I was lucky enough to spend some time with one of my favorite guys in the horror biz, Russell James. I’ve been hooked on his writing ever since I read his debut novel, Dark Inspiration. And lucky me, I get to hang out with the guy at horror cons! He has a lot going on this year, publishing enough fresh terror to keep his fans satisfied.
Your latest tale of terror, Dark Vengeance, was just released through Samhain Horror in March. What are readers in store for this time around?
Laura and Teresa, the heroes from DARK INSPIRATION, are back. A coven of witches has taken up residence in their small town in Tennessee. The coven’s plan is to resurrect an Aztec demon that really has it in for the male of the species. They need to perform a human sacrifice to make the demon’s transformation complete, and they will need to use children.
Laura and Teresa are the only ones with the clues a bout what evil is to come, but their experiences in DARK INSPIRATION were too much for their relationship to bear, and they’ve moved apart. They have to pull theirrelationship back together in time to save the children, includingTeresa’s son.
Your debut book. Dark Inspiration, just blew me away. I knewthat I was in great company with the new line of horror authors that Samhain had gathered. What made you decide to write the follow up, Dark Vengeance, and can we expect another in the ongoing saga?
I had readers of Dark Inspiration ask for more stories about Laura and Teresa, so I got to thinking about the effects on them from what they endured in the first book. I wanted that impact to follow through, toaffect them in the second story, not have it like sitcom episode where everything starts fresh. The new character in this book, who ends up being named Dawn, really intrigues me. We may hear more about her.
You also have a novella, Blood Red Roses coming out on May 6th (the day before my birthday in case anyone wants to buy me a cake). Tell us a little about it.
This novella is one of four that won the Gothic Horror Contest with Samhain. Mine is set on a cotton plantation during the Civil War. An orphan is sold there to work in the stable under an evil overseer, and uncovers a series of slave killings. The more he investigates it, the deeper and darker the story gets, until he finds himself a victim. I read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe ahead of time and tried to put a bit of his style into it to make it feel period-correct.
I’ve found a common theme with horror authors in that so many were inspired to pursue the genre by those 70s staples, In Search Of and Kolchak The Night Stalker. What are your favorite episodes of each?
In Search Of was just excellent. The episode explaining the Nazca drawings, the enormous etchings on the plains that can only be seen from above, made me convinced to this day we were visited by aliens. Kolchack? Was there a bad episode? Loved that show. And if anyone says Twilight Zone had no impact on them, they are lying.
You’ve also been self-publishing short story collections and collaborating with other writers. Tell us about those collections and where people can find them?
I started a critique group with five other writers after we finished a Gotham Writing class. All of them have since gone on to be professionally published or to win writing awards, including several Honorable Mentions in Writers of the Future contests. We decided to self-publish a collection of time travel stories called OUT of TIME, and donate the royalties to Doctors Without Borders. It has sold over 5000 copies and generated a nice stream of checks for DWB. I think that having five other good writers deliver some no-holds-barred criticism forced all of us to write better, and it shows in the end product. It is even a hot seller in Great Britain for some reason.
We also just put out a fairy tale collection called In A LAND FAR AWAY, also supporting Doctors Without Borders.
In the horror realm, I have two collections of short stories, TALES FROM BEYOND and DEEPER INTO DARKNESS. I wanted to give readers an easy way to sample my style before they bought a novel. Both of these have done very well.
All of these collections are at Amazon, and listed on my Amazon author page.
As one of the privileged few to get an early look at your next novel, Dreamwalker, I’ve come to think of you as the Samhain Magic Man (cue the Heart soundtrack). You definitely have a deep interest in all things magical and mystical. What attracts you to magic?
It does appear I have a subconscious pull to power drawn from the supernatural. In DREAMWALKER, the characters use voodoo to access that power. That was some seriously creepy research that convinced me voodoo taps into something truly dark and powerful. In Haiti, voodoo was illegal at one point. Most governments don’t ban something that isn’t a real and present danger. If you ever want to get your family to second guess you, start checking voodoo books out of the library.
We’ve both had personal contacts with things beyond what we see as reality. There’s a whole different level out there we’ll someday understand.
What’s one thing you can tell people about yourself that you haven’t revealed in other interviews?
I went over twenty years without watching a horror movie. When I was about seven, my father took me to see Vincent Price in House of Wax in 3D. Between the 3D and the Technicolor melting faces, I was duck-down-in-the-seat terrified. Except for the 1930’s Universal classics, I didn’t see another horror movie until well into adulthood. Now they are a blast.
What was your path to publication like? If you could give aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
I lucked out. I was in that Gotham writing class I mentioned and the teacher said Samhain had opened up a new horror line under the respected editor Don D’Auria. I’d had two short stories published and DARK INSPIRATION’s manuscript was sitting on my hard drive awaiting the slew of rejections that my prior three manuscripts garnered. I figured I might as well start my rejections with one of the best, so I sent it off. I literally dropped to my knees in shock when I got the acceptance email. I honestly still didn’t believe it until the books showed up at my doorstep.
Advice to new writers? Write, read, submit. Just keep going. Writing is a skill. Some are gifted at it, but it is still a skill everyone must master. A gifted swimmer still has to train to win an Olympic medal. And that’s what getting published is like, like winning an Olympic medal. The more you write, the better you get. And if you are going to quit when you get rejected, don’t bother trying. I have five published novels, and I get rejections all the time. That part won’t get better.
Your future is as bright as a supernova. What’s next for the Magic Man?
Before the end of the year, I’ll be in two more benefit anthologies, a space/sci-fi one called CENTAURI STATION, and a second time travel collection called STILL OUT OF TIME. In January next year DREAMWALKER releases from Samhain. I just finished a post-apocalyptic novel manuscript called Q ISLAND, and have a few other cards up my sleeve after that. Don’t blink. You’ll miss something.
Jonathan Janz is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. If you’ve never read his books, you might assume the mind behind the man is as unassuming as a Norman Rockwell painting. Thankfully, you’d be wrong. Dead wrong. This is a man who knows how to spin a twisted, pulse-pounding yarn. He’s been one busy dude since making his Samhain Horror debut a couple of years ago.
I’m both thrilled and honored to interview the man who conjures some of the finest books in the genre. His latest, Dust Devils, is a terrifying tale of Vampires in the old west. Grab a stake, crucifix and some garlic and read on, my children of the night….
Speaking as a fellow author who was writing his own western horror the same time as you, what made you decide to set Dust Devils in the old, wild west?
I think—at least at this point in my career—I view most stories through a pretty dark lens. So basically, since I was already a huge fan of western books and films, and I’d been reading a ton of westerns in the past few years, the seeds of the tale began to germinate as those two elements fused together (my dark lens and my western love). Like with most stories, the genesis of Dust Devils was very natural and organic; it was just sort of there in my mind. I wrote the first version of the opening scene maybe six years ago, and then I didn’t do anything with it. But as it is with the best ideas (I’ve heard Stephen King speak about this), the scene stuck with me. Eventually, the characters formed in my mind, and the tale was too powerful to ignore anymore. And Dust Devils was born.
Knowing you, the vampires in Dust Devils don’t sparkle. How would you best describe your horrific creations and the new twist they give to vampire lore.
In their ferocity, they’re every bit as monstrous as the creatures in 30 Days of Night, so that’s a pretty decent starting place for a modern reader. But the best analogue to my vampires—in fact, the main inspiration for my vampires—is the original Fright Night movie. Chris Sarandon as the lead vampire Jerry Dandridge really terrified me as a child. But he was also the kind of guy you’d want to be friends with (if you didn’t know about his vampirism), or in the case of a woman, he was probably the kind of guy a woman would find attractive and seductive. And those two sides—the bestial and the seductive—weren’t at all mutually exclusive in that character. In fact, one kind of relied on the other for survival. Adam Price, my main vampire, isn’t exactly like Jerry Dandridge, but he’s pretty closely related to him, which shows how impactful Fright Night and Sarandon’s performance were on me.
Do you see western horror as an up-and-coming sub-genre, now that we’ve seemingly exhausted the whole zombie thing?
I do. I think horror can coalesce with the western as well as any other genre (including action and/or romance). In fact, I think the western works best when it’s an amalgam of all the aforementioned genres. The western is such an amazing kind of story, yet it’s really been marginalized for the better part of what, four decades? I think horror novels can help revive the western, and I think the western can help legitimize horror in the minds of many readers who tend to smirk or scoff at horror. But the fact is, in many ways, western stories and horror stories are kindred spirits. They’re both morality tales that stare unflinchingly into the abyss of man’s tendency to do evil, as well as man’s ability to behave nobly.
As for the second part of your question, I agree that zombies as a subgenre have been used a great deal in the past decade and that most of the traditional zombie treatments seem a bit tired at this point. But what I also see—and I’m really excited about this—is that zombies have begun to permeate the realms of horror previously uninfluenced by zombies. And this is a really good thing. I love zombie stories, but I’ve never written a zombie book. However, if you look at my last two novels—both Savage Species and Dust Devils—the creatures in both of those books are influenced by zombies and have zombie-like traits. In Savage Species, the “Children” are firmly entrenched in the tradition of the Wendigo, yet they can return from the dead and are hungry for human flesh. In Dust Devils, a crossbow plays a major role (a nod to Daryl Dixon/Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead), you have a cuckolded husband at the forefront (a Rick Grimes/Andrew Lincoln connection), and a father/son relationship that’s tested in a war with seemingly implacable foes (Rick and Carl vs. the zombies). So even though my novels aren’t zombie novels, they owe a huge debt to the zombie films, books, and television shows I’ve absorbed. Brian Keene’s The Rising is another huge part of what I’ve been doing and thinking. And in that one you have a powerful father-son bond at the heart of the story, just like the father-son bonds at the heart of Dust Devils.
