In the world of horror literature, very few names rise above the cacophony of screams and whispers like Jonathan Janz. A master storyteller, an educator, and a devoted family man who cherishes every moment with his wife and kids, Janz's profound connection to horror transcends mere tales of monsters and haunted houses; it's deeply personal and redemptively potent.
Janz is always a luminous presence in the horror community and a delightful beacon on social media. In fact, my admiration for him has only grown since I first encountered his gripping narratives years ago through the Night Worms subscription box.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with him and discuss his life and career.
“My real name is Jonathan Craig Shaeffer,” he admits, marking the first time he shared this in a printed interview. He elaborates on the origin of his pseudonym, explaining, “The Janz comes from my mom’s maiden name; it was a way of honoring my grandma and grandpa, who helped raise me and whom I miss every day.”
This homage to his family reflects Janz's deeply rooted sense of gratitude and reverence for his past.
Janz candidly shares, “The pen name originally came about because of my teaching job. I was never worried about my students’ reactions... What I was worried about was some wingnut parent conflating me with one of my stories.”
This balancing act between his teaching profession and his writing career offers a rare glimpse into the challenges authors often face outside the confines of their literary world.
“My early childhood was sort of terrifying”, Janz recalls. He lists a few of the more benign reasons: “My house was nestled between a graveyard and a deep dark forest; my mom was a rabid fan of The Twilight Zone and Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of…; and lastly, Mom also loved to bring home Edgar Allan Poe albums from the library. Some of my first experiences with stories were listening to “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In other words, my mom was awesome, and I’m so grateful she surrounded me with wonderful, ghoulish storytelling.”
But, beyond the tales of the supernatural, Janz's confrontation with real-life horrors becomes evident, as he touches upon the pain of his relationship with his father: “The fear I used to feel when I was little… I don’t think that will ever leave me.” At the same time, he shares a poignant memory about a more influential father figure. He explains, “Grandpa was this constant, warm, supportive, loving presence in all our lives... his love and warmth permeate everything I do, and that includes my writing.”
When asked about the one person he would love to meet, Janz's voice brims with reverence. “Stephen King. He’s my main writing hero.”
The profound impact King has had on Janz is palpable. At a vulnerable age of 14, grappling with self-worth, it was King's work that became Janz's beacon. “I realized I wasn’t unintelligent—I’d just been reading the wrong books. King trusted me as a reader... His writing was a revelation to me, and forever after I was a changed person.”
For Janz, writing becomes a catharsis, a way to navigate and make sense of the mazes of life. “Horror is extraordinary therapy,” he expresses, adding, “It’s why I think horror people are so kind and full of love. We know fear and we know pain. And through horror we work out much of our heartache and anxiety.”
In this art of confronting fear, Janz’s process of creation stands out. “Inspiration comes from so many sources, but it’s always just…magical. Unforced.”
Painting a picture of his daily routine, Janz describes, “On a writing day… I’ll get up early and write until I get at least 3000 words done. I drink coffee, listen to baroque music, and sit in a cozy faux leather chair. It’s incredible and (most of the time) exhilarating.”
When asked about working with Earthling Publications on the limited hardcover of Marla, he says, “Paul Miller is almost too good. He makes life hard for other editors because the standard he sets is absurd (I’d say the same for Paul Goblirsch of Thunderstorm). But Paul Miller…he communicates constantly, pays early (you read that right), speaks truthfully, and is a genuine collaborator.”
Regarding a potential paperback release of Marla, he says, “Here’s the issue we’re running into at the moment... some editors see the book as a reprint... But the original run was only 500 limited edition hardcovers... If some publisher does take the plunge—if the right publisher takes the plunge—Marla is going to blow the doors off. There’s also movie interest, which helps too. I have high hopes for the novel and believe that a mass market release will happen.”
In the small town of King's Branch, the enigmatic Marla Gorman, who resides in a Gothic house with her mother, is the subject of local legends. Some consider her a prisoner, while others label her a witch. When a series of murders occur, Detective Carl Lancaster becomes convinced of Marla's involvement, despite her absence from the crime scenes. Social worker Annie Frost and struggling college student Dylan Ellison also become entangled with Marla, each driven by their own motives. As the story unfolds, Marla's true nature is unveiled, casting the town into an unimaginable nightmare and redefining the meaning of terror for all involved.
As expected, the release of Janz’s novella The Dismembered went buttery smooth.
“Cemetery Dance was every bit as cool as I thought it would be. Kevin Lucia does great work, and the job he did with The Dismembered made me very happy. Plus, Matthew Revert’s cover is an all-timer. Just exquisite work.”
In 1912, American writer Arthur Pearce, seeking to escape his painful past, encounters a young woman named Sarah Coyle on a London-bound train. She shares a chilling story of her sister Violet's involvement with Count Richard Dunning, a charismatic but shadowy figure rumored to be involved in unsettling religious practices and experimental medicine. Sarah believes Violet is in danger, and Arthur, captivated by Sarah's plight, agrees to help. His journey to Sarah's ancestral home reveals a dark and ghastly plot orchestrated by Count Dunning.
But what truly stands out is the horizon ahead. In his own words, “I’ll have two stories appearing in awesome anthologies during October. The first, titled “Midwinter Tales” in Literally Dead: Tales of Holiday Hauntings, evokes the classic ghost stories of the 19th century. The subsequent one, “The Third Shannon” in Morbidologies, channels the essence of an early-90s erotic thriller.”
Further building on the anticipation, Janz reveals, “In November, Children of the Dark will get its long-awaited re-release.”
He hints at the sequel, Children of the Dark 2: The Night Flyers, and expresses excitement about the audiobook version being narrated by Matt Godfrey, who has previously lent his voice to some of Janz's other works.
Children of the Dark
Will Burgess, a high school freshman facing a tough life, must care for his younger sister while dealing with the torment of his crush dating his enemy. Things take a dark turn when the infamous Moonlight Killer escapes from prison and heads to their town. Sinister forces in the nearby Savage Hollow forest further complicate matters. A devastating storm forces Will and his friends to confront unimaginable horrors, putting their lives and the lives of those they love in grave danger.
However, the intrigue doesn't end there. Janz tantalizingly teases, “I’ve got some other things I’m not allowed to talk about, including participation in a jaw dropping project that will send shockwaves not only through the horror community, but through readers all over the planet.”
Coupled with this, his mention of multiple books on submission and potential film collaborations signals a meteoric ascent in his career.
“I think things are about to explode,” he enthuses, echoing the sentiments of countless fans awaiting his next move.
The Nightmare Girl
Joe Crawford sees a mother abusing her young child and confronts her about it. What Joe doesn’t know is his actions will start a whole chain of unsettling events. The mother in question is involved in something sinister, a cult. And now that the toddler is placed in a foster home, this cult of killers will stop at nothing to get this child back.
Featured image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash