Jonathan Janz

To Don D’Auria, my editor

Don D'Auria, myself, and a really patchy beard, at BEA 2015 last spring in NYC

Don D’Auria, myself, and a really patchy beard, at BEA 2015 last spring in NYC

Tonight I drink to Don D’Auria.

I rarely drink. I originally planned on having a beer tonight to celebrate the release of my newest supernatural thriller, Sentinels, from Samhain Publishing, where Don was my editor. I say “was” because Don informed his stable of writers he’s leaving the company this Friday. Why and how this came about, I can’t say. Samhain turns 10 years old this month, and for a majority of that time has published romance, lots of it, and has even seen a few of its titles make The New York Times bestsellers list. Don was hired in 2011 to start a horror line, and he’s done so quite ably. Three of his edited works have been nominated for the coveted Bram Stoker award presented by the Horror Writers Association. He discovered a bunch of eventual Bram Stoker-winners during his days with Dorchester Publishing, where my history with him began.

Don plucked me out of Dorchester Publishing’s creaking slush pile in 2010. I’d written a straight crime thriller and Don offered me a small advance to make the book part of Dorchester’s Leisure line. I agreed, and then promptly saw the deal collapse—and Don laid off—a few months later because Dorchester went bankrupt. I stayed in touch with Don and heard he’d landed with Samhain. I couldn’t follow him there because my book wasn’t horror, but I kept him in the back of my mind, and when I got the idea for my Krampus novel, The Dark Servant, in 2012, he was the first guy I emailed—Don’s primary method of communication. He expressed a few concerns, nothing major, and was enthusiastic to see what I could do. He encouraged me to write, making no promises, and to send him some sample chapters. A line from his email, which I saved: “I have no doubt the book will be well written, unless you’ve had some serious head injury you haven’t mentioned.”

Don believed in me, and that was important. And what I’d hoped to have happen in February 2011 (a book with Dorchester) happened a few years later in December 2014 (a different book with Samhain). And I’m eternally grateful to have earned Don’s trust. He’s easy to work with, states up front his concerns about a character or a plot point. And he’s an exceedingly nice man. I was fortunate enough to attend BEA 2015 in New York just this past spring, and Don was there. We caught up, discussed horror, the publishing industry in general, and it was simply nice to finally see, after five years, the first editor to appreciate my work and offer to pay me for it.

So what now? Here’s my message to the Big 5 publishers: Hire this man. He knows what he’s doing and will bring talented authors with him. I’m not the only author who’s reeling upon learning about his unexpected departure. But I’m also not the only author who believes that Don will land somewhere else and succeed. I have a feeling I’m going to work with him again.

My beer is Michelob Ultra. Don’s apparently a martini fellow. (Sorry, I can’t do that.) But I will be drinking my beer tonight and celebrating two published novels, and an upcoming Krampus novella, Twelfth Krampus Night, which drops in December. I’m proud to say Don D’Auria helped make them happen.

I have a bookshelf of Samhain Horror works by Jonathan Janz, John Everson, Tamara Jones, Brian Moreland, Hunter Shea, and Glenn Rolfe, and I’ll be adding more in the months ahead. (Russell James, Ron Malfi, you’re on notice.) And tonight I’ll drink to all of them and to the man who edited them—Don D’Auria, who gave me my start. Cheers.

IMG_4762

Having a Howl of a Time Talkin’ Horror with Glenn Rolfe

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When you meet Glenn Rolfe, the first thing you think is “Why is this 12-year-old kid trying to sell me a werewolf book?” That’s my way of saying that Glenn looks young (and he is—still in his 30s; when you’re 40, like me, anybody in their 30s is young). In all honesty, when I first met Glenn in person last year in Cincinnati at HorrorHound, the first thing I thought was “Glenn really loves horror.” His love for the genre is infectious. He’s tremendously supportive of his fellow writers too. So when I learned Glenn had a werewolf book, Blood and Rain (Samhain Publishing), scheduled to drop in October, I couldn’t wait to help him try to promote it to all 4 readers of my blog. And Glenn’s take on the age-old legend defied my expectations—it wasn’t what I was expecting at all! But that’s not a bad thing. I’ll let Glenn explain it. Here’s my Q&A with him. Enjoy!

