AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan Janz

Meghan: Hey, Jonathan. I don’t know if you realize this, but you have been a part of our annual Halloween Extravaganza long before it was named a Halloween Extravaganza. In fact, you have been part of every Halloween celebration since I started blogging, back in 2014, on The Gal in the Blue Mask. So thank you so much for all the support. And for once again taking part. Let’s begin: What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Jonathan: I think the general mood. I love the aura, the spooky, cozy, gloomy vibe of late-October/early-November. There’s something uniquely mysterious in the air, the feeling that anything could happen, will happen. Wet-black tree trunks and rain-shiny streets. Drooping leaves and shadows. No time can transport me back to elementary school like this time of year. Nothing can reproduce that shivery feeling quite like Halloween time.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Jonathan: Hmm… For me, the music plays a big role. The Halloween score is a central, seminal work there. I think not only of Carpenter’s incredible main theme, but of the other tracks, specifically the one we hear when Jamie Lee Curtis walks through the neighborhood when we first meet her. I hear the same music when I walk through my own neighborhood, which is like hers with more hills. I also love “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I sing that one with my youngest daughter Peach.

So listening to the music is a big part of the celebration for me.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Jonathan: It’s my favorite non-religious holiday, I’ll say that. It’s just such a marvelous celebration of all the things I love about horror. It’s being joyful in the terror, it’s reveling in the macabre. It really is a time where what we love all year is normalized and appreciated by all, including the hobbyists. For a short time they can see through our eyes and understand the dark beauty we see all year. So there’s a sense of community with the full-timers and a moment of communion with the part-timers.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Jonathan: I’m really not superstitious anymore, but I used to be. Like catastrophically so. I was afraid to leave a room without first smiling into a mirror because I was sure the last expression I made in that mirror would determine the tenor of the day or evening. I had an intricate series of rituals I had to complete (everything in threes, everything pointing in a specific direction) that held a mystical power over me. Essentially, I was raddled with these superstitions, and they profoundly affected me in many negative ways. I eventually overcame them, but it took time.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Jonathan: Michael Myers still scares the daylights out of me. So does Jerry Dandridge from the original Fright Night. I love werewolves in general, so the one in Silver Bullet, for instance used to really give me the willies. Oh, and The Thing was awesome because it’s this hostile intelligence and always changing.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Jonathan: Wow. Tough one. There were a pair of murders in my hometown of Delphi, Indiana (which is known as Shadeland in Children of the Dark) that remain unsolved, so for several reasons I want that killer to be caught. Two adolescent girls lost their lives, so it’s an unspeakable tragedy.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Jonathan: I don’t know if this qualifies, but Spring-Heeled Jack has always fascinated me. I love the uniqueness of his powers and the mysterious, fantastical nature of his abilities. I’d like to write a novel about it someday.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Jonathan: Well, I probably wouldn’t say that any would be my favorite, but the most fascinating has to be Jack the Ripper. So much of that has to do with the surreptitious nature of the crimes, the Whitechapel setting, the myriad theories about the killer’s identity, and the fact that it remains unsolved. I also think the clothing of the time and the fog add to the mystique.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Jonathan: Probably something like The Omen, which scared the crap out of me. I vividly remember watching The Twilight Zone when I was little, especially Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Also the one where there’s an alien in the café and the one where the woman is going to have plastic surgery because (supposedly) she’s so hideous. Those shows truly impacted me. They scared me to death but they absolutely absorbed me and compelled me to keep watching despite my terror.

As far as the first horror book, that one’s easy: Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. That book changed everything for me. Not long after that, I read ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Night Shift, Carrie, The Gunslinger, Skeleton Crew, Pet Sematary, and It. Essentially, the first twenty books I read were all by Stephen King, so he’s the reason I’m where I am today. He made me a reader, a writer, and an English teacher. Regarding the way those stories made me feel…for the first time, I felt smart when I was reading those books. Obviously, I was entertained too. And mesmerized and unsettled and transfixed. Those books were revelations to me.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Jonathan: Ah, nice question! Let’s see…I’m going to say The Girl Next Door. Jack Ketchum/Dallas Mayr had a way of going to the core of an issue and showing us what he found there, without flinching. That book made me cringe, put it down, return to it reluctantly, despair for humankind, and weep for what happened to that poor young woman.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Jonathan: This one is easy, though it’s surprisingly recent. It’s called Lake Mungo, and it’s a slow-burn faux-documentary that’s at turns depressing, unnerving, and flat-out terrifying. There’s a moment in the film I keep replaying in my head to an unhealthy, obsessive degree. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m afraid to see this face coming out of the dark. So even though I’m an adult…I might just be permanently scarred by Lake Mungo.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Jonathan: I had a chintzy Godzilla costume when I was really little. Cheap as hell, the sharp plastic mask with the string. But I loved it, felt like I was a fire-breathing monster when I wore it. I loved that costume and love it still.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Jonathan: Got to be “This Is Halloween,” though some of the tracks from Halloween are in the running. The song I referred to earlier I think is called “Laurie’s Theme,” though I could be wrong about that.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Jonathan: My favorite candy altogether is Dots, so because I sometimes get to eat those on Halloween, I’ll go with Dots. Other favorites include Snickers, Twizzlers, Reese’s Cups, and Kit Kats. Disappointing candy? I can’t think of any.

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by today. As always, it was an absolute pleasure having you here. Before you go, what is your go-to Halloween movie and book?

Jonathan:
Top Halloween Movie: Halloween (1978): I know this is an uncreative answer, but Carpenter’s original film is just perfect. What I appreciate is how Carpenter treats the quieter moments, not just the kills. That film just drips atmosphere.

