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Friday, October 15, 2010

#2 Stephen Graham Jones

20 Questions With Mourning Goats

I sent this interview to Stephen on Facebook, on October 4th, at 6:30pm, at 11:26pm, I got the interview below delivered to my inbox. I am most likely not the first to say this, but, Stephen Graham Jones is a machine, it's the only explanation to his excellent responses, as well as the collection of fiction that he is releasing into the world. Stephen, this was a pleasure. I'll let the interview speak for itself.

1. What comes to mind when you hear “Mourning Goats?”

Mourning Doves, the 'goats of morning,' which is, I don't know -- regret? Morning Glories too, a plant that's always confused me. Or, in this novel I just wrote, The Gospel of Z, there's these goats in it, which could definitely be said to be mourning. Saddest goats ever. Don't even want to be thinking about them. Except I love them, also. And then I guess I somehow spider over to that old strange short film, "Adonis XIV," maybe it was called? Exterminating Angel kind of stuff. With this ram. Probably one of the more influential things I've seen, now that I actually think about it. Have never shaken that movie off. Not sure I want to.

2. It Came from Del Rio is coming out on the 23rd of October and The Ones That Got Away is coming out the 16th of November, while teaching full-time, how do you find the time to write?

Man, for me it's more like, how do I find the time to stay sane. Which is to say that writing, for me, it's just trying to make the world make sense. Be that with bunny-headed zombies or insurance office politics or whatever. Writing for me's making this plastic world up, thinking I can play in it, do whatever I want, have some fun maybe, except then, before I can help it, there's all this real stuff happening, I'm stuck back in a corner, and all I have to get out of this place anymore's a pen. I keep thinking I'm going to 'graduate' as a novelist someday, and have this arm-length distance between me and the stuff on the page, where I can just move it around like chess pieces, analyze this event, that angle, be all objective and longseeing. Have a monocle and cane too, while I'm at it, yeah. But no, no such luck on that kind of distance so far. It's why I write fast, really, because these stories, they always get that bad kind of real to me, where I'm dreaming them, where I'm losing the lines between them and not-them, and so I type faster and faster, trying every door. And then, when I finally get out, I feel great for a week, maybe even two weeks, I'm happy, the world's divided up as it should be between things that happen and things that I know can't be happening, but then, yeah, then I'm sitting on some bad-idea bench in a worse place I only meant to walk through, and I'm writing down . . . not a premise for a story, those are easy, but a voice that wants to tell a story. If I listen to it too long, too, then I'm back inside another book, going as fast as I can. Wash rinse repeat.

However, I don't mean to be all romantic about writing either, don't want to set it up as 'the lonely, tortured novelist battles x amount of demons, reaches into the fire to pull this story out,' any of that. I mean, I see people everyday doing real work. It makes me completely aware that writing, it's hardly real work. It's fun work, I just always fall too deep into it. Or jump, yeah. With never any idea how deep this is going to get this time.

3. I loved your short story book, Bleed into Me, so I’m really looking forward to The Ones That Got Away, also, the description of It Came From Del Rio sounds amazing, what can you tell us about the two?

In that order, The Ones That Got Away, it's all horror stories. Stuff that really and truly scares me. I'm always telling my students that you can render no emotional landscape you haven't, to some degree at least, experienced. It's how you know those contours, the slope and sway of the land, can make it real for your reader. But that's not to say that you've got to go on some murder spree in order to write like Chelsea Cain, either. However, we have all -- 'to some degree' -- destroyed another person, yes? Effectively, figuratively at least, 'killed' them. Be it your mom, disappointed you stole the earrings her first, real husband gave her (and her never outing you), or a dog you accidentally caught with your bumper, whose five-year-old owner you could see standing in their lawn in your rear view mirror. I mean, that, that's horror to me, and I guess that's the vein I was tapping in The Ones That Got Away. The scary things, finally, they're not the slobbering toothed beasties in the shadows, they're the decisions we make, and then have to live with. Or try to live with. But this isn't at all to say that there aren't Old West zombies and Near Dark vampires and ghosts and worse in Ones. There are, and more. But there's also rabbits and gas pumps and high schools. There's our world, this world, the place we live, wrapped around this terrible, terrible stuff. And people trying to make it through to the other side. And, if I had to cite any influences for this collection, it'd have to be a combo of King and Ketchum, maybe. Or, when I think horror, the stuff that's formative for me, that I'm trying to do each time I have a blank page before me, I'm back in The Girl Next Door, as much as I'd never want to be. I'm back in "The Jaunt," my hair turning white in the space of that crossing.

For It Came From Del Rio, though, man, I think I'd just found Joe R. Lansdale when I wrote that. Mike Shea at Texas Monthly had told me I should really look some of his stuff up. So thankful for that rec. Lansdale's stuff, the confidence and ease with which he tells his stories, it's -- I wanted to say infectious, but, really, like with Vonnegut, it's intimidating. But if you can get over that, you can maybe write a novel set down on the Texas border, with a dad come back from the dead, a dad whose own head kind of wears out, so he has to do what people on the border do: improvise. Find a giant bunny, take its head. The obvious solution, really. And, yeah, I mean, there's meteor radiation, there's chupacabras -- I'm so fascinated by those dog-things that were showing up back then -- there's revenge and reconciliation, and, because I'd just been reading Dracula and Frankenstein, it's epistolary too. And I guess probably nostalgic as well, as I used to live down around Austin, a little place called Wimberley, and for a lot of years in a row I was always hitting the Texas Book Festival, but somehow, probably because I usually flew in, I never made it back out there. When I'd been there it had been eighth grade for me, I mean, so, my memory of it's eighth-grade, and all the eighth-grade magical stuff that's going on, that you don't want to mess up by seeing from an adult angle. Maybe I was afraid to go back there, could only go back as a bunnyheaded zombie. Sounds ridiculous, but that may actually be it. Well, that and my wife at the time was telling me that I never wrote any love stories. So, with Del Rio, I kind of tried, and kind of failed. A book or two later, though -- Flushboy and Not for Nothing (Dzanc, 2013, 2014) both -- I think I got it closer to right. But, too, ask me and I'll say all my stories are love stories. I'm a complete sap, wholly sentimental. Just, sometimes the love affair's with a truck, or a knife, or a song, or a place. In It Came From Del Rio, that place is South Texas. A big piece of me's always going to be there.

4. I noticed that the only book you have out on Kindle is Demon Theory, is this a choice or are the others coming? What are your thoughts on e-readers?

Yeah, I hear with Demon Theory the notes are even kind of linked, yeah? That's cool. All for it. I mean, I've got it on my Kindle (felt so loserly, buying my own book, yes), but seem to be very poor at actually paging through it. Same with the audio version: can't really listen. It's too strange. But, no, it's not been a choice for me either way. With Demon Theory, I was surprised when it showed up e-, and audio. And, It Came From Del Rio, Trapdoor's definitely going e- with it -- they may just win any e-book wars that happen to happen. Very slick model, they've got. And Kindle (Kindle 2), or its app on my phone, it's by far my preferred way to read. I mean, I'm reading Handling the Undead now, forever after everybody else, solely because it wouldn't be available in digital version. It's why I've yet to read Bolano, too. Paper books to me, they're wonderful treasures, great artifacts, and I like that I can get them wet and use them for stairsteps and doorstops and flykillers, forget them on airplanes, all that, but, when I want to ingest a text, lose myself in the words, then digital's the quickest way to complete immersion. I can go so much faster that way, fast enough, I suspect, that my critical faculties break down the slightest bit, and I'm reading the text at the speed necessary to record it in my head more as an experience. Reading on my Kindle feels so much more vital, anyway. But, no, I can't mark up the text like I'd like, I can't draw unicorns in the margins, I can't read comics, can't hit Wired, any of that coolness. But the tech's making all the necessary strides, I'm sure. And I can draw unicorns in lots of other places for the time being.

5. It sounds like you’re teaching some pretty interesting classes at the University of Colorado, Boulder, what are some of your favorite?

