JG Faherty is the author of the Bram Stoker-nominated Ghosts of Coronado Bay. His other books include Carnival of Fear, Cemetery Club, The Cold Spot, and He Waits. He has also written more than two dozen short stories for various magazines and anthologies. His next novel, The Burning Time, comes out in January of 2012. He enjoys exploring abandoned buildings, photography, hiking, and playing the guitar. As a child, his favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot.
JournalStone: It has been commented that you “…nail(s) the whole small town horror concept with a King-like flair.” How careful are you to create the setting for your stories? Have you ever relocated any tale to a new setting after getting into the work?
JGF: I try to be very careful with my settings. I think setting is critical to a story, and plays an integral part in setting the mood. For instance, in Cemetery Club, I wanted a sultry feel, even though I set the story in upstate New York. So it had to be in a hot summer. And I needed the town next to a river. At that point, personal experience comes in. I went to college and grad school in a small upstate town on the Alleghany River, and in my mind I used that for the setting.
As far as changing the setting to something I’ve written, I’ve never done more than move a setting from say, central NY to upstate NY, or from a college to a high school. Nothing major. I always have the setting firmly in mind before I begin writing.
JS: That review comment was about Cemetery Club, your current novel release. It was Ghosts of Coronado Bay, published in 2011, that earned you a Stoker Award nomination for YA Horror. How did you learn that you were being considered as a finalist in that grand competition?
JGF: I followed the voting very closely! It is a very honorable award, and I’m not too proud to say that as the recommendations came in, I’d check the form at least once a month. Once you make the list of finalists, you get a notification from the Horror Writers Association about it.
JS: You claim to have played in cemeteries as a child. Were you ever afraid? … curious only? Will you admit to hanging around cemeteries even now?
JGF: Admit it? You act like it’s something to keep secret! I definitely visit cemeteries still, although now it’s mostly to take pictures or do research for a book. As a kid, we played in local cemeteries all the time. My town has more than a dozen of old ones, with graves dating back to the 1700s. Many of the cemeteries are private, but that doesn’t stop teenagers. And I was never afraid … probably because of growing up in proximity to them and having so many other ‘haunted’ locations in town, witnessing other supernatural events … cemeteries were just cool places to hang. And scare the little kids!
JS: Evidence of real Horror exists all around us, as you found in a visit to an abandoned mental institution—a place where torment seemed to go hand in hand with treatment. How much of that strange experience would later become inspiration for your book, Cemetery Club?
JGF: A lot of it, although not in the way you’re thinking. That asylum was well-known in our town before I was ever born. It was the subject of a Geraldo Rivera investigation in the 1970s and shut down for good in the 1990s. So my idea for the book came from knowing the history of the place, what had happened there. But what I did was combine my passion for urban exploring with wanting more detail for the book. That’s why I made several excursions into the various buildings, both alone and with friends and family. It wasn’t to get inspiration, but to work on detail.
JS: Many writers work only in short story form, while others work only in novel length projects. You do both with ease. Do you sit down to deliberately write a short story? What changes an idea, for you, so that the project becomes a novel?
JGF: With ease? I wish! Writing doesn’t come easy to me; not because of a lack of ideas, but because I have too many, along with a terrible ability to work on any single project for too long. It’s like writer ADD combined with a fertile imagination. So I end up working on several projects at any one time. As far as length, usually I have an idea in my mind that a story will either be short or long. Basically, you get the idea and it either has possibilities for subplots (thus a novel) or it doesn’t (short story). This past year I also wrote a couple of novellas – The Cold Spot and He Waits – and it was the first time I tried my had at those. I actually think the novella is the perfect blend of story and length.
JS: Short stories built your audience for you and earned many devoted fans over the years. It was a long writing-road to your first novel length work, Carnival of Fear. That book changed things a bit for you, didn’t it? Did its strong, sudden praise surprise you?
JGF: Interestingly enough, when I wrote Carnival of Fear I’d only ever written very, very short stories before that, and mostly for YA audiences. Carnival came to me in a dream, fully blown, every detail there down to specific scenes. The only thing I had to do was add the characters’ names. I wrote the whole book in about three weeks, a manic period that left me with hand cramps (I wrote the first draft in a notebook). I’ve never had a complete idea come to me like that again, although I wish it would. Makes things a lot easier! When I finally typed the first draft, it was somewhere north of 130,000 words. I spent the next five years editing it and submitting it and then editing and submitting again. In the meantime, that’s when I started writing short stories, basically because I enjoyed it and because I felt I could published a lot faster in that market. And it worked.
The praise Carnival earned didn’t surprise me – I thought then, and I still think, it’s a way cool book. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s suspenseful, it’s a little gory in parts, it’s hokey and camp and yet not silly in any way.
JS: Which was your first published short story? Can readers still find it anywhere?
JGF: The first story I ever had published was a fictionalized account of an experience I had with a ghost as a child. It was called “The Phantom Milkman” and it was in an anthology of ghost stories called Haunted Encounters: Departed Family and Friends. The first sale of pure fiction was “Crisis of Faith,” in the now-defunct Lost in the Dark webzine.
JS: Somewhere in your resume, is a dusty mention that you once were a zoo keeper. A zillion kids would call that the coolest of jobs to have. How did that come about?
JGF: I live near a small zoo, the Bear Mountain Zoo. It is devoted to animals found in New York State, and all the residents are injured or abandoned animals that have been rescued. They have bears, coyotes, foxes, otters, hawks, eagles, rattlesnakes, and so on. I got a job there for a summer, running the reptile house and also caring for the hawks. Back then, I was a biology major in college, and I used that experience to get a job at the school caring for their reptile collection. Although I ended up not going into wildlife management, years later a good friend of mine opened a wild animal rescue sanctuary, and I got to spend several vacations feeding, photographing, and just plain old playing with tigers, lions, panthers, wolves, elephants, and other assorted critters.
JS: Did you really charge neighborhood kids money to watch your snake eat mice?
JGF: Not just eat, kill. I had a collection of venomous snakes, including African Puff Adders, a Copperhead, a Chinese Tree Viper, and, for a while, a Timber Rattlesnake. I also had a very large (9 foot) python and a small Caiman (a South American alligator). So when I fed mice to those snakes, there was a lot of fang action, and blood, and timing to see which mouse died faster. Entertainment for the whole family!
JS: Horror movies, scary books, and haunted battlefields filled up your childhood pastimes. When did you feel the urges to write your own stories? Do you have a vast collection of stories that no one has ever read?
JGF: I knew I wanted to write back when I was a kid, drawing gross, funny comic parodies of shows like Star Trek. In college, I tried my hand at writing fiction and I felt that I sucked at it – because I was comparing myself to King, Straub, Koontz, and the other writers I was reading at the time. I had no idea how long it took to get good at your craft. Back then there was no internet, so I had no idea how many years those writers struggled before reaching the point where their work was publishable. So I gave up. And then in 2000, I got a job writing educational study guides for The Princeton Review. Part of that involved writing short fiction on which the reading questions would be based. It came so easy that I decided to try my hand at writing real stories.
As for unpublished stories, sure. Every writer has a boatload of trunk stories. I probably have 3 times as many unpublished stories as published ones, out of which maybe half are of a quality good enough to actually be published!
JS: Does your wife, Andrea, read for you? You call her a casual horror fan; do your stories scare her?
JGF: Andrea made it through Carnival of Fear; she enjoyed Ghosts of Coronado Bay. She got halfway through Cemetery Club and couldn’t finish it because it was too scary for her. Since then, she’s read nothing of mine. As time goes by, her tolerance for horror is actually shrinking. She used to read King and Koontz; now she can’t. She’s okay with SyFy channel horror movies, or something campy like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, but real movies, like Paranormal Activity or Silent Hill or Insidious, give her nightmares! Same thing with my parents. So I have to rely on other horror writers as my beta readers.
JS: The modern author’s website seems to have replaced the book signing, giving readers a chance to meet and interact with their favorite writers. In your opinion, is that change helpful, and have you done book events of your own? Your own website is very personable and chatty. Do your readers respond well to you there?
JGF: Readers seem to like my website; I’ve purposely made it different than other writers’ sites which seem devoted to promotion. I just wish I had the time to update it more often!
Facebook is really where I seem to connect with fans and readers, though. I’m on there a lot; I don’t blog (except for guest blogs). My blog is Facebook, which I link to Twitter and LinkedIn so I don’t have to multiple post.
I have done book signings – local libraries, street fairs, HWA events, etc. – and I think it’s still a good way to meet readers and promote not only my books, but the genre in general.
JS: You have been a fan of Horror since your childhood. But, you have noted a distressing change in the theme in recent years, claiming there is too much psychological bullshit being written. What really defines Horror for you? Where are modern writers getting it wrong?
JGF: Did I use the words psychological bullshit? I don’t remember that. (editors note – look here: paragraph 12) For me, there are two distressing trends in horror today. One is a reliance on gore for scares – both in movies and in books. Over the top gore, like in Saw or other ‘torture porn’ movies, makes me think two things: One, you couldn’t come up with a decent story, and Two, you’re writing for a very specific subset of readers, the same ones who think Faces of Death is the pinnacle of cinema. Now, don’t get me wrong – as a teen, I loved that shit! The more gore, the better. But as I got older, I began to appreciate story and suspense more. My tastes matured. And the popularity of gore-horror today makes me afraid that the tastes of American movie-goers and readers isn’t maturing, it’s regressing.
The other trend that pisses me off are ambiguous books where the plot seems to meander around, never really making sense, and then the writer gives you an ending that is so murky you don’t know what the hell is going on. I call that failed attempts at literary horror. Being obscure and calling it innovative. Once again, I call foul – it just means you didn’t have a real story in your head, or you couldn’t get it from your head to the paper.
True psychological terror is actually a fantastic sub-genre, when done right. A perfect example is Straub’s classic, Ghost Story. Sure, it’s about a ghost, and she does some nasty, violent things. But that book is all about suspense and mind games.
JS: Your Young Adult heroine, Maya Blair, is a wonderfully typical teen — who happens to be able to see and speak to ghosts. Have you ever been genuinely haunted, or seen what you believe was a ghost? Do you believe in spirits that remain on earth after death?
JGF: Yes and yes! I have seen ghosts, more than once. Not as an adult, but as a child and a teen. So have many of my friends. We grew up in a town filled with haunted houses, haunted roads, old cemeteries – if we hadn’t seen ghosts, it would have been a shock.
And I do believe that spirits, or some kind of energy, can remain on after death. There is too much evidence of it to think it doesn’t happen.
JS: Maya appears first in Ghosts of Coronado Bay, but don’t you have more adventures planned for her?
JGF: Eventually. I’m working on a couple of other books right now, but after that I’d like to return to Maya and her next adventure.
JS: How often do you get the question, “…which of your stories should I read first?” and, what is your usual answer?
JGF: I get it all the time, and the answer depends on who is asking. Young adult? Read Ghosts of Coronado Bay. A fan of books that mix laughs and horror? Carnival of Fear. Straight on horror? Cemetery Club, The Cold Spot, He Waits. My next book, The Burning Time, coming out in January (JournalStone), is a dark, suspenseful tale of dark magic, Cthulhuian monsters, and a hero determined to save a small town from Hell.
JS: Have you gathered any of your early short stories into anthologies for your readers?
JGF: There is one collection available as an ebook only right now, The Monster Inside. You can get it on Amazon or Smashwords. It’s a mix of reprints and never-before-printed stories.
JS: Very few authors have the means to write full time, to play in their own little worlds forever. You spend your normal-life hours working at your computer and online. Are you ever completely sick of being at the computer? How do you write, when you get the time to visit your own muse?
JGF: Luckily, I work from home. I have an internet-based resume business. This means I’m at the computer all day. So usually I’ll do some editing in the early morning, before I start work, and then write for an hour at the end of the day, before Andrea gets home. On the weekends, I’m up early and writing for maybe 3 hours each day. Since I’m at home, whenever I feel the need to get away from the computer I can just take the dog outside or play my guitar or maybe do a few chores.
JS: As a professional proofreader-editor, are you your own worst enemy when writing? Do you write with abandon and edit after the story is complete, or do you edit as you go along? Do modern writers edit enough, in your opinion?
JGF: When I first started writing, I would just let my brain crap all over the pages and then edit after the book or story was finished. After taking a few writing courses I’ve gotten more structured and now I do some editing as I write – it makes for a slower process, but later I spend less time on revisions. Short stories I still write in fast motion and edit later.