If you were living in the wild west, do you see yourself as a white hat or black hat? Or would you be a shade of gray, like Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven? And what would be your cowboy name?
Clint Eastwood, absolutely. The white hats and black hats aren’t as interesting as the grays, because I think most of us, when you get down to it, are a bit gray. At least I am. Would I hurt an innocent person for any reason? No way. But would I bat an eyelash in defending my wife or my children? Would I be willing to fight fire with fire if need be? I’d like to think I would be. And I think many people would be as well. Now, that sounds good, but what about those situations in which there is no easy or obviously right path? Cody Wilson, my protagonist, finds himself in situations like that in Dust Devils. Does he kill a bad person to save himself even though the bad person might not really deserve to die? Does Cody save his new girlfriend or his stepmother? And how does he make that decision? Those are gray situations, and I think Cody responds the way I would to most of them. And he’s definitely a gray guy—good down deep, but certainly not perfect. Light gray, maybe. Oh, and my cowboy name would be Jack Wilson, just like the father in Dust Devils. I love the name Jack.
What would be your top 3 western movies and western novels?
Ooooh, that’s a great one. Here we go (I only cheated a little)…
Novels: 1. Last Stand at Saber River, Elmore Leonard 2. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry 3. All the Pretty Horses/Cities of the Plain/Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy Movies: 1. 3:10 to Yuma (the remake) 2. The Outlaw Josey Wales 3. Unforgiven
OK, hypothetical, you’re called to a high noon shoot-out with a rogue cowboy vampire (who does some acting on the side). You have a holy water infused bullet with a crucifix carved on the side, so you know it will only take one shot to put him down. You see him an hour before the big event, his back turned to you. Do you draw on him and shoot him in the back?
If it means I’d save my wife or my kids? Absolutely. I guess that makes me a darker gray, but at least I’m honest. Now…if it would just be to save myself? Maybe. I mean, it would be tougher to live with, so I’d definitely have to pause and think. But in the end I think I’d still shoot him. Because he’s a vampire, and vampires kill. I’d be saving others, as well as myself, so I’d kill him and live with what guilt resulted.
Dust Devils is so unlike all of your previous books. Why don’t you tell everyone why they need to read it.
It is different, Hunter; you’re right about that. But maybe more than I ever have in a book, I show my heart in this one. I reveal some of my deeper fears, as well as some of my deepest longings. I mean, on the surface, the tale is a tense thriller with all the elements of great storytelling—strong dialogue, internal conflict, fierce action, life-or-death stakes, romance, friendship, and deep familial bonds. But it also contains a man with many regrets, a severed father-son relationship, a woman who’s been abused and who longs for something better. There’s a very powerful heart in this book that I think readers will respond to. But as I said earlier, there’s also a fast pace and an electricity that’ll sweep the reader along. The three major action set pieces in the story (the opening scene in the valley, the bloodbath in the saloon, and the final shootout/fight at the ranch) offer more action than you’ll find in almost any western I can think of. So I think it’s a crowd-pleaser that’ll stick with audiences long after they’ve read it.
What’s next for you, since I assume you never sleep.
Well, if all goes as planned, I’ll have both a novel (my first-ever sequel, Castle of Sorrows) and an unannounced novella coming this summer. In January of 2015, I’ll have The Nightmare Girl, a Joe R. Lansdale-influenced suspense/horror novel that delves into the ancient Irish fire myths. This summer I plan on writing at least two novels, but I can’t talk about those yet for various reasons—I mean, I can talk to you about them, Hunter, but I can’t talk publicly about them.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog, my friend. You are without question one of my dearest friends in the business, and a writer whose work I love and deeply admire (even though it makes me jealous sometimes).
Your dudeness, you have nothing to be jealous about. 🙂
I’ve been an avid listener of Jeff Rutherford’s Reading and Writing Podcast for quite a while. One of my goals when I was just getting my first book deal was to be a guest on his show. I’m happy to check that off my bucket list.
Jeff has interviewed some of the best authors out there, like James Lee Burke, Joe R. Lansdale, Nate Kenyon and Jonathan Mayberry.
In our interview, I read from the first chapter of Sinister Entity, explain why I write about ghosts and why, out of all things paranormal, this particular phenomenon has the ability to terrify people right to their core. And I get a chance to thank Brian Keene and Jack Ketchum for saving my sanity a couple of years ago. Oh, and we talk a little Monster Men, too.
You can click here to listen to the interview or download the podcast on iTunes. Definitely the best interview I’ve been a part of to date and I hope I get a chance to be on the show again.
