Grey Matter Press has recently published horror author John F.D. Taff’s ‘The End in all Beginnings.’ The impressive collection of novellas has received some truly impressive praise from readers, horror media and industry insiders such as Jack Ketchum, Jonathan Maberry, Kealan Patrick Burke, Michael R. Collings and many others.
We caught up with John F.D. Taff to talk about the book.
Horror News Network: ‘THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS’ contains five novellas: “What Becomes God,” “Object Permanence,” “Love in the Time of Zombies,” “The Long, Long Breakdown” and “Visitation.” All are well written and different. What do you see as the common thread that makes the collection so cohesive?
John F.D. Taff: The common thread among the pieces is, I guess, love and loss, especially that ultimate loss, death. All of the stories also meditate on holding on and letting go, and knowing when it’s best to do one or the other.
It’s funny, to me at least, that the stories go together as well as they do, because they weren’t meant to. They certainly weren’t written to, at least. The oldest of them, “Object Permanence,” was written more than 20 years ago. The latest, “What Becomes God,” was finished as I sent the stories off to R.J. Cavender to be edited. So it’s kismet or serendipity or choose your two-bit word for fate.
I think, in reality, it’s a testament to the kinds of themes I tend to gravitate toward in my writing, dealing with these deep, very human chords. I think the horror genre, more than others, is so well-suited for exploring these types of universal…ummm…fears isn’t really the word, is it? Truths? I mean, no matter our sex or political affiliation, no matter our religion or nationality, no matter our preferences or inclinations, each of us, all of us experience love and loss and death in some manner or another. They really are the things that tie us all together in the end.
Horror News Network: While rooted in the horror genre, each of the five stories is very much about humanity. Is that an element you keep in there? Do you think that is what sets this collection apart from many other horror books?
John F.D. Taff: Shouldn’t horror, above every other genre, be concerned with the humanity of its characters? I mean, to me horror stories that focus on the monsters or what the monsters are doing- eating, killing, etc.-they’re missing the point somehow. Stories need to be concerned about the characters. What effects are the monsters or horrors having on the characters? Unless the author is trying to humanize the monster as part of the story, the monster or horror is really just a “personified” force there to exact some change in the protagonists. In other words, and, again, this is just me, the horror is a plot device to bring out something in the character, something central to the story I’m trying to tell. Stories where the horror itself is the story…well, that’s just not that interesting to me.
Horror, in my mind, should entirely be about humanity. I can’t remember who I read this from-I think it might have been Stephen R. Donaldson-but he said a good story involved giving the reader a character they could love (or at least relate to), then kicking the shit out of that character, then giving the character some form of redemption. I think horror, as a genre, is the perfect form of that since, unlike any other genre (with the possible exception of romance), it operates on the level of pure emotion: fear.
As a horror author, I do believe it’s important-vital-to give the readers fully fleshed-out characters, even if it’s in a short story. Because when the horrors arrive-when you’re ready to kick the shit out of that character-you want readers to care about that character and whatever redemption follows…if any. Without some form of humanity at the core of the story-if it’s all just about blood spattering and a body count-I just don’t see the point. In the end, if there’s no humanity in the story, where does the horror come from?
So, yeah, I do think stories with a great deal of humanity in them are vital in horror, at least for me, at least in my work. Does it set my work apart? Well, that I can’t say. I’d guess I’d like to think that, but I know that there are other horror authors out there who must think the same way-McCammon, King, McKinney, Burke.
Horror News Network: Do you have a favorite novella out of the five, or one you feel closest to?
John F.D. Taff: “What Becomes God” is closest to me, because as I say in the notes, it’s really a pure distillation of my childhood. The neighborhood I describe, the house, the woods…it’s all taken from my youth. I spent a huge amount of time in those woods with my friends, and it formed a solid foundation of great memories. I was also (and kind of still am) a comic book nerd. Marvel all the way, man. And those comic books of my youth-Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, Captain America, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist-are the literal backbone of the story. There’s much about the story that is fiction, but there’s also much about the story that is thinly (very!) disguised truth. I also like, very much, the way the story explores the nature of friendship, which at that age is everything. We kind of grow out of that kind of friendship as adults, and that is a terrible, terrible loss, I think.
Horror News Network: What do you feel inspires your writing the most?
John F.D. Taff: Absolutely everything. I watch people all the time. I observe everything. I’m constantly cribbing from life. Everyone I meet becomes some part of a character. Everything I see or hear is processed and eventually comes out on the page. I think that’s the central part of being a writer, the best part really. You learn to become a listener and an observer in a way that most people never do.
In addition, though I am somewhat skeptical by nature, I like to keep an open mind about such things as ghosts and UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch and poltergeists and psychic powers and all sorts of things. Not necessarily because I believe in them, but because they make the world a more interesting place to live.
Horror News Network: As a writer, what makes you the most proud of the stories in ‘THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS’?
John F.D. Taff: The reaction I get from readers is just awesome. I have nothing in my experience to compare it to, but it must be like the rush a stand-up comedian gets from being onstage and having an audience really respond to his work. The reaction I’ve gotten from readers of THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS has been tremendously humbling. To hear that a story that I’ve written has moved someone-whether that’s to laughter or tears or to some deep understanding of something-is really phenomenal. To take that same analogy a step further, I’ve always said that writing horror is very much like writing comedy, in that both writers want their audience to “get it,” to understand what it is they’re trying to say. Otherwise, the whole thing is for naught. So it’s flattering and fulfilling when I hear back from readers that they “got” it. It’s really what it’s all about, for me at least; that connection with a reader. Otherwise, I might as well be scribbling away in a private journal.
Horror News Network: What’s next for you?
John F.D. Taff: Short stories, always short stories. I love the form and I can’t seem to keep them in stock these days. I’ve got a few coming out in various places, one called “Some Other Day” in an upcoming Grey Matter Press anthology entitled Death’s Realm. A few invitations that I can’t divulge just yet. A Best Of… appearance that, again, I can only hint at now. A standalone novella will be announced shortly from Grey Matter. My other publisher, Books of the Dead, should be releasing my novel Infestation any day now. Another novel, a sort of sequel called The Orpheus Box, will be out in early 2015.
Aside from that, I’m working on a huge, epic horror novel called The Fearing, which has turned into my Master-class project in horror writing. I expect to have that done early in 2015.
Horror News Network: In closing, what would you like to say to our readers about ‘THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS’?
John F.D. Taff: I think if they’re looking for something perhaps a little different than what they’ve been reading in the horror genre, I’d hope they’d give THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS a read. I think they’ll be pretty happy that they did. They can learn more about me at my blog, johnfdtaff.com or follow me on Twitter @johnfdtaff.
Horror News Network: Thanks for your time, John. Best of luck with this book!