EXCERPT: Blood Country by Jonathan Janz

The Raven #2: Blood Country

Genre: Horror, Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Publication Date: 10.18.2022
Pages: 316

Three years ago the world ended when a group of rogue scientists unleashed a virus that awakened long-dormant strands of human DNA. They awakened the bestial side of humankind: werewolves, satyrs, and all manner of bloodthirsty creatures. Within months, nearly every man, woman, or child was transformed into a monster…or slaughtered by one.

A rare survivor without special powers, Dez McClane has been fighting for his life since mankind fell, including a tense barfight that ended in a cataclysmic inferno. Dez would never have survived the battle without Iris, a woman he’s falling for but can never be with because of the monster inside her. Now Dez’s ex-girlfriend and Iris’s young daughter have been taken hostage by an even greater evil, the dominant species in this hellish new world:


The bloodthirsty creatures have transformed a four-story school building into their fortress, and they’re holding Dez’s ex-girlfriend and Iris’s young daughter captive. To save them, Dez and his friends must risk everything. They must infiltrate the vampires’ stronghold and face unspeakable terrors.

Because death awaits them in the fortress. Or something far worse.


The bikes were a godsend. Every time Dez had ridden as an adult, he wondered why he didn’t do it more often. Aside from being more expedient than slogging the eight miles on foot, biking brought with it the subtler pleasures he’d forgotten about, the breeze ghosting over his face, the edifying sensation of the handlebars in his grip, the gratifying blaze in his quadriceps as he worked the pedals. Even though the roads were gravel and somewhat of a grind, he resolved to travel on bike whenever he could, exposure to predators be damned.

Iris evidently disagreed.

She pedaled in grim silence, her eyes constantly strafing the woods and fields. In several places the gravel was shot through with weeds; even the blacktop was cracked by sprouted plants. Without people around to spoil it, nature had reclaimed the earth. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, foxes, even the occasional cat or dog darted across the road ahead of them. The birds that hadn’t flown south swooped and congregated on the roadsides, in the trees, on the disused telephone poles lining the roads. Many of these birds – crows, sparrows, finches, and a large onyx-feathered creature that might have been a raven – showed no fear at all as Dez and Iris rattled past on their ten-speeds, perhaps sensing on an instinctive level that the pair meant them no harm. Or maybe it was the bikes themselves that put the birds at ease. Dez had certainly never seen a monster riding one. Motorcycles, cars, and ATVs, sure, but not bicycles. Apparently, monsters considered themselves too cool for regular bikes.

They pedaled on, the countryside eerily silent. Twice they passed abandoned vehicles. The first was a pickup truck. It had once been white, but two years of dust, weather, and copious splats of bird shit had rendered its exterior a seedy farrago of colors. Since there were no dents or signs of trauma to the pickup, Dez’s guess was that its driver had simply run out of gas and had to hoof it.

The second vehicle was an overturned SUV, and this one did bear marks of a struggle. It lay diagonally across the road, its rear end crumpled. The dusty black paint was scarred by what might have been claws, and within the SUV he glimpsed wine-colored stains. Dez caught a flickering mental image of a family being dragged out of the shattered windows, and he was gripped with a bone-deep chill.

Dez and Iris pedaled past the macabre scene without comment.

They arrived at Buck Creek by two that afternoon, but rather than entering town, per Levi’s instructions they took County Road 1050. It was a shitty road, potholed and weedy, and the farther they advanced, the more primitive it became. When they reached the grain elevator, the gravel lane was so crowded by evergreens that Dez felt relatively safe. Iris not so much.

“I don’t like this,” she said, hunkering down beside him, their bikes resting just within the tree line.

“The town or the vampires?” he asked.

“Any of it,” she said. “Feels like we’re being watched. Kind of like when I get dressed with you in the room.”

At his open-mouthed stare, she chuckled softly and gave him a shove. “Come on,” she said. “Keep your bow ready.”

He slid it out of its holder. Toting the crossbow all the way through town would be cumbersome, but being beset by vampires would be worse. If one came charging toward him, he figured he could nail it, and the silent weapon wouldn’t draw others. If a horde of them attacked, they were screwed anyway, and he’d use the Ruger. At the thought of being eviscerated in this small town, he shuddered and moved a smidge closer to Iris. At least he wouldn’t die alone. They hurried past the grain elevator, paused at the edge of the road, then darted across it and took refuge in a stand of woods that bordered a residential area. As they sprinted, hunched over like soldiers attacking a beachhead, all manner of wildlife scattered before them.

Iris crouched beside a towering oak. “You see anything?” she whispered.

“It’s like a nature preserve,” he answered. “Even if there were vampires around, we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the animals.”

Iris scanned the houses ahead. “The vampires are the ones with glowing orange eyes and fangs as long as your pinkies.”

“Thanks for that.”

“Let’s move. The sooner we find medicine, the sooner we can get the hell out this mausoleum.”

God, he thought. The town did feel like a mausoleum. They bolted out of the forest. There was a paved residential street followed by houses, most of them two stories, a few of them ranches. To Dez it looked like every small town he’d ever driven through or, when he was younger, horsed around in with his buddies. They crossed the road, hustled through a yard, the knee-high grass swishing against their legs, then ducked close to the first house they encountered, a stately white-siding-and-black-shutter affair where someone smalltown-famous probably once lived, an elementary school principal or the owner of a used car dealership. As they passed, Dez made sure not to look too closely. He learned long ago that details could humanize a house and remind him of both the world that was forever lost and the lives that had been taken. A swing set, a skateboard. Even something as innocuous as a muddy mitten or a candy wrapper had, for the first year after the world unraveled, snowed him under a blizzard of despair. It reminded him of Will, his little boy, who perished in the first massive wave of deaths.

