Today I was privileged to conduct an interview with Guido Henke, autor of the Jason Dark Ghost Hunter series and “The Curse of Kali.” Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Mr. Henkel.
I love the supernatural element in these books and even more, the unusual, non-European elements you utilize. I’m assuming that you used the popular, well known setting of Victorian/Holmesian England to help ground your readers, but what compelled you to introduce the foreign supernatural elements?
As I am writing my stories, I always try to find interesting angles to familiar themes. Sometimes I end up giving the monsters abilities that are often overlooked, sometimes I simply pick a setting that is different from what you’d expect, and sometimes I will just make things up for the fun of it.
The hopping vampires in “Curse of Kali,” and even more prominently in “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” are a result of that approach. I didn’t want to write yet another vampire story. I had covered that territory with “Theater of Vampires” and felt that if I do vampires they needed to be unexpected. I am a big fan of the whole Fantasia/Wuxia movie genre out of Hong Kong, and while I was looking for a good angle on vampires, theJiang Shi – or hopping vampires – came to my mind. Clearly they were exotic enough to create a very different vampire story.
So, ultimately, it is really my desire to get away from overused stereotypes and clichés. While I love to use a gothic mood and atmosphere, and will often fall back on familiar imagery in the settings to evoke these emotions in the reader, when it comes to the bad guys and the stories themselves, I try to stay away from the off-the-shelf recipes.
Speaking as someone who gets easily tired by the “off-the-shelf recipes,” I appreciate your approach. Do you plan on taking Jason Dark and Siu Lin to other locations?
I have thought about making them travel and having an adventure play on an island with Voodoo and all that. I have also thought of sending them to Hong Kong so that Siu Lin could go back to her home country for a visit. The problem for me is that traveling these distances during the Victorian time period took ages. It wasn’t a matter of sitting in an airplane and getting off a few hours later on the other side of the world. Traveling to China took months in those days. The problem that I encounter as a storyteller is that I have to accommodate for these long time lapses on the one hand while also explaining why my characters would even go through the painful tribulations of such a travel and how they could even afford to do these trips. How can they just up and leave for six months?
Still, the idea is very intriguing, of course, and I have no doubt it will be a plot device I will use in the future. For the time being I limit myself to the British Isles.
I definitely understand the time constraints required by traveling in historical fiction. I’m a comic book reader among other things and found myself wondering if D.C.’s character of Jason Blood had anything to do with the creation of Jason Dark. (Just curious, but would love to know the story if there is a connection.)
No, it had no impact at all. As a matter of fact, I am not at all familiar with Jason Blood. I am not a comic book reader – with the exception of Asterix, Lucky Luke and TinTin books. So, no, that character was no influence.
What was an influence was the German dime novel character “John Sinclair,” however. It is a series that I grew up with and devoured as a child, and it sort of spawned the idea of me creating my own dime novel horror series. As an homage to that series I named my character Jason Dark in reference to the pen name of the author who has been writing the John Sinclair series for the past thirty-some years.
I had not heard of this series, so I guess both of us have new reading material to find now. LOL I know you’re a video game designer and I assume there’s some cross-pollination that goes on between your books and your games. How do you see the two working together, either now or in
I think there’s always cross pollination when someone works in a variety of creative areas. I am also a musician and it all washes together in one way or another. I always have had ideas for stories while developing games and vice versa. While I am writing I often think, “Hey, this would make a good game.” I make mental notes of it, naturally, but most of the time it is more something in the back of my head that unconsciously affects what I’m doing.
In the end it always comes down to the same thing. One day I will have an idea and it will set my mind aflame. When that happens I usually can’t let go of it. It will follow me for days and it simply will not go away. That is the moment I realize that this is the project I will have to do next because I won’t be able to get excited about anything else. It truly comes out of a passion.
Yes, it’s practically impossible to keep your attention narrowed for the necessary length of time without passion to help you focus. How do you divide your time between these two task masters?
I usually don’t. I practically stopped making games the day I started writing “Demon’s Night,” the first of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries. I was a little bored with doing games and wanted to try something new. I loved the experience and ever since, my books have been my main focus that I have devoted all my efforts to.
Every time I think about games these days, it is more in terms of something I could use to further the reach of the Jason Dark books. Like some kind of a promotional tool, almost. But to be honest, I can’t get excited about games all that much these days. The games industry has changed so much over the years, and not for the better, so that I have very little inclination to become active in it at this point.