I first met Damien Walters Grintalis at the Horrorfind con in Gettysburg, PA last Labor Day weekend. I was immediately struck by her sharp wit and great sense of humor. We were at the Samhain author table and believe me, she could hold her own with the boys. I especially loved the 50’s era dresses she wore that made her stand out from the crowd. She was promoting her debut novel, Ink, months before it was scheduled for release.
Because her book is about a tattoo that takes on a sinister life of its own. she had made little temporary tattoos to hand out to promote the book. By the end of the weekend, a first time author was the most popular person at the booth. Remarkable. And her novel, Ink, is even more so.
I’m happily seeing more women getting recognized in the horror field, especially on the writing side. No need to dress skimpy and scream a lot when you’re creating a world of terror. This being Women in Horror month, I though it was appropos that I kick things off with Damien. But when you get down to it, man or woman, she’s an extremely talented writer.
It’s very apparent that Damien worked very hard on her craft before submitting for publication, which I think a lot of new writers kind of skip over. We’re all so eager to make our mark on the publishing world that we jump into marketing and promotion before making sure our manuscript is as tight as it can be.
I was very happy that she wanted to appear on the blog and chain and talk about her road to publication, upcoming work and most creative way to die.
To prepare myself for this interview, I read, or more accurately, devoured, your debut novel, Ink. I promise not to give away any spoilers, but I will say that it was one of the top 5 horror books I’ve read in the past few years. Would you care to tell everyone a little bit about the book? Jason, the main character, is fresh out of a bad marriage and he makes an impulsive decision to get a tattoo by a tattoo artist he meets in a bar. Can you say bad decision? Neither the tattoo artist nor the tattoo are what they seem and Jason ends up in a world of hurt.
Ink is truly one of the more original and inventive stories I’ve seen in a long time. Where did you get your inspiration? I was walking out of a tattoo shop and had a what-if moment. Then I had a picture in my head of a man with a strange walk. I wasn’t sure how he was connected to the story, but I knew he was. I tried to replicate his walk in my living room and after a few minutes, the reason for his odd walk and his connection to the story became very very clear.
Speaking of Ink, do you have any tattoos? I have a few myself and now I’m a little nervous when I feel an itch on my arms. Yes, I have six. It may be tempting fate, but I’m contemplating a griffin on my left arm.
I know from my own writing that characters are often drawn from the people who have touched my life in one way or another. Your characters are so reach, so vivid, I just know there are some real life folks in there. So, care to spill the beans on who Jason. Mitch, Shelley and even Sailor are? Jason is a construct of a few people I’ve known. I did not want to write about the big burly alpha male who fixes everything with a flex of his pecs. I wanted someone less confident. Someone breakable. Mitch, on the other hand, is strong and self-reliant. If anything, she’s the White Knight in the story. Jason’s father is based on my own, although the catchphrases he uses belong to my husband.
Sailor isn’t based on anyone I know, but a concept that evil can be anyone, anywhere. There is no one face, one look, for evil and a man in an expensive suit can be just as dangerous as a homeless man with wild hair and crazy eyes. (And no, I don’t believe all homeless men are dangerous, just that many people perceive to be.) Take Ted Bundy, for example. He was good looking, he was charming, but beneath the pleasant exterior, he was a monster.
After I read Ink, I said to myself, “where has Damien been hiding all these years?”. What was your road to publication like and how did you become a part of our Samhain family? I wrote Ink initially in 2009. It wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I felt confident about. When it was edited and pretty, I started to query agents. I had several offers of representation, which shocked me. Fast forward a handful of months and I heard about Don D’Auria joining Samhain. I talked to my then-agent, he sent Ink to Don, and a few months later we had an offer.
OK, your debut novel is out and on the Samhain topseller list. What new book or books are you working on and when can we expect to see them in print? My new novel, Paper Tigers, about a disfigured young woman and a haunted photo album, is still in the horror genre, but of a different sort than Ink. My agent and I have been going back and forth with revisions, trying to make it as shiny and sparkly (of the non-faux-vampire type) as possible. I have two other novels waiting in the wings for edits and in between the novels, I also write a lot of short fiction.
If aliens made themselves known to us and asked you to come with them to their planet, never to return to earth, would you accept the invitation and why or why not? No, I would not. My family, my life, is here.
Here’s a series of rapid fire questions: Favorite movie? Favorite food? Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry? Most creative way to die? Kittens or puppies? Alien. Soup. Tom & Jerry. Um…jumping into an active volcano? Puppies. Definitely puppies.
Thank you so much for appearing on my blog and chain. Please let everyone know where to find you and any parting words of wisdom.
You can find me online via my website: www.damienwaltersgrintalis.com , my blog: dwgrintalis.blogspot.com, or on Twitter @dwgrintalis. Parting words of wisdom? Never investigate strange noises while wearing only underwear, and always check behind the closed shower curtain.
