Today is a very special post and one I’m super proud of. Recently I was given the opportunity to not only read/review the exciting and thrilling new release: It Will Just Be Us (publication date – August 11 2020) by Jo Kaplan, but also to interview the talented author herself! I will be posting a full, spoiler-free review this Thursday so stay tuned for that. In the meantime however, I want to share my Q&A with Jo. A huge thank you to Crooked Lane Publishing for helping set this up and to Jo for taking the time to answer my questions and provide so much insight into her life, writing process and wonderful full-length, debut novel. Please visit her website here. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
1.) When did you realise you wanted to be an author?
I actually knew I wanted to write before I could really write. Is that weird? When I was a kid, 5 or 6, I was very much into the Goosebumps series, and I would make my own Goosebumps-inspired books by folding and stapling blank paper together, making a title, and drawing a cover. Then I would just scribble all over the inside pages, and I would “read” my books to people, making up the stories as I went. I guess that’s probably when I knew I wanted to be a storyteller (and that I wanted to write horror).
2.) Your book is said to be reminiscent of ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’ What was the inspiration behind ‘It Will Just Be Us?’
Shirley Jackson was indeed a major inspiration – The Haunting of Hill House for sure, but even moreso, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I think is her masterpiece. Her richly atmospheric settings populated by dynamic women drew me right in. But I also wanted to do something a little different than these and other classic haunted house stories. I was also inspired by Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves in the labyrinthine and experimental way he deals with the peculiarities of the house. And in terms of real-life inspiration, I’ve always been fascinated by the Winchester Mystery Mansion, so there’s a bit of that in there, too. Despite these inspirations, I hope It Will Just Be Us also stands as its own unique story.
3.) Tell me about your book writing process…
I guess it’s pretty standard, moving from conception to fleshing out ideas to outlining to writing to revising. I wish I were a faster writer; I know some writers who can pump out a novel in a few months. I tend to let my ideas linger, marinating in my mind for a while as I slowly flesh them out in my head and then on the page. I feel like half my writing time is just spent thinking, feeling my way through the characters and the situation, trying to get inside of the story as much as possible. Maybe that means I’m a slower writer, but it feels like such an intimate process that I wouldn’t want to rush it. The whole process, the experience of creating the story, is really the joy of writing for me… though seeing the finished product is really nice, too!
4.) What are some of your favourite horror/thriller movies and books?
My favorites are always changing as I discover new books and movies that blow me away! Obviously We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a top favorite of mine, along with IT by Stephen King, The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell, Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, The Fisherman by John Langan, and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. I’ll stop there before I think of ten more to add.
I love the direction horror cinema is moving these days—away from the shock fest and toward more nuanced and varied approaches to horror that emphasize character and atmosphere. Some I love are Hereditary, The Witch, The Lighthouse, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and The Babadook, but The Shining will always remain my classic favorite. That said, I derive great pleasure from watching so-bad-they’re-good ‘80s horror movies like Blood Rage or The Stuff. My husband and I recently watched Silent Night, Deadly Night 2—oh man, that movie.
5.) Are your characters based on anybody you know? How did you select the names?
My characters are most definitely not based on anyone I know! Though I take bits and pieces of character traits from the world around me, my characters are always a hodgepodge, never based on any one person. It’s probably better that way since my characters are all deeply flawed people; I don’t think anyone I know would want to have on based on them.
I’m fairly particular about character names, mostly in an aesthetic sense though. I want the names to sound like… well, like they fit the book. Agnes, Samantha, and Elizabeth all feel like very classic, older-style names, which seemed to fit with the older, ornate feel of the house they inhabit. Some names just feel right. I also like Samantha because she goes by the androgynous Sam, which is kind of like me—Joanna who goes by the more androgynous Jo!
6.) What advice can you give to inspiring authors?
Here’s the little tidbit of advice I give my creative writing students: RIP. Read, Imitate, Practice. Read a lot; read widely; read in your genre, but also read great books outside of your genre. Then imitate what you love – identify what works in these other books and then see if you can emulate what that writer did well. And finally, practice writing as much as you can; practice until you find your own voice, so that you’re no longer just imitating but creating.
But as far as the business side of it, my main advice would be not to give up. Publishing is not an easy business, and there can be a lot of rejection involved. You sort of have to grow a thick skin and love it for what it is, and take joy from the whole process.
7.) Did you need to undergo any research for this book? How long do you typically spend researching before writing?
Yes, I feel I always have to do some manner of research for any book. For this one, it was mostly surrounding the Great Dismal Swamp and the intriguing history of maroons who lived there to escape from slavery. I don’t know that I have a typical time-frame I can refer to for how long I spend researching, but I like to read as much as I can easily get my hands on (usually starting with scouring the internet, then seeing if there are any books that would add to a deeper knowledge of the subject), and once I feel like I have a good sense of what I’m looking for, or I start to just read the same repeated information over and over again, then I’ll feel confident about diving in. Right now I’m researching old mining boomtowns on the frontier for a new book, which is fun and interesting because it’s a subject I don’t know a whole lot about.
8.) In this book, there is an evil spirit that terrorises Sam. Was it difficult creating a spooky atmosphere to unsettle the readers?
I adore works with spooky atmospheres. It’s funny, I can’t remember the last time I was actually scared of a horror book or movie (wait, yes, I can – my early teens, when The Ring came out and she spins the chair around to reveal his face!). I have a hard time explaining why I love horror so much when it doesn’t actually scare me. But I just love an atmosphere rich with creepiness and dread, so I try to infuse my writing with the same. I’m a big believer in the influence of place, so setting is very important to me. Where we are and how we interact with our environment has a major impact on mood (I even do a totally non-horror-related bit of psycho-geography with my students, in a class where we analyze the city of Los Angeles). I think the most difficult part is knowing whether I’ve succeeded in creating that unsettling atmosphere. I just want it to give you that delicious tingle of dread up your spine!
9.) Do you plan on writing more horror/thriller novels or will you branch out into other genres in the future?
This is a genre I have always loved, and I suspect I will always love it, and will always come back to it. I do have another horror/thriller I’m working on right now, which has required a lot more research since it’s more of an historical horror (think Alma Katsu’s The Hunger), but I’ve also been playing with a fantasy idea that hasn’t left me alone… albeit a fantasy with some dark and disturbing elements, of course!
10.) Was the publishing process relatively simple and how did you come to find Crooked Lane Publishing?
I’m not sure publishing is ever simple. To be honest, it’s taken me a lot of work to get here, but Crooked Lane has been an absolute joy to work with. The first thing I did was find an agent, which itself took a lot of searching and querying and waiting until I signed with Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency. I am so lucky that she wanted to represent me because she’s great, and she’s the one who found Crooked Lane. Once I landed at Crooked Lane, like I said, it’s been wonderful! The team there is fabulous, and my editor helped me so much when it came to tightening and improving the book. I really can’t thank her enough. It’s been a great experience.
Once again a huge thank you to both Crooked Lane Publishing and Jo Kaplan for giving me such a great opportunity. I cannot wait to share my spoiler-review on this creepy yet fascinating novel. It is right up my alley! If you’re interested in pre-ordering a copy, please click here. If you would like to check out the Goodreads page, please click here.
Feel free to let me know down below if this book sounds like something you might want to check out. I really want to get more people talking about it! Thanks for reading.
Peace & Love xoxo
Disclaimer: This post contains links to my Book Depository Affiliate which helps fund my blog, I am not being paid or sponsored for this post/products – all my thoughts/opinions are my own