Ridiculous as it sounds, I'm still completely in love with teaching fiction writing. Each and every time, I learn something, the students teach me something. I don't mean each semester, either. More like each class meeting. A complete rush, and wholly a scam that I get paid for it. But shhh. To say it cleaner, I guess, articulating stuff about stories to the students, making it digestible, learnable, it improves my own fiction. And they're not just teaching me what not to do either, of course. A lot of the time they're doing stuff I hadn't even considered.

But, I also teach some lit, and that's a complete blast. I've done the Haunted House -- the genre's so elegant -- the Slasher, which I needed about fourteen more years in that semester to say everything I wanted to say, and, now, The Zombie. Which, even when I wrote Del Rio, I seriously knew very little about zombies. They liked brains, used to be dead? Okay, check, check. But now, studying all the different flavors of zombie kind, well, first, it's so helpful when talking Del Rio, because now I can see what I was doing, but, second, it's turning out that the zombie genre's just as elegant as the Haunted House, as the Slasher. There's taxonomies and tropes and archetypes and it all matters, is all part of the dynamo that drives the story. Loving it. Hope soon to teach werewolves and vampires. Need to be figuring them out as well. Which -- all my lit classes, they're never me walking into the room, having a clutch of answers and some pedagogical vehicle with which to deliver those answers. No, I come in with questions, with "how does this work?," with "why this, not that?," and over the course of the semester we try to tease apart a set of answers. Or, we get our hands bloody, and try to pull something recognizable up from the operating table. 

6. You received your Ph.D. in Creative Writing at Florida State University, in two years; can you explain how you did it so fast, and what your thoughts are on the teaching of creative writing?

Only reason I did my Ph.D that fast was -- well, first, it was that I was on University Fellowship, so didn't have to teach, could overload on hours, but, more than that, it was that Florida made me very, very nervous. Let me add another 'very' there. We had a dog back then that needed walking a lot, and so I'd take her on these rambling journeys, me reading the whole time, or, at first, trying to read anyway. But, there were all these freaktacular bugs everywhere, each of which I thought was definitely going to jump on my face, suck my eyeball juice out. And spiders, man, there were webs taller than I was. And, and sometimes I'd stall out at fences, look down these grassy slopes to real true live alligators, little ones just chasing frogs, but watching me as well, telling me 'later, bub. You'. I've never been so terrified. Which -- where I hunt, there's grizzly sign everywhere, they're going to sleep later and later these last few years, their tracks on my tracks, blood on their tracks sometimes, me often carrying something dead around, and, yeah, that definitely doesn't not suck, and there's wolves all over too, and just endless trees to freeze to death in, and series of guns in my hand that I don't remotely trust not to shoot me, but, still: it's not Florida. So, I say it was the bugs and the gators and the spiders, and it was, that was what pushed me through FSU so fast, but it was also that Florida was very squishy, very green. And, I was raised in West Texas, didn't even know how to swim until forever. It was like Dune planet, pretty much. Of course I'm fundamentally terrified of water. Too, though, my biggest dream -- okay, aside from space travel with kind of nice aliens -- it's to see a real whale. Just surfacing, breathing, rolling back under. Would be completely and absolutely magic. However, closest I've been to being on a real boat's the ferry by the Golden Gate Bridge. Which I rode just to ride, same as I rode the streetcar earlier that day. I didn't see any whales. Was the only one of the whole ferry, I think.

7. November 1st, is the first day of NANOWRIMO, do you have plans for this year? What’s come from these in the past?

I've never NANOWRIMO'd, but I always try to get my students to. I did finish Demon Theory over Thanksgiving in 1999 though, if that can count. But, no, I don't do it. I have done the three-day novel contest a couple of times, though. That's more my speed. First time out I jammed down a hundred and fifty-two pages, I think, but didn't win. Second time, I wrote The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti, then withdrew it from consideration so Chiasmus could publish it. I'd guess I wrote Del Rio in four or six weeks, too -- almost a month? -- but Ones, no, that wasn't all at once, was piecemeal, across about five years. I don't see how you can do a collection any other way. You've got to have a lot of misfires, I mean, a lot of tangents so you can figure out what you're maybe really trying to say here.