To answer your second question, all you have to do is pick up a handful of books today and see that editing and proofreading – both by writers and publishers – has reached an all-time low. Quality control is becoming a thing of the past. And I’m not just talking about self-published writers or micro-press books. Too many established authors are either no longer bothering to check their work or the publishing houses are getting cheap with the proofing.
JS: In your opinion, what is the most common mistake that new writers make? Do writers really study the craft anymore?
JGF: Some new writers study, some don’t. Most of the mistakes new writers make are the same ones we’ve all made – not enough editing, thinking that first book really is good enough to publish, not using beta readers, recycling old plots and tropes. That’s all to be expected. The problem I see today is the holy trinity of publishing evil: 4TheLove markets that publish anything by anyone, the ability to self-publish an ebook at no cost, and all the promotion possibilities offered by social media. What you end up with are new or bad writers who can now not only get their works published but have the ability to promote those poorly-written works as if they were the next best seller. And readers can’t tell the difference between a real book and a piece of junk when they see the author touting it on Facebook.
JS: You have been very active with the World Horror Convention and with Horror Writers Association for years, and attend many conventions. Tell us a little about your history with those groups, and your involvement now.
JGF: I’m a member of HWA and involved in several programs; I serve as a Board Member right now, and I’m the current Library Liaison. I am also involved in the mentoring program that pairs Active members with new writers. In the past, I’ve assisted friends who were organizing Bram Stoker Award® events and World Horror Convention events. In January, I’ll be overseeing the HWA’s involvement at the American Library Association’s Winter Meeting, including a booth at the exhibition center and several panels on horror and writing.
JS: You released two novellas this year, He Waits and The Cold Spot (Dark Fuse Publishers), plus the novel Cemetery Club (JournalStone). That is no small amount of work, is it? How involved in the process are you, after a contract has been signed for a project? What should new authors expect when they get such opportunities to be printed?
JGF: Well, after the contract is signed is the easy part – all you have to do is edit the book and then help promote it! The hard part comes before that: writing the book and then trying to sell it to someone. Cemetery Club was written a year before I got the contract for it. The two novellas I wrote in 2011 and 2012, off and on. When I sold The Cold Spot to Dark Fuse, He Waits was only outlined. But since Shane (Shane Staley) enjoyed The Cold Spot so much, I figured I’d hit him while the iron was hot and I put my other projects aside and worked on He Waits, which luckily he also liked. As of yet, I’ve never had a contract where I sold a book on spec and then had to write it. That’s not my style. I don’t do well under pressure!
JS: Do you re-read your earlier works? In what ways have you changed over the years as a writer? Are you bolder now than you were in the beginning?
JGF: If anything, I’m more critical of my work and it slows me down. Often I find myself second-guessing everything I’ve written in a day. Some writers gain confidence in themselves over time; I’m not one of those. I’ll always be my own worst critic. I usually hate a book while I’m writing it, and only in the editing do I start to think it’s good.
JS: You’ve admitted to juggling projects, sitting down to work on whatever is interesting to you at the moment. How many projects do you currently have in the works? Have any been idle for years, waiting for you to get the urge to go back into those pages?
JGF: Right now I have 3 different novels and a novella I’m alternating between; I also have at least 10 short stories and 4 novels that having been sitting for years, partially written, just waiting for me to finish them. That’s what happened with Cemetery Club. I wrote the first half in 2008 and the rest in 2011.
JS: The Brothers Grimm have become legend for their childrens’ stories, but in reality were darker than many people realize. They wrote some horrific tales. Today, dark material for kids seems to be controversial. Are we just being overprotective, nowadays? It there anything wrong, in your opinion, with giving kids a good, scary story?
JGF: Controversial? That’s news to me. Talk to any YA publisher or agent. Kids love dark, scary stories. The only things off limits in YA horror are excessive gore and excessive sex. A YA novel – for the older teen set – can be as graphic as anything you’d see on HBO, but not on late night Cinemax! Violence, alternative life styles, steamy romance, gore – it’s all there.
Recently I did a Halloween reading at a local library, for a group of kids aged 10 to 16. The stories I read included someone getting their head cut off and a little kid being eaten by a monster. The kids loved it! When you write for the YA audience, you have to remember that they can spot when you’re writing/talking down to them. Sure, you can’t get away with everything you can in an adult novel, but for the most part kids are sophisticated readers and want to be treated as such.