Brennan LaFaro is a horror writer living in southeastern Massachusetts with his wife, two sons, and his hounds. An avid lifelong reader, Brennan also co-hosts the Dead Headspace podcast and is the author of Slattery Falls, the first entry in a trilogy, as well as Last Stay, and the horror western, Noose. You can read his short fiction in various anthologies and find him on Twitter at @brennanlafaro or at www.brennanlafaro.com.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
In short, horror reading. I love good storytelling, both in movies and books, and always found myself gravitating toward the dark stuff. There’s something about engaging in the material to a degree that it viscerally affects you that approaches magic. Up until the last few years, I was content to be a consumer rather than a producer. One thing horror people know is it’s not every day you find a kindred spirit in the real world. Most people will simply flash a judgmental look when you tell them what it is you like to read. I started a twitter account called What Happens Next, after one of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes, to share all of the things I was reading and my thoughts on them, also to connect with other like-minded readers.
Sharing reading experiences led to becoming a reviewer and discovering the horror world outside of King and Koontz sparked something. Be it art or music, I’ve always felt a desire to create. It just never clicked before 2019 that writing was a way to partake in a medium I loved. I guess I always assumed there was a set of tools I wasn’t privy to, but as it turns out, the best way to gather those tools is to take on the job.
I sat down with a notebook and a pen in August of 2019 and wrote the first few pages of what would become Slattery Falls, my first book. There were stops and starts as I temporarily allowed imposter syndrome to rear its ugly head, but I’ve written pretty consistently since then, and now have a number of projects ready to make their way into the world. There have been times where I wish I had started earlier in life, but let’s circle back to the beginning. I was reading. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was internalizing what works, what doesn’t, grammar, dialogue, etc. I was preparing.
Currently, it has to be Slattery Falls, mainly because it’s my only work longer than a short story widely available. I’ve written books and stories in a number of different horror subgenres, but my first was always going to deal in ghosts and haunted houses. It’s my favorite aspect of horror, just for how relatable it is. Poll a room full of people and you’ll get a mixed response if you ask who believes in ghosts, but ask who has a story, and every hand goes up. Even those who have never had a personal experience know someone, know a secondhand story that will raise the hair on the back of your neck.
Slattery Falls follows the story of three college-aged kids who form a bond through exploring supposedly haunted houses, eventually biting off a little more than they can chew. It’s a fast-paced novella that mixes creeps with heart and maintains a focus on found family.
Readers enjoyed it enough that the original publisher and I decided to expand the story into a trilogy. Although that publisher is no longer with us, Slattery Falls has a new home at Crossroad Press, who has also signed book two, Decimated Dreams, for a late 2022 release, and an untitled book three to come out in 2023.
What are you working on now?
A few things at the moment. I’ve got a horror western novella titled Noose coming on September 4th from Dark Lit Press. It leans into the adventure aspect of horror without shying away from supernatural elements and features a villain that was all kinds of fun to write. Edits should be coming in soon and I’m looking forward to putting some polish on a story I’m very proud of. I created a town in Arizona called Buzzard’s Edge and have found it kind of difficult to stay away from. I’m finalizing a story called ‘Come and Take My Hand’ that will serve as a quasi-prequel to Noose and be released for free just before the book. I also have western stories called ‘Holes’ and ‘Trade Secrets’ coming out in some western horror anthologies in the late summer/early fall. Both stories feature characters from, and nods to, the Buzzard’s Edge mythos.
I’m also currently entrenched in the first draft of the final book in the Slattery Falls trilogy. It’s got a ways to go, but I know and love these characters. After three books together, I’ve really learned to listen to the direction they need the story to go. I’m a big believer in characters’ actions dictating the plot rather than the plot dictating the character’s actions. I won’t name names because it would include some spoilers for book one, but some of the people in this book live and breathe and come to life. It’s a whole lot of help in terms of getting the right words on the page.
What is your writing routine?
It changes throughout the year, but at the moment, it’s exactly where I like it. My day job is teaching elementary music in the public school system. That vocation comes with its share of stressors, but does grant summers off. Over summer break I like to get up a little before 6 am and listen to music or an audiobook while I take a walk. Then I come home and put in about two to three hours of “writing”. In quotes because that time might be spent adding new words to a work in progress, editing, providing notes to a friend’s work, or one of the many elements of marketing. It’s all necessary and it all counts as writing. If I can put down 1,000 words a day with some minimal refinement to them, it’s been a good day.
During the school year, I squeeze in the time wherever I can. My laptop comes to work with me every day and I can usually get some things accomplished during lunch. Although I’m often toasted by the time night rolls around, if that’s the only piece of the day that I can set aside, that’s what gets done. I talked earlier about finding a way back in 2019 to turn the words on, and since then they’ve flowed like a leaky faucet. It’s a rare day that I don’t get at least a little bit done, and on those days, I feel a little bit off. No different than if circumstances keep me from going on my early morning walk.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
What a great question, and there’s a few ways to answer it. In terms of a type, I have so much respect for the people who tell stories because they are driven to do it. The people who have a full life—multiple jobs, children, spouses, challenges, what have you—and still manage to carve out the time to write. I had a teacher in college who drilled into us that there are 168 hours in a week. He pointed it out to showcase we could find time to practice our instruments, busy as we all were, if we prioritized it. As an aside, Professor McWain is a remarkable jazz piano player and a sci-fi writer to boot. If you are a storyteller, you will find the time to tell stories. It may mean you have to space out your Netflix binges, get up a little earlier, or stay up a little later, but if there’s a story that needs to be told so badly that a writer is setting their alarm for 5 am to make sure it gets told, that’s a story I want to read. There’s an urgency to that type of writing that cannot be faked, and a lot of writers in this genre who produce magnificent work under those circumstances.
