Miskatonic University has a long-whispered reputation of being strongly connected to all things occult and supernatural. From the faculty to the students, the fascination with other-worldly legends and objects runs rampant. So, when Carter Weston’s professor Dr. Thayerson asks him to search a nearby village for a book that is believed to control the inhuman forces that rule the Earth, Incendium Maleficarum, The Inferno of the Witch, the student doesn’t hesitate to begin the quest.
Weston’s journey takes an unexpected turn, however, when he ventures into a tavern in the small town of Anchorhead. Rather than passing the evening as a solitary patron, Weston joins four men who regale him with stories of their personal experiences with forces both preternatural and damned. Two stories hit close to home as they tie the tellers directly to Weston’s current mission.
His unanticipated role as passive listener proves fortuitous, and Weston fulfills his goal. Bringing the book back to Miskatonic, though, proves to be a grave mistake. Quickly, Weston realizes he has played a role in potentially opening the gate between the netherworld and the world of Man. Reversing the course of events means forgetting all he thought he knew about Miskatonic and his professor and embracing an unknown beyond his wildest imagination.
Welcome to the Noracast, Brett! I had the privilege to review That Which should Not Be, and I must say…it is a fantastic story that held me spellbound all the way through. Congratulations on the wonderful reviews.
What inspired you to write That Which Should Not Be?
I’ve always loved horror, somewhat because I like to be scared, but mostly because of the mystery and magic that you can find there. The real world can get kinda boring sometimes. I like the idea of the unexplained. I had this idea kicking around in my head for a while about a group of people, otherwise strangers, who meet on occasion to discuss stories that tie them together. I also felt there was a lack of modern horror written in the Gothic style of so many of the great, classic works. I put the two together, and That Which Should Not Be was born.
There were so many things I liked about That Which Should Not Be, but I especially enjoyed how you took the reader on a journey to various places. Daniel’s adventure, with his newfound friend Charles, from Venice to Vienna, then to Budapest and the troubles they encountered trying to get to Czernowitz made me wonder about your motivation for this part of the novel.
I am one of those people who saves every dime they make so they can spend it on travel. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of places, including Russia and Italy. Sadly, I have not yet visited Budapest, although it is high on my list of places to see. There is something about Eastern Europe, the way it lies between multiple continents and cultures. I mention this in the book, but you really have Africa, Europe, and Asia all melded together in one place. You add to the fact that Eastern Europe was the battle ground between the western Christian nations and the Ottoman Empire, and you have a place that was sort of left behind while Western Europe moved on. It strikes me as a mystical place. It’s not a coincidence that the modern vampire myth springs from such a place.
Now I have been to Venice, and I absolutely love that city. I hope to get back there one day. There are just so many places to see.
If you have traveled, did you encounter anything or place truly frightening? What about in Massachusetts…is it haunted?
I’ve never been anywhere that frightened me from an otherworldly perspective. But I have definitely found myself in some scary situations. I think the most I have ever feared for my life was in the back of a cab near midnight on a mountain in Peru. A friend of mine and I were out in the back country where most of the population doesn’t even speak Spanish as their first language. Instead, the speak Quechua, which is related fairly closely to the language of the Incas. Anyway, we are sort of careening down this darkened mountain road thinking that the next turn might be our last. The cab driver is barely paying attention. He has a political rally on the radio. The speaker is working the crowd into a fever, but he is speaking Quechua, and we can’t understand anything he says. But then, just as the speech is in mid-crescendo, the speaker yells out Seig! And the crowd answers Heil! That continued a few more times while I looked over at my friend and said, “Oh my God. Our cab driver is a Nazi.”
Massachusetts is definitely haunted, by its past if nothing else. Everywhere you go you see it, and somehow it feels older than the rest of the country. Moreover, it is very provincial. Boston is a long way from any other city, and it is the heart of all of New England. It is also not a very urban place. You drive ten minutes and you are in the country. In places like Danvers and Ipswich, where the whispers of Old Salem and witchcraft are still thick and ever-present.
Also, what place most fascinates you that you’d love to visit?
There are several ancient sites I would like to see, Angkor Wat first on my list. But if I could go anywhere in the world right now, it would probably be the city of Prypiat, Ukraine, better known by the name of the power plant that sits next to the city—Chernobyl. I am fascinated with abandoned buildings, and the chance to visit a ghost town that once held 100,000 people is irresistible. I plan on visiting soon.
I read you received a philosophy and history degree from University of Alabama before relocating to Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School. Having Carter Weston…your main protagonist, choose Miskatonic University over his father’s beloved Harvard Law School was a great way to use part of your own background.
Does your background include being an expert sailor like Captain Jonathan Gray? Is he based on a person you know?
Nope! I’ve barely even been on a boat. Growing up in Alabama, sailing was not high on my list of activities. People in Boston often go sailing for fun, but they are all much wealthier than I am. Maybe one day.
Have you ever experienced a terrifying storm on the open sea like your characters? You made it seem so real!
