October 10, 2012

Jeff Strand - interviewed, circa 2007

Originally published by Fear Zone, 2007

What do Jeff Strand, headless chickens, and screaming babies all have in common? Well, even in the darkest times, at moments when life seems grey and overburdened and a clear way is nowhere in sight, each of these wonderful creatures has the ability to make you smile and even laugh a little despite what angst you may be otherwise facing. But as cute as babies can be and as hilarious as a dancing headless chicken might appear, it’s Jeff Strand that delivers the goods each and every time. Seriously, the guy can’t miss. I first came to know Jeff Strand through the pages of Insidious Reflections during his days as the Seriously Whacked Point Of View columnist and he’s never ceased to make me laugh. With about ten novels under his shiny belt, from his Andrew Mayhem series to a fistful of chapbooks to one or two more serious pieces of work, it’s clear the man is here to stay with us for a very long time. This is a very good thing, really. With titles like Casket For Sale (Only Used Once), The Sinister Mr. Corpse, and Two Twisted Nuts, a world without Jeff Strand books is like, well, it’s just not all that fun to imagine. Hell, if you can get through a Jeff Strand book without laughing your ass off then you, my friend, may very well already be dead in your blue skinned suite. For the rest of you who enjoy a few good laughs with your horror, you’ve come to the right place.

I see that you’ll be the Master of Ceremonies at next year’s Stoker Awards banquet. Does this make up for not winning the Stoker this year?

Actually, as of yesterday at 9:37 AM (Eastern Time) I’d quit obsessing over my shameful loss. Now I’m doing it again. Thanks.

I was sure that my novel Pressure wouldn't win the Stoker, but I was almost certain that the award was going to Headstone City. Losing to Stephen King for Lisey's Story was a surprise, but a pleasant surprise. I mean, it's kind of cool to say that I lost to Stephen King. Not as cool as saying "Ha! I beat King like a disobedient cur!" but if I'm gonna lose to somebody, it might as well be him.

It’s been a while, but are there any incriminating moments from the World Horror Con weekend in Toronto that you can still remember?

At the Dark Arts launch party for Waiting For October (a four-author anthology that I'm in) Sarah Pinborough knifed a guy in the chest. He said "I enjoyed your story," but she misheard it as "Gosh, I certainly wish a hot British chick would slam a hunting knife into my chest," and violence ensued. Adam Pepper spent the whole time sitting in the corner, twitching, muttering, playing with matches, and tearing a newspaper into tiny but freakishly straight strips. A drunken Bill Breedlove hit on everybody in the entire room, saying "Hey, wanna see what I've got in my goodie bag?" but when John Everson said "Gosh, would I!" Bill became very quiet and introspective. The tarantula-eating contest was a low point for all concerned. And that's just one event. So, yeah, plenty of incriminating moments.

Your upcoming novella Disposal features ten different forewords. Is this a story of such astounding complexity that it requires ten people to introduce it?

I'm pretty sure it was a shameless marketing hook--let me check my notes. Yep, shameless marketing hook.

The narrator in Disposal is an absolute scumbag. An entertaining scumbag, but a scumbag nevertheless. So, keeping with the tone of the novella, I thought it would be fun to solicit mean-spirited forewords where my fellow authors wrote about how a) the book sucks, b) I suck, or c) both a and b. All ten of the authors that I asked (for the record: Brian Keene, Christopher Golden, Mike Arnzen, J.A. Konrath, Rick Hautala, Mark McLaughlin, MaryJanice Davidson, Greg Lamberson, James Newman, and Jim Moore) were happy to do it. Almost...too happy. Their cruelty toward me is truly a sight to behold.

You’ve just collaborated on The Haunted Forest Tour with James A. Moore. How did that come about and were there any really spectacular fights you can share with us?

Jim and I had collaborated on an utterly goofy 15-part serial called "Massacre at Horror-Web," which was fun to write but unpublishable outside of being a funny promo for Horror-Web. So occasionally we'd say "Y'know, someday we should collaborate on a real story." I'd had the idea for The Haunted Forest Tour for a while, and one day I just wrote up a quick pitch, sent it to Jim, and asked if he wanted to write it together. He said "Hell yeah!" and we were off! Paul Miller at Earthling Publications offered us a contract to make it the next book in his Halloween series, and so we were locked into it, even if it became a friendship-obliterating nightmare!

Sadly, there were no exciting battles to share. There were adjustments to be made--we have different writing styles, and also different writing processes (I revise a lot while I'm writing, while Jim is a "plow through that first draft and never look back until you've typed The End" kind of guy). And Jim is about 9000% faster than I am. But overall, while there were disagreements (it would be freakish and disturbing if we agreed on everything during the course of writing an 85,000 word novel) there was no foot-stomping or fit-throwing. At least on my end. For all I know, Jim put his fist through six different monitors in his frustration at dealing with my incompetence.

You have a collection of short stories, Gleefully Macabre Tales, coming out. Do you prefer novels or short fiction?

I generally prefer novels, but there's definitely some short fiction that I'd rank among my best work. I tend to be a bit "sicker" in my short fiction, and so proofreading all of the stories in Gleefully Macabre Tales back to back did lead to the occasional "Jeez, what's wrong with me?" moment. Unlike a lot of writers, though, the execution of a story idea is a lot easier for me than actually coming up with a clever idea for what to write about, so I tend to only write short stories when somebody asks for one.

I understand you’re going to be the guest of honour at next year’s World Horror con in Salt Lake City. How did that come about, and has anything about this weekend help prepare you with any dos or don’ts to tuck away for future reference?

