingspan encompassed the entire windshield and for an instant I was pinned, helpless in the driver’s seat and eye to eye with this reptilian beast, as though I could see right back into his retina, all the way into pre-history where his ancestors fed on the meat of fallen dinosaurs. And then he was gone. I never really forgot him, but that had not been my first run in.

By the gods, they’re hideous. I’ve seen people scream at them, shudder at the mention of them. There was a time I perceived them as ugly, too. Even in our lexicon, we tend to use it as a derogatory term to describe people who steal from others unfairly, who have not earned what they took. That’s well and good in our human community, but out in the indifferent universe, vultures will never hang their heads in shame to be vultures. Try looking one in the eye, like I did. You’ll be the first to look away. And after all — what did they take that was not going to go to waste in the long run, anyway?

In 2001, I was 22 and trying to find employment before the school semester ended. That same week, I got a call back to work at a New Jersey State Park. When I try to look back and remember that time, time itself is disjointed. That year was book-ended by a death and then the WTC on September 11. I was reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves in the middle of the Jersey Pine Barrens, home to the rumored Jersey Devil. A chaotic and strange period of life that they say I will never really grow past — that I will, internally, be arrested at that same age for all of my life. They say the same of Kurt Vonnegut’s own pivotal experiences — his biographer speculated that it was not the bombing of Dresden, but rather, the cumulative effect of being forced to enter basements and pull out corpses in the stifling air at gun point afterwards, that stopped Vonnegut in time, forever and ever.

And so it goes.

But at the time, I found myself weirdly employed at a State Park and the employment itself wouldn’t last long. But while it did last, every morning I put the flag up the pole at the entrance and then trudged in to open the public areas, among which was an outbuilding at the lake shore. In another hour, other personnel would arrive, but for this hour at dawn, I had the place to myself.

The sun would rise over the rim of the mixed oak and pine trees. Scattered over the shore in one long line at the water’s edge, vultures gathered there. I had never seen this in my life, though I had seen many strange things in the wild. With their backs to me, they could not see me, but they waited for the sun to come over the horizon and then they opened up their wings and balanced there, soaking in the sun in their communal salutation. It was indescribable to explain how birds so wretchedly ugly underwent a golden metamorphosis, to spy upon them at their effulgent congregation. They brought a silence with them, deep and everlasting. They’d stay for as long as possible until people began to file in, and then they’d leave as though they’d never been, and reappear the next morning, to do it all over again.

It wasn’t that they had anything to tell me in particular; but what they showed me, by the shore, was like seeing a seam pulled wide in the curtain of the universe and catching glimpses of this ancient machinery. The chance to ponder the construction of it, to know it at last, this thing greater than yourself, and how small it renders you. Vultures are a brutal reminder than no amount of hubris and opinion, righteousness and good intentions balance out your scales at the end of life. The vulture knows no shame, exalts in the sun, and then leaves quietly, without notice, an invisible presence beyond the sight of humanity.

I took strict lessons from my fellow vulture. Like the vulture, I hide away at my desk. I roll in this carcass I call a novel,  pull it apart with my beak, rearranging sinew and muscle. I toil in secret, and disappear at the first stirring of life. It is the work itself that humbles; and when you take us all in our totality, and you realize that indeed, there is an invisible fleet of us at work in like fashion. We are all the same, seeking warmth and comfort before we scatter and separate. You need only look past your shoulder, and discover a long line of others just like you, wings outstretched. Faces, turned. Awaiting the sun.

What The Vultures Showed Me

Death’s Realm Anthology – Mirrorworld

I’ve been remiss in updating my latest projects for this blog, as I’ve been too busy to breathe since 2015 moved in. I was recently proud to have “Mirrorworld” published in the anthology from Grey Matter Press, Death’s Realm.

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In the next few weeks, I’m going to be hosting a a little tour featuring several authors from the anthology answering a few questions about their contribution and their thoughts on life after death. Reviews have also started to trickle in, one, notably, from Fangoria.