Perished without Dez there to protect him.


He shook his head. Best to avoid dwelling on it. At least, as much as his traitorous mind would allow.

They crept past the first house, then hastened across a short expanse of yard. Moving this way was slower, but it was a hell of a lot more prudent than strutting around in the open the way people did in postapocalyptic movies. What those films missed was that it only took one. One glimpse from a cannibal. One noise detected by a vampire. One sniff from the Children, a race of subterranean creatures ten feet tall that Dez had never encountered but whose ferocity was legendary….

One mistake was enough. No matter how hardscrabble this existence might be, Dez had no desire to die. He glanced at Iris, a knife gripped at her hip. He studied the firm line of her jaw, her comprehensive blue-eyed gaze, and was damned glad to be by her side. They advanced to the next house. According to Levi’s diagram, there were four residential blocks before they reached the diminutive business district.

“Hey,” Iris said, and when Dez looked up he realized he’d been drifting. The look on her face was enough to center him.

“Sorry,” he muttered.

“Traveling with you is like walking my dog, Harry. The slightest thing, a butterfly, a bird, even a dandelion spore, and he’d be mesmerized by it.”

“I bet he was a good-looking dog though.”

“Golden Lab,” she said. “Much handsomer than you.”

Dez hesitated. “Did he…um—”

“Died of old age six months before the bombs flew.” “Good,” he said.

“Pay attention.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She gave him a smirk, then hauled ass across the street.

As they moved deeper and deeper into the tiny hamlet, a restive feeling grew in Dez, and not just because it was so damnably quiet. He’d heard that vampires seldom left their victims out in the open. They didn’t hassle with burial, but they did take the time to drag the bodies into ditches or hide the remains in forests. The reason for this had nothing to do with fastidiousness. According to Levi, who’d spent more time on the borders of Blood Country than any of them, it was because vampires had no desire to advertise their whereabouts. They wanted travelers to venture near their enclaves. Dez supposed when you were an alpha species, your reputation was enough to frighten off most visitors. No need to display a field of desiccated corpses to discourage them.

They progressed through more overgrown yards, the thistles and pokeweed waist-high in several places. The toe of Dez’s boot knocked something aside, and when he glanced down and discovered the object shrouded in a clutch of crabgrass, his chest tightened. It was a splintery wooden Thomas the Tank Engine toy, its blue paint all but flaked away. Dez’s son had loved to play with those trains, the two of them spending hours in the basement fitting the wooden tracks together and concocting stories about late deliveries and petty squabbles. God, what he wouldn’t give to play with Will one more time….

“Dez?” Iris said.

He looked up at her, expecting to find judgment in her gaze, but there was none.

Softly, she said, “Let’s keep moving.”

He snatched up the tank engine and followed her.

With Iris leading the way, they reached the business district. What there was of it. The first snatch of storefronts consisted of a pizza place, aptly named Buck Creek Pizza King; a real estate company; and an establishment that simply called itself The Rock Shop. Whether they specialized in ordinary rocks, rare gems, or were a money-laundering front for the mob, he didn’t know.

“See anything?” Iris asked from the side of her mouth.

“The Rock Shop looks intriguing.”

“Probably a guitar store.”

He hadn’t considered that. Maybe the new world was turning him into a literalist.

“The real estate agent,” she said, “they’ve got a recessed door.

Like, really recessed.”

He peered across the street and realized it was as she’d said. With the sun gliding west and not particularly brilliant to begin with, there was plenty of gloom there to conceal them. He started forward, but she threw out an arm to bar his way. She nodded ahead, and following her gaze, he detected nothing but a barren street. They remained that way, hunkered down in the bushes of a sea-blue saltbox house that looked like it’d been falling into disrepair well before the Four Winds. Dez shook his head at the ill-fitting name someone had given to the apocalyptic event. He supposed the virus contained in the bombs had been spread by the wind, but still. Four Winds was too poetic, too gentle for the madness and carnage the scientists had unleashed.

Iris relaxed a little. “Thought I saw a shadow up there in the window. Maybe just my imagination.” “Ready?” he asked.

They sprinted across the road and soon they were pressed against the windowless real estate office door.

“You’re sort of fast,” she said.

“You didn’t know that yet? After seeing me in action at the

Four Winds?”

“You look faster with clothes on.”

“Ah.” He’d forgotten that, with the exception of his tighty-whities, he’d been naked during their cataclysmic battle with Bill Keaton and his followers at the Four Winds Bar. The one that concluded with the place a smoldering ruin and God knew how many people dead.

“Where to next, Captain?” he asked.

“Captain,” she repeated thoughtfully. “I like that. One block over, the recessed door at a diagonal.” “China Moon?” he read.

“Doubt the buffet is open.”

He lowered his voice dramatically. “Unless it’s a human buffet.”

She looked at him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Sleep deprivation?”

“You tossed and turned all night.”

Because you talk in your sleep, he thought but didn’t say. And because I can’t stop thinking about kissing you.

“Sure you wanna cross the road?” he asked. “We could just—” “The restaurant—” she pointed, “—is across from the pharmacy. From there we can see the storefront and make sure there’s nothing leering out at us.”

“Nice verb.”

“Traveling with an English teacher, I figure I better exercise vivid word choice.”

Former English teacher,” he said. “Nowadays, I feel lucky to string together a pair of coherent sentences.”

She nodded. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but….”

“Smart-ass,” he said, and they set off, Dez acutely aware of how vulnerable they were, how easy it would be not only to see them, but to surround them.

If the vampires came out before dark. Unfortunately, he’d seen it happen.

Could you maybe not think of that now? he wondered. Picturing a gory vivisection wasn’t going to scoot them across the road any faster, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to help Michael.

Oh yeah, he thought. Michael.

Finally, they ducked under the green canopy of China Moon and took a knee as close to the glass front door as they could.

BILL’S DRUG STORE, the yellow sign across the street said, though the B had been shattered, so that the pharmacy now read ILL’S.

She gave him a look. “Go ahead.”

“Too easy,” he said. “My jokes are more sophisticated and work on multiple levels.”

She smiled wanly and returned her gaze to the store’s façade.

The windows were intact, which could either mean the place hadn’t been pillaged or it had been converted into a stronghold. But with so many windows….

“Levi claims the front door’s unlocked?” he asked.

She nodded. “He went in there once, near the beginning.”

Dez nodded, the story coming back to him. Levi’s sister had been an asthmatic, so when her inhaler ran out, Levi had been dispatched to find a replacement. Buck Creek was the fourth small town to which he’d ventured, and it was here he’d found a cache of inhalers. Feeling guilty, he’d only taken half of them, but when he returned home it hadn’t mattered because his family had been murdered by cannibals. Dez hadn’t had the heart to ask if they’d also been eaten, and he supposed it didn’t matter. The point was, Bill’s Drug Store had been a viable source of medicine. But that was more than twenty months ago. To believe it hadn’t been raided since was naive.

“Three-story building,” Iris said, “so there might be apartments above it.” What remained unacknowledged was what might dwell in those apartments. Dez was grateful for the omission. “Guess we better go,” she said. “I don’t think we’re being— Holy shit.” She spun and stumbled backward, and when Dez whirled toward the glass door of China Moon, his crossbow was already out. He was a hair’s breadth from firing a bolt through the glass when he realized what he was looking at.

A cardboard cutout of Han Solo, his blaster drawn, his intense gaze fixed directly on Dez and Iris.

“Fuckers,” she said, hand on chest.

“We don’t know it was the vampires,” he said, lowering the crossbow. “Could’ve been anyone.”

“I mean whoever did it,” she snapped. “And why are you defending the vampires?” “Sorry.”

Fuck,” she said.

“Let’s head over there,” he said. Iris nodded, heaved a breath, and then they were rushing toward the pharmacy entrance, no sign of life around them, nothing except the increasingly brooding November afternoon. They reached the door and Dez muttered, “I’ll cover you,” and as Iris grasped the handle, Dez trained the crossbow over her shoulder.

She yanked the door open and slipped inside. Dez strafed the dimness with the crosshairs of the bow. As the door wheezed shut behind them, Dez became aware of a cloying medley of smells. There was the astringent tang of medicine he associated with pharmacies, but it was buried under less-pleasant odors. Rancid meat. Yeasty armpits. Animal spoor – were there rats in here? – and something worse. Something he associated with a hog farm at which he and a buddy had worked one summer. His buddy’s dad, who owned the farm, wouldn’t allow them near the slaughterhouse. But there was an old well in back. One into which something once fell…the stench growing more noxious each day…until they finally peered down into it with a flashlight to see what was causing the repulsive odor and stared straight into the maggot-infested eyes of an enormous bloated possum.

He fancied he could smell that possum now as he whispered, “Can you see?”

Iris didn’t answer. When she advanced past the registers toward an aisle of greeting cards, he added, “Darker than a woodchuck’s asshole in here.”

She brought a forefinger to her lips, so he shut up, but if he couldn’t see anything he certainly couldn’t shoot anything. Iris, evidently, was in favor of conserving their flashlights. For what he had no idea.

They progressed down the row, magazines on their left, greeting cards on their right. The scavenger in him wondered why Iris would’ve chosen the least utilitarian aisle through which to venture, but as they continued he realized that the days of lucking upon soup cans or boxes of ramen noodles were long past, that the only tactical move was to make their way around the store’s perimeter, keeping any potential threat on one side of them.

Good thing Iris had taken the lead.

They continued on, and as they did, Dez noticed a bizarre thing. The end of the world had been even messier than movies had depicted. Just about every store he’d encountered in the past two years had looked like bombs had been detonated in them. Shredded paper everywhere, blood splattered on the walls, in many cases body parts strewn about. But not here. Here the magazines lay neatly in their displays and even the greeting card envelopes, which in the old world had been frequently untidy, were symmetrically aligned with their cards. Iris glanced back at him, in her face the same disquiet worming its way through his guts. They moved toward the end of the aisle, the store growing duskier.

