If you’ve never heard John’s name before, you’ve no doubt heard of the website in which he edits and writes for, Bloody Disgusting, the biggest and most popular horror site in the world.
To put things in perspective, this year, come Halloween season, HL will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary. BD, on the other hand, is coming up on its 20th anniversary very soon. I’ve been reading BD since it was first released, back in 2001, and they’ve been a major influencer in the horror community ever since. Essentially, BD is to the digital era, what Fangoria was to print.
I enjoy doing interviews more than any other type of article. Despite being very anti-social, I actually enjoy hearing about other people’s stories and perspectives quite a bit. It was only inevitable that I’d eventually interview my friend John, one of the hardest working writers in the blogging community that I know, who climbed to the top on work ethic, a genuine passion for movies, and a natural gift to engage people with conversation.
Of course, human nature being what it is, a bigger audience comes with the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wanted to take a moment to brush upon some of those issues, dig into the nuts and bolts of what it’s like working at Bloody Disgusting a bit more, along with a few lighthearted, fun questions, to remember what it’s all about to begin with.
Halloween Love: The negativity in the horror, movie, and general art community. I want to get this out of the way straight away, so that we can just have fun with the rest of the interview, but I feel like we have to address it. We could probably just say that it’s more of a human issue in any community, rather than it is anything specific about our community, that wherever you find people, you’re going to find people behaving badly, but I think that’s too easy.
I feel like there’s more to it. In the early years of the internet, I just don’t remember the internet hating everything. That seems to be something that happened more in the second half of our current internet era. Of course, social media has changed the landscape some, but what is social media, if not just another type of forum, that was always there from pretty much the beginning?
You and I grew up in a world that was still mostly analog, and I wonder perhaps, if it wasn’t because we spent so much time as on-the-ground detectives trying to find the things we loved, browsing every available VHS in the horror section of Blockbuster, trying to get the latest scoop from the schoolyard, or maybe getting access to a Fangoria magazine if we were lucky, just to talk about the things we loved, that we had a higher appreciation and simply didn’t have any time to get “negative?” We were just thankful for the cool shit we got.
Now, everyone, including our own generation, are simply spoiled and jaded. We get everything we want at the speed of instant gratification. As a society, we get to consume, curate, and critique art at such a pace, that we have too much extra time to snub our noses at things that don’t meet our standards. We definitely take for granted just how difficult it is for films to even get made in the first place, and with startling ease, have adopted what I can only describe as a “king’s attitude” toward art. It’s no longer a conversation or an excitement, it’s just an automatic hate for everything, off with their head, unless they can impress our incredibly sophisticated standards.
We can’t ever stop negativity completely, which would come dangerously close to censorship, but surely there’s a way to take back the balance, so that positivity is the dominant attitude once again? So, what the hell is going on and how do we combat it? Also, can you dive into the difference in the scale of negativity you see, as you’ve risen through the ranks over the years, and can you share some anecdotes about people that went way over-the-top with being rude or abusive?
John Squires: The amount of negativity that’s been heaped on me personally has unquestionably grown over the years, and when you’re personally attacked on such a regular basis, you kind of can’t help but have a pretty negative outlook on the internet as a whole. It’s no secret that you’re painting a big target on your back simply by existing on the internet and sharing yourself and your work with others, and my own target has gotten bigger and bigger as I’ve shifted from running my own small blog to running the show at Bloody Disgusting. I’ve gotten death threats for liking movies others did not enjoy, and I’m not even kidding. It gets me down sometimes – and I don’t think I’d be human if it didn’t – but I find that there are enough good people to balance it out.
I’ve met (and engage daily with) so many kind, cool people in the horror community, and I try to keep in mind that all the worst trolls are, at the end of the day, a vocal minority. At least I choose to believe that. We can’t ever stop negativity completely, and I’m certainly not naive enough to think we can, but we’re at least fighting it every time we choose to be kind to one another. Recently, Patton Oswalt responded to some dude trolling him on Twitter, saying real nasty things to him, by helping to pay off the guy’s massive medical bills. That was pretty inspiring to see. The whole “kill them with kindness” thing at work. That one quote from The Last Jedi really stuck with me, and I know it resonated with many:
“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.“
Maybe somewhere in there is the key.
Talking horror specifically, a whole lot of horror “fans” seem to really hate horror movies, yeah? Not something for me to understand. I just focus on what I love. Reality is, there have always been negative, nasty trolls in every fandom, it’s just that the internet (social media, in particular) has armed each of them with a megaphone. We probably can’t ever make them go away, but I’m confident they lose all their power if we just ignore them. They’re often just trying to get a rise out of us, and they seem to buzz off when they realize we’re not bothered.
So I’m working on that. Being less bothered by it all. And focusing my time and energy on engaging with the cool people, rather than the ones who never have anything pleasant to offer.
HL: A decade’s journey, from freddyinspace.blogspot.com to bloody-disgusting.com. In other words, from the very bottom, to the very top. Watching your career from the outside, I am not in the least bit surprised that you’re now the Editor of the top horror website in the world. Your work ethic is almost legendary; I’ve never seen any other writer in our industry churn out as much content, as passionately as you have. Were you surprised that you made it to the top, or did you always have it in the back of your mind, that as long as you put in the work, it was inevitable? Can you give us a timeline of the past decade? Have you kept track of your total article count; how many thousands of articles have you published at this point?
JS: Honestly, I never in my wildest dreams thought that making any sort of living writing about horror movies was even remotely possible. It wasn’t something I ever considered, and I probably would’ve been foolish to have considered it. I started my blog over ten years ago simply because I had a lot of opinions about horror movies and it seemed like the best way to go about expressing them. Even if nobody was reading, I needed an outlet to get those thoughts out of my mind and onto paper, so to speak, so that’s how it all started.
The rough timeline is that I launched Freddy in Space in 2008 and spent many, many years toiling away on it daily. I didn’t have a paying job at that point so my blog was essentially my sole focus, and believe me when I say I never made a dime off of it. Again, I never considered that it would go anywhere or lead to anything; I was just doing it because I had opinions to share. Even when I eventually did get a “real job,” Freddy in Space was never put on the backburner. I’d write articles before work in the morning, after work at night, and sometimes even during work on my lunch breaks. It consumed me, probably to an unhealthy degree, but I eventually built up a small readership and made some crucial contacts from it.
After years of doing my own thing, sites like iHorror, Dread Central, FEARnet and Halloween Love(!) gave me alternate homes for my writing, which is really when the whole thing started to take off. Mind you, I still never considered that writing about horror movies was any sort of career that could pay the bills, but my mind eventually shifted… out of necessity.
Long story short, I lost that aforementioned job when the family-run pharmacy I worked at shut down, and I quickly accepted another job that couldn’t possibly have been more wrong for me: selling fancy furnishings at a ritzy home decor shop. I knew from the moment I went in for the interview that it was wrong for me, but I needed a job and it paid pretty well. So I bullshitted my way through the interview and got the job. And then I lasted two days before I quit.
Full disclosure, I completely broke down in tears after that second day. I didn’t even know why at the time. It wasn’t a particularly rough day, and I really had no discernible reason to be so upset. But I soon realized why. I was totally lost in life at that time, and the idea of shedding who I was to become someone else was one that I just couldn’t accept. It was like my body was rejecting where I was and what I was doing, and I knew that I needed to do something about it. Instead of sitting around being bummed out, I decided to use that feeling as my motivation. I figured I’d try my hand at making a living as a writer, and if I failed, at least I tried.
With a few paying freelance gigs, I was able to scrape by for a while, but I soon reached a point where I was pretty sure I was going to give up the whole damn thing. And then Brad Miska came along, offering me a job at Bloody Disgusting. I almost instantly knew it was where I was meant to be. The complete opposite feeling I had from day one at the furniture shop.
Total article count? Never kept track. I don’t look back. I just keep writing. I have to.
