DLS with Justin Park 2015

Justin Park (aka J.R. Park) is indisputable evidence that long after it’s heyday during the 70’s and 80’s - pulp horror is still very much alive and kicking.  Citing the Godfather of Pulp Horror - Guy N Smith - as a major influence along with authors such as Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker - Park is one of those authors who you can’t help but just love.

With three very well-received novels already under his belt along with a handful of published short stories, Park’s writing career is building momentum by the day.  And undoubtedly there’s going to be plenty more to come from this exciting new face on the horror scene.

Not only that but Park’s also one of the three guys behind the incredibly well-respected publishers - The Sinister Horror Company.

DLS Reviews caught up with Park to find out a little more about his work, his hectic day-to-day schedule and all things horror…

DLS - Hi Justin.  Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on DLS Reviews.  To start with it would be interesting to know how and when you first got into writing fiction?

JRP - I’ve always loved to write. The earliest story I have is from Primary School when I was 8 years old. It was a horror story; a kind of retelling of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (in that it had a werewolf and zombies). My Primary School story books were full of similar stories. There is one called Maggots which recounts the face tearing scene in Poltergeist and another which I can see the influence of the movie Troll. So I always had a passion for both writing and horror.

When I left university (studying English and Creative Studies), I seemed to think I had to find a proper job so the idea of writing was nothing more than a dream. However that dream refused to die, and nearly a decade later, and after a massive Video Nasty marathon, I sat down and wrote my first script. That script was Punch, a love letter to slasher movies. I was proud to have finished it, but I soon learned that getting anyone to read your script with an idea to making the film was nigh on impossible.

My brother then introduced me to Print On Demand publishing. I realised that I could write a book and have it produced with little overheads. It didn’t matter if anyone else read it; if nothing else I could have a copy sat on my shelf and I’d be happy with that.

Coming across an interview with Guy N Smith in Dark Side magazine was the final spark of motivation I needed to start writing. I was blown away by his pulp style and sheer number of titles. This man wrote books like the video nasties I loved. If he could do it, then so could I.


DLS - Your first novel – ‘Terror Byte’ – was a gritty, high-octane thriller with more action in it than you can shake a stick at.  Can you tell us a little about how you the story came about, and why you chose an action-rich dark thriller as your debut?

JRP - Whenever you create something and release it into the world, it is a scary thought that you will be judged. I imagine there are many would-be authors that spend years and years tinkering with their debut books, never happy with it, and too scared to release it. Like a band writing their first song, my first book might not be the most polished, it might not have all the elements that later become my style, and that was okay. It was important to write a book and finish it, be happy enough with it and get it out there.

Terror Byte was a culmination of ideas I’d had buzzing around in my head since the early noughties. The main one being, imagine a computer programme that could kill. I wrestled for a while on how to make all elements gel together but nothing worked until one day I found a memory stick in a car park. I picked it up and thought, I wonder what was on it? That was my way in…

When I wrote the Punch script I was always thinking that it could be a film and so limited myself with sets and budget. When it came to Terror Byte I didn’t have to consider that, so I threw everything I could at it: car chasings, street fights, explosions and gallons of gore.

It was great fun to write and I was conscious that chapter one would be there to set my stall out. If you want to know the kind of things I write about, Terror Byte chapter one is the best introduction you can have.


DLS - ‘Terror Byte’ read like a classic Shaun Hutson thriller.  Would you say Hutson’s work has been a particular influence for you?

JRP - You’ve got a good eye to pick up on that, in fact I think your review was the first time Hutson was mentioned, but it was very accurate. Shaun’s writing was something I discovered when I was younger and I loved his descriptions of graphic violence. ‘Renegades’ was my first introduction to him and still my favourite. Its impact was very lasting, as when I came to write the gory stuff in Terror Byte I thought back to those passages from Hutson. I didn’t have a copy of the book to refer to, so it shows just what a lasting impression he made.

DLS - Similarly, your next offering – ‘Punch’ - might well have been penned by the godfather of pulp himself – Guy N Smith.  Was this an intentional homage to the author?  And can you tell us a little about the writing of ‘Punch’?

JRP - The story of Punch had already been worked on in the script I had written. I didn’t change it too much for the book, I think the major one being I took out a dream sequence and replaced it with the prison flashback. The script was useful as a guide, but I enjoyed fleshing the story out further with the prose of the book.

At the time having recently read the first three of Guy’s Crabs trilogy I suppose his style and influence would be very much in my subconscious. As he was my main motivation for finally writing these books I was ultimately aiming for that style, even though it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.