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Q. Many werewolf stories revolve around not knowing who the monster is until the big reveal at the end of the book, but not so in Blood and Rain. We know full well the identities. Did you ever toy with keeping the identities hidden? If so, what made you change your mind? If it was always your plan to reveal who’s who up front, what was the reason?

A. I changed it in my re-writes last summer. The original manuscript was about 60% different. It was a mystery that I ran to have people guessing whether it was one or the other and then the big surprise was that it was both. I liked it, but I ended up completely changing one of the characters. When I sat down to get real last July, I started by writing the prologue. I revealed it right there. And I liked it. To me, it doesn’t matter if we know or not. If you want to do that, go for it. I decided to run straight ahead and just have a lot of fun with the story and these creatures. So, to answer that one, I guess the story demanded that I reveal the identity of the beast right off. I love how it came out.

Q. You’re a Stephen King fan. Publisher’s Weekly even likened your approach in Blood and Rain to the horror master. How did King’s Cycle of the Werewolf influence you? I know it did because A.) you’re from Maine and pronounce lobster entirely different from New Jerseyans, and B.) Blood and Rain is set in a small Maine town much like Cycle. Am I correct in these observations (don’t worry about the lobster one)?

A. Of course. Yeah, I’d seen Silver Bullet a million times growing up and in 2004 I finally read Cycle of the Werewolf. When I finished it I knew I wanted more! I wasn’t a writer at that time, but I jotted down an idea for a story. Years later, that idea became the first few original chapters of my first real work, Blood and Rain. I love small towns. I’ve lived in them almost my entire life. It’s what I know best, so it’s what I use to paint with. King’s beast is bad news, too. I made sure mine was also going to be mean and nasty.

Q. How come your werewolf isn’t a shirtless teenaged Native American boy who can’t act? You do realize you’re alienating 99% of the high school-aged female readership by going out of your way to make your werewolf a vicious, man-devouring monster.

A. Ha! Hey, Taylor Lautner is a good looking kid. But, yeah, no. I had no romantic notions circling my brain during this one. No way were my monsters going to be pretty and lovely.

Q. Werewolf novels you’d recommend to your fans?

A. The Howling by Gary Brandner (if you go to the movies, The Howling IV is actually the story from the first book). Cycle of the Werewolf. I also loved what Ray Garton did in his book, Ravenous. That one had a lot of influence over the original manuscript, too. Outside of Garton and King’s books, I hadn’t read that many werewolf books prior to writing Blood and Rain. I’m catching up now. W.D. Gagliani has an interesting take with his Nick Lupo series, too. I’m getting ready to read book 3 of his saga. Jonathan Janz’s new one, Wolf Land, is pretty vicious, too.

Q. What’s the most difficult part about writing a werewolf novel compared to your earlier works (Abram’s Bridge, a ghost story; and Boom Town, aliens)?

A. It wasn’t any harder than the others. It was a lot of FUN. The most difficult part was re-writing it. It was the first real thing I’d written. The manuscript had all of my “I have no idea what I’m doing” bits in there, but I knew the heart of the story and the characters I’d created were good enough. I refused to give up on them. I did a crazy re-write marathon for about three and a half to four weeks at the end of last summer. I was lucky to have my friend Ben there to tell me yes or no on the changes. He beta read both versions. Once he said “Dude, this is it”, I knew I had it. Then I let Erin at it and she cleaned up the rest of my mess (Thanks, E!) and helped me tweak the last couple of pieces I wasn’t comfortable with. So, much much kudos to Ben and Erin!

Q. I read Blood and Rain and will say this, you spare no one. I won’t spoil anything, but my god! I will tell the reader not to get attached to anybody. What compels you to kill off characters (some the readers might like) or keep them alive? I must admit there were some characters I wish had survived.

