In a few short years, Jonathan Janz has exploded onto the horror scene and, with his latest lycanthropic masterpiece, he keeps getting better and better. I’ve had the pleasure of having some great discussions with him on Goodreads, which he’s a very active and accessible member, and I’m very excited to be able to interview him here. It is my extreme pleasure to give you Jonathan Janz.
Into The Macabre: Ok, let’s get the vitals out of the way –
Name: Jonathan Janz
Birthplace: Colorado Springs
City of Residence: West Lafayette, IN
Marital Status: Married Blissfully
Pets: One, a dog named Weasley (after the Harry Potter family)
Into The Macabre: When did you first start writing?
Jonathan Janz: I didn’t seriously begin writing until about seven years ago. I didn’t start writing things that people wanted to publish until about four years ago.
Into The Macabre: How did the pen name Jonathan Janz come about?
Jonathan Janz: My real first name is Jonathan (I go by my middle name in my daily life), and my mother’s maiden name is Janz. It’s a way to honor my grandparents, who are two of the most amazing people I know.
Into The Macabre: What drew you to horror? What/Who were your inspirations?
Jonathan Janz: Stephen King. He made of me a reader and a writer. After that it was Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, and Ray Bradbury. Those writers led to a host of others, but those were the first to stir my imagination after King. Oh, and the book GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. That anthology changed me.
Into The Macabre: Hard to beat that list! Describe the process it took for you to become published.
Jonathan Janz: I wrote, edited, got rejected, wrote some more, edited some more, got rejected some more. Then I went through that process about seven hundred times before I finally got something accepted. And you know what? It all made me a better writer. I didn’t get published right away because I didn’t deserve to be. Whatever I’ve gotten has been through much effort and perseverance, and I like it that way.
Into The Macabre: I definitely see a progression and maturation with each new release. If you could turn back the hands of time and go back, what about the publishing process would you do differently?
Jonathan Janz: I’d worry less about query letters, first of all. I’d also spend less time Twitter-stalking agents and thinking about things beyond my control. I’d also pay far less attention to writers, readers, agents, and editors who fixate on what not to do and worry far more about honing my craft through careful and concentrated study, which is what I do now. Yes matters far more than no.
Into The Macabre: Some writers say that its not about what you know and more about who you know. Would you agree or disagree with that statement? Who helped you along the way and what did they do?
Jonathan Janz: I’d disagree with the notion that it’s about who you know. I didn’t know a soul when I started and didn’t really meet anyone “in the business” until maybe two years ago. By that time I’d already had about four books published. Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe it doesn’t matter who you know if the writing isn’t good enough. If the writing is good, people will want to acquire it, represent it, or read it.
Having said that, there have been many people who have helped me along the way, and while I could talk about a great many individuals here, I’ll mention two: Don D’Auria and Brian Keene. Don was the guy who was editing books by Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, Brian Keene and many others back in the 2000s, when I was starting to get more serious about starting a writing career. Like many writers, I wanted to be edited by Don. When he accepted THE SORROWS, it was a life-changing moment for me. Since then, he’s edited most of my books, and he’s also become a dear friend.
The other person I mentioned above was Brian Keene. This is a very unique relationship because I was a fan of his work before I became his friend, and I remain a fan now. I know an outsider might look at the way I talk about him and say, “Well you’re just trying to ingratiate yourself with an established writer,” but honestly, I don’t care about that sort of nonsense. I love Brian’s writing and am not afraid to talk about that. I’m also now proud to call him a friend, and that’s something that transcends writing. He has been incredibly good to me, from offering advice to simply being someone I can talk to. My wife and kids think the world of him, and frankly, I do too. I know few writers of his stature who are as genuinely giving and caring as Brian. And I’m thankful to be his friend.
Into The Macabre: It still amazes me how many times I keep hearing those names pop up when I talk to authors about who helped them, especially Brian Keene and Don D’Auria. What would you say are the biggest challenges you face today as a writer?
Jonathan Janz: I’d say it’s trying to get all my ideas down on paper. I am able to write at least two novels a year, but I come up with five or six novel ideas per year (at minimum), which means the majority of my projects get bumped out of the way or put off longer than I want them to be.
