Welcome to Junzt County, Texas, Population: Weird

Lovecraft has Arkham…

King has Castle Rock…

Campbell has his unique take on the Severn Valley…

Invariably, those who write horror seem to want their own creation they can revisit time and time again. I am no different. This August, my creation, Junzt County, comes out and takes a walk in “Totmann’s Curve,” a 35,000 word novella included as part of Sockhops & Séances, an anthology of horror set in the 1950s, from 18th Wall.

Texas Hill Country

If you ask me, the part of Texas best suited for rich, atmospheric horror is neither the broken deserts and vast plains of the lonely west nor the impenetrable pine forests and swamps of the “boy, you got a pretty mouth” east. Rather, it is the rolling hills, shadowy valleys, and dark-fairytale woodlands of the Hill Country. Stretching about 100 miles west from Austin and San Antonio, many groups, most notably Germans and Eastern Europeans, settled there … each bring their own traditions, folklore, and whispered fears about what haunts the dark. The place feels old, older than anywhere in Texas has any business feeling.

Spme of the Hill Country’s German settlers cut loose and clown for the camera.

So, that’s where I brought Juntz County to life, lovingly populating it with it everything needed for my macabre purposes. Brockenberg, the legend-shrouded vast granite dome rising over county’s center.  Goethe College, an ivy-covered institution established by scholars fleeing an academic schism at the University of Gottingen (and bringing the more, um, unusual parts of its library with them).  Koenigsburg State Hospital, mysteriously burned in the 1980s and many of its patients never accounted for. Thale, a tiny village deep in the hills, perpetually surrounded by ill-rumor and tragedy. And, of course, burger joints, honky-tonks, auto shops, local radio station KJZT, and all the other infrastructure of “normal” everyday life.

Here’s the kicker, originally I created Junzt County not for narrative fiction but table-top roleplaying. It came to life for a Call of Cthulhu campaign I ran the better part of a decade ago, pitting a party of college students all enrolled in the same local folklore class against a mysterious amulet, the supernal forces tied to it, and the (obligatory) cultists trying to recover it. It was a great campaign (thanks, especially, to some great players) and, even at the time, I grasped the location’s potential as a setting for fiction.

Western Swing, Hill Country Style

Before there was “Totmann’s Curve,” there was “So Lonesome I Could Die.” My first published Junzt Country story, in the anthology Descansos, was a musically-themed Texas Gothic ghost story set during the Great Depression. While “Totmann’s Curve” is an entirely self-contained, stand-alone narrative, anyone who has read “So Lonesome I Could Die” will discover several Easter Eggs revealing what has become of some of the earlier story’s characters … and hinting at the resolution to one of its biggest mysteries.

Koenigsburg hot-rodders park on the town square before going for a burger and a malt (actually, Kerrville, Texas)

What of “Totmann’s Curve,” then? It’s a faced-paced 1950s tale of ghosts, teenage hot-rodding, and evil sorcerers serving dark entities. After the tragic deaths of two teens during an illegal road race, increased police attention forces the local hot-rodders to move their activities farther into rural parts of the county. At first, the new race route seems perfect. But the roads have a history of their own … and fender-benders caused by a pretty blonde ghost wearing a white wedding dress are only the beginning of the racers’ troubles. Something in the deep hills is very unhappy about the kids being there.

Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” belonging to Hot-Rodder Jack “Jockey” Groce, Junzt County Historical Society Museum

Can good-natured all-American hot-rodder Sam Granger, his gearhead friend Joe Tegeler, egg-headed cousin Eleanor, the ghostly dreamboat Helene, and the rest of their gang figure out what’s going on in time to save the Saturday races … and their own skins? That is the question.

Are there other Junzt County tales? Yes. A half-dozen, scattered across a variety of time periods, are in various stages on completion. But three others, one set in the ‘40s, another in the ‘80s, and a third in the present are already finalized and resting in my computer, awaiting only a sympathetic publisher.

Sockhops and Seances, from 18th Wall, is available here.

Diving into The Green Muse

This month sees the release of my first Mythos story, “The Green Muse” part of the innovative anthology The Chromatc Courtedited by Peter Rawlik and published by 18th Wall Productions.

The Chromatic Court by [Rawlik, Peter, Morgan, Christine, Pulver Sr., Joseph S., Mackintosh, Paul StJohn, Lai, Rick, Black, Jon, Grant, John Linwood, Barrass, Glynn Owen, Harris, Micah S.]The Chromatic Court is anthology of horror/dark fantasy anthology exploring the connection between color, art, and the powerful entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, drawing especially heavily on the feel flavor, and weird meanace of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

As someone who has been a fan of the  Mythos since college, I’m very excited about this story, and very excited to talk about it. So, I thought I’d play Q & A with myself by sharing the author interview compiled by my publisher.