A. I don’t worry about whether it’s going to upset anybody. I let the story do what it wants. If they live or die, that’s whatever I felt the scene wanted. It’s not plotted out at all. I just go with the flow when I’m writing. I like to think if this was real life and this shit happened, it wouldn’t be pretty. You’re lucky if you come out in one piece or at all. I write for myself. If anyone else enjoys it, awesome! But you have to write for yourself first. Looking back after I’ve finished at a piece like this, or my other novel, The Haunted Halls, when I see the carnage and death toll….I like it. In real life, shit happens. Life doesn’t play by the rules. There’s something about going into a book or a movie where you don’t know who is or who isn’t going to make it out. I never understand why some writers choose to play it safe every time out. It is what it is. And I dig it. ###

I wish Glenn the best of luck with Blood & Rain. And for those of you in Maine who are eager to meet him. He’s having a book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Augusta on Saturday, August 24, from noon to 2 p.m. So get out there to pick up a copy, and talk to the guy about horror. You’ll learn a lot and have a great time doing it!

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HorrorHound has something demented for everyone!

HorrorHound Weekend has just concluded in Cincinnati, and if you’re like me, you were supremely grossed out upon seeing this:

If you really want one of these (and lord knows, I'm certain some of you do) visit www.scarebears1.com.

If you really want one of these (and lord knows, I’m certain some of you do) visit http://www.scarebears1.com.

Those were selling like bloody, disemboweled hotcakes at the popular horror convention that features movie and television stars, authors, artists (tattoo and otherwise), and vendors galore. All of them in some way affiliated with the horror genre.

This was my first go-around as a Samhain Horror author. My Cincy-based publisher helps to sponsor the convention, and provides plenty of books for its

authors to sell to fans. And that’s exactly what my fellow authors and I did over the last three days, and it was fantastic fun getting to interact with new and prospective readers.

Yes, I'm experimenting with a beard. And yes, the Krampus mask goes everywhere with me.

Yes, I’m experimenting with a beard. And yes, the Krampus mask goes everywhere with me.

HorrorHound is probably one of the best conventions for authors to reach readers, and our booth was busy (and that’s good, given the state of the publishing world). Now, when you consider the hotel bill ($130), gas (at least $100), entirely too much fast food ($20) and souvenirs (I’m not saying how much because my wife might read this), you’re not going to break even by selling 25 books priced at $8 each. But making money at this point in my career isn’t paramount. Sure, I’d like it to happen, but to me this convention was all about getting my name out there, meeting the people who actually work for my publisher (they’re based in Cincinnati), and meeting my fellow authors, most of whom I’ve corresponded with on Facebook and Twitter, but never met in person.

Samhain Horror authors who attended HorrorHound (from left to right): Jonathan Janz, Mark Rigney, Me, Brian Pinkerton, Russell Kames, Tim Waggoner, Adam Cesare, Glenn Rolfe, Kris Rufty, and Tamara Jones. Please, visit Samhain Publishing.com and check out their stuff.

Samhain Horror authors who attended HorrorHound (from left to right): Jonathan Janz, Mark Rigney, Me, Brian Pinkerton, Russell James, Tim Waggoner, Adam Cesare, Glenn Rolfe, Kris Rufty, and Tamara Jones. Please, visit Samhain Publishing.com and check out their stuff.

The other fun part of HorrorHound is slipping away from the table to see which stars of the stage and screen are milling about, and to digest some of the perverse memorabilia up for sale. Case in point, this:

Wait, how did my son somehow slip away from tormenting his mother in New Jersey to wind up on display at a horror convention? I know it’s just a doll (and this was one of the tamer ones) but those of you with children, especially toddlers, know what I’m talking about.

Wait, how did my son somehow slip away from tormenting his mother in New Jersey to wind up on display at a horror convention? I know it’s just a doll (and this was one of the tamer ones) but those of you with children, especially toddlers, know what I’m talking about.

Also fun, seeing movie stars who are 30 years past their prime. Let’s play a game: Name this actor:CT

Sorry it’s grainy. Celebrities now charge you money to take photographs of them, so you have to kind of do it on the sly. So I’ll give you three hints: E.T., Red Dawn (Wolverines!), and a somewhat recent episode of Criminal Minds. OK, one more: The Hitcher. That’s right, it’s C. Thomas Howell! (And it looks like he’s seen better days, and he has—back in the 1980s.)

Here’s another one, and if you can’t guess this, then you weren’t an avid moviegoer in 1984:zg

Yup, it’s Zack Galligan from Gremlins, Gremlins 2, and Not Much Else. I don’t fault these guys (and gals) one bit for hitting the convention circuit. It’s how they make their livings (and they make a lot more than you and me combined by doing it). And if they can help people relive some of their favorite TV and movie memories, then I’m all for it.

