Monday, January 30, 2012

Interview with Horror Author Jonathan Janz

Jonathan, welcome to my blog. It’s great to have a fellow Samhain Horror author here to provide an interview.

Thanks so much for inviting me here, Brian! I'm a huge fan of your work, so getting to know you has been a great experience for me.

1. As someone who has worked in the film business, I just love the concept of your latest novel The Sorrows, about a couple of film composers who spend a month on a creepy island to work on a movie. Can you give us some more details of what the story is about?

The Sorrows was born of several disparate ideas and experiences, but it all started with a single image: a man imprisoned in a tower with nothing but a piano. The song that he played in my imagination gave birth to this novel.

Ben Shadeland and Eddie Blaze are movie music composers who're trying to score a big budget horror film for the most demanding (and diabolical) director in film. Their deadline is looming, but Ben (the creative half of the duo and my protagonist) hasn't written a note because of a nasty divorce and the resulting loss of custody of his three-year-old son, who happens to be the only thing that matters in Ben's life.

Chris Blackwood is the heir to his family's fortune, which includes the Sorrows, a supposedly haunted island off the coast of northern California. Chris is in deep with a vicious loan shark, and because his father has cut off his money supply, to make some quick cash (and to save his hide) Chris allows Ben, Eddie, and two women (Eva, the gorgeous assistant to the film director, and Claire, an aspiring composer with a huge crush on Ben) to stay a month in the island's castle.

What none of them know is the horrific history of the island or the evil that awaits them there. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the tale is a nightmarish roller coaster that's been receiving some wonderful praise. I'm very proud of it and want everyone to read it.

Of course, every author probably feels that way about his/her book, right?

2. Yes, I would agree. The Sorrows sounds like a great setting for a horror novel. Is the island off the coast of California real or fictional? And what inspired you to you come up with this story?

It's a fictional island, but it has existed in my head since I was about twenty-one. I didn't know where the island was though, until my family and I visited my wife's relatives in Sonoma County, California. Like you, Brian, I'm a nature lover, and when I spent time on the coast and in the mountains near Santa Rosa, I knew exactly where my novel would be set.

You're not the first person to ask me this question (regarding inspiration), but because it's such a good one, I'm going to give you an answer I don't think I've ever given before, but since the novel's release, I've realized that some very strong feelings of mine are expressed in The Sorrows.

The first belief is that sin, like a loyal dog, returns to its owner. Maybe not in this life, but eventually, I do believe that we reap what we sow. And in that vein, my fictional island is like a psychic magnet for revenants or vengeful ghosts (many of whom were wronged in life).

Men commit many sins, but a disturbing number of them are toward women, and a staggering number of those are unholy minglings of sex and violence. In fact, I find many men's attitudes about sex to be inherently violent (if not physically, then without a doubt emotionally). The notion that a woman is a thing, an object, an instrument of temporary pleasure is so endemic to our society that we barely notice how wrong-headed and frightening it is.

There are several monsters in The Sorrows, many of whom are unfeeling lechers whom society enables and even sanctions. They objectify women, exert power over them, and inflict violence on them simply because they can. When you take a step back and examine it, it's really a primitive, animalistic code. Of course, that's an insult to animals, because few species are capable of sinking to the depraved depths that men often do.

I'm proud to be a man, and I'm not down on the whole gender, but I believe most of the world needs to take a serious look at gender politics and consider starting from scratch. As the son of a single mother, the husband of a wonderful wife, and the father of two amazing daughters, I've had many occasion to wonder just how in the heck men can justify the way they treat women.

There is ill treatment of women in my book because I want to write with truth. But there are also consequences to that treatment, and though those consequences don't begin to redress the wrongs that are done, I think they do reflect my feelings on the matter pretty clearly.

3. I agree on everything you said above. The novel I'm currently writing also has some villains who are violent towards women. My protoganist, on the otherhand, holds women in high esteem and takes a stand against such monsters for his sister and the woman he loves. What authors influenced your writing style and in what ways?

Stephen King was my first and most important influence. I wouldn't have been a reader, much less an author, without his writing. So much of what I believe about writing came from him, too. The story is the boss. Edit mercilessly. A story isn't driven by the author, it's driven by the characters; it's merely the author's job to transcribe what the characters tell him. These ideas are just a sliver of what I've learned from Stephen King.

After King I'd put Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and Richard Matheson on my list of primary influences. The same could be said for Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, and Ray Bradbury. Some other names I don't think I've mentioned in other interviews are Hemingway, Steinbeck, Roald Dahl, Poe, Chuck Palahniuk, Shirley Jackson, John Farris, Charles L. Grant, Harry Crews, and James Herbert.

The above writers couldn't be more different, but one thing binds them together: storytelling. There's no single correct way to tell a story, but if anything else gets in the way of the story, the writer hasn't done his job. I love Jack Ketchum because he refuses to lie. Lansdale writes with a similar honesty, but the two have their own unique styles. Laymon's known for pace, violence, and sex, but I like him for a different reason: he fully inhabited his POV characters. Hitchcock called it subjective treatment, and I suspect he would have really enjoyed Laymon's stuff. Matheson is as good as anybody at setting up a big moment and letting it pay off in a spine-tingling way.

4. I've read and studied many of these authors, especially Stephen King and Richard Laymon. I pick up a little knowledge from every writer I read. It's good to read outside of your genre, as well, because horror novels aren't just about writing one horror scene after another. They include dramatic scenes and comic relief, romance, and sexual tension between the characters.

You’re married with three children. How do you make time for writing? Can you share your writing schedule and offer some success secrets to being a busy husband and father who still manages to create time to write novels?

Well, I'm a full-time teacher, so because that's my family's livelihood, I have to make sure I do my best at that. As for the rest of my time, it's a constant internal struggle between spending time with my family and my writing career, and what always suffers is the writing. In a perfect world, I'd have four extra hours a day (at least!) to devote to my writing career, but since I don't, I have to make some tough choices. So when in doubt, I always choose to play with my kids.

This is just a personal philosophy, and I'm certainly not criticizing anyone who lives by a different code, but for me, my family has to come first. I've heard plenty of guys in their sixties, seventies, and eighties who bemoan having spent so much time on their careers. But I've never heard a man regret spending too much time with his family Of course, it isn't just guilt that causes me to make those choices--I honestly believe I was made to be a father and a husband.

What all this means is that I've got to be very smart with my time and very strategic about what I do and when I do it. My wife watches the kids on the weekends during the afternoons, so I get to write and edit then. I write a novel every summer (one of the perks of being a teacher), and I view that time as a pure and marvelous burst of discovery and creativity. I also write at night and in any other free moments I get (which aren't many).

5. You have another novel coming out in June of 2012 called House of Skin. Awesome title. Wish I’d thought of it. Tell us more about this book and what’s in store for us.

Thanks for liking the title, Brian! We're even now, because Dead of Winter is a fantastic, jealousy-inducing title as well.

Essentially, House of Skin is a ghost story with both a gothic sensibility and a breakneck pace. Strangely, the two authors I kept channeling as I wrote it were Peter Straub and Richard Laymon, and though I love them both, most would agree that you couldn't choose two more diverse horror writers.

Don D'Auria wrote a great synopsis for House of Skin, so I'll let his words answer the question…

Myles Carver is dead. But his estate, Watermere, lives on, waiting for a new Carver to move in. Myles’s wife, Annabel, is dead too, but she is also waiting, lying in her grave in the woods. For nearly half a century she was responsible for a nightmarish reign of terror, and she’s not prepared to stop now. She is hungry to live again…and her unsuspecting 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 think their problems might be over. How can they know what Fate—and Annabel—have in store for them? Who could imagine that what was once a moldering corpse in a forest grave is growing stronger every day, eager to take her rightful place amongst the horrors of Watermere?

(End synopsis)

I love that description, and though it does give you a great idea of what the book is about, I'd add one quick thing. There's a character in House of Skin named Sam Barlow. He's the local sheriff, and he's deeply entwined in the history and the happenings surrounding Paul, Julia, and Annabel. Sam is one of my favorite characters, so I'm anxious for others to get to know him.

Jonathan, I can't wait to read House of Skin. I appreciate you stopping by and chatting.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Brian, and thank you for asking such awesome questions!

If you haven't read any of the terrifying books by Jonathan Janz, I highly recommend him. Pick yourself up a paperback copy of The Sorrows or download the e-book to your e-reader today. While you're at it, check out his two novellas, Old Order and Witching Hour Theater. Also, this summer keep watch for his upcoming novel, House of Skin.


Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard. In a way, that explains everything. His first two novels will be published by Samhain Horror (THE SORROWS in 2011, HOUSE OF SKIN in 2012). He has also written two novellas (Old Order and Witching Hour Theatre) and several short stories. 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.

One of Jonathan’s wishes is to someday get Stephen King, Peter Jackson, Jack Ketchum and Joe R. Lansdale together for an all-night zombie movie marathon. Of course, that can only happen if all four drop their restraining orders against him.

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1 comment:

  1. Great interview, Brian and Jonathan...I enjoyed it. As a new Samhain Horror reader (as well as horror writer myself), I will be picking up both your novels...take care!