Today folks I’d like to present my interview with Jonathan Janz.
Jonathan is an author from the US and along with folks like Ramsey Campbell, Greg Gifune, and Frazer Lee is heading up Samhain Press’s
new horror line .
GNOH – Hi Jonathan, how are youdoing?
Amazingly! How the heck are you?
GNOH – Can you tell us a bitabout yourself?
I’m a teacher and a writer, but more importantly, I’m a husband and afather (sadly, I’m neither an officer nor a gentleman). My wife and kids meaneverything to me. That’s a pretty boring answer, but I don’t mind being boringas long as my fiction is lively. As far as my writing is concerned, I writehorror and suspense, with a strong lean toward the supernatural.
GNOH – Have you always been a fanof horror?
Pretty much. The bio on my website (jonathanjanz.com) explains that Igrew up between a dark forest and a graveyard. I think that predetermined thegenre in which I would one day work. I was always terrified of those trees andthose gravestones, but I was also weirdly attracted to them. Now I get tochannel both of those emotions—the dread and the longing—into my writing.
GNOH – What are your fivefavourite films and authors?
Great question, but a really hard one to answer. Both lists change bythe day, but as of right now, here they are (and since we’re talking abouthorror here, I’ve stuck to that genre for my choices)…
2. The Exorcist
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
1. Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
2. ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
4. The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
5 (tie). The Nightrunners, Joe R. Lansdale
5 (tie). Hell House, by Richard Matheson
GNOH – So what prompted you toput pen to paper? Was it always yourintention to become a published author?
I got into a horrible car accident during my senior year in highschool. I’d actually begun writing a novel a couple months prior, but after Igot hurt so badly, the only two things I could do for quite a while were toread and to write. The novel, by the way, was dreadfully written, and I never did finish it. But theexperience was positive and transformative enough that I decided to try itagain when I was twenty-six. What I wrote at that time was only slightly lessdreadful. I’d say I’ve begun to come into my own over the past couple of years.I still, however, have a heck of a lot to learn, and I love that process ofdiscovering, striving, failing, and improving. It has always been my dream toget my stuff published; thankfully, Don D’Auria and Samhain have acquired myfirst two novels, which has been a dream come true.
GNOH – Who and how would you sayare the biggest influences on your writing?
Stephen King above all. I wouldn’t even be a reader without hiswork. After King there are several authors who’ve influenced my style: ElmoreLeonard, John Steinbeck, Richard Laymon, Richard Matheson, Cormac McCarthy,Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Peter Straub, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, RamseyCampbell, Harry Crews, Ernest Hemingway, Ian McEwan, Larry McMurtry, IraLevin…so many others. To answer your question more succinctly, I’d say thatKing’s ability to characterize has influenced me. For pace, Richard Laymon hasbeen a huge influence. Structurally, I lean on Straub. On aparagraph-by-paragraph structural level, Richard Matheson has really affectedme. With word choice, Bradbury and Campbell have done an awful lot. Withconfidence and invisibility, I’d say Leonard and Ketchum have helped me a greatdeal. And Lansdale has taught me that you can have a distinct voice and a senseof humor, but you can still stay out of your characters’ way. That’s a finebalance, but Lansdale understands it. Hopefully, I’ve absorbed some thatbalance, too.
GNOH – And how would you describeyour writing style?
Reading a great book is a lot like watching a great movie. Sure,they’re different mediums with different characteristics. But when I watch amovie like Jaws, I completely inhabit that world. I’m in the water withthe shark or I’m on the boat with Quint. For me, a great book should be likethat. Don D’Auria at Samhain often says “It’s all about the story,” and Icouldn’t agree more. I don’t want anything—anything—to distract myreader from the world of the story. If I keep this in mind, every singledecision begins to fall into place—characterization, plot, setting, wordchoice, pace, everything. So, to be more specific, I’d say I have a verycinematic and easy-to-read style, but I hope people can see the depth and thesubtexts, too.
GNOH – Your first novel The Sorrows is about to be published bySamhain Press, how did this come about? Was this the first time you had submitted the book to a publisher?
I originally wrote The Sorrows for Leisure Horror’s Fresh BloodContest. I was named a top ten finalist and then a top five finalist by theeditors. Though I didn’t win the “fan voting” part, I honestly didn’t careabout that. The fact that Don D’Auria and others thought enough of my story andmy writing to choose my book twice was as good as winning for me. Additionally,the publisher (Dorchester) basically fell apart after that, so not winningmight have actually been better than winning.
When Don landed at Samhain, I sent him a new-and-dramatically-improved versionof The Sorrows. He emailed me to tell me he wanted to acquire it. Iperformed a quadruple cartwheel around my living room and then signed thecontract. Working with Don has been even better than I thought it’d be. He’s anamazing editor and an incredibly nice person.