Top Halloween Book: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Look, there are many great Halloween stories, but this one feels perfect for Halloween. I love the evocation of the small town, the friendship, the father-son relationship, those cusp-of-adulthood themes, and of course the sinister elements in the book. Basically, it’s perfect. I taught it for a few years to freshmen, and they ate it up. It’s a timeless novel.


Boo-graphy:
Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories. His work has been championed by authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, and Brian Keene; he has also been lauded by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novel Children of the Dark was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Horror Book of the Year. Jonathan’s main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children.

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Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jonathan Janz

Meghan: So, you’ve made it back for round three, Jonathan, where the questions get more and more difficult.

What are your go-to horror films?

Jonathan Janz: A few I’ve watched and rewatched are (of course) Jaws, which is one of my top-three films ever. I also love Ravenous, which I probably watched ten times over a few months back in the early 2000s. Another would be the original Halloween for the way it builds suspense bit by bit.

Meghan: What makes the horror genre so special?

Jonathan Janz: So many traits make horror special, but one of the ones I appreciate the most is its diversity of subject matter. It can be supernatural or non-supernatural, grounded or completely surreal. It can have creatures. It can be set in another time and place. The possibilities are endless.

Meghan: Have any new authors grasped your interest recently?

Jonathan Janz: Sarah Read really blew me away with The Bone Weaver’s Orchard. A couple others that are doing great work are Tim Meyer and John Quick.

Meghan: How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”? What do you listen to while writing?

Jonathan Janz: It’s integral to my process. I listen to Baroque music (usually played by Yo-Yo Ma) when I write, and it really gets my creativity flowing. It also drowns out the noise of my house, and with three kids and two dogs, that can be pretty important sometimes.

Meghan: How active are you on social media? How do you think it affects the way you write?

Jonathan Janz: Relatively active, though I’ve had to scale back. I simply don’t have time to be on there much. It doesn’t affect my writing much, though I do see interesting items there sometimes that pique my interest.

Meghan: What is your writing Kryptonite?

Jonathan Janz: My busy schedule. Everyone thinks he/she is busy, but I’d put my schedule beside anyone’s and give him/her a run for his/her money. I have two full-time jobs (teaching at one of the most demanding public schools in the nation, as well as being an author), a family to love and take care of, the entire business side of writing (every day I have a punch list of maybe seven or eight tasks I try to get done), my ninety-four-year-old grandpa to help, three different teams to coach (in three different sports), a house to maintain, my fitness to keep up, and… oh yeah, a wife I’d like to see a lot more often. I simply wish there were more hours in the day.

Meghan: If you were making a movie of your latest story/book, who would you cast?

Jonathan Janz: In my current work-in-progress, I’d cast Chris Hemsworth as one of the characters and Nick Offerman as another. Those two would play really well off each other.

Meghan: If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?

Jonathan Janz: GARDEN OF SNAKES. It’s my one “trunk novel,” and I still love certain aspects of the story. I just didn’t know how to write it back then, and it showed in the final product.

Meghan: What would the main character in your latest story/book have to say about you?

Jonathan Janz: He’d tell me to breathe, to lighten up a bit so I could get more sleep.

Meghan: Did you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Jonathan Janz: I absolutely do. Writing is an intensely personal act, so some of the stuff would only be detected by people who know me well. Brian Keene does that a lot with my work, most recently in The Dark Game.

Meghan: How much of yourself do you put in your books?

Jonathan Janz: So much! Most of the time, though, it’s accidental, and I’m not even aware of it until I notice it later, or after publication, when someone points it out to me.

Meghan: Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into our novels?

Jonathan Janz: Many of the events in Children of the Dark are based on real-life occurrences. I lived in that house, on that street, beside that graveyard, and in front of that woods. That was my baseball field and my hometown. Those were my friends. It’s incredibly autobiographical, and I think that shows in a positive, poignant way.

Meghan: Are your characters based off real people, or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

Jonathan Janz: Some of both, though more of the latter than the former. I’d say my imagination is the food, and other people are the seasonings I sprinkle in.

Meghan: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Jonathan Janz: I’ve grown much more confident. I now can look at something I’ve written and say, “That doesn’t work,” and go back and delete it or change it. That takes a strong stomach because you’re admitting to yourself that you made a mistake or that you were off track for a day or three.

Meghan: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Jonathan Janz: Letting go of a book. I edit and edit and edit and would probably keep doing that in perpetuity if I didn’t force myself to let it go at some point.

Meghan: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Jonathan Janz: Definitely both. I get so excited when I write something that works, but when I’m done each day I feel like I’m in a fog. I tell my wife and kids it’s like Han Solo unfreezing from carbonite.

Meghan: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones? Have you ever learned something from a negative review and incorporated it into your writing?

Jonathan Janz: I read them less and less, and there are people whose reviews I don’t even glance at because I know where they’re coming from, and it’s not a happy place. They have value, and I’ve read positive and negative reviews that have both helped me, but I simply don’t have the time to look at them much anymore because I’m too busy creating.

Meghan: Why are your ambitions for your writing career? What does “literary success” look like to you?

Jonathan Janz: Someday, I’d like to write full time. I’m in no hurry to get there, and if I could write now, I don’t think I would because I truly love teaching too much. But at some point that would be a blast.

Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories. His work has been championed by authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, and Brian Keene; he has also been lauded by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novel Children of the Dark was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Horror Book of the Year. Jonathan’s main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children. You can sign up for his newsletter, and you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.