Name: Stephen Graham Jones
Books Authored: 16
Awards: Shirley Jackson Award finalist (three times), National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Fiction recipient, This Is Horror Novel of the Year winner, Colorado Book Award finalist
Favorite Authors: Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Stephen King
Colorado Hangouts: Time Warp Comics, Boulder Book Store, Casa Alvarez
Author Stephen Graham Jones doesn’t just write graphic horror novels; he rips through them. The 41-year-old University of Colorado Boulder English professor has published 16 books (several of them critically acclaimed) since 2000, and he has another five slated for release within the next year. The Least of My Scars, which follows a hit man who is contracted to kill anyone who knocks on his apartment door, lands on bookshelves this fall. We sat down with Jones to talk werewolves, monsters, and, of course, Stephen King.
What makes something scary?
Something is scary if it seems both possible and likely. The more real you make your werewolf, and the more you put your reader in its possible victim pool, the scarier that werewolf is. Something’s also scary if it taps into those primal fears we have: drowning, burning, falling. A movie like, say, The Descent tapped into our instinctual fears of enclosed spaces, of darkness.
What’s your favorite horror figure?
Werewolves. I think they’re cool. I spent a lot of time when I was 12 years old trying to be a werewolf. It hasn’t worked out, but it may be a delayed reaction.
You moved to Boulder from Texas five years ago. What was it like moving away from the place where you’ve produced so much of your fiction?
I was ready. I’d been there pretty much my whole life. When they were interviewing me [at CU], they asked how moving here would affect the trajectory of my career. I told them I figured I’d start writing about Texas, and sure enough, that’s the first book I kicked out in Colorado—Growing Up Dead In Texas. I think you need some distance from a place to properly mythologize it. As writers, we only know the contours of one emotional landscape, and for me that is West Texas. If I write a novel set on Mars in 2099, it’s still going to be about my neighbor from two pastures down, and he’s going to be the alien.
Has Colorado affected your writing?
When I see the mountains every day when I’m driving or riding my bike, I think, what’s going to come over that mountain? It’s like a story space for me.
Stephen King: overrated or underrated?
Underrated. He tells visceral stories and doesn’t let us look away from the page. What more can we ask? J.K. Rowling gets credit for bringing so many readers to the table, but come on. Before King, as I understand, there wasn’t even a horror section in bookstores. Rowling infected a generation, but King changed the actual landscape.
5280.com Exclusive: Still curious about Jones and his knack for horror? Read more of his interview below.
Tell me about your process. How do you churn out so many books?
If I’m writing a novel, I’ll usually get about four hours each day, but it won’t be four straight hours—usually two two-hour sessions.
You create a playlist for every novel you write. Any Colorado artists make the cut?
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. When I first moved to town, I became friends with Daniel Grandbois, their bass player, but by then I’d already been listening to them a bit. Their live shows are the best around. And didn’t Supertramp and Elton John record somewhere up Boulder Canyon? If we can count them as local, then them too.
Why do zombies seem to be so popular all of a sudden?
Vampires kind of ran their course, so we reached into our Universal Monsters action figure set and brought the zombie back. We could have gone werewolf, but werewolves don’t have that apply-anywhere appeal that zombies do. And they don’t have near the scourge index. Zombies wipe out continents. Werewolves open a few throats and then get shot. And ghosts—ghosts are definitely good, but they tend to result in one kind of story: something bad was done in the past and has to be righted. That’s not nearly so fun or so immediate as a horde of zombies boiling over the horizon.