In this podcast Jason Pargin talks about John Dies at the End, If This Book Exists You’re in the Wrong Universe, not taking success for granted, and much more.
About Jason Pargin
Jason Pargin is the New York Times bestselling author of John Dies at the End and the Zoey Ashe series. He is the former editor of Cracked.com.
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Howls from the Dark Ages
Reader beware, you’re in for a medieval scare.
Cosmovorous by R.C. Hausen
The debut from R.C. Hausen, available now.
Michael David Wilson 0:07
Welcome to This is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson. And every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella. We count we're masters of horror, about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now today's conversation is with Jason Pargin, also known as his pseudonym, David one. And this is the second part of our conversation. But as with all of these, you really can listen to it in any order. Now, in this episode, we talk about John dies at the end, we speak about the origin story of that. We talk about his forthcoming release. If this book exists, you're in the wrong universe. We talk about not taking success for granted, and a multitude of other topics. But before any of that, a little bit of an advert break.
Cosmovorous the debut cosmic horror novel from RC Hausen. Esmeralda has lived on the fringes of society for as long as she can remember, until a Halloween night gone wrong on Lux a cache of nightmarish memories, visions of a bizarre desert town images of a mysterious woman, the pain of an ultimate betrayal and the shame of a bargain made in blood. Now she must travel back and learn the true nature of the ravenous cosmos. cosmic horror is available everywhere books are sold. Welcome, dear visitor to my museum of medieval oddities. Have you heard of howls from the Dark Ages? Perhaps you'd be interested in a little tour through these echoing holes? Who mean why I am the curator and I am most pleased to present you with 18 Holding exhibits. Reader beware you're in for a medieval scare house from the Dark Ages available now on Amazon and audible.
Michael David Wilson 2:47
Okay, with that said, here it is it's part two with a conversation with Jason Pargin on This Is Horror. I wanted to go back to the origin of John dies at the end. And specifically, you know how it started out for you. So you spoke about how you released it on your blog as individual chapters. Now, I'm wondering at the time you first conceived it was it all planned out in the sense that you knew how it was going to end? Or was it more a case of one upping yourself every chapter and seeing how to read as at the time we're responding to it? I mean, did that play an influence in terms of what you were writing?
Jason Pargin 3:44
This is an excellent question. And this is for people out there who are aspiring writers which I think is probably a good bit of your audience like correct about that. Yeah, people aspired, okay. At the time, because my only fiction writing experience was stuff that I wrote, like I'd written a handful of short stories that nobody saw like I entered one thing in like a school contest. I had never been published. I'd never been paid for anything. Again. I did. My degree is in journalism. I have no degree in English or literature. I took no classes in any of that stuff. I had no connections with editors anything. I was a guy at the time living, you know, in a small town, and working in an office and not an office for a publisher. I was working in an office for the insurance company entering doing data entry on insurance claims for like eight bucks an hour job I got through a temp agency. So in my spare time I was writing and the writing I was doing on the internet was this was my writing school and there were zero stakes because he's given it away for free. So the site at the time pointless waste of time.com was The premise was usually that these were articles or something that started out seeming normal. And then they slowly went off the rails. So like, for example, there was an entire section of the site that was recipes. And the recipes would start with the list of ingredients, and then partway through there would be an ingredient that actually doesn't exist. And then as you would read through the instructions, that would just go further and further off the rails. And that was why the site was called that I had just wasted your time. This was a format I thought I had invented, there were I had like these celebrity interviews where the first half of the interview was normal. And then as they gave stranger and stranger answers, you would eventually realize, oh, this is some idiot, he's just making this up. This is he never talked to this person. Now, I assume you would get sued for doing that it was not marked in any way as set higher, it was just in the people who were there and hung around the message boards. That was very, very funny to them, because you would get so many confused people showing up because again, this was the early days of the internet. So people back then assumed that they were still of the mindset that if something was written and published, it must be true, or vetted in some way they weren't used to the way now, like, this is why older people get sucked in with conspiracy stuff on Facebook, because they still assume well, if it's on Facebook, it's got to be real. Like you can't just make stuff up and say it in public. That's against the rules. And so in the early days of the Internet, when a lot of what the internet was was just this very geek centric stuff, and like tech instructions, and things like that, and fandoms like Star Trek and there when people would write up like, you know, Episode summaries of their favorite sci fi, or Babylon five, or whatever. And then here was this, these few started to see this scene of comedy writers in kind of trying to invent their own thing. And mine was, these articles were just lies that they just kept getting. And then once you were in on it, and once you knew what you were looking at, people found it very, very funny it but if you didn't know what you were looking at, it's like, oh, this idiot has just wasted my time. So how will we have I think it was the year 2000 I decided to do is like we're gonna do a spooky, like a campfire story. Starring the the characters who wrote on the site, like the stuff was written as the fictional characters of David Wong and his friend, John. And so. And it was the story of just the thing that opens John dies, Dan, where they get this woman asking, saying, I think my dead boyfriend has honey in my house, can you just come and see what's going on, and they go there. And then it seems like a straightforward, haunted house story. And then it just starts to get real stupid. And then it finally ends with this
