Stephen Graham Jones doesn’t limit his writing. He writes short stories, novels and screenplays. You can learn more about him at http://www.demontheory.net/.
When did you first recognize yourself as a writer?
The easy answer’s the first time I got a check for something I’d written. Which would have been a contest I won in undergrad days, I guess. But, really, the next check, it was for a story I actually submitted, an unlikely story that had to fight its way upstream, find some room in the Black Warrior Review. Too, when that editor called, I distinctly remember there was a full moon, and my hand was still on the phone then—this was 1995, when my phone had a cord—because I’d just got news that my mom had been in a head-on crash right in front of the hospital I was born at. So then, this editor talking to me, saying he liked the story could he have it we can pay, all that, it was like he was at the end of some long tunnel. But I said yes. However, my first publication, I remember that too. I was in elementary, fourth or fifth or sixth grade, and my little brother had forgot to do his homework, so I did it for him over cereal: make up a myth, an origin story. Seemed like nothing, except then he won some contest with that, got published in the paper. His name on it, not mine, but so it goes. About that same time, too, I read Where the Red Fern Grows—this is probably the real answer—and the way that rusted axe head’s planted in that tree at the end, that lantern hanging from it, I remember I closed the book, nodded, said to myself that I can do that. I think that’s when it started.
What draws you to speculative fiction?
It’s that it can make the reader feel like she’s ten years old. Some stories, they’re so alien, so out there, yet so easy to identify with, so hard not to engage, that at the same time you’re seeing yourself in the story and wondering if this story’s even remotely possible. The world becomes bigger, I guess I’m saying. Speculative stuff can make it bigger, make you feel like you’re in a balloon that’s being inflated. Everything’s changing all around you. It’s the best feeling, I think. And, man, to share that with a reader, to get the chance of sharing that with thousands of readers, some themselves remote in time already, centuries away still—if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
Is there a piece of writing advice you’ve never followed?
Yeah, that ‘make a schedule and stick to it’-one. But all the established writers seems to make it work, I guess. Maybe I should get established too. I guess I also suck at the ‘write what you know’-one. I mean, I like to write about werewolves, about civilizations in other galaxies, and, got to say, I’m making some of it up, anyway. But, too, I firmly believe the writer can render no emotional landscape he hasn’t to some degree walked through himself. So, no, I’ve never been nor never known—so far as I know—a werewolf, but I have gone through several transformations, I suppose. As we all have. From kid to not-kid. From son to dad. From lost to found. But those stories tend to be completely boring to listen to, as we all start overwriting them with our own halfway through, so just really needed the story as a triggering device, not as something to lose ourselves in. Condense that experience down, though, give it fur and fangs, and then you’ve got something. And, if you’re lucky, it’ll make you reluctant to turn the lights off at night. The best stories make you feel the most alive, and you’re never more alive than when you’re terrified.
In the June 2009 issue of Niteblade, Rhonda chose to publish your story, “Monsters.” Is there a story behind how the story came about?
That’s one (more) of the stories I sat down to write with the stupid, destructive, shoot-myself-in-the-foot pie-in-the-sky idea that I was just going to do something small and Chekhov. That, since I so resist kiddie first-kiss stories—which really probably means I love them, I know—I should crawl inside one, see what the allure is, and try try try to keep it as boring (and Chekhov) as possible. So I could do characters instead of ‘cool stuff,’ which, cool stuff, that’s always my first impulse. Why write about a cousin when you can write about a pirate, right? Why set it on Earth when you can float it off into time? So, with “Monsters,” I tried, anyway. But then there was this dog that could smell dead people, and, I mean, what use is a dog in a story like that if there’s no dead people to smell, right? Story kind of just wrote itself after that.
What have you been working on lately?
Just had two books come out. It Came from Del Rio(Trapdoor Books), a bunny-headed zombie novel (with chupacabras, of course; they’re the essence of ‘cool stuff’) and a collection of horror stories from Prime, The Ones That Got Away (“Monsters” is in it). Each beautiful books, anyway, though of course you can’t trust what I might try to say about the writing. And, now: just wrote a short film script this weekend for a director friend, to make the festival circuit. It’s horror, of course. Way bloody. Why write something if there’s not a knife in it, right? And why have a knife if it’s not going to cut just a lot of people? It’s simple, yet so many people keep missing it. And, I got hit up to do a baseball story, so I’m doing a baseball zombie story, because zombies make everything better. And, I’m currently on draft three of this zombie novel I love love love, The Gospel of Z. Trying to make it perfect. We’ll see. Then have a couple more novels coming out (from Dzanc), Flushboy—lonely kid working the window of his dad’s drive-thru urinal place—and Not for Nothing, a small-town, second-person noir. Hopefully a book or two before them, though. I need to kick out the second Del Rio, really.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Niteblade’s readers?
Just that they’re reading the good stuff, the stuff that matters. And probably writing some of it as well. But they don’t need me to tell them that. Um, um, I know: Engage. Make it so. First star on the left and straight on till morning.