Your first three novels have been fairly extreme, dishing out the blood, guts, sex, and gore. All three have also dealt with demonic and occult forces. Is this going to be a mainstay for you in your novel-length fiction, or is it just where you're at right now? Is your short fiction different from your novels in any noticeable way?
I’m a huge fan of supernatural horror – the forces from beyond kind of stuff. I’m not interested in real-life “torture” horror or serial killer stories very much, nor do I have a personal attraction to vampires or zombies… I’m fascinated by ghosts and demons and witches and the like. Dark magic gets me going.
That said, my fourth novel, due out next summer from Leisure is called Siren… and it intentionally avoids the demon / ritual sacrifice tropes of my first three books. Instead, I focused on the dark mythology behind the Siren, and brought her into the modern age. I’m really proud of the novel; I think it focuses a little more on themes of obsession and desire and loss… it’s a more personal novel, I guess.
And actually that’s the kind of thing that tends to drive my short fiction. A lot of my shorter stories have focused on some emotion or issue that I was gnawing on… and that drove a short story. The last couple novels have really been straight horror “adventure” novels, without any underlying theme exploration. At least not overtly!
There has always been a thread of erotic horror and the supernatural in my short and long fiction. But I think my best short fiction, like “Bloodroses” and “Letting Go” really address some hard emotional moments.
Your first novel, “Covenant”, won the Bram Stoker Award for “Best First Novel”. If you can, tell us what you think it was about that novel and its story that pushed it over the top.
Honestly, I have no idea. I’m happy it won, because it certainly helped me gain more exposure and credibility. But I’m sure there were other first novels that year more deserving. I wrote Covenant to be a fun, dark, pulp novel that didn’t rely on the usual “monster” tropes. But there were no literary pretensions or breakout ideas really. It was a small-town, claustrophobic, “what’s that secret everyone seems to be hiding” kind of novel. Why are people jumping off a cliff and dying horribly on the same day every year… for the past 100 years? My goal was simply to write a demonic horror book that was entertaining with some good erotic horror, high tension moments. I’m just glad some people responded well to it!
What other projects have you got on the “burners” at the moment?
I’m finishing up a three-story e-chapbook for Delirium Books, which is cool. It will be my fifth release with Delirium, and my first since 2007. I’ve also got a couple other short fiction projects to finish for anthologies, and then I hope to begin working on my fifth novel for Leisure at the start of the new year!
You founded DarkArts Books (www.darkartsbooks.com) in 2006. What challenges have you faced running a small press publishing company and pursuing your own writing career at the same time? What are some of the rewards you've enjoyed?
Well, it definitely has gotten more challenging over the past year! I used to divide my time between working on Dark Arts stuff and writing new fiction. This past year, I spent six pretty intense months working on Siren. In the midst of that I somehow scraped together a couple weeks to design the Mighty Unclean anthology for Dark Arts… and the rest of the time I’ve been on the road doing book-signings to promote Covenant, then Sacrifice, and lately The 13th.
The result is that a lot of the work of promoting Dark Arts has fallen to my co-publisher, Bill Breedlove, who has served as editor on four of our five titles. I feel a little bad about that, because I don’t want to short shrift Dark Arts, which was born out of a passion of mine to produce quality books – but there are only so many hours in the day, especially when you have a full time job that has nothing to do with horror!
All that said, Dark Arts Books has been very rewarding. One of our releases last year, Like A Chinese Tattoo made the final Bram Stoker Awards ballot. I’ve gotten to publish some of my favorite short fiction authors through the press, and hopefully put their stories in a design format that presents the fiction attractively.
And I’ve gotten to indulge my book design “jones” completely unfettered. The Sins of the Sirens book that I edited for DA was a project that I had wanted to do for years… a couple of the stories I had earmarked for an erotic horror anthology that Shane Staley and I talked about doing for Delirium (but which never came to pass). The lead-off story in Sins of the Sirens, from Loren Rhoads, was one that I had pulled from the slush pile and lobbied to publish in Dark Regions Magazine, but which my two co-editors voted down. It took me eight years and a different press, but ultimately, I got my way and published that story!
When and where is your next Con appearance?
I’ll be at the Horror Society’s Chicago B-Movie Fest on January 16. After that, the next one is Hypericon in Nashville, next June. I had planned to return to World Horror Convention next year and was really looking forward to finally seeing England… however, they moved the timing up on the con by several weeks from its usual spring dates… and it now is slated for March on the weekend of my day job's big winter board meeting… which I’m 99% certain I’ll need to attend. I can’t tell you how bummed out I was when I looked at the calendar and realized THAT.
But I’ll do Hypericon next year, and probably Dragon*Con… and I’m sure a couple of others will crop up along the way!
Thanks for spending some time with us today, John.
Thanks for bringing me into the dark light of the Shroud!