Jonathan Mumm is a 5 time Emmy winning former news reporter whose resume ranges from a just after college early job as a booth announcer with PBS in Washington, D.C to nearly 30 years with KXTV television in Sacramento. He also spent a number of years in Hollywood doing voice-overs and the occasional acting job. He wrote and directed two low budget feature films about the mythical creature known as the Chupacabras and is the author of the ghost story novel paranormal thriller Stop it. You’re Scaring Me, a Ghostly Tale of Vikingsholm.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I have been interested in horror stories and ghostly tales since I was a little kid even though my parents wouldn’t let me watch such things. It didn’t matter. If there was a scary movie advertised on TV, I’d still have nightmares because I’d make up my own story based on what I had seen. In fact, I think I was probably a scary little kid, calling my mother into my room at night and asking her: “Mom, do you see those big green eyes over there glowing in the dark? They’re looking at you.” I always wanted to be a writer and ended up with a career in television news, but I also wrote fiction and freelance articles on the side. In 2013, I self- published my paranormal thriller-ghost story novel Stop it. You’re Scaring Me through CreateSpace. Then, last year it was picked up by Tate Publishing and released just in time for Halloween.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love camping, canoeing and hiking and also like to play racquet ball. I used to race go-karts and am a huge motor sports fan, particularly Formula 1 and Indy.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
I always loved to read and as a kid read almost anything I could get my hands on. I was a big fan of pulp fiction, especially the tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writer who invented Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. On the other hand, I also loved Mark Twain and Jack London.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
That’s a very good question. I know in the past some authors have thought the term “terror” was a better fit, but in today’s world, “terror” has its own political connotations and is probably best left alone. I don’t really like the term “horror,” to be honest, because people immediately think of something gory, violent and dreadful (which has its place but doesn’t describe all horror fare). I know when we made the tongue-in-cheek horror movie Bloodthirst, Legend of the Chupacabras, it got scathing reviews on the internet because our distributor used a particularly gruesome looking creature on the poster and DVD cover that didn’t really look much like our version of the “goat sucker.” Still, my response to that was: “In the movie The Beast with a Million Eyes, how many eyes do you think the Beast really had?”
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Horror has gotten so extreme in some cases that, rather than see it getting even more extreme, I think we’re going to see it pull back into something more subtle, more unnerving. To me this is where the ghost story comes in. A good ghost story is atmosphere, uncertainty, suspense. The “Grand Guignol Theatre” in Paris couldn’t sustain itself after World War Two because the horrors it had depicted for years on stage had been outdone by the actual horrors of the war.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, The Count of Monte Cristo, By Alexander Dumas, Dracula by Bram Stoker, the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and all the stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was also influenced by the old Gothic Novels, particularly those of Anne Radcliffe.
As for films, Metropolis by Fritz Lang, Casablanca, all the old Hammer movies with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
I am particularly impressed with Erin Lyon, author of the funny science fiction romance I Love You* *Subject to the Following Terms and Conditions. I also like Derrick Bang, but he has never published any fiction only non-fiction books about Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang. (Although he has written a horror story about the Winchester Mystery House that he’s never had published).
How would you describe your writing style?
I think it’s lean and spare but with enough description to give you a good sense of the time and place and enough empathy to invest you in the characters.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
That’s for sure. One critic called Bloodthirst, Legend of the Chupacabras “the worst movie in the history of the world.” Luckily, notices for my book Stop it. You’re Scaring Me have been very positive with screenwriter David Koepp likening it to The Shining.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
To me, the hardest part about writing is finding the time to do it. As a reporter, after I’d been writing all day at work I really didn’t feel like writing when I got home, so I would get up at 4:30 in the morning and do my writing before I went to work. I used to get bogged down with plot, but now I plan everything out before I begin and as I’m writing, I’ll engage in exercises where I’ll write out the answers to questions like: “if this happens, what would happen next? What would happen after that? How would that connect to this?” etc.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I wouldn’t write anything sexual. I think that’s best left to a reader’s imagination. A bit of romance, however, that’s a different story. What would the world be without a bit of romance?