As they crept to the edge of a display, this one for gift bags and garish pinatas, Dez realized something else was bothering him too. In the mélange of smells burrowing up his nostrils, one was missing: dust. You entered any building these days, including the farmhouse in which they were currently hiding out, and the thick, chalky odor of dust was ubiquitous. To not smell it meant—

He heard a click, tensed, then realized Iris had switched on her flashlight. She shone it toward the wall they were approaching, where a paltry array of wine and spirits resided. They rounded the corner, and Iris aimed her beam down the long rear walkway of the store. A liquor display to his left. The section had been humble to begin with, but now there were only four bottles remaining: a pair of off-brand vodkas, a bottle of dirt-cheap wine, and a fifth of Wild Turkey. After a moment’s debate, Dez snagged the neck of the whiskey bottle and stowed it in his pack. Iris stared at him, and he offered her a crooked grin. Shaking her head, she started down the back walkway.

According to Levi, the pharmacy was inset in the rear of the store, and as they inched forward, Dez saw a yawning black opening appear. To their right were the main aisles, hair products dominating one, analgesics and sleep-aids in another; it pained him to discover the sleep-aids had been totally plundered. They passed a potato chip and soda aisle, another with mouthwashes and toothpastes. An end cap advertised FAMILY PLANNING, and Dez was unsurprised to find every box of condoms missing. The new world was a godawful place for a pregnant woman and even worse for a newborn. Pushing away the thought, he huddled closer to Iris, his finger off the trigger of the crossbow but ever ready to twitch in that direction. If a vampire struck, it would be instantaneous.

A few feet ahead, the back wall disappeared and the pharmacy began. Edging around the last few display items, he realized that there were no windows back here, no light at all save what filtered in from the front of the store. Iris crept around the corner, Dez close on her heels. She shone the light on the far wall, where they found three help windows, a waiting area, a machine that took your blood pressure, and to the far left, a single door.

“Stay ready,” she whispered.

Dez didn’t like the fact that this was an old-fashioned layout rather than the newer open-concept pharmacies. This one adhered to the style he’d encountered in his childhood, the undersized windows reminding him of the gatekeeper in The Wizard of Oz. As they approached, he feared a face would appear, only instead of a bushymustached guard informing them the Great and Powerful Oz was too busy to be bothered today, they’d encounter the alabaster leer of a vampire, its lambent eyes aglow and its fangs dripping slaver.

Fuck. Why did his imagination insist on betraying him?

Iris was almost to the door. Levi said it had been unlocked the last time he’d come, and when Iris twisted the knob and pulled, the door creaked open. She hunched her shoulders at the noise, and strangely enough, her fear reassured him. If someone as unflappable as Iris was terrified, there was no shame in him being scared shitless either. She glanced at him, then drew the door open farther – creeeaaak – and pushed through. She swept the light about the room. Dez expected a wicked face to whirl and snarl at them. But the space appeared empty.

The inner pharmacy looked as orderly as the rest of the store.

Not right, Dez thought. Something’s not right.

Whether Iris suspected that too, he didn’t know. She was already hurrying forward, her flashlight the only illumination in the stygian gloom. Dez remained right behind her, both to keep her safe and, if he was being honest, to provide himself a measure of comfort. Iris was one of the bravest people he’d ever met, and he’d found that braveness, like nervousness, could be transmitted.

“Alphabetical order?” she whispered, and it took him a moment to realize she was alluding to the drugs populating the abundant shelves in the twenty-by-thirty space. She stopped, Dez almost crashing into her, and fished a paper out of her jeans pocket. “Clindamycin,” she murmured, then moved to the left and began scanning pill bottles and boxes. “Caelyx…Capoten…Cialis…Clonazepam…dammit, it’s not here.”

“What’s the next one?” he asked. He knew it was his imagination, but the temperature seemed to have dropped. Slightly stuffy when they entered, it now felt as cool as it was outside, no more than fortyfive degrees.

“Amoxicillin,” she read.

“I’ve heard of that.”

“It’s one of the most common antibiotics,” she murmured.

“Cassidy is allergic to it.”

She crossed to the wall rack, where she honed in on the A-drugs. She riffled through the boxes, whispering their names, and at first the sound of her voice masked it, that other sound, the one he dismissed as imagination. Then Iris broke off, her posture expectant, and he heard it again. A furtive slither.

It came from above them.

Oh God.

He looked at her, and she looked at him, and he knew she was remembering what she’d said about apartments above the pharmacy.

Apartments and their inhabitants.

“Find the amoxi-whatever,” he breathed.

She painted the bottles with light and as she grasped each one, he could see how her hand trembled, how the flashlight jittered in her grip. He’d offer to hold it but knew he’d be even jumpier than she was. Besides, she knew what she was looking for, she—

The sound above them recurred, louder this time. Like more than one individual was stirring.

“Aciphex,” she whispered. “Adderall. Aldactone….” He fumbled off his pack, unzipped it.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Find the medicine,” he hissed. He reached inside, located his flashlight, clicked it on.

The floor above them creaked.

“Ambien,” she said, her voice a bit louder. “Amitriptyline….”

He swung the beam around the room. There had to be another exit, an opening to the alley….


He swung the light right and left, but everywhere there were more shelves, more boxes and pill bottles. Dammit! They’d have to exit the same way they came in, which meant they had to beat whatever was upstairs to the front door. Dez shifted his flashlight beam, which jigged wildly now, to the opposite wall. Where are the stairs? he thought. Do the apartments somehow connect to the pharmacy, or do they lead to an exterior door?

“Amoxicillin!” Iris gasped. “It’s here!”

He rushed over to her, his backpack thankfully still unzipped. “Drag it all in,” he said. “Hurry.”

