I know the saying is a tired one, but that doesn't make it any less true. Most horror writers are the nicest people. The majority I've met have been nothing but friendly to me. And I like to think I'm a pretty nice guy, unless you leave your beef jerky unattended in my presence, then I'll eat it. Well, not really. I'll ask first. If you tell me no, then I'll wait until you're gone and I'll take some. Not too much, just a bit. Wouldn't want to be a jerk and take the whole bag! See, I am nice!
But one of the absolute nicest guys I've met in my short writing career is Jonathan Janz. A few years ago when Samhain Horror was about to release six books to debut its new line, I pulled together the last Diabolical Radio to this day with as many of us newbies I could get. Janz's The Sorrows was going to be released the following month, but we had gotten to know each other pretty well on Facebook, so I asked him to come on. Listening to him talk about his passion for writing and sharing his natural love for older paperbacks and the pulpy gore-filled pages of Splatterpunk, I felt I'd found not only a cool guy to chat about writing and horror with, but I'd found a kindred spirit. Of course, we all love King, Barker, Koontz, Little, and Saul. But there weren't too many people out there that I'd met who loved Laymon, Ketchum, Lee, White, Smith, and Skipp nearly as much as I do.
We finally got to meet at Horrorhound Cincinnati last year in 2013 when we were at the Samhain booth with other super-nice authors Brian Moreland and David Searls.
Here's a picture of our third venture at Horrorhound, last March, when we returned to Cincinnati. He's only a couple inches taller than me, another thing I like about the guy. He knows what it's like to constantly bonk your head on nearly everything.
Below is an interview I did recently with Janz. We talk about a lot of things, but mostly about his newest novella, Exorcist Road, which was the first book in years to give me genuine gooseflesh.
KR: Most writers have a certain style they're known for, and with EXORCIST ROAD, you took a first person point of view and strayed a bit from the Janz voice. I would've thought this was a genuine confessional and not a work of fiction. It was something completely different. Was this a decision you made early on, or did it come to you later as the book progressed?
JJ: Wow, man, thanks! I’m glad the voice was authentic for you. It certainly flowed out of me without any sort of extra effort. I think I wrote it in eleven days (though the editing took more than three times as long). I did believe the first-person narrator would work well for this story. Being a novella, I didn’t want to go into multiple viewpoints like I sometimes do (like with THE SORROWS and SAVAGE SPECIES). There just isn’t enough space in a novella for me to inhabit, say, five different POV characters and do them all justice. So I knew I wanted to limit the perspective to one person, and I knew a young, inexperienced priest could bring with him a great deal of interesting facets in a story like this. He’d be terrified, first of all, and because he knows something of evil, his terror is even deeper than a layperson’s would be. Also, by limiting the perspective, I thought I could keep the other characters a little more oblique with regard to the central mystery. I drew them as well as I could, of course, but I could hold back just enough to maintain their status as suspects in the serial killings. And I think Jason (the young priest) is a suspect too because of his many issues.
But thanks for your “confessional” comment. That makes me happier than you know.
KR: Was there any research involved beforehand? If so, how much time did you spend educating yourself on the subject matter?
JJ: The research I did was mostly the several exorcism books I’ve read over the past couple of years (both fiction and non-fiction). The most influential books were William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST and LEGION, as well as John Farris’s criminally underrated masterpiece SON OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT. Since I read those without knowing I’d be writing EXORCIST ROAD (which was brainstormed and written very quickly), I was able to internalize them like I would any book instead of being on the lookout for facts I could utilize. I’m thinking that’s why the exorcism stuff seems organic to the story—precisely because I wasn’t just learning it just to recapitulate it in a story. It always annoys me when I can see where an author is just showing off the new stuff he’s learned. That kind of information regurgitation jerks me right out of a story. So even though I did do some research while I wrote it, most of that preparation came well before the book was conceived.
KR: What is your usual writing routine when working on something new? Do you have any weird traits or habits that you have to do while working?
Hah! You know I’m a weird dude, so nothing would probably surprise you. In fact, I considered making a bunch of stuff up just to see if you’d believe me. Of course, nothing I could do would compare to your habit of building a small chapel out of pastrami and hanging upside down in it by your big toes all night before you start a new book.
But to answer your question, I’d say that I go for total immersion when I’m “in the zone,” and that helps me fully invest in the writing process. When I’m not with my family or teaching, the story and the characters hold my mind hostage. I think about them in the car, when I’m walking somewhere, when I’m standing at the urinal. I think about the story as I try to sleep at night. And when I shower.
When I actually write, I listen to baroque music, sit in my favorite chair in my upstairs library, place my mug of coffee next to me, and get after it. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of discovery, as you well know, Krist.
KR: What are three books that have stayed with you throughout your life?
JJ: Awesome and difficult question. Okay, here are three (with the caveat that I’d give a different answer tomorrow):
1. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I think of that book as love on paper. It’s beautiful and should be required reading for the human race.
2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A classic that exceeds its billing, I love this one for its endless capacity to make you think while it entertains you.
3. Ghost Story by Peter Straub. I had to include one horror novel, right? This one transported me when I first read it and transports me still when I revisit it. A towering achievement.
KR: Are there any newer authors out there that you frequently read?
JJ: You mean other than you? Because I’m a big fan of Kristopher Rufty, in spite of the bizarre pastrami fetish. Other than him, I love Hunter Shea and Brian Moreland. Anything those guys do is excellent. Also, Russell James has a great voice, as does Mick Ridgewell. To be honest, I don’t read many new authors despite how incredibly hypocritical that is. But most of my reading is by guys who came before me from whom I feel I need to learn before I move on to more contemporary writers. That’s not really logical or fair, but it’s the way my twisted mind works.
KR: What are you working on now, and what can we expect next? We need more Janz now!
JJ: Thank you, Krist. I finished a novel recently that no one knows about except me, my family, my agent, and a handful of pre-readers. I’m not sure what I’m doing with that one yet, but I can tell you about my two (probable) Samhain Horror releases. One is called THE NIGHTMARE GIRL, and it’s coming in January. In that one, I really channeled Joe R. Lansdale, and the result was a cool mix of horror, mystery, and suspense. It’s very different than my other stuff, but I’m really proud of it and excited for folks to read it. The other Samhain Horror novel will likely be a werewolf story. The contracts aren’t signed on that one yet, and I’m not done writing it, but it’s moving along nicely and should be a very interesting book once it’s completed. Every writer feels this way, but I believe I can say with complete sincerity that no one’s ever done a werewolf book quite like this one before, which has made it both fun and challenging to write.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Krist. And if any of you are reading this and haven’t yet checked out Rufty, I suggest you get on that ASAP. This is just my opinion, but I’d start with THE LURKERS (though Krist might have other suggestions).
THE LURKERS sounds great to me!