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Author Q&A: Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels and six story collections, and, so far, one comic book. Stephen’s been an NEA recipient, has won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction and the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, has won a few This is Horror Awards, and he’s been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award and the Shirley Jackson Award a few times each. He’s also made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Horror Novels. Stephen lives in Boulder, Colorado.

 

TBL Author Q&A Series: Stephen Graham Jones

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

How would you say your writing career began? Was there a certain event, person, or intuitive impulse that guided you to forge your own literary path?

Probably just reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” in fourth grade. I remember closing the book, and thinking, Yeah, I can stick an axe in a tree like that, and hang a lantern from it. That’s pretty much what my whole writing career’s been since then: trying to get the right lantern to hang on the right axe head.

You’ve published several books. What can you tell us about the publication process? How would you evaluate your own experience with getting your work printed? How has that shifted over time?

There’s been changes in the process when the industry has shifted from paper to digital, but that hasn’t changed the product, of course. It still takes a while. Probably the biggest slowdowns I experience in publishing—in having books published, anyway—is licensing. That can be a nightmare, trying to run down who you need to pay for this or that line. Not complaining about it, I mean, but usually you have to contract someone who specializes in that stuff, who has all the good connections and know-how. Or else cut the line that’s slowing everything down.

“Father, Son, Holy Rabbit” is one of the most horrifying and touching stories I’ve ever read. Can you discuss the themes and topics that entice and inspire you most? In what ways has your writing evolved throughout your career?

I’m always interested in how badly someone wants something, in what, precisely, they would and wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice to get that something. I feel I know a character the best when that character is pushed into a situation where they have to make that kind of decision. So, I’m always trying to push them into those situations.

Who are some of your greatest literary influences?

Philip K. Dick, Louise Erdrich, and Stephen King.

In terms of publication, is there something in particular that you look for when approaching different presses? Mongrels: A Novel and your latest collection have been published by different publishing houses. I wonder what factors play into choosing and developing relationships with presses.

Distribution and marketing are the two big things I always look for with a publisher. Can they get the book onto all the shelves, and are they willing to spend the money necessary to get the book on the reader’s radar?

What can you tell us about your experiences as a creative writing professor?

It’s great. I get to talk writing and stories and books with smart, committed people. And it makes me better. The things I articulate for the students, I of course feel compelled to either hold myself to them, or to push against them, make sure they’re true. Either way, I’m learning stuff.

Is there a particular achievement or experience that has opened up the most opportunity for your writing?

Not really. There’s been awards and sales and recognition and all that, but, near as I can tell, nobody ever gives you a license to publish. I still get rejected. That’s probably been the thing that’s taught me the most: getting constantly rejected. It means I have to keep getting or being better and better, somehow. So, I try.

What guidance might you give to fledgling writers/artists?

Always read outside your intended field or genre or discipline or whatever. Those alien fields you walk through, strange burrs will ride back home on your pants leg, and then find room to grow in odd places in the genre you’re already working in. The theoretical physics you read will end up in a short story about a new couple buying a house.

After having successfully accomplished so much, what are your goals? What direction do you see your writing taking now, in terms of both craft and publication?

I want to keep reaching more readers, and I want to keep pushing myself into forms and modes and genres I haven’t tried yet. There’s always something wonderful waiting, in a different set of conventions, with a different set of tropes, with different window dressings. I want to write across all the shelves, and in a way that makes the reader feel something, think something. I want to take the reader somewhere else for a few pages. And I want to go to those other places, too.

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