8. Social media is everywhere these days, and you have a huge presence on it, how do you think social media is changing the way we communicate, especially the way authors are currently using it?

I think it's allowing us to collapse that distance between author and reader. I get hit up all the time on Facebook, I mean, people telling me their cool stories about finding one of my books, meeting a girl or guy because of it, and, that's what it's about, for me. Sure, cashing a check is nice, but connecting with people -- isn't that why we write in the first place? Why I do anyway. I mean, because I rarely can in the meat world. Stick me at a party or a dinner and I won't know what to say, or how to say it, or when to say it, and usually just end up in some story space in the corner, running through junk in my head, trying to crib it down on napkins for later, because I'm going to show all of them.

9. What are the top five most influential books to your career? 

King's It, definitely. Every time I sit down, it's to write that book. And every time, I fail. Erdrich's Love Medicine, too. Have never read a book so true, I don't think. Martel's The Life of Pi, not because it's brilliant, which it is, but because it's got heart. So many books are . . .  not afraid to try to connect, to reach out, but afraid to try, have it not work out. Like not telling a joke because you think it might not be funny, yeah? Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, because it's completely unafraid, never looks away, yet also never panders, and has just as much heart as Pi. Maybe more. Love that book. And, a fifth, um, um, okay, The Things They Carried. Probably generic or typical of me to pick that one, but, just because everybody else likes it, does that mean I'm supposed to be cool and say I'm past that? Nope. That book still destroys me, in the way that only fiction can: to build me back up better. And, sixth, since you asked, Vizenor's Bearheart. You know how David Foster Wallace says Blue Velvet was his -- his Blue Velvet? In Philip K. Dick terms, his disinhibiting symbol, I guess you could call it, or, talking texts, 'disinhibiting narrative.' Except for DFW it wasn't the actual story, I don't think, it was the singleness of vision, the fidelity to an ethos, something like that. This is what I get from Bearheart: something that's so completely its own thing that it has just a touch more reality than everything else on the shelves. 

10. One of my favorite quotes of yours is, “write yourself into a corner, and give it all away with each line,” would you mind going into more detail, or giving an example in your own writing?

Was just listening to the Farrelly Brothers installment of that screenwriter interview series The Dialogue, with Mike DeLuca -- know it? Anyway, they say that too, or one of them does. Was so happy to hear somebody besides me preaching it. But, yeah, if you only write into places you know how to get out of, then you're never going to have to push yourself. Example: Maugham's The Razor's Edge, a kind of oddly compelling book. There's this line about halfway through, something that ends a chapter like "And then the most surprising thing happened." Or "unexpected," something like that. Anyway, man, always do that to yourself, always kill the character you're most attached to, always, if you're Card, burn the Mother Tree, make us think the story's over, that it can't possibly go even one step farther. And then take it all the way around the town. What you're doing is leading your reader into a truly imaginative space, one being created, guessed at, on the fly, one you discover together. It's what real storytelling can be, when it's honest, when it's sincere.

11. When you write, do you have a daily word count, or page count, or do you just let it flow? 

Yeah, I just run as fast as I can, stop only when I have to. I've done forty and more pages a day and I've spent all day on a single paragraph. Never can tell. Maybe someday I'll do the schedule and quota thing, be all grown up like that. Not today, though. Or tomorrow.

12. Writing is a solitary pastime, are you a part of any writing groups? Do you have any lucky early readers out there? 

I hit up different people I know, yeah, just because the stuff I write, it's not all tailored for a single reader. Well, that's half a lie. She doesn't like it all, or have a taste for it all, but the first and always reader of my stuff's my editor at FC2, Brenda Mills. Every story, every novel, every screenplay, she hits it first. I completely trust what she has to say, not just because she knows her stuff, but because she knows me, knows the stupid stuff I'm always trying to get away with, and calls me on it, and shows me these new and stupider ways I've apparently taken a liking to, and asks if I'm trying to be stupid or does it just come naturally. That kind of stuff. But I can't rely only on her, of course. Just different friends, a lot of them people I've met on-line, even. Smart people. Different people from welcometothevelvet.com, sometimes, or who've hit me up about one thing or another. Christopher O'Riley, a really smart reader, and brilliant musician. My agent, Kate Garric. Nobody from my graduate or undergrad days, though, I guess. Not sure why that is. Maybe my writing's gone a different way from all of them? Not really. I don't know. Never thought about it until now, I don't guess. Three of my brothers, too, they're always good for an early read, will tell me what's what, what's not.

13. In one interview, I read that you burn a CD and listen to it and only it, while writing each novel, do you still do this? Do you have any other techniques you use in your writing?

Well, I used to do that, yeah. Started with The Fast Red Road, where I had a Marty Robbin's cassette in the player by my computer, would just flip that tape all day, and into the night. But then I figured out CDs somewhat, started doing it like that. Now it's playlists, though, which is completely dangerous, just because there's no 780MB or whatever cap. So the playlist can go on and on, wonderful song after wonderful song, and in just the right order, but it'll take two-plus hours to get through that, too. Which is a long session, at least when you're stealing time from Jim Rockford like I always am. But of course stolen time's the most valuable time, too. The time you can do the most within. Anyway, this most recent playlist, for The Gospel of Z, it's two and half hours. Something a lot like: 

  •     Trudy, CDB
  •     Fresh Feeling, The Eels
  •     Everything I Own, Bread (because it makes me think of Bandslam)
  •     Joe's Garage, Zappa
  •     Railroad Man, Eels again, because I'm so original
  •     She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft), Jerry Reed
  •     Bus Stop Boxer, The Eels, guess I was on a kick
  •     Lose Yourself, Eminem
  •     Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac, for that most-magic line: "She is the cat in the dark / and she is the    darkness"
  •     East Bound And Down, Mr. Reed, can't ever get enough
  •     Father Figure, George Michaels, a complete nother story
  •     One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, George Thorogood (all of Thorogood's great writing music)
  •     Crazy, Gnarls Barkley, for "I remember, I remember when I lost my mind"
  •     November Rain, GNR (this is terrible to write to, actually; I'd always cue past it, not get mired down)
  •     Sinkhole, Drive-by Truckers
  •     Paul Revere, Beastie Boys
  •     Back In The USSR, Beatles (so, yeah, two B's by each other; wonder which was intentional)
  •     When You Were Young, The Killers, because it spurs the video, which is the best music video ever
  •     Amphetamine, Steve Wynn, though I'd have had the Bandslam version if I had that soundtrack
  •     I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor (this was on the ATBS CD)
  •     Billy the Kid, Billy Dean
  •     Private Dancer, Tina Turner (I think this was on ATBS too)
  •     Ledo Shuffle, Bozman, a song that needs twenty more verses
  •     The Legend Of Wooley Swamp, more CDB, a song I always forget to understand
  •     Friendly Ghost, good grief: The Eels
  •     Amos Moses, Jerry Reed (I could make a whole playlist with just this song, over and over)
  •     Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-A-Lot. I need no excuse
  •     When You're Hot, You're Hot, Jerry Reed. exactly
  •     Cleanin Out My Closet, Eminem, this being the only other Eminem song I know
  •     Band On The Run, Wings, one of my favorite bands ever. and Homer Simpson's favorite, I think
  •     12 Open Arms, Journey, just because I like great music
  •     Paperback Writer, The Beatles. not a bad writing song, all told
  •     Fortunate Son, Todd Snider. love his take on this one
  •     America, Neil Diamond. it's really transgressive for an Indian to like this song, and "he's so         transgressive, that Stephen guy"
  •     Beautiful Loser, Bob Seger. this song hurts so good
  •     Green Grass And High Tides, The Outlaws the last song on a lot of my playlists, really
And, no Queen? No Johnny Lee? I don't know. But, once I make it, I never allow myself to take anything out or put anything in. It's done and shut, no do-overs, no exceptions. This is the soundtrack for the novel, whether I regret it or not.