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I’m always collecting names. My Mom worked as a nurse in a hospital for the elderly and she would provide me with lists of names of the patients. I generally do pick the name for the way it sounds and if it seems to fit the character.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I used to be very impatient with my writing and hated to do any rewriting. I would just try and get things finished. Over the years, I’ve learned that the real work of writing is re-writing and revising. That’s where you can really craft your story and refine your style.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
I think experience and empathy are important tools. The old saying is “write what you know.” You can write about anything you want, of course, but if you’ve experienced an emotion, it’s much easier to present it in a realistic way.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
The best piece of advice I ever got about writing was when I was a reporter. I was told to treat the “sound bites” from interview subjects as if they were just part of the script. In other words, you don’t explain what’s about to be said, you present it in the flow of your story so that one idea flows into another. Every sentence has to organically extend from the one that precedes it. I have found this technique to be very helpful in writing fiction, both novels and plays.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
I was one of those writers who even as a kid collected rejection slips from magazines and pasted them on the wall of my bedroom. I was always inspired by Jack London who received 600 rejection slips before he ever sold a story. In today’s world, though, you don’t have to be turned down 600 times before you get anywhere. When you get tired of all that rejection, you can self- publish and run your own marketing campaign. The internet is key, but even with a publisher, marketing is hard work and a never ending job.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
I become invested in all my characters and try to give them all their own quirks and personalities (whether good or bad) so I don’t think I really have favorites in that sense. Although, I do admit I’m usually pulling for the heroes of my stories (both male and female) to win in the end.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
My current book Stop it. You’re Scaring Me
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Well, I would say the two Bloodthirst Chupacabras movies, but I’m still making money off of them so I can’t really disown them!
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Stop it. You’re Scaring Me is my only published novel, but I do think it best represents my writing and the way I like to craft a story.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
A low pitched rumble of thunder drifted through the house, and Kathleen suddenly caught her breath.
You aren’t alone.
At first she could barely see it, the outline of a figure at the end of the bed. No, it was her imagination. There was nothing there. A fragment left over from the dream.
It floated toward her.
Terrified, she backed up against the headboard, pulling the covers toward her, straining her eyes in the darkness.
It was the figure she had seen at the séance. His dark eyes were sad and brooding, his face was pale and translucent. His mouth was moving as if forming words but saying nothing. One arm was outstretched, the hand reaching for her – reaching.
Kathleen shook with fear. She tried to scream but no sound left her throat. Closer the thing came, and closer.
And then there was a feeling of sudden cold. A cool breeze seemed to permeate the room, rippling through the figure. And she watched it evaporate in front of her.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My last book was a science fiction tale called Falling off the Face of the Earth. It was about a honeymooning couple caught in the Bermuda Triangle. It was never published. I am now working on a sequel to Stop it. You’re Scaring Me, a Ghostly Tale of Vikingsholm. It’s called Stop it. You’re Still Scaring Me! A Ghostly Tale of Preston Castle. It’s also based on a real place even though the story is fiction.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
I’m really tired of: whew, the thing (creature, maniac, monster, fiend, whatever) is dead and we’re saved. Oh, wait! There it is to kill us in a twist ending!
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The last great book I read was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen. I’m never disappointed in a book because if I don’t like it, I put it aside and grab the next one.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Actually, that is the one question I wish people would ask but they never do and this would be my answer.
Kathleen Evans is well now. She is free to leave the psychiatric institute in San Francisco anytime she wants. Still, the doctors want to ease her transition back to every day life so they decide to send her first to one of the most beautiful spots on earth, a placed called Vikingsholm on the shore of Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay. Here is where she will acclimate herself to the outside world once again. But something is not right. Strange phone calls filled with static and a distant voice she almost can’t hear begin to frighten her. And, if she is alone in her part of the mansion, what is the whispering she hears in the walls, the crying at night, the footsteps in the empty room a floor above? There is one thing, though, that bothers her more than all of that. If she is really cured, why can’t she remember anything about her past?