This is part two of Shane Douglas Keene’s interview with John F. D. Taff. Taff is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and short stories, including the groundbreaking novella collection, The End In All Beginnings. Recently, he’s branched out into the editing field, co-editing the extremely unique novella anthology, I Can Taste The Blood, with Grey Matter Press editor Anthony Rivera, which he also has a story in. He is currently working on multiple other projects, including a collection of short stories to follow up his phenomenally successful debut collection, Little Deaths.
You’ve written a few novels and a metric ton of novellas and short stories. Do you lean toward shorter fiction by design? If so, why?
I love short stories and am still flummoxed that the form doesn’t do better in sales, say in terms of comparing novels to short story collections. Just don’t get that at all. I think a well-crafted short story is thing lovely to behold. It speaks of craftsmanship and talent and labor. Novels speak more to me of pure labor and stick-to-itiveness, not counting out craftsmanship and talent. It’s just that novels are generally big enough to forgive lapses in either.
I love, love, love the novella form. Just a little more room to spread out and get comfortable, a little more room to offer the reader some depth, some breadth to a story. I think readers love the form, too, and for similar reasons.
That said, novels pay, where the other two forms really don’t. So, novels it is. I’m working on one right now that is sprawling past my efforts to contain it. I keep shifting my self-imposed deadline to have it done further and further away, much to the consternation of my wife and a certain publisher Who Shall Not Be Named … but knows who he is.
Who are some of your major influences?
Comic books … Marvel specifically. Authors like King, sure, but really more authors like Stephen R. Donaldson and Robert Silverberg and Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance and Clive Barker and Rod Serling and Bradbury. I love language and poetry in writing, the meter of well-written line. I detest the arid sparsity of language that a lot of modern writing has, at least since the 1950s in America, when Hemingway was crowned the King of Writing. Ugh. I loathe Hemingway. To me, reading Hemingway feels like reading a newspaper account of something. Devoid of color, devoid of depth or feeling.
Do you have a personal favorite author? If so, what is it about their work that appeals to you?
Anyone who follows me on my blog (johnfdtaff.com) or on Twitter (@johnfdtaff) knows that I have a man-crush on Peter Straub. I adore his writing, his deft hand at unreliable narrators. I love the way he reads, the lines he writes. His subtle touch with a story. He’s not beating you over the head with what’s going on, but he’s also not so vague that you’re left wondering what’s going on. And his villains are spectacular (and spectacularly named) Bob Bandolier, Dick Dart.
I have used Twitter to henpeck Mr. Straub into communicating with me (sorry, Peter!), which is one of the great delights of my life. I recently was able to send him my copy of The Throat to get it personally inscribed to me. It sits in a place of honor on my bookshelf in my office.
Is there one book in particular that you consider a personal favorite?
The Throat. It’s the most deliciously nuanced, multi-layered cake of a book. I read it every year or two, and continually find things to be amazed by. I can’t say anymore without gushing.
Music influences me quite a bit. A lot of my story ideas are generated by specific lyrics from a song, say my story “Angie” in Grey Matter Press’ Ominous Realities (also reprinted in their best-of anthology Dread). It got its start from the Stones song of the same name. I often mull over some great line in a song, spin it over and over in my head and get it to speak to me.
Do you listen to music—or anything else—while you write?
While I write, I listen to music, mostly wordless stuff. Classical music and soundtracks mostly. As I pound out the answers to your questions, I’m listening to the soundtrack to Game of Thrones Season 5. I find that this type of music helps me set the mood for whatever it is I’m working on. Music with lyrics kind of short circuits my ability to put words on paper.
You recently took on your first (I think) editing job with the forthcoming Grey Matter Press title, I Can Taste The Blood. Please talk about that book and that experience.
I did, and it’s been a fun project. I pitched this to Tony Rivera at Grey Matter Press a few years ago, and he snapped it up before any of the stories were written. The title comes from a snatch of graffiti I’d seen in the men’s room of a local pizza dive. I have a good writerly friend, Joe Schwartz, a transgressive writer who I get together with regularly to shoot the shit and complain about the stuff writers complain about. I told him about seeing “I can taste the blood,” and he liked it, too. Hey, why not both of us work on something with that title? That quickly morphed into hey, why not get together a small group of writers we like and all take a crack at writing a novella. The catch? Everyone’s piece would have the same title. “I Can Taste the Blood.”
So, I cast the net out to two other authors I respected; J. Daniel Stone, a great young writer in New York, whose work I’d read and liked; and Erik T. Johnson, a surrealist whose work I’ve loved over the last decade.
Then, I read Bird Box and got to know Josh Malerman. We struck up what I hope will be an ongoing friendship, and he eagerly accepted an invitation to fill the final slot.
What readers will get in August when the book is published, are five totally unique stories from five radically different voices at the tops of their games, all taking the title of I Can Taste the Blood in five completely different directions. I am extremely proud of this and eager to see what readers think.
In addition to that book, you’re having a pretty exciting year with multiple novellas, short stories, and other projects in the works. Tell us a little about those if you don’t mind.
It’s been a great summer so far, if’n you want to read stuff by me. I have a story, “Apt Pupae,” that came out in Bloodshot Books’ Not Your Average Monster Vol. 2 earlier in the year. This past month saw my longer story “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare,” appear in Crystal Lake’s Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. That one’s been getting a lot of notice—both the book and my story. It’s a very King of Pain offering.
At the end of June, Cutting Block brought out my freestanding novella “The Desolated Orchard” as part of its Single Slices program. It’s a kind of Greek mythos/Dust Bowl-era mashup, and it’s only 99 Cents. Cutting Block’s doing some really cool stuff. They’re bringing back Shadows Over Main Street, which went away for a little when it’s original publisher went belly up, and this Single Slices series offers readers another outlet to read novellas. Certainly a publisher to support.
July sees my story “The Bitches of Madison County” in Alessandro Manzetti’s The Beauty of Death, in which I finally share a table of contents with Peter Straub. And then August 23rd sees the arrival of I Can Taste the Blood from my great friends at Grey Matter Press.
Where do you see yourself as an author/editor in five years? Any solid goals you hope to attain?
Still writing, still publishing, still hopefully entertaining readers. And who knows? Perhaps making enough money to support my many geeky habits.
Aside from that, yeah, I still have the Big New York Publisher dream. A real hardback book. Tours, etc. Hopefully, I’ll get there.
Any other exciting news or information you want to share with us before we wrap this up?
I’ve got some projects I’m working on. A fairly epic novel entitled The Fearing that with any degree of hope will be published next year. When I finish it. Heh…
I’m also working on a short story collection to follow up the success of Little Deaths five years ago. I’m looking for that to come late next year. Beyond that, I have story breakdowns already done for a set of novellas that will compose my follow up to The End in All Beginnings. 2018? A few projects that are just now getting underway. And we’ll see how I Can Taste the Blood does out there in marketplace, because we have some ideas in that direction, too.
Thank you John, for sharing your thoughts with us.
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE
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