I got a chance to interview one of the most fun and prolific horror writers from the Samhain family, Mr. Jonathan Janz. His debut, The Sorrows, brought him high praise from Brian Keene and a rabid following. He’s tackled ghosts, vampire westerns (Dust Devils), serial novels (Savage Species), and soon, exorcisms (yikes!). I admire his style, his effortless ability to churn out one quality piece after another, and his accessibility. He doesn’t shy away from his fans. You can find him responding on a daily basis to his faithful followers on Facebook or his blog.
This month, Janz returned with his latest effort, Castle of Sorrows, the sequel to his highly praised debut. He took a few moments out of his hectic writing/family schedule to chat with me.
Thanks for taking the time, man.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!
What was your main profession prior to writing? Do you still work, or is it full-time writing for you?
I’m a high school and junior high English, Film Literature, and Creative Writing teacher. I write during summers, before school, and after my family has gone to sleep.
What really kick started your interest in this gig?
Stephen King and a car crash. When I discovered King when I was fourteen, I discovered the joy of reading. When I crashed my car during my eighteenth year and nearly died, I spent several weeks in bed with nothing to do but read and write. I realized I loved to write, even though I wasn’t any good at it back then.
Your talent seems so natural. What really helped your writing early on? When did you think ‘I can do this’?
Thanks, Glenn! I had several people who encouraged me. My family, some teachers…but I still doubted myself until some people I really trusted to be objective—Don D’Auria, Louise Fury, and Brian Keene, to name three—said positive things about my work.
Those are some pretty nice people to listen to.
Your vocabulary is off the charts. I find myself looking up words pretty regularly in your novels. Where did this come from and where can I get some?
Hah! Thanks again, Glenn. It’s all organic for me from my reading. Like you, I’m in love with the language, and when I read a word I really like, it sort of sticks in my brain and germinates and awaits the right moment to be called into action. But it has to fit; otherwise, it’s just pretentiousness. Most of the words I find myself writing down in my daily life are normal words that I’ve simply neglected to use. Words like indicated or slashed.
When did your serious writing begin?
I didn’t really get serious about writing until I quit coaching basketball (I was a varsity basketball coach for a decade, as well as a varsity track coach and a coach of several other sports and levels). So that would have been about seven years ago. I didn’t know what it would take at that point, but I did begin to take the craft more seriously and begin to develop more self-discipline, which I think is one of the primary ingredients of success in any endeavor.
Do you have an agent?
I do. Louise Fury represents me, and she has been incredible for me and my career. An agent isn’t for everyone, but for me, it has been indispensable.
What’s a day in the writing life for you look like? Any routines/rituals?
During the summer, I spend the morning and early afternoon with my wife and kids. Then I write from 1:15 until 4:45. I listen to baroque music and sit in my chair by an upstairs window. I drink coffee, water, and munch on almonds. Oh, and invariably, my three-year-old will wake up from her nap and come in to visit me. On some afternoons this happens about fifteen or twenty times.
I have three, too. I hear ya. I know my at home writing schedule is constantly changing. Sometimes I have a few hours before the clan wakes up, sometimes I sneak in a midnight scribbling session, but usually someone wakes up and pulls me from the “writing zone”. How do you find the time to write?
I basically cut out everything else that most people enjoy doing. I don’t watch movies unless I’m with my wife, my kids, or working out. I almost never hang out with friends. I almost never watch sports or television (unless I’m sharing the experience with a family member). So basically, I’m either with my family, teaching, or writing for the majority of my life. It sounds dull, but I’m incredibly happy.
What’s the best thing about being a part of the Samhain family?
Working with Don is great. Another thing I love is developing relationships with my fellow authors. I’ve met some great people both on the writing side of things and the business side of Samhain.
I’m right there with you. Don and the other authors I’ve had a chance to meet so far have been amazing and welcoming.