14. You’re very open about your love of horror, what are some of your favorite horror books/movies? 

Man, I've hit King and Ketchum above already. I'd add Straub; his Ghost Story and Shadowland are brilliant, plain and simple. And Barker's Damnation Game, say. And I'm just a Barker fanboy, too. Even dug Coldheart Canyon, which I think everybody else hated. And -- you read Laird Barron? The precision he jacks his language up to, man. Scary good. And Joe Hill's collection, it just the medicine horror was needing. I dig bizarro too, but not so much splatterpunk, though Edward Lee, man, he's got it. Is he splatterpunk, though? Not sure. Or, to say all this better: I wish every horror novel could be Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings. That novel took things up to a height nothing much has hit since, one of those rare instances of story and prose getting into this kind of syncopation that magnified each into so much more. 

And, movies, man. Definitely. Scream and Feast are my all-time favorites, of course. And, in spite of how Max Brooks says -- correctly, I think -- that Return of the Living Dead killed the zombie for twenty years, still, that's so tightly written. How not to love it? And, man, don't get me listing. Dead Snow, Idle Hands, Dead & Breakfast. John Carpenter's The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street (either, though I guess the first's got a special heartplace). Final Destination 3, The Murder Party, Pontypool, [Rec] (Quarantine too), Boy Eats Girl, Leslie Vernon. Near Dark, always Near Dark. And Terminator, forever, times two. And the fourth Jason. Urban Legend, Identity, House of the Devil, the Orphanage. April Fools Day, Happy Birthday to Me. Harpoon, man, that was a blast and a half. And Halloween, that should be way up front. Anyway, to stop all that: I tend to go for bloody stuff that's got comedy in it. Like Severance. Or the My Bloody Valentine remake. Black Sheep. Shaun of the Dead, yeah. And Trick 'r Treat. Beautiful movie, Trick 'r Treat. And, can Ravenous count as horror? Then Ravenous.

And, talking Ravenous: until I watched the deleted scenes of that movie, I don't think I'd ever trusted an editor, even a little. Always figured they were trying to make me into a hand puppet. But the producers' cuts on Ravenous, and the director's explanations of those cuts, they completely reformed my world. Only other time that's happened, talking fiction at least, is listening to an Art Spiegelmen presentation, where all he did was show some long-ago panel cartoonist's rendering of a can of spilled paint. But, right beside it, was an upright can of paint. What Spiegelmen said was happening here was that the artist was training us to get the joke, that this was a closed system, one where we understood how a can of paint should be, and how it now was. Such an obvious thing, but one I'd never even had a glimmer of. It completely changed the way I go at writing.

15. You have a video blog type thing on YouTube, posted by user engldept, do you plan on having more of these? 

Yeah, I remember that, I think. I'm wearing a tan jacket, maybe? That jacket was brand new then, years ago. Think I've worn it maybe twice since then. Lately I get all my jackets from Goodwill, and then just never wear those. Much cheaper. Don't think I've watched that clip or interview or video blog, though. Too strange, doing that. But, yeah, I'd guess more stuff'll show up. Probably not recorded by me, as that'd be a crazy trick to pull off, but who knows. Crazy tricks are fun.

16. On this same video blog, you mention working on a young adult novel with another author, what can you tell us about this? I wouldn't think this would be an area you would be writing in. 

