Storyteller Series: Author Jack Finn
Author and storyteller Jack Finn clearly defines what all of us are thinking when it comes to the magic of the natural world around us:
The dark and mysterious places that inhabit the forests, mountains, and waters of the world are the last vestiges of our ancient past. They herald a time when creatures, some hideously dark and others beautifully magical, walked the earth freely alongside men, dwarves, elves, and fae. Some exist today only in legend or tales of valor- remembered only by the ancient trees.
The author of The Seven Deaths of Prince Vlad weaves everything we know about the world with everything we wish we knew. Explore his Substack and Medium pages for more short stories!
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash
In your bio, you say “the trees tell them to me” in relation to some of your stories. How do you draw these stories out from the wilderness around you? Do they take shape as you explore or do they sit with you for a while before manifesting?
I have always felt most at home in the woods, there is just such an incredible energy there. Sometimes I’ll look at an old growth tree and think of everything it has witnessed in the forest, all the animals and people that have past by it or sat under its branches. I think the peace and quiet of the forest is great for my thinking process, it unclutters my mind and helps stories unwind themselves in my brain. Other times I’ll encounter something on a hike and it will instantly plant the seeds of a story in my head. There was a tree I came across while on a hike in Georgia two years ago that I really felt a connection to. It just stood out to me among all the trees around it and was really the beginning of the character of Chuhaister in the Last Dance of Chuhaister.
I live in the shadow of Mount Rainier and it is such a dominating part of the landscape that it is the backdrop for many of my stories-whether they take place in the past or present. During one hike around the base I came across a spot that I looked at and the story just immediately unfolded in my head, that became The Offering Stone and the picture I use is the one I took while standing there. I will say, and your readers and listeners may decide I’m crazy after this, but I had an experience while hiking in the Olympic Mountains that changed me as a person and my view of the world. Luckily, I was not alone at the time and Anna Finn was there too so I know it was real. I’m not saying I saw bigfoot, it was something I felt like we were allowed to see and we both agreed to never break that trust by sharing the experience, but we had an encounter with something that – and I hope I am not sounding overly dramatic – makes me believe wholeheartedly to the core of my being that there is nothing in folklore, myth or fable that I will ever discount as mere fantasy.
Mount Rainier National Park’s Paradise area by Danny Seidman.
In one of your tales, you manage to walk the line between retelling a tale and making it your own like you did with the Oak King and Holly King narrative (we covered the story in an earlier podcast episode). Do you give yourself any guidelines when drawing from other sources?
I like to draw a lot from historical record and fill in the gaps. Almost all of my stories have their origin in a kernel of history and then I overlay folklore and create the story that weaves them together. The Wind from Thessaly is a good example, the events that unfold around the characters are all real events. The missing girl in the woods, the ancient ruins in the Baciu forest, etc all are real.
The only guidelines I give myself are to be true to the spirit of the folklore. I believe that over the last 2023 years we have done a grave injustice to our past. We have denigrated folklore, fables, and myth to be considered fantasy, when in fact I believe there is more truth in them than we realize. We built our world upon their’s but that world was and is very real. We may have paved a road over the enchanted forest but those sapling still grow through the cracks in the road. It’s all there, we just have to re-discover it.
Hoia-Baciu Forest of Romania by Daniel Mirlea (Alamy).
One element of your stories that personally draws me in is the modern bits like the playstation and MacBook in your Yuletide tale. However, many people read folklore and myths to ‘escape from the realities’ of modern world and dislike seeing modern touches. Why do you personally add in real touches?
That’s such an excellent observation and question. Most of my stories take place in the past. I like the way we interacted with our environment in the past, how we viewed nature and the creatures – both mundane and phantasmagorical- that inhabited it. Plus, I like to call attention to our history where if someone liked a story they could pull the strings and read or research about the events mentioned in the story and find aspects of our past that were unknown to them before and facsinating to them now. However, like you mentioned, there are times when I overlap the world of present and folklore. A Yuletide Tale, The Hunters, and The Last Alliance of Men and Beasts both take place in the present, and the Last Dance of Chuhaister starts in pre-ancient times and ends in the modern day.
What I hope to do by doing that is give readers something better than an escape from a reality, what I want to impart upon them -as I truly believe- that the world they read about that people may point at and call myth or fantasy does exist around us today and they will find it if they seek it. When I first read the Lord of the Rings the real gut punch at the end (SPOILER ALERT) is not that Frodo leaves with Gandalf, Elrond and the others to sail West, it’s that the magical days of the Third Age have ended and the “age of Man” has begun.
Stills from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King and Amazon Prime’s Rings of Power.
That’s how we are taught though right? Elves, gnomes, goblins, wizards, etc if they existed were things of the past, long gone and forgotten except in myth and fable. I like to overlap the past and present to let readers know that there is a difference between unseen/undiscovered and non-existent. If you look at the beliefs and stories of our ancestors before some people came along in the last two thousand years and told us it was fantasy, there was a rich tapestry of human experience with creatures and powers.
Anatomically modern humans- people exactly like us- have existed on earth for at least 196,000 years. That’s fact. It is ludicrous to think that someone has told us that the preceding 194,000 of those years were nonsense. The folklore, legends and fables of the past are our stepping stones to the present and the future. We are the next link in a chain of ancestors that went back almost 200,000 years, the stories and beliefs are our birthright. So sometimes I like to interweave the folklore and the modern world so that people know its all still there, not just in stories, if they look for it in the right places.
Your writing style has a distinctive voice to it regardless of the tale and the characters. What advice would you give to other storytellers trying to find their voice and struggling to stay consistent?
One of the things I really struggled with was how to write a story. I have no formal training in writing or journalism beyond the high school and basic college classes. So the first thing I would tell people is do not let anyone tell you you cant write. People used to tell Bob Dylan he cant sing and they were wrong, the same is true for the people that tell you you cant write or that you need to write a certain way. I would struggle with things like how do i get a character from one room to the next, how much do I describe about what things look like or what the character sees. It became a real struggle. Then I realized I don’t want to be an author or writer, I want to be a story teller. I want to guide the reader but I want them to make the story their own in their head as they read. Ideally if I ran into three readers and they all described one of my characters to me, I would hope that each would have pictured the character differently from each other and from me.
I want readers to embrace the story and fill in the details in their mind that will make the journey their own. I found that epiphany to be really freeing. I just tell the story I want to tell. There’s certain thoughts or emotions I want my stories to invoke in the reader, usually the emotions I feel when I write the story and take that first journey with the characters. But I want a lot of the texture of that story to be their own. So for anyone trying to find your voice the best advice I can give is just tell the story you want to tell. Don’t try and write like someone else does or gauge your writing by how another writer writes, that’s a recipe for disaster and it will be crippling to you as a story teller.
The creativity of your mind developed a story, just tell the story as you would tell it. You’ll be happier with the process and the product.
What is the story you share the most?
There are two stories that really seem to resonate the most with readers: The Last Dance of Chuhaister and They Come When You Sleep. In my stories the concepts of creatures and villains are not always traditional, and thats partly a byproduct of my own beliefs and views of the world. I think that comes across in They Come When You Sleep.
The Last Dance of Chuhaister felt special to me when I wrote it, its also one of the few stories I wrote in one sitting- it just flowed and I am really happy that people write to me and comment on it almost daily. Once I find the right artist I am going to get a Chuhaister tattoo!
Check out Jack Finn’s latest book: The Seven Deaths of Prince Vlad!
History is written by the victors; the tale of Dracula was the story Abraham Van Helsing wanted to be told.