THREE QUESTIONS (or More?!): Stephen Graham Jones

ZombiesMoreRecentDead_coverIf you’ve ever wanted to impress a crush, AND wanted to play baseball with a zombie–okay, even just one of those–then “Rocket Man” is the story for you. This is a fun zombie tale, but don’t get too comfortable: the horror in this one will creep up on you. No world can be normal with the dead lingering in the outfield.

Prepare yourself for the coming apocalypse and save yourself a copy of Zombies: More Recent Dead before it’s released in September! You can pre-order a copy from Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, or Amazon.

1. The Writing Question: What is your ideal writing space/environment?

I work great in airports, and in hotel lobbies, and at bus stops. Also my study, and Burger King—really, just wherever, I don’t care. Just give me a screen, some way to input to it, or a legal pad and a ball-point pen. Never a pencil, though. I cannot handle the way pencils sound on paper. When I first moved to Colorado, people kept offering me their mountain cabins to go write in, but I never took any of those keys. I think if you ritualize your writing, if you try to construct and maintain some ‘magic’ environment that you associate with being productive, that you’re limiting your productivity. I mean, have a stupid hat you wear while writing stories, sure. But take it with you everywhere.

2. The Zombie Question (1): Zombies (shuffling hoards) or zoombies (fast hoards)? Which do you think are scarier and why?

Rage zombies are way scarier in a hallway, but shufflers are what can pull society down, set the big reset button on civilization. Rage zombies are a grassfire burning across the world. Shufflers linger, shufflers stand around and wait for us to be stupid. And we’re human. Every second step we take is going to be stupid.

2. The Zombie Question (2): What do you think has driven such mass-appeal interest in zombies within the last ten years?

Well, the big thing, I think, was 28 Days Later making the zombie actually scary-on-the-screen again, which synched up crazily with Brooks’ shufflers-as-jokes in the Zombie Survival Guide. And then Keene and Mayberry and Kirkman and McKinney were coming on strong as well, propping up the tent over the brain-hungry, and, suddenly, bam, out of nowhere Brooks infects us all with World War Z. Without that novel, I think zombies would have flashed in the pan, gone back to the Universal Pictures grab-bag of monsters. But booms, movements, renaissances, they need that one text to pivot around—and, it’s text, not movie. I don’t know exactly the why of it, but books can serve as this pivot-point in a way movies can’t. If movies could, I mean, then Ginger Snaps would have been that for the werewolf, right? But it wasn’t, quite. Look at The Shining, say. It came out in the middle of a lot of other excellent haunted-house fare at the box office, but still, it’s the novel around which everything would spin, and is still spinning. WWZ‘s been The Shining for the zombie renaissance. But AMC’s The Walking Dead is now pretty much charting the up and down of the zombie, I think. Or, I fear. It so worries me, pinning the zombie to a television series. But it brings in the crowds. And, I’m just talking trends in entertainment, yes. As for what in society made the zombie boom, well, that we started getting a steady feed of images of the apocalypse so shortly after 9.11 got us addicted to a twenty-four news cycle of images of the apocalypse happening right here right now, I don’t think that’s any coincidence. And then writers—of novels, comics, stories, film, television—they cued in that the zombie’s so blank it can be overwritten quite easily, that’s it really just a container, a metaphoric space you can fill however you want, so long as you keep it fun, so long as you keep it moving. However, at the moment—2014—I worry some that the zombie’s not changing enough to stay interesting. You know Doghouse, from 2010? That’s the only movie I can think of from somewhat lately that tried to give us a new kind of zombie: a zombie that grows in generations, that changes, that develops. I mean, Mutants gave us four-nostriled zombies, which is creepy, sure, and Rambokk made them react to bright lights like a Gremlin might, but that’s small stuff, that’s characteristics. Doghouse was attempting a more important change, I think. And dressing it up with laughs. However, there is a lot of innovation-with-the-zombie happening in the short story. Really, if you keep a close eye on the zombie anthologies, you can detect some of the shifts starting to happen. You can see brief mutations, some of which will live, some of which’ll get forgotten. Cool stuff. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

2. The Zombie Question (3): What part of the zombie trope do you find yourself most drawn to or most irritated by?

Their need to eat always bugs me. Because I don’t think they’re physically capable of drawing nutrition from us anymore. Really, I like how the zombies in Dead Set fed. It was like they were suckling, like they were trying to draw life from us. I could buy that. Zombies might be great predators—rage zombies, at least—but they’re pretty dim on the food pyramid. Remember in Marvel Zombies, how Spider-Man had that big hole in his torso? Or maybe he was just an upper body, I don’t remember. Anyway, how he eats a chunk of some hero, swallows it, then catches it, eats it again, that’s one of the best zombie gifs. If it were actually a gif.

