In the spirit of never feeling truly comfortable being the one to initiate any conversation, interaction, or mode of communication in any situation in the entire history of ever, I thought I would begin this blog by simply saying hello and thank you and hello…and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the things I write, be they my books or even just this collection of ridiculous musings (but actually really hopefully my books). With that out of the way, I'm sure that most of you don't know anything about me, the things I create, or why I create them, so I figured it might make a good deal of sense to kick things off with a short explanation as to who I am and how I came to write my debut novel, Winterset Hollow, which I'm sure you've all purchased multiple copies of by now. And if for some reason you haven't, I highly recommend collecting them all. I mean, they're all exactly the same, but…still? Don't you want them all?! Go ahead and call me shameless, but I promise you there's a tremendous amount of shame involved in all of this, so you might as well save your breath.
Stories have been my favorite escape for as long as I can remember, and while I'm sure I'm by no means the first writer to say that in a blog that precisely nobody is going to read, that doesn't make it any less true. The first books I remember truly loving came very early on in life and consisted of a solid rotation of youth-oriented mystery novellas like The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, and while none of them had a literary pedigree that would make them wise to mention in any sort of public forum like, say, a world-wide blog on your professional website…they were good stories and always had an interesting problem to solve and a proper resolution, and I always found them as fun as they were intriguing, so I read them all. And not for nothing, but there were hundreds of them…shelves and shelves lined with them…and if you know anything about me and my preferred brand of OCD, you know that I want what I want in limitless quantities and I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING DIFFERENT EVER. But I reluctantly digress…
As I got older, I found myself reading more adult-oriented books that were handed down from my father—a constant flow of Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and James Patterson novels—basically anything that was made into a movie in the 80's and 90's. I loved those books because their pop sensibilities gave me a much-needed breather from the stuffier, more essay-inducing reading that was required as I wormed my way through school. They balanced that weird little scale in my head and kept the "story and entertainment" side of things level with the "introspection I didn't ask for and remnants of latent childhood trauma that I also didn't ask for" side…and to this day, I'll still read anything starring Harrison Ford or Sam Neil. So, have I read all the classics that have been jammed into the various literary canons that span the last several hundred years? Yes. Did I enjoy them as much as a bunch of cloned dinosaurs rampaging across a millionaire's private Island as they yearn for the freedom that's been woven into their DNA? Nah, not really.
But while reading about said dinos on said rampage was thrilling enough…actually seeing said dinos rampaging around the big screen was literal magic, and I immediately wanted as much of that sorcery as my twelve-year-old, starburst-addled brain could handle. I think I saw all the movies as a kid. I actually mean that quite seriously, as there wasn't nearly as much content to absorb as there is today, so I'm pretty sure I saw them all. Everything that was in the theaters, everything that became available on home video—I watched as many of them as I could as often as I could with literally no regard for genre or rating or critical acclaim. I just wanted to see movies because movies were awesome, and you know damn well there's no need for me to be more articulate about that sentiment. I mean how many kids knew which day was new release day at their local Blockbuster Video? I'm not sure what the actual answer to that is, but I can tell you it was Tuesday, and I would literally hang out there and get high on the smell of stale popcorn while I waited for somebody in a blue shirt to start slipping actual VHS tapes behind the empty display covers. I know, I know…pretty wild ride, right? This is also why nobody's ever made a film about my childhood—because it would pretty much just be a movie about me watching other, better movies, and nobody would want to see that except for, well…me.
Stories were my world until they weren't, and it wasn't until I found myself in my twenties and patently unhappy with how patently unhappy I'd become that I decided to try and right that ship, and being that I had always been a very visual thinker and something of a natural writer, it only seemed correct that I take a stab at writing a few movies of my own…and BOY were they terrible. I think my fourth script was the first one that seemed reasonably professional and interesting enough to actually share, and as luck would have it, I wasn't the only one who felt that way. That screenplay won a number of national awards and ended up being optioned, and before I knew it, I found myself in L.A. on the precipice of just about every cliché, both positive and negative, that has ever been said about L.A. It was a different world than what I was used to, and while it was amazing in its own inimitable way, it just didn't feel like home, and as it turns out, neither did screenwriting.
Screenwriting is a fine enough profession if you're built for it, and although I am almost perfectly constructed for the solitude, self-loathing, and ego-fueled fits of creativity that come with the territory of being a writer…scripts are a very particular thing, and I am a very particular (some would pronounce that 'hyper-neurotic') person, and those waters were just hard for me to tread for innumerable reasons that may or may not be further explained in a later blog. Don't get me wrong, I wrote some fantastic scripts, worked with some wonderful producers, and even sold a series to a major network—but twelve-year-old me still wouldn't have been able to go to Blockbuster and rent one of my movies, because even after years of metaphorically backbreaking work, I still couldn't figure out how to get one produced. Eventually, I had an entire shelf full of stories that nobody was ever going to enjoy…and I knew that because those were all scripts, and the very first (and also the very last) thing you learn as a screenwriter is nobody wants to read a script…for any reason…ever. Some people have to, but really none of them want to, and those people included twelve-year-old me.
Now, I know what you're all thinking right now. You're thinking, "Jon, when are you gonna get around to shoehorning some sort of pseudo-intellectual nonsense into a narrative surrounding the pandemic we're all still mired in like one of those helpful Honda guys commercials?" Well, you're in luck, because I'm in the mood to just that…I'm in the mood now more than ever (ahem). Now, far be it from me to try and wax romantic about a situation that cost so many people their friends and family and livelihoods and health, but truthfully, that eighteen-month void is where Winterset Hollow really grew from. Suddenly, I had no job, I had no industry, and I had nowhere to go and nobody to see…but I had time…and I wanted to be sure that I was gonna use that time to create something that twelve-year-old me would be truly proud of. I wanted to make something exciting and broad yet contemplative. I wanted to make something funny and bold yet tender and nostalgic. I wanted to make something original and unique yet familiar and endearing…and I didn't want it to end up on that bloody shelf. I wanted it to end up on his shelf…on your shelf…and I hope I've done that with this book. I don't know, I guess sometimes lemons give you life too. Now that's some quality shoehorning ;)
I think that's what this book ended up being for me—yes it was a chance to roll my sleeves up and learn a (somewhat) new craft, a way to fill the void of feeling artistically useless, and an opportunity to flex some writerly muscles that I hadn't been able to flex in years—but it was also an exercise in putting out a story that was a little bit of everything that I loved growing up. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit of a thriller, a bit of a horror story, a bit of an 'everything falls apart' Michael Crichton narrative, and a bit of a timeless Roald Dahl-type fantasy tale. Now, one of the things I learned in the script business is that if your genre is hard to pin down, you don't have a shot in hell at getting produced, but I also learned that the stories that break rules the right way are the ones that get remembered, and I think maybe that's worth taking a swing at.
Winterset Hollow is a love letter to all the stories I've read. There was a time when they were everything to me, and while I can't go back and read any of those words for the first time and feel their sparks land fresh and lively against my skin, at least I can show them what they still mean to me after all this time. I truly hope that you enjoy this book…and I hope twelve-year-old me would too.