The cover of ‘Punch’ looks very much like the cover to ‘Manitou Doll’, which I discovered after it went to print. This was a happy accident and I’m happy for it to work as a homage to the great man.

DLS - Aside from Shaun Hutson and Guy N Smith, have there been any other authors who have had a particular impact upon your own writing style?

JRP - One of the first horror writers I started reading is Clive Barker. His concepts are so dark, twisted and alluring in their horror that I was captivated at a very young age. I loved the sensual style and evil fantasy. Still to this day I like to read some of his prose before I start writing my own. If I can soak up even a small amount of his brilliance then I’m happy.

I leant a friend ‘Weaveworld’ a little while back and they said they thought the writing was akin to a ten year old’s. I was shocked. But each to their own I guess.

Chuck Palahniuk is another influence. Whenever he writes a book he doesn’t just think about the story, characters and events but he takes time thinking about how he is going to present the story. What will the narrative be like? I love the way he pushes himself and tries out different things with each book.


DLS - Your third offering – ‘Upon Waking’ – cranked the nastiness up a good few notches.  Is this something you think you’ll push further in the future?  Do you think you’d consider writing an extreme horror or splatterpunk novel?

JRP - I was conscious about making ‘Upon Waking’ as nasty as it was, and for a while I considered not releasing it for fear of people getting upset. Luckily it was a fear that was unfounded, although I do love some of the reactions I get from people once they’ve read it.

One of the concepts of this book was to redress the balance of the atrocities I’ve seen and read that have happened to pretty young women in all the horror books and films I’ve come across. This time round I wanted pretty young men to get it just as good, I didn’t want to hold back. Whenever I thought I was going too far I thought back to the woman getting impaled and hung up by her breasts in ‘Cannibal Ferox’ or that ‘rats in a drainpipe’ section from ‘American Psycho’. Of course I let the ladies have it too, but that’s because I believe in treating everyone equally.

I did enjoy writing it, and I love provoking people into reactions of disgust (or joy, depending on how big a horror fan they are).

I still haven’t quite understood what qualifies a story to tip it over into extreme horror, but yes I’d love to write more of the gross out stuff.


DLS - I think it’s fair to say that ‘Upon Waking’ was noticeably different from your previous offerings in style, prose and content?  How did you find writing it in comparison to your previous titles?  And did you intentionally set out to write the novel from such a different way?

JRP - I hadn’t released ‘Terror Byte’ in print yet, but I had already written ‘Punch’ and started work on ‘Upon Waking’. I was now in gear with writing prose and looking forward to tackling this. The narrative structure was something I came up with whilst watching the film ‘Wolf Creek’. There is a scene where someone wakes up by a campfire and goes to escape. You follow this person on their escape attempt and then suddenly they are killed. It then cuts to another person waking up. We then follow them as they see the same scene from a different angle and then the story progresses. From two different viewpoints we learnt more about the characters and events. So my idea was to make a whole story based on people waking up then following them until they lose consciousness whether that’s from sleep, being knocked out or being killed. Then move on to another person and so on.

It is the shortest of my books but took the longest to write. Its structure was built up in layers like an onion. I wrote one story line, then added another, then another, intersecting them so made the finished book. I took great care in understanding the sequence of events and had to carefully map it out as I went long.

By the time I finished it I couldn’t tell whether the twists worked or whether the story made sense to anyone outside of my own head. I sent it off to Dan and Dunk (my buddies from the Sinister Horror Company) and Stu (my brother and editor) with a note saying I can’t tell if I just written an incomprehensible mess or not. Luckily they all got it. And so has the audience that has approached it since.


DLS - From starting off with a heart-racing thriller, your work seems to have kept edging towards darker, psychological-cum-serial killer territory.  Is this something you’ve been conscious of, and are we likely to see you embracing more of this style of dark horror in the future?

JRP - The more I write, the more confident I am in heading into darker territories, but I don’t really know the direction my future work is heading in; I guess my output will be my guide and judge. I am conscious of wanting to push the boundaries I work in and try out different things. By that I mean that I love pulp horror. Sit me down in front of ‘Lifeforce’ or give me a copy of ‘The Slime Beast’ and I’ll have a grin from ear to ear. But I also love David Lynch and James Joyce. I’m fascinated with trying new things, doing things a little different. There’s nothing wrong in calling your work art. And that’s what I want to do. I want to work within the crazy world of pulp horror, but I want to try different things. I want to push myself and experiment. This may mean I will fail from time to time, but you should never be afraid of failure. I hope I don’t, and I work hard to make everything the best I can, but you can’t let fear stop you from pushing yourself.

