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 the future?
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.