Now, as you might imagine, this was the line of people waiting to meet me:IMG_3630

Ha! Of course they weren’t queuing for me! This was for Norman Reedus, of Walking Dead fame. Daryl-Dixon-daryl-dixon-32601352-500-385

I did not see Norman. Although he must’ve been in the building because, and I am not kidding, thousands of people came to see him. That crowd picture doesn’t come close to portraying how many Norman Reedus fans swarmed that convention hall. I think some of them are still there. By the way, one Norman Reedus autograph: $80. You do the math.

Another fun part of HorrorHound: checking out all the creepy costumes people donned.

One second after I snapped this photo, the monkey man suddenly slapped his cymbals together, scaring the hell out of everyone.

One second after I snapped this photo, the monkey man suddenly slapped his cymbals together, scaring the hell out of everyone.

Everypne kept saying "It's Nosferatu!" Nope, any discerning Stephen King fans knows it's Barlow from the late 1970s Salems Lot TV miniseries.

Everyone kept saying “It’s Nosferatu!” Nope, any discerning Stephen King fan knows it’s Barlow from the late 1970s Salem’s Lot TV miniseries.

There's nothing especially stunning about these costumes. I just couldn't help but think that the Big Bad Wolf and Grandmother suddenly had the urge to fill out their 1099s. I mean, it IS tax season.

There’s nothing especially stunning about these costumes. I just couldn’t help but think that the Big Bad Wolf and Grandmother suddenly had the urge to fill out their 1099s. I mean, it IS tax season.

Here are some things that were for sale at HorrorHound that I did not buy:

That’s right, a hand-burnt casket that’s light enough to hang on the wall! The sheep heads were separate (and $150, judging by the price tag). I’m thinking you can probably buy a living sheep on Craigslist (face it, everything’s on Craigslist: used treadmills, meth lab components, prostitutes—so it’s not a leap to think that livestock’s floating around somewhere in there).

That’s right, a hand-burnt casket that’s light enough to hang on the wall! The sheep heads were separate (and $150, judging by the price tag). I’m thinking you can probably buy a living sheep for that same amount on Craigslist (face it, everything’s on Craigslist: used treadmills, meth lab components, prostitutes—so it’s not a leap to think that livestock’s floating around somewhere in there).

And here’s a cool skeletal carnivorous plant that costs almost as much as our monthly mortgage payment:plant

I did not purchase anything nearly as expensive as that. Just a Majestic Demon bust cast in resin. 

It was my one splurge to mark my first horror convention and first time ever stepping foot into Ohio (those billboards advertising “GUNS! This Exit!” is a clear reminder you’re not in New Jersey). Oh, check out http://www.alter-ego-dezines if you want your own demon.

It takes roughly 9 hours to drive from North Jersey to Cincinnati. That was the only downside to the weekend, but not bad enough to keep me from wanting to attend next year’s convention. I cannot wait.    

 

Author Jonathan Janz Defines Horror

Today’s a big day for Samhain Horror authors Hunter Shea and Jonathan Janz, whose respective books, Hell Hole and Castle of Sorrows, hit shelves both physical and digital. I’ll be posting something with Hunter in a few weeks regarding both Hell Hole and his recent Kensington release, The Montauk Monster, which is already on my Kindle just aching to be read. Both guys have been supportive of me in my schlep toward publication come November 4, and I can’t wait to meet both at a yet-to-be-determined horror convention down the road.

But today’s post involves Jonathan Janz, which isn’t his real name and I’m still not sure how to refer to him when I write to him. But that’s another story. Isn’t this a kick-ass cover? (Yes.)

Courtesy: Amazon (Lord of Everything)

Courtesy: Amazon (Lord of Everything)

Castle of Sorrows is the sequel to Jonathan’s 2012 release, The Sorrows, which I read, and which involves the thing you see perched in the window frame on the cover. That is not a nice thing. I know, how could a monster with hooves and ram horns be anything but a cuddly Care Bear with a heart on its fluffy belly.

