Spotlight on Horror: An interview with Kate Jonez

For this edition of Spotlight on Horror, I introduce to you Kate Jonez, horror writer and editor at Omnium Gatherum. Enjoy, and pick up a copy of Jonez’s debut novel, CANDY HOUSE!


Dean Harrison: First of all, tell me about yourself. Give me a mini-bio.

Kate Jonez: I live and write in Southern California. Even though it’s sunny here, I’ve always liked the dark and quirky, so the fact that I write dark fantasy fiction comes as no surprise to my friends and family. Scary is good, but scary alone isn’t enough for me. I write stories that uncover something interesting about human nature. For me that’s more important. I am also the editor at Omnium Gatherum a small press that’s been in business for two years this November. We’ve published some of the best books around including your These Unquiet bones. We’ve gotten 3 Shirley Jackson Award nominations in 2 years so I feel like we’re doing something right. Writing and publishing keeps getting better and better.

DH:  When did you first get into writing?

KJ: I started writing semi-seriously in the mid-80s after I graduated (yep that’s what we’re calling it) college, and by semi-seriously I mean wrote a little and told everyone I was a writer. I was also an aspiring painter, fashion designer, photographer, and all sorts of other things. What I was actually was was fairly good at socializing. When I finally shut up and sat down around 1999 I started to get some things accomplished. I wish I had realized earlier how important it is to choose one thing to master. Writing takes focus and going off in twenty creative directions kept me from accomplishing as much as I would have liked. Although, I do know how to do a lot of interesting stuff marginally well.

DH: Who are your influences?

KJ: The list of writers I admire is really long and lists without the whats and the whys aren’t much fun, so I’ll stick to authors who I’ve tried copy or plan to borrow from.  I’m fascinated by Kafka’s idea of telling an ordinary story with one thing out of the ordinary. I’m inspired by Annie Proulx’s ability to make a tiny piece of human experience seems so monumental and grand. Her short stories are beautiful things even when they’re bleak.  I was recently devastated by Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. I didn’t love every single thing about it, but that’s an important thing I’ve learned about books. Sometimes one chapter or two can make a book exceptional. There are more, but I don’t want to hog up your whole blog.

DH: What was your very first story about?

The first novel I attempted to write was the story of an Irish playwright who wanted more than anything to connect with a daughter he neglected as a child. They lived in mirror image worlds, one bad, one even worse, separated by an impermeable membrane. The father tried increasingly dangerous and desperate ways to communicate as he watched his daughter make the same mistakes he did. I never finished that one.  It was called Gone Girl. Or maybe it was something else. It sucked in every way. From the cringe inducing fake Irish dialect to the long passages of purple prose and over-abundance of maudlin sentiment, every bit of it was a mess.  I am so glad this was not my first novel.  Although, describing it now… it sounds like a pretty good concept. I’ve still got it somewhere on 5 ½ inch floppies.

DH:Tell me about your debut novel.


KJ: Candy House is the story of a bright young scientist who moves back home with his parents because his explosive temper has ruined his career. His neighbors are an odd bunch of characters from  fairy tales. They live in a hidden world with a separate set of customs and laws. The fairy tale folk are in charge of keeping humans in check. They’ve got all sorts of tricks to keep humans in their place. Or the young man might be sabotaging himself as he succumbs to schizophrenia. Like the tarot deck that provides the structure for the story, sometimes an event can be interpreted one way sometimes the same event could be interpreted as the reverse. Maybe both things are true.

DH: What do you find most challenging about the writing process?

KJ:  In the past when I was working on a book, I didn’t read anything else because other authors have a subtle influence that creeps into my writing. Because I’m an editor now, I don’t have that option. Editing is also extra intense reading. I have to be very careful not to mimic other writers’ style or pick up their bad habits. In a second draft, no matter how careful I am, I find some odd word choice or turn of phrase that doesn’t belong to me. I guess in a way that’s an influence too.

DH: Do you outline?

KJ: I outline and then outline again and again until I’ve filled in all the gaps between outline points. Then I have a first draft.

DH: Is it a challenge juggling the duties of a publisher with your own writing?

KJ: In theory publishing is my day job and like most other writers I write at night. I do my best to get 1 hour a day of writing in and 3 or 4 hour blocks a couple of times a week. That’s doesn’t always work out as well as it should.  Once Little Visible Delight, an anthology that explores writer’s obsessions is released this November that makes 10 books this year for Omnium Gatherum. My ‘to do’ list is pretty huge.

DH: Are there any hobbies you enjoy outside of writing?

KJ: I’m always looking around for things to add to cabinet of curiosities. “Cabinet” is probably not the right word… “house” maybe. One of my favorite things is the fetal pig in a jar I got last Christmas. I’ve also got a 50s era French biohazard suit. It has to stay outside though, because apparently not everyone wants used biohazard gear in the house. I also like to research obscure and strange historical figures and photograph Southern California. The Mojave desert is one of my favorite spots for photos.

DH: What are you reading these days?

KJ: I seem to be reading a lot of story collections lately. Monstrosities by Jeremy C. Shipp, Shadows and Tall Trees edited by Michael Kelley, The Wide Carnivorous Sky by John Langan, andVampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. Read all of these. They are all exceptionally good.


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