About the Author: 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.
I hope readers sincerely enjoyed Part 1 of my interview, with horror mastermind Jonathan Janz (to read part one, click here). What follows is the second part of our epic two-part interview. Happy reading!
AS: One of the things many writers struggle with (myself included) is the ability to figure out where to slot writing time in with the demands of full-time work as well as family commitments and other obligations. Being an educator yourself, apart from the summer when your schedule clears up for a few months, how do you balance writing time with editing, promotional efforts, appearances, and the like?
JJ: You just spoke to probably my biggest challenge as a writer. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you care enough about something, you’ll make time for it. That goes for writing. However, the time we have each day is finite, and there’s a world of difference between making time and making the amount of time you wish you had. While I succeed at the former, I sometimes fail at the latter.
This goes back to one of my mantras as a person: Be sure your actions reflect your beliefs. People say they love their families, but proceed to everything possible to remain apart from their families, even if they’re living under the same roof. I can say I love my eight-year-old, for instance, but am I on my phone more than interacting with her? If so, I need to seriously adjust my actions.
So it is with writing. If you love it, you’ll make time for it, but that means there will have to be sacrifices, and it doesn’t mean you’ll end up with the amount of time you wish you had. One sacrifice I’ve had to make is television. I don’t watch anything unless it’s with a family member, and in that way, the TV can also be a bonding agent. Another difficult cut I’ve had to make is time with friends. My friends are important to me, but if I’m with them, I’m not with my family. So I choose my family. I’m either with my family, at my school teaching, or in my writing room working on my stories. Everything else I do connects in some way to one of the above areas. I lift weights four or five times a week, but my kids are there with me, either hanging out or working out with me. The writing time is my only solitary time, and though it’s never enough, I try to make it quality writing time so I maximize what little time I have.
AS: As a horror author, fear is the primary driving emotion that inspires us to write what we do. But fear can also be, well, scary. How do you balance exploring your fears in a safe way that doesn’t jeopardize your mental health and well-being with the need to dig your fingernails deep into the dirt, so to speak, in order to portray these fears with authenticity so that they resonate strongly with the reader?
JJ: I know fear well. Growing up I was pretty much constantly afraid. So in a way I’m already in the dirt. For me, examining these fears is a means of exorcising them. I can’t remember a time when writing about a fear has made that fear worse for me. To the contrary, writing about it and experiencing it through a character provides a unique sort of therapy for me, a catharsis.
On the page, a fear looks much saner than it feels in my mind. On the page, it’s better articulated. And that makes me feel less like an incoherent weirdo who jumps at shadows. But I do see your point. Fear is scary. But being held hostage by it, being stunted by it, having one’s life and relationships adversely affected because of it…these are much more frightening prospects than examining fear, which is what I do through my writing.
AS: You’re also very outspoken about writers giving ourselves permission to write poorly and not to be disappointed when a first draft isn’t very good. That sounds much easier than done 😉 Are there any tips or tricks, or any things you do in particular, that makes this easier to handle emotionally?
JJ: I’m a very emotional person, so my life is pretty much a roller coaster all the time. I feel every disappointment and insecurity acutely, but that’s part of being a living, feeling person. My feelings allow me to experience joy and love and all those positive emotions acutely too, so for me the tradeoff is more than worth it.
Speaking to your point, because I’m emotional anyway, the ups and downs of writing are just an extension of the ups and downs of life. Sometimes I suck at writing; sometimes I don’t. Either way, I feel that disappointment or triumph deeply, but neither feeling lasts forever. I’m ridiculously determined, so even though I feel those negative moments with every fiber of my being, I resolve to soldier through. I think determination and persistence, as unsexy as they sound, are a writer’s greatest assets. My determination defeats my disappointment.
AS: As a follow-up, you speak about an incredibly meticulous and vigorous editing regimen. Do you have particular stages to this editing process, such as going through beta readers, then doing a rewrite, going back again for more feedback, and so on?
