The Scariest Part: Jonathan Janz Talks About CHILDREN OF THE DARK


This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Jonathan Janz, whose latest novel is Children of the Dark. Here’s the publisher’s description:

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.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jonathan Janz:

First of all, thank you for having me on, Nicholas! I really appreciate the opportunity to visit.

There were several scenes in Children of the Dark that forced me out of my comfort zone, not the least of which because they involved violence and children. As a father of three kids under the age of ten, this was painful enough. I can’t imagine any of my kids coming to harm, and I certainly didn’t want the kids in my novel to be hurt or threatened either.

But in the waning moments of the book, I was forced to place two of my most beloved characters in mortal danger, and because of the circumstances of the situation, only one of them could survive. In her outstanding review of my novel, author A.E. Siraki wrote, “Janz knows how to tug at the heartstrings of readers and to cause maximum amounts of anguish. Without spoiling the plot toward the end, there is a Sophie’s Choice moment that I thought was incredibly emotionally resonant and for me, Janz has proven yet again what an evocative writer he is.”

The mention of the William Styron novel Sophie’s Choice was particularly gratifying to me because it captures the difficulty of the moment for my central character (Will Burgess), who is forced to choose between two of the people he loves the most — arguably the two people he does love the most. I could have waffled and allowed both characters to live, but given the situation in which they found themselves, the veering onto this avenue would have rung false. Above all, an author must be true to the story and true to the characters, because without that, a narrative loses its integrity.

As alluded to earlier, the characters between Will must choose are both children. I’m OCD anyway and prone to intrusive thoughts, and due to this psychological/emotional problem, I’m besieged by frightening thoughts about harm coming to one of my own children anyway. I have nightmares about it. In my waking hours, our house becomes fraught with danger. Like a Final Destination movie, I begin to view every setting we inhabit as a hostile, sentient entity intent on doing my kids harm.

Writing the aforementioned scene in Children of the Dark forced me to confront those debilitating fears and to allow the unthinkable to happen to one of my favorite characters. Leading up to this scene, I was gripped by a suffocating sense of dread. I was assaulted by images of the tragedy occurring, haunted by the soon-to-be uttered screams of my doomed character. And while harm coming to a fictional character is infinitely preferable to harm happening to someone I love, the former occurrence reminds me of the latter possibility.

On the day I wrote the scene, my already over-active OCD and intrusive thoughts shifted into trembling-hand, sweaty-forehead mode. I assumed my accustomed spot in my writing chair like a man about to blast into space in an experimental shuttle. And as my fingers quaked and typed, quaked and typed, I found myself cringing, my stomach roiling. When it was over, I set the computer aside, lowered my head, and supported my brow with an ice-cold palm. I felt enervated, hollowed out. I was already in mourning for my character, who after all deserved nothing that happened to him/her, who only deserved happiness and joy. Who would now never breathe again.

Sometimes we have to venture into shadowy realms in order to capture the truth of a story. In Children of the Dark, I found that truth, but not without enduring a severe test of endurance and grappling with my darkest fears.

Jonathan Janz: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Children of the Dark: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

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.” 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 splatter punk 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.

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