HL: What’s your secret? I know this is a dumb question, but seriously, what’s your fuel? Are you reaching into grandma’s medicine cabinet, or is it just a matter of getting some sleep, eating healthy, and exercise?
JS: My secret, at the risk of sounding corny, is that I genuinely love what I do. People often say that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Holy shit is that untrue. The reality is, doing what I love to do for a living has ensured that I have to work extra hard to keep my head above water, but there’s truly nothing I’d rather be doing with my life.
I wake up every morning with passion and excitement (okay fine, not every morning), and that’s simply because I care about and truly love what I’m doing. If that one day changes, I’ll know it’s time to find something else to do. But, I’m far from that place right now.
I don’t want this to ever end. And more than anything, that’s the driving force for me.
HL: Now that you are at the top of the game, I understand that you get hit with a lot of misconceptions. For example, some people think that you’re now just rolling in the cash, or that at the top, everyone is a paid shill for all the big studios. Can you shed some light on the actual day-to-day of being the Editor for Bloody Disgusting, and can you hit us with some stats about the operation?
JS: The sad reality is, even the filmmakers and actors we write about (for the most part) are struggling to get by, so anyone who thinks that film journalists are rolling in money is sorely mistaken. If you write about movies for a living, trust me when I say that you’re only doing it because A) you love movies and B) you love writing about movies. It’s a for-passion career much more than it is a for-money career, and it’s damn sure not a wise profession to even consider breaking into if financial security is something you’re looking for.
Stephen King once said:
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.“
I’m just happy to be paying my light bill every month.
Last year I was promoted to Editor in Chief of Bloody Disgusting, which means that I now oversee pretty much everything that goes up on the site, whether I wrote it or not. Really, I’ve found myself in a sort of hybrid Editor in Chief/Head Writer position, which means my own daily work load is supplemented with playing editor to a revolving crew of around 10 core writers who regularly contribute to the site. I’ve also made sure we have left the floor open to literally anyone who wants to write articles for us – either consistently or just on a one-and-done basis – so often a portion of my day is spent wearing that Editor in Chief hat.
It’s a lot, as you might imagine, as the day to day operations include writing news, writing up editorials, editing editorials, fielding dozens of messages, and running BD’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. It’s one of those “there’s never enough time in the day” type of jobs, but that’s the kind of job I love. There’s always something to do, and that’s great for me because there’s nothing I hate more than sitting around with nothing much to work on. The busiest days are the happiest days for me, so I welcome an overflowing plate with open arms.
We’re doing well and I’m paying my bills. I’m happy.
HL: What are some of the perks of working for BD? Obviously, you’re reaching many more readers, but has this in any way unlocked greater access to creative people in the industry: directors, actors, etc. than you ever had before?
JS: Honestly, the main perk for me is simply that I now have, through BD, a much larger platform to spread love for the things I’m enjoying – and to offer that platform to other passionate writers, so that they can do the same.
Sure, there are the occasional free movies and the increased access, but that’s not what turns me on. What excites me is being able to recommend a movie and to have that recommendation reach a wider audience than I ever could’ve on my own. The perk is being able to write things and have a lot of people read them. And that’s all thanks to what was built up by Brad Miska and Tom Owen, long before I ever came aboard.
The less nauseating answer, I suppose, is that I do love the little promotional goodies movie studios send out. Recently, I got a pair of golden scissors from Universal in promotion of Jordan Peele’s Us, and that was pretty damn cool. I’m a sucker for that kind of fun stuff.
HL: Over the years, what is your favorite thing and least favorite thing about writing?
JS: My favorite thing is that feeling of satisfaction that comes from writing an article I’m really proud of. My current job dictates that I spend most of my time writing up news and what not, but when I get the time to really dig in and write a meaty editorial piece, there’s nothing like that feeling of satisfaction that comes from hitting “Publish.” A feeling I’m always chasing.
Least favorite thing? Reading the comments, which brings us right back to Question #1. Nothing kills those happy, satisfied feelings like a real nasty comment on something you worked real hard on. But that just comes with the territory. Never read the comments, friends.
HL: I know it’s tough, but you have to pick just one of each. Favorite horror movie, music, book, and video game?
JS: These sorts of questions always stress me out because I overthink them and no answer ever seems to be the right one. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to ease the mental burden by just rattling off one of each of these things that I really, really like, off the top of my head:
- Movie: Black Christmas
- Music: John Carpenter’s Lost Themes
- Book: J.A. Kerswell’s The Slasher Movie Book
- Game: Until Dawn
HL: What’s your favorite non-horror movie?
JS: My answer to this question is always the same, no matter how much time has passed and no matter how many additional movies I’ve seen since the last time I watched it: True Romance. For my personal tastes, it’s the perfect movie. Characters, dialogue, acting, music, storytelling. It’s Quentin Tarantino firing on all cylinders as a writer and Tony Scott doing the proper justice to that incredible screenplay. I’ll never tire of watching Clarence and Alabama fall in love.
HL: What’s your fondest childhood memory of Halloween?
JS: It’s not necessarily a single memory, but my favorite thing about Halloween growing up was taking all the spooky decorations down from the attic and turning our living room into a Halloween wonderland. My dad and I decorated more for Halloween than we did Christmas, and I always loved that day where we decided to bring it all down and get to work. Over the years, we built up a pretty impressive collection of decorations – the highlight, no doubt, was a massive rubber devil with wings – and I’ve still held onto most of that stuff to this day.
The stuff that didn’t melt into weird latex goo over the years, that is.
HL: If money were no object, what would be your dream project?
JS: If you handed me millions of dollars and told me I could use that money to bring to life any creative venture I desired, what I would probably do is call up the Chiodo Brothers and allow them to finally make their Killer Klowns from Outer Space sequel. Killer Klowns is one of my all-time favorite movies, and that’s one of those dream projects that I just plain want to see happen, first and foremost, but would also absolutely LOVE to be a part of in some way.
I’ll fetch the coffee in the writers’ room. Anything. Please?
HL: Any upcoming projects that you’re excited about that we can give a shoutout for?
JS: We have a lot of exciting things in the works at Bloody Disgusting for 2019 and going forward, and one of them I can mention is that we launched a podcast network last year that we plan to grow this year. I’m not a podcaster myself, but I’m very excited for that to really take off and become a big part of our overall brand. We just launched our latest show, Horror Queers, which is an extension of a recurring column on the site that’s hosted by Trace Thurman and Joe Lipsett. So definitely, if you’re into podcasts, give that one a listen and subscribe!
And we sure would love to make another movie…
HL: What’s a question you’d like to be asked, but never have been? Go ahead and ask yourself that question now and answer it.
JS: Nobody has ever asked me if my parents support what I do, and I’d like to use this opportunity to give them a shoutout for being incredibly supportive every step of the way. When I made the decision to focus on writing as a full-time career, they never questioned it and never encouraged me to “get a normal job” instead. Knowing that I had the safety net of their support, if things were to fall through, gave me the courage to pursue it confidently.
Without that, I have no doubt I wouldn’t be here talking to you about all this. We all need people in our corner who have faith in us, and I’m very fortunate to have that support.
Truly. It has meant everything.
HL: As you know, at HL, we love getting weird. Anything bizarre, random, or off-topic you’d like to share?
JS: Several years ago, I was in an allegedly haunted cemetery with a couple of professional ghost hunters and my ex-wife took a photo that caught their attention to such an extent that they included it in a book they put out shortly thereafter (Long Island’s Most Haunted Cemeteries). They believe that a spirit was captured in the photograph, and what they did not tell me at the time was that the photo was taken right near the final resting place of James Squires, who died in 1893 and may or may not be a relative of mine. In the book, they speculate that perhaps it was James who led us to his grave – and appeared in our photo.
Makes you wonder…
Thank you John!
How to reach out to John:
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