A few weeks ago Chelsey and I had the pleasure of talking to one of my all time favourite authors: Jonathan L. Howard for our podcast. Since the interview ran longer than what can fit in the podcast I’ve thrown together the entire audio interview here.
During the conversation we touched on many things: the Cabal series, the prospect of Cabal movies (or a tv show), his upcoming novel Carter & Lovecraft and some of his other short stories and novels. Yes, that includes Cabal 5!
We also told him about our hilarious encounter with a Johannes Cabal cosplayer at one of our many Convention adventures!
So thank you Jonathan L. Howard for taking some time to speak with us! We’re both really excited for Carter & Lovecraft this October and Cabal 5 in the future!
CHELSEY: One of the first questions we had was what it was like to work in a different genre for each your Cabal books? Was it challenging switching styles? What did you enjoy most about each style?
JONATHAN L. HOWARD: Well, that’s the thing. It’s less of a genre change, or certainly a stylistic change, and more down to genre. The first of the Cabal novels, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer – it’s a very picturesque story – at least about two-thirds of its length. It’s all got these little vignettes before it goes into the third act which is a single long section in a single location. And that, I think, just came because I’m fond of short stories and I’m fond of picturesque stories. Detective is shockingly another detective story although its also got the kind of Ruritanian intrigue, like the Prisoner of Zenda. In fact, Ruritania gets a name check at one point. Then on to The Fear Institute which is a flat-out quest story, much beloved of high fantasy. The Brothers Cabal – most of it is a man-on-the-spot story, like Thirty-Nine Steps or Rogue Male, where it’s one person in an awkward situation. For a good chunk of it everybody is after him and then alliances start to form and it sort of accrues like coral onto story after that. And number 5 I am not going to talk about too much at the moment; it’s still being written. I think a lot of it is simply because I’d get bored writing the same stories several times in a row, so I take Cabal and I throw him into different sand pits and see how much he flounders about before he manages to get out of them.
CHELSEY: Which one did you enjoy stylistically the most?
JONATHAN L. HOWARD: That’s quite tricky actually. I think possibly The Brothers Cabal, simply because I get to have all these secret societies and quite a lot of characters in it. In fact, out of the Cabal books it’s probably the one that needed the largest rewrite because it originally had significantly more important characters in it and I was thinking, “I don’t need all these people and it’s making it too complicated” so cutting them out turned out to be quite involved. In fact, one of the characters who’d been cut managed to stay in it all the way to the final copy edit, lurking in a single sentence at the end of the book. The copy editor went “who is this?” and both myself and my line-editor went “Ahh! Got to cut out this last reference.” They’d been clinging on by their fingernails right to the end. Maybe they’ll turn up in the later books.
CHELSEY: What can you tell us about your upcoming novel Carter & Lovecraft?
JONATHAN L. HOWARD: Carter & Lovecraft is something new for me in several ways. In the first instance, purely on a business level it was something I was commissioned to write so I don’t own it in the same way that I own Cabal or the Russalka Chronicles. But I enjoyed it a lot. I’m contracted to write a second novel in the sequence, so that’s good. With any good luck the contract will be on-going. It comes out in October this year. October 20th  I believe. It’s very, very different.
It’s modern day, it’s reasonably urban, it’s Lovecraftian horror and it’s flat-out horror. Yes, its got humours bits in cause, well, it’s me writing it and I can’t write something without putting some humour in it. But there is not a great deal of humour in it and there are some quite nasty bits. It’s more horror than humour. It’s enormously swear-y as well. I’ve never had a free hand to sound like actors swearing quite so much as they do in this. It was very liberating. I enjoyed it. I could see what Chuck Wendy gets out of this, it is quite good fun. And it’s quite violent as well.
The other amusing thing is that it is entirely set in America. I’ve never been to America. But I’ve seen films, its got cowboys and gangsters and stuff. I mean, how difficult could it be? I had this lovely phone call – the guy who was sorting out the IP and basically putting it together as a package, because it’s already been sold to Warner Brothers television. When I was first tapped to write it we had this conference call between him, who I assume was on the west coast at the time, my editor at Thomas Dunne books who published the last two of the Cabal novels and will be publishing number 5 as well – he’s in New York – and there is me over here in the English west country. We’re chatting away and the guy handling the packaging deals says “Your accent, would I be right in saying that you’re English?” and I said “Yeah, yeah, I’m English.” “You’re not American?” “No, no I’m English.” “Ok, but you’re living in America?” “No, no I’m not living in America. I’m living in the west country.” “Oh, right… But you’ve been to America?” And there was this long pause and my editor jumped in and said “He can do it, don’t worry. He can do it.”
And yes, Lord knows I’ve read enough American books, and it’s hardly an unknown world to me and there are certainly American writers who cheerfully write stuff set in England, and that works very well so its a two-way street. I also had the facility of several layers of editors reading my stuff and going “No. An American would never say that. Try this instead.” which filters out that kind of stuff. Some of which is always a bit surprising, things like: I managed to cotton onto very quickly during writing was not to say ‘gotten’ rather than ‘got’ a lot of the time, which is more subtle than say ‘pavement’ vs. ‘sidewalk’ or things like that. There are other things more subtle than ‘got’ and ‘gotten’, but where I didn’t catch them my editors did, bless their hearts. And I did a scad load or research and Google Streetview is absolutely my friend.
CHELSEY: It kind of puts me in mind of Neil Gaiman talking about his American Gods series and he was like “Yeah, I originally wrote a series that was supposed to be about what America was like and then I actually got here and out came American Gods because it was really different.”
JONATHAN L. HOWARD: Yes, I am very dependant on my editors admittedly. Fortunately, it [America] is the great fount of media and I watch an awful lot of American stuff. The mindset is there and what needed tweaking, I think, was relatively light. But with any luck if the Cabal TV/film thing takes off or the Carter & Lovecraft TV series takes off then perchance I will finally get a chance to visit America. That’ll be nice.