Oh, man, I love young adult, just taught a class in it. I read all of it I can. In a lot of ways it's one of the more honest genres, I think. It has something to with how the genre's defined, I think. I mean, romance, western, fantasy, those all have these strict sets of conventions. Not so, YA. YA's more defined by target audience. And, worse, and better, by a target audience that's so much more sophisticated than people, for some reason, assume. So we're getting brilliant stuff like King Dork, say. Or Spanking Shakespeare. Going Bovine, and on and on, I love it all, would so like to be a part of that field. It would be a complete honor. But, I wouldn't even be having that longshot of a chance at that now if Paul Tremblay hadn't called me up a while back, said, hey, what about him and me collaborating on something? I immediately said yes, based solely on having read Paul's stuff. He's a very strong writer, is all the way in control of what he's doing. Wait, not 'solely' -- also I know Paul, had hung out with him some, he'd pulled me into an anthology, I think, I blurbed one of his books back before we really knew each other. Anyway, it's completely cool, writing with him. Maybe we'll be like Gaiman and Pratchett, hitting one ball all the way home (or, is that wrong? 'Out of the field?' I know so little about baseball, shouldn't even get to use sports metaphors, or similes, whatever I'm doing here), or we'll be a Lincoln and Child -- even better -- churning permanent, excellent stuff out on a schedule. I don't know. And, though Paul and me are writing at a very similar level, I think, I'm finding we go about it completely differently. Paul writes like a novelist, I mean, which is a compliment. He actually pays attention to what came before, keeps in mind what's coming ahead. Unlike me. I just kind of jump in, figure I can get the continuity editor working later. Meaning, the way I do it's very inefficient, always dead-ends me a lot before I finally get to where I'm going. Which may of course happen to Paul as well, of course, but, the next piece of the story he sends me, anyway, it's always where it needs to be already, whereas I blast stuff back to him without having even reread it. So, I can't imagine I'm the ideal collaborator, but we're doing it anyway, and, more important, we're digging the story a lot. And, now -- October for this -- getting pretty close to a finished first draft. Also, it helps so much that Paul's agent, Stephen Barbara, knows the YA market so well. He's our Gandalf here.

17. What do you think would have happened without your freshman English teacher at Texas Tech? Do you think you would have been an English major and brought us this library of work? 

Yeah, if I hadn't written that "The Gift" story for Dean Fontenont. Or, if she hadn't found it somehow, I forget exactly. Anyway, yeah, I mean, I came to school mostly to play, was one of those losers, had no plans on staying more than a year, was figuring I needed to be burning my good working years out on a tractor, making money, going to town on the weekends, but then I took this Reasoning course from this Philosophy TA "Biggs," I think it was -- smart, smart guy -- and, I don't know, it was like I saw how the world was put together. A real Terrence McKenna moment. So of course I hit Logic next, and it was so perfect, so wonderful, and I was completely planning on losing myself in Philosophy for the rest of my life, just sacrificing myself to it, but, at the same time, I was slowly becoming aware that the reason I was jamming at my Philosophy papers, it maybe wasn't that I was seeing all the way into Heidegger or Wittgenstein, it was that I could re-explain it all in my own language. Which is to say I could think, I could write. And argue, sure, but I'm not confident all that would have been enough, finally. So, yeah, I wound up having the campus police pull me from World Lit one day, spent three days and nights in the waiting room of the hospital, my uncle living or dying on the other side of those twin doors (living, still), and, because I had my World Lit spiral with me, and a pen I borrowed from somebody in the room, and time to kill, I wrote this story, "The Gift." Then, nine or so years later, my first novel hit the shelves. All makes perfect sense. How everybody does it, yeah? Yeah. But, I should say that, in fourth grade, I checked Where the Red Fern Grows out four times in a row -- took me that long to get through it -- and, at the end, that axe handle sticking in that tree, all rusted, a lantern hanging from it maybe, I distinctly remember thinking that I could do that, that I could stick that axe there, hang a lantern on it like that. So, writing, it was always kind of in my hip pocket, like a fallback. Which, that fallback, man, I used it a lot in high school, writing these long apology letters to different girls, leaving them under wiper blades, parking down the road until they'd had time to read them. That's writing in its most pure form, I think. The kind that gets you back in the door. True rhetoric there. Probably where I learned fiction.

18. I've noticed that you don’t do a lot of big book tours, is this a scheduling issue, or something else?

No, I dig getting out there, but usually it's via invited readings at different schools, institutions, libraries, book groups, all that. So, not so much a tour as scattershot stuff, just whenever, however. But, I do think that doing stuff on-line's coming to supplement, if not supplant, the old-fashioned book tour. However, if I could draw Palahniuk crowds, then I'd probably have no choice but to be out there. Very willingly.