I’d rather make a beautiful mess than a something forgettably average.

Within horror I have a bucket list of sub genres I’d like to dabble in and put my own spin on. These include, but not exclusively: folk horror, sci-fi horror, werewolf, nazi-zombie, haunted house, zombie, monster creature feature (ala Godzilla style).


DLS - There’s a definite 80’s and 90’s horror vibe going on within all of your offerings so far.  Are your favourite authors and novels mostly from these two decades?  Or maybe is this the era you relate most to?

JRP - The influence of Barker, Hutson and Smith all stem from the 70s – 90s and my favourite horror films normally come from the exploitation era of 70s – 80s, so that would make a lot of sense. These were the decades of my formative years, and it’s during a young age that the stamp of horror really makes its mark.

That being said there’s a lot of great modern stuff out there too. For films I can cite ‘It Follows’, ‘The Babbadook’ and ‘Oculus’ as some fantastic examples of doing something different. As for books, well I think we’re in a boom of talent right now. I’m reading so much great stuff, and I mean really, really good stuff. What I like is the scene is moving and growing; it’s expanding in different directions. I love being part of it, but at the same time I’m not really influenced by anyone else out there right now. I think that’s true with so many others, and that’s why it’s so damn exciting. There’s all these voices, all growing and developing and doing their own thing.


DLS - I just want to touch upon the cover art for your three books for a minute.  I think it’s fair to say that the artwork for all three books has captured their contents – particularly in respect of ‘Punch’ which was like a homage to the cover of Smith’s ‘Manitou Doll’ and ‘Upon Waking’ which just looked like pure Grindhouse.  Can you tell us a little about how the artwork was commissioned and how closely were you involved with the artwork on each?

JRP - I’m so proud of all the covers.

Speaking of covers you touch on nerve for me. Take a walk down to your local book shop and have a look at the best sellers list. Look at the covers and try not to fall asleep whilst doing so. They are so incredibly bland.

Now take a trip over to your local dvd/blu-ray seller and walk round the horror section. Now there is where you’ll find all the best covers. So when it comes to covers I like them to stand out; to work more like movie posters.

Now everything is sold on the internet this is even more important. Your book cover is shrunk to the size of a thumbnail. That image has to sell it. (Yes books are judged by their cover, no matter what people tell you – it’s the first point of contact).

Sorry, I’m going off on one…Back to my books.

‘Terror Byte’s cover was created by the man who designed our Sinister Horror Company logo, Vincent Hunt. He was told the title and a rough concept of the story and he created the cover from there. I was ecstatic with the results of that. Simple, but incredibly effective.

‘Punch’ was painted by Laura Coats. I sent her a copy of the story and gave her brief on the description of the title character. She then knocked it out of the park with this picture. We didn’t know the similarities between it and Guy’s ‘Manitou Doll’ at the time (just coincidence), but I like the fact they are. It adds a little nod to the man that inspired me.

‘Upon Waking’ was a collaborative result. I was talking about the book one night and my housemate, Tom, came up with a sketch of an alarm clock with blood pouring down it. It was a great idea so I bought an old fashioned alarm clock and some fake blood. The idea then progressed to have someone reflected in the clock (tricky) or have them standing over it.

I never wanted Cassie to be revealed in the picture (her foulness should be in the mind), so I wanted just a silhouette of her on the front. We went to my friend’s house (which was the same one I mapped out in my mind for Cassie’s house when writing the book). House resident, Jess, wore a load of baggy clothes to bulk her out and stood by the window whilst Tom took the photographs. Once we got the right shot I made some alterations on photoshop. I came up with a rough concept and passed it round the Sinister Horror Company. Whilst they liked the shot they weren’t keen on the font (yes I used chiller) or impact of the whole visual. Vincent Hunt (who did Terror Byte) took the image and within one evening transformed it by adding the texture graphic and font. Every bit of the concept tied together with everyone’s help and set the tone perfectly for the writing inside.

 
DLS - Your contribution to the first ‘Black Room Manuscripts’ anthology, entitled ‘Clandestine Delights’ was a strange concoction, sitting somewhere between Eli Roth’s ‘Hostel’ and something Clive Barker might envision.  Can you tell us a little about how this strange and quite unnerving short story came about?

