JOHN JAMES MINSTER was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He commenced a successful international business career since the 1980s in the technology sector while publishing horror short stories in horror anthologies. In July, 2018, his first middle-grade full-length horror novel, Dreamjacker, which met with five-star reader reviews, was born of nightmares. Hellbender Books published The Undertaker’s Daughter, disruptive religious horror for mature audiences on Halloween, 2022, to enthusiastic professional and fan reviews.
As a child he walked in his sleep; his parents found him at the top of the stairs about to leap down, dreaming that he could fly. Every night since childhood he still talks and punches walls in his sleep during nightmares, which he describes as “Nightly mini horror movies. Terror is feeling dread at the possibility of something frightening; horror is the shock and repulsion of seeing the thing: Hello! This is my head every single night of my life—so no writer’s block on the horizon or chance that I’ll run out of stories.”
When did you first start writing?
Was reading books by 1968, so probably then. A major magazine publishes twelve lead fiction stories per year; in 1990, they bought three of those from me, my first time getting paid for writing. Then tech business took up all my time, though I published (unpaid) pieces in various print and online newspapers and such; also creative writing every day for business. Not until 2018 did I decide to start writing books.
Why did you start writing books?
Carrying around a story idea is probably not unlike a music composer hearing a beautiful ‘hook’ in his mind, walking around humming it to himself, maybe even dreaming about it. It isn’t until he plays it on an instrument, develops and records the song that he feels truly happy; relieved, in a way. This powerful thing trapped within him driving him nuts—it’s finally out. Like a thing with a life of its own gnawing away inside me that can no longer be contained. I love to write.
Who is your all-time favorite writer?
Edgar Allan Poe. Best writer ever. Brilliant, disciplined, gifted mind. Whenever in Baltimore, I go touch his grave and have a little talk with him. Brother from another mother, he is. Don’t ever think that dark horror stories come from dark horrible people. His life indeed was dark and yet his was a loving, sweet, and tender heart. I love the man.
What about recent authors?
Difficult question. Today, best of all I think is probably Neil Gaiman. The man can turn a phrase like nobody else. I would describe many of his sentences as ‘delicious’ with an almost musical quality. Like most writers I love to read and buy just about everything published. Erin Morgenstern nailed it with her debut novel, Night Circus. J.K. Rowling’s Potter books are labeled Kid’s Lit, but no, they are simply excellent literature for the ages. Of those active in my lifetime: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Rice, F. Paul Wilson, Isaac Asimov, Lawrence Block, Mario Puzo, Nelson DeMille…I love their product and always learn a little something from each. And who doesn’t love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books?
Best book you have ever read?
Easy. The New and Old Testaments. Though I urge all to read the Quran; Rehat Maryada, the Sikh manual for living; read about the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama; and about Hindu. And world history. I’ve read over 30,000 pages about Abe Lincoln. This is how to learn about and appreciate all people by understanding their core belief systems, and what makes people tick. Fascinating stuff. If you’re asking strictly about fiction, I’d say Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works, all of his short stories and poems. Best longer fiction: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
What books did you read as a young adult?
You mean after graduating from the Hardy Boys? I read everything I could find. The entire World Book Encyclopedia. I once read the entire dictionary. As a young teen hungry for fiction especially horror and sci-fi, I jumped straight into Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Jerzy Kosiński, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Golding, Jonathan Swift, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King…it’s a very long list. I also read everything my parents had on shelves: Reader’s Digest compilations and such. Today, I rarely miss anything by Nelson DeMille, Lawrence Block, or Lee Child. I read at least one hundred books a year.
Do you count Stephen King as an influence?
Everyone asks that! Nobody does characters better than King. Greatest movie ever made in my opinion: Shawshank Redemption. Few realize it was written as a novella by King. His work through the 70’s and 80’s was phenomenal. From Stephen King, I learned that characters mean everything in this game. Not plot, not devices, style: if you don’t absolutely love your characters or find them utterly fascinating at least, how can you expect others to find them interesting?
From where do your story ideas come?
From some other place? We’ll call those ‘daydreams.’ Some too from nocturnal dreams, hence the title, Dreamjacker. Ever have a dream that when you awaken you remember it, think about it, find that it is so disturbing and vivid that you can still picture every detail, and how you felt while inside it, remembering it for the rest of your life as if it were a real memory of an actual event? That’s me. I can recall with crystalline clarity dreams I had while a young child, still today. Maybe someday those old appalling, disturbing, sometimes petrifying childhood dreams will end up in future books to appall, disturb and petrify my readers. (How generous of me!) Dreams are so weird. Usually it begins with an idea or image, something terrifying. Daydreams are similar. It feels like channeling a radio signal from some other place, trancelike, fingers dancing across the keyboard.
What’s the writing process like?
Well, I sit at home in front of the desktop screen, starting early morning and ending around 11 PM or when I start misspelling words: that’s when I know to stop. Sometimes using a laptop during long flights. Twelve or fourteen hour days are typical, producing ten-to-fifteen pages per day. I tend to ignore everything else, just get so caught up, forgetting the needs of my body, hunger gnawing at me until I must force myself to break. It’s addictive. I hear people ‘binge-watch’ cable tv shows. I don’t watch much tv, hardly any. Only writing gets me into that zone of feeling truly swept-up in something. It starts with an idea, or image; nocturnal dreams play like movie snippets. Characters spring to life and plots write themselves. I’m merely the vessel.
Do you do a lot of re-writing?
No. One complete draft then one read-through to fix fat-fingerings. When an editor points out flaws I will fix them, or lengthen-shorten if there are word count requirements. Editors are like auditors: never feel put-off by their findings; in the end you’ve learned something new and should feel grateful for the fantastic free advice. Plus they’ve upped your game. But no, it’s never a lot of re-writing because the story is the story and it came from within—came from somewhere—like an event that really happened; and who knows, somewhere in the world, maybe it really did happen at one time or another.
Do you know at the beginning how your story will end?
Nope. What fun would that be? Just like with readers, I want to be surprised, too. Athena is the one exception.
How long will you continue to write books?
Until the Good Lord lifts me off this rock and carries me home!—only just getting started…
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
That’s easy. Read every piece of fiction you can lay hands on. Read constantly. Also, when you think you have an interesting story, write it to publisher’s guidelines and submit. Rejection and criticism is the path to improvement, the only way, really. No one is born to write the perfect story. It’s a craft like any other; a process which improves with failure, mistakes, and above all, practice. The ones who never stop reading and writing because they absolutely love it — those who say ‘I’m going to be writer; I WILL be heard! — are those who make it in this business. Quitters wash out quickly.