March 11, 2016

Devils and the Pale Moonlight: an interview with Jonathan Janz, author of "Children of the Dark"

by Jonathan Janz

Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.

Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals—the Moonlight Killer—has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves—his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends—will be threatened.

And very few of them will escape with their lives.

Gef: What was the impetus behind Children of the Dark?

Jonathan: It’s funny. For me, I never really know why I set out to write a book until I look back at what I’ve written. I start writing something because I have this ungovernable urge to write it, and if I don’t, I’ll risk complete insanity.

So looking back, I can say that I must have had an urge to write about my childhood home, which was exactly as it’s described in the novel. The main character’s house, the graveyard, the spooky woods, all of it. My mom was a great mom, so that part is different, and I had a cat instead of a little sister. But other than those things, the protagonist’s life is remarkably like mine used to be.

Additionally, I guess I had the urge to write in the first-person, which I did in both novels that will be released this year. The only other time I did that in a big way was in EXORCIST ROAD (2014), and I guess I fell in love with that a little. I think the narrative voice is strong in CHILDREN OF THE DARK, so I’m pleased that I explored it.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Jonathan: Well, the truth of the matter is that I set out to write a YA horror book. Only after the terrible things started to happen at the midway point of the novel did I realize that this story was for an adult audience rather than a YA one. I mean, I still think teenagers would enjoy it and get a heck of a lot out of it, but its main audience is adults.

To answer your question, I tried extremely hard to see through the fifteen-year-old protagonist’s eyes, and while that’s no different than what I do with any character, it was the first time I’d seen through such a young lens for an entire novel. So that required channeling my younger self, remembering emotions and incidents I thought I’d forgotten. Many images returned to me that I hadn’t replayed in years, and overall, it was a healthy, illuminating experience for me. I got to exorcise some demons and to express some of the thoughts and emotions I possessed back then but was too young to articulate or understand.

Gef: Just looking at the back cover blurb for this book, it sounds like you're throwing everything but the kitchen sink at your protagonist. Did you just have a sadistic desire to see how much you could pile onto the poor fella?

Jonathan: Hah! Yes, my young protagonist is subjected to a whole boatload of terrible things. I teach my Creative Writing students the Kurt Vonnegut rule of characterization—“Be a sadist”—and I suppose this is an example of practicing what I preach. I do think, though, that all the disparate parts end up dovetailing nicely. There are dangers from five different directions: Will’s mother and her problems, the local police, the bullies that torment Will, a murderer named The Moonlight Killer, and one more I’m not going to get into (because this group forms the most frightening aspect of the story). To make matters worse, all Will loves will be threatened, particularly his friends, the girl he cares about, and especially his six-year-old sister.

I guess I could have just answered your question with a “Yes,” but I think the better answer would be that all of these things emerge naturally from the story, and though they’re all terrible, I think they’re each integral to the tale and to Will’s growth as a person.

Gef: There's a bit of the coming-of-age tale in this one, which has always seemed to have a home in the horror genre? What is it that makes adolescence and horror work so often?

Jonathan: I think horror, more than any other genre, deals in truths. This means that the shattering of illusions, the disabusing of delusions, and the unveiling of painful revelations are the natural currency of horror. No time in a person’s life is as rife with the aforementioned struggles as adolescence. When we’re in junior high and high school, we learn that life isn’t always fair. We discover that adults can be petty, callous, and cruel. We realize that the scripted futures we’ve constructed and to which we’ve clung probably won’t transpire in the manner that we desire, and we grapple with those difficult lessons at a time when we’re emotionally unequipped to do so.

All of this makes the coming-of-age story the most natural of subgenres for horror writers, for in these tales we’re afforded the opportunity to work out these problems on the page and to tell harrowing stories while we do so.

Gef: How have you found the experience in working with Sinister Grin Press so far?

Jonathan: Thus far it has been really enjoyable. I think what I’ve enjoyed the most is the consistent communication and the enthusiasm they’ve shown. They really love my book, and that love shows in their words and their behavior.

Gef: The cover art for this book is quite distinctive. How much input did you have in finding the artist and the eventual design?

Jonathan: I agree it’s distinctive. I’d also add that it kicks some serious booty. As for my input, this was pretty interesting really. I had seen Matthew Revert’s artwork several times and loved it, so I hired him to create a new cover for the re-release of my novella WITCHING HOUR THEATRE (which will be published some time in the second half of 2016). I loved the cover he came up with and was getting ready to request him with my Sinister Grin book, when lo and behold, Matthew messages me and says, “It looks like I might be doing another cover for you.” Which means that on the day I was going to request him, Sinister Grin approached him without any prompting from me and asked him to do the cover.

Then, the two of us communicated about it, and after some brainstorming and back-and-forth, he came up with the cover you see on the book now. I absolutely love it and think it has a beautiful old-school eighties slasher movie vibe.

Gef: This is a bit of an obscure reference here for readers that don't follow you on Facebook, but I'll ask it anyway. When are we going to see a "Hey Girl" line of merchandise? I definitely see potential for a pin-up calendar. :)

Jonathan: Hah! Let me illuminate this reference for the rest of your readers. My wife is quite a jokester, and she began…oh, about four months ago? She began posting high school pictures of me on Facebook with these ridiculous and, yes, admittedly funny captions. It has since become a bit of a phenomenon, so maybe there will be a calendar in the future. I have to think it would sell some copies at the upcoming Scares That Care 3 convention, since so many of my friends and readers will be present.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Jonathan: Man, things have been happening so rapidly that I have a difficult time keeping up. CHILDREN OF THE DARK drops on March 15th. WOLF LAND is only a few months old. Two books—WITCHING HOUR THEATRE and EXORCIST FALLS—will likely be published in 2016, and I’ve got several projects in various states of development for 2017.

As far as keeping up with me, I’ve got my blog (, which is about to become something much bigger; my Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon pages; a Twitter presence (@jonathanjanz), and an Instagram account (jonathan.janz). I love interacting with readers, so please feel free to contact me at any of these places! 

Thank you so much for having me, Gef. You’ve been good to me from the beginning, and I always enjoy returning to your wonderful site! 

Gef: *blush*

Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, and in a way, that explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”
2013 saw the publication of his novel of vampirism and demonic possession The Darkest Lullaby, as well as his serialized horror novel Savage Species. Of Savage Species, Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror–Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows–will find much to relish.” Jonathan’s Kindle Worlds novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows marked his first foray into the superhero/action genre.
Jack Ketchum called his vampire western Dust Devils a “Rousing-good weird western,” and his sequel to The Sorrows (Castle of Sorrows) was selected one of 2014’s top three novels by Pod of Horror. 2015 saw the release of The Nightmare Girl, which prompted Pod of Horror to call Jonathan “Horror’s Next Big Thing.” 2015 also saw the release of Wolf Land, which Publishers Weekly called “gruesome yet entertaining gorefest” with “an impressive and bloody climax.” He has also written four novellas (Exorcist Road, The Clearing of Travis Coble, Old Order, and Witching Hour Theatre) and several short stories.

His primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true. You can learn more about Jonathan at You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, or on his Goodreads and Amazon author pages.

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