GNOH – The press has a goodbalance between well know names and up and coming authors, how do you feelabout being published alongside the likes of Ramsey Campbell and Greg Gifune?
Well, I love being mentioned in the same sentence with Gifune. He’s oneof those guys who’s known and respected within the horror community, but whoalso deserves a much broader audience. I think, with time, he’ll be recognizedby people outside of horror for being the excellent writer he is. I’m honoredto be published alongside him.
And Ramsey Campbell? That’s a bit awe-inspiring. I truly believeCampbell’s work will be remembered a hundred years from now the way the work ofother writers like Stephen King and Peter Straub will be. Campbell does what hedoes better than any other writer. I’ve written elsewhere that, like Poe,Campbell is able to achieve a cumulative, unified effect with his writing. Theprose itself is elusive at times and a bit off-beat, but those traits areintentional and only add to the weirdness of the spell Campbell casts. Novelslike The Doll Who Ate Its Mother and The Face That Must Die helpedmake me the writer I am today. I don’t deserve to be mentioned in the samebreath with him, but I’m extraordinarily proud to be published by the samecompany that’s now publishing his work.
GNOH – So let’s talk about The Sorrows, what is the significance ofthe title? Is the title a reflection ofthe mood of the book?
The title comes from several sources, but here are a couple of them.One, music plays a huge role in the novel, and the great-grandfather of one ofthe main characters once wrote a symphony called The Sorrows after hiswife died during childbirth. The role of fatherhood—in all its incarnations—iscentral in the book, and the various fathers experience sorrow and also inflictsorrow on others. There’s more to it than that, but that’ll do for now.
GNOH – Can you tell us what thebook is about?
There are two main stories: the story that takes place in the presentand the story that takes place in the past. This Gothic structure has alwaysappealed to me because in it, the past ultimately influences the present. So toanswer your question, here are the two stories:
The Past (1913): When Robert Blackwood found the source of the music inthe Greek forest, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Just six, the naked boyproduced a melody so intoxicating that Robert—a struggling composer—decided towrest him from his home and spirit him away to the Sorrows, the Blackwoodfamily’s island off the coast of northern California. Robert named the childGabriel and spent the next twelve years stealing his music. But when Robertpushed Gabriel too far, the horror really began.
The Present: Ben Shadeland and Eddie Blaze, movie music composers whoare struggling to score a big budget horror film for the most demandingdirector in Hollywood, pay Chris Blackwood—heir to the Blackwood fortune andtarget of a homicidal loan shark—to let them and two young women spend a monthon the Sorrows. Eddie believes a month in a haunted castle will inspire Ben towrite a masterpiece.
But a god once named Gabriel is waiting. And he’s ready to feed.
GNOH – You list a number ofinfluences on the book, from Arthur Machen, Brian Keene and Rachmaninoff’sPrelude in a C Sharp Minor, can you tell us about how these things influencedthe novel?
I love talking about these subjects. Arthur Machen, in his seminalnovella “The Great God Pan,” introduced me to the ancient Greek god. Gabriel(one of the main character in my novel) and Pan have a very, very closekinship.
Brian Keene is one of my new favorite writers. Yeah, everyone else hasknown about him for a decade now, but I’ve only been reading his work for thelast couple of years. He wrote a wonderful book called Dark Hollow (alsotitled The Rutting Season, I think) that helped me imagine my ownantagonist in a slightly different way than I had initially. Basically, I’dalready written the novel before I read Keene’s book, but studying the way he’ddrawn his villain showed me that I’d done quite a bit right in the creation ofmy own antagonist. It gave me confidence to clarify a few things in therewrite.
The Rachmaninoff song is one of my favorites. It demonstrates howfrightening and evocative music can be, and this book is steeped in the world ofmusic composition. Specifically, the composition of suspenseful, frighteningmusic.
GNOH – How important is music to you? How much power does it have over your life?
Music is veryimportant to me, and while I think I have good taste in music (who doesn’tthink that?), I’m not a talented musician or songwriter. My wife, thankfully,is, and through her abilities I get to appreciate music more than I otherwisewould. But I love it. Classical, heavy metal, country, all of it. I write tomusic all the time, though in this respect I’m very specific. I can only writeto classical music and film scores—no lyrics or I’m distracted—and over thepast three years I’ve developed a powerful affinity for baroque music. It movesand flows in a way no other music can; I’ve come to regard it as a creativepartner in my writing.
GNOH – You say the role of fatherhood plays an importantrole in the book. Have you used this totalk about your fears and theories on fatherhood. For me fatherhood is the scariest and most rewardingthing I have ever done.
