I’m happy to have author Jonathan Janz back as a guest on my blog. More than just a talented horror writer who can scare you with great stories, he’s become a personal friend of mine. Every year since we met a few years back at Horror Hound Cincinnati, Janz has been taking the horror genre by storm, churning out many excellent novels, including House of Skin, Savage Species, Wolf Land, The Nightmare Girl, and Dust Devils to name a few. Now, he’s just released a new book: Children of the Dark. Without further ado, I’ll let Janz take over.
Stand By Me, The Body, and Children of the Dark
by Jonathan Janz
First off, I want to thank Brian for hosting me today, for being such a good friend, and for writing such outstanding fiction.
Now that I’m here, let me tell you something I suspect many of you will relate to…
I love Stand By Me. I saw the movie back in high school and read the novella on which it was based shortly after, and both tales spoke to me in a way that few stories do. Innocence is a fleeting, precious thing, and the movie/novella combo to which I’m alluding does an incredible job of capturing both that innocence and its permanent removal. The Stephen King epigraph I used in the beginning of my novel Children of the Dark says it perfectly:
“Love isn’t soft, like those poets say. Love has teeth which bite and the wounds never close.”
When we’re very small, we long to be comforted, cherished, wrapped up in our parents’ unconditional embrace. That safety, of course, can’t last forever, and over the course of our late childhood and adolescence we begin to recognize the harsh realities of life, the razorlike teeth of love. Though we cling to our illusions, it dawns on us in a series of shattering revelations that life really isn’t so simple, that even love can pierce us deeply and permanently.
In the King story and the Rob Reiner movie, Gordie LaChance loses his big brother, which is bad enough. Just as devastating for Gordie, however, is the manner in which his parents forget he’s still alive. In the moments he needs his folks the most, they seem to care about him the least, and as a result, his nightmare becomes even more traumatic.
Chris Chambers is a great kid with a bad family, which means (in the town’s eyes) he’s guilty by association. He’s smarter than most and more loyal than just about anyone, yet the alcoholism and dysfunction surrounding him manufacture a seedy, clinging aura he doesn’t deserve but cannot shake.
These kids take refuge in their friendship, and it is this bond that forms the emotional core of both King’s novella and Reiner’s film. Like all great fiction, it is the human element—the connections we feel with the characters, the universality of the emotions expressed—that engrosses us and touches our emotions.
These tales spoke to me during my formative years, and I yearned to tap into those emotions when I wrote my own coming-of-age tale. The two main characters in Children of the Dark (Will Burgess, partially named for Wil Wheaton, who played Gordie LaChance; and Chris Watkins, who resembles Chris Chambers in certain respects) are enduring hardships with which they’re incapable of grappling by themselves.
Will Burgess never knew his father, has a drug addict for a mom, and is charged with acting as the father figure to his six-year-old sister. Add to that Will’s poverty, his undesirable reputation in the town, and his unfortunate conflict with several bullying upperclassmen, and you have a difficult, bleak life, especially for a person so young.
On the surface, Chris Watkins is Will’s opposite. Born into a rich household, son of an influential attorney, Chris appears to lead a life of privilege. However, there are harsh truths lurking beneath the sparkling veneer, truths that are revealed later in my novel.
(Those of you who’ve read Ray Bradbury’s sublime Something Wicked This Way Comes might also be sensing a connection between Bradbury’s classic tale and my own. This is also intentional, particularly with regard to Bradbury’s central young characters.)
Like King’s characters, Will Burgess and Chris Watkins draw strength from their relationship. Like King’s characters, Will and Chris are thrust into a harrowing situation and forced to deal with it as well as they can…though at times their coping mechanisms are far from adequate.
You see, at the heart of both stories is the destructive shadow side of love:
Gordie LaChance is wounded by the withdrawal of parental love at a time when he needs it more than he ever has.
Chris Chambers is physically and verbally abused by his father. The man who is supposed to provide Chris with a positive male role model becomes a blade that stabs Chris over and over.
Will Burgess understands the sharp teeth of love very well. Not unlike Gordy LaChance’s parents, Will’s mother is so enshrouded by her own problems that her children become an afterthought.
Chris Watkins, as alluded to earlier, must face emotionally-scarring realities, and like the other three boys, the wielder of the weapon in Chris’s case is a person he should be able to trust.
In many ways, the loss of innocence isn’t as painful when strangers are the ones stealing it. But when those we love are the authors of our forced maturation, the damage multiplies. It’s a dire enough truth that people can be vicious, snarling creatures. It’s far worse to learn that the unconditional embrace of our parents is often full of conditions, full of selfishness.
Full of teeth.
I hope you enjoy The Body and Stand By Me as much as I do. And I hope you’ll give my own coming-of-age tale a shot as well.
Children of the Dark, Synopsis
Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.
Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals—the Moonlight Killer—has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves—his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends—will be threatened.
And very few of them will escape with their lives.
Children of the Dark is available at Amazon
Also, check out Sinister Grin Press Website.
Biography of Jonathan Janz
Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, and in away, 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.”
2013 saw the publication of his novel of vampirism and demonic possession 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.
Jack Ketchum called his vampire western Dust Devils a “Rousing-good weird western,” and his sequel to The Sorrows (Castle of Sorrows) was selected one of 2014’s top three novels by Pod of Horror. 2015 saw the release of The Nightmare Girl, which prompted Pod of Horror to call Jonathan “Horror’s Next Big Thing.” 2015 also saw the release of Wolf Land, which Publishers Weekly called “gruesome yet entertaining gorefest” with “an impressive and bloody climax.” He has also written four novellas (Exorcist Road, The Clearing of Travis Coble, 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. 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.
Praise for Children of the Dark
“Jonathan Janz brings us a vicious tale of terror with the innocence of youth in a coming of age tale that should surely make Stephen King smile.” – Dave, Beneath the Underground
“Jonathan Janz has written the next definitive coming-of-age horror novel that is sure to be mentioned alongside those that came before it. Be on the right side of history and read it now, before it becomes a classic.” –Patrick Lacey, author of A Debt to be Paid
Praise for Jonathan Janz
“Janz is the literary love child of Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum (with a little Joe Lansdale DNA in the mix), with all the terror that implies. Try him out. You won’t be disappointed.”
-Pod of Horror
-Pod of Horror
“One of the best writers in modern horror to come along in the last decade. Janz is one of my new favorites.” –Brian Keene, best-selling author
“It’s the best of its kind I’ve read in years, such that I’d call it 'The Quintessential Haunted House Novel.' You’ve taken the old school traditions of the form which readers want and then have injected modern style, characters, and macabre, hard-edged mayhem into the guts of the story. THAT’S the way to do it, my friend!”
-Author Edward Lee on House of Skin
-Author Edward Lee on House of Skin
“Jonathan Janz is one of the rare horror novelists who can touch your heart while chilling your spine. His work offers incisive characters, sharp dialogue, and more scares than a deserted graveyard after midnight. If you haven’t read his fiction, you’re missing out on one the best new voices in the genre.” –Tim Waggoner, multi-published author
"Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror--Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows--will find much to relish." - Publishers Weekly on Savage Species
Follow along the tour with these hashtags: #ChildrenoftheDark #StandwithWill