The Table of Contents:
“OMNISCOPIC” by Rhoads Brazos“SOME OTHER DAY” by John F.D. Taff“HAUNTER” by Hank Schwaeble
“BURIAL SUIT” by John C. Foster“NINE” by Aaron Polson“PENUMBRA” by Jay Caselberg“FOXHOLE” by JG Faherty“DROWNING” by Gregory L. Norris“THE WEIGHT” by Jane Brooks“HARDER YOU FALL” by Brian Fatah Steele“MIRRORWORLD” by Martin Rose“MARCH HAYS” by Matthew Pegg“HIGH ART” by Karen Runge and Simon Dewar“A PIRATE’S RANSOM” by Jay O’Shea“TO TOUCH THE DEAD” by Paul Michael Anderson
“YOU ONLY DIE ONCE” by Stephen Graham Jones

Death’s Realm Anthology – Mirrorworld

Interview: Ben Eads of Cracked Sky

Everyone, welcome Ben Eads to the blog. His novella Cracked Sky launches this month. From the synopsis:

Reeling from the loss of their only child, Stephen and Shelley Morrison learn that her killer has been found dead. What they don’t know is that his agenda goes far deeper than the grave. Beyond the storm, beyond the crack in the sky—where their daughter lies trapped with The Lost Ones—something is using Stephen and Shelley’s agony to fulfill its goals: Terrorize. Consume. Destroy.

I’ve known Ben awhile through the horror community, and when I heard he was venturing into publication with a novella, Cracked Sky, I couldn’t resist reading the story and then finding out more about Ben and his writing process.

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Omnium Gatherum is releasing your novella, Cracked Sky. Congratulations! Tell us a little about the story without giving too much away.

BE: Thanks! I’m really excited about the release, and working with Kate Jonez was an absolute blast. Cracked Sky is a horror novella about a couple trying to cope with the loss of their only child, Allyson. Once they learn her murderer has been found dead, and that Allyson’s in a very bad place, they have to summon the courage, the hope, to heal themselves, as well as save their daughter from a nightmare-world, birthed from somewhere between the stars.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, either about writing in general or what’s involved in submitting to a publisher and making a sale?

BE: I’ll just say what other writers like Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, etc… have said: Read a lot and write a lot. It’s always worked for me. You have to be well read so that you can develop something unique. After all, it’s all about the story. Find beta-readers that are capable of constructive criticism. They’re worth their weight in gold. Trust that. It took me a few years to find only three individuals who are absolutely indispensable. Never stop growing; take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. Inspiration is bullshit—it’s everywhere and around you, always.

I’ve helped a few presses with submissions—still am!—and I find it always comes down to the story itself. What happens? What does it accomplish? Unless your work re-kindles the magic you felt from other magicians, then step it up! Use those as litmus tests. Oh! And emotions…especially horror. King advised in his book On Writing, you shouldn’t come to the blank page lightly. Submit your A+ work. Be professional. Be patient. Know the press you’re submitting to. Do they publish the kind of fiction you’ve written? You wouldn’t believe how many times I would read a story from the queue only to find another with the exact same premise. Be fast! If something news-worthy occurs that you could mine something from, write it as soon as possible and be the first to submit it. You must keep your finger on the pulse. Despite the hits the publishing industry has taken due to economic woes—turn a negative into a positive.

How did the idea for Cracked Sky come to you?

BE: I’m still trying to figure that one out. Ha! I noticed that the theme of loss kept cropping up in my short fiction. And when the concept, the “movie-trailer” of Cracked Sky played in my mind, I realized I needed a bigger canvas. That’s how it began. And, my oh, my, was it big!

One of the things that struck me, as a reader, was the realism of your characters. I wasn’t left with the impression they were cardboard cutouts, and I thought your handling of Stephen and Shelley’s troubled marriage was very genuine. Was that something you intended to come across for your characters or just a natural by-product of the story?

