Troy McCombs, author of novels The House on Mayberry Road and Darkworld, recently interviewed me for his blog, Combs' Lair, concerning my upcoming release, A Light in the Dark. This interview can also be found on his blog.
Troy McCombs: Tell us a little about yourself.
Eric R. Johnston: I live with my 8-month-old daughter, my fiancée, and her two daughters, who are 11 and 7. I received a BA in History and English from University of Michigan-Flint, and subsequently received a certification in secondary education from there as well. I have been writing my whole life, but I seriously began tackling this passion in the fall of 2009 when I began the novel Harvester: Ascension with my friend, Andrew Utley. Upon completion of that work, I wrote An Inner Darkness, a novel started my Series of Darkness books.
TM: Tell us a little about your book.
ERJ: The book I have coming out September 15, 2012, is called A Light in the Dark, and is the second book in my Series of Darkness. It is the direct sequel to An Inner Darkness. I used the term “direct sequel” because this series will not necessarily go in a strict chronological order. Meaning, there will be books later on in this series that can be read before these beginning volumes. For example, I am nearly complete with a novel called City of Darkness that is the third book in the series but can be read before the first two with no problem.
TM: What writer has inspired you the most through your career?
TM: What’s your advice for beginning writers?
The Prologue to A Light in the Dark
It had been eighteen years since Tomias Waterman and his wife, Lynn, were killed by wolves in the field outside the Mayor’s Residence, a large, antiquated “Gothic Revival.” Those were days long gone, and the current mayor, Franz Phoenix, did what he could to ensure that nobody missed the former leader and his wife.
As part of a nightly ritual, a game of Texas Hold ‘em was underway. After the river card was dealt—the last card in the hand—Franz flipped his pocket cards to reveal. “Royal flush,” he said. He swept the large pile of chips toward him. There were five others playing the hand in the Mayor’s Residence, including Chancellor Joe Carne, Sheriff Brian Forbes, and the future friar, Julian Morgan.
Julian flipped his cards. “Quad aces,” he cried with a mixture of joy and frustration. The rest of the table laughed. “The only time I’ve ever gotten four-of-a-kind aces, the mayor has to get a royal flush!” He was indeed frustrated, but he quickly joined his companions in laughing about the bad run of good luck.
“I think I’m going to go,” Julian said, standing up. The rest of the group was still laughing and didn’t notice him standing, nor did they hear him, so he just walked away and headed to the door. He was nervous about tomorrow, when he would officially become Noremway Parish’s newest friar. It was something his mother, Rita Morgan, had encouraged him to do all his life. “Good men must come and lead. You are a good man, Julian,” she had said.
His long, red hair flowed over his shoulders almost like a woman’s, but he didn’t mind the comparison, or the jokes. He was secure in who he was, but the one thing that did bother him was that he was, and had been, on a road to becoming the friar and supreme religious leader of all of Noremway Parish, but didn’t know a damn thing about the religion they practiced. He received lessons in the holy word from his mother, but where did she get her information? Some of the things she taught him couldn’t possibly be more than sheer fantasy.
“Hey, Morgan, where you going?” Franz called. “The night’s only just begun.”
“Nah, I should get home. Hit the sack, you know? Big day tomorrow.” He continued to the door.
“Friar Julian Morgan. Brother Julian. I kind of like that, don’t you guys?” Brian Forbes said, holding up a glass of beer—an apple concoction sometimes referred to as “Morgan’s Delight.” The others around the table raised their glasses too and let out a loud shout. Despite the good cheer, Julian detected a hint of mockery in Brian’s voice, as was to be expected, he supposed. Brian’s girlfriend, Nora Plague, was absolutely in love with Julian, but since he was to be friar they couldn’t be together. No man liked being the backup plan. No man liked his girl loving someone else, either.
Despite the accolades—fake or not—he wasn’t happy about becoming the next friar. Preaching a gospel he’d never read first-hand seemed to him a precarious circumstance, but not one that anyone else in Noremway Parish seemed at all concerned about. Why was this? The Book of Ragas, he had been told, was not to be read. “It is too sacred,” Rita Morgan had told him. How would they know if they had never read it themselves?
