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Jon F. Merz
Horror Interview by The Undertaker
1. How did you get into writing?
I'd always been fascinated with the thought of writing something people would love to read. I started out in high school writing stories about my friends and I saving the world and winning the best-looking girls in school. Not too many people (besides me and my friends) would want to read that sort of stuff so I branched out. David Morrell's The Brotherhood of the Rose made a huge impact on me as did Stephen King's Night Shift collection. I horsed around for a while but once I got out of the Air Force, I had a lot of time at a new job and began writing in earnest. That was back in 1994 and I haven't stopped since.
2. Tell us about some of your work for those unfamiliar with your stuff?
Beginning in 1996, some of my short stories saw publication in small press mags like Rictus, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Flesh & Blood, Altered Perceptions, Cabal Asylum, and a bunch of on-line venues. But I'm gaining some notice for my hard-boiled Lawson Vampire series of novels published by Pinnacle Books. They're about as un-vampire a series as you can get. No syrupy romantic Goth stuff here, just supernatural thrillers packed with guns and a noir atmosphere reminiscent of dime-store private eye novels. THE FIXER, book 1, debuted in May 2002 and THE INVOKER, book 2, just came out in October. Two more installments will be released in 2003 (THE DESTRUCTOR in March and THE SYNDICATE in August). I also have several stand alone horror novels currently being considered by publishers in New York.
3. What do you enjoy writing more a short story or a novel?
At this point, I've focused most of my energies on novels. But there's something challenging and thereby rewarding about packing a real wallop of a tale into just a few thousand words. It really depends on my mood. If I've been in the novel-writing frame for a while, the short story is just the thing to recharge the batteries. It helps keep things fresh. A lot of the short stories I write don't even go out for possible publication. I just write them as a way of getting my juices flowing again. So overall, I'd say it's a fair balance between the two. But novels are making my career, so I'd have to lean just a speck in their favor.
4. Your book The Fixer has a hard-boiled detective type edge to it. Is that a genre of fiction you like?
I like a lot of hard-boiled stuff, yeah. Robert Leslie Bellem, Mickey Spillane, Robert B. Parker, those guys are just fantastic. There's something (for me) intrinsically cool about gritty prose. It's not flowery and it doesn't spend a lot of time describing the textures of bed sheets. I like stuff that grabs you by the throat, smacks you around and then tosses you in the corner like a used shirt. Give me John D. MacDonald over Shakespeare anytime!
5. What do you consider your strengths as a writer? weaknesses?
People have responded well to my dialogue and I'm fairly proud of that. I spend a lot of time trying to get it to sound just right. I rework a lot of lines, trying to inject some humor and taut one-liners while adding to the flavor of the piece. Dialogue helps enhance characters, which was one of the first things an agent told me I needed to work on. So I spent a long time exploring ways to flesh a character out and dialogue is a big part of that. Everyone has a certain style of speech and if you can key in on that, it helps bring the reader into the character's head a lot more.
As far as weaknesses, I'd have to say that since the birth of my son seven months ago, my schedule's not what it used to be. I could blame it on him and his needs, but I won't because I love spending as much time as I can with him. My output isn't near what it used to be, so I'd say I need to get my nose to the grindstone a bit more at night when the little guy's asleep.
6. Have you always been a big horror film/fiction fan?
I love movies that deliver good scares. My favorite time of year is Halloween when the AMC channel always runs those great monster movie marathons. The horror flicks from years back are always great. The Hammer movies rank up there as well and I'm a sucker for anything those old black and white movies from the 50's. Movies of recent (sort of) years that I always sit down for: Jaws, Prince of Darkness, The Fog, The Exorcist, and a few others. Really recent might be The Mothman Prophecies which I loved.
7. Who are some of your favorite writers and books that you've enjoyed?
How much space do you have? Gotta start with David Morrell and Stephen King - they're the two who got me writing. Robert B. Parker, Donald Westlake, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (his supernatural short stories are great), Guy de Maupassant, Robert Leslie Bellem, John D. MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, Daniel Pinkwater, Elmore Leonard, Mickey Spillane, Dashiel Hammett, F. Paul Wilson, Andy McNab... ..there are hundreds of these guys...
Books? Wow, okay some standouts: The Brotherhood of the Rose, 'Salem's Lot, the Harry Potter series so far, Lord of the Rings, the Repairman Jack books, the Spenser books, pretty much anything by the authors listed above will do very well...
8. What or whom has influenced your writing over the years?
See above. Outside the writing world, my study of martial arts has had a big impact on what I do. I've been involved in it for about eighteen years now and won't stop until they shovel dirt onto my casket some day in the (hopefully) far future. The passing of my father about nine years ago also had a huge impact on me. We'd just reached that point where we weren't so much father and son as much as two guys hanging out, and then one day he was just gone. He'd always had a lot of unfulfilled dreams and personal goals he wasn't able to complete because he was taking care of his family. I respected and loved him immensely and have always tried to follow my dreams to completion. Also the support of my wife has been key to my success. I couldn't have done any of this without her behind me all the way. She's awesome.
9. What frustrates you most about wetting and getting a piece published?
Uh... I think that's supposed to be "writing" up there, heh heh. The biggest frustration is the W-A-I-T-I-N-G!! God, can you say SLOW? I always say the publishing world moves about as fast as frozen molasses on a perfectly level surface. People take their time doing anything and for someone like me who likes to get things done and moving on, the wait drives me nuts. The publishing world is still a little bit technophobic about innovations so some of these people don't even groove on email. Oh, and let me dispel a myth right now: the wait doesn't change even if you have published novels on the shelves. Unless you're a heavy hitter like King, the waiting is always with you. I've had a manuscript sitting at a publisher for seven months! Crazy waits. Unreal. Annoying. Drives me frickin' nuts.
10. Does the 'Net help you with your writing much? How about as a tool for sales, marketing, and publicity?
Yeah, the Net's been great. I hear from people all over the world. As a tool for publicity, it's been the biggest part of my push. I wrote Countdown, a weekly newsletter right after I sold THE FIXER, as a way of taking people inside the publishing process. Between the subscription list and the web sites where it was posted each week, I had upwards of 10,000 people from over a dozen countries reading it. It's pretty cool when you hear from someone in Tanzania about how great they liked an installment I wrote. I mean, the Net is just HUGE but sometimes you don't realize it until you hear from people. I certainly owe a big chunk of word spreading about me to the Net. As far as writing - the Net is probably my biggest research tool right now. I haven't ever not found something I was looking for out on the web.
On the downside: watch out for the psycho trolls...
11. Do you enjoy hitting the different cons?
Well, I just hit my first horror con - Horrorfind Weekend 2 down in Baltimore, back in August. I had a blast and will certainly be hitting the con circuit next year. Prior to Horrorfind, the last con I went to was a Sci-Fi one up here in Boston that had Tom Baker from Doctor Who as a guest - does that tell you how long ago THAT was?
12. Do you still work a regular job to support your habit, writing that is?
What's regular? Heh, I don't think I've ever fit into anything regular. I do some freelance writing work to help pay the bills, but otherwise, I'm the deranged stay-at-home dad who writes weird novels and raises his son. Like I said above - none of this would be possible without the support of my incredibly awesome wife. Apart from the writing, I do some private martial arts instruction for certain individuals. Oh, I'm also the first string spoons player any time Kenny G goes into the studio to record a new Christmas album... gack!
13. Any advice for others out there trying to get published other than "Don't quit your day job" and " read as much as possible"?
Stick with it! Too many writers are forever whining and telling aspiring authors, "Oh, it's soooo tough, you really shouldn't do this." What a load of crap. Do it! Challenge yourself to live your dreams. Remember the motto of the British special ops unit, the SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Oh, and when you do reach your goals - don't forget about the folks still in the trenches. I know of too many writers who turn their noses up at the first sign of success. That makes me sick. Reach back and help people out if you can. Never forget what it feels like to be unsure of your skills and how much you'd wished someone was there to help you along.
14. What future projects do you have coming out or are working on now?
Book 4 in the Lawson Vampire series, THE SYNDICATE is in rewrite mode right now but that should be out to my publisher within a week or so. I'm rewriting a short story I hope to place with an anthology. And I may be rewriting one of my stand-alone novels if things go well in the next few weeks - but I really can't talk about that right now...
15. What pisses you off most about the publishing industry these days?
Did we cover the waiting? Oh yeah we did. Probably number 2 on my list would be the fact that I sometimes wonder if publishers expect to make any money on books that never get promoted. I know a lot of great new writers and their publishers aren't doing a thing to help spread the word. There are plenty of low-cost publicity techniques available but they just don't do it. It's sad and a lot of these authors may wind up having to do more of the work on their own. Nowadays, it's not enough to just write the books. You've got to sell them too. And unless you have the ability to take off the "artist" hat and put on the "business" one, you're sunk.
16. Where would you like to be as an author 10 years from now?
Is the bestseller thing too cliché? I'd dearly love to see some of my stuff made into films. I try to write with the idea in mind of seeing things transferred to film. People have told me when they read my books, they can see it as a movie and that's a big thrill for me when they do. It would be very nice to be able to write fiction full-time and live comfortably. I hear stories of books being bought for six and seven-figure advances and the storyline goes something like "a man with one eyeball collects soda cans and muses about inflation in this stirring emotional smorgasbord." Boring! I'd like to see the new wave of thriller authors - the folks who jolt people for a living - start making the dough. ahem< myself included, of course.
17. Who do you feel are some of the better authors pushing the genre forward these days?
Wow, another lengthy list here. I'll restrict myself to folks who have just had a novel or two published since there are a good deal of great authors out there that have already been in the biz for a while. Let's see (and in no particular order): Joe Nassise, Drew Williams, Mike Oliveri, Harry Shannon, Brian Keene, Kelli Campbell, Marcy Italiano, Diana Barron, Michael Arruda, John Harvey, Jack Haringa, Dan Keohane, M. Steve Lukac, Hertzan Chimera, Matt Warner, Wrath James White... and so many more.
18. What are your feelings on the E-book thingamabob? is that the future of fiction?
Well, for me it will never be. I like curling up with a book. I like hitting the can with something that won't potentially electrocute me. I enjoy reading on planes. I like the feel and smell of a book. I'm a real stick-in-the-mud traditionalist when it comes to this. I mean, that's always been the dream for me: get my books onto the shelves of bookstores. But for some folks, it might be the best way to break in to the business- so more power to 'em. Me? I like books.
19. What's the scariest thing you've experienced that you were able to use later in a piece?
Um... I've had several experiences that could have ended my life pretty fast. I've been at home and overseas and been in extremely hairy situations. I don't like discussing things like this in too much detail because invariably it comes off reading/sounding wrong. But I came through those encounters with a very real zest for life - and a real respect for how fast life can be snuffed out. The experiences stay with you though and in a lot of ways, they add a very interesting dimension to your fiction when you write an action sequence.
20. Last chance, plug yourself (not literally, literarily), or any last thoughts you care to add?
Check out the Lawson Vampire books! If you hate vampires, this is the series for you. Stop by my website, sign up for my free newsletter (and get a free e-book of my short stories as a bonus), sign my guestbook. Threaten your local bookseller into carrying my novels. Tell your friends and family all about the nut who writes vampires as being alive instead of undead. Get them to buy my books. The more people who know about the books - the better!