Joe was a figure that stayed in the misty heights of my admiration when I timidly joined my writers circle, an online community of writers and poets. As I groped my way through the boards I learned about Joe, who is a highly respected moderator in the circle.
Joe is a teacher, but it does not stop there, he likes to fire the imagination of his wards to take a look into the sky and pick a star for themselves. He teaches his pupils to see how they can own a star and make it their very own. However, there is a passion to his teachings, which is based on solid reality. He is practical even as he weaves dreams.
Fantasy maybe a place that children can escape into and from their see if they can walk a manual for themselves for life. Every human being has a responsibility to strive for a luminous goal, and work in every way to achieve this. You might then ask how does writing horror poems, visiting haunted houses help you reach a luminous goal?
Let us find out as I have the honor and pleasure to present Joe Mynhardt.
1. Please tell us a bit about you as a teacher of young minds and do you worry about the kind of literature they read?
The teacher in me is supposed to worry, but the artist in me doesn’t. Not in the least. Because kids have to read. Imagination is something that has to be nurtured from a young age. Too many people have lost theirs and have therefore closed themselves off from the world of fantasy. Just imagine a world where anything is possible. Where all your dreams can come true?. But we have to guide children and explain to them that there is a difference between fantasy and reality, fiction and true life. I remember watching a movie about a boy who could fly (which was one of my many fantasies as a young boy), and having my parents explain to me why it wasn’t possible. You can’t just tell kids it’s impossible, explain to them why.
2. I understand ignorance breeds fear, is there something really fearful about horror stories or poems?
Oh, definitely. If you’ve trained your mind to visualize what you read, and you allow yourself to be pulled into the story, it can be very scary indeed. That’s if the writer is capable of suspending disbelief in the reader. Imagine being inside the mind of a serial killer, or even the victim, experiencing something completely new. And you get to do it from the comfort of your own home, safe and sound. Going back to ignorance breeding fear, people are scared of what they don’t understand. Put them inside a horrible situation with supernatural elements and you’ll get them scared, whether they believe in ghosts or not. Writers just have to make the stories believable, no matter how incredible the facts.
3. You visit haunted houses, do you feel these houses are actually haunted?
Definitely. What’s better than an old abandoned building with a few legends slapped on? Most ghost experts agree that ghosts are pretty much territorial. So they’re likely to stay in the area where they died or lived. And if you look at how old most of these buildings are, you can just imagine all the things that have happened there - from deaths to tragedies, accidents or just plain heartache. All these traumas will leave some kind of residual energy behind. I’m not hundred percent convinced that ghosts are really conscious dead people walking around, because I believe in heaven and hell. But they are definitely some kind of energy left behind by those people. And it’s exactly that mystery that makes most people interested in ghosts and hauntings. I mostly go for the excitement, the change in routine from my everyday life, and inspiration. I walk through those dilapidated walls and start wondering what could have happened there. Hence the saying, “If these walls could talk.”
4. When you write about haunted houses or write about horror, what are you hoping your readers should glean from it?
Basically two things: To be entertained and to have them thinking about the story days after they read it. Horror should be exciting. Different. I want it to shake people out of their daily thought and feeling routines. Every person needs to get their adrenaline going now and then. Why do you think adrenaline-junkies look so happy? But because not everyone has the guts to jump out of an airplane, we need some other kind of stimulus. But I hope the readers see more than just a scary story. For me the writing itself, the words, are important. Writing is an art, no matter what the genre.
5. A concept of haunting, presupposes ghosts or demons, or spirits, is this a popular genre of writing now?
Some believe the horror genre is a dying a slow death, but I disagree. It’s had its ups and downs in recent decades, just like comic books, but both genres have an extremely hardcore following. In today’s world people want to escape from the horrors of their own lives by seeing or reading about the bad things that happen to others. If I get someone to forget about their problems for just a few minutes, I’m happy. There’s also been an increase in demand for horror stories since this whole 2012 end-of-the-world rumor started.
6. Why do you love this genre?
Since a young boy I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. I loved scary movies, not that my parents really allowed me to watch them. I didn’t care if there were not monsters creeping around in the dark. It’s the possibility that excited me. You put two kids in a dark room with an open closet and each one will imagine their own unique monster. I’d say the biggest turning point was when I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Final Escape episode. The twist in the tale story has been my favorite ever since. As writers we quickly learn what grabs the attention of readers. Things like drama, action, conflict, strong characters, dire situations and an antagonist that wants the exact opposite of your hero. And if you look carefully at these aspects, you’ll see they all play a big role in all especially horror stories. Horror is in every other genre: Losing a loved one is a horrible event; standing on a stage in front of people; being laughed at; losing a fight; being dumped. And plain and simple, horror stories are exciting. You never know what to expect.
7. J K Rowling created Harry Potter, she had been preceded by the likes of Dennis Wheately, Stephen King and more, who were the authors that have influenced you in this genre of writing?
The first person to attract me to the darker side of the imagination had to be Alfred Hitchcock. Then I’d say comic books, especially Batman and Tales from the Crypt. The first movie I’d say was Stephen King’s ‘IT’. I jumped right into King’s novels and short stories after that. Other writers that influence me are H.P Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Who wrote some heavy supernatural stories in his time), Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Bram Stoker, John Connolly, J.R.R Tolkien and many more. My most recent interest has got to be Joe Hill, Jeremy C. Shipp and Gary McMahon (Whom I had the pleasure of working with recently). But I’m always open to new writers - whether they’re young, old or not with us anymore.
8. Fiction and fantasy is a heady world that (and very recently thanks to Harry Potter ) play a significant role in the subconscious of a child, how do they separate fiction from reality?
Education of course. My parents, teachers and personal experience taught me about the rules that govern our world. From gravity to relativity, life and death. But the world of the imagination is where all the fun stuff happens. My first experience with the world of fantasy was The Never ending Story by Ralph Manheim, which was originally written by German’s Michael Ende. So I quickly learned that dogs couldn’t really fly and mountains couldn’t talk.
9. Personally, share with us a significant haunted house that has impacted on you, and as a rider to that, do you believe in ghosts?
In the town of Walvisbay, Namibia, where I grew up, stood a small abandoned building on the outskirts of town. There wasn’t even a house close by. And the stories we heard about that house still makes me shiver. Unfortunately we moved before I got a chance to visit it. I doubt that it’s still standing, but that doesn’t stop me from visiting it in my dreams. Isn’t imagination a wonderful thing? On the ‘do I believe in ghosts’ question: Yes. I’ve seen the specters of soldiers, boys, nuns and just plain old white ones. Not to mention demons.
10. Would a horror writer make the best seller list again after J K Rowling?
It will be difficult after what Stephanie Meyer did to horror, but I’d have to say yes - eventually. Any genre has its ups and downs. Like I said earlier, in today’s stressful world people want to experience the horrors of others to forget about their own. Sooner or later a horror writer will find a way to get horror back onto the best seller list.
11. The West has picked a new fancy, witches, Satanic worship and not so recently these beliefs were seen as savage rituals of the Africans, what do you feel will be the reaction of Africans to some of the horror stories now being published?
Once again it comes down to fearing what we don’t understand. If I can give you an example: Bruce Lee used to be scared of losing a fight, so he accumulated a library full of books on the art of fighting. And as soon as he understood it, he no longer feared it. People have to start realizing that the world is much bigger now than it was ten years ago. There’s no more room for ignorance. I’m not saying we should make an in-depth study into witchcraft, but at least know where it comes from. Know when something is part of a culture and when it’s just plain evil. The quickest way to lose a reader is by not doing your research. In the end I don’t think African people should be offended at all, as many cultures all over the world have ties to witchcraft and satanic worship.
12. How do you manage an average day with teaching and being a moderator in a writer community?
Teaching is a great job for any writer. Some days are a bit hectic, especially due to the fact that I also help out in the school hostel, but just think about all the nice holidays. And I don’t multitask when it comes to writing. I’d rather do one thing at a time and to the best of my ability, than two things at a time. I live most of my life according to inspirational quotes, so I’ll sum it up with this one from Calvin Coolidge: “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”
13. As a South African, where will you place the Sangoma in your writings?
As a writer, I can’t let my personal beliefs or even preferences dominate my work. The sangoma is part of cultural history and can play any part in a story. From victim to killer to mentor.
14. Please give an aspiring horror writer tips on what he should do to become a published author.
When you start out, make sure you read more than you write. Read new stories. Read old stories. Read any genre. See what’s come before you. And as soon as you’ve found what your passion is, start writing more than you read. But never stop reading. And don’t underestimate ‘How To’ books. Be open to history and the buildings around you and ask yourself questions about what could’ve happened there. Think outside the box by training your imagination. Use strong verbs and always make sure you have good drama, suspense and conflict in your stories. Good characters also go a long way in any fiction. But the three most important things are this: The story always comes first, and open yourself up to experiences, especially the scary ones. And get your stories out there. Submit, rewrite, submit!
If I can leave you with one last thought. Take your writing serious. Study it. Writing is an art form, treat it that way.
Are you just solely interested in horror or do you use other genres?
I’ve actually just started planning my first novel and, believe it or not, it isn’t horror. The reason for that is the fact that I’ve had this story on my mind for the last few months and just can’t get rid of it. It has to be written. There will of course be a lot of suspense and mystery. Maybe even a few murders. Wish I could tell you more, but I’m sure it won’t be long before this story sees the bookstores. But don’t worry, I’ll still be dishing out a few horror shorts every month.
Thank you for coming on CENTER STAGE
VISIT JOE'S BLOG www.joemynhardt.com
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