Well, I'm not technically the guest of honor. I'm a Special Guest, and Dennis Etchison is the Author Guest of Honor. (I may have been downgraded after they got Etchison on board...I don't remember exactly what my original title was on the website!) I have no idea what behind-the-scenes snafu caused them to pick me, but I basically just got a phone call asking if I was interested. I'd done an online chat with the main branch of the Salt Lake City public library about a year before that, which is how I got on their radar. I've been extremely low-key about the whole thing, as I wait for the follow-up phone call where they say "Sorry, we've just now realized what a ridiculous choice you were. Please disregard the previous offer. Our bad."

No real dos or don'ts. It probably won't be much different from any other convention except that I'll be on more programming and I'll get a better spot at the mass signing. I expect the groupie quotient to remain woefully low.

Sadly, I’ve yet to read Pressure, and yes I intend on unfrocking that situation as soon as I can. What I’m wondering though, is if at point while writing Pressure, did you maybe feel it in your gut, or any other bodily location, that the words beneath your pen were destined for even greater recognition above and beyond what the usual Jeff Strand groupies typically provide you with?

Yes and no. During the writing, I wasn't thinking "Ooooh, yeah baby, the reviews on this one are gonna be fantastic, and readers are gonna say it's one of their favorite novels of the year, and it's gonna get nominated for awards and stuff!" Actually, I let a test reader look at it halfway through, and she was thoroughly unimpressed. But I definitely knew that it had more mainstream potential than anything else I'd written. A lot more people are interested in reading a thriller than a horror/comedy. So I thought it had the potential to be a breakout novel, but that was because of the subject matter.

Okay, Jeff, allow me to reflect on your life a moment, if you will. Well, sort of. Now, it’s been a while since I first read your bio page on your website, but when I read it I remember thinking wow, this guy Jeff sure has a lot of time on his hands to be able to write such a long and detailed bio. Of course, the point is I read the whole thing despite its length because even in detailing the most mundane events, no offense, you had a way of digging up the humour in it and essentially made me laugh my ass off through it all. My question is this: Have you always been able to find humour in the ordinary - and quite often dark – places in life, or has it been more of a gradual exploration for you?

Heh heh. It's probably about time for me to update that bio. Though I was never the class clown type, I always had a sense of humor about pretty much everything. Well, maybe not about getting spanked or grounded or stuff like that, but even when my oeuvre consisted entirely of poorly-drawn Spider-Man comics, they were meant to be funny Spider-Man comics. I'm not the kind of person to crack jokes at a funeral, but I'll think of jokes at a funeral.

Why do you think horror and humour work so well together?

Well, they don't, much of the time. It's tricky to get both elements right. In most cases, you end up with an unfunny tale of horror or a non-frightening comedy. But a great deal of humor involves death or pain. And I don't just mean dead baby jokes, but also perfectly "innocent" jokes like the doctor saying "I've got good news and bad news. The good news is, you have six weeks to live. The bad news is, I've been trying to call you for five weeks." There's been dark humor as long as there's been humor. The challenge is to make both the "dark" and the "humor" parts work in a story.

You’ve said before that Pressure is one of your first serious works. Meanwhile The Sinister Mr. Corpse was recently published, which is an almost constant laugh fest with the occasional graphic shocker thrown in for good measure all the while the story of your wise cracking dead celeb unfolds. Which stylistic approach do you prefer, and which do you see yourself focusing more on in the future?

I like 'em both, but I have to admit that I'm more of a Mr. Corpse guy than a Pressure guy. However, I'll be bouncing back and forth for at least the next three years. I have a three book deal with Delirium (who published Mr. Corpse) for a horror/comedy novel a year through 2009, and I've got two more "serious" thrillers in the works. So I'll be focusing pretty much equally on both techniques.

Jeff, if you don’t mind, I kinda feel like rounding this interview off with something I’m remembering right now. You ever notice how easy it is to make a grown man break down and confess with the right amount of cheap booze and not so cheap nudie pics of Bea Arthur? Now, on a totally different topic, our friend James Newman once let it slip to me that the two of you will be putting your heads together to spin a wild collaborative yarn together. What’s up with that?

One thing about James Newman: He's known for making up phony collaborations with authors, leaking the news to the media, and then hoping that the unfortunate authors in question will actually write something with him just to avoid an awkward social situation. James Futch, Donn Gash...these guys had never heard of Newman before they found out that they were collaborating with him. When I discovered that I was Newman's next target, I vowed that I wouldn't play his vile little game, but I was weak. He gave me those sad puppy dog eyes (which is difficult to do through e-mail, but somehow the bastard pulled it off) and my heart just broke. So, yeah, we're working on something, but we're both slackers, so it could be decades before it gets finished.

And now with the serious stuff out of the way, if you had to pick one monster from any form of fiction or legend to spend your lonely days with on a deserted island, which monster would that be?


If hell is the place where eternal redundancy lies, where you are doomed to repeat things over and over, to keep doing the same thing again and again, what household item would you want to take with you not including your family or any pets you may have?


Last good book you’ve read other than your own?

Yeah, like I would read my own books. The Infected by Michael McBride.

Last good movie you saw?

Blood Car.

Name the one thing you can just never say no to?


The first thing you do when you’ve finished writing a story is…?

Send it off immediately, because it's probably so far past the deadline that sinister men in dark attire are on their way to my house at that very moment.
If you could have one secret super power, what would it be?

To be able to make the Lincoln Memorial come to life and go on a destructive but not murderous rampage.

And finally, is there anything else you want to add as far as what we can expect from your whacked out mind by the end of year or so?

Disposal, The Haunted Forest Tour, and Gleefully Macabre Tales. For all the latest semi-exciting updates, check out my website at http://www.jeffstrand.com or my blog at http://jeffstrand.livejournal.com/.