Sleep with the lights on
What kind of nightmares do you have? Do you always remember the details? Remember how scared you were? Ever have the one where you can’t run fast enough or hit hard enough to hurt the demon or whatever it is that’s chasing you; something that can run faster than you can and hit back harder than you’d believe?
J.R. Gonzalez writes about those things, the so-called bump in the night kind of things that make us wake up in a cold sweat and want to run to Mama screaming about the monsters under the bed, in the closet and in your mind.
He has somehow managed to write three novels (and more to come) with diverse subjects and situations that make us feel what the subjects in his novels feel. We care about them as if they are real because they came from real life; they are people we know and want to be, are married to, born into family with, befriend as we live our lives.
Yet there was a time when Gonzalez was challenged by a teacher that died before the end of that school year. He forced the class to write a poem, it didn’t have to rhyme or make sense, it just had to be original and submitted by the end of class.
He wrote something so silly, so frivolous that he never forgot it, and surprisingly got a good grade for it; “I wish I was a fish, because if I was a fish, I’d have my wish!”
Believe it or not, that started Gonzalez on the path to his writing career, he wrote other poems for the fun of it; once he sat on the roof of his house and spent the entire night writing poems about life and the pursuit of; and then in the morning tossed them to the wind.
The other strong push came from a great friend of his, Barb Suski, who lives in Chicago. They met and she instantly became the most influential woman outside of his immediate family; not just in his life and music, but also in writing— pushing him and believing in him until he started to believe that he could do it.
Writing was also something that helped Gonzalez get over the tragedies in his life. Though he is always optimistic and tries to make others laugh or at least smile, he wrote about losing his older brother at a young age.
Before he wrote about it, he was so angry at how his brother was murdered that he beat the refrigerator with his bare hands until his arms became too heavy to lift or his pain was lifted for a short while.
He was asked why, by a well-meaning friend, and said, “I can’t kick the dog, hit the kids or get into a fight with a stranger who doesnt’t deserve that kind of anger. So, I hit that. I can’t break it!”
“But why the refrigerator? Why not the back of the couch? A pillow? Something that won’t hurt so much?” he was asked.
“Because they won’t hurt, that’s the whole point!” he said. “That’s what I want, to get the hurt out by hurting that way, I don’t know how else to deal with it!”
When he spoke of losing his brother, it hurt so bad he would start crying, even twenty years later. He had dreams of his brother coming to talk to him afterwards, and since he went through a windshield face-first when he died, there was a closed casket that most would have been scared to see him that way, but he didn’t fear his brother.
After he wrote that in his Opened Windows, he was able to speak about it without breaking down. Though it still hurts, he found a way to release that hurt and anger and put it to a better use.
Gonzalez found ways to channel his pain into his work, writing poetry that expressed his feelings. When he was in school and they asked for essays, “What you did last summer” and the likes, they would ask for 200 words and he would have to cut back because he didn’t know where to stop, or how.
His parents encouraged him to express and believe in himself, and so he knew at a very young age that there were no limits to what one could do if he/she sets his/her mind to it. He was nine years old when the Beatles came to America, when he saw that, he felt in his heart he could do that, he “inherited” a drum kit from his older brother and a month later had his first band.
“It was easy then!” he said, “The beats were basic and maybe that’s what prepared me for Jimi Hendrix because his life was changed both musically and as a writer. He wrote poetry because he admired his lyrics and thought it was easier to express his feelings in poetry.”
Around that time, Gonzalez discovered Edgar Allen Poe and loved the way he made readers feel the fear burning off the pages, and the sweat and blood dripping off the edges. When J.R. wrote Esmeralda’s Web, he was trying to think that way— to make the reader feel the pain and suffering and incorporate that in the story.
Gonzalez had also co-written a song with Ronnie Harris, who is known as Ronnie Metal, that became number one in Europe last year. The song was entitled, Stalker. That was during Halloween.
He was once asked about the difference between being successful as a musician and being successful as a writer and thus, explained it:
“As a musician in a band, I have to be “Steady Freddie” and stay on the beat. You guys will follow. You have to be precise on the bass. He has to be exact on the guitar. And we all have to meet in the middle and stay there until the song is over.
If one of us is off, it shows right away and everyone knows the band is off. But if it goes right, then everyone says the band was good, or the guitar player carried the whole band, though it’s a collective effort.”
In writing, on the other hand, as he continued to explain, there might be stages and hands where there are others working on it: editors, publishers and such. In the end, it’s either written right and sells on its merits, or it sinks because it wasn’t written well from the start; and everyone knows it comes down to one person who takes all the blame or gets all the credit.
But writers have an amazing job, they get to go to other worlds and places without ever leaving home, they sit behind a desk and work on a story and make up things and people that might never exist anywhere else. Or maybe they were inspired by others he watched and remembered things they did, incorporated them into his stories; to make up people that we care about and then kill them to make them memorable.
Featuring three of his books
The first book, Opened Windows is about a woman that has been abused and misused all of her life by every man she ever met or trusted, and one day something really bad happens to her by one of them and she snaps; she changes from the sweet, loving, “I’ll get right on that” kind of woman to one that no one would recognize and then bad things begin to happen to people around her, those people die in a horrible fashion, something that the police can only describe it as “spontaneous combustion” because they don’t know what else to call it.
The second book, Esmeralda’s Web was written to pay homage to my inspiration; the great Edgar Allan Poe who wrote with such depth and passion that you could feel things like sweat and blood of the victims dripping off the page, they were so real.
The story starts in 1734; the last year if the Spanish Inquisition, and involves two kids who fall in love, share one kiss and then are murdered in a most horrible fashion; she is burned at the stake as a witch, even though the preferred brand of justice at the time was hanging, to keep the blood off their hands. The most damaging testimony during the trial came from Esmeralda, who was the real witch and showed them things she’d done and blamed it on Elspeth until she’s burned to death.
The third book, “The Lingstroms” is about Carl and Jenni Lingstrom, who meet and fall in love, decide that they don’t need to wait and get married soon after. Things are going well for them; he’s a photographer with his own thriving business; she’s an associate banker who loves playing with numbers. Eventually they have a child named Jacob, who, because of complications during his birth is not able to speak or think as those around him, a cat named Xavier, the two-car garage, walk in closets and the white picket fence in front to complete the picture. Then they find that there is something sleeping underneath their newly found house; something that was much better off left undisturbed but it is far too late for that. Now Carl Lingstrom is in for the fight of his life; he must fight something that his mind cannot accept, that he cannot believe in, yet he must.
“Blame me for the nightmares!”