… also, I may be the first person in the history of the universe to quote Ralph Wiggum while discussing the Cthulhu Mythos.

Q) Tell us about your story?

Johannes Chazot’s Illustration for “The Green Muse.”

A) Set in the fertile artistic and literary scene of 1910s Montmartre, The Green Muse chronicles the journey of Drieu Gaudin, a novice reporter at Paris’ top arts and culture newspaper. His editor, a man of very traditional artistic sensibilities, assigns Drieu to report on the murders of several Cubist painters. Seeking to unravel the mystery behind the artists’ bizarre deaths, Drieu is challenged not only by one of Frank Belknap Long’s most celebrated creations but by encounters with the Parisian avant-gardes’ leading lights: Picasso, Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Max Jacob.

 

Max Jacob waits to encoutner readers in “The Green Muse.”

Q) What is your favorite part of your story and why?
A) This project was a labor of love for me. For a very long time, Paris’ artistic scene in the early part of the 20 th century has captivated me and inspired voracious reading on the topic. The greatest joy of The Green Muse was breathing life into the enchanting world of 1910s Montmartre. Within that broader answer, it was especially gratifying to shine some light on poet Max Jacob, a figure unfortunately and undeservedly less well known than the other historical artists who appear in the story. Spoiler Alert: it was also exciting to expand on the fascinating yet under-explored mythology of the Hounds of Tindalos.

 

Q) Every story in The Chromatic Court details a noble,  a powerful Mythos entity, and the art form they hold sway over. What is your entity’s art and what drew you to it? 
A) As anyone familiar with my work is likely aware, music is my greatest passion among the arts. Painting, however, runs a close second. This is especially true of painting from this particular time and this particular place; as artists began grappling with the question of what the invention of photography meant for painting. Movements such as Cubism and Fauvism arose from attempts to answer that critical and vexing question. As Picasso observes in “The Green Muse…”

“Painting is dead. At least painting as you know it. Photography killed it. But, in death, painting is free. Our quest is figuring out where it goes from here.”

 

“Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!”

Q) In The Chromatic Court, every Mythos entity and their art is also tied into a specific color. What is your noble’s color, and why?
A) As revealed in the title, green. I could point out the relevance of green to the absinthe which features so prominently in the era and in the story, but as Ralph Wiggum says, “The rat symbolizes obviousness.” Less explicitly but more importantly is that color’s connection with envy, specifically the jealousy Montmartre’s artist feel for each other’s success, talent, and romantic prowess. In various forms, jealousy is a driving force for the main characters of “The Green Muse,” Drieu and Cara, as well as some of its historcial figures,  like Picasso.

Q) How do you approach writing Mythos fiction, particularly when it’s a mix of the Cthulhu Mythos and Chambers’ Yellow Mythos?
A) For me, the most important element of successful Mythos fiction is believably but compellingly conveying the protagonist’s mental journey from the comforting illusion of everyday life to the sub-rosa Mythos reality beneath. When blending Lovecraft and Chambers, the challenge is balancing the Outer Gods’ concrete if alien terrors with the latent and more diffuse menace of The King in Yellow.

Read Chapter One from “The Green Muse.”

Eggs of Horror

on the second book (still tentatively titled Caledfwlch) in my historical fiction/progressive pulp series is significantly ahead of schedule. So, with the intent of not putting all my writing eggs in a single genre basket, I am dusting off four stories I wrote earlier in the year. While none of them are quite horror, they all nibble at its edges.

In the tradition of Lovecraft’s Arkham and its environs, three of the stories are set in Junzt County, a fictional county within the Texas Hill Country. One of the most historically rich regions of the state, the Hill Country also has the advantage of being an area I’m highly familiar with and offering the right cocktail of isolation and mystery.

The Eye Teeth: Set in the 1940s, is classic weird fiction with strong Cthulhu Mythos overtones. As with my series, historical sources and research play a prominent role. A well-known politician from Texas also puts in a guest appearance in the role of quest-giver.

Pioneer House: This flashback to the 1980 blends weird fiction with an “outsider” archetype protagonist, portrayal of small town ennui, and the question of free will.

So Lonesome I Could Die: Is a 1920s Western Gothic ghost story with nods to “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story draws heavily upon my background in music journalism for mood and atmosphere.

The fourth story, and the only contemporary tale, is The Renewal Room, the tale of a music journalist (write what you know, right?) whose quest for a forgotten bit of music history leads him to a town on California’s Salton Sea which is equal parts Arkham and Twin Peaks.

With the exception of So Lonesome I Could Die, these stories were submitted elsewhere and rejected. I will spend the next few weeks retooling and strengthening them prior to submission for other upcoming anthologies or magazines.

So, wish me luck … oh, and Ia, Ia, Cthulhu fhtagn!

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.