Iris bulldozed three good-sized boxes off the shelf, the pills rattling mutedly as the boxes tumbled into Dez’s pack. From directly above them, the floor screaked long and loud. Dez froze, his genitals shrinking, his breath held, and stared at Iris, whose eyes were as wide as he’d ever seen them. Then the thump of footsteps pounded the ceiling, and he growled, “Go! Go!”

They surged forward, threw open the door, which cracked the outer wall, then halted in the doorway. Rushing footsteps sounded on the store’s tiled floor. Deep, chortling laughter.

Oh Jesus, Dez thought. The vampires are in here.

Boo-graphy: Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels. He is represented for Film & TV by Ryan Lewis (executive producer of Bird Box). His work has been championed by authors like Josh Malerman, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen Graham Jones, Joe R. Lansdale, and Brian Keene. His ghost story The Siren &the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novels Children of the Dark and The Dark Game were chosen by Booklist and Library Journal as Top Ten Horror Books of the Year. He also teaches high school Film Literature, Creative Writing, and English. 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.


Meghan: Welcome back, Jonathan. This has become so much of a tradition, you and me, that I can’t imagine Halloween without you. Thanks for joining us again this year. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Jonathan: Cheesy answer here, but I love taking my kids trick-or-treating. My oldest is a junior now, and my middle child is a freshman, so they do things with their friends now, but my youngest (Peach) is still all-in for trick-or treating. I love going with her!

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Jonathan: Yes. I have a deliriously overactive imagination, so I get scared pretty frequently. The things I’m most scared of involve something happening to my loved ones, but I guess most people worry about that. Some more obscure things that scare me are waking in the middle of the night and worrying someone is going to seize my hand. I’m also creeped out when I’m in the school alone (where I teach). Schools can be really eerie places.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

Jonathan: My favorite horror movie is Jaws, but the scariest? I don’t know which one wins, but there are some that genuinely freak me out: The Taking of Deborah Logan, Lake Mungo, Hell House LLC, Smile, Gondjiam: Haunted Asylum, Host, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Hereditary.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

Jonathan: You know one that really bothered me? I think it fit the movie, but it really hit me hard. In Summer of ’84, there’s a death near the end that really stunned me. I still can’t quite believe they went there, but I do think it was the right decision.

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

Jonathan: Naw. If the commercials were scary, I’d be there. The only ones I don’t watch are ones I just know I wouldn’t dig from the stuff I’ve heard. Cannibal Holocaust and A Serbian Film come to mind. I’m not against them or anything. I just don’t have any interest in them.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

Jonathan: Weeellll, I guess I’d choose one from which I could escape? One that would be a lot of fun? So that being said, maybe Slaxx or Psycho Goreman? Or Love & Monsters, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

Jonathan: If survival were the goal, I’d have to choose a pretty resourceful one, so I’d say… Ash from the Evil Dead series.

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

Jonathan: Wow, great question. I love both vampires (when they’re ferocious) and werewolves, but if I HAD to pick one, it’d be the werewolf. I just love that concept.

Meghan:What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Jonathan: My birthday is right around Halloween (the 27th), so it’s always fun to celebrate both around the same time. I get to have my family with me even more than usual!

Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

Jonathan: I love “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s just perfect.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Jonathan: Hmmm… for that one, let’s go with Ghost Story. I’ve been re-reading it for an upcoming podcast and remembering all the ways it freaked me out. Straub made something permanent there.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

Jonathan: I sleepwalked a great deal as a kid, so I woke up in some scary places. I remember waking up in a friend’s new house where they’d just moved in, and I was stuck in a pitch-black room in a maze of boxes for a good twenty minutes before I felt my way out. It felt like twenty hours.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Jonathan: The stuff with alien abductions fascinates me. I’m sure most accounts aren’t true, but what if? Also, I’m really taken with the notion of ghosts, so any haunting piques my interest.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Jonathan: I’ll go way back for this one. The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens scared the hell out of me as a little kid. My mom brought in home on album from the Delphi Public Library. It had sound effects, the creepiest music, and a really good narrator. I still get chills thinking about it.

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

Jonathan: Got to be the crossbow (after I mastered it, of course). Or a sword. I’ve watched too much Walking Dead, obviously.

Meghan: Okay, let’s have some fun. Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?

Jonathan: Werewolf. You don’t HAVE to kill to survive. I’d have my family lock me up as a precaution. Then again, if they were MY kind of werewolves (who changed because of a strong negative emotion), I might be a danger to my family. So let me think about it some more!

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?

Jonathan: It would depend on the nature of the aliens, but I’d lean toward the former because the latter seems more invincible.

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?

Jonathan: Yikes! I guess the latter if they were seasoned properly *shivers*

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?

Jonathan: Amityville. The Poltergeist held too many terrors. Although I don’t like the way the Amityville House made him turn on his family.

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?

Jonathan: Yikes again! The former. No question at all. I’m not a maggot fan.

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spiderwebs?

Jonathan: Is that code for something? I’m gonna assume no and go with the former.

Boo-graphy: Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels. He is represented for Film & TV by Ryan Lewis (executive producer of Bird Box). His work has been championed by authors like Josh Malerman, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen Graham Jones, Joe R. Lansdale, and Brian Keene. His ghost story The Siren &the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novels Children of the Dark and The Dark Game were chosen by Booklist and Library Journal as Top Ten Horror Books of the Year. He also teaches high school Film Literature, Creative Writing, and English. 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.