So, have we piqued your interest? Trust me, even if you’re not a horror fan, Ink will captivate you. What’s your publication journey been like? And more importantly, what is your most creative way to take a dirt nap?
Yes, yes it did. You’ll have to give me a minute here. I’m really excited that you’ll be reading my book!
Alistair screamed his rage and fought to break free of his dying host. I lunged, knocking my stunned opponent to the ground. Huge slates of plaster plummeted around us. The steel bathroom doors twisted like they were made of foil, tearing from the hinges to whistle through the air. The building’s structural beams groaned; the walls threatened to give.
Metal shelving units popped free from the walls, and cement screws volleyed through the air. Searing pain ripped through my shoulder as one of them hit their mark, then another. Beneath me, Alistair’s true form threatened to break free of its host. Maniacal laughter erupted as he fed off my wounds.
Enraged, I seized his throat, squeezing the slender column until it threatened to pop. Time was running short. Another minute and the ruined building would implode from the force of our destruction. Coiling over him, I sank my teeth deep into the base of his neck, tearing flesh free from bone with a vicious shake. Warm fountains of blood spurted on my face. Geysers of life pumped from the mangled jugular. The fluid was bitter and sticky against my tongue. Grimacing, I spat the foul taste from my mouth, my eyes burning with hatred. Alistair made a strange gurgling sound, his hand reaching out in a last ditch effort, but his strength faded with each weakening beat of the human’s heart.
Lips curled into a sneer, I knocked his arm away and, seconds later, his eyes went black. I remained hunched, shoulders heaving while I caught my breath and shook the last threads of anger. Throwing my head back I bellowed, releasing the last shreds of violence and ire.
The ground stilled, and an eerie silence settled over the store. Only the sound of my own labored breathing reached my ears. Wiping the blood on the sleeve of my coat, I stood. Concerned, I sought Ava among the piles of rubble and found her clinging to Remiel. She was still wide-eyed and trembling. Her fists twisted in his torn cloak as if attempting to hold on to his very life. I ached to offer her a reassuring smile, but instead I found my gaze riveting upon the speechless angel at her side. He stared back in silence, tense, but calm despite the chaos.
“You,” I growled through clenched teeth, “are worthless.”
“Seir . . .”
My eyes snapped to Ava in question, though I still struggled, aching with the urge to rip her friend from the floor. Several agonizing seconds ticked by, measured only by my beating heart as she struggled to form coherent thought.
“W-what are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighborhood.” It was a dry quip, but I was still seething with annoyance. I turned to confront Remiel, pinning him a scathing glare. “It’s probably a damn good thing, too, seeing as you were nowhere to be found.”
His chin lifted a notch in defense. “I was shielding her. I kept her safe.”
A humorless smile lifted one corner of my mouth; my shoulders lifted in a snort. “Keep on telling yourself that if it makes you feel better.”
“I suppose you want to eliminate me now as well?” Wariness crept into his voice and he pressed his lips together as if bracing for the answer. I found myself wondering how he’d ever worked his way up the angelic ranks, all the way up to Arch. I’d seen arthritic field hands with more backbone and gumption over the years.
Behind him, Ava had staggered to her feet. Her steps were wobbly and slow, laden with fear. I rolled my eyes, dismissing Remiel with a terse wave. “You aren’t even worth the effort. Unlike you, some of us didn’t revive our energy with an afternoon nap.”
Ava’s shrill scream broke the spell of resentment brewing between us. Alarmed, I rushed to her side, worried that I had somehow mistaken my assessment of Alistair’s condition. Her eyes were flared to comical proportions, almost bulging from their sockets in a state of horror and disbelief. I moved to comfort her, trying to wrap an arm around her trembling shoulders, but she whirled away, her feet scrabbling in an attempt to put distance between us.
“This is not happening! What is going on here?” Tears streamed down her face and she shivered as the onset of shock kicked in.
“Ava . . .” I took a step forward.
Her hand shot up. “Don’t touch me. Tell me what is going on! What just happened here and what the hell is that?”
She pointed to the inanimate corpse on the floor. Slate black eyes stared unseeing at the ceiling. They reflected the fathomless abyss of darkness and despair that had once inhabited the soul. Alistair’s presence had infected the body, and with his demise the flesh began to wither and shrink. The once human face was contorted, the bones displaced beneath the surface. In death, they had shifted to resemble something closer to the demon’s true form as he lie trapped within. The gaping hole in his neck appeared even larger, standing out in vivid contrast against the gaunt, mummy-like remains.
“Him?” I asked, shrugging. “He’s dead.”
Just to be sure, I nudged the putrid miscreation with the toe of my boot. “Quite, in fact.”
“You are not funny, Seir!”
“It was worth a shot.”
I’ve read your poetry and shorts and am always blown away by the dark beauty of your prose. I know how hard it is to struggle for that first book deal. What was your road to publishing success like and how long did it take? How did you find Wynwidyn Press, or did they find you?