kind of poltergeist possessing all of the meat in her freezer and chasing them and chasing them around the house. And then they wind up resolving it in just the stupidest way possible. Basically, they get a better ghost hunter on the phone and have him talk to that guy. And then he resolves it. And so why don't they just they just go back home. So that was it. And it was the same format as the rest of the site. And then when you start reading it, if you came across it as a stranger, it's like, oh, it's Halloween, spooky storytime. Here's a short spooky story I wrote. And then you would you could read it for a while and not realize, oh, this is the stupidest thing I've ever seen. And then it just went off the rails that that was intended to be a one off and then that next Halloween starting in like October, people started to message me saying I can't wait for this year story. I was like, I don't know what you're talking about. It's like what do you mean this years? And I guess they had decided that this was an annual tradition against I had never said that. So I wrote them a second one and into the another second what is now section of the novel and that became a yearly tradition for like six straight years to the point where it became it started to consume more and more of my life like why that last year I would have to start in like June writing the John Dies at the End update and they it'd be these massive updates that would run not on Halloween but for an entire month, like every few days one like one chapter at a time. Because it became a big part of the site. My writing became, you know the blog pointless waste of time, but also this story, John dies and became its own its own thing. But there was no plan whatsoever. And what I could do in the magic of the internet is you can just go back and edit the old parts. So I was constantly revising the earlier sections, and adding in, like callbacks and stuff. So everything was coherent I was retconning, constantly, where I have established now we have this, but I would go back and write that into the first one, because new readers were coming in all the time, it was a living, breathing thing. It wasn't, it didn't exist in print, there was no one definitive edition of it, I could do whatever I wanted, again, I'm not making any money off of it. So what are they gonna do complain, it's free. It's free. I'm doing this in my spare time, you know, at a tremendous financial loss to myself. And so, as it went along, like I started planting more and more things and do in that. Those years spent writing the story that was my novel, writing school, this was the only long form fiction I'd ever written in my entire life. But I seen feedback from people is mostly on the message boards, but also seen the traffic because it was spread up, it was spread across many, many pages, he had to click through, I could see exactly where people were leaving off. I could see where people I was losing people. And so if you read in an ad, let me be very like Frank with my, my feedback with myself about like, Well, why am I losing people here? Why do they not feel invested in this next part? Or if you know, people were confused about something, I would see their question. Yeah, multiple people asking the same question in the forum like, Well, why did this guy do this? Like, okay, I didn't make that clear enough. So that the time again, I had no editor no agent, no anything, no, no aspirations of writing fiction for money. At all, I had long given up that dream. But I had this thing where I could publish it online, and just let people guide me that way. That, you know, that basically taught me the the form of how to write. Now these days, if I had been born again, 10 years later, I would probably have come up through like the the fanfiction scene, or, you know, on Wattpad, and all of the other what are the other sites where they host all of that?
Michael David Wilson 12:24
Jason Pargin 12:25
because a oh three is the enemy. All of those like, now there's an entire thriving scene of amateur fiction, which is, which gave us like, 50 Shades of Grey. And like all these people, these fanfic writers that then you know, transformed into original work. And now that's where everybody comes from, that there was no equivalent back then there was no question of a lot of people writing fiction on the Internet back then that it was just, I'm sure people were but there wasn't, it wasn't like an established thing you could do. And the idea of a publisher buying it was not a thing at all. In fact, they very much looked down on the concept at the time of taking books from bloggers, which now probably sounds ridiculous, because now they'll they'll take books from people with popular Twitter accounts or whatever. That the time that was very much like professional writers, editors, people like that very much looked down on people who wrote on the internet, because after all, there's no way anybody could do it. It doesn't you know, it, there's no barriers. So I did think it was something that would forever just live online, the only reason it became a printed book was because I had fans who would send me pictures of where they had printed it all out, and put it in like a three ring binder. So they could read it like a book because it hurt their eyes to read 150,000 words on a screen. And so I finally just went to I did, I uploaded it to a self publishing platform. And then from there, another publisher, I found one that would could, like assign it an ISBN number and actually get it where people could order on Amazon, that kind of thing. But they would they were doing just a print on demand thing, like where you order it, and then they print your copy and send it to you. And they were very expensive. But it was never like this huge moment, like, wow, I'm a real publisher, because it was still just well, it's just the thing I wrote on the internet. We just, we just made a paper version for convenience. But there was not like that, that scene in the movies where they the young author opens up the book, and he's got the copies of his book for the first time. You know, it's like I've done it, I'd become a real author. It wasn't like that at all. Because it's like, by this point, like 75,000 people had read it it the story of self had gone viral. Like I was getting fan mail over it. It was a big thing. I hadn't made money from it, but it's like, the fact that it exists on paper as a printed thing for a couple of 1000 people that wanted it wanted a physical edition. It was it was purely just I'm looking for convenience. And so that wasn't I did not realize at the time, what was about to happen, it was just the people that kept bugging me for paper versions like okay, now here here, here it is, these people are printing it go go get it from them.
