The Island Mother
by Jon Cohn
Genre: Supernatural Thriller, Horror
White Lotus meets Midsommar in this supernatural thriller centered around an emotionally codependent woman on the run from her own life. She finds paradise, but it may come at a cost that she's unable to pay...
After barely escaping from a toxic relationship with a drug dealer, emotionally codependent Leigh decides to start her life over somewhere far from the hills of Kentucky. She feels inexplicably drawn to Hawaii, where she manages to land a job in an exclusive resort.
At first, it almost seems too good to be true, and of course, it is. Supernatural horrors start manifesting all around Leigh and her new co-workers, and soon she starts having disturbing nightmares of impossible creatures calling out to her. To make matters worse, Leigh’s violent ex-boyfriend is close on her tail, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
"An edge of your seat page-turner."
"An intriguing supernatural thriller with lots of horror elements, keeping THIS reader flipping pages till the very end."
Now trapped in the midst of all these dangers, Leigh can't help but fall back on old habits. She finds comfort in the arms of her new boss, an upbeat hospitality manager who seems almost too perfect. In order to survive paradise, Leigh will need to learn from her past mistakes or she will be doomed to repeat them.
From author Jon Cohn, comes the next great horror book that blends danger, supernatural creatures, and the unknown into an unforgettable read.
I’m starting to get the itch. It’s a feeling I get when I’ve been in a situation long enough to know that things are falling apart. It’s a crawling, prickling sensation just under the skin, constantly drawing my attention. It’s an itch that’s next to impossible to satisfy. The longer I spend scratching at it, the more damage I end up doing to myself. I know this pattern well, yet I keep standing there silently screaming to myself as I dig deeper and deeper until it becomes this infection in my heart that has to be cut out entirely before I rip myself apart.
I guess I didn’t know what to expect coming here. At the very least, I thought I would spend a few weeks begging for jobs while living out of my van, subsiding entirely on Cup Noodles and Spam. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Over the years, I had learned how to make every little bit last; I don’t need a house if I can park a van overnight where no cops or vagrants will hassle me. By my luck, I managed to find a huge beachside parking lot just on the other side of the property, where several other cars and vans had been left overnight, too. All I do when I wake up is hop over a couple rocks at the end of the beach, and then I’m in the Mahalo Club, ready for work.
To think, two days ago I was nearly murdered by a couple of toothless freaks. It feels like a bad dream. Much like the single leaf I watch float around the pool, I drift along to the next thought, wondering what Jesse could be up to right now. I imagine him waiting for me to come home, getting worried, and kicking himself for being such a heartless fool to send me out on that delivery alone…
Jon Cohn has been giving himself nightmares reading horror books ever since he was a small child, and he revels in the opportunity to do the same to others. When he is not busy writing spooky stories, Jon is a professional board game designer and publisher. He specializes in games that-- you guessed it-- focus on horror, and hopefully a few laughs. He lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and two little monsters, Luna and Gizmo.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid, in some form or another. I think storytelling is probably the most appropriate word for what it is I do overall. As a kid I used to make short films for as many school projects as my teachers would allow, which was surprisingly often. I then went to film school where I basically continued to do the same thing, but with infinitely better equipment and a lot more competition.
I ended up leaving the film industry after a few years, then moved into professional board game design, which I consider to be another form of storytelling. I specialize in making narratively focused games, and even have a horror game called Grind House which is basically a choose your adventure story with something like 150 short stories to experience. There’s even a new version of the game coming to Kickstarter this fall with four new expansions, so keep an eye out for that!
What is something unique/quirky about you?
Every year I spend months planning a huge murder mystery party, and its just about my favorite thing in life. I started out running them at halloween about seven years ago, and it quickly became an annual event that pulls me into an obsessive hole for a solid portion of each year.
The first time I hosted one was a pre-bought 80’s prom theme, and aside from some photoshopped posters and confetti streamers, there wasn’t much to it. Fast forward to last year, I spent seven months writing and planning my own Batman villain themed murder mystery that had video invitations, themed rooms, even bat shaped ice cubes. It may or may not be turning into a problem.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Aside from reading, I like to paint, watch tv, work on jigsaw puzzles with my wife, play board games. I do all of these things while endlessly throwing a toy for my dog Gizmo, who spends every waking moment of his life trying to get me to play with him.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I saw a video of a squirrel the other day cramming like fifteen peanuts into its mouth at once. I feel like that's the way I write, I’ve always got a dozen tabs open with all sorts of world building, character, and plot notes documents, and I’m just constantly bouncing back and forth trying to squeeze everything I have into the story.
What inspired you to write this book?
My wife and I had a long belated honeymoon in Hawaii due to covid. We spent two weeks at a resort in Kona and there were just so many larger than life characters there. I started out just writing a short story about resort employees dealing with horribly behaved guests, but by the time I was finished I realized that there was so much more room for a larger story. In the end I used that short story as a basic outline to build what ended up being The Island Mother.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently writing a new horror novel that's a ghost story. The basic idea of it is, what if you were doing an escape room in HH Holmes murder hotel, and also that hotel was super haunted? I’m having a lot of fun writing it and can't wait to share more of it in the future.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
The epilogue! I swear I’m not just being cheeky. I’m just saying, if you stick to the end you’ll find there's some pretty fun surprises that I’m pretty proud of.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
I like to do a light outline, detailing a few major points, and then go full ham on creating a dozen world building documents that make the setting as rich as I possibly can. I feel like if I have a really solid understanding of every element of the characters and the world they're operating in, I can give them the freedom to guide the story in their own way toward the next milestone in the story.
That said, I’ve definitely changed some things in the plot before because a character has led me to a new avenue that I hadn’t previously considered. The outline is there, but it’s generally not set in stone on a first draft.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes! I spent four years writing a horror urban fantasy novel that's the intended first in a series. I learned so much from working on that book, and had such a great time writing and revising it over and over. At one point I was like eleven drafts in, and I read this article online about why your first published novel should never be the first in a series. It made some really good arguments that made me decide to put that book away for a while and work on something else. I still look forward to releasing that story some day, though it probably won’t be for a while.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
It would be something like Tropical Ocean Breeze, except two thirds of the way down it turns into blood and starts whispering your name over and over, and no matter what you do you can’t blow it out.
What did you edit out of this book?
Initially I had the idea that this was about resort employees dealing with nasty tourists, but it evolved into this story about a girl fighting for survival against man, nature, and something else entirely. At a certain point I realized the story isn't about this family of privileged jerks, and cut nearly a quarter of the total word count to focus on what mattered.
I think the old adage of “kill your darlings” is true. If it’s slowing down the pacing, or not actively making the story more compelling, it needs to go. Even if it does contain my manifesto on why waffles are objectively better than pancakes.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
100% Grady Hendrix. He is the absolute master of taking a horror story you think you know, and completely turning it on its head. I’ve found in both writing and board games it's the simplest ideas that always turn out to be the best, and also the hardest to execute. I would love to talk to him about how he takes tropes we’ve all seen a million times and somehow makes it feel compelling and new.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
So much research! The Island Mother is mostly set in Hawaii, and while I wish I lived there, I’ve only been able to visit a handful of times. I did a ton of research on folklore, culture, history, dialect and slang to make the characters feel as authentic as possible.
I was lucky enough fairly early in my rewriting process to get a Hawaiian sensitivity beta reader who was absolutely incredible to work with. She taught me so much, and helped me convey the horror story I wanted to tell while making sure I didn’t accidentally create something disrespectful or dismissive of Hawaiian culture.
At the end of the day this is a horror story, and good horror stories are supposed to occasionally make the reader feel uncomfortable. I just want to make sure I’m making people uncomfortable in the right way, and not offending anyone through malice or ignorance. In my mind, the best way to do that is to be as informed as possible, and that takes a lot of research.
Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely! To broaden it slightly, I would say storytelling is my career. Between writing novels, designing board games, and creating tabletop RPG campaigns for publishers, all I do is storytelling in one form or another.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I write in silence, but I brainstorm with noise. When I’m not actively writing I’ll take my dogs for long walks and listen to music that feels like it belongs in the story I’m writing to help me get into the right headspace. That's how I generally come up with the major beats that I need to hit, and then in the quiet of my office is where I have to do the hard work of figuring out how to get the characters to that point in an interesting way.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I mostly try to write the things that I would enjoy reading, which I guess means a little bit of both. I think to a degree I try to write what readers want in that I strive to come up with a compelling story with believable characters that hits all the beats of a conventionally structured narrative.
Originality is great, but only if it comes organically from a place where it makes sense in a story. Tropes exist for a reason, and they can be valuable tools in creating an original story. What’s important is taking the elements of those tropes that work, and using them as a springboard for something new and different. At the end of the day, I’m trying to come up with something that's greater than the sum of its parts, so if I have to use a few well-worn beats to get there, I’m not above it.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Ages! I don’t know how some people are able to knock out like 3 to 5 books a year. Those people are rockstars. From first writing the short story to finishing the final draft, Island Mother took me just over a year. My current goal for the book I’m currently writing is to be able to finish it in just under a year. I’m trying to set realistic goals!