Into The Macabre: What role has social media played in your successes?
Jonathan Janz: I think it has helped a great deal, though honestly, that’s another area in which I struggle. With my family, my teaching, my writing, and my various other endeavors, I have very little time to spend on social media. Really, that side of a writer’s career could be a full-time job too. But sometimes that gets delayed because of things that matter more.
Having said all that, I do feel like social media has played a major role in the growth of my career. I’ve met many of my favorite fans and reviewers online, and those interactions have led to many friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.
Into The Macabre: My first exposure to your work was through recommendations on Goodreads. What would you say is your level of interaction through fans on GR and other sites?
Jonathan Janz: I love Goodreads, and I know you do too. It’s an amazing way to meet other readers, and I sometimes meet fans that way too. However, I think the reason it has been so effective for me is that I approach Goodreads as a reader first and foremost, and I think the people there tend to appreciate that. So many writers today attempt to elbow their way to the table, and for me, that’s a major turnoff. I don’t want to look like the attention-seeking kid in class who raises his hand and hops up and down in his seat for the teacher’s attention. If people like my writing, they’ll read more of it. I’m content with a more gradual growth because I know I’m not giving anyone the hard sell.
Into The Macabre: Have you had any “Misery/Annie Wilkes” moments where a fan was creeping you out to the point where you were looking over your shoulder?
Jonathan Janz: I’ve had a couple instances where people have asked me for money because a) they’ve read my work, and b) they figure I’m a rich writer with limitless funds. That makes me feel a bit weird because I’m not Daddy Warbucks, and I don’t make a practice of giving money to strangers. I’d rather give whatever money I have to my wife and children.
Into The Macbre: All I can say is Wow! The balls on some people! Now, I have noticed that the world of horror fiction appears to be a big fraternity where many of the authors hang out at conventions and keep in touch with each other. Have you found this to be true and have you had any moments where you went from being Jonathan Janz the author to being Craig the wide eyed fan?
Jonathan Janz: You said that really well, and yes, there have been several moments like that. One of the most recent was when I was at Scares That Care 2 and within a two-hour span got to have conversations with both Edward Lee and F. Paul Wilson.
Paul talked to me about his editing process, and though I absorbed every moment of it, it was sort of an out-of-body experience. I stood there listening and nodding and thinking, F. Paul Wilson is telling you how he shapes his work. This is freaking incredible! The conversation with Lee (that sounds like a name drop, but he really does prefer to be called Lee) veered toward M.R. James, which was beyond enjoyable for me. I’ve loved the fiction of M.R. James for years, and it turns out that Lee is a massive fan of the writer as well. We talked and talked about different James stories and why we loved them so much. Again, it was kind of out-of-body and thoroughly enjoyable, and I somehow managed not to pass out or otherwise embarrass myself.
Into The Macabre: You’re a better man than me. I would’ve been stumbling and bumbling through that whole day sounding like an idiot!
I’ve seen a progression in the maturity of your writing with each subsequent novel. Which one of your stories are you most proud of?
Jonathan Janz: Thanks, Ken! I really appreciate that. Well, I’ll first utter that stock line, “I love all my stories,” because it’s true. However, if I had to choose favorites…I’d say THE NIGHTMARE GIRL, SAVAGE SPECIES, DUST DEVILS, WOLF LAND, EXORCIST ROAD, and my two upcoming novels. I know I just named about half my works, but at least I sort of differentiated.
Into The Macabre: I’ve found that many writers have a routine that they like to follow when writing. Give me a breakdown of your day and how you create the next Janz masterpiece.
Jonathan Janz: On a normal Saturday, I’ll play with the kids all morning and then scurry off to my writing room at about 1:30. I’ll prime my mental engine for about ten or fifteen minutes, and then I’ll write hard until about 4:45. In that time, I’ll usually get three thousand words or more written. During the summers, I can sometimes reach four thousand. Often, I’ll edit at night after the family has gone to bed and before I begin to read myself to sleep.
Into The Macabre: My two favorite stories of yours, so far, have been The Clearing of Travis Coble and Exorcist Road. Can you describe how those stories came about?