Michael David Wilson 15:15
Yeah. And I believe the small publisher you were talking about is commuted press. Is that right?
Jason Pargin 15:22
Yes, yeah. And prior to that, I just uploaded the the PDF to a Cafe press, I actually tried a few different services and just trying to see what it looked like that they took it permuted took it, we did have that that was like the first copy editing pass that ever gotten in. So they went through and fixed all the typos. But we didn't do like an editing. Like where you would sit down like now where you would sit down with an editor and really go through story points, stuff like that, because again, it already exists on our line. So any big changes you made to the paper version would just make people mad because it's, there was no such thing as saying, like the normal young writer thing where they would sit down, say, Well, now, you know, actually, this is, you know, this part of the plot is actually kind of inconsistent with this, or do they like there was no question. It's like, No, you're making me a paper version of the story that's already kind of famous. It's like, so I everything about how I went. And again, at this point, I still no agent still no, like dealing with a publisher in the way you normally would. I had never sent a query letter, I had never gone through any of that process. I was the guy who will err on the internet, and then just got made a paper version. And then that sometime in 2007, one of those couple of 1000 copies that existed in the world wound up in the hands of horror, famous horror writer, director, producer, Don Coscarelli. And he emailed me out of the blue saying, Do you have an agent, I want to talk about the film rights to this. And I had, I didn't even answer the first email, he had actually had to send me another one. Because I was like, I don't even know what I don't know who says oh, he's talking about I don't know, like, it's just a joke. Like, excited. Again, I didn't have an agent, I wouldn't even know where to start. And then he was persistent. And I looked him up. And it's like, oh, this is the guy that made Phantasm, this guy named Bubba hotel, this guy, he's made some of my favorite horror movies. And so it was, like, we worked out a price because I would, I would have sold it to him for like, $200 I didn't care is like if he wants to make a movie out of it, that's, I would pay him. But I actually had to like, go find an attorney, I literally just googled names of like entertainment lawyers that had done like entertainment, law contracts, that kind of thing. Just to have, so I would have somebody who could look at it and make sure I wasn't missing anything or that it there wasn't anything unusual in the terms of the rights that he was asking for anything like that. And then that's the things took off from from there. Because this happened. This came at a period of my life when I had people in my like, on the message boards and in my social circle know this, but this was right around the period, right generally decided to give up on writing as a profession. Because it wasn't going anywhere by that point. Again, I'm not a kid anymore. I was 32. And that happened in 2007. So it's like, I'm still working the same part time day jobs. These are totally dead in jobs. At offices, like with no room for promotion, there's no room for advancement. It's not creative at all. I'm doing just mindless work for whatever, two hours an hour at that point. I've got to find a career and it's like I've not I still have never sold anything. I've never been paid for my writing the only a I had banner ads on the site. At this point. There. I was doing so much traffic that the server costs basically wiped out any money I made. So it's like I'm I'm putting off a real career in the name of this dumb hobby. That is it's feeding my ego. It's getting the fan meal. But it's not getting me health insurance. It's not getting me a 401k and I'm I'm in my 30s like this is not so it was kind of the same thing with like a young musician, like a point where you realize your band is not going to make it. And that Bob did you have a band in your in your youth?
Bob Pastorella 19:36
Oh, yeah. More than one.
Jason Pargin 19:40
Do you still play or was there a point in your life and you're like, Okay, we've got it. We have to give up.
Bob Pastorella 19:45
I gave up my band because of two things. One, I thought I was going deaf, too. I got carpal tunnel syndrome. And so I and we were playing speed metal and I couldn't do it. I just literally couldn't do it and More camping. But I was at the point where I was dropping pics. And so I don't, you know, I can play but it's like now do I want to eat? You know, don't want to hold a bar not How old
Jason Pargin 20:12
are you? How old? were you when you had to give it up?
Bob Pastorella 20:17
I want to say I was 21. So yeah, I mean, that was that was I still considered at my youth? The creativity never left, you know, I had started channeling it. And written before, but nothing very good. And I started writing I started, I was like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna be a songwriter. You know, like, it was terrible. And, and then just started writing again. went from there. But yeah, it's like music was my first, like, big passion.
