Interview: J.G. Faherty on ‘The Burning Time’

BurningTimeAuthor J.G. Faherty grew up – and still lives – in a small town just north of Manhattan, a place rich in history and soaked in blood. In his stomping grounds one can find battlegrounds dating back to the Revolutionary War alongside gravesites, roads and woods rumored to be home to legions of restless spirits. In other words, the kind of fertile ground that’s bound to yield a horror writer or two.

Faherty has published number of short stories and novellas, including He Waits, The Cold Spot, and his most recent release, The Burning Time. October Country is pleased to welcome Mr. Faherty today to discuss Lovecraft, drive-in movies, and a whole lot more.

OC: I read that you credit a double bill of Planet of the Apes and Night of the Living Dead that your parents took you to see with starting you on the path that led to writing horror. What do your parents think of where that experience has led you?

JGF: Well, I don’t know if it got me started writing horror, but it really made me a fan of horror. Before that, I was equally into sci-fi, horror, and spy novels. But afterwards, it was like 90% horror! My parents probably don’t even remember that night, because back then we went to the drive-in almost every weekend (it was a great way to keep me and my friends entertained), and almost always at least one of the movies was either sci-fi or horror. I know that my dad credits his telling me “scary” stories as a child, and my mom says it’s because they used to let me watch SF and horror on TV as a little kid (Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, Creature Features, etc.).

You make an interesting point on your website: “A familiar plot is okay, if the writing’s good.” That’s a sentiment I happen to share. What are the essential elements that go into making a story with a familiar horror plot or character worth reading?

In my opinion, it’s two things. One is really good writing. Good writing can turn a mediocre story into something that captures your attention and keeps it. Here are some examples: ‘Salem’s Lot and They Thirst are two highly respected modern vampire novels, but they really tell the same story as Dracula: vampire comes to town, mayhem ensues, vampire hunters track down vampire. But (Stephen) King and (Robert) McCammon tell their stories with such elegance and flair that they become fine novels in their own rights, rather than just ordinary homages.

The second thing is to have a different take or twist on something. When I wrote Carnival of Fear, I didn’t want it to be a knock off of Something Wicked This Way Comes, so I built a very different carnival world. And then I took some very standard characters – stoners, jocks, nerds, etc. – and turned everything upside down by having unexpected heroes and surprising deaths.

You have a varied work history that includes zoo keeper, photographer, and medical researcher. How do those different experiences feed into your work?

Well, it certainly cuts down research! But I think it’s like with any writer – we usually are people who have had a lot of different jobs, and we are able to use those experiences to see life from different points of view, and to have a wealth of characters and stories in our memories to choose from when we write.

Let’s talk about your new novel, The Burning Time. I haven’t had the opportunity to read it yet, but the synopsis has a very Lovecraftian feel to it, with the mentions of the Old Ones, the Elder Gods, and chaos on Earth. Is this your version of a Lovecraft story?

Sort of. It didn’t start out that way – Lovecraftian fiction is so detailed, so dependent on the myths and tropes Lovecraft built, and that have been expanded on by the Lovecraftian writers that have followed. And I didn’t want to do something that had been done before. But while trying to figure out the backstory for my antagonist, I came across some Native American myths about ancient gods that had a lot of similarities to some of Lovecraft’s stories. So I looked into that more, and decided to make it my angle: an ancient being who the Native Americans called The Trickster, and who was known to other tribes and peoples around the world, in many different languages, by many different names. The bringer of Chaos. And his goal is to open a gateway so the elder gods can return and bring the chaos he so desires. Then, to link them further, he controls a creature that is like a miniature Cthulhu, a tentacled beast who is the lucky recipient of several sacrifices during the course of the book. So really, The Burning Time integrated Lovecraft, native legends, and southern country magic all into one novel.

How does it compare – and how does it contrast – from Lovecraft’s ideas?

It compares in three basic ways: One, the use of creatures and terms that are very Lovecraftian. Two, it takes place in a small, isolated town. And Three, there is a religious undertone to it.

It contrasts because the Lovecraftian elements really are secondary to the main conflict of the story. The Burning Time is, at its heart, a personal fight between two figures, two ancient enemies, who represent Good and Evil. Evil just happens to be hand in pocket with some Lovecraftian beasties.

You’ve published a large number of short stories in addition to longer novellas and novels. Do you have a preference between writing short and long fiction? If so, why?

When I first started writing, I preferred short stories because they were so direct and to the point. Then, after doing a few novels, I preferred building larger stories. And then in 2011, when I wrote my first two novellas, I changed my mind again. Now I feel that the novella is probably the best way to tell a story – it is longer than a short story, so you can craft more elegant sentences and build your characters in more detail, but it’s also very right between the eyes without sub-plots like a novel would have. Not that novels and short stories aren’t fun to right and don’t tell wonderful stories, but the novella seem to me (right now!) as the most efficient form of storytelling. That being said, I’m still writing short stories and novels, because when it comes down to it, you do whatever format you need to in order to tell the story that needs to be told.

What’s coming up after The Burning Time?

I don’t know! I’ve got a couple of short stories that will be coming out later in the year, but as of right now I don’t have another novel scheduled for publication. I do have two that I’m trying to sell, though, so who knows!

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