Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, and in a way, that explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”
In 2013 Samhain Horror published his novel of vampirism and human sacrifice The Darkest Lullaby, as well as his serialized horror novel Savage Species. Of Savage Species Publishers Weekly said, "Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror—Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows—will find much to relish." Jonathan's Kindle Worlds novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows marked his first foray into the superhero/action genre. His vampire western Dust Devils was released to critical acclaim this February, and his sequel to The Sorrows (Castle of Sorrows) was published in July. He has also written four novellas (The Clearing of Travis Coble, Old Order, Witching Hour Theatre, and the recently released Exorcist Road) and several short stories. His newest novel (The Nightmare Girl) will appear in January 2015.
His primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true. You can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.com. You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, or on his Goodreads and Amazon author pages.
Hello Jonathan could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a husband, father of three, teacher, and writer. Those four pursuits take up just about all my time, and I like it that way. In my personal life, I’m the most predictable guy in the world; I like to think I’m the opposite of that on the page.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Hang out with my wife, play with my kids, and of course, teach. Additionally, I read like crazy every night before bed, and I lift weights when I can. My family and I spend a lot of time outdoors appreciating nature and each other.
What’s your favourite food?
I love pizza and buffalo wings. Not the healthiest combination, I know, but I guess we all have our vices. Mine are relatively innocuous.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Ah, nice one! It would be a combination of beautiful, heartfelt classical music, screaming heavy metal, some country, and some plain old rock. So…let’s go with Beethoven, Metallica, George Strait, and Van Halen. Oh, and the Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack.
Tell us a dirty little secret?
During my rowdy basketball-coaching days, I once destroyed a drinking fountain after a difficult loss. I’m not proud of this, by the way, and I’ve apologized many times to the drinking fountain.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
You’re smarter than you think you are, and the fears that you have are completely normal. Oh, and any way in which you’re abnormal represents a positive difference rather than a negative one. Being an individual is a fantastic thing. Oh, and ask your wife to marry you sooner, you foot-dragging coward!
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren't sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
This will sound weird, but this sort of happens sometimes with my novels. I don’t outline, and the flying blind technique can be a bit frightening sometimes. When I find myself in a perilous authorly situation, I hand over the controls to an even greater degree to my characters, and they always seem to pilot me out of trouble.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Some of the living ones are Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, John Farris, J.K. Rowling, Peter Straub, Ian McEwan, Ramsey Campbell, and Brian Keene. Some of the departed ones are Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, William Shakespeare, Richard Laymon, Tennessee Williams, M.R. James, Arthur Miller, Harry Crews, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, and John Steinbeck.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The last great book is one I’m reading right now, which is Curfew by Phil Rickman. I’m only about halfway through, but I’m just blown away by it. The last book that disappointed me…? I rarely read bad books because I’m very deliberate about the ones I choose—life is too short to read bad books, right? But as far as disappointing…I’d say that while I liked the first Percy Jackson book, I didn’t love it like I thought I would, given its estimable reputation.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
Favorite novel would be Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (though ‘Salem’s Lot would give it a run for its money), and favourite film would be Jaws or The Exorcist (Jaws is better, but The Exorcist is scarier).
If you could erase one horror cliché what would it be?
It’s not a cliché in the stories themselves, but I’d like for horror in general to be more expansive in its reach and scope. All the common tropes—zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc.—are just fine, and I have nothing against them. But horror has no limits, and I’d like for more writers and readers to view the genre that way.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Hah! My perfect neighbour would be Stu Redman from The Stand…or maybe Helen Loomis from Dandelion Wine. My nightmare neighbour would be…hmm…maybe one of Jack Ketchum’s creations? The evil mom from The Girl Next Door, or the dad from The Woman?
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you chose and how would they die?
Well, I’m currently reading Harry Potter 7 with my son, and though she hasn’t died yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I want Dolores Umbridge to die a horrible death. If any character deserves one, she does. I think I’d have her scribbled on slowly by her own blood-letting pen.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Getting ready to explode. I really believe this. There is established talent there, and there is exciting new blood entering the room. I think we’re about to see a return to the late seventies and eighties when horror was a juggernaut.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing horror fiction right now?
It’s really a universal human problem, but one of the biggest issues is entitlement. There’s this belief that one’s work should be celebrated and cherished because, well, it’s mine! And because I’m the one who wrote it, everyone should bow down and pay obeisance to me and my books. I think the genre would be better if younger writers spent more time spreading the word about the authors who influenced them. I’ve never asked Jack Ketchum or Brian Keene this, but I wonder about it…how often do writers ask them for favours vs. how often do writers publically praise their work? The ratio should be about one-to-fifty, but I’d wager it’s closer to five-to-one. We need to respect those who paved the way for us and understand that everything we get, we have to earn.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
The positive ones always stay with me because they mean so much. I’m not perfect, but frankly, I work my butt off to make a book as good as I can make it, and when someone acknowledges that effort…it feels wonderful. The negative reviews? I’m usually able to dismiss them unless they’re so negative or so personal that the critic sounds borderline deranged. Then I shrug them off after a day or two rather than instantaneously. I recently had a reviewer swear off my work forever because of a reason that honestly made me laugh aloud. I won’t say who it was or what the criticism was because responding to criticism never improves a situation. I’ve put the bizarre critique behind me, but at the time…yeah, it made me mad.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Living up to my own expectations. Again, I know I’m not perfect, so I’m not volunteering myself for deification here, but I feel very good about my last several books, and that means that I expect even better things from my next several books. The pressures I place on myself are really pretty ludicrous, but I think they make the work better. So to answer your question, dealing with my self-inflicted pressure.
