stephen graham jones

Cultivation & Connection at StokerCon 2018

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A professor from my alma-mater 

told me I needed to start going to conventions.

I’d been feeling down and unaccomplished. I still only had a handful of articles published and getting an agent seemed to be a very far away dream. I was toying with the idea of getting a Ph.D. and had applied to Georgia State and the University of Colorado. I thought about trying my hand at being an agent and looked into internships. I had shopped a book around that was drafts away from being ‘complete.’

I was Lost with a capital L.

If you’ve ever been Lost, you’ll remember, you tend to get desperate and look for help in every nook and cranny. You hope that someone, anyone, some other fellow traveler, might hold that one piece of helpful information. That one crucial tidbit that will nudge you off the edge into what would hopefully be much needed water.

I (unprofessionally) began to talk about my plights at my grad school’s alumni party. A professor I hadn't worked with and had only spoken to a handful of times during my studies pulled me aside. He said that I needed to stop spinning in circles. I needed to start going to conventions and shaking hands.

“That’s the only way you’ll meet people,” he told me, empathetic and kind.

I gave the usual excuses.

“I’m broke. What about my husband, job and dogs?”

“Figure it out,” he said.

That’s where is started. He’s one of the people I need to go back in time and thank, because he was the fellow traveler who took the time to set down his drink and explain it to me in small, understandable, meaningful words.

So: Thank you.

I went to conventions. A blog I worked for at the time (Dwarf+Giant) was only too pleased to have me go and be boots on the ground. The first one I attended was StokerCon 2017. I knew a couple of my friends were going and figured it was a good place to start. I was so broke I stayed for only two days instead of four, mostly drank green tea and crashed on friend’s couches on the way down to LA from Northern California.

I drove the entire state for this one.

And three incredible things happened. What do they say about life? Most of it is just showing up?

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One. I was able to give Dwarf+Giant five interviews and a write up of the Con. I had new material to share and publish. To this day, the authors I spoke with are near and dear to me. They’re the first ones to reach their hands out into the void and offer their assistance should I ever want to talk to anyone else. All I have to do is ask.

Two. One of those authors hired me.

A fledgling literary magazine, Gamut, was hot off the press and I desperately wanted in. They were dark and gritty and aware. The editor-in-chief was Richard Thomas, a friend of my graduate program. After we met at the Con, Richard reached out to me and asked if I could help out.

Three. I got to meet George R. R. Martin. My former professor-turned-mentor, Stephen Graham Jones, knew I had a deep, unhealthy love for GRRM. You know. The kind where you just want to revert back to a five-year-old, sit on the person’s feet, squeeze their legs hard and keep them rooted to the ground?

But I’m way chill about it.

Stephen introduced us. Not only did I get to chat with Martin, but he also asked to
see an essay I wrote about his craft during graduate school. Regardless of if he actually
read it or not, my essay sat in GRRM’s inbox.

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So, by putting myself out there at just ONE convention, I changed the trajectory of my life. Gripped the bull by the horns. Ran the train off its tracks.

 Later, I had the pleasure of going to World Fantasy for Gamut, where I met with Tananarive Due and Karen Joy Fowler: two amazing powerhouse women who dominate both the fantasy and horror genres. Not only did I go with the intention of meeting people, but that time, I got paid for it.

StokerCon 2018 was the first event Lisa and I attended together to represent our fledgling project, Ladies of the Fright. I’m pleased to report that just by reaching out our hands, just by being there, we rerouted everything in the best way. Ladies of the Fright took root. We aren’t going anywhere.

We started our podcast as a fun way to talk about everything dark. We thought it was a cool and interesting idea. To our great surprise and delight, people agree with us.

Because of StokerCon, Lisa and I were able to grab the wheel and turn.

Hard.

May our past life trajectory remain quiet and untraveled. Gather snow. We’re on a new road now, and we’re so thankful for everyone who’s helping us pave the way.

Please: new reader, author, editor, enthusiast. Go to these conventions.

Go to the classes. Watch Grady Hendrix perform stories. Listen to Paul Tremblay lecture about Shirley Jackson. Hug Ellen Datlow. (I mean, ask her first. Be cool.) Wait forever for the elevator, and then sidle in among friends. Buy books. Introduce yourself. Bring business cards. You never know who you may run into. Who you may just click with.

Oh. And look for us. We’ll be there. By the glass elevator that overlooks the city. One way or another, Lisa and I will be bringing our podcast to these events because the people, that’s what it’s all about. And we want to find them, tell their stories. Help them get their words out into the world.

We’re going to.

Go find yourself at StokerCon. Wrap arms and legs around the new you and never let go. 

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In Convo with Stephen Graham Jones at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Dr. Stephen Graham Jones. Good to speak with you again, thanks for meeting with me.

Stephen Graham Jones – Absolutely. 

MK – Sir, was hoping you could tell my readers at The Last Bookstore what books to pick up? Give us some ideas. What are you currently reading? 

SGJ – Currently reading Elizabeth Hand's’s Wylding Hall and audiobooking John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire

MK – He’s so cool. I like Red Shirts.

SGJ – Red Shirts is amazing, that’s one of my favorite all time novels.

MK – What else have you read this year?

SGJ – This year? Man, my favorite has got to be Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism.

MK – I’ve heard good things about that book. 

