About novel Hidden Pictures, plus an interview with author Jason Rekulak

The Not-The-Mama Book Club celebrates the greatest stories out there by awarding a Book-of-the-Month distinction to the best books in the world today. To say it a different way, being a Book-of-the-Month means this is a book worth your time.

With that context, I’m proud to introduce you to March’s Book of the Month (though with the accolades it’s received, you probably don’t need me to “introduce” it to you). This book popped up on my radar late last year when it became a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Horror. It would later go on to win the award, which makes sense because, I mean, it blew the competition out of the water. And now, The Not-the-Mama Book of the Month for March 2023 is….

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak!

Published in 2022, Hidden Pictures straddles the line between horror and mystery, and it’s impossible to put down. This book is the literal definition of a page turner.

The book begins when Mallory, fresh out of rehab, lands a job with an upper class family as the nanny for their five-year-old boy, Teddy. This is the dream job, and exactly what she needs at this point in her life. They let her live in their pool house, so in addition to a predictable schedule, she also has stable housing. Teddy is an easy kid, and it doesn’t take long before he and Mallory form a tight bond. It’s everything a recovering addict needs to maintain sobriety.

That is until the pictures start. Teddy never goes anywhere without his notebook and pencil because he loves drawing pictures of his everyday life. What began as pictures of bunnies and trees evolves into something more creepy. Teddy starts drawing pictures of his “imaginary friend” and what looks to be the detailed depiction of a murder.

Mallory suspects these pictures may be the clues to an unsolved murder from long ago, and as Teddy’s drawings grow to be more complex and lifelike, she fears everyone may be in danger of a supernatural force.

This book is amazing, and I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed it. The pictures create an interactive and immersive experience, which sets this book way above the typical murder-mystery thoroughfare. You don’t just read, you live the story right alongside the main character.

An Interview with Jason Rekulak

Jason Rekulak (pronounced: re-COOL-ik) was gracious enough to spend some time with me to talk about Hidden Pictures and his history as an author. Jason is a really great guy, and even through dropped signals on our video call and calls from a child stranded on the metro, we had a great conversation.

Brandon: Before we talk about Hidden Pictures, I wanted to learn more about you. What’s your professional history?

Jason: I was always one of those kids making comic books; always writing and drawing. I was a Stephen King fanatic. My background syncs up really well with Stranger Things season 1: D&D, Cujo, all of that.

I was going to be a computer science major because that seemed like a nice practical major, and I was a self-taught programmer in high school. When I got to college, I changed to English which seemed like this crazy, impractical thing to do. But I don’t know. I think I was originally attracted to computer science because I liked making my own video games, telling stories and world building. When I got to college, I realized I didn’t have to do all the programming stuff. I could do worldbuilding with just words.

When I got out of school, I didn’t know what I was going to do. My parents were living in central New Jersey, which was close to New York City, and I got a job at a publishing house in the city for very little pay, and I did that for a couple of years before I moved to Philadelphia. Again, I was in this place where I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Then I met a friend who wanted to start his own publishing house. He was starting what would eventually become Quirk Books. I was there for 18 years, and I eventually became the publisher.

In those early days at Quirk, we had no money. There were just four of us in a room. We weren’t getting books from agents, and it was really hard to find established writers. It’s harder to find good manuscripts than you might think. You think that there are just so many authors and so many manuscripts, but the gems are really hard to find! I needed to find something people would buy. That was a struggle.

Being in Philly, we had access to a lot of great designers and other creatives, and what I would do was assign them to concepts. One of the first ones that blew up for us was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The assignment was to take the public domain text of Pride and Prejudice, add zombies to it, and rewrite it so the Napoleonic wars were a zombie war. And that way, you don’t have to write a whole book. You can use 80 percent of Jane Austen’s work and only write 20 percent of new material.

That was the first book that totally blew up. Million copies. Movie. Action figures. Everything.

We just started doing that. We’d take these concepts and give them to creatives. Like I met Grady Hendrix – who’s on the New York Times Bestseller list now; no one had heard of him at the time. I had this idea to set a horror story in an IKEA and have the book look like an IKEA catalog—

Brandon: [completely interrupting him] You’re blowing my mind! I had no idea you were connected to Horrorstor. I just read that, and I’ve told everyone about it!

Jason: Yeah, that was a fun one. Another one you might have heard of: I knew this guy, and he had all these old photos he collected with writing on the back, and he wanted to put them into an art book. There’s just not much of a hook there, and I just didn’t think that a collection of pictures would sell well. But there was this subset of photos within his collection that was just kids. And they just look weird because they’re from the 1900s and they have top hats and all these stuffed animals that look strange because they’re homemade. I told him, “Let’s think about a book that just features these kids.” Over the course of a year, this concept art book evolved into a novel: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It was another book with a great visual component, and it was a massive success. That might be the most successful book I ever worked on.

All of that is sort of a precursor to when I went out on my own, and I was thinking, “What do I want to do?” I wrote a novel that no one really wanted, which was discouraging. It had been two years working by myself, and I figured I needed to write another one – alone – but I was thinking it would be great to collaborate with someone, like I did when I used to work at Quirk. I called two guys I used to work with, and I said, “I want to write a mystery, and I want the clues to help me with the visuals. I want you guys to draw the clues, and I’ll write the story.”