What do you think makes for a good story?
Everything matters, but characterization matters above all. If I care about or find the characters interesting, the story has a good chance to succeed with me.
How important are names to you in your books?
Very, I’d say. They’re opportunities for me to deepen a reader’s visual impression of the character, a chance for me to say something about the character’s background, the character’s experiences. I love naming characters because it’s another way to make them come to life.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Loads and loads of books, first of all. If you can’t find time to read, you can’t write. Stephen King said that first, I believe, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Secondly, you’ve got to learn how to read. I’m not talking about basic literacy, of course, but rather how to read something so that it enhances you as a writer. You have to learn how to learn about writing, and no how-to manual or writing instructor can do that as effectively as you can if you learn how to study a great novel or a stunning short story.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Strangely enough, it was a piece of advice I heard back in my coaching days that I later applied to writing: Adapt rather than adopt.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I’m a grassroots kind of guy. I communicate with readers via Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, my blog. Any way I can. They’ve all been effective, as has been going to conventions and signing books. Many of my best fans have become fans through face-to-face meetings.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
I’d say Joe Crawford, the protagonist of The Nightmare Girl. He’s the most like me, both the good and the bad.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Hmm…well, I love the way the character is written, but I’d have to say either Eric Florence from Savage Species or Sharon Waltz from The Nightmare Girl. Both of them are endlessly selfish and horribly cruel…but both of them are based on people I’ve known. And that’s truly frightening.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Great question. I’d say either The Nightmare Girl, Savage Species, Castle of Sorrows, or Dust Devils. I’ve found myself opening up more and more as a person as my writing has evolved, and I think that honesty makes the above titles resonate with me.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
No, but there’s one trunk novel I’ll have a go at one of these days. It’s called Garden of Snakes, and the seeds are in it for a fantastic book.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
Man, these are some great questions! Though I would answer this differently each day you’d ask me, I’ll go with The Nightmare Girl. The writing is some of my strongest, and I think the ideas in the book are meaningful. I also love the characters.
It’s been a few years since you published your debut novel The Sorrows, looking back at the book how happy are you with it? And what do you think you have learned during the intervening years?
I’m still very proud of it. And though I think it holds up very well, I’d like to go back to it and add back some material I cut. I got it into my head back then that The Sorrows had to be around 90,000 or 95,000 words, but I really feel like there are a couple choppy bits that would have been better had I allowed them to breathe a bit more. I’m proud of it, and it’s a very economically written book. I just think it would be stronger at 115,000 words than it is at 95,000 words.
The book has a sequel which is the first sequel you decided to write, why did you decide to write a sequel to this book over say Dust Devils?
I think it’s a combination of timing and which book was calling to me. Dust Devils probably won’t get a sequel because it’s pretty self-contained, but several of my others (House of Skin and Savage Species, for instance) will probably continue. However, The Sorrows came out before the others, and I didn’t want to leave those characters hanging too long before continuing their story.
And talking about Dust Devils what made you decide on the Wild west as a the setting for your vampire novel?
Ah, great question. Above, I said I wouldn’t be doing a sequel, but I neglected to mention I’ll definitely be doing another horror western at some point. Mainly, I just love westerns. It’s one of my favourite genres of book and film. I also think the western is ideally suited for horror, as no help was imminent when things went bad for good people.
What are your vampires like? I can’t imagine they are modern sparkly type of vampires?
No, no sparkles here. My vampires are vicious, cruel, bestial, but also seductive and intelligent. I think vampires represent the perfect dichotomy of intelligence and savagery. My vampires are a bit like Jerry Dandridge in the first Fright Night, only when they get cooking, they’re even more ferocious. I love them.
This January see the release of your latest novel The Nightmare Girl can you tell us what this book is about?
Absolutely! It begins with a horrible situation—my main character witnesses a young mother abusing her one-year-old son. My main character (Joe Crawford) puts a stop to it, but there are terrible consequences for his good deed. He and his family end up pitted against an ancient, monstrous fire cult, whose members will stop at nothing to gain revenge for the events that transpire after that first scene.
In the book the hero encounters a mother who is abusing her toddler, were you ever concerned about tackling such a tricky subject?
It was an incredibly difficult scene to write. I knew how I thought it should play out, but actually writing that, describing that, was gut-churning. I don’t go into a tremendous amount of detail regarding the abuse, but I don’t cut away from it. I felt it was important to show this ghastly event for what it was. But it was certainly difficult to write.
How did you ensure that your handling of it didn’t stray into sensationalist territory?
I think it’s all about point-of-view. Joe, my main character, is physically sickened by what he hears and sees. His view is blocked by the front seat of a van, but he sees the woman’s hand descend and he hears the flat smack on the child’s face. As I wrote it, I was Joe, moving around the front of the young mother’s van, beholding the child’s bloody face, and seizing the woman’s wrist before she strikes the child a third time. I don’t feel the scene is sensational because of how appalled my character is. There’s enough description to know what’s happening, but not so much the reader feels like he/she is leering at the scene.
There is also a Fire Cult in the book, is the cult based on any real cults out there?
Yes, there are indeed cults in many different regions of the world who worship the power of fire or who believe in fire’s mystical capabilities. One of the richest heritages with regard to the worship of fire is in Ireland, where my fire cult is based. It’s a pretty fascinating subject, but a disturbing one too.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
“May I make your book into a movie?” And my answer would be yes.
Thank you so much for your time, Jim. I had a blast with this interview!
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