JRP - This was an idea I had sitting in my brain for the best part of a decade, and was inspired by the erotic, sensual horror of Barker.  I’d spoken to my brother, Stu about it a number of times. When it came to writing the story I mentioned to him I was finally going to do it and we talked out all the ideas I had come up with before (which was handy as he reminded me of stuff I’d completely forgotten about). I then spent a good few days researching the themes and subjects before I started writing it.

I put a lot of effort getting the tone right and trying to steer it away from the James Bond vibe it fell into a number of times. I think it took me the best part of a month to get the draft complete which might have made it the last story to be submitted (sorry guys!).

The idea was that it was a secret, in a secret, in a secret. Something hidden. You start off with these plush surroundings, but the deeper you delve the filthier (literally and in the depravity sense) everything becomes as you get closer and closer to the ultimate pleasures. The beast inside us cares nothing for room service and shag pile carpets.

I really liked the world in which it was set and may come back to it for a novel of its own, expanding its characters and surroundings.

(By the way, you just mentioned Clive Barker as a reference point – that’s it – mission complete!)


DLS - Not only do you write novels, but you’re also one of the three guys behind ‘The Sinister Horror Company’.  Can you tell us a little about how the company first came about, your collective ambitions through the business and any plans you have for the future?

JRP - Myself and Dan had written our first books independently of each other (‘Terror Byte’ and ‘Burning House’) around the same time. Dunk was a mutual friend who was impressed that we’d both achieved this, and it gave him the motivation to write the zombie story he’d been talking about for years (‘Class Three’). So we all went on the journey of writing and releasing together.

We quickly decided it would be mutually beneficial to release our books under one brand; that way a success for one would be a success for all, we could spread costs of conventions etc, and we’d have people to bounce ideas off.

The plan worked and the brand grew. Our mission is simple: to produce good, original horror. We believe in quality products and quality presentation.

We are all fans of the genre and scene so we read more books from others and we support those that we can.

We hadn’t really planned to release books by anyone else, but after reading the synopsis of ‘Godbomb!’ in an interview you did with Kit Power we were buzzing with the concept. Dunk approached Kit, asking if we could release it and the rest is history.

We’ve got a busy release schedule for the second half of 2016 with books from Dunk, myself, Dan as well Kit Power and Stuart Park.


DLS - You’re a writer, a publisher, and you also have a day job!  That’s a heck of a lot of plates all spinning at once.  Do you find it a challenge keeping on top of everything?  And what’s an average day in the life of Justin Park?

JRP - I am never, ever bored! I’m lucky in that my job has flexible hours so I usually start at 7am, meaning I’m finished by 3 – 4pm. In my lunch breaks at work I’m either proof reading, plotting a story, writing a blurb or planning the next convention, newsletter or project timeline. As soon as work is finished I’m back home to write or prepare a book cover. There is a lot of work in preparing books and promoting them so it’s easy to go a while without actually writing anything, but it’s important to keep writing.

As well as this I have to fit in time to exercise whether that’s lifting weights, swimming or cycling. I firmly believe a healthy body is a healthy mind.

I’m currently working on five different book projects and a normal day involves doing something on at least three of them before bed.

It’s great fun though, and if I do begin to feel the stress from it I get our books out and look at what we’ve achieved so far. That always brings a smile to my face.


DLS - I note The Sinister Horror Company will soon be releasing the second volume of ‘The Black Room Manuscripts’.  Once again you’ve managed to pull together a particularly impressive list of contributors.  What’s the reaction been like for these anthologies so far, has it been a tough job selecting and getting together all the stories, and can we expect further volumes in the future?

JRP - The first anthology had a wonderful snowball effect. We weren’t known and we had little interaction with much of the horror scene. ‘The Black Room Manuscripts’ changed all that. Everyone we spoke to was eager and willing to take part and we received some fantastic stories, getting to know people like Adam Millard, Duncan Ralston, Thomas Flowers and Jim Macleod along the way. Dan led that project whilst myself and Dunk helped by suggesting people, proof reading and helping with the running order.

It was met with a great reaction and really helped to put our name out there.

We decided that we would do the anthology again, but that someone else should take the lead. I took up that mantle and started work on it from August 2015.

As I was leading the project I started to call the shots on who to approach – it very much became my book. The others did a great job suggesting people, acquiring stories, helping the proof reading and ordering of the stories. We take a lot of care with the running order, treating it like the flow of a mix tape.