Franz Phoenix stepped around the table and blocked his way out the front door. “You aren’t leaving. There’s still more to do before tomorrow. You’ve more training.” The other men around the table laughed and cheered in their drunkenness. Julian was uncomfortable, but he sat back down and played another hand, all the while sipping on the sweet beer that he only drank because water wasn’t available. The drought was five years old and counting. It appeared the harvest rains had finally left this region of the Earth for good.
What did that say about the future of Noremway Parish? Indeed, what did that say about its past? As of tomorrow, he would be the friar, keeper and preacher of all things religious and historical (with the exception of the parochial vicar, who shared some of these responsibilities) within the parish.
“All right, Franz, I’m in for another couple of hands.” Applause went up around the table. “But only a couple more. I seriously need to get some rest.”
“Lighten up, Julian,” Franz said. “You’re starting to sound like your mother.” Julian smiled in spite of himself. He knew Rita Morgan was hard to swallow sometimes. She didn’t hold an official position in the parish, but she did operate the only orchard, something that she never failed to remind her fellow parishioners despite the fact that the orchard tapped into the already heavily taxed water supply.
“You calling or folding, Jules,” Joe Carne said. He hadn’t noticed cards had been dealt.
Julian looked at the two cards in front of him: a seven of hearts and a two of clubs. “Folding.” He tossed his cards in, not really caring about the game. “You know, I think I’ll just stretch my legs. You mind if I take a look around? There’s a lot of history in this house.”
“Be my guest,” Franz said. “There is most definitely a lot of history here, but don’t go just anywhere you like. If a door is closed, it’s probably closed for a reason. Got it?”
“Of course, what do you think I am?” He walked away from the table. The cigar smoke hung heavily in the air. He just needed to get away…he needed to breathe.
“Just don’t take too long, because you’re not done here tonight.”
Sure he wasn’t. Since he’d turned eighteen a few weeks before, all Franz Phoenix wanted to do was hang out with him. It was getting a bit infuriating because he was preparing to be an adult with real responsibilities, and he ended up spending many of his nights drinking, smoking, and playing poker. It was not something he enjoyed, and it wasn’t his idea of being a responsible adult.
The house was large, the largest within Noremway Parish. As he wandered away from the card table, he immediately saw that most of the doors (in the immediate vicinity anyway) were closed. There was nowhere he could go in this historical exploration. That was the story of his life. He could never learn on his own, find anything out for himself. He’d had to rely on others for all the information he had ever learned. Was this a good thing? Likely not. As he grew up, he matured and didn’t want to have to rely on everyone else for his learning. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the knowledge his elders could share, but they all seemed to be telling the same story, a story that he wasn’t sure he believed.
He’d learned that Noremway Parish was founded by Ragas Moliere, a man of great power, a man they all should worship. Life in the parish was peaceful until Friar Decon Mangler, Brother Decon, forged an alliance with the evil that saturated the world, bringing about death and destruction over much of the parish.
It all happened on a night nearly eighteen years before. Decon Mangler raped and murdered the parochial vicar, Teret Finley, and then murdered the chancellor, Ghora Urey, while taking others with him including, but not limited to, Ortega Gool and Rita’s own husband, James. Decon Mangler had been publicly executed by hanging, and as he swung on the noose, his neck broken, he shouted to all who were watching, “The Darkness comes! You cannot escape!” before expiring.
The story, although something he had believed his whole life, seemed to make no sense to him at all. He didn’t even have a clear understanding about what “the Darkness” was. It was something often talked about but never explained. When he pressed his mother about it one day, she seemed to tighten up, a frightened look of guilt washing over her, and then told him they would talk about it when he was older, that he was too young to understand. Even now that he was eighteen years old and to be sworn in as the Friar of Noremway Parish, she still treated him as if he was nothing more than a child incapable of understanding the world’s harsher realities.
These thoughts were always on his mind, especially now as he observed every closed door in front of him. Doors were closed to him both metaphorically and literally.
He walked through the foyer and stood in front of a door that he believe probably led to a parlor. It was closed just like all the others. What was behind this door? He tried to imagine it. His imagination had kept him company throughout his life.
The doorknob turned and unlatched quietly, but the low creak of the hinges was clearly audible. The door mysteriously began to creak open ever so slowly. He stood there, knowing that the door couldn’t possibly have been opening of its own accord. The deeply engraved oak door swung away from him to reveal darkness. Musty, stale air rushed out. It smelled as though fresh air had not entered this room in ages.
“You have finally found me,” said a voice in the dark. The door continued to swing open, revealing a figure draped in a grey cloth. She was female, but her features were indiscernible.
Fear struck at his heart, and he tried to cry out but couldn’t find his voice. She raised a scarred hand to her lips in a gesture of silence and shook her head. “Find the book. Find the answers.” Then the phantom woman was gone.
When he saw the apparition, the initial fear dissipated as a feeling of warmth swept over him. This was someone he knew, someone he loved, even though it was no one he knew and no one he loved. The feeling was eerie, odd. She was so familiar he must have known her.
Either way, she was gone now, a circumstance that was at once bizarre and comforting. He stood outside the room for several moments, perhaps longer, before entering.
He walked into the parlor and saw several bookshelves and an old piano beyond where the apparition had been. The room was dark, with no lanterns lit inside. He seized one from a large hook on the wall, lit it, and examined the books on the middle shelf. Newly made books and paper were very rare in the parish these days, so it was clear on the outset that these books were old. Paper used to be made from the yellow grass that had also been a staple crop, but those days were long gone.
He knew the house was old, but this had to be a collection stretching back to its construction. It was a miracle that some of the older ones still looked intact. A particular one caught his eye; a red leather-bound tome, The Life and Moral Teachings of Ragas Moliere of Noremway Parish.
“The Book of Ragas,” he said in awe. He’d been told no copies of this book still existed, that the only teachings of the great Ragas Moliere came down through oral histories; that all copies of the book had been destroyed by the enemies of the parish, those enigmatic beings that wandered the vast expanse of desert outside the parish wall. The Caravan-Folk…the Ujimati.
He removed the book from the shelf and leafed through it. The book was certainly old, but the condition was perfect, as was expected, he supposed, in air as dry as this. There was no water vapor to corrode the paper.
A small piece of paper fell out of the book as he opened it. He picked it up and read the contents.
We have our own story to tell.
—The Chaos of the Outer Dark
What is this about? he thought. The Chaos? The Outer Dark? These were phrases that had been thrown around his whole life as something that he never had to fear. Ragas had vanquished these devils about 2,000 years ago, but there would always be signs of their presence, “because of that Decon Mangler,” his mother had always told him. “He tried to bring the Darkness back, but we stopped him. It’s sad that my precious daughter, your sister Abigail, lost her life as a result of his devilry.”
But there was more. He could see a faint line scratched over that message, and a new one written below it.
The story will be revised.
What did this mean? He didn’t think about it for long before he saw there was writing on the back of the paper and flipped it over:
Julian, my son,
Please do not despair. Do not listen to anything anyone tells you. They all lie. The knowledge you seek is in the book. A revision is underway, and some things may not make sense to you now, but I assure you, in time they will. Do not give in to the darkness around you. Look within and find salvation. Do not trust Franz Phoenix.
—Teret Finley, Parochial Vicar, your mother
Teret Finley? Parochial Vicar? Mother? One of the victims of Decon Mangler’s wrath?
“My son?” he said under his breath. Am I her son? “Teret Finley was my mother?” He was confused and scared, needing to take this back home, to think this over.
Slipping The Book of Ragas into his cloak, he left the room and saw Franz Phoenix still playing Texas Hold ‘em with the other guests. “Mayor Phoenix, I think I’ll be heading out. I really don’t feel well,” Julian said. He didn’t have to feign illness. He truly felt sick to his stomach.
“No,” Phoenix said. “I insist you join us for another hand.” So he did. One hand turned into three, which turned into nine, and so on until the sun thrust its first light into the morning sky.