I think thoseadjectives—scary and rewarding—are both appropriate ones for fatherhood. Theformer because I’m always afraid I won’t be the daddy my kids deserve, thelatter because I derive far more joy from being a dad than I do from anythingelse.
The book takes a hardlook at men and their dramatically varied feelings about fatherhood. This mightsound cynical, but I think society gives men too much of a free pass. Likewomen, we have flaws, but unlike women, it’s considered natural for us tosuccumb to our flaws and to shirk even the most basic aspects of fatherhood. Ifa woman ignores her child, she’s a monster. If a man does the same, he’s justinto his career or still a kid at heart or some other such nonsense. The ironicpart of that is that for many men—and there are thankfully a great many awesomedads—the paternal urge is fierce and passionate. In fact, I think many womenunderestimate how powerfully men can love their children. The problem is, thereare still far too many guys who think with their private parts or who aresimply too selfish to bother with their kids. I explore all of this and more inThe Sorrows.
GNOH – Who would you say the bookis aimed at, and how would you sell it to them?
Adults, first of all. This is not intended for kids. There’s a gooddeal of violence, sex, and adult language in the book, but all of thoseelements are used for specific purposes. Still, this book is written for adultswho can handle adult themes.
Secondly, I think the book will have a broad appeal. Sure, horror fansare part of the target audience, but I feel my style and the various aspects(suspense, romance, humor, etc.) of the book will make The Sorrows atale that readers who normally gravitate toward other genres take notice, aswell.
GNOH – You also mention that youstumbled upon Craigievar Castle, how exactly did you stumble upon it, where youtravelling around Scotland at the time?
Okay…confession time. I left that part vague in my blog post becauseI’ve never actually been to Scotland. Or Europe, for that matter. But I did doa ton of internet and library study about castles and the architecture involvedin their construction. When I saw Craigievar, it was like seeing my ownimagination right there on the computer screen. This castle was what I’d beenenvisioning for the better part of sixteen years (the story had been in my headsince I was an undergrad), so I read everything there was to read aboutCraigievar and utilized certain features of that castle in my novel. I hope totravel there someday. Or buy it, if the book sells enough copies.
GNOH – How excited are you in the days leading up tothe release of the book?
I’m incredibly excited, but I’m also sort of frightened. I know howstrange and wimpy this will sound, but I’m still trying to get used to the ideaof people actually, you know, reading my work. It’s one thing to believeone’s stuff is good and worthy of being read by others; it’s another thingentirely to realize that, oh my goodness, people are soon going to be readingand making judgments on what I’ve written. So I’m in a peculiar mental stateright now. Luckily, I’m editing a novel and a novella, and also working on anew novel, too. Those things take my mind off of the impending release.
GNOH – Like the rest of theirbooks it is being released as an e-book first with a paperback to follow nextyear is there a reason for this?
I think it’s a fairly standard technique for Samhain, but I’m notcertain why they do it that way. Perhaps it’s due to so much of their salesbeing from ebooks. I can say, however, that my next novel (House of Skin,which you ask about below) will be released simultaneously as both an ebook anda trade paperback this summer.
GNOH – You also have a secondnovel coming out from Samhain, called Houseof Skin, can you tell us anything about the book?
Indeed I can! House of Skin is a Gothic horror story about alove triangle between an aspiring author (Paul Carver), abeautiful-but-troubled woman (Julia Merrow), and a monstrous-but-seductivetemptress who has been dead for fifteen years (Annabel). Here’s the synopsisthat Don D’Auria wrote, which is far better than the one I created myself:
Myles Carver is dead. But hisestate, Watermere, lives on, waiting for a new Carver to move in. Myles’s wife, Annabel, is dead too, but sheis also waiting, lying in her grave in the woods. For nearly half a century she was responsiblefor a nightmarish reign of terror, and she’s not prepared to stop now. She is hungry to live again…and herunsuspecting nephew, Paul, will be the key.
Julia Merrow has a secret almost as dark as Watermere’s. But when she and Paul fall in love they thinktheir problems might be over. How canthey know what Fate—and Annabel—have in store for them? Who could imagine that what was once amoldering corpse in a forest grave is growing stronger every day, eager to takeher rightful place amongst the horrors of Watermere?
GNOH – How does it differstylistically from The Sorrows?
A couple of the main characters in The Sorrows are trulyhorrible people. Even though there are no zombies in the book, The Sorrowsreminds me a bit of a zombie novel in that the human beings are just asmonstrous as the supernatural entities in the story. In Keene’s The Risingand in the film 28 Days Later, for instance, some of the soldiers arefar more terrifying than the zombies. The Sorrows is like that, attimes.