Courtesy: Google (the Other Lord of Everything)

Courtesy: Google (the Other Lord of Everything)

Put it this way, you don’t want to be beat up or have sex with that thing above (the ram-horned monster, not the Care Bear). I’m waiting for my Castle of Sorrows trade paperback to arrive, and I’m sure I’ll dig it, as I do pretty much anything Jonathan writes. What Jonathan’s going to write about here is how he defines horror. I find it to be a difficult-to-define genre. What say you, Jonathan?

“I see horror as a very broad definition that encompasses much more territory than most people would consider horror. For instance, in addition to stories and films that deal with the fear of physical mortality, I’d expand horror’s reach to narratives that deal with psychological, emotional, or even spiritual horror. Books like King’s ‘SALEM’S LOT, Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY, and Richard Matheson’s HELL HOUSE are almost universally considered horror novels. And I, of course, would agree with that label. However, I also view Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING, and Arthur Koestler’s DARKNESS AT NOON as horror stories. These stories deal with the shadowy realms of the human mind and the base viciousness of human behavior. The horror I felt during THE HOMECOMING was more powerful than the horror I experience when reading most horror novels. In THE ROAD, McCarthy demonstrates just how terrible and wonderful human beings can be. In DARKNESS AT NOON, Koestler chronicles a slowly unfolding nightmare, and while the political backdrop and social commentary matter, I just see those as further examples of the great potential the genre possesses.

“I suppose this is why I want the genre to be more inclusive rather than exclusive. No, everything is not a horror novel, but horror is far more than a vampire or a mummy or a crazed backwoods cannibal.” ###

Agreed. It’s not about the monsters, as Stephen King once tweeted (I’m sure it was in response to my blog).

Good luck to Jonathan Janz with his latest release! And, Hunter? See you in a few!

Book Review of Dust Devils by Jonathan Janz

Courtesy: Samhain Publishing

Courtesy: Samhain Publishing

Jonathan Janz has a way with words (sometimes requiring me to grab a dictionary), but that’s okay! His story, Dust Devils, set in New Mexico in the 1880s, chronicles the journey of Cody, a vengeful young man whose wife is slaughtered by a troupe of vampires masquerading as actors.

Thank God Janz subscribes to the notion that vampires are evil creatures that torment and murder without remorse. Teenage girls looking for forlorn, pasty-skinned vampires who’ve never had a pimple and who attend high school to blend in will find no sanctuary here.

It would be simplistic and a disservice to say Dust Devils, released earlier this year by Samhain Horror, is a tale of one man seeking revenge on those who wronged him. It’s a story that touches on the definition of masculinity in a harsh world (harsh to Cody even before the vampires entered his life). It’s also a love story between father and son, husband and wife. It’s a story about loss (be it a marriage or a loved one) and how best to cope with it. This makes Cody a man with feeling, a man who tries to fight back tears but can’t–and this separates him from cookie-cutter Western heroes whose only characteristic is ruggedness and who view women merely as subordinates. Janz does a fine job creating characters you root for (many times I found myself thinking, “How the hell is Cody going to get out of this mess this time?”). Janz also writes his vampires so you root against them. By and large they’re not tragic, fallen figures (although even here Janz may surprise you a teensy bit) and will kill just as soon as look at you.

Janz cites Cormac McCarthy as an influence, and I found myself thinking of “Blood Meridian” a time or two. I enjoyed Dust Devils infinitely more, primarily because I didn’t stumble upon any unwieldy McCarthy-like sentences like this:

“The riders spurred their horses to gallop toward a merciless sun that scorched the outlaws’ grimy skin but they paid it no mind as all but the frontriding Judge inhaled the dirt kicked rearward by the horse ahead and they were fine with it because none of the filibusterers had eaten anything to nourish their bellies other than gecko skewed from mouth to anus and spit-rotated until the flesh blistered and cracked but all the men had to admit inhaling hoof-flung dirt and confused insects paled in comparison to devouring gecko meat that tasted even better with a paprika mix that Toadvine somehow conjured and the Kid rejoiced eating as it reminded him of something the obese whore Wilma cooked up for him before they slaughtered the Comanches and scalped the heads of the dead and suffering living caring not for the pain inflicted valuing only the money they would be paid for their ungodly toil.”

But I digress. Dust Devils isn’t just for fans of the vampire or Western genres, it can be read and enjoyed by fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a splash (sometimes big ones) of blood here and there.