Thankfully, no. I think one advantage writers have these days that some in the past didn’t have is that we all have access to media portrayals of a lot of the things we write about. I can imagine what it would be like to experience that kind of storm, but it also helps that I have seen it happen before on television and in the movies.
Your book addresses the battle between good against evil, darkness and light, plus the dangers lurking far below the earth…in deep caverns of great evil and in the darkest depths of the sea. I liked this aspect of That Which Should Not Be because the caverns and great depths hide unknown evil just as much as the evil buried within some of the super wicked characters within your book.
This brings me to first impressions, which you totally like to play around with. A few of your characters caught me by surprise! I thought they were good…no, nope…no way, but it adds a lot to the plot.
So what is your take on first impressions? Are they (mostly) correct, or have you found first impressions offer up little concerning a person’s true nature?
You can learn a lot from first impressions, there is no doubt about that. But people tend to be fairly complex. The danger I struggle mightily to avoid when I am writing is having flat characters. When you are writing genre fiction, that can be especially difficult—nobody wants to read a hundred pages of domestic angst in the middle of a werewolf novel, for instance. So if nothing else, I like to try and keep people guessing about the nature of the characters. I wanted you to never really know who you can trust in That Which Should Not Be. I also wanted some characters to appear evil who turned out not to be. But you know, I also think there is a fine line between keeping the audience guessing and failing to reward their expectations. We don’t want Scar to turn out to be a good guy at the end of The Lion King. We want the hyenas to eat him, and (*spoilers*) we cheer when they do.
Which one of your characters did you have the most fun writing and why?
Captain Jonathan Gray. He is a very mysterious character, and I’d like to think it takes a while for the reader to get a handle on him. Plus, I like strong characters. Characters like him are dangerous, in a way, because you find yourself pouring everything you like about people into them, and they can come off as stereotypical. But I think Gray has enough color to him to avoid that.
I’ve read some reviews about That Which Should Not Be, saying how it is evocative of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and how you are well-versed in the Cthulhu mythos. That is quite a compliment!
Have you been a longtime fan of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos? If so, what attracts you to that type of fiction?
I didn’t read my first Lovecraft story until I was in my second year of law school. On a whim, I picked up The Call of Cthulhu and Other Tales, mostly because I really liked the cover. But it was the quintessential eureka moment. I have always had a fascination with myths and legends, with the truth they contain and how they help to explain both our past and our future. When I was in college, I stumbled upon Plato’s depiction of Atlantis, a place I had heard of but never really knew anything about. Then I learned about other legends of lost lands—Lemuria, the Seven Rishi Cities, Kumari Kandam, Mu, Hyperborea, Thule. In law school, I would often visit the esoteria section of the library, deep in the bowls of the Widener library, and read old grimoires and holy books of questionable authenticity. I was very interested in writing something about a lost civilization that disappeared beneath the waves and of the knowledge that disappeared with it. Once I found Lovecraft, I just devoured everything he had ever written. When I started on That Which Should Not Be, I decided I wanted to pay homage to many of the classic works of horror and speculative fiction. Lovecraft was the most prominent.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Lovecraft, Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemmingway. Probably read the most books by Stephen King, though.
What is the first book that made a lasting impression on you and why?
I have always been a reader, but for a long time I did so either as disposable entertainment or because someone in school made me. The first book that really affected me was The Great Gatsby. I absolutely love that book. I rarely read books more than once, but I have probably read The Great Gatsby ten times. The only book I’ve read more is That Which Should Not Be. If I could write one sentence in my entire life that is as great as “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” I’d die feeling like I accomplished something great. I honestly don’t think any book has ever captured the essence of the human condition like The Great Gatsby. And it’s not even 50,000 words long.
Where can readers find you on the Internet?
One blessed day I will have a website. For now, friend me on Facebook and twitter. I am also on the new-fangled Google+, as well as Goodreads and Library Thing.
Where can readers purchase That Which Should Not Be?
At all your finest retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
That Which Should Not Be: Amazon
That Which Should Not Be: Barnes & Noble
That Which Should Not Be: JournalStone
A native of the South, Brett Talley received a philosophy and history degree from the University of Alabama before moving to witch-haunted Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School. When people ask, Brett tells them he writes for fortune and glory. But the truth is the stories in his head simply refuse to stay put. Brett loves every kind
of fiction—from horror to literary to historical to sci-fi—as long as there are fantastic characters with a compelling purpose. There’s still magic to be found in fiction, the mysterious and the unknown still beckon there, and the light can always triumph over the
darkness, no matter how black the night may be.
Brett writes when he can, though he spends most of his time working as a lawyer so that he can put food on the table. That is, until the air grows cool and crisp and fall descends. For then it is football time in the South, and Brett lives and dies with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Roll Tide.
Thank you for visiting the Noracast, Brett!
GIVEAWAY/September 23-30: Here’s your chance to win the e-book version of That Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley. (2 copies available)
Giveaway Details: I’d like to match the book with people’s tastes, so comment about your favorite horror novel, and I’ll pick two people whose tastes match up best!