In Convo with Stephen Graham Jones

Mackenzie Kiera – How many years have you been teaching?

Stephen Graham Jones – Sixteen, I guess. Started in 2000, at Texas Tech University. I had no experience, a lot of nerves, and a good pearl-snap shirt. Turns out those three’ll get you through most situations. They did me, anyway. I’m still teaching, just, now, I understand that a big part of it’s me learning from the students.

MK – Think you’ll ever ‘bleed Colorado?’ or does the South have a different draw for you?

SGJ – I keep thinking I need to write a Colorado novel, yeah. Just need to be sure I have a good and real feel for it. Which is a trick, in Colorado, since so many people who live here aren’t from here. But, I mean—maybe that’s the “it” of it, right? It’s not about walking into a room of ten people who live in Colorado and saying that two of them have a “Colorado” voice or outlook, since they were born here and came up here. I think the way to do Colorado right is to let all ten people in that room be Colorado.

MK – How long have you been writing? When did you first feel that pull to write?

SGJ – My first story was published in 1996, I guess. Twenty years ago already, wow. That pull to get things down on the page, though, that would probably be in my freshman comp class. That was where I kind of started figuring things out, it felt like. Not at all saying I’ve got things all figured out, but that’s probably about where it starts for me, with a professor reading what I turned in and telling me it wasn’t really what the assignment was, but still, it’s kind of all right. There’s something there. I should keep moving that direction, maybe.

MK – Any more werewolves for the future?

SGJ – Definitely. I mean, to read and watch and dream about, always. Just watched a new-to-me werewolf movie today. And I’ll for sure keep writing werewolf stories. I wouldn’t doubt if I do them in a novel again, too. Even, say, a couple of follow-up novels to Mongrels, should I get the greenlight.

MK – What’s next? Mummies, right? Wrong?

SGJ – Mummies never really crest in popcult, do they? I think it’s because we can’t figure if they’re zombies in wrappings, or what. Next, though, I hope that’s werewolves. Back in 2002, the zombie took over from the vampire, and I don’t think the vampire’s ready yet to be the top creature. Werewolves, though, they haven’t really dominated the media landscape since the eighties, I’d say. And the stories you get with werewolves, they’re more vital now than ever. We need to be engaging narratives that remind us that not only are we animal inside, but we’re an animal that plugs into a bigger system.

MK – Any authors you were ever obsessed with? (Or currently)  Why?

SGJ – For a few years now, I read anything CJ Box writes. His most recent, Off the Grid, blew me away. And so have the rest. I don’t know about ‘obsessed,’ though. I mean, until you see me drawing his face on a paper plate then using yarn to wear it over my own face, let’s just say I’m an avid reader.

MK – Any books you prefer to read more for craft than the story?  Vice Versa?

SGJ – Every once and again I get engaged with a novel that I realize isn’t going to do anything surprising story-wise, so, if I’m to get anything from it, I’m going to have to extract technique from it. Sometimes as model, sometimes as cautionary tale. But I’ve never gone back to any of those to read them again, either. More like, getting what technique I can, that’s trying to salvage something good from the read. I’ll always look for story first, though. Those novels, I’ll go back to them over and over.

MK – Mongrels was originally a short story titled ‘Doc’ in After The People Lights Have Gone Off. Was that planned? Have any of your other books started out as short stories?

SGJ – Only one’s done that, and it’s not published, as I don’t think it’s good enough yet. But, yeah, after I wrote “Doc’s Story” it kept kind of padding around in my head, until I had to just get the rest of it down on the page. Never really had a novel sneak up on me like that. Was kind of cool.

MK – Are all werewolves wary of the snow? Are there any that have figured a way around the foot-print issue? What do beach werewolves do?

SGJ – I’ve got a story about a beach werewolf. “Wolf Island,” over at I think a werewolf could maybe make it all right on the beach, though. Run close enough to the water, and the sand’s not firm enough to leave a really crisp print. And the water comes and takes it away anyway. Snow wolves, though, yeah, that’s a problem. I don’t like the idea of werewolves traveling by tree, really, so they’re definitely going to leave prints. Best bet? Stay super-remote, like, way high up in the backcountry. And maybe even stick to well-used game trails, so the elk can thunder through, erase evidence of your passage. Except they’ll smell you and panic. I don’t know. Snow, it’s forever tricky for werewolves. It’s not like you can wear stilts, or boots, or swing on vines.

MK – You wrote this in 14-16 days, yes? How long did it take you to get it to the shelves? I guess what I’m asking is, how long did the whole process take, to bring this book from cub to wolf?

SGJ – Yeah, got the first draft of this down in a couple weeks. Then the second draft, that took probably two months. Then the next draft was a few more months—I was incorporating notes and suggestions from agents and editors, which completely made the novel a novel. But, let’s see. I wrote it in January, but what year? Wow. All right, back from my directories. Looks like it was 2014. And it’s 2016 now. So . . . two-plus years, from idea to shelf, I guess. Seems like forever. But I’ve had ones take a lot longer. Demon Theory was more like seven years.

MK – All these characters are so real. So perfect and crazy and cool. It’s the grandfathers that took hold of me, though. Both grandfathers are eccentric and loyal and fierce. Also noticed that Mongrels is dedicated to a ‘Pop.’ Are these grandfathers based on your own? One more than the other?

SGJ – Yeah, Pop was my great-grandfather. He was around a lot until I was . . . twenty, twenty two? I grew up with him telling me stories, each one more outlandish than the next. But I wanted to believe so much that I just did believe. That story about the hammer, in here? That’s Pop’s story. He used to tell that one all the time. Also, I grew up with my grandfather on my mom’s side. He was more like the . . . well, the other grandfather. Don’t want to spoil anything.

MK – Favorite scenes to write? For instance, are you a sucker for action/family/love/scary/chase scenes?

SGJ – Sucker for two kinds of scenes: good fights and tearjerkers. I think, with Mongrels, my favorite pieces to write were the little flash fictions that come between the chapters. Just these self-contained werewolf moments. And, of those, it’s a hard call. I liked them all. But I guess maybe “The Heaven of Werewolves” stands out. I got to put a werewolf in a white nun habit for that one. That’s always been the dream.

Dr. Stephen Graham Jones was raised mostly in Greenwood, Texas. Currently, he teaches English and Creative Writing for the University of Colorado, Boulder and University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert. He is the author of twenty-three novels, the current of which is Mongrels. He’s also had some 250+ stories published. Dr. Jones lives in Boulder, CO with his wife, two teenage kids and some dogs that are, regrettably, not werewolves.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant