JG Faherty is the author of Cemetery Club, Carnival of Fear, The Cold Spot, He Waits, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Ghosts of Coronado Bay. His latest novel, The Burning Time, comes out Jan. 18. Visit him at www.jgfaherty.com, www.facebook.com/jgfaherty, www.twitter.com/jgfaherty, or www.aboutme.com/jgfaherty.
Horror – Building on the Past
by J.G. Faherty
As writers, we are shaped by the books we read growing up and as adults. That's not to say we are copy cats – good writers always have their own style and voice. But we are influenced by those writers we enjoyed. It might be a tendency towards rapid action throughout the book, it might be a desire to travel to unknown worlds, or it might be something as simple as avoiding adjectives. Sometimes these tendencies are unconscious, and sometimes they are conscious.
In the case of The Burning Time, my decisions were most definitely of the latter variety.
When I was in my teens, I loved the short stories of Manly Wade Wellman and Karl Edward Wagner, stories of down-home folks fighting terrible evils. Sometimes these stories were subtle and involved ordinary people (Wagner's "Sticks" is a great example). Other times the stories were more direct, and involved a person who knowingly took on the evil. Wellman's John Thunstone stories, for example). Despite different plots, different characters, and different settings, they all had some basic things in common that somehow spoke to me:
1. Setting: The majority took place in very rural surroundings, such as Appalachia or the deep woods of New Jersey or New York. The setting would become almost a character in itself, creating isolation and a sense of the sinister, places where you know something weird and scary is going to occur.
2. The Main Character: In most instances, the main character (the 'good guy') was either an ordinary person with no previous involvement in the occult or supernatural, or a down-home fellow who did have experience with mystical things but was by no means undefeatable. In other words, these were characters who didn't necessarily have a 100% chance of defeating the evil they were going up against. But they fought the fight anyhow, because they felt it was the right thing to do. In the John Thunstone stories, for example, he had dedicated his life to ridding the world of evil.
3. Evil with a Capital E: The monsters in the stories I loved were all truly monsters. No serial killers, no wimpy vampires with neuroses. Just basic evil baddies with a desire to do harm. They ranged from ghosts to Satan himself, creatures of the night and creatures of the day. But mostly night – because that's when the bad things happen.
4. The Personal Touch: In most of the stories, the bad things were happening on a small, perhaps even personal scale. A person haunted by a ghost. A man trapped in a bad deal with the devil. A monster terrorizing a small town. No Armageddon-type plots here; no hordes of zombies coming over the hill or post-apocalyptic landscapes. Just that terrible creature peering in your window. Often one that the hero had a personal acquaintance with, just for good measure.
So I was thinking of all this when I developed my hero for The Burning Time. And that's how John Root was born. A small town country mage whose family had been fighting the good fight against evil for many centuries. He's nothing spectacular, but he's got some tricks up his sleeve – or, more precisely, in the magic bag that he carries. He's well-versed in botanicals and potions, he knows the right way to fight off a hellhound or break a blood spell. But he's not invulnerable; in fact, he can be hurt or killed as easily as you or I. And he does get hurt during the story, several times.
He's also very human. He's tempted to give up. To take the easy way out that will guarantee he wins – but at the cost of the lives of the people he loves. He's not sure he's strong enough to do what needs to be done. He feels guilt, and fear, and despair. But he perseveres. He's the kind of hero you really want to root for, the kind of person we all wish we could be, not because he has some magical powers but because he places doing what's right above all else.
In the end, The Burning Time became an homage to the stories I loved as a teenager, partly out of my desire to do that type of story, and partly because we can't help being influenced by the books we love.