When I came to contact people I was in a fortunate position of having met a lot of other authors over the year and really got into the scene. Having read a lot of books and even more reviews my wish list was surprisingly easy to write.

With the first anthology under our belts it made it easier for us to approach people as we had a product to show them. And what about that gorgeous cover? Another design classic from the talented Vincent Hunt.

The fact I was able to secure contributions from Graham Masterton and Shaun Hutson was the icing on an already wonderful cake.

The interest shown has already been great judging by our Facebook views and the buzz has been fantastic. We’ll be creating a place on our website for the new book and to be transparent I’ll be keeping a running a total of money made for Alzhiemer’s Research UK from the sales of the book.
The plan will be to have a third edition coming out next year. This time round it be curated and lead by the one and only Duncan P Bradshaw.

Will there be any more after that? It hasn’t been fully discussed, but it’s not out of the question.


DLS - One of the titles released last year by The Sinister Horror Company was Kit Power’s eagerly anticipated debut ‘God Bomb!’.  Not long after that was published the story was given the audiobook treatment, with the very talented Chris Barnes narrating the story.  Have you had any thoughts of doing something similar with any of your own titles?

JRP - Definitely. I’ve recently starting listening to audiobooks whilst at the gym as a way to fit more reading time in so I’ve become a big fan of the medium. I’d really like to get at least one of my books recorded as an audiobook, but I haven’t looked into yet. For one I’ve been so wrapped up in the wave of new titles that are due on the horizon, and secondly I’m not sure which title would translate best. It would certainly be a lot of fun to bring ‘Upon Waking’ to an audio audience.

DLS - How easily does writing come to you?  Is it a something you always get a lot of enjoyment from or can it sometimes feel like an uphill battle?

JRP - Good question. I think that very much depends. I am not a particularly quick writer, and I certainly put every ounce of my soul into the pages I write. But I love getting lost in the flow, forgetting everything else around me and riding the story with the characters. Those are my favourite moments.

I also love it when you work on a section or chapter and with the right tweaks and manipulation you get it exactly how you want it. The words flow right, the pace is how you need it to be. Beautiful.

I have a comfort zone and that kind of writing can be seen in the flow of ‘Punch’. Never wanting to make my life easy I’m currently working on a book that has a narrative strung together from interviews clips by different people. It’s challenging me and I’m not 100% sure if it’s working. I’ve sent it to Stu, my editor, to check over before I continue.

DLS - It’s always interesting to know people’s top five all time novels.  Do you fancy giving us yours?

JRP - It’s always tough to pick out a list so I’ll go with books that I have read a number of times. Repeat readings are rare for me so this list is a pretty varied one.

‘Cabal’ – Clive Barker
‘Rant’ – Chuck Palanhiuk
‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ – Douglas Adams
‘Through The Looking Glass’ – Lewis Carroll
‘Perfume’ – Patrick Susskind
   

DLS - Is there anything currently in the pipeline for you that you can tell us about?

JRP - Yes, absolutely. I’m working on two books at the moment.

The first is called ‘Mad Dog’. I’ve always wanted to do a werewolf novel, and so this is my mark on that subgenre. For a quick synopsis think: a werewolf in a prison break.

The other book (called ‘The Exchange’) was one I started working on last year. I completed three different drafts of it, but was not happy with it. The problem was I strayed so far from my original intention whilst in the middle of writing it, that it failed to deliver what I wanted it to do. My fears were confirmed when beta readers gave it a luke warm response. They were as confused as the plot was. Part of me wanted that weird, 1970s, psychedelic sprawl.

Unfortunately that went too well and left the book flat. So I left it and spent the start of 2016 writing short stories (one of which, ‘The Girl With The Reindeer Tattoo’, can be seen in Michael Bray’s charity anthology ‘Burger Van and Other Stories’. But now I’m back on it, pulling it to pieces and starting from basics. There are some scenes I really like in this so I hope to get it right this time. As a one liner, think ‘Reservoir Dogs’ meets ‘Alice In Wonderland’.

The Sinister Horror Company are working on a Halloween special and I’m thinking of releasing a short story collection. I’ve enjoyed writing them as you can really play with ideas. If I do it’ll most likely be called ‘Death Dreams In Whorehouses’.


DLS - Mr Park it’s been an absolute pleasure.

© DLS Reviews

You can visit to Justin Park’s official website here
You can visit the official Sinister Horror Company website here

Or see in-depth reviews of J.R. Park’s work here:

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