BE: Thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to say the advance praise and support has reflected this. It was both, actually. The strength these characters had in my imagination were easy to draw from, and take over the story. They really started writing themselves and showing me where they were going. However, it was very depressing getting into Stephen, Shelley and, especially Darrell’s head-space. So I developed a routine to keep a balance. Making each one’s speech unique, real. I recommend that aspiring writers read their character’s dialogue aloud.

The foundations of Stephen and Shelley’s relationship came about through trusting my characters. What’s their body language say? These were “tells” to me. I was still refining their relationship during the final edits, just to make sure the perfectionist inside me covered every base.

How long have you been writing, to get to this stage in your writing path?

BE: I wrote my first short story when I was ten. I wrote through high-school, and would write short fiction from time to time. I even submitted work I felt was great, at the time. Ha! But I wasn’t taking it seriously. In 2008, after I was laid off due to the economic disaster, I took it seriously. By seriously, I mean actually submitting my work and seeking help from others who could tear my work to shreds, so I could grow. So…about 6 years.

Do you draw from your experiences in real life at all?

BE: Sure. I think everyone does, to a certain extent. At this stage in my life, I don’t have any children. However, the loss of my career, my house, loved ones, etc… were anchors. There were a lot of emotions to pull from. Millions of Americans were affected by this crisis they had no part in. Many of whom are still affected, sadly. It was palpable. I recall neighbors trading services to fix their homes. One family needed a new tile floor, another needed a roof, so they bartered. It truly was inspiring to see everyone come together and find hope amidst great adversity. I also lost a dear friend due to suicide.

Are there writers who inspire you?

Oh, yeah! Too many to list, but I’ll indulge myself: Karen Russell—especially her novel, Swamplandia!—Lovecraft, Maugham, Barker, Kealan Patrick Burke, Gene O’Neill, Rena Mason, Fran Friel, Lucy Snyder, Lansdale, Philip K. Dick, Bradbury, Maupassant, Machen, Trumbo, Jorge Luis Borges, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Charles L. Grant, Theodore Sturgeon, O’Henry, etc…

How can interested readers connect and keep up with you?

BE: Thanks for asking! The Cracked Sky Newsletter is your one-stop-shop for everything Cracked Sky and, well, me. You can subscribe by going to my website www.beneadsfiction.com and entering your email address. I’m also heavily active on Facebook and Twitter. And you can always drop me a line: ben@beneadsfiction.com

Ben Eads has also recently become the marketing consultant at Crystal Lake Publishing, and we wish him success in this as well as his new novella.

You can find Cracked Sky through Amazon.

Interview: Ben Eads of Cracked Sky

Year’s End, Dear 2014

Dear 2014,

We need to have words, you and I. In the beginning, you weren’t my favorite, but I had no idea of how deep the rabbit hole would go and how bad it would get between us.

Dear 2014, you threw everything at me. We fought and warred with abandon. And when you ran out of weapons, you went after people I cared about. You took shots at my family, my beloved, my friends.

Dear 2014, you threw my heart into a garbage disposal and yanked it out to show me what was left and there wasn’t a whole helluva a lot.

Dear 2014, you beat me raw while I was bent over a typewriter, putting it down into words.

Dear 2014, it wasn’t enough.

Dear 2014, you made me run, fight, laid me out on the floor exhausted and every muscle spent. Reformed my body. You turned the food in my mouth to ash; and when it was all said and done, I came out a philosopher, a vintner, an astrologer, an author, a unrepentant pagan learning the names of forgotten gods. I drank the wine of the centaur Pholus, bowed to Saturn’s unforgiving demands.

Dear 2014, at the very end, all this toil went to the book Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, and saw its publication through Talos at last, after nearly four years in limbo.

Dear 2014, thanks for giving me the one thing that gave me any semblance of hope.

Dear 2014, thanks for seeing the sequel to my first novel, My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart get picked up by Talos here at year’s end.

Goodbye, 2014. It couldn’t last between us. We knew it was a one time thing. Not gonna lie, I’m happy to see you pack up your shit and leave. That? No, that’s mine. Put it back down. And leave the key. I’ll be changing the locks later this afternoon. Also, you can’t have that Her Name Is Calla album, either.