JJ: I do, but sort of like my writing process, the editing process varies. Not necessarily with regard to what I do, but more with the sequence of the stages to which you allude. Sometimes I’ll start with my first read-aloud—I’ll do at least two of those with every book. Other times I’ll start with dialogue. In my most recent manuscript (the sequel to Children of the Dark), I sent my work to my pre-readers much earlier than I usually do because it felt right. Therefore, while there are certain elements I always try to bring to my editing, the sequence of those elements will change depending on my mood, the story, and what my gut is telling me.
AS: I know you get pestered about Children of the Dark 2, the planned sequel to Children of the Dark, on a regular basis, but can you provide us with
an update as to what stage the project is at? Pretty please? 🙂
JJ: Absolutely, and thank you for asking! I’m done with the rough draft and 70% done with editing. The manuscript was originally about 135,000 words (I think), and I’ve trimmed it down to 104,000. I still plan on getting it well under 100K. Essentially, I’m working on word choice and economy of language right now. I’m also deepening some of the secondary characters.
We’re likely looking at a late-2019 release for it, with the publisher to be announced soon (as well as the narrator of the corresponding audiobook). Exciting times! 🙂
AS: What is one piece of writing advice you see hailed as a definitive one that everyone must follow, like an absolutism, that you can’t stand and wish would go away?
JJ: Ahhh…so many of these to choose from. The problem, as you allude to in your question, is the absolutism of some writers, editors, and agents. I’m always bewildered by folks who take a purely creative endeavor (novels, music, you name it) and try to reduce it to ONE WAY IS ALWAYS RIGHT AND IF YOU BREAK THIS RULE YOU’RE EVIL. What’s particularly unfortunate about this is the fact that most of this absolutist advice is good advice for most situations. But good for most situations is a far cry from good for all situations. For some reason, many writers and editors can’t see that. Their minds are made up. I’m skeptical of folks who view themselves as always correct. In their minds, they’re finished products, which means they’ve shut themselves off to growth and learning. They view themselves as authorities, but what they’ve done is imposed unnecessary ceilings on their own development.
Anyway, that being said, here are a couple “truisms” I feel aren’t hard-and-fast rules, even though in most cases they’re good nuggets of advice and positive guidelines to observe…
*** Never write prologues ***
(I get why these can be unnecessary or sprinkled in later on in a narrative, but a prologue done well can be a fantastic way to open a book.)
*** Never allow a character to look in the mirror in order to describe himself/herself to the reader ***
(Again, this is a really good guideline, and most of the time this technique feels like a cheat; however, in the right hands in the right story, it can work. Do you ever look in the mirror? I do, occasionally. That means characters can too, but a writer shouldn’t use this often or rely on it too much. One case in a hundred is different than zero cases in a hundred.)
AS: What do you wish is one thing readers will take away from The Dark Game?
JJ: Wow. Another great question. I guess I want readers to a) feel really entertained by it, and b) to feel like people can come back from tragedy and terrible emotional places. The writers in The Dark Game are all severely damaged, and some don’t come back. But by the time you finish the story, I hope you feel like there can be joy and love after trauma and tragedy. That sounds cheesy, but the cheesiest statements are often the truest.
AS: What is one interview question you always wish people would ask you but that they never do?
JJ: Hah! Well, for instance, I really liked your last question. It’s neat when someone has read your book and wants to examine its inner-workings. I love it when an interviewer notices something in a story and asks me about it. It can be a theme, a character trait, or a technique. But I love when interviewers ask me questions that show they’ve read my work. That’s gratifying, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. We writers spend a great deal of time with these fictional people and in these fictional worlds, and it’s a blast to revisit them and view them through different lenses.
Thanks for these amazing questions, A.E. I truly had a wonderful time and appreciate the effort you put into this interview! 🙂
And thank you to Jonathan for being such a wonderful and gracious interviewee! I truly appreciate the time he took out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, I hope you’ve all enjoyed learning a bit more about one of the hardest working authors in horror, and if you haven’t already, now is a good time to head to the bookstore to get your essential Janz reading on!