Jason Pargin 20:56
It's, I think it's very similar. I think I know, all of my creative friends who later which is the vast, vast majority of people who are creative, this creative when they're young, and then at some point, I can use it. For most of them. It's when they have children. Right? It's like, that's when I've decided and I don't have kids, but it was the same thing. So it was later for me. But I think a lot of people by the time they have a kid, it's like, they've got other people in their life saying, Look, you can you can play bars on the weekend, if that's fun for you and your friends. But you have to get a degree or certificate in something and you have to get an air conditioner repair or something that pays the bills, like you get. And that was that because I, my degree was in journalism. That was not a field I wanted to go back into, and I wasn't particularly good at it. So I did a couple of things happen that basically was the equivalent of winning the lottery one done buying the film rights. And then two, I got the job at cracked, which happened because I knew a guy I knew the guy was my predecessor there. So suddenly, they hired me to, to write on the internet full time, right and edit stuff, you know, as a full time job with benefits. And at the same time, he buys the film rights now for people who've never done this, which is most people never felt so a film I guess, but selling the film rights to story is usually you get a check or selling or auctioning rights, that the odds of it becoming a film or becoming a show are tiny, like you will getting paid for someone buying the rights is the first step and then it goes into a gigantic mountain of stuff sitting in a studio or with an agent or with somebody. And maybe maybe maybe a project will come together. They usually not. So the second thing that happened was this actually got made. And I heard nothing for like two years and thought, well, he's moved on to make because I know he was going to make a Bubba Hotep sequel. And there were some scheduling issues, I think, with Bruce Campbell, something like that. And I think they assigned Ron Perlman to be to play a role in that movie. So it's like I knew he's working on it that I like this may be a thing we're 10 or 15 years from now he comes back and decides to make John dies at the end, but I put it out of my mind. And then I think it was around 2009 Two years later, 2010 Maybe what he contacts me is like, Hey, we've actually got Paul Giamatti on board as a producer. And we're putting the cast together. And this is this is happening, like this is going to be movie. So that actually becoming a movie that got made. And then in two in 2012, It debuted at Sundance, and I flew out there and met the cast and was part of the whole press tour. They did you know, before it debuted. And that was that I the second the second book, I after I signed the book, the movie deal, the news got out and then a publisher, St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, one of the big giant publishers came along and asked, well, it's, you know, can we want to release this as a hardcover, like not just really so we want to release it as a real book with one of our top editors and actually go through and edit it as a cohesive book and then they did that and it sold again on partly on the the publicity over the movie getting coming together. That sold really well and then they signed me to another deal to write a sequel to it. And then we kind of went from there. The second book called This book is full of spiders made the New York Times bestseller list. It came out right when the movie did and then after that they signed me to a book deal for a legitimately like giant amount of money that it's so the movie getting made even though I know some people listening this I've never heard of this movie. It's it did not have like it was in a few theaters, but once it hit A DVD and then cable and later streaming grew an enormous cult following and the book is now for sale. And I think 20 countries have been translated in like 12 languages. It's I have bought a large house from from the John Dies at the End book sale. So and that's due to the, to the movie, like because it
after DVD like it showed up on it was on HBO and Showtime and then Netflix and it stayed on the front, like my navigation for Netflix for like two straight years. And then it went to Hulu and is now on HBO Max. I don't know how many 10s of millions of people have seen the movie, but some fraction of them go out and buy the book every time it airs somewhere. So the book just keeps selling because this movie just acts as like one huge advertisement for the book. And then there's now there's three books in the series. The fourth one, it's one that I'm out here promoting, but that I have to emphasize what a stroke of good fortunate was not just Dawn coming across it, him deciding to make it a getting made a getting an audience. These are all the things that other authors never get. And they try their whole lives to get it. They never get it in a happen for me on the very first piece of long fiction I wrote in my entire life. Like that was such a stroke of luck that if you ever follow me on Twitter, you ever see me complaining about my life, please understand that. That the the context of my complaint is that I did effectively win the lottery it is it was basically the odds and everything else and the payoff, it was like winning, not like not like the Powerball jackpot, but one of those smaller lotteries, because it set me up to have a career for the next however many years it's a because now I'm a full time novelist, I don't do anything else. And that is very rare that I try to tell people who look to get into this. I never intended to write novels full time, because I didn't think it was possible. Buy in, I thought it'd be too scary. Because you're just it's like, well, if this next book doesn't sell that I just I'm homeless, I just got to live in my car. Like no, I want a real job with a 401k and health insurance. And then I'll write novels on the side. And that had always been my plan. But it just didn't work out that way. That if you are aspiring to write books, I would not I would suggest you don't get it in mind. To write them as your full time job, I would have another thing you do. Because when you go into a bookstore, or you'll get all the books on the shelf, the vast vast majority of those are written by authors who have day jobs. You know, their teachers are there their academics are there, there's something there journalists, you know, they've got something else that they do that pays the bills, because most books only sell a few 100 copies. That's just the reality of publishing.