19. For our writers out there, if you could have received one piece of advice, before you started writing, which you never got, what would it be? 

Probably something one of my uncles told me, not about writing at all, but kids. He said that if you wait until you can afford it to have kids, then you'll never have kids. That's kind of how I've always gone about writing. No, I'm probably not talented enough or licensed enough or established enough to scrawl all over the spectrum like I do, or how I do, but no way's that going to stop me, either. I'm throwing darts at the dartboard, not from the other side of the room, but driveby, from a truck with bad tires, running a stop sign, the radio up just way too loud, in hopes everybody inside's going to look out, see me. And, I've got, what, eight or nine darts to stick so far? One of them's going to find the red, I know. Has to. Because I'm going to keep making that block, am not going to stop throwing. 

20. You have two other books coming out in 2013 (Flushboy) and 2014 (Not for Nothing), what can you tell us about these and is there anything else you’re excited about?

Well, first, they're from Dzanc, which, how could I be more happy than to be working with them? They do quality stuff, are going to be even more important by 2013 and 2014. Very excited. And, these two, I guess I was already talking about them above, before I should have been, but Flushboy, it's finally a real and true love story, I think. About this kid kind of indentured by his entrepreneur dad into working the window at the family business, The Bladder Hut, a drive-through urinal. He kind of hates his job, hates his dad, hates his life, but it can all be saved, too, by one girl. It's exactly what being sixteen's like. To me anyway. And, Not For Nothing, man. So love this book. A second-person small-town noir, written about the same year I wrote Del Rio, I think. And, like Del Rio, it's set somewhere I used to live: Stanton, Texas. Only, I didn't just live in Stanton, I grew up there, it's still the place I consider home, the place I can still, for the Old Settlers parade, probably find my picture up in the drugstore window. And, the guy here, this excommunicated homicide detective, banished to living in a storage unit, all he wants is to drink himself into oblivion, maybe eat some pecan pie along the way. But people keep coming to him with cases, which, in good p.i. story fashion, all end up being the same case. Such a fun story, Not For Nothing. And Flushboy. I'll never not be in love with each of them.

As for what I'm excited about, though, that's easy: horror. This summer was The Passage -- the vampire apocalypse starting up, here in the Denver area -- right now Handling the Undead's doing stuff with zombies I haven't seen before, and there's Fringe on the TV, Supernatural, True Blood, and Scream 4's coming at us, and the Let Me In remake rocked . . . horror renaissance? Not quite. But that's just because horror's never really gone under. Horror's always been with us, it just seems more vital at certain times. Like, yeah, now, post 9/11, pre 2012. We're going to look back on this as a vital decade for horror, I think. Not a Golden Age like the Eighties, I don't think, but there was so much excess in the Eighties that horror did let its own weight start to drag it down. Now, though, I think horror's leaner, meaner, more direct, has videogame injections and's just plain fun again, like it should be. I'm so glad to be a part of it. Or to be trying, anyway. No, no: I'm glad to be a consumer of horror right now, and hope that, in some way, I can give back to it.

Thank you, Stephen!

And finally, don't forget to "like" Mourning Goats on Facebook and pick up Chewing the Page: The Mourning Goats Interviews on Amazon! 


  1. Dr. Jones really raises the bar already set incredibly high by Mr. Elliott. Goat, you've started a fantastic series here. I can't wait to see what's next.

  2. He's got great taste in horror novels and movies, but questionable taste when it comes to music. But that's ok. Big kudos for the mention of Clive Barker (my personal favorite), although I would say The Books of the Art and Imajica are my favorites of his.

  3. Wow I didn't him to write so much! Those answers are in depth. This is a true writer. Good interview!

  4. Dear Goat,

    You give some of the greatest interviews! I really enjoyed the last one. Keep up the great work! You should write a book!


    The Knarfulled Garthock