In House of Skin, there are people who also do terrible things,but the three main human characters (Paul Carver, Julia Merrow, and thesheriff, an awesome dude named Sam Barlow) are essentially good people put inhorrible circumstances. In The Sorrows there are two characters likethat (Ben Shadeland and Claire Harden), but there are several others who aretruly wicked. In House of Skin, by far the most wicked character is thesupernatural antagonist Annabel. She’s the literary descendant of H. RiderHaggard’s She and Peter Straub’s Alma Mobley (from Ghost Story).
GNOH – You have also written two novellas, was it alwaysyour intention to write them as a novella, as a way to hone your writing beforeyou attacked the novel?
Well, I never thoughtthat consciously, but now that you mention it, I think there was a subconsciousfear of the novel that might’ve precipitated my forays into the novella. Thefunny thing is that writing a novella is really no easier than writing anovel—in some ways it’s harder. Sure, novels come with their own built-inchallenges, but writing novellas requires more precision, more unwaveringfocus.
Both novellas werecrucial to me and my development. The first (Witching Hour Theatre) I’vecome to view as a divine accident. I really had no idea what the heck I wasdoing, but the story somehow turned out quite well. I hadn’t studiedfiction-writing at all, but I’d been reading voraciously for years and yearsbeforehand. I think all that reading was responsible for whatever is good—and Ithink there’s a lot of good—in WitchingHour Theatre.
Old Order was a little different. I’d been working exclusively at novelsfor a few years without any feedback or affirmation to show for my work (atleast, external affirmation). I decided to write a shorter story mainly becausethe idea came to me and had to be written down. I worked hard at it, edited itlike crazy, and sent it to Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads. He responded verypositively, published it, and it has been steadily growing ever since. It’s thefirst story I’ve made any money off of, and that’s a neat thing. Jay’sconfidence in me and that story’s success really did a lot for my writerlyself-esteem at a time when it was sorely in need of a boost. Since then, thingshave steadily gotten more exciting!
GNOH – How much would you say your writing has progressedsince writing the novella’s, and what lessons did you learn from writing them?
Since WitchingHour Theatre, my writing has progressed so much that I don’t even considermyself the same writer as the kid who wrote that story. Old Order’s morerecent, but I still see a lot of growth between last year and this year, whichis very encouraging. I still have a great deal to learn, but I amlearning, and that’s the point.
The most importantlesson I learned from them is that any story takes a heck of a lot of work. I’mnot a first-draft magician. My first drafts are glorious train wrecks. On boththose novellas, I learned how to enjoy the editing process, and though thatfirst draft is always fun, I’ve found that the editing can be just asenjoyable. On average, I write a first draft in a little under three months.Then I spend double that time editing it. The novellas showed me that wonderfulthings can occur during the editing process, which was an invaluable lesson tome as an author.
GNOH – What is the best thingabout being an author? And does it stillhave the same sense of enjoyment as it did when you first started out?
The best thing, strangely enough, is being able to read my work to my six-year-oldson. I don’t read him the scary parts or the other stuff that he shouldn’thear, but I do read him quite a few passages. Then we talk about them. He asksme questions and listens to my answers. He puts in his own thoughts, andsometimes those thoughts make me look at my work in a different way. I know I’mbiased, but he’s a pretty extraordinary little boy.
As far as having the same enjoyment as it did when I started out…it’smore fun now than it has ever been because I’m more confident now than I’veever been. Not cocky—my perfectionism will never allow me to becomearrogant—but more confident. That also makes for better writing.
GNOH – What do you do to relax?
I don’t relax. That’s my biggest flaw as a human being. About onceevery two weeks or so I’ll remember to relax, and when I finally do for a fewminutes, it’s almost like a novelty. It feels so good that I can hardly believeI don’t do it more often. In fact, because of your question, I’m going to makean effort to relax as soon as I’m done typing these answers. Thank you forreminding me!
GNOH – Can you tell us about anyfuture projects you may have lined up?
Indeed I can. The novel after House of Skin is tentativelytitled Loving Demons. It’s done and in yet another stage of my editingit. I have a longish short story I’m getting ready to send off called “TheClearing of Travis Coble.” It was initially published several years ago, butI’ve learned a lot since then and have subsequently changed quite a few thingsin the story. I’m halfway through a novella called “Dust Devils,” which is avampire story in the Old West. Yet another novel is about a month from beingdone; it’s called Native, and it’s one of the most enjoyable things I’veever done. The novel combines several Native American and Canadian myths andplaces them in a remote campground that has just been opened. I’ve written ahundred-and-fifteen-thousand words in it and will write about thirty-thousandmore before I start chipping away at it and fashioning it into a tighter narrative.
Thank you so much for asking me these questions. It has been a blast!
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