Jonathan Janz: Ah, very cool! “Travis Coble” was inspired by three things, really. One was the Lizzie Borden case. I found that fascinating. Here was a woman who was never convicted who is still today viewed as a macabre figure. That’s really interesting to me. So was the word “clearing.” I liked how that could be interpreted a number of ways. Like Bradbury, I’m stimulated by different words and will often create a story around a single word. The third inspiration was the time I spent in grad school and the pressures I saw weighing upon my professors. The whole publish-or-perish notion is pretty unhealthy, if you ask me, but that’s the system in most colleges. I wondered what kind of a toll that would take on a character, and that led to the protagonist of “The Clearing of Travis Coble.”
EXORCIST ROAD came to me one night after getting off the phone with my agent. It was one of those cosmic blast things where it all comes to you in a moment. Within fifteen minutes, I had the basic plot figured out, then over the next two weeks, the story just wrote itself. I’m extremely proud of that story and can’t wait for folks to read EXORCIST FALLS, the sequel that’ll be coming sometime in 2016.
Into The Macabre: I soooo can’t wait!
Now, for the aspiring authors out there, I see the minuscule amounts that they charge to download a story on Amazon and I have to wonder – Can you really make a living being an author?
Jonathan Janz: One can make a living, but it all depends on a number of factors. How much do you need to be comfortable? Also, how important is health care to you? For me, because of my family, I would need to make a lot more money to be able to write full time. As a teacher, I get paid better than most would assume, and we have decent health care. I can see going full time with writing at some point in the future, but I would have to make a good deal more than I do now as a writer to justify that decision.
Into The Macabre: Stephen King has the spooky house in Bangor surrounded by the wrought iron fence with gargoyles on it. Do you have anything crazy at your house that makes your neighbors clutch their children when they see you coming?
Jonathan Janz: Just my leering visage. Actually, the only horrors are the pottery projects my kids make for me because they know I love creepy things. My eight-year-old daughter made a skull-shaped mug of which I’m particularly fond.
Into The Macabre: What are you reading these days?
Jonathan Janz: Right now I’m reading Graham Masterton’s THE MANITOU, which is really entertaining. After that, I’ll probably read a crime novel by Ed McBain, whose stuff is always great.
Into The Macabre: Quick! Name your top 5 horror movies.
Jonathan Janz: Man, that’s tough. I’ll just name the first five that come to mind:
THE EXORCIST (the book and movie terrified me), DOG SOLDIERS (my favorite werewolf movie), RAVENOUS (a criminally-underrated masterpiece), JAWS (a perfect movie, in my opinion), and the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (for visceral terror).
Into The Macabre: You’ve just recently released Wolf Land. How did that story come about? How’s the response been?
Jonathan Janz: Better and stronger than any novel I’ve written so far. And that’s exciting, because THE NIGHTMARE GIRL (my first 2015 release) was received better than anything that preceded that. I guess that means that things are trending in the right direction. Hopefully, folks will respond just as positively to my first 2016 release (CHILDREN OF THE DARK).
Into The Macabre: I can’t wait that you have a sequel coming for Exorcist Road! What are you working on now and what else can we expect to be coming down the pike in 2016 and beyond?
Jonathan Janz: As I mentioned above, CHILDREN OF THE DARK is coming soon from Sinister Grin Press (in March). That one is a standalone book, though it’s also a prequel of sorts to SAVAGE SPECIES, which is one of my most popular titles. After that one, as you mentioned, there will be EXORCIST FALLS, which is a full-length novel and about twice as long as EXORCIST ROAD. The new story is just as dark and twisty as the first story, and I can’t wait for folks to check it out. In addition to those books, I’ll be releasing an updated version of WITCHING HOUR THEATRE, which was my first story to get published. It’s a novella that folks will really enjoy, and I’m pumped about its re-release because most of my fans haven’t read it yet. After all those projects, I’ve got several more in the works. 2016 will be a wonderful year!
Into The Macabre: Indeed. I know I speak for many when I say that I look forward to it.
I really appreciate you letting me grill you for my blog and look forward to chatting with you in the future. Take care, my friend.
Jonathan Janz: Thanks for these excellent questions, Ken. I had a lot of fun answering them!