The Raven 2: Blood Country
Three years ago the world ended when a group of rogue scientists unleashed a virus that awakened long-dormant strands of human DNA. They awakened the bestial side of humankind: werewolves, satyrs, and all manner of bloodthirsty creatures. Within months, nearly every man, woman, or child was transformed into a monster…or slaughtered by one.

A rare survivor without special powers, Dez McClane has been fighting for his life since mankind fell, including a tense barfight that ended in a cataclysmic inferno. Dez would never have survived the battle without Iris, a woman he’s falling for but can never be with because of the monster inside her. Now Dez’s ex-girlfriend and Iris’s young daughter have been taken hostage by an even greater evil, the dominant species in this hellish new world:


The bloodthirsty creatures have transformed a four-story school building into their fortress, and they’re holding Dez’s ex-girlfriend and Iris’s young daughter captive. To save them, Dez and his friends must risk everything. They must infiltrate the vampires’ stronghold and face unspeakable terrors.

Because death awaits them in the fortress. Or something far worse.

GUEST INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons Interviews ME

It’s not often that I get sent a handful of questions, but each time, it is super exciting to take part. This year, along with an author interview and guest post (a true story), Jeff decided that he wanted to send over a set of questions for ME. And what a great set of questions it was. So, without further ado…

Jeff: What inspired you to create your blog?

Me: I wanted a place that was mine where I could talk books. At the beginning of The Gal in the Blue Mask, which was the blog before Meghan’s House of Books, Goodreads was a rather dramatic place to hang out. Authors and bloggers/reviewers were bickering and both sides were being rather unpleasant to the other, doing things I considered very wrong. I wanted a safe place, a happy place, where I made the rules and everyone was welcome.

In 2019, after a couple of years of just feeling lost when it came to blogging, I decided to rebrand myself as Meghan’s House of Books. It wasn’t that I didn’t love The Gal anymore – I do, and it still exists, for always – but I just felt like I had grown out of it. And so the front doors of “my house” were opened…

Jeff: How do you get your blog noticed? Marketing, blog-to-blog outreach, word of mouth?

Meghan: To be honest, it’s mostly word of mouth. I don’t really fit in with the other bloggers, or so it seems. I’ve tried to make friends with fellow book bloggers, even ones that like the same kinds of books I do, and I’ve done all the stuff they say to do – comment, like, follow – but I’ve never really clicked with most of them. Never really been given the chance. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

Jeff: What are some interesting things you’ve learned from talking with authors?


  • They’re all just normal people.
  • They don’t always know what they are doing.
  • The anxiety is real with them as well. (They don’t often see themselves as we do, and question whether they are any good at all.)

Jeff: How do you respond to people who say horror is for disturbed minds?

Meghan: I ask them if they’ve actually read a book in the genre and often suggest a few that they should read because, to me, horror is a way to handle the horrific of the world, a way for us to better understand the “disturbed minds” out there. Not all horror is gore for gore’s sake, which I know turns a lot of people off, or extreme. A lot of horror is psychological or things that can actually happen. Those things say with you long after you close the cover of the book or the credits finish rolling.

Jeff: Why do some people dislike Halloween? Are they afraid of something?

Meghan: There’s a reason that one of my questions in this year’s interview was why Halloween was their favorite (or second favorite) holiday. It’s one of my top two and I wanted to see if people felt the same way about it as I do. To me, Halloween is a lifestyle, and there are horror things up in my home office year round. I’m a spooky girl all year, until November 1st when I become all Christmas all day, and around January 10th I go right back to being a spooky girl. I think people dislike Halloween because they were brought up being told to not like it or that it is evil or they just don’t understand it. Halloween is a time when you get to be a little different, when you get to dress up and pretend you are not the same boring person you are every other day, when you get to enjoy being scared and the things that go bump in the night. “Are they afraid of something?” That’s a great question. Maybe they are afraid of the things that COULD be in the dark. Or maybe they’re just afraid of being judged for liking something that usually the “nerds” are the ones enjoying or because they think it’s kids’ stuff. Maybe they’re afraid to let go and enjoy themselves. And, as I said above, maybe they just don’t understand it.

Jeff: What if Halloween represented a dark side of life that we’ve repressed over the years? What do you think would be scary if we fell back into believing our older superstitions?

Meghan: I’ve never really found Halloween or superstitions scary. Old wives’ tales are often something that has worked over time and handed down through generations (i.e. chicken soup curing a cold). Some are based on religious beliefs (i.e. Friday the 13th and not walking under a ladder). Some were used to scare children into behaving themselves, and they had to have worked or they wouldn’t have stuck.

I grew up in a very religious household, and am still religious. Sometimes I think that we SHOULD fall back into believing our old superstitions. Let’s take Krampus for an example. Kids used to behave because they were truly afraid of being on that bad list. They believed (and maybe it was based on a true story at some point in time) that Santa would send Krampus to get them if they misbehaved. And there are lots of Christmas stories like that – Gryla, the mother of the Yule Lads, who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children; Pere Fouettard, who is St Nicholas’ servant, with the sole job of dispensing punishment to bad children on St Nicholas Day; Perchta, who rewards and punishes during the 12 days of Christmas, best known for ripping out the internal organs and replacing them with trash; and, of course, the Yule Cat, who can apparently smell laziness on a child, who are then sacrificed to him.

Jeff: What do you think Halloween will be like 100 years from now?

