Interview: Carl Foster

Bellairs fan and budding author Carl Foster lives, works, and writes (or as he says, scribbles) in New Orleans, where he daily takes in the grisly and fascinating history of the city to share with visitors to the French Quarter. A graduate student in mass communication who also spends his working hours with the National Park Service, Carl says he is always on the lookout for Bellairs books to buy for the young readers who cross his path and, like the colophon of one of those beloved Bantam paperbacks of yore, is currently at work on his next chilling tale.

Q: How and when did you first became aware of John’s books?

A: At the age of eleven I came across my first array of Bellairs tomes in the library of my small-town Texas middle school. The esoteric Gorey art and lettering drew me in, and the story, The Drum, The Doll, and the Zombie, introduced me to Johnny Dixon, a pudgy quiet fellow who had a heart of gold---like me! Of course I later learned that book was primarily composed by Brad Strickland (from a single paragraph I understand) but I read the five or six other Bellairs books immediately thereafter. I maintain that Strickland wrote an immaculate Bellairs book.

Q: Which book do you feel is John’s best? Worst?

A: For personal reasons my favorite is The Curse of the Blue Figurine. There is a perfect essence captured in this story, a gloom and a darkness that is enriched with ethical turmoil, coming-of-age vicissitudes, and everything you could ever want. At the time I was a young man in a new school who was much more comfortable engaging with books than with other people. The idea that someone like Professor Childermass could exist brought me joy and fairly well established what kind of old man I want to become. After first reading in Language Arts class, I would pick up Curse... at least ten more times, and who knows how many more renditions are due in the future, my maturing imagination reforming the style and the pace of that cherished prose...

His worst? Perhaps The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost. Something is off about it, and most of his other books have strengths which they use to overshadow this book. But that could be a product of atmosphere at the time. I better go read it again to make sure.

Q: You mentioned recently at our forum you were reading The Doom of the Haunted Opera for the first time. What are your feelings about Brad Strickland continuing the stories?

A: I am a traditionalist, so at first I was quite offended. I thought it was sacrilege. Then when I heard how The Drum, The Doll, and the Zombie came from a single paragraph, I completely turned. What finesse and insight to Bellairs Strickland demonstrates! I applaud him for continuing the stories, if only because I dream about continuing the stories too. Yet the whole "radio programme and ritz crackers" New England culture is still a mystery to me. So you know what I think is the best. Witch-Finder is good, too.

Q: Have you ever been somewhere or seen something that reminded you of John or his books?

A: All the time. Tall, dead grass; every season; old professors, old books, elderly hair tied in a bun; cloudy skies; old mansions in New Orleans, my current home, where I am currently at work on my next chilling tale; ending almost every biographical paragraph in the way I just did.

Q: In this fast paced, high-tech world of ours, do you still think John’s work has a valid place?

A: More than ever. John's work looked back from the time he lived in, a great literary pose he shared with Lovecraft and Poe. When an author can thrill the readers of his time with narratives built in a remote past, the landmarks of human imagination and curiosity about our past will keep it alive. Plus the writing is so good. Furthermore there is a pendulum swing to technology from words to images, from sound to silence, from sitting and staring to doing and creating; Bellairs has built his empire on a rustic society, a total American one, that people will try to return to no matter how far afield the pendulum goes. John's work is relevant for young people - who will always have their social hardships, and an urge to understand the world and themselves; the work does not focus on technology, but on these human constraints.

Q: If you were making a movie based on one of John’s books, what’s one thing you would to ensure is included?

A: I would have said Donald Pleasance as Childermass, for sure. That ship has sailed unfortunately. So I would then say the Gorey appearance of Victorian postures, all sorts of filigree and odd kitchen utensils and of course placid, regal facial expressions.

Q: What other author/book(s) would you recommend to a Bellairs fan?

The mystery novels of Harry Stephen Keeler, the horror of Lovecraft and Poe, the shorter works of Thomas Pynchon for his richness of detail.

Q: Compleat this sentence: you know you’ve read too much John Bellairs when –

A:...you end your parties by playing The Star-Spangled Banner on your piano.

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