Bob Pastorella 27:57
That's one thing I've always said is that as long as I'm going to do this, that it can't can't be about money. It has to be about the passion. If I never make another dime from writing, I'm still going to write because it's it's it's ingrained. It's something that I have to do. And I do go through periods where I don't write man, that's that's like really bad. But you know, the periods when I am writing, they're, they're longer and they are much more fulfilling. And you should never give up on trying to you know, do you know the impossible dream? Because you never know. You never know. And if you're prepared for opportunity, opportunity will knock and you will answer the door, and great things can happen. And you can quit your mind numbing soul sucking day job. But until then, you probably need a mind numbing soul sucking day job with some good insurance.
Jason Pargin 29:00
It's yeah, and because people will ask me that something comes up in interviews, they'll ask like, would you steal, right? Like if you know if the book deals fell through, or if the books kept selling like would you right? Just be right and it's like I don't I don't have to phrase that as a hypothetical I wrote for free for 10 straight years. I gave the first you'll John dice Dan I gave away as a free story on the internet for most of a decade before before it ever became a book because like I just did it because if I if I don't write I'll go crazy. This is my therapy. It's my it's how I express myself to the world. It's how I I have ideas in my head that I can't get rid of them unless I put them into writing and then make and now it's somebody else's problem. It's it's like it's like a poison I have to get out of myself or whatever. And then once it's out there then I don't think about it anymore. It's it's done. I'm free of it. But I write because I have to it's not so no, I'm happy to say that yeah. If my books stop selling because again, most entertainment careers are short, most people do not continue to be in the public eye and make things people love all their lives, they do it for a short little window of time, then the world moves on tastes move on, and then you become irrelevant. But this is where it's cool to see like, the old those heavy metal bands from the 80s, the ones that had like two hit songs, but they're still out there. They're in their 60s and are still playing the bars because they love it. Because it's what of course they did. It's like no, it's they they're not, they're not out there, you know, trying to be relevant again, they're playing it because they love it. They love playing the bars, they love playing in a club full of you know, 150 people, it's that's what they they do it because they love to play they you know, that's so yeah, it's and I don't, I hope I didn't when telling the story where I talked about how it didn't make any money off. I I'm not saying that to complain, I'm just trying to explain that. I had to give away my writing for free for 10 straight years. Before it became a thing, because it is I have so many friends, especially young people who will die well, gosh, I started a YouTube channel last year and I've got some I got some decent views as so many people start a podcast, it's like, well, I've got you know, it's I got good listenership or whatever, but it's not enough to get the the ad deals or I've got a Patreon and it's a few 100 bucks a month, but it's not really you know, enough to pay me for the time I'm putting in. It's like, Well, how long have you been doing it? As long as I started it last year, and it still hasn't really taken off. It's like, man, you don't even know what you're doing yet. You don't you haven't found your voice yet. You don't. I don't know how many years I wrote before I actually knew what what type of writer I was, you know, because you try things and you and stuff feels unnatural. And it's like, and then eventually you hit on your your thing. And then they either resonates with people or it doesn't. But it took me a long time. It's it was not an overnight success story. Like once the the success arrived, that part happened overnight. But it was an overnight success that took 10 years to for that night to arrive.
Bob Pastorella 32:20
So many of these new seen and immediately had just overnight success, overnight success, and then you read into the you know, the actual article, and you find out that this overnight success has been busting their ass for the last 25 fucking years, you know. And it's like, they finally got a break. And you're like, going, you go, you go, there you go. And it's just, you know, I guess the media kind of blows out this whole proportion of overnight success. I remember 10 years ago, I was in a writing group. And we had, and, you know, we met at the local Barnes and Noble. And we had, there was one guy who had been writing for about three years, and he only had three published things, you know, three published stories. And he had a novel, and then he was in he in just, you know, he couldn't get anywhere with it. And he was ready to give up. And I was like, so why are you wanting to give up? You know, because he was like, you know, I don't think I'm coming back. He was like, Well, I'm because I'm just, I'm not gonna, I'm just, I can't make millions of dollars. And I'm like, You're not coming, you need to do this, because you love it. You know, that's, that's the key.
Jason Pargin 33:30
Yeah, and if you can even make even the equivalent amount of money to a decent, like part time job. That's your, your, your kind of your in the elite. Like, it's, you know, most most novels are written with on an advance of like, 1500 bucks or something like that. And then if you earn that out, you know, you're probably not going to make five, five figures. But that's most people do it just to say they've got a book out there. And that's fine. It's, again, because writing something and this was one I never I coming from where I came from, and the idea even early on, you know that in 19, if you went found me in 1999, and I wrote something, and it had, because he used to have websites, you just have the hit counter on there. So when you how many people read your thing. And it's like, oh my gosh, it's got 1500 hits on it. Like, I'm trying to imagine myself standing up in front of 1500 people and reading this thing I wrote, it would be terrifying. That's a ton of people. It's like, you know, it's like a whole section of a gymnasium. And I was, I was so impressed. And so the idea of writing a book that even I don't know, 600 people around the world enjoy and you get like 10 pieces of fan mail, people saying I loved it. It's like that's special. That's a special thing. It's the number of people that are get and again if you get to a level where you're truly getting rich off of it It comes with a whole separate a whole separate layer of pressures and anxieties that you probably are not anticipating. And you may find you're never as creatively free as when you don't. Your whole life doesn't depend on this next thing, sadly, because it is hard to get that out of your head when you're writing it. That this next sentence is, am I phrasing this in a way that will pay my mortgage next year? Is this is this paragraph interesting enough that it will that I will be able to support myself and my wife and my dog and in this city where the price of houses doubles every two years? So yeah, I am extremely fortunate, I never lose sight of that. Also, if, if you asked me to, like 10 years from now, will I have? Like, do I picture where do I picture myself 10 years from now I don't picture myself. Like in in Stephen King's mansion with the big gate with my initials on the on the gate, I, I pictured myself probably working some kind of a day job, hopefully something editorial or something like that, where I still am writing but just for a smaller audience or whatever, because I don't think it doesn't matter who you are. You don't need that many flops in a row before the publisher is just going to move on is there you know, It's same with anything you think about, uh, you know, if I go to my bookshelf, all of my favorite books, you know, and I look up those authors. Majority of the time, I find they wrote two or three books and they quit. And I know exactly what happened, they wrote one and maybe it's a moderate success, they wrote a second one that maybe got turned into a movie sold a ton of copies, the third one bombed. And they just never had a fourth idea because they got so discouraged and get maybe they have a good job and didn't need to, maybe they were satisfied to do that. But that's that's far, far, far more common than a case like, you know, some superstar author where they've written you know, James Patterson really written 200 novels for for over the course of 40 years and so and sold enough to basically start their own company that is a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of, of that that's like the equivalent of not just people that make it to pro sports, but then become all stars. It is a tiny, the far the vast majority of us are, have a few things that people read, and then we'll just kind of muddle along, muddle along with whatever else we can, hopefully, we'll we'll connect with people.
Michael David Wilson 37:50
And I think is for that, that we should never really take any sort of success for granted. We should never think, okay, you know, I've made it now. You know, enjoy it, celebrate it, but don't ever think that you sat because things can change. People are fickle, and there's so many kinds of considerations, as well. And if we look at some of the best writers today, if we look at people like Stephen Graham Jones, I mean, he still has a day job. And he, he might be the best writer out there to be honest.
Jason Pargin 38:31
Oh, yeah. But see, the difference between him and me is that I got a movie deal. Like that's it. Like, I cannot read his books and say, Oh, well, if you were as good as me, he would have you know, he would have these this amount of money. It's like, no, that's not this is not a meritocracy. It's now they are they're like short story writers like Brian Evanson. And people like that was like, my god, how do they like the language and the having this many ideas and having, you know, a dozen unique ideas for stories and universes, and each one is new and fresh? And it's like, my god, how do they how do they do it? And in all of these, you know, the authenticity with which with which Stephen Graham Jones, right, it's like all of it is