Let’s dive into some of your Samhain novels. Starting with The Sorrows. I thought there were a lot of hugely impressive pieces in there. From the building of your characters– Ben, Claire, Eddie, and even Chris, and even Daniel’s journal–to the way you weaved back and forth through the past to the present. The novel was praised as ‘the best of 2012’ by Brian Keene. How did you not let that go to your head? Did it at any point paralyze you? Or was it motivation?
The Brian Keene mention, as you have guessed, was very important to me. It did feel incredibly validating to have this awesome writer who I admire say such positive things about my work. But it didn’t go to my head or make me relax. Like you said in your question, it really motivated me to do even better. For me, everything is motivation—from the soul-crushing disappointments to the breathtaking highs. It all motivates me to improve.
Obviously, you know I enjoyed Savage Species…loved the Laymon and Ketchum vibes you had going in there. How did you like the serial experience? Would you do it again?
Thank you! I loved the serial experience and would love to do it again. It wouldn’t work for every book, but for the right one, like Savage Species, I think it’s ideal.
You have some new works coming. Let’s talk about Exorcist Road. Is this going to scare the hair off of my nuts? Can you tell us a little about it?
Hah! Well, I hope it scares you that badly. It’s inspired by several sources, most recently John Farris’s Son of the Endless Night and the novels of William Peter Blatty. As you’d imagine, there are demonic/spiritual overtones in the book, but what I really like about it is the mystery/suspense angle. It’s kind of a horror whodunit. And I really love the characters in this one. It’s also the first story I’ve written entirely in the first-person, which was a blast to do.
Sounds awesome. Can’t wait to read that one. Next, we have Castle of Sorrows. Beautiful cover! For me, the best part of The Sorrows was that it pushed on every emotional button I have. What can we expect to be put through this time around, and (without giving too much away) how is it going to be different?
Castle of Sorrows is the darkest thing I’ve ever written. It’s bleaker and more violent than my other stuff, but again, there’s a real emotional core there that anchors the book. Ben Shadeland is a lot like me in that he’ll do anything he can to protect his family. But like most dads, he sometimes questions his ability to do that. In Castle, he faces just about every horror imaginable.
What made you want to write a sequel?
The story really lent itself to that. I love the setting, the premise, the main villain, and the protagonist. There’s a great deal of growth potential there, even after two books. I’m probably going to write a third book to complete the trilogy, but that won’t be for a couple of years.
Any timetable on book 3?
Yep! It will likely be written in 2016 and will hopefully be published in 2017. But those are just guesses.
There are some classical references in The Sorrows. What bands or artists do you crank when you ride alone to the store?
Boring answer, but I almost have a kid with me. If I don’t, it’s a book on tape or silent time to think and develop my ideas. But musically, my favorites are George Strait, Metallica, The Doors, and anything classical.
I like the variance in artists. I’m the same way.
For me, The Exorcist is the scariest move all-time; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the best horror film all-time. How about for you? Scariest all-time, and best horror all-time?
Great choices! I’ve gotta agree on The Exorcist. For me, the best horror film would be Jaws because of what it did to be psychologically and because it’s simply a perfect movie.
LOVE Jaws! Give me a personal favorite from each of these greats. Doesn’t have to be your favorite, but maybe one that holds a special place in your heart:
King–‘Salem’s Lot or The Stand
Laymon–The Woods Are Dark
Ketchum–Red or The Girl Next Door
What’s in your DVD player right now?
The second Percy Jackson movie (I just watched it with my son for his birthday).
Burger or Pizza?
Beer or Wine?
Does your wife ever read your work? (Mine refuses to)
Sorry to hear that! My wife has read a couple of my books, but she doesn’t usually get into horror, so she’s got some catching up to do.
Thank you for talking with me!
Thank you so much for talking to me, Glenn!
Find Jonathan Here!
His Amazon Page: Jonathan Janz
His Blog: Jonathanjanz.com
His Samhain Horror Page: Samhain-Jonathan Janz