Legions? That’s almost as good as having minions! I’ll take it!
I’m so glad I can finally take a break from talking about myself and shine the spotlight on a tremendous new talent, Kristopher Rufty. I’m proud to say that we’re Samhain Horror brothers (his first book, Angel Board is not to be missed), and was blown away by his latest novel, Pillowface. This dude is the goods and he has a ton in store for us. So strap yourself in, turn on the Halloween soundtrack, tuck your favorite butcher knife by your side and read on…
HS. I have to say, Pillowface grabbed me by the short hairs from teh get-go and never let up. Why don’t youtell folks a little about the book and why they absolutely must read it!
KR. The book is about Joel Olsen, a twelve year old horror fan and aspiring special effects artist who spends way too much time alone. He is now being raised by his sister Haley, who is only twenty-three years old. They lost their parents in a car accident a few months prior to where the story begins. Joel has an active imagination and is so enthralled with horror movie scenarios that he doesn’t even flinch when he discovers a wounded slasher straight from the movies he loves in his backyard. Joel becomes obsessed with Pillowface, and looks at this situation as a big game, or a movie he’s seen adozen times. It isn’t long before Joel realizes this isn’t as much fun as he’d expected it to be. Soon into the book people around him start being brutally murdered, and with Buddy and Carp on the hunt for Pillowface, their missing ally, even more blood is shed.
Anyone with a love for horror on any avenue will probably find something to enjoy in this book. As dark and twisted as it turned out to be, it’s actually a good time. I had a blast writing about the launch of summer vacation. It was fun tapping into that part of my own childhood and remembering how it felt knowing that after Sunday ended on that first weekend of summer vacation, there were still a couple months left beforeI had to go back to school. The sky was the limit! Much like Joel does in the book; I’d formulate a summer to-do list and make sure I completed every task on it. Whether it was watching a certain number of movies, or finishing the Stephen King, Bentley Little, or John Saul book I had purchased for a summer read, or adventures I planned to have in the woods around my house, I did it all, because if summer was nearing its end andI hadn’t completed them, I would feel depressed. As if I’d wasted my summer break.
HS. Being a Richard Laymon fan, I felt his presence throughout the book. Are you a big fan as well and how has he inspired you?
KR. Laymon is my favorite author. Not just my favorite horror author, but my favorite period. Whenever someone learns I write horror fiction they usually say something along the lines of: “Oh like Stephen King?” And I’ll nod and say: “Sort of. More like Richard Laymon.” Then I get a confused look because they obviously don’t know who I’m talking about and that’s a shame.
Trent Haaga (the writer of the movies Deadgirl and American Maniacs) recommended I read The Cellar by Richard Laymon one day while we were in a book store together. I had confided in him that I was growing tired of reading books by the same handful of authors and wanted to branch out. He took me to the L’s and searched the selection until finding Leisure’s reprint of The Cellar. He went on to tell me how great of an author Laymon is and how once I read this book, I wouldn’tbe able to stop. And he was right. Laymon’s books became a hunger that I neededto feed. It was also what made me join the Leisure Horror Book Club; the possibilities of several authors I’d yet to discover were at my fingertips! Trent’s suggestion morphed me into a completely different horror fan, reader, andwriter.
Laymon’swork has been heavily influential on my own. I never wanted to mimic his style or anything like that, but I wanted to incorporate into my own writing Laymon’s sense of sentence and paragraph structure and detail. And also I wanted to freely use the word rump just as he had. I started off writing screenplays and making indie horror movies, and in the scripts whenever a female had to fall down, I could never think of a delicate way of putting it. So, I took my Dad’s term, rump, and used that. When I read it in Laymon’s novels I smiled with glee.
Years later I learned Don D’Auria (the same who’d edited Laymon and countless other legends) would be my editor as well, and it was a dream come true.
HS. I don’t know who’s more twisted, Joel, the young boy in need of a father figure, or the murderous Pillowface with a soft spot for the boy. Which would you rather go camping withfor a week?
KR. Pillowface, easily. I don’t trust Joel in the slightest.
HS. You managed to do what so many have tried and failed at, which is create a classic slasher/monster and make him genuinely sympathetic. I mean, I was actually rooting for Pillowface towards the end. How difficult a task was that for you?
KR. It wasn’t as difficult as making David (the main character from Angel Board) sympathetic. Pillowface is a complex guy and underneath the mask and behind the chainsaw he’s human. In an earlier draft I wrote him a bit differently and to me he just didn’t come across as a real person. That was my mistake, not writing him realistically. When I set out to do a fresh write on Pillowface, I delved more into his point of view instead of learning about him through Joel’s eyes, and instead I thought it would be neat if we learned who Joel was through Pillowface’s eyes. But not just Joel, some of the other characters as well. Especially Joel’s sister, Haley. Pillowface crushes on her like any man would, but whenever a normal person thinks flowers, candy, and a night on the town, Pillowface thinks of swooning her by dismemberment, destruction, and pain.