Dear 2014, get the fuck out.

Goodbye, 2014. You and I have nothing left to say to each other.

Dear 2015. I’ve heard a lot about you, and I look forward to getting to know you more. Would you like to chart the stars with me? I’ve set the mead to ferment, and the seeds are sown in my medieval garden where the spirits dwell. We’ll read cards together and talk philosophy. We’ll read ancient and forgotten books together. I’ll tell you secrets the universe kept hidden. We’ll tell shocking and astonishing stories to chill the blood and quicken us. I’m warning you now, the heart is fickle, 2015 — our love won’t last, but it will burn hot and fierce while we hold it between us. What say you, 2015?

Come hither.

Year’s End, Dear 2014

Metamorphoses

“Actæon, the grandson of Cadmus, fatigued with hunting and excessive heat, inadvertently wanders to the cool valley of Gargaphie, the usual retreat of Diana, when tired with the same exercise. There, to his misfortune, he surprises the Goddess and her Nymphs while bathing, for which she transforms him into a stag, and his own hounds tear him to pieces.” – Ovid, Metamorphoses (x)

Metamorphoses

On Failure, On Rejection, On This Miraculous Life

Recently, “failure” seems to be a recurring subject. Maggie Slater turned my mind in the direction of failure after reading her blog post this morning, “Thoughts On Failure.” Which quickly brought to mind Nick Mamatas, who wrote “Of Success and Failure,” regarding his difficulty in whipping up writers to speak on a panel about, you guessed it, failure.

Talos recently published my first novel, Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell. How it got from pen to shelf is a head trip, but ironically, Maggie Slater was a part of that trip — the failing part. And that’s not in a negative sense of the word in any wise. That is, she was one of the first to reject the manuscript. Being professionals, we were cordial and I thanked her for her time. I was happy to find her blog a few years later as Bring Me Flesh was going to press, and leading us, inexorably, to this odd point in time — to a blog on failure.

I have, roughly counting, about 300 rejections. I know this because I keep a spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet is missing maybe two years worth of rejections, and the spreadsheet doesn’t keep track of the rejections accumulated by various trunk novels, submissions to agents and editors. It could be more than 300. I’ve had published/slated for publication 21 short stories out of those 300 rejections, and one novel. I have a heartbreaking list of held submissions at coveted venues that came to naught, because in the end, “almost” only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. And in all that time, while I knew I was striving for some kind of goal, I was so busy just trying to survive my life, ideas of “failure” and “success” never really entered my head in the same fashion as others.

I meet rejection with stoic placidity. Ah, they didn’t like it, they hated it, they don’t have room enough for it, my name doesn’t sound like money enough for it, I don’t go square dancing with pink elephants every second Wednesday of the month, whatever the reasons are, they are legion, and that is what the writing life tends to be about. A wall of rejections. When my then agent offered to let me pass on seeing the editorial rejections, I was confused. “So you don’t get depressed,” she explained. I think I might have put the phone down and looked around for someone to explain to me what she was talking about before it occurred to me that wow, people take rejections personally. People cry when they get rejected, people get upset and never write again when they get rejected.

I honestly had no idea. I still have my first rejection slip from when I was 13. Since the moment I had the audacity to be yanked out of the womb, rejection has been the order of the day. I didn’t walk right — they slapped leg braces on me. I couldn’t write — they diagnosed me with dyslexia and held me back a year. One of my earliest childhood memories was winning a contest in school and having the teacher promptly forget I existed and hand the prize to a different person. My unfortunate tendency to be invisible makes this phenomena a repeat event. I remember being told a neighbor strangled our rooster to death and that, apparently, was that. My favorite dog, a bear-sized Newfoundland, died in the cornfield of congestive heart failure and it was the first time I remember crying over something that couldn’t just get better. Broken stalks of corn, and that huddled mass of black fur out in the field. And those are just a collection of small experiences. They would be dwarfed in size by greater heart breaks to come, by astounding reversals of fortune ahead, by the tumult one can only experience when the wheel of fate turns, crushes you, and then turns to do it again until you have the sense enough to grab the spokes and pull out of the rut. Some never realize there are spokes in that wheel. Some never get out.

