Jess Landry is a graphic designer by day and a writer by night, though sometimes the two intertwine. You can find her work online with The Sirens Call and EGM Shorts. In print, her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including Where Nightmares Come From, The Anatomy of Monsters, Killing It Softly, and Ill-Considered Expeditions.
Jess has been working for JournalStone Publishing for several years. She is the Managing Editor and also runs JournalStone’s newest imprint, Trepidatio Publishing, where her goal is to publish diverse stories from diverse authors.
She currently resides in the icy wastelands of Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband, two lazy cats, and her young daughter, who she hopes one day will come to love the genre as much as her mother (if not, she may have to disown her).
Jess is a smart woman with a terrific sense of humor. We spoke of Women in Horror, writing, and what it’s like to be an editor.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Jess! Thank you for chatting with me today.
JL: Thank you, Naching! This is going to be fun.
NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?
JL: I think I was pretty young! I have very fond memories of watching shows like The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (Canadian public television at its best!) and raiding my aunties library for the latest Stephen King books. I’d always had a love for Halloween, so the progression into reading and writing horror seemed only natural.
NTK: Is King your favorite author?
JL: He definitely played a huge role in my love of the genre. The first book I read of his was The Drawing of the Three, and from that point, I was hooked. For a long time, I thought he was the only horror author around (my parents didn’t exactly run to the bookstore to buy me all the horror books). But after some time of just reading him, I realized there were so many more authors to read. It wasn’t until I read The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker that I had a “whoa” moment. Barker became my absolute favourite from page one of that book.
NTK: Does Barker influence your writing? What got you into writing?
JL: I admire Barker and his no-holds-barred style; his imagination blows me away (I mean, there’s a secret world inside a carpet? There’s a mosaic that you can travel through time in? Say wha?). When I write, I try not to limit my imagination, I try to think of all the crazy ideas he’s had that have translated perfectly on the page, but I feel the subject matter he writes about is something I could never tackle because there’s a raw honesty woven in his pages. As for what got me into writing, I really can’t recall. I’m an only child so I’ve always kind of lived in my head and did my own thing. I was a voracious reader and movie watcher when I was younger, and I still am. My dad kept a creative writing assignment from grade 1 where I wrote about a dog who goes trick or treating, so I guess it’s always been in my blood to get a little spooky.
NTK: You wrote, “When the Wind Leaves a Whisper” for the Next Great Horror Writer Campfire Tale challenge. Where did that idea come from?
JL: When we received the challenge last year, the first thing that popped into my brain was the show Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the midnight society gathering around the campfire. I loved that show as a kid so trying to think of a concept that someone might tell around the fire was a lot of fun—I even rewatched a few episodes for old time’s sake! I find the woods to be scary as hell (…I’m more of an indoor person!) so it felt only right that my story takes place in that environment.
NTK: What was it like being a NGHW contestant?
JL: It was awesome being a NGHW contest. I had no idea what to expect coming into it—would it be challenging enough? Would I be able to make time to complete the tasks?—but it ended up being a great exercise in writing. I found myself writing things that I probably wouldn’t have considered in the first place, and also found myself in constant of awe of everyone else in the competition. Everyone worked so hard and kicked so much ass, and every time a show went live, it was always nerve-wracking to hear the feedback and to hear where you placed in that specific challenge. The best part for me was trying to keep up with the rest of you!
NTK: Do your characters have free will? How much control do you exert over them?
JL: I’d like to think I have some degree of control over the fate of my characters, but sometimes they surprise me. I’m writing a screenplay right now and had written up a super-detailed outline before I plunked the story into the proper formatting. Everything was going to plan, then all of a sudden, I found my story slowly drifting toward another ending. I tried to keep it on track with what I had already planned out, but no matter what I tried, the characters seemed to be working toward their own, new-and-improved ending. Sometimes, you just have to let your characters take the reins!
NTK: You’re the Managing Editor for Journalstone Publishing and Publisher for Trepidatio Publishing. What’s the best thing about being an editor?
JL: The best thing about being an editor is how damn hard it is, especially being a writer, too. The authors that we bring in to JournalStone and Trepidatio are ones that I admire, ones whose work I love. To be lucky enough to spend often months at a time tackling their stories, helping hone them, and getting to know the authors in the process is something I never thought I’d be able to do. I started at the bottom of the totem pole with JournalStone, reviewing books and movies for Hellnotes (JS owns the site). After a while of doing that (which I still do on the rare occasion), I asked if there was anything more I could do to help out, particularly on the publishing side. Chris Payne, JournalStone’s president, was kind enough to give me a shot, and it wasn’t long after that I was getting my hands dirty. Much like the NGHW contest, editing is tough. You’ve got to forget about your own style, your own nasty habits, and put yourself in the mind of the writer whose work you’re looking over. You’ve got to think of anything and everything, be it grammar-related issues to historical references. You have to immerse yourself into someone else’s world, and you have to put your own work aside. It’s bittersweet in that sense—I love being able to do what I do with JournalStone, but my own work has definitely suffered because of it.