it's it is a mystery to me. It's so I, I am happy that I know enough about writing that I can appreciate what they're doing, and why it's so much better than mine. Because it's, it's like I get those people that maybe wouldn't necessarily notice I know we're writing totally different types of stories, but I cannot emphasize enough for people who say, Well, how did you do? How do I have what you have? And it's like, if I repeated my life 100 times This doesn't happen 99 times it's, it's not. It's like, well, yeah, but I think the books are really good, they will say, and that's very kind. But lots of people write good books, lots of people can, you know, have the imagination, lots of people have all those qualities, only a small number of them ever get the huge book deal what the, to me was huge that that I got. And it happened because I won, I had it kind of something kind of go viral online at a time wins a piece of fiction could still go viral online. Like that's not something that can happen today. 150,000 word story going viral on the internet, like how, like it could become popular on Wattpad, or on one of those, you know, fiction sites, or literati or whatever your vision your your genre is, the idea of somebody just on their blog, posting a story and then having that go so viral that it becomes the thing like, that's probably much rarer now, it'd be much more likely that it would be their YouTube video that would get turned into a movie or something like that. So for me to take that path that I came along when I did, in an era when something like this can happen for to fall into the right hands for things to fall in just such a way that the movie would get made, and then would would find its audience. Because again, that took a lot of, you know, promotion work and, you know, the right moves on the part of dawn and they get into it into Sundance first time he'd ever been there with a movie. All those things falling into place. That then once I had that visibility, okay, now it's one of those things where success breeds success, so that the publisher is more willing to support me and more willing to promote my work. Because if they give you a bigger advance, now they need to earn it back. So they'll push your books harder. And once like all those things, gave me that foot in the door, that a lot of very hardworking people, people work harder than me, a lot of very good writers, people who are better writers than me, a lot of people who just did not have that same fortune, good fortune. And that's what you learn, I think as you time goes on, because I think when you're a kid, because the only stuff you're exposed to is the stuff that successful, you just assume that one of two things happens either you make something, and it just gets rejected at the door, or you become a superstar. But the idea that most, for example, most musicians are, you know, making like, like just a part time living playing, you know, weddings and bars and all that and making beer money or whatever. That's something that doesn't really occur to you. And the fact that there's, like no such thing as like a middle class, like that. There's rappers making a middle class income is a thing that, like, I have trouble visualizing that, but it's like, yeah, there's a whole bunch of rappers making $50,000 a year and they can afford health insurance from their rapping. That they're, like, reasonably successful. And that's the vast majority of what it looks like. But because where I am, I'm only exposed to Kendrick Lamar, really famous ones and it's easy for you to think, oh, as a rapper you either nobody or you're a superstar and people think that way about authors that as an author, either your thing got rejected or else you're making millions of dollars and of course that's not that's not true. I don't I don't have any other friends that I'm personally friends with who write novels full time. I don't know any full time novelist. I guess I don't attend the right parties. I don't know. But all the people who write they all have jobs, other jobs. They do everyone, everyone but me. And I kind of wish I had another job but
Michael David Wilson 43:57
yeah, yeah. But because again,
Jason Pargin 44:01
I was at cracked. I had mentioned earlier I got the job 2007 I left in 2020 it actually right before the pandemic yet I don't think those two events are related. But I, I didn't leave because it's like, I'm gonna go off and be a novelist full time I left because basically, the scheduling became impossible. And the site was pivoting again in a way that I just couldn't. I didn't have another pivot. If you don't know that people don't keep up with the industry, the the digital publishing industry collapses like every five years. So and you have to change your business model and totally change how you do your job and they refer to that as pivoting or pivoting to video or something. I didn't have another pivot and the answer though I had made enough money off the books that I could make that decision, but I never wanted to do it because it seemed unhealthy. It seemed like a very lonely job and it is I don't talk to anybody, but like, it's just you in the book and no one, you're not working with anybody, you're not collaborating with anybody. It's just you and this enormous Word document every day. And I'd see why writers have a reputation for being drunk and having mental health problems I do. Because you're so in your head. And if you don't force yourself to get out and spend time with people, you just won't.
Michael David Wilson 45:26
Yeah. Yeah, a lot of that really resonates. And I mean, I've done all sorts from writing and podcasting full time to having a full time job and doing the podcast and writing and then kind of part time working, and then most of the time doing writing and podcasting. And I have to say that when I was doing the writing, and podcasting full time, I mean, it did get pretty lonely and isolating, you know, even in spite of having these conversations with people, because you're not getting that kind of daily interaction. So I mean, I think, for me, the sweet spot was probably when I was teaching one or two days a week. And in writing and podcasting the rest of the time, because I got to see people, I got that social interaction. And to be honest, I didn't envisage until I actually went full time doing this stuff just found lonely and just how detrimentally could potentially be to my mental health. So I think if I do that, again, then I can at least probably have to start some sort of in person writing group, I mean, I need a reason really to be seeing and interacting with people at a minimum on a weekly basis. And I don't know about you, but if, if I don't have my schedule in there, I can get a little bit obsessive about the work. And then before I know it, it's like, Oh, two months have passed and haven't really seen any human beings. And that's not really how we're meant to function.