HS.Which is harder to do, direct a movie or write a novel? What are the best and most difficult parts of each?
KR. They’re each their own obstacle. I’d have to say that, personally, writing a novel is easier and sometimes more gratifying than making a movie. There are a lot elements going into directing, especially low budget movies, which interfere with your vision, so to speak. I learned early on in moviemaking that it’s best to leave what you pictured in your head while writing the script at the door because chances are you will have to improvise on the spot for a variety of reasons, which also means working away from the script, or changing something last minute or like I had to in PsychoHolocaust, and cut a character completely out of the movie two days before we started filming because the actor cast to play them dropped out.
Budget can be your best friend and worst enemy. When there’s plenty to give she’s wonderful to have on your side, a great go-to source that can solve almost any problem. But when there’s not enough to give, the budget can be an evil she-bitch that constantly takes and takes and when you wantjust a little more to spend on your movie you realize that she’s dried up after spending herself on name actors, plane tickets, and food. When writing a screenplay, you always have to be cognizant of the budget and write within its means which can make for some great creativity but can also kill it quickly. My favorite parts of the movie process are the writing and editing, usually after a year or so goes by I realize that I actually enjoyed aspects of the shooting. Ha-Ha. However, I do enjoy working with talented actors and crews and watching what I wrote come to life whether it was how I had originally imagined it or not.
When writing a novel there is no budget restriction, and you’re pretty much free todo whatever you want. When the characters want to have sex, they can, and there are no worries on my part whether or not they will take off their clothes, because I’m pretty confident that they will! Also, if something blows up in the story, I don’t have to go back and cut it because there is no way I can afford an explosives expert, or I can have a legion of demons pour out of someone’s rump and not fret over how we can do the effect (I’m not big on horror CGI). I can just write it and it is. That is amazing to me. Writing is amazing to me. Making movies is amazingto me. I love them both. They are a partof who I am.
HS. You’re obviously a horror movie buff (not to mention director). What are your 5 favorite horror films.
KR. Wow, that’s a tough question. I’ll name fiveI like a lot, in no particular order.
TexasChainsaw Massacre (original)
Nightof the Living Dead (b&w and the remake from the early nineties)
Fridaythe 13th (original)
Okay, so that was five of the more popular horror classics. Here are five that aren’t so popular.
BasketCase (anything really by Frank Hennenlotter)
SilverBullet (Busey at his finest)
Nightof the Creeps
HS. OK, in 25 words or less, describe your current work in progress.
KR. I’m working on a few things simultaneously. Finishing up a novel and doing a polish on one that’s already completed, completed a novella, and started another novel. The Lurkers is my next book through Samhain Publishing and will be out in August, which is about tiny goblin-like creatures invading a small town and the group of people driving through who get caught in the middle. We’re also doing a promotion with the release. My short story The Night Everything Changed will be available for free soon and leading up to the release of The Lurkers. It takes place in The Lurkers universeand is definitely worth checking out, and for a price tag of zero, you can’tbeat it. After that, I’m not sure what order the next few will follow.
But a current work in progress is PlainfieldGothic and here’s a 25 words or less rundown:
Robbing graves in the early 1950’s, Ed Gein inadvertentlyunearths a genuine vampire and sets it loose on the unsuspecting town of Plainfield, Wisconsin.
And there you have it. See, I told you there was a lot more awesomeness to come! You can check Kristopher and his work out at www.lastkristontheleft.blogspot.com
Jonathan Janz is new to the horror scene, just like Tim Tebow is to the NFL, only JJ is a hell of a lot better at what he does. Now, I’m not saying we’re lifelong buds or neighbors, but from getting to know him over the past 6 months, I’m pretty secure in saying they invented the phrase “he’s the salt of the earth” to describe this guy. His debut novel with Samhain Publishing, The Sorrows, is the real deal. Think The Haunting meets the early work of Phil Rickman (and if you have never read a Phil Rickman novel, you can return your Official Horror Fan Membership Card). This book has the iron jaws of a pit bull, except this is one angry dog you’ll be happy to cross.
Jonathan was nice enough to answer my sometimes bizarre questions. Here they be, in all their gory…glory.
1.Your debut novel, The Sorrows, is now out through Samhain Publishings new horror line. Tell us a little about your book, you know, something that will compel us to buy it as much as terrify us to sleep with the lights off.
To borrow a question from my favorite horror novel (Peter Straub’s Ghost Story), “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” If you’re imagining it, I now want you to imagine the face of the person you wronged. Then imagine that face growing dark with rage and pursuing you…even after death. That dread is at the heart of The Sorrows.
The novel is set on an island, and this island (called the Sorrows by its long-dead inhabitants) is haunted by events nearly a century old, as well as a bestial creature that might or might not be a Greek god. If you travel to the island, you better hope your slate is clean because any soul you’ve ever wronged will find you there…for violent and unholy retribution.