As far as a singular person, there’s a gentleman down in Brush Creek, Tennessee who embodies a lot of the characteristics I mentioned above. Ronald Kelly is a storyteller at heart in the vein of Stephen King and Joe R. Lansdale. He’s been at the game for decades and plugs away because the ideas continue to flow and demand to be put to paper, or at least computer screen. Not to mention, he’s pretty good at it. His novel Fear is one of the most underrated coming-of-age gems in horror and belongs on the shelf between McCammon’s Boy’s Life and King’s It.
Beyond his capability as a writer, Ronald Kelly is a genuinely great person, generously sharing time and expertise to help me navigate this writing life when I was brand new at it. I’m still learning the ropes, of course, but Ol’ Ron is always willing to lend a hand to help out, not just me, but a number of newer writers.|
As a reader, I can get behind either one as long as it checks certain boxes. One of those key boxes is the need for great characters. If the author doesn’t give me reasons to invest in the characters early on, I’m not going to be overly concerned when heads start rolling. Extreme horror/Splatterpunk has some great examples of characterization done right, perhaps none better than The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, but it also has its fair share of stories that center a little too heavily on graphic description, forgetting that horror is only truly horrifying when there are stakes. In other words, when the author pulls you into the story and makes you wonder, what if this were happening to me or someone I love? In contrast, it’s a little more difficult to write psychological horror without delving into what makes the characters tick. By necessity, the frights come from the phobias and innate fears of the people who inhabit the stories. In order to decide on the creepy elements, the author must understand and attempt to demonstrate authentic reactions.
As a writer, I would say my work tends to gear more toward psychological. This sub-genre, or designation if you like, often gets equated with quiet, slow-burn horror, and that’s certainly one way to do it, but I think it has more to do with developing situations that build tension.
Apologies, but I’m going back to haunted house horror, because it’s my favorite. If your protagonist opens the front door and a ghost materializes before his eyes and howls, a blood-soaked severed head dangling from one hand, it might play alright in a movie, but in a book? It doesn’t work. I’d rather read about our hero entering a silent house, ravaged by time but with no sign of life. Something sounds from the top floor. Is it footsteps or just an old house settling? The lights flicker, but the wiring is old, not well maintained, surely that’s a natural occurrence. The noise creaks again, and this time there’s no mistaking the footsteps. Are they coming down the stairs? The lights go out again. For one second. Two. Something brushes by their arms, perhaps just a breeze. Perhaps not.
Maybe a little bit of a dramatic example, but that second one gives me goosebumps. That’s exactly what I want.
Why should people read your work?
As authors, especially putting out work with smaller presses or self-publishing, we’re our own biggest advocates, yet it’s always easier to talk about why another book is deserving of an audience’s hard-earned allowance than the one we spent months and months locked in a little room cooking up, but I’ll do my best.
My style is ever-developing but readers who pick up a Brennan LaFaro book can expect a story where the pacing demands attention, specifically crafted to focus on what’s most interesting to me. The characters are people you know that just so happen to have gotten into a bit of a situation, brought to life by dialogue and interactions. A LaFaro story makes every attempt to ratchet up the tension in order to bring the scares that readers want when they pick up a horror book. I like to think these stories bring humor, horror, and heart in equal measure. I’ve been very humbled by the average reader response to the first Slattery Falls book. It sped up some heart rates and provided a fun distraction from the real world, if only for a few hours, and I’d be oh so satisfied if future books garner the same reaction.
Recommend a book.
One of my favorite books last year, and one I would love to see more people take a chance on is Almost Ruth, by Tyler Jones. Jones grabbed my attention with the novella Criterium, a peak example of why the novellas are working so well in horror right now. His collection Burn the Plans came out earlier this year. Michael Marshall Smith said something in the intro like it’s the one of the best collections, the kind of statement that either impresses the hell out of you or makes you roll your eyes. But he was right. It’s an impressive collection of stories that hits all the notes and doesn’t contain any misses. But you asked me to recommend a book, not three.
Almost Ruth is the best of the bunch. It deals with grief and loss in a way that is so rooted in human behavior, you can’t help but let your inner empath run wild. It could loosely be boxed into the western genre due to to time period and location, but transcends the expectations that come with that kind of story. All the while, it quietly develops a weird-small-town mythology that is both intriguing and deeply creepy. Jones writes in a way that exudes a poetic beauty, without ever sacrificing clarity, and Almost Ruth impresses on its own but also tells me we can expect big things from him.