Stephen Graham Jones on writing horror and its inverse, romance
Stephen Graham Jones may be the best prolific writer you haven’t heard of yet, partly because his specialty is literary horror and partly because, despite having a specialty, he’s quick to switch genres and hard to pin down. Count up his books and stories and anthologies and e-magazines and e-releases and he has been published 201 times -- but that was in early March, before his Texas noir “Not For Nothing” was published, and before the YA novel he co-wrote with Paul Tremblay, “Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly,” came out in April. He has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Texas Writer’s League fellowship. He was born and raised in Texas -- he won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction -- eventually got a PhD at Florida State and now teaches creative writing at UC Boulder in Colorado, where he’s been a finalist for a Colorado Book Award. He’s also been a finalist for a Stoker Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. He’ll be appearing at the Festival of Books on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on the panel “Fiction: Deep Secrets, Dark Places” with Attica Locke and Michael Farris Smith, moderated by Jim Ruland.
What books are on your nightstand (and/or your e-reader, tablet or phone)?
Right now it’s “Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend” by Joshua Blu Buhs. “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet” by Reif Larsen. An old —- like, in a collector-bag kind of delicate —- “Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.” And, on my device, I’m rereading King’s “The Shining” this week, and have Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” cued up, and Spencer Wells’ “Pandora’s Seed,” and the second two Divergent books. And, on my other device, I’m listening to Vonnegut’s “Mother Night.” And when my comic guy calls me on Wednesday, it’s to say I’ve got a new “Saga” [Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples], or a new “Curse” [Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci], and at some point he’s going to call to tell me the second of Gaiman’s “Sandman: Overture” is in my bag, waiting for me.
You’ve written in several genres: crime, horror, sci-fi and experimental fiction. Which is most exciting for you right now? Is there a genre you haven’t gotten to yet that you’d like to?
Romance. Or a romantic comedy on the page. I’ve done one short story, but would like to try my hand at a novel. I half-suspect that the horror impulse and the... I don’t know, the sentimental impulse, they’re kind of each other turned inside-out. A solid romantic comedy seems to work on me the same way a slasher does, I mean. I’ve always planned on finally being a science fiction writer, though. Just, every time I lock my people in a spacecraft, or land them on an asteroid, the blood wells up again, and I’m writing horror. Horror’s my default setting. It’s also where I prefer to write. But I really, really respect the Joe Picketts and Elvis Coles and Dave Robicheauxs of the world, too. They’re reliable. I’d like to see how that feels.
Tell us about a book or author that inspired you to become a writer.
How about an editor? When Ellen Datlow was running the fiction at OMNI in the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s, I had a subscription. It was one of two subscriptions I’d saved for, the other being Spider-Man. And they each opened my mind and my heart in wonderful ways. The stories Datlow was slipping into the world each month, they’re responsible for most everything I do now. It was like I’d been dropped into a kaleidoscope, and shaken. Only other thing I halfway blame would be “Where the Red Fern Grows,” in fourth grade. Well, OK, and Louis L’Amour. So, mash those three on a slab, add some Miracle Grow and sunlight, and, after a while, I’ll unfold up from the concrete all over again.
Have you been to Los Angeles before? What was that like?
Yeah, I’ve been to L.A. plenty. Launched a book here a couple of years ago, even, “Growing Up Dead in Texas.” I feel very at home in L.A. I think because it’s dry, and there’s sun, like the West Texas I grew up in. Or maybe it’s media saturation -- “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “L.A. Story” and all the rest have shown me these streets. But I feel like I know some of the stories here. When I’m in New York, I’m an interloper, I’m an alien, always touching everything for the first time, and never really understanding what just happened. L.A.'s different. I could live in L.A., I think. It’s a car culture. And cars are always how I identify and recognize people. Never by name, or occupation, or face. They’re just always the person who drives that certain truck, that specific car. Then I can build the rest of them from that.
What’s the last book that made you laugh (or cry)?
I just reread Robert McCammon’s “Boy’s Life,” and I suppose that, when the dad hugs the boy about his bike Rocket being gone, and the boy’s 22 or so, and that hardly matters, I had to engage in what was probably some theatric eye-balancing, some serious creative blinking. Last book to make me laugh was either Lindsay Hunter’s “Don’t Kiss Me” -— that “Candles” story cracks me up each time -- or Megan Abbot’s “Dare Me.” But that’s just because I haven’t read a Joe Lansdale for a month or so.
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