A Monstrous Success
On an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) goes to a remote cabin to write a novel, but he fails spectacularly. When Baylor alumnus Jonathan Reynolds (BA ‘05) tried much the same thing many years later, his luck was wildly different. Instead of frustration, Jonathan, a grandson of the late Baylor President Herbert Reynolds, emerged from the forest with a “monster” children’s book hit.
“I was in in the piney woods of East Texas. Some people I had met there had offered to let me write at their cabin for a couple weeks over winter break,” Reynolds said. “The cabin and surrounding woods were eerily dark and secluded. The owners said that no one in their family for three generations had ever stayed in that cabin alone overnight because it got so spooky. I ended up spending 10 nights there alone working on that other project.”
But his writing project soon took a turn. After a night in the woods, Reynolds was inspired with an idea for a werewolf story.
“I spent the next four nights by the stone fireplace writing the first draft of what eventually became The Boy Who Cried Werewolf,” he said. “I revisited the manuscript off and on between other projects for the next several years until I had a draft worth submitting.”
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf is the first book in the Monsterstreet book series, which also includes The Halloweeners, Carnevil and a fourth book that will release this summer. Renowned publisher HarperCollins picked up the series and some giants in the children’s book world have endorsed the spooky tales.
“I was sitting at my desk working on book No. 4 in the Monsterstreet series when I received the email from my editor that had R.L. Stine’s full blurb. I was floored — and had to stop work for the rest of the day because my head was spinning,” Reynolds said. “I was able to correspond with Stine a couple days later and told him the only other time in my life when I had ever felt that elated was when Ray Bradbury called me about 12 years ago after I sent a letter to his house one Halloween night. Stine was thrilled at this, because he was also a huge fan of Bradbury and has a framed letter from him. I guess you could say we’re both Bradbury’s progeny. But of course, Stine is the best-selling children’s book author of all time, having authored over 400 books during his career last time I checked.”
Reynolds has been on a whirlwind schedule since the release of his books, appearing at 40 to 50 events in the fall of 2019 with that many also scheduled for the spring of 2020.
“There have been so many thrilling moments along this journey which I’ll think back on for years and decades to come,” he said. “I’ve realized this past year that often the difference between those who succeed at what they set out to do and those who don’t succeed is in how they respond to failure. If you see failure as an opportunity to learn and to improve and then keep persevering, then you’re much more likely to reach your goal at some point in the future. But if you let failure define you instead of fuel you, then you’ll more than likely give up and throw in the towel long before you get close to fulfilling your dream.”
Future writing projects
When he isn’t promoting the Monsterstreet books, Reynolds is busy with other writing projects. He particularly is excited about three new ones — a time travel story, a screenplay about the American transcendentalists, and a prospectus examining the symbiotic relationship between literature and exploration. And by the way, he also is getting his master’s degree in creative writing from Harvard University. In fact, his faculty advisor nominated Reynolds’s thesis on the transcendentalists for a prize. Reynolds also spends as much time as possible with his wife, Rebecca, and their two daughters.
“My wife would tell you that I’m constantly working on a few hundred things because she is kind enough to listen to my ideas all day every day,” he said.
Reynolds earned a bachelor’s degree in professional writing from Baylor in 2005 but had been a film, English, history and business major at various times during his first two years at Baylor.
“I took a break from college after my sophomore year to go live in New York City and travel the world for a few years. It was an immensely formative time in my life — my greatest education, so to speak — and it was during this sojourn when I decided that I wanted to focus fully on studying the craft of writing as, not just a career path, but as a life path,” he said.
Even though he took a few years off from college before coming back to finish his degree, Reynolds never considered attending another university. He submitted only one college application his senior year of high school — to Baylor.
“My entire childhood was spent at Baylor with every birthday and Christmas at the President’s House, riding in the Homecoming Parades with my grandparents, sitting in the box with them during football games at Floyd Casey Stadium and on the floor for basketball games at the Ferrell Center, attending fundraising events at the SUB, and participating in countless dinners and such on campus,” Reynolds said. “It was a really interesting upbringing, and even today when I step on campus and hear the bells of Pat Neff, it feels like home.”
While he was influenced by a number of faculty, he points to two faculty members — Robert Darden, professor of journalism, public relations and new media, and Dr. Greg Garrett, professor of English — as standout mentors. From Garrett, he learned about the business side of writing, from finding an agent and writing a query letter to how book sales work. From Darden he gained insight into story structure.
“To this day, I still receive encouragement from Bob. That’s the mark of a great teacher, in my opinion — one who follows the lives of his or her students long after they’ve left the literal classroom,” Reynolds said.
And of course, his prominent family provided the most influence.
“It’s also worth mentioning that, as a boy, because I shared the same middle name (Hal) as my grandfather and my uncle Kevin (Hollywood director Kevin Reynolds), I always felt like I had to grow up and do something extraordinary with my life, just like them,” he said. “It was one of the defining traits of my childhood and youth. A name is a powerful thing, especially when it is bound to a legacy.”