Jason Pargin 47:15
Well, the issue is, and again, I realize there's people in the audience who are, who this is, the dream is to be your own boss, and you're doing your own project, you have total control over it. I know that's the dream. And and in some ways it is. But the thing is, you have this deadline, and you because you're not getting a weekly paycheck, you get one check when you sign the deal. The next check arrives when you turn into manuscript. So you're sitting there any and it's like, well, I could go do something or go visit somebody or whatever, you know, something fun, but, but you do not know if there's a span of writer's block coming. Or you might get sick. Or you might have a bout of depression, you might some way wind up in a situation where you're just not productive. So it's like, if I'm able to write now, I need to write now, because it may be next month, I can get COVID, I could wind up in a hospital, I could wind up on a ventilator, I could fall off a ladder and break my back. And again, since there's no like disability payment that's going to kick in, there's no like, I don't have a job I am until that manuscript gets turned in, I don't get paid. And if I don't turn it in, if I never turn it in, I never get paid. So it is very easy to talk yourself into working all the time. When I say working, it's 20% writing on the book, 80% promotion. So the promotion is doing social media. I have social I have 11 different social media pages, I keep updated, I do almost all of it myself. And I'm on a podcast every week that is to get to keep asking people to order the books I have to this is part of the job. So I could in theory, schedule a vacation for myself, because again, that's the dream. You're your own boss. If you decide to take two weeks off and go fly somewhere, you can just do that. I would be anxious every minute of it. Because I would think what if I have blown two weeks of time when I'm feeling healthy and energetic and productive? And you know, my next book is due at the end of this year. So what if I find myself in September getting closer to the deadline and I get sick or if my parents get sick? You know, something that takes me out of town for several weeks. What if there's a house fire that happened to my inlaws a few years ago, half half of their house burned down they spent six months recovering from that. It could happen, you know it stuff happens and If I don't get it, the publisher is not going to just give me the money anyway, they're not going to give me the money until they get the book. So when you're your own boss, you also what you gain and not having to listen to someone, you know, send you memos about a dress code or whatever, we you lose in whatever layer of security you feel like you have, where if you got injured on the job, there's something that kicks in and pays part of your salary or you have health insurance or whatever. Whereas if you don't get paid until you turn on the book, if something interrupts your ability to finish the book, including just mental health reasons, or, or the magical part of your brain that manufactures ideas may just stop working. And as has happened to many writers, it CS Lewis said, just one day, he just stopped being able to see things in his head, they just, it just stopped, doesn't know why that just happened. So knowing that it's like, okay, if I'm having the ideas right now, if I'm feeling that right now, I better take advantage. And so I do wind up just writing day and night, and then taking a break to do a podcast or to get posts on Twitter or whatever, those scheduled posts on Facebook, to keep all those going and watching the engagement on those because again, that is key to my, my I can't sell books without social media, it's again, the publisher will do some publicity. But most of it is me. And that is done on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube and Goodreads. And the the two different newsletters I have in the substack blog. And
Michael David Wilson 51:45
yeah, yeah. And I mean, token of your book. So forthcoming is, if this book exists, you're in the wrong universe. A brand new, beyond dies at the end book, what can you tell us about it?
Jason Pargin 52:06
It is the fourth book in the series, but you can read these in any order. They're not this is not one continuing. It's not a game of thrones situation where if you started Book Three, you'd be like, Who are these people? The it's more of a like Sherlock Holmes, you know, novels, where each each time it is establishes who these people are, the the situation they're dealing with will be fully resolved by the end. So if you, you can start with any of the three existing books that are out there. But for so there's, there's always going to be a core group of fans who are eagerly, like preorder the fourth book because they've read all the other ones. But if you're starting here, you can actually start here, too. I don't try to give away too much of a plot because the whole point of these books is they are still held to that formatting where in the initial pages, it seems like it's somewhat straightforward. Like Book Three, it just starts with a child that has disappeared from a locked house and seemingly has, there's no way for it to be possible that she could have been taken away or she could have gone. And it seems a fairly straightforward thing. And then it goes in so many weird directions that by the time you reach the end, you've wound up in such a totally different place that it it hopefully you would never have possibly guessed how they got there. That's the format of the books. They are very strange. And they move at the speed of a an author who has severe attention deficit problems. So they are written by someone who has no patience for letting things really play out slowly. And that's part of always part of their appeal. It's why they I think they went they did well on the internet because they were written for an internet audience where every sentence is trying to comp the one previous to it. That's not a boast. I'm sure some people will find that obnoxious about my books, but they are very much they are kind of books written for people who hate reading in that sense that they, in theory, by the way, if I've done it right, they are as smart or as stupid as you want them to be. They are very silly. And then if you read them a second time, there's a whole lot of stuff layered in there that you can, you can in theory, catch only on repeat readings but that's me that is me touting my own work I again other people might not agree
Michael David Wilson 55:00
Thank you so much for listening to This Is Horror with Jason bargain. Join us again next time for the third and final part of conversation. But if you would like to get that ahead of the crowd, if you'd like to get every episode ahead of the crowd, and become our Patreon patreon.com forward slash, This Is Horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you get to be part of the writers forum over on Discord. You get exclusive podcasts including story on box, the horror podcast on the craft of writing, and you get to submit questions to each and every interviewee. We've got a ton of great guests coming up. We've got conversations planned with the likes of Catriona Ward, Matt Wesolowski, Connor Habib, Clay, Chapman, and many more that will be presently revealed. So head over to patreon.com forward slash, This Is Horror. Check out what we're offering. And if it's a good fit, I'd love to see you there. Okay, before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break.
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Unknown Speaker 56:54
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Michael David Wilson 57:23
As always, I would like to end with a quote. And this is from horror legend, Ramsey Campbell. One way to avoid what has already been done is to be true to yourself. So something to ponder. I'll see you in the next episode for the third and final part with Jason Pargin. But until then, take care yourselves be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.
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