As far back as The Inquisition, the speculative existence of demons among us has woven a dark seduction over impressionable minds of all ages. Despite centuries of religious teachings that things which go bump in the night, wander fog-shrouded cemeteries, or assume the shape of bats and wolves to feed on human prey are to be avoided at all costs, curiosity has not only killed many a cat but lured many a reader into creepy plots that conjure nightmares. But hey, what’s not to love about a good story that brings on goosebumps? Jonathan Pongratz, author of Reaper: A Horror Novella, explains his own draw to the horror genre.
Interviewer; Christina Hamlett
Q: Did you read horror novels and watch horror films when you were growing up?
A: Growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me read or watch anything relating to horror, but I was determined. Though I couldn’t buy any horror books against their knowledge, I spent many late nights creeping from my bedroom to the dark living room. In time I watched all the great classics, in turn giving myself constant nightmares, but it was very much worth it!
Q: Is there a favorite that stands out in your memory?
A: As far as films go, Halloween is probably my favorite. The film really focuses on the mystery and terror of the boogeyman, while also having a great build up to the blood and gore. I rewatch it every year around Halloween.
On books, I really haven’t read that many horror novels to be honest, but my favorite thus far is Sarah by Teri Polen. A scary spirit with an insatiable lust for vengeance made it a real page turner for me.
Q: Last book or movie that really scared your socks off?
A: The last one that terrified me was IT Chapter One (the remake). Every scene had such scare factor that by the end I was something of a nervous wreck. It’s very rare that that happens to me, and I was extremely impressed.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I just finished up reading the Watchmen comic series. If you’re not familiar, it’s a superhero themed comic set in the 80s, but much more grisly, dark, and violent than most other superhero novels I’ve read before. It is pretty similar to the movie adaptation, and I absolutely loved it!
Q: What was your attraction to writing a horror-themed story?
A: I’ve always loved the horror genre. I have watched hundreds of scary movies, and writing a horror-themed story was a way for me to pay respect to the genre itself. Chills, thrills, adrenaline,
I wanted to write something creepy that got my blood pumping and hopefully the readers as well.
Q: Whose work in the horror genre do you most admire?
A: I’d have to say George Romero and James Wan. George Romero is popular for his zombie movies, Wan for Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. Both have been able to create compelling, dark landscapes that are simply unforgettable. I always gravitate back towards their works, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for my own ideas.
Q: How and when did your own journey as a writer begin?
A: My real writer’s journey began when I moved to Kansas City about eight years ago. I was at something of a crossroads in my life, and though I hadn’t written anything in years, something about the change of scenery awakened something within me. Ideas started forming in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore them. I felt an intense compulsion to write, more than I had ever felt before. I haven’t stopped writing since.
Q: Share with us the inspiration behind the plot and characters for Reaper: A Horror Novella.
A: I was watching horror movies around September of 2018 when an idea started forming in my mind. The boogeyman, creepy basements, and vanishing children are all themes that I’ve seen in movies before, but for some reason, as I rewatched my favorites this time around I was more inspired than usual.
I wanted something nostalgic, an ode to my own days as a kid, so I went with the early 90s. I wanted to write a creature feature centered around Halloween and the boogeyman, while portraying the sibling rivalry between a comic book kid and his bratty little sister. A lot of the main character’s personality are actually small pieces of my childhood.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: Plotter all the way. I like to have a chiseled out plan before I start writing, even if I do end up pantsing here and there on the spot. If there isn’t a chapter summary, it won’t get written.
Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for this title?
A: You know, I’m not very good with names, so I would just want each character to be portrayed correctly and settle for that. Gregory as a classic 90s comic book nerd, Imogen as a bratty little sister, their parents as loving but detached. The one person I did have an actress in mind for is his mother, Patricia. I’d like to see someone that looked like Catherine Mary Stewart play her part.
Q: How long did it take to write Reaper: A Horror Novella from start to finish?
A: From draft to publication it took me about six months, which I believe to be a bit fast. The first draft itself took about 2-3 months.
Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress? Why or why not?
A: I used to do that, but nowadays I don’t. I feel that I’ve grown enough in my writing that I should be able to complete a compelling, well-written first draft. Sure, there will always be little things here and there, but you can’t catch everything. I also don’t like other peoples’ opinions weighing in until after I’ve completed the story in its totality, so that I know what I actually want to keep and what I can compromise on if there’s a problem.
Q: I understand that a sequel is already in the works?
A: Yes! I am in the late stages of writing my first draft of the sequel. Ironically, I had no intentions of continuing this story, but a week after I published the first one I woke up one morning and the sequel just started pouring into my head. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I did.
Q: What are some of the challenges/rewards inherent in continuing an existing story versus leaving it as a standalone?
A: Well, I believe that writing a standalone may be a bit easier. You can write a great, compelling story and move on to other projects afterwards. Some readers are series-averse. I have phases where I do not want to read a series. Sometimes you just want a one off, and that’s okay. Writing a series, however, can be quite the headache. Not only are you writing more than one novel, but ensuring the continuity is there is extremely important, amidst a plethora of other things you have to watch. That being said, it can be easier to write more than one book once you solidify your style of writing for the main characters. I had a much easier time with Gregory when writing the sequel than I did with the first book.
Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What did you learn from this that you didn’t know when you started out?
A: A lot, actually. Without a traditional publisher backing you up, you literally have to do every single step of the publishing process yourself, which can easily get confusing. ISBNs, the cover, formatting the digital copy, setting up with a print-on-demand service. I lucked out that my dear friend and fellow author Emerald Dodge took mercy and held my hand through a big chunk of the process.
Q: How are you going about marketing your work?
A: Honestly, for the most part I stick to my social media platforms. I use WordPress and Facebook primarily, but also utilize Tumblr and GoodReads to boost my presence when I can. Marketing is definitely something I could work on quite a bit more, but honestly I don’t have a lot of time after all is said and done.
Q: When and where do you feel you get your best wordsmithing done?
A: I usually write in my room with the ambient music cranked up. I have a desk and desktop with a large screen that makes things so much easier. As far as timing, that’s where the plotter in me thrives. I write before work, on lunch, and after work in at least 30 minute intervals. That’s about all I can do with my crazy busy life, but I have a system that yields results.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m pretty predictable nowadays, but every once in a while I love to rock out with some karaoke. I was a choir kid growing up and was even in several show choirs. Jazz hands!
Q: It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re out by yourself. Which would you rather face down—a vampire, a witch or a zombie?
A: Face down or persuade to turn me? Haha! My answer is vampire all the way. I’ve always had a love for vampires since reading Anne Rice in high school, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to convince a vampire that I’d be the best prodigy ever rather than have one kill me. I mean, my vocal and writing skills alone should earn me a lofty eternal life.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your upcoming projects?
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I always like to impart a little bit of wisdom to newer writers. If any of them are listening now, I’d like to urge them to keep writing. Find a time every day to write in a comfortable space, even if you have to fight for that time. Some things are worth fighting for, and you’ll grow so much faster if you stick to it. The world is full of possibilities!