Meghan: Less fun? Everything is so politically charged these days, and people are so offended/triggered that the fun is being drained from things like Halloween. We’re told that we shouldn’t like things because of this or reason or this reason. Those of us who have heard this our whole lives are fighting back, but in 100 years, who will be around to defend the weird and wonderful that we love all year round?

Jeff: What can writers do to improve their stories?

Meghan: Since I am an editor, one with over 20 years experience that includes working for two of the big five, I’m going to say that the best way they can improve their stories is to hire a well-read editor and listen to what they have to say. Now I know there are some people that think they don’t need an editor, that say it is an expense they can ignore, especially if they are a self published author, but a good editor is really worth their weight in gold.

I’ve heard horror stories – trust me – which is why I say to talk to the person before you decide to hire them. Let them tell you what they can do for you, let them tell you about their education, their training, and what they have edited so far. (You can even ask to talk to one or two of the authors that they have worked with.) Get to know the person and decide if the two of you would make a good team or not – and I say team because that is basically what the two of you will be, especially if you are writing a trilogy or series, as you’ll want to have the same eyes looking at it each time to ensure consistency and continuity.

I will tell you that a good editor WILL discuss things with you, WILL explain why changes are necessary. YOU will learn from them and THEY will learn from you. It will be a true partnership, but the story will ALWAYS be yours. They will help to make your story better all while retaining your voice. They will never change things (other than misspellings and punctuation) without talking to you first. And they will be available to talk to you at least once during the project. You have to be able to trust them because, in essence, you are trusting them with your baby, so don’t ignore those little things that make you question.

If you simply cannot afford an editor, which is understandable, you should (at the very least) get a good BETA reader. (Note: Some editors do provide a BETA read for a cheaper price, where they will give you an honest opinion of the story in front of them and point out any major flaws with the story.) It doesn’t necessarily have to be an editor, but it should be a well-read person who you can trust to be completely honest with you and invested in your success. Honesty is the only way you are going to learn and your story is going to get better. (And I suggest that you sit down with their notes with an open mind because they really are just trying to help you.)

[Here’s my chance to plug me for a change: Any author that mentions this interview gets 20% off their first edit project with MeghanH Editing.]

Jeff: What are some of the best story hooks you’ve ever read?

Meghan: I am drawn to horror that is set during either Halloween or Christmas, and I absolutely love stories where the setting is a carnival/circus or something haunted (homes, asylums, hospitals). (There should be more carnival/circus horror, people!!) At the same time, I am often truly put off if there is a vampire, werewolf, or zombie involved, which saddens me, especially with vampires and werewolves, because those were the things I loved as a kid. They have just become so… boring… for me, but there are times I give those a try, hoping for something different, hoping for something to grab my attention and pull me in like they did when I was younger.

You’re looking for specifics here, though, so let me pull out a few that have stayed on my favorites list over time.

I love when a stranger comes back to get revenge years later, causing the main character to suffer in the same way that they once tormented the stranger. Even better if there’s been enough time between the two events for the main character to have forgotten or almost forgotten what had happened. A good example of this would be Desolation by Kristopher Rufty. Even better because his story is told from both sides.

I also love watching the main character slowly go insane. That’s a fear I think a lot of people have in life, that they will slowly lose their mind, and it’s interesting to see when done well – and it sicks with you. A good example of this is Six Dead Spots by Gregor Xane.

I know I said that I am bored with werewolves, but maybe it’s because I’m looking for something different. A few years ago I read one by Jonathan Janz (Wolf Land) where the victims became werewolves themselves.

I find stalker stories interesting. I read one not too long ago where a man puts a spell on the woman he loves, and after she loses her memory, pretends to be her lover. As the story goes on, she slowly starts finding out more and more about the man and what he would do to keep the woman of his dreams while she also starts… changing. I was hooked. (The book in question was Rose by Rami Ungar.)

I’ll tell you right now – if you put Krampus or any of his ilk in a story, you’ll have me from page one. I was just “surprised” by a short story in The Best of Indie Horror: Christmas Edition (published by KJK Publishing, edited by Kevin J Kennedy) – I can’t tell you which one because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, but I would definitely suggest picking that anthology up (I’ll be reviewing it shortly).

Along the same path, and even though it’s not necessarily horror – well… maybe… possibly… – if you put any holiday character into a book and give them a backstory not expected (for example, the Claus series by Tony Bertauski), you’ll have a hard time not catching my attention.

I guess, you could say, that it’s the psychological horror that really gets me – the things that could actually happen to someone, taken to that next level, the things that stay with you long after you have finished reading the story, that are the hooks I like best.

Jeff: What’s more important to you – characters or plot?

Meghan: Both? You sort of need both to make a gripping story, but I guess if I HAVE to chose one or the other, I’ll say that characters are the most important. Without characters, the plot won’t matter at all. And if the characters we are supposed to love are dreadful, then we really won’t care what happens to them, no matter how good the plot is.

Jeff: What got you interested in horror?

Meghan: My father. He was always reading or watching something interesting. Usually something I wasn’t supposed to be reading or watching. He told me one time that horror was a good scary because I can be scared but not hurt by the things that happen in books and movies.

My first “horror” movie was Jaws. I’ve told this story a billion times, but what’s one more time? We were at my mom and dad’s best friend’s house. The husband and the oldest son (who I had a crush on at a very young age) were watching the movie, and though my mother told me that I would probably not like it, I decided to watch it with them anyway. I honestly can’t tell you much about the movie, nothing beyond the shark and how scared I was, and I have never attempted the movie again. It didn’t help that the same oldest son told me that the light in the deep end of the pool was Jaw’s eyeball. Seriously. His EYEBALL. It took me a good year before I would set foot inot that pool again. One day, there was some work being done on the pool and my dad pointed at the hole and said, “See? It can’t be Jaw’s eyeball. There’s no body.” Now, up until that point, and quite a few more points over the years, I thought my dad was the smartest man on the planet. At that moment, though, I seriously questioned how smart he was. It could still be Jaw’s eyeball without his body there. And sometimes, in the dark, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I see that big eyeball winking at me…

Jeff: What stories can be written in horror that can’t be expressed in other genres?

Meghan: That’s a very good question. I honestly believe that only horror can really go into the depth of someone’s soul, only horror can really explore our true fears. Horror is that one step further, that one step that other genres are afraid to take, with characters that are not afraid to take themselves to that next level, that aren’t afraid to let themselves be depraved or evil, and on the other side, aren’t afraid to feel that depravity and that evil to cone out fine, but often changed, on the other side. I think that all stories in other genres have the potential of being horror, but only horror allows that exploration, only horror creates the opportunity feel that fear (in safety), and really, it’s only horror that gets away with all of the above because it is expected and accepted.

If you think about it, a good romance can lead to a horrific murder spree if we find out that the beautiful woman he fell in love with doesn’t even know he exists. A good science fiction can become horrific if, rather than the people on the spaceship becoming friends with the new alien life they have just encountered, they choose to repeat atrocities from the past and wipe those beings and their planet from space. The cozy mystery can lead to a horrific story if the witty chef who solves crimes in her spare time ends up being the murderer and takes her killing fetish to the extreme, all while setting innocent people up for the murders that she is committing. A fantasy needs to just up it’s Brothers Grimm-anti to cross the line into horror.

Jeff: The lines between horror and other genres often become blurred. What do you think real horror is?

Meghan: This is the one question that I truly struggled to answer, but knowing how annoyed I get when someone doesn’t answer all of the questions in an interview I worked hard to put together, there was no way I was going to do that to you.

Horror is very hard to define because of those blurred lines and each person you ask is going to have a different answer as horror means something different to each individual. Why? Because we all fear different things.

I personally think real horror challenges our belief of what is good and what is evil. Therefore, I think the horror genre is the epitome of that uncertainty. And many of its themes are things that are considered socially unacceptable. As I’ve said elsewhere in this interview, horror gives us a chance to figure things out, to analyze, to really look in-depth at the things that scare us and see it in a different light, to see the wizard behind the curtain.

Jeff: Considering the awful truth of what can happen in this world, how far do you think a horror writer can go to describe the truth before it’s considered unacceptable?

Meghan: I think that as long as it is in some way believable, that if some part of it *could* happen, there will always be someone (or a group of someones) who will accept it no matter how far the author takes it. I think there should be horror that fits in with the horrors of the world because those stories will help us to better understand it. Authors just need to keep in mind that not everyone sees the same horror in things, not everyone has the same story. Current things, full of all kinds of emotion, where the true facts are not always known, are harder for people to stomach than, say, something that happened in the past. Your “horror” may not be my “horror.” We saw that when we look back at WWII. People who went through the events, who were in countries where the events took place, understood the atrocities on a completely different level than those who did not. The war itself was hard on everyone, and a lot of people lost their lives, but it wasn’t until after the war ended – years after the war ended – that the true evil and depravity was shown to life. It wasn’t something that you saw on the news, it wasn’t something that was happening to your neighbor or your family (at least for a lot of people), and even when it was, people did know know what was *really* happening at the other end of a train. People were conditioned to believe that what they were doing was right, and some truly believed that one people were lower than another. Some people did things because they had no choice, or they had to make the decision to do what they had in order to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Other people believe it could not have possibly happened because how could we do something like that to our fellow man?

Jeff: What do you think most future horror stories will evolve into? More towards “I’m all alone” or a cosmic-level dread?

Meghan: We’ve found out, most of us, during this global pandemic, that being “all alone” is actually quite nice and easily sustainable. We’ve found out, most of us, that we don’t need other people physically in our lives, and with the options to have things, including groceries and food, delivered to your home, there’s a good few of us that would love living like that the rest of our lives, only having to venture out if we need to. We all have friends that live all over the world, friends we can talk to every day, friends we can see every day. Hell, we’ve even had holidays across the world while sitting in each other’s living rooms. Being “all alone” just isn’t scary anymore.

I think the “new scary” is definitely cosmic horror. Now we’re venturing into things that before we THOUGHT could NEVER happen. (But then we also thought that a global pandemic could never happen. Also: locusts in Africa, devastating fires in both Australia and California, murder hornets, ebola. So maybe a giant octopus creature *could* come from the ocean depths. I mean, it *could*… right?) Cosmic horror makes readers uncomfortable (in a good way), plunges common fears and anxieties into the minds o readers, and focuses on the mysterious and the unfathomable, rather than violence and bloodshed. It makes us realize that, in the great scheme of things, we’re really not very important after all. Maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.

In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, Jeff Parsons is published in The Horror Zine, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, SNM Horror Magazine, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

The Captivating Flames of Madness
This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever.

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…


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?

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.

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.


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.