In the run-up to the release of Volume 3 of The Black Room Manuscripts, I'd headed to Edge-Lit. Among other things, one reason was to finally meet face-to-face with J.R. Park - one of the heads behind the publisher known as the Sinister Horror Company. Those who've heard me talk werewolf over recent years will know his Mad Dog novel is truly one of my favourite reads to date. Savvy, creative, and one of the genre's treasures, I'd have to talk game with him.
1. For those who don't know, who are you?
My name is Justin Park, I run the independent publishing imprint Sinister Horror Company. I also write horror books under the name J. R. Park, work on independent horror films (directing, sound, writing and acting), design book covers and from time to time embark on dalliances in the realm of (non-horror) poetry.
2. Game talk – how do you organise and manage your game? How has it evolved?
I am a ruthlessly organised person. I always say it’s because I have a bad memory and being organised stops me having to remember stuff, and this is very true, it reduces stress, keeps me on track and allows my brain power to be directed towards things more productive and creative.
I use a number of tools to help me organise my time. I’ve adopted the use of a yearly wall planner for the last 5 years. With one glance on the wall I can see deadlines, appointments, conventions, payment cycles and how they all fit into each other. It also shows me if I am overdoing things. I can’t express enough how important rest time is. It’s so easy to push yourself into burnout. I’ve done many times in the past and learnt from my mistakes. Once you burnout you are no good to anyone especially yourself, so give yourself a break!
On a more detailed level I create a weekly plan which lists out (in hour blocks) what I intend to tackle when. This helps stop me from expecting too much from myself and then getting stressed when I haven’t completed everything. There is only so many hours in a day, so I learnt to be realistic with my time.
All this planning isn’t completely rigid either, sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind, and sometimes you have to move things around. It’s important to allow some flexibility and roll with the demands and unexpected.
I usually set specific time aside for publishing, and other time for my own creative work, with the time comparatively swelling or shrinking depending on what I’m working on. When I’m writing a new book then more time will go one that, and when a new book I’m publishing reaches me then that may be my main focus. But I always make some time for both, and I’m always spinning multiple plates at once.
At the moment for instance I have seven books at various states of completion from other authors for Sinister, I have three books of my own at various drafting stages and we’re currently gearing up to shoot a new feature film, which involves A LOT of prep – for instance yesterday I was writing a props list and planning the meals for the cast and crew.
The trick I find is to break it all down into small chunks, plan when I’m going to tackle these chunks, and conquer with the ‘little and often’ approach,
3. Talk us through one of your biggest achievements in your game – give us the story behind it. How did it play out?
I think one of my biggest achievements in terms of validation and monetary success was when I sold the movie option for my book Punch. Punch was the first horror story I sat down and seriously, although at the time I wrote it as a script. After a year spent compiling a complete collection of all the movies on the famed Video Nasty list uncut I fancied writing a horror film.
The idea of using Punch and Judy as a theme for a slasher style movie was something that been circling my mind for years so I decided to create that story. After many drafts and feedback from friends I completed the script. However I soon realised that no one would ever read it, so a year later I decided to turn it into a book. When released, no had heard of me so the audience was small, but it slowly gained an appreciative audience. A year or so after its release it was reviewed by Ginger Nuts of Horror, which marked my first appearance on the site, marking something off my writing bucket list. The book wouldn’t die and every year someone else would pick it up and talk about it on their end of year reading list, then one day I got a message from a scriptwriter via my website. He gave me his number and we chatted on the phone a few times and he asked to purchase the film rights. So nearly 5 years after being published the book got picked up. The thing that pleased me most about this was the validation of my work, that someone had enough faith in the story to pay me for its use and had the vision and belief to see it as a successful film.
4. Publishing, writing and film making – that’s a lot of different disciplines. Which is the most involved?
The most complex by far is film making. I work with Matt Shaw under the name Purgatory Pictures and we’ve created three very different films (Monster, Next Door, They Came From The Sky, I Saw Them). We use a small independent crew, and I’m involved at so many levels. First there’s the creative side of script drafting, shot selection and editing, but then there’s the technical and organisation side – what scenes to shoot in what order, location scouting, crew hiring, props, getting actors and as mentioned before, absolute basics like food – honestly one of the biggest drains on a film’s budget is food! There’s a lot of prep work and a lot of post-production work to finalise a film, but the most fun and tiring is shooting the thing. You can plan as much as you like, but things will go wrong on the set, or ideas will change and you need to think on the fly. It’s an incredible buzz, but I need a day or two afterwards just to sleep.
5. It's great if things go according to plan. Tell us about when it didn't; how did you handle it? What were/are those challenges?
Things don’t go wrong. I’m so damn good and what I do that everything happens just how I want it, and everything is perfect. Ha ha ha. I wish!
Things are always going wrong, but that’s okay, a signal of success is not necessarily avoiding problem, but the grace with which you work around them.
From a publishing point of view getting books finalised without any errors (as every error looks bad and costs money to fix – bad for reputation and business), but it’s very rare that I get a proof copy in my hands and don’t make any further corrections, despite having many eyes going over it before sending it to the printers. I have learnt to factor thus correction process into my timeline for a book. When I first started I didn’t think about this, and we almost had a disaster with The Black Room Manuscripts Volume Two, arriving with errors in it with only a few weeks to go before the convention we were releasing it at. In order to get around it, I made the corrections, and paid through the nose for super-fast service and delivery – however I only ordered enough to sell on the day, which meant I could keep the costs as low as possible and still have representation at the convention.
6. Give a pep-talk to someone on game in your field.
You are wonderful. You are unique. There is not one single person exactly like you on the planet. There never was, and there never will be. Only you have your complex weaves of experiences and influences, so make use of them. It’s great that you might like Stephen King, but why try and write like him? If people want books written like Stephen King books, they buy a Stephen King. Use his influence on you by all means, but dig deep and look inside yourself – what else can you meld with that influence? What other writing styles interest you? What emotions does your favourite albums invoke, and can you recreate that? What scene or concepts in films have left you breathless? What things did you experience that left a mark on you, are remain unresolved and you’d like to explore? Think about these things, boil them up into a broth of your own creation and bring that to the table. Then you’ve got something to offer.
And once you’ve done it once, do it again. Learn what worked and what didn’t last time, improve your craft, and most importantly push yourself. Experiment. If you are just lazily bashing out another story, what is in it for the reader? Every book / creative project should be a challenge for you, it should be difficult, and you should be improving with each one.
And you can do it. You can create something new. Something interesting. Because there is not one single person exactly like you on the planet. You are unique. You are wonderful.
Sinister Horror Company: https://www.sinisterhorrorcompany.com/
As J. R. Park, Justin has released the horror books Terror Byte, Punch, Upon Waking, The Exchange, Mad Dog, and Postal (with Matt Shaw), and three short story collections, Death Dreams In A Whorehouse, Death Dreams At Christmas, Death Dreams In The Dark.
As Justin Park, he has released the poetry collection I Promise I’ll Let You Down.
He has recently finished work on the novel Beheaded, a collaboration with horror legend Guy N Smith which should see publication later in 2021.