Stephen Graham Jones is a Native writer who works unapologetically in genre and horror fiction. His work ethic is without parallel – he’s already published 15 novels, including, “Demon Theory”, “The Fast Red Road”, and “It came from Del Rio.”
To Jones, writing isn’t work; it is simply something he does. During this interview, he confessed that he was itching to write and calculated how much time at his keyboard he might be able to squeeze in after our interview… and before his reading at the Institute of American Indian Arts that night.
“I’ve never been inspired,” he explains about his writing. “I’m just always compelled.”
Where are you originally from?
West Texas, Midland – well I’m not from Midland, I’m from Greenwood but Greenwood isn’t on the map, it’s about 20 miles east of Midland.
How does a Blackfeet kid end up in the middle of Texas?
I was not only the only Blackfeet in west Texas; I was pretty much the only Indian that I knew of, except for my family.
My grandfather was in the Air Force. He went all over the world and he retired out of the Air Force in Big Spring, which is in west Texas. As I understand it, it was just kind of random.
Does Big Spring it inspire your writing?
You know, I can’t outrun it. I can try to write about living on Jupiter in the year 2400 or something, but really it’s going to be west Texas. The emotional contours of the story are going to be the emotional contours of the landscape I grew up with up. You really can’t escape that.
Were you always good at writing?
No, man – I didn’t write my first story until I was 19. I could always write something, I could always get a good grade, you know? Writing, putting words on page and making them all kind of form into something was never really difficult for me.
I was always going to be a farmer, that was my big life plan. I never had any hopes or aspirations to be a writer.
You’ve gone off that path.
I’m glad man, I’m glad. (laughter) When I think of farming, what I miss is not the work, the driving tractors, and working on irrigation, all that stuff. What I miss is sitting on the side of the road talking to people for an hour when you’re supposed to be doing other things.
I write to avoid the other stuff, and I think that’s the same pocket of time I try to steal. I want to avoid driving tractors so I go home and write. (laughter)
Where do your ideas come from?
It’s probably been about three or four years since I’ve written a story that was not solicited. Editors call me up and say, “I need a story about vampire kittens in space,” and I’m like, “Well, I don’t really have any of those” and before I can finish they say, “Well, I’ll give you this much money”, and I’m like, “Yep. I’ll do it.” (laughter)
But the trick is, whatever you write, you invest your whole self in it. So what I have to do when I write about those vampire cats in space or whatever is find the story in there that’s actually me, dealing with my dad or with women or something like that. And once you have that emotional core, that dynamo spinning, it just makes the cats in space come alive in a good way.
That is an inspirational kind of way of writing. I mean, that inspires you, if someone gives you a prompt…
I mean the real prompt is money. (laughter)
Who are some of your favorite writers?
I grew up on Stephen King, also by the time I was twelve I’d read all the Louis L’Amour up to that point which was ninety books, I think. Louis L’Amour is no friend of the Indian necessarily, but I didn’t know that back then. And then I found Conan, read through all the Conan. Man, I love Conan.
I love to read graphic novels, comic books, The Savage Sword of Conan and all that, yeah.
Have you ever thought about doing graphic novels?
I’ve actually produced my novel Demon Theory, I’ve turned it into a script and I’ve done one issue of it with an artist. We’ll probably get it out there at some point. It’s all ready. I’ve got a werewolf comic coming out in an anthology, I don’t know what the date is on that. But yeah, I’m all over comics.
Joe Lansdale, one of my favorite writers, said once that the reason he became a novelist or fiction writer was because he couldn’t draw. He couldn’t do comic books. And I feel like that’s kind of the case with me. I say I cut my teeth on L’Amour and Conan and all them, and I did, but at the same time I was living in comic books. And I still live in comic books, I’m there every Wednesday getting the new ones. I teach a comic book course as well.
What inspires your process?
It all comes down to voice. If you don’t have a voice, you can’t deliver the story. I’ve got shelves and shelves of notebooks with ideas in them and lines but none of them matter. If the voice doesn’t activate, then it’s just junk.
What do you mean when you say “voice?”
I was afraid you were going to ask that because I never have a good answer. But it’s kind of about tone, and it’s not about tense or diction or any of that. It’s about you found the optimum kind of angle of inflection, which will open a story up.
Whether it’s a story about 14-year-old kids going off in the fields and shooting birds or something, then initially you might think about telling it from a 14-year-old boy’s point of view, but the you realize, wait; I need to tell this from a 29-year-old’s point of view, looking back to when he was 14, and trying to identify that as a point at which he started to break up with the woman who’s now his wife, or something like that. That’s when it starts to become a story. You know, when you get the voice.
Check out Jones’ website at www.demontheory.net