Monday, April 8, 2013

M.R. Gott's Interview series...Jonathan Janz

Please Welcome Jonathan Janz to Cutis Anserina...

What reader’s do you think House of Skin will most appeal to?

Though I think horror lovers and fans of ghost stories will enjoy the book a great deal, I think the themes of this story are universal enough to resonate with non-horror fans, too. Paul Carver and Sam Barlow (two of the three co-protagonists) desperately want redemption. Paul has allowed alcohol and poisonous relationships to stain his existence; Sheriff Sam Barlow was unable to prevent a tragedy (a series of tragedies, actually) from occurring. The idea of these men wanting to redeem themselves is something just about everyone can relate to. Add to these characters the relationships in the story—particularly the one between Paul and Julia (the third co-protagonist), and I think there’s something to appeal to just about any reader.   

In House of Skin Myles Carver’s life provides the backstory for the Watermere estate.  How important do you think a backstory is for a haunted house?

I think backstory is absolutely crucial in this type of tale. The Gothic construct places as much emphasis on the history that brought a place or the characters to a given point as it does on the contemporary storyline. Richard Matheson’s Hell House wouldn’t be as powerful without the past story of Emeric Belasco. The events from the Chowder Society’s past are what endow Peter Straub’s Ghost Story with such a powerful terror. Similarly, the backstory of how Watermere became haunted, in my opinion, is what makes the book resonate. 

Do you think of House of Skin as more of Julia Merrow or Paul Carver’s story primarily?  Why?

Great question(Why Thank You)—you’re the first one to ask me that, actually. Though Paul seems to be positioned as the titular protagonist (and obviously he’s a main character), I see House of Skin more as Julia’s story. She’s the one with the history with the house. She’s the one who knows Annabel and what Annabel did. She’s the one who has sort of kept watch over Watermere all these years, wondering about Annabel and awaiting her return. And even if Julia isn’t aware she’s waiting, I think the fact that she never moves away speaks volumes about her desires, even if she’d not own up to them were they stated aloud.

How did the character of Annabel, Myles Carver’s wife develop?

There’s power in femininity. There’s a raw species of energy that is totally unique to the female gender. That power and energy can be a beautiful thing, or it can be a horrible thing. Most men have had women in their lives that they sort of felt worshipful about; most men, whether they’d admit it or not, have met women who were downright scary. Annabel is an ethereal looking creature, but she’s also an embodiment of evil, of selfish desires, and of the dark side of sensuality. She’s rage incarnate, and I suspect she’s an amalgamation of all the women I’ve met who’ve either beguiled me or frightened me. Oh, and she was also inspired by the Romantic poets (Shelley, Keats, and Byron, especially).  

How is House of Skin different from your debut novel, The Sorrows?

The Sorrows is like an indoor roller coaster with multiple twists and turns. The kind that whips you around when you least expect it and scares you with its sheer audacity and surprise. House of Skin is a roller coaster, too, but it’s more like the old-fashioned, wooden, outdoor roller coasters that feature a long, slow climb that takes the rider higher, higher, higher, the chain beneath him going chik-chik-chik-chik…until the breathtaking descent that sucks the rider’s heart up into his throat and makes his stomach queasy. Both novels are fun rides, but House of Skin is more of the gradually unfolding kind.

Who are some current genre authors you are following?

Stephen King will always be my favorite. I love Jack Ketchum and Joe R. Lansdale. Others I’ve gotten turned onto in the past five years or so are Brian Keene, Tim Lebbon, and several of my fellow Samhain authors.

There is a great deal of emphasis placed on horror villains and antagonists, but what is one of the best conceived protagonists in a horror tale to you?

Hmmm…I think the ones we love the most are the ones we either relate to directly or the kind we simply admire. A few I really love and relate to are Hap Collins in Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books, Abner Marsh from George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, and Avery Ludlow in Jack Ketchum’s Red.(Great Answer, huge fan of the book and movie) Protagonists I really admire would be Special Agent Pendergast (Preston and Child), Levi Stoltzfus (Brian Keene), and any number of Elmore Leonard’s cool-as-ice protagonists (like Stick or Valdez or Mr. Majestyk). And then there’s the combination of the two kinds, where you relate to the character and you want to be more like the character. For this combination, I’d say Stephen King’s Roland Deschain (from The Dark Tower series) takes the prize for me.

What was the first truly frightening novel you remember reading?  Was your reaction to bury it in the closet, or run out and find other stories like it?

The first novel that really scared me—I mean, really kept me up at night—was probably ‘Salem’s Lot, which I read back in high school. By the time I read that one, I was already a total Stephen King fanatic, so it won’t be surprising to know that I continued to devour King’s books with, if possible, an even greater fervor and voraciousness.

Your work Savage Species is going to be released this summer in serialized form.  How did this project come together?

Ah, this is one I’m incredibly excited about. I had written about, oh, sixty percent of the book when my agent Louise Fury told me that she’d had a conversation over dinner with Don D’Auria (my amazing editor at Samhain), and two other people at or near the top of the Samhain Publishing company hierarchy. At that dinner the idea of a serialized horror novel materialized (uttered first, I think, by Louise, but then adopted with enthusiasm by the other three present), and soon after that I received a call from Louise wanting to discuss “something.” If I remember correctly, she told me about the idea and asked if I had anything that might work with the serial format. It just so happened that I’d been working on Savage Species (then called Native) and felt the novel was really taking shape nicely. We went back to Don, who thought the book idea was perfect for the format (Louise and I obviously felt that way too), so I proceeded to write the rest of the novel with the serial format in mind. Strangely enough, only a few things were changed because of the format. Breaking places between installments did shift somewhat (to maximize the “cliffhanger” aspect of the book), and I eventually added a prologue to ensure the piece a “grabbing” opener. But it was really a story that was perfectly suited to the serialized format, so I’m beyond pleased that it worked out so well. I’m also glad that Don D’Auria liked the title Savage Species more than the other titles I was considering, because I really think it’s a perfect title for the story.

Thanks so much for having me as a guest, M.R.! I’m excited to check out some of your fiction too!
Jonathan Janz

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