NTK: What’s the worst thing about editing? Any pet peeves?
JL: The worst thing about editing—be it my own stuff or someone else’s—is when it feels like nothing’s coming together when nothing you do can fix what’s wrong the manuscript. That is the absolute worst. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it usually helps to take some time away from words and computers and anything that overworks your brain. Just let it sit. That’s my unofficial motto.
NTK: You spoke of some television shows earlier, is the Hilarious House of Frankenstein still your favorite show? Or have you moved on?
JL: Oh man, I haven’t watched that in years! Actually, I did see a short segment on the national news a few days ago about someone in Toronto (I think) who created the Billy Van museum (he played all the characters in the show). I’ll have to go check it out next time I visit. But I love how this obscure Canadian show from the 1970s still affects so many people today. I’ve definitely moved on to bigger—but not necessarily better—things. For modern shows, I love Stranger Things, Black Mirror, The Walking Dead, and I used to love American Horror Story, but it’s kind of lost me now. For older shows, my go-to was (and always will be) Tales from the Crypt…the HBO live-action show and the cartoon! The best of both worlds. Plus, there was a short-lived Tales from the Crypt kids’ game show that I watched religiously. I was always jealous of the kids on there (and still am, frankly).
NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?
JL: I have two: An American Werewolf in London and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Hands down. No contest. I could watch those two movies on repeat for all of eternity and never get tired of them. I could probably also put on a one-woman show reenacting both of them, but I doubt anyone would want to see that (and how would I do the werewolf-morphing and head-growing-legs scenes?). I also need to give shout-outs to other favourites: Army of Darkness, Suicide Club, Suspiria, Trick ‘r Treat, Hellraiser, and many, many more. I love a good (and even bad) horror movie. If I had more time, I’d make it my goal to watch every single one on Netflix (but not Amazon Prime—the selection on there is…interesting).
NTK: You seem to enjoy horror/comedy. Does that element find its way into your work often? I remember, during the contest you wrote a piece called, “Fang Blingz” and that was great!
JL: I love a good horror/comedy. I grew up watching Ghostbusters and Army of Darkness and Dead Alive and all that good stuff, but I’ve never actually tried to pull it off (with the exception of Fang Blingz in the NGHW contest!) It’s definitely something that I would love to try and do in the future, though the thought of attempting to be funny (and having people legitimately laugh at what I wrote) is probably the scariest thing that I can think of!
NTK: Let’s go back to Trepidatio publishing. Could you tell the Horror Addicts a little about that Journalstone imprint?
JL: Yes! Trepidatio was originally the brain-child of Horror Writers Association VP (and all-around good guy) John Palisano, though he made the tough decision to part from it and then it fell into my lap. When it did, I was like, “What the hell am I supposed to do with an imprint?”, but it soon became clear that this was an amazing opportunity to publish authors that I knew were talented, that I knew were on the brink of big things, that I knew were under-represented. So I set out and made it my mission to publish diverse stories from diverse voices. As of right now, I’ve published eight books (four collections, four novels), and four of those are from female authors. I have five more novels and collections coming out between now and early next year, and all five are by women. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
NTK: You’re a proponent of Women in Horror. Who are some women writers you think deserve more recognition?
JL: I’m a very big fan of SP Miskowski, and I’m lucky enough to be working with her right now on her latest novel. She’s someone who I admired long before I knew her, and I believe her work is some of the best there is. I also love Helen Oyeyemi, Tananarive Due, and Ania Ahlborn, among many others. There are so many women writers out there who deserve recognition, and I’m more than happy to try and help them obtain even a sliver of it.
NTK: Jess, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
JL: The future is busy…which I am grateful for! The anthology Lost Highways: Dark Fiction from the Road was just released in July, and it has a short story of mine called “The Heart Stops at the End of Laurel Lane” in it. I have two more anthologies coming up, including Monsters of Any Kind from Independent Legions Publishing, which has my story “Silt & Bone” in it—that’s out the last week of September. Fantastic Tales of Terror comes out late October from Crystal Lake Publishing, and my story “Mutter” is in there. And then a story I wrote for the NGHW contest called “Scordatura” will be in Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles, out in February 2019. Plus there are a few great things coming out from HorrorAddicts.net, including this Campfire Tales anthology.
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Jess! That was really fun!
JL: Thanks, Naching! Always lovely chatting with you!
Addicts, you can find Jess on Facebook.