Do you write longhand or on a computer?
Longhand’s all right for short stuff, like when I’ve just edged around a corner, let everybody else keep walking, so I can write a story down right quick. Used to taxiing in a plane and taking off were when I wrote a lot of short pieces, because I couldn’t have my laptop out, but also because I couldn’t imagine just sitting there staring at the back of the seat in front of me. Keyboards are my preference, though. Ergonomic, black, wired. I can go really fast. I can even forget I’m typing, sometimes. Like my mind’s just pressing letters onto the screen. And I go through keyboards pretty fast, too. But, lately, the bones in my hands are wearing out faster. It’s not ideal. But so far it’s just in my three-times broken hand, with the messed-up finger tendons. So I guess it’s no surprise.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. Writers are sponges on the seafloor of the world. We get our nutrients from everything drifting around us, and through us. In hallways and in food courts and line at the bank, I always mis-hear things people are saying, and those so often become stories. But I also get my ideas from editors, and from calls for anthologies, and for themes for issues. I mean, I’d never thought of writing a story about a staple gun and a Victorian octopus past his prime. But for cents on the word, yes, this is something I can write.
Why don’t you write nice things?
I kind of do think they’re nice. Just also bloody, or scary. Really, I get nervous around the people who only write the ‘nice’ things. Because I know it’s got to be a mask, a pose, something they’re trying to convince me of so I’ll let my guard down, show my throat. That’s just what they’re waiting for. Just because a bird’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s not hungry.
Who are your influences?
In books, in fiction—man. In 1986, living at my grandmother’s, I read every single Reader’s Digest and National Geographic since 1957, and when that was done I went to her cabinets and read the backs of soup cans. I’m still like that. I turn the subtitles on movies and television so I can feel like I’m reading. But, literary influences. People I respect, and emulate, and am intimidated by: Stephen King, Greg Bear, Louise Erdrich, Philip K Dick, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Octavia Butler, Alan Moore, Vladimir Nabokov, John Barth, Larry McMurtry, Thomas Pynchon. I grew up reading Louis L’Amour and Conan and all the Mack Bolans and every story Ellen Datlow put in OMNI. Joe R. Lansdale is pretty much my hero. He’s carved out his own genre, and named it after himself. I really respect what CJ Box is doing. And Lincoln and Child. I think Charles McCarry’s The Secret Lovers is one of the best novels ever written. But so is Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings. And Luigi Meneghello’s The Outlaws.
Short stories or novels?
For writing, it’s definitely short stories. Because you do a few of those a week, and they can all be wildly different from each other. You can go to different places each day, and, if the story doesn’t work, then that’s just one afternoon gone, and you’ve probably learned something anyway, so it’s not like there’s anything really wasted.
Vampires or zombies?
Favorite novel ever?
It. And Speaker for the Dead. And Love Medicine.
So you really read the Twilight series, and all the Dan Browns?
And Divergent and all the Harry Potters and The Hungers Games and so much more besides. First, YA is where it’s at. There’s less artifice. The writer’s having to hook the reader every page. But, too, I can’t imagine just reading in one small little part of the literary map. It’d be like playing Risk, but being happy with just Irkutsk. No, if you want to be worldwide, then read that way. And even if you don’t want to be worldwide, I guess. Just reading in your small little province is a sure way to write insular stuff. Read stuff you think you’re going to be insulted by. It’ll challenge you, it’ll make you mad. Or you might fall in love with it. When people tell me they don’t read Da Vinci Code or something, I’m always pretty sure it’s fear. That they might find something there to like, and they would then feel less themselves. This is why I picked up The Corrections, and Freedom: because they’re so far from what I’m comfortable with. And I learned from them. I’m glad to have read them.
You write a lot. How?
I don’t know. I just can’t imagine not writing. It scares me. It makes my fingers jittery, like they want to be on a keyboard. Also, I’ve never watched any reality programming, so that really opens my schedule up, I suppose. Even that part in Jeopardy where Alex is asking the contestants about themselves, I consider that a gateway to reality programming. So I mute it. I’m just there for the answers and then the questions, Alex. I don’t need to know anything else, thank you.
Favorite place to eat?
Red Lobster, Chipotle. Burger King. Home. Furr’s Cafeteria. Anywhere with ketchup on the table.
Why do you write in so many genres?
I really only write in one genre. It’s the same genre we all write in, I hope. It’s called “What I would like to read.” And, since I read all across the shelves, that’s what I write. I remember in a Robert Browning class I took once, the professor was talking about how stupid Browning was in his late teens, for wanting to be a master in the novel, and poetry, and music. Or, it was three things, anyway. But that’s not stupid at all. That’s dreaming. That’s wanting it all. There’s nothing wrong with wanting it all, so long as you remember it doesn’t happen all at once.