They said, “Great! What’s it about?” I said, “I don’t know yet. I’m gonna figure it out.”

That was the impetus of Hidden Pictures. I wanted to work with those two guys, and I knew whatever they came up with would be excellent. Even if what I did was horrible, and what they did was excellent, the book would be good. People would enjoy it.

Brandon: Right! That’s hilarious. I have to say, your career journey is fascinating. I’m also intrigued by your approach to work. I think I’m similar in the way that I kind of flourish with constraints. If you give me an open assignment, I might struggle to come up with something. But if you give me an assignment and say it has to be this many words, it has to include a puppy, and it has to be written to rhyme, I’ll thrive. I love obstructions like that.

Hearing your story about Hidden Pictures, and how you developed the concept before the plot, I’m curious if that means this was a story that literally started at the point you signed on the illustrator, or are there aspects of this story that you had percolating in your head for awhile?

Jason: I think the one thing that incubated with me for awhile, because it always interested me, was this culture clash between Mallory and this upper class family. She’s going from a very working-class family in South Philly to this affluent environment where she’s always off balance and insecure. That very much mirrors my arrival in New York City into publishing. For example, I went out to lunch early on when I first got there and I couldn’t believe how expensive my lunch was! I had six raviolis, and they cost $36! I remember doing the math. A single ravioli was $6.

So that type of culture clash always interested me, and that’s what I brought into the story of Mallory. The rest of the plot comes from my interest in the genre. Watching a lot of horror movies, reading a lot of mystery books. I love those horror movies where kids draw those weird pictures, but the movies never linger on them long enough. In a book, you can linger on them as long as you want, so that’s something I always wanted to do. I also liked Turn of the Screw where you have this governess watching these kids where spooky stuff happens and no one believes her. That was all interesting to me and fit well into this story I wanted to tell.

Brandon: Let’s talk about those pictures! My wife hates reading horror stories, and she’s told me about how she’ll read this book that’s scary and she doesn’t even want to turn the page because it was just too scary. That’s never happened to me – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced horror in a book before. But then in Hidden Pictures, that first picture Teddy drew of his imaginary friend, that scared me. Like, actually gave me a fight or flight response. To your credit, like you said, in movies it would just flash and be done, but in this book, it sits there, it lingers.

Jason: In movies, horror tends to come from jump scares, but you can’t really do that in a book. Or how could you do that in a book? I learned a long time ago from someone who used to make comic books that you’re always supposed to hide a plot twist on the start of the next page, so the reader wouldn’t see it coming until they got to that moment. When we had that first set of illustrations, I wanted to make sure that picture of Anya was hidden until you turned to it. If I remember, we actually had to take a picture out of the set to make sure that picture of Anya appeared after a page turn. That’s maybe the closest you’ll ever get to a jump scare in a book. Now, I don’t know if people are dropping the book when they see it, but the point was to make it sneak up on you.

Brandon: I really loved how interactive this book is. You’d read that the character is flipping through a stack of papers, then you yourself got to flip through that stack of papers. It’s so immersive.

I also wanted to ask you about your handling of addiction in the story. I have to say, it was refreshing to have a character in recovery where falling off the wagon isn’t part of the story. There was such a respect to the way Mallory’s struggles were handled, and I’m curious if you have any personal connection to addiction or someone who’s gone through recovery?

Jason: No, I don’t have a personal connection really. But that subplot came from knowing I needed Mallory to have some sort of seedy past that would give her character a bit of unreliability. That when she’s making these claims or trying to talk about the supernatural, I needed the other characters to have a reason to not trust her.

My sister-in-law does work with people with addictions, and at the time she was working with people in recovery. I remember her telling me these heartbreaking stories about people who unwittingly got addicted to heroin through the use of pain medications. Simultaneously, there was this growing drug problem in the surrounding communities from where I live. When you hear these stories, you can’t help but feel heartbroken for all they’re going through, so it really was all of that influencing Mallory’s background in the story.

Brandon: Changing gears a bit here, I just wanted to say congratulations on winning the Goodreads Choice Award for Horror! What did you think, did you see that coming?

Jason: No, not at all. This book really didn’t get reviewed in the typical ways. There weren’t any reviews on the radio or on national TV or magazines, but on social media, there was all this talk on TikTok and Instagram. My publishers were amazed. Usually, a book comes out and it’s a big splash in the first week, then a steady decline from there. Hidden Pictures has had steady sales since the moment it came out, and that’s largely driven by people just talking about it on social media.

Brandon: So what’s next for you? Are you thinking of a sequel to Hidden Pictures or something else?

Jason: I’m working on another thriller, not a sequel to Hidden Pictures. I’m not even sure you could do a sequel. You know, the whole thing was pretty resolved at the end. But as for this next book, I can’t talk about it too much because I’m still working on it and it could still potentially change a lot between now and when I turn it in. I will say the challenge going into this next book is knowing a lot of what people liked in Hidden Pictures was the novelty of it, and I’m not even attempting to replicate that or do the same thing. But I am still keeping my focus on what’s the hook or the gimmick of this next story.

For more information on Jason Rekulak, you can visit his website at

Hidden Pictures is available at book retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target.

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