Also, The Sorrows is about two composers (and two female companions) traveling to one of the most haunted places in the world (the island) to find inspiration for a big-budget horror movie being shot by the most demanding director in film.
2.If you were guaranteed to be an overnight sensation writing in another genre, what would it be and why?
Whoa, great question. I think I’d write readable literary fiction. By that, I mean stories that people can actually understand without having to squint at the page for an hour trying to figure out what the hell the author’s laboring to say. I think of writers like Cormac McCarthy and Ian McEwan…man, I love those guys, and I’ve heard them called all sorts of things, but to me they’re both deeply literary and fantastically skilled. So I’d like to write stuff that exhibits both those qualities. In fact, I’m already working on a couple of things…
3.OK, you’re invited to spend the night in a haunted castle, say Leap Castle in Ireland, with the stipulation that you must be alone and have no source of light. Do you go? If you do, what do you expect to happen?
Truth? Or something that will make me sound manly and virile? The truth is, I’d never spend a night away from my kids (I’ve got three of them under the age of six) because I’d miss them and worry about them.
But let’s say, for the fun of it, that I’m ten years older, and my wife and kids and I are vacationing in Ireland. Some guy says, “Hey, Lad, I’ll put a thousand bucks each in your children’s college funds if you spend the night alone at Leap Castle.” I’d do it then, and I’d spend the rest of the night scared out of my mind imagining all sorts of things.
Do I think I’d really see something? Other than the puddle of urine pooling around my feet? I don’t know, and that’s what makes the prospect of spending the night in a place like that so frightening. I might see nothing, though my imagination would conjure all sorts of awful things. I might also see something real, which is truly terrifying.
4.For the aspiring writers out there, can you describe your road to publication? Also, do you have an agent and how did you connect with him or her?
My road was very Beatlesesque—long and winding. I’ve been rejected so many times I’ve come to tense my stomach muscles like Houdini every time I open my inbox because a gut punch is always on the way. That sounds cynical, but it’s the truth. You’ve got to be determined, you’ve got to accept that you don’t know everything, and you’ve got to have enough stubbornness and confidence to stay with something that most days brings you nothing but negative feedback. And silence.
I don’t have an agent at the moment, though I’m about to start shopping again. I once had one, but that’s a long, dull story that I’ll spare you for today. Having said that, I fully believe an agent is necessary to maximize a writer’s success, and I’d very much like to find one. The key, though, is compatibility. She/he has to like your work, and you have to have faith in her/his abilities. So yes, I do want an agent and believe I’ll get one when the time is right.
5. Quick, in 30 words or less, describe your current work in progress.
What if the two traditional depictions of vampires—the romantic, haunted loner, and the monstrous, insatiable beast—were only phases in the transformation into something far more terrible? And infinitely more powerful?
That was thirty-two words, and you still don’t know the title (Loving Demons), or who my protagonist is (Ellie Crane) or how her husband Chris becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman who lives in the forest where he and Ellie move, or how Ellie conceives a child but soon learns she can’t leave because the forest and the spirits that live there won’t let her leave, or how a demonic cult once sacrificed—
Okay, I cheated a little, but that’s a start. (Hunter : Dude, you cheated a little??)
6.What is your favorite horror movie and novel? Aaaaand, whenyou were a kid, what was your all time favorite cartoon?
Movie: Jaws or The Exorcist. The former is better-made, but the latter is scarier.
Novel: Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. The gothic structure of that book changed my writing forever, even though I didn’t even try to write until five years after I read the book.
Cartoon: Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. No wonder my stories are so violent!
7.Last one. Whats the weirdest thing you’ve ever written and did you ever let it see the light of day?
The weirdest thing is probably a novel called Blood Country that I actually reference in my debut novel The Sorrows. It’s a bizarre hybrid of a crime novel a la Elmore Leonard and a bloody horror novel by someone like Richard Laymon. Actually, it’s far bloodier than most of even Laymon’s stuff, so I guess the title is apt.
I did indeed let it see the light of day about three years ago when I finished it and began querying agents about it. The responses went something like this: “I really like your writing, and there’s no doubt you can do suspense very well. And I know I stated in my guidelines that I wanted dark. But…well…not this dark.”
I plan on reworking it after my next three novels are done (the aforementioned Loving Demons, another I’m about eighty-percent done with called Native, and the novel I’m going to write this coming summer). Blood Country is weird, dark, and disturbing. But I like it, and I think readers will, too, once I get it right.
Thank you so much, Hunter, for having me on your blog and for asking such awesome questions. Forest of Shadows was OUTSTANDING, and I’m proud to be published alongside you!
**If you want to read a truly insightful, sometimes hilarious, but always honest blog, check out Jonathan Janz, the Blog!
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