Name one book people are already in danger of forgetting.
Sean Carswell’s Train Wreck Girl. Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. Will Elliot’s The Pilo Family Circus. Kelly and Niimura’s I Kill Giants. John Fowles’ The Maggot. William Golding’s The Inheritors. LeGuin’s Hainish novels. DM Thomas’ The White Hotel. Robert Jordan’s Conan books. Barthelme’s Sixty Stories.
. . .
What’s on your to-be-read pile right now?
Reif Larsen’s The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. More NK Jemisin. Alan Moore’s Miracleman run, which I somehow never read. A second copy of Pynchon’s The Bleeding Edge, as my day-one mysteriously disappeared. Doctor Sleep, which I have no excuse for not having read yet, as The Shining is one of my favorite novels ever, King’s one of my favorite writers, and this one’s signed by him, at the building here in Boulder where the good guys of The Stand held meetings. Truth is, I’m like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky: a pleasure-delayer. I have a box in our pantry that I fill with candy, but I hardly ever eat any of it. I just like having it, I like waiting for it. That’s the pleasure of candy for me.
But what about Sixlets?
Some things you don’t delay.
What’s the last new book you’ve read?
Advance copies of CJ Box’s Stone Cold and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.
Hemingway or Faulkner?
Nathanael West. Agatha Christie. George Schuyler. Jules Verne. Jack London. Fitzgerald. Wells. Welles. Anybody but Hemingway and Faulkner, please.
What’s your favorite genre to read?
What book was most formative to you as a kid? Where the Red Fern Grows, right?
Yep. But also Strange Stories, Amazing Facts.
Coffee or tea?
I’ll drink coffee when Jay Leno drinks coffee. Unless Jay Leno drinks coffee, at which point I retract this. I don’t even like going into coffee places, because they smell suspiciously like coffee. But I can’t go two hours without good tea. Iced tea, I man. Lipton, Luzianne. And, before it comes up: I don’t have a favorite beer. I don’t drink beer, and I don’t go to bars if I can help it.
You’ve had a lot of stitches in your life.
I have had just a whole lot of stitches, yes.
You grew up in West Texas, but you’re Blackfeet?
But you have the long hair.
That’s not because I’m Indian. It’s because my elementaries and high schools and basketball coaches all made us keep our hair above our ears, collars, and eyebrows. It’s because I kept a fold-out of George Lynch in my locker, from when he had big frosted hairspray hair, and I always promised myself that someday that would be me. Once I hit eighteen, I stopped cutting my hair. But I’d been Blackfeet for a pretty long time before that. Crazy, I know.
Waylon Jennings. I haven’t been to all that many concerts in my life, unless you count live bands at dances (I’m talking steel guitar bands, two-steps and waltzes), but better than seventy percent of the concerts I have been to, they’ve been Waylon. When he died, my answering machine filled up with people calling me from all over, asking if I was all right. The few holy relics I have, they pretty much all have his W on them, or his face. One of the main regrets of my life, though, it’s that I never saw Bob Seger perform back when. Or even now, yet. He’s a hero. I read that, in 1969 or so, music wasn’t really working out for him, so he went back to college. A few times each week, now, I always find myself thinking of young Bob Seger sitting in the back of a trig classroom, or comp, or psych, just sitting back there, all these perfect bulletproof immortal songs just writhing around inside him. And it breaks my heart, but it fills it back up, too. Because he got out. Because those songs, they got out. And in the live album Nine Tonight, there’s this part where he says they’re going to do something new, it’s the title track off their new album, it’s “Against the Wind.” I’ve listened to him say that so many times, and I’ve tried to put myself there, hearing “Against the Wind” for the first time when I wasn’t expecting it. It’d be like stumbling out of some scrub, almost stepping into the Grand Canyon. Except better. Really, I’ve listened to that part of the album enough times that maybe I have been to a Bob Seger concert, by now. And maybe part of me, it’s still there.
Of all your novels, which is your favorite?
That’s always the current one. And the current one is Not for Nothing.
Okay. Your least favorite, then?
No more questions.
STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES is the author of ten novels, three collections, and one novella. He is a full professor at The University of Colorado at Boulder, and in the low-residency program for University of California Riverside–Palm Desert. Stephen is forty-one, and married with children. Not for Nothing is out now from Dzanc Books.