October is the orangest month! All those pumpkins and colorful leaves and, of course, the search for costumes in anticipation of Halloween. Who better to fill our author of the month slot than the ‘spooky’ John Kachuba, whose books about the eerie and the supernatural here in Ohio and beyond have garnered acclaim and a loyal audience. It is my distinct pleasure to share our conversation below.
Janet Irvin: Welcome, John. It’s great to have a chance to chat with you about your writing. How and why did you become interested in writing about the supernatural?
J.K.: Growing up in New England had a lot to do with it. Crumbling old cemeteries seemed to be everywhere and every street had at least one old haunted house. I have always been a history buff and, as I learned New England history, I also learned about lore and legends, especially about the supernatural. My personal relationship with Ed and Lorraine Warren, the godparents of American ghosthunting helped.
J.I.: In addition to your non-fiction, you have a number of fiction novels. What inspired the shift, or did you always want to do both?
J.K.: I’ve always been interested in both fiction and nonfiction. Poetry as well, since my earliest publications were in poetry. I like nonfiction because the research is always so exciting and I’m always learning new things. But nonfiction has its “limits” in that the writer has to stick to the facts, something that does not seem to be valued today among some of our leaders . . . but I digress. Fiction allows your imagination full rein. You are god of the world you create and anything you want to happen can happen. That’s a very freeing way of writing
J.I.: Several of your novels are historical in nature or include the history of the setting where the action occurs? How do you decide on a period to highlight?
J.K.: As in nonfiction, my subjects and the time period for my historical novels reflect my interests at the time. As an example, my long-standing interest and studies in Native American history and culture made The Savage Apostle, a novel about the events leading up to King Philip’s War in 17th century New England a natural for me.
J.I.: Your historical novel WOMEN OF THE WAY combines action with the spiritual. What drew you to this topic?
J.K.: It seemed to me that there must have been as many important women followers of The Way, the name given to the first-century religious movement that became knows as Christianity, as there were men. Yet, we rarely hear of them, at least in the biblical New Testament. There are women mentioned of course—Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are probably the best-known—but they are clearly subordinated in every way to the men. My research into those times told me that women took on much more prominent roles, some of them serving as priests and religious leaders. I was raised Catholic and was struck by the inferior position women occupied and still occupy in that faith. As one who believes in the equality of the sexes, I wanted to set the record straight.
J.I.: Ghosts figure prominently in your work. 🙂 Do you have a favorite ghost story of your own?
J.K.: Wow! There are just too many to mention. But I will cite three writers who truly capture the quintessential ghost story: Alan Lightman (Ghost), Chris Bohjalian (Night Strangers), and Peter Straub (Ghost Story). They’ll make your hair stand on end.
J.I.: One of your most fascinating subjects, for me, is HOW TO WRITE FUNNY. As a writer, I find this is a very difficult assignment. What is funny to one person may not cause a smile in another. Can you share a little of the background that led to this book?
J.K.: People tell me I have a good sense of humor, maybe a bit off-the-wall at times, but good. I love humor and have been teaching a humor writing course through Gotham Writers Workshop for fourteen years. Yes, some humor is subjective, but some is universal, speaking to truths we all know and understand. I have found that a little bit of humor can be injected into almost any genre (I’m still struggling with obituaries but give me a little more time and I’ll nail them). This injection of humor can be useful to a writer in that it could allow him to write about something dark and grim, perhaps personal, in a way that won’t threaten his sanity. It can also be used to lighten the mood of a story that might otherwise be depressing. It’s not necessary to be a stand-up comic; anyone can introduce some humor into their writing.
J.I.: You are a frequent speaker at conferences, workshops, and libraries, as well as a prolific author. This makes for a busy schedule. How do you manage all the demands of your creative life?
J.K.: At times, not very well. Luckily, for the most part, I am an organized person. I try to reserve mornings for creative work, the afternoons for the “business” part of writing, and the evenings for public events, radio interviews, etc. It doesn’t always work that smoothly, but I try to roll with the punches. Many writers hate to do it, but if you intend for your books to be read by anyone other than your mother, you really must be out there before the public.