SGJ – I love that book. And, just got to hang out with Grady. He’s a cool dude, smart. I think I’ve read that book three times this year.

MK – This year? You don’t have to put it down or…?

SGJ – No, no what happened was, I finished reading it, then started another book and thought: “This sucks.” So, I just went back to reading what I knew I liked. Also? He and I are the same age and it’s set in 1988, I think? So, it feels like a landscape, a cultural landscape I’m familiar with, I guess. Same way Ready Player One spoke to me.

MK – Because you’re from the future?

SGJ – Ha! No. I was born the same year Earnest Cline was born so, for some reason it’s comforting to read about my growing up through people who also grew up in the same time. 

MK – So, in the late eighties, you would have been an adolescent. I heard you say once that writing adolescent characters was something you preferred if not what you bend towards. 

SGJ – I do, I don’t know why but that’s where I’m really comfortable. 

MK – How many of your books are in that age range?

SGJ – Counting Mongrels, five. So, five of sixteen.

MK – Why not more? If that’s where you’re comfortable.

SGJ – Um, probably, you know, when I published The Ones That Got Away in 2010 I guess, I didn’t realize it but some of the reviews said, I mean, they liked it and all but some of the reviews said: ‘This really is a neat way of haunting up childhood.’ I guess I didn’t realize that all those stories are from, like, a kid. I didn’t even know I was doing that so, that told me I probably need to do that less. 

MK – So, what do you think of YA horror? 

SGJ – It’s totally a thing. Gretchen McNeil who is here I believe, she does YA horror. I just read Wolf Road for my class at UCR, and that’s totally YA horror/science fiction. Yeah, I like YA horror. It’s fun to see what you can sneak past the gatekeepers. 

MK – Totally important. Are you allowed to tell me what’s next? Can you talk about Mapping the Interior

SGJ – Yep, it’s about a family trying to hold together after the father died, they are living a few hours off the reservation but then, one night, the oldest son, he’s about twelve, he sees his dead father walk through the living room. Decides to chase him or, follow him. And then, yeah, things happen. Also, there’s this. You seen this yet?

MK – No, tell me. 

SGJ – It’s a comic book called My Hero and it’s coming out in June.

MK – So you have two things coming out in June. Awesome. What made you write this one? 

SGJ – I wanted to engage the comic book form, and I wanted to do it in a way nobody had and, well, a comic book without pictures is a way no one has done comic books before. 

MK – You really got to play. 

SGJ – Yeah! Yeah, I did get to play. 

MK – May I take a picture of this?

SGJ – Yep. Absolutely. 

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MK – It’s like you were trying to find all of the corners no one ever writes in.

SGJ – I was trying to get people to read words as images. 

MK – You succeeded. So you have those two coming out and also, you were writing a slasher?

SGJ – Just finished it, it’s going to New York on Monday. 

MK – Good luck!

SGJ – Thank you. Thank you. I’ve also got a crime novel called Texas is Burning, going to try to get it in bundled in with the slasher somehow. And what else? I have another novel called Washed in the Blood. I wrote it in a month and, I mean, it was a month four years ago, I just never sent it out. It’s about bow hunting in West Texas. 

MK – You always come back to West Texas in your writing, don’t you? 

SGJ – I do. Really I think we all, as writers we have only one place where we know all the emotional contours of that place, and for me, that’s West Texas. So, any other place I’m writing about, peel back the scrim and it’s West Texas, whether it’s off planet or inter-dimensional. 

MK – So, you have a lot of desert planets, then?

SGJ – I do. And a lot of tumbleweeds. 

MK – “The Night Cyclist” though, that’s Colorado, isn’t it?

SGJ – It is, and I have another that’s based in Colorado, coming out in Gamut soon, I believe. 

Mk – What was the other one you had in Gamut?

SGJ – That was “Love is a Cavity I can’t Stop Touching.” Also, I think I’ve had another in there, um. “Spider Box,” “Second Chances,” and another called “Teaching a Sociopath to Cry.” Oh! And “The Lazarus Complex.” But the one coming up is “The God of Low Things.” It’s about prairie dogs.

MK – How do you teach a sociopath to cry?

SGJ – I think that’s what it was called. I don’t know. I wrote that one at a talk, and I mean, I got bored at the talk so, I wrote a short story. As you do. 

MK – I remember that. You had a whole bunch of paper in your fists and you were just, “Hey, guys. Wrote a short story.” And then you disappeared. So, wait, you teach for the University of California, Riverside and also for Boulder. Don’t you have a new title for CU Boulder?

SGJ – Yep, I’m an endowed chair now. 

MK – Congratulations. Any other books you can recommend? Before we sign out? 

SGJ – Scary books?

MK – Up to you. 

SGJ – Man, I just finished Bracken MacLeod’s Stranded and that book impressed me a lot. But I mean, all of the Stoker Con finalists have amazing books. 

MK – And you are one of the finalists?

SGJ – I am, I am. For Mongrels.

MK – Well, best of luck to you sir, and thank you for meeting with me. 

SGJ – Thank you. 

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 and some 250+ short stories. His latest novella Mapping the Interior and comic book My Hero will be available June, 2017. Dr. Jones lives in Boulder, CO with his wife, two teenage kids, some dogs and too many old trucks.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant

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 Juked.com. 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