What does all that have to do with writing? By comparison, rejections, the failings of writing and publishing — are diminished before the more terrible rejections life can offer you. I have no idea if Bring Me Flesh is selling well or selling poorly. I give it what promotion I can without being overbearing, I support it as much as I am able. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the book is a runaway success or it stays weighted to the shelves like a grand piano — I still have to get up in the morning and face the blank page. I still have responsibilities to people in my life who matter to me. I still have to pay the bills, and look myself in eye and ask if I’ve done the best I can in the time I’m given.

There is a lot of truth to the idea that one can’t become a success without failing first — the idea of somehow lessening the sting of our relative failures by suggesting it’s just a stepping stone to greatness — but I’m not going to tell you that.

There is an implied value judgment behind terms like “failure” and “success” — as though to be anything other than successful, is not to matter at all, and you cease to exist. Some people never “succeed”. Some people fail, and fail hard, and never have this elusive success. Failure and success are poor rubrics by which to measure life, and no way to measure our human existence. Van Gogh did not cease to be brilliant or have value simply because he was not successful in his lifetime. And those who count themselves as the most successful, often do not perceive that they’ve accomplished much. I’ve not even talking about a “happiness” quotient as a measure of success; when Julius Caesar turned thirty, he felt himself a total failure because he had not lived up to the standard Alexander the Great set, and had failed to conquer the world.

Got a pulse? In relative good health? Is there food available to you? Do you have shelter? You live in a first world? You have internet access? Running water? Indoor plumbing? Do you have a some what intact nuclear family? At least one other person in the universe who would miss you if you were gone? A community that accepts you?

Do you have the strength of your imagination? Talent? Wit? And the will to learn? An open mind — a communicative heart? Your relative freedom?

You’re the success.

Perhaps that answer disappoints you; you were hoping for more. But there’s people in the world who don’t have the baseline for existence. What some dismiss as a basic foundation for life is unreachable for a great number of people. And that is not a function of their failure so much as it is circumstance beyond one’s ability to control. Without basic conditions such as those, you could have all the best sellers in the world under your belt, it’s never gonna make you healthy if you are sick, it’s not going to provide you beloved relatives who aren’t there, and maybe you can buy friends with the money, but you’re still gonna be alone, and all the healthcare in the world can’t cure mortality. If this wasn’t the pep talk you were looking for, welcome to your next rejection: this post.

Don’t set your values of life on failure and success alone, and most of all, don’t set your life and your identity on your chosen career — which is often what we really mean when we say “failure” and “success”. We’re talking about our jobs. We’re talking about the money we make at those jobs. But your career has more potential to end before your life does. Where will you be then, if you’ve set all your identity and value on something that isn’t there for you any longer? Put these rejections and successes in their context, and think critically about what defines them. Are rejections truly painful enough to stop you in your tracks? How badly do you want success? Do you want it at any price? Is it really worth it?

After awhile, I fail to perceive the demarcation between what counts as a failure and what counts as a success. You come to realize, there’s merely events and experiences, some mystifying, some disappointing, and some astonishing, that happens along the way of this miraculous life.

Awaken to it; know yourself as if for the very first time, and If you are reading this, you may be more successful than you know.

On Failure, On Rejection, On This Miraculous Life

Book Giveaway From Now to Dec. 7 for Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell on Goodreads

Here’s your chance for a copy of Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, a zombie detective novel. The giveaway kicks off now and just in time for the holiday season. Click below for the nitty gritty. Need reasons? Joe McKinney calls it “a spectacular debut”; Scott Kenemore says “it’s the shot in the arm the zombie genre needs” and Kevin Lucia highly recommends it with “quick wit” and “razor-sharp noir sensibilities.” 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bring Me Flesh, I'll Bring Hell by Martin   Rose

Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell

by Martin Rose

Giveaway ends December 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details

at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Book Giveaway From Now to Dec. 7 for Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell on Goodreads