J.I.: Recently, you traveled for months through the Far East. Was this for research as well as relaxation? What is the most appealing aspect of travel?
J.K.: Earlier this year my wife and I, traveling with her sister and brother-in-law, visited five Asian countries: the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. The trip was mostly a research trip for my wife and her sister’s new book about coconuts, although I did some research as well for my book about shapeshifters, even though it was already at the publisher’s. In 2017, the four of us visited seven countries in Europe: Portugal, France, Italy, Monaco, Belarus, Ukraine, and Romania. That trip was primarily for research for my book Shapeshifters: A History, which was published this past June.
I’m not sure I ever “relaxed” on those trips as we were always on the go, traveling to many locations within each country we visited, taking notes and photos, talking with people, etc. But the trips not only fulfilled their research objectives, they were full of opportunities for personal learning and growth and for that, I will always be grateful. I say that even as I am getting ready for yet another trip, this one to the Republic of Georgia in September, where I will be speaking at a conference.
J.I.: Do you have any advice for aspiring horror or historical fiction writers? Pitfalls to avoid?
J.K.: For horror writers, I would suggest they hold off on the “ultimate horror” as long as possible in their story. Give the reader a slow build but make it fraught with shivers all along the way.
For historical novel writers, my suggestion is to make sure you absolutely know the historical facts of your story before you try to write anything. Then, write only the history you need to tell the story. In other words, don’t be pedantic, don’t show off to the reader how much you know. Just tell them the story. By the way, no matter how expert you become in your subject matter, there will always be one person who will call out an historical error. Don’t sweat it; thank them for the correction and move on.
J.I.: Thank you for that excellent advice. So, why do you think we humans are so drawn to stories of horror or the supernatural?
J.K.: I think we all have a latent “death wish” inside us. I don’t mean to imply that we want to die. On the contrary, what I mean is that we so love life that we wonder fearfully what it would be like to lose it. The monsters in horror stories are capable of ending our lives, a terrible fear, but in the end, we know they are not real and are only “paper tigers.” When the story is done, we can relax, secure that we remain whole.
Supernatural stories may be different, I think. Many people have religious views that guarantee some eternal life after death. The exact nature of that “life” is unknown, so stories of the supernatural, especially ghost stories, give us an opportunity to speculate what that next world may be like. Even many people who are not religious may still conceive of some sort of existence after death so, here too, supernatural stories may be a jumping-off point for their ideations of “life after death.”
J.I.: Where can we find John Kachuba this month? (October)
J.K.: As you pointed out, I’m busy. In October, I will be at Books By the Banks in Cincinnati on October 26, a Horror Writers Association meeting in Columbus, a book signing at Book Loft in Columbus on October 13, and I will be speaking at seven libraries throughout Ohio. Details can be found in my Schedule of Appearances at http://www.johnkachuba.com
J.I.: Thank you, John, for this interesting and informative conversation. Now, just for fun, what are you reading these days?
J.K.: My reading is eclectic. I read in all genres. I’m just finishing The Heart of All That Is, a history of the Lakota war chief, Red Cloud. Before that I had read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, and before that, Blake Crouch’s sci-fi thriller, Dark Matter. As I said, eclectic.
J.I.: And what is your favorite Halloween story?
J.K.: For my favorite Halloween story, I’m a classicist; I love Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Below are a few of John’s book covers, followed by a brief bio in his own words:
John Kachuba is the award-winning author of twelve books and numerous articles, short stories and poems. Shapeshifters: A History was published in June 2019, and Dark Entry is his most recent novel. John teaches Creative Writing at Ohio University and the Gotham Writers Workshop. He is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Library Association’s Authors for Libraries. He is a frequent speaker at conferences, universities and libraries and on podcasts, radio and TV.
Contact John at these addresses: www.johnkachuba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org