2. The Zombie Question (4): What enticed you to writing this zombie story?

That image of that lifeguard girl walking up the street with her shoes hooked over her shoulder. She’s who I saw first. Then I figured what’s a guy going to do to get her attention? It’s got to be something good. And the best thing I could think of was playing baseball with a zombie. That’ll make a girl look through the fence at you, and remember you. If there’d been zombies around when I was growing up, that’s what I’d have tried. Instead, I just had to do all the usual stuff to try to trick the girls into looking over into my part of the world. That’s pretty much why I’ve got so many injuries and scars today.

2. The Zombie Question (5): What is your favorite work of zombie fiction (literary, film, comic, etc.)?

Favorite novel’s World War Z—running ‘fantasy’ fiction through a non-fiction format’s pretty genius—favorite short story’s got to be Dan Simmon’s “This Year’s Class Picture,” because it’s so hopeful, because it builds instead of only destroys, and favorite film…The Return of the Living Dead. Funny zombies are where it’s at. Though for scary-zombies, it’d have to be [REC] / Quarantine. My favorites zombie comic’s been Zombies vs. Robots. The ZVR universe is so insane. The rule isn’t ‘make sense,’ it’s ‘always escalate, at the cost of whatever.’ That’s the kind of storytelling I go for.

3. The Random Question (1): What are you reading currently?

Just finished Erick Nunnally’s Blood for the Sun and Christopher Buehlman’s Those Across the River. They were both excellent. Werewolves forever. I’m currently teaching a werewolf course. I’m halfway through Michael Kimball’s way-excellent book Galaga, and I’m moments away from starting an early copy of Tod Goldberg’s Gangsterland and volumes 1 and 2 of Matt Kindt’s Mind Mgmt. Though first I’ve got to watch the last movie I bought, minutes ago. Wer. Been waiting for this one for a long, long time.

3. The Random Question (2): What is your favorite non-fiction book?

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, by James M. Tabor. But I like The Lost City of Z by David Grann a lot as well. Hm. And Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, man. And Miles Harvey’s The Island of Lost Maps? John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? There’s too many to choose from. It’s like asking what my favorite novel is. The result is the way you always kill robots in movies—by telling them to compute pi.

3. The Random Question (3): If you could spend time with any fictional character, who would it be and where would you meet?

Easy. One of the Neanderthals from William Golding’s The Inheritors. We’d meet where they lived. And we’d watch the bonefaces seeping into the world. And I’d know what went on then, and there. My heart swells, just thinking about this. Only other contender for somebody I’d like to meet would be Lobey, I think his name is, from Samuel Delaney’s The Einstein Intersection. I think about him a lot, how he could play the flute with his feet. I would like to hear that music. Just close my eyes and listen for hours. And, sure, I’d like to see Conan, not in an alehouse, but standing hip-deep in the bodies of his enemies. I wouldn’t want to get too close, though. I suspect I’d soon be one of those bodies.

3. The Random Question (4): Other than writing, what’s your favorite hobby?

Reading? Hackysack? Archery? No, I know. Going to junkyards and walking around for hours. Growing up, so many of my relatives had all their dead cars and trucks and trailers and junk parked for acres around their places, and that’s how I knew they were happy. They could walk out in the tall grass at sunset and just drift from wreck to wreck. That’s what heaven might be for me. Walking through old junked cars, through the husks of trucks. And looking up, seeing that this field goes on forever. That there’s rust as far as I can see.

3. The Random Question (5): What other projects do you have forthcoming that you’d like to share with us?

A horror story collection out from Dark House in September, After the People Lights Have Gone Off. Got a cool Joe Lansdale introduction for it. Also there’s Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, a YA I wrote with Paul Tremblay, is out in October from Chi-Teen. And, after that . . . don’t know. I’ve usually got a forthcoming list stupid-long, but my new agent’s locked all that down for the moment. I know there’s a Selected Works coming out of my stuff in 2015, and critical book as well—the first edited by Theo Van Alst, the second by Billy Stratton, both from UNM Press—and I’ve got, I think, four or five ready-to-go novel manuscripts, and just about have another horror collection creeping together. They’ll all be on some shelf at some time. Just, no dates yet.

 3. The Random Question (6): If you could give any piece of advice to your teenaged-self, what would you say, knowing what you know about life now?

“Remember every off-balance three-pointer you make, log each time you slip through the lane and flip the ball up on a one-percent chance, and make it. Because someday, that’s all you’re going to have.”

Which is to say, man, I miss playing basketball every hour of every day. Too many surgeries, though. Takes too long to recover, now. And I’ve had enough concussions that the memories are hazy at best. Mostly I just remember trying to smile, at how much I was cheating the world, to have made that shot. And then trying to do it all over again.

3. The Random Question (7): Where is one place you think everyone should have the chance to visit in their lifetime?

Their elementary school. Whether it was good or bad there, it’s different and good to walk those halls again, just once.

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels, five story collections, and over two hundred short stories. His zombie books are The Gospel of ZZombie Sharks With Metal Teeth, and Zombie Bake-Off. Jones has been a Stoker finalist, a Shirley Jackson Award finalist, an NEA fellow, and won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for fiction and the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction. He teaches in the MFA programs at CU Boulder and UCR-Palm Desert.

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