By Jason Harris
F.M. Kearney, an award-winning photographer, has written his first horror novel, They Only Come out at Night. Today, he’s talking about his career, New York Subways, and writing his first horror novel.
JH: How long have you been a fine art nature photographer?
FK: I’ve been a fine art nature photographer for about 20 years.
JH: What awards have you won for your photography?
FK: I’ve won numerous awards from various magazine and online photography competitions, ranging from First Place to Honorable Mentions.
JH: In the 80’s, you worked as a photojournalist for various New York City newspapers. What newspapers did you work for? What were you covering for them?
FK: I’ve worked for a number of local papers such as Town & Village, City Limits, The Phoenix, The City Sun and The New York Tribune. I mainly covered news pertaining to the particular neighborhood or borough that the paper serviced, but I also did hard news as well. I’ve done ride-alongs with FDNY and NYPD undercover units. I covered the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. I’ve also photographed many famous people, such as Bill Cosby, Mayor David Dinkins, Fred Lebow (founder of the NYC Marathon) and several sports celebrities in one-on-one sit-down interviews.
FK: I suppose my inspiration was two-fold. The first, and most obvious inspiration, came from my own personal experiences in the subway. As a photojournalist, I rode the subway all over town traveling to and from my assignments. I lived (and still do) in Manhattan, and up to that point, I had never really been to a lot of the stations in the outer boroughs, i.e., The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. I was really amazed at the total contrast in environments. You see, when most out-of-towners think of the NYC subway, images of Times Square and Grand Central Station will undoubtedly come to mind. These are huge, bustling hubs filled noisy activity and throngs of commuters almost 24/7. They have come to define what the NYC subway is all about. However, stations like these only account for a tiny percentage of the 463 stations of which the entire system is comprised. The vast majority of stations are nothing like that. In fact, I would even say that they are the polar opposites. Many of the stations in the outer boroughs (and even some in Manhattan) are very quiet, dimly lit and sparsely populated…and that’s in the middle of the day! I can remember being in certain areas of some stations that were sore mote and so creepy that I felt very uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to get out. Many of these areas have since been sealed off to the public…presumably because of the safety risks they posed. I couldn’t help but think that this would be a perfect location for a horror story. To be honest, I’m actually surprised that Hollywood doesn’t use the NYC subway as a regular setting for horror movies.
FK: I’ve always been a fan of everything horror related…books, movies, TV shows, you name it. But, I always found one flaw in almost every story. It seemed as though a lot of time and effort went into producing the chills and thrills throughout the story, but the ending was usually somewhat of a letdown. Of course, most horror stories are fiction, but it seemed as though no attempt at all was made to make the story even halfway believable. I wanted to write a story that made sense — a story that, albeit fictional, contained enough factual details one might wonder if it could actually happen.
JH: Why did you use the New York City subway as the main setting?
FK: Aside from the reasons already mentioned, I used the subway because of its familiarity to so many people — even if they don’t happen to live in a major city that has a subway. Most tourists will make riding the subway one of their “must-dos” while visiting. Very few people will ever find themselves in an actual haunted house or a foggy cemetery at midnight. The same can’t be said for a subway. I think the chills are far more intense when you read about scary things happening in a more familiar and commonplace environment. After having read the book, a lot of people have told me that they will never again ride the subway alone at night.
JH: What type of research did you do for the book?
FK: I visited every major location I wrote about with a digital tape recorder. I recorded everything I saw, heard, smelled and felt…things that I (and probably most people) would never even give a second thought. This greatly helped to create atmosphere. I also researched news articles about local crimes committed in the area, and spoke with the NYPD about specific rescue procedures in the subway. As far as the supernatural aspects of the book are concerned, I went online and researched actual case studies and terminology. Lastly, the dates in the book are very important. I went to the library to insure that the days of the week and the newspaper articles I mentioned were correct.
JH: How long did it take you to write the book?
FK: Since I had no deadlines and was basically just writing for fun, I’d say it took about 10 years from start to finish.
JH: What’s been the reaction of some of the people who have read the book?
FK: Chapter One, by far, has received the biggest reaction! Many of my friends have told me that it was the most intense thing that they’ve ever read. Although they thoroughly enjoyed it, I realized that it might be a little too intense for the average reader. Before releasing the book to the public, I considerably watered-down this chapter from its original version. Even so, a number of reviewers have commented on just how violent this chapter is, and a few were even unable to get past it. Make no mistake, Chapter One is not for the faint of heart, but it is necessary to the story as a whole.
JH: Are there any other genres, you want to write in?
FK: As a nature photographer, I’ve considered putting out a non-fiction book about nature photography at some point in the future.
JH: Who is your favorite author/authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
FK: I like many of the works from Dean Koontz and Stephen King. I think King’s books are much better than his movies — many of which leave me scratching my head. These writers have a way of painting a picture with words that tends to put the reader right in the scene. I tried to do that with my book as well.
JH: What books have most influenced your life the most?
FK: I don’t know if I can point to any one book of fiction. However, I’ve read many photography books that greatly influence the way I shoot.
JH: Are you working on a second novel?
FK: Not at this time. Many have suggested a sequel to They Only Come Out at Night. Although it definitely lends itself to a sequel, I can’t see myself writing one. Unless you’re talking about an action series, most sequels rarely live up to the original.
JH: What are your current projects?
FK: I’m currently focusing more on my photography and photography articles.