I can’t even get excited about the major games that are being released these days. To me they are virtually all repetitive dribble, the same old unimaginative, testosterone-fueled, sophomoric stuff we did 25 years ago. The difference is that I’ve gotten a lot older and I really do not care all that much for the themes or the visual presentations of today’s games. Most of the time I just shake my head and wonder what they’ve been thinking when they made the game. There are only so many first-person shooters one can play… or at least that’s how I feel, especially when they all look, sound and feel the exact same for the past ten years.
I can certainly understand burnout. I think most of us can. So far, I see you’ve had Jason face off against vampires, mummies, ghosts, demonic forces, and a wide variety of undead. I loved the hopping vampires from China in The Curse of Kali. What other unusual, non-European supernatural enemies might we find Jason fighting?
I wish I could tell you. Really, but I don’t even know. The Jason Dark mysteries are not planned ahead, really, as a series. I finish one story, set it aside and then ask myself, What am I going to write about next?
At that stage I will dig through ideas – I keep a Writer’s Journal and constantly jot down ideas and tidbits – and see what stands out. Sometimes one of those ideas will get me excited, but more often, in fact, something completely different will pop into my head and I will start fleshing it out.
It is highly unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll hear a line of lyrics from a song and it will spawn an image in my head, and I instantly have a key scene for a story in my mind. Sometimes it is something someone says. You know, just a few words, that lead me to a different association and leads me down a line of thoughts that ends up with some exciting idea. Occasionally, it is a book or a movie.
The other day I was in Vegas and one of the slot machine themes triggered a story idea. Sadly it is a vampire story and I don’t want to do another vampire book just yet, but nonetheless, it was a really exciting story with an interesting angle, I think. So it shows you how just about anything can serve as an inspiration for me.
I have just finished “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” recently and right now I am in the process of trying to find another story idea that really gets me going. I haven’t really found one yet, but I know, it could happen anytime. Who knows, maybe tonight, while I lie awake, trying to go to sleep, something may spark my imagination. If that idea should happen to revolve around some obscure Peruvian myth, all the better. If it revolves around hopping vampires, cool. I am really game for anything, as long as I find a way to rationally explain how these events could take place in Jason Dark’s universe.
The wonderful thing about London is the British Museum – they have so many artifacts from all over the word, any one of which might suddenly come to life…. Hee hee. When I read “Curse of Kali” I noticed that the hopping vampires served more as bookends to the story than actual parts of the story. Can you tell me more about that?
I knew that I wanted to bring Fu Man Chu back in some fashion. He appeared in “From a Watery Grave” already and I had set it up in such a way that it was clear he would want revenge eventually. In “Curse of Kali” I am finally setting those wheels into motion. However, I did not want to jump right into it and thought it would be nice to foreshadow his reappearance, build some anticipation before delivering a story that focuses completely on the conflict between the ghost hunters and Fu Man Chu. So I wrote the hopping vampire scenes in “Curse of Kali.”
As I mentioned earlier, however, I do not plan the series ahead a whole lot, and one of the interesting side effects of that was that I had absolutely no idea what to do in terms of a story for Fu Man Chu’s revenge. All I knew was that I wanted to call the book “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” because I felt it was an exceedingly cool title.
So after finishing “Curse of Kali” I was completely clueless how to go about writing “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” and for months I just could not make heads or tails of it. I had painted myself in a corner. Finally, around Halloween, I had this idea how to make it all work, and the pieces fell into place. It set my imagination ablaze. I sat down and wrote the story, and interestingly enough, it was the fastest I had ever written a Jason Dark story, and to top it off, it also turned out to be the longest one to date.
(Clapping my hands in anticipation.) Is it available yet?
“Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” is currently undergoing the final edits and it should become available by the end of January.
Thanks again, Mr. Henkel. “Kali” was a great fun read and I look forward to reading your other books. You can find more about the Jason Dark series at either the website: www.jasondarkseries.com, or the blog: www.guidohenkel.com.
A somewhat belated Happy New Years to everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai!
|Photo Credit: (c) Marcia DeFiore|
As to what keeps me going . . . it is the sometimes Quixotic desire to see what’s around the next bend, over the next hill, or on the next page. I can’t imagine NOT writing . . .
Today, we’re talking with Jeannie Lin, author of “Butterfly Swords.” Jeannie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my ten thousand question interview! (For the REST of this interview, go to the Historical Novel Review site!)
J.L:All of the above. Though I’ve only traveled to China once and it was long before I realized I’d be writing a book. My dream is to go and take a Silk Road tour some day. I have books and books and books. (see picture) The internet, of course, has been fabulous. In recent years, more has been published about the Tang Dynasty. I’ve also made numerous connections with sword practitioners, travel writers, and other China history enthusiasts like yourself.
J.L:From my teaching and professional experience, I’ve learned how to schedule things in. I also type
That’s one of the reasons I’ve been pushing so hard for this month. Afterward, the book can only be ordered online.
I conducted the following interview with Mr. Kay via email and am indebted to his generous response to my ten thousand questions! I’ve divided his answers between this blog and the Historical Novel Review site, so that both blogs provide you with a fascinating insight into this amazing author’s writing and a chance to win a free copy of “Under Heaven.”
1. This is your first foray away from Europe and a Christianity-based world and out of all of China’s massive history, you chose the Tang Dynasty during the An-Lushan rebellion (circa 763) as your focus. Why did you choose this time and place?
I truly never know what a next book will be when I finish one. I am wide open at that time. With The Sarantine Mosaic, I ended up researching that world because three reviews of Lions of Al-Rassan (the previous book) made reference to my ‘Byzantine’ characters and plotting … so I took it as a ‘sign’ to learn more about Byzantium! As I said … wide open.
With Under Heaven, I originally approached it with an idea for a ‘Silk Road book’ but gradually as I read, and corresponded with people, the Tang period began to impose itself on me – the combination of high drama, brilliant figures, flux and chaos, dazzling wealth, and themes that ‘worked’ for me made it ultimately feel like a place I’d want to spend three years. One academic I know wrote me after, ‘I always knew you would do the Tang.’ I wrote back, ‘I’m glad at least one of us did.’
2. Were there any other times in China’s history that appealed to you and do you plan on visiting them?
Absolutely: there were and are other deeply compelling periods. This is a history over two millennia with overwhelming richness for a writer. But as to visiting in the future: see previous answer. I truly never know.
3. Language barriers must have been a challenge when conducting research. What other challenges did you face writing “Under Heaven” that were unique to this book?
Interesting query. Every book has its own issues that confront me, from trying to make sure the names aren’t daunting to looking for legitimate ways to explore the role and scope of women (something I am always engaged by). Language tends not to be a serious barrier, given how much scholarship is available in English. It did enter as I tried (very hard) to come to terms with the staggering achievement that is Tang Dynasty poetry … but so many translators and scholars have felt the same fascination that I did have guides and signposts there.
4. Your characters tend to have depths of intelligence and humor hard to find in many genre novels. How do you approach character development?
It honestly isn’t a grand plan or anything like that. As I have often said, those of us working carefully tend to write the books we’d enjoy if someone else wrote them. I like reading about intelligent, witty characters, and try to invest my own with those traits – when it feels appropriate. I also have my share of flat-out chowderheads, I think. May I give you Pronobius Tilliticus from the Mosaic (Still one of my own favourite character names. I think Dickens would have approved!).
5. Every author works in a different way – would you share how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process.
In general (and I stress that!) I start with period and place and theme. From these I start finding characters and at that point the nucleus of a plot usually emerges. I don’t outline, I do not tend to know my ending (except, at times, in the broadest sense). The writing is legitimately a journey of discovery for me. But this is purely offered as my way of doing things, not as a prescription for anyone else.
6. What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing?
The constant, chronic, inherent inability to say exactly what I want to say. To make it work perfectly. I don’t know a serious writer who doesn’t feel that, mind you.
7. Can you share any advice which may help others get past similar problems?
Ultimately, an acceptance of one’s built-in imperfection as a human being and artist. But not to allow this to become an excuse for taking the easy route through a problem in the work. We mustn’t indulge in obsessive-compulsive desire for uttermost perfection, but we need to chase it some way.
8. What sparks your creativity and keeps you working?
Right now (and probably for some years) it seems to be the journey that each book represents. I learn so much with each novel, about the past, about today, about myself. This is fiercely challenging at times, but also deeply enriching.
9. Have you ever started writing a novel you couldn’t finish?
I’m one of those who can say ‘no’ to that … but at the same time I don’t think that writers who have unfinished manuscripts in a drawer or hard drive file have ‘failed’ because of that. Those pages or pixels very often produce something important down the road, in unexpected ways.
That’s a comforting thought!
10. You’ve written eleven novels of historical fantasy (and one book of poetry) and I’m curious if you’ve ever considered a different or additional genre? For instance, an historical mystery with or without fantastical elements.
Of course I have. One considers almost everything at some point or another (often when dodging the burden of getting back to a difficult chapter!). I may yet surface with a book of seafood recipes for you. Or a baseball novel. I’d enjoy that.
Many thanks again to Mr. Kay for the generous response to my many questions!