Working in horror and humor with equal skill and wild abandon, Jeff Strand has been nominated four times for the Bram Stoker Award, and it’s nothing short of a crime he has yet to bring the statue home. He is one of the great authors to be included in Dark Regions Press’ new anthology of yuletide terror, Christmas Horror Vol. 2. So I tracked him down and asked him some questions about writing, reading, his story in the aforementioned anthology, and more. Luckily for us, he was kind enough to answer.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Jeff. Now before authors started to write they were readers. Who were some of the authors that inspired you, that made you want to keep reading and eventually start writing your own tales?
I literally can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. So there really wasn't ever an author who made me go "Oooooh, THAT'S what I want to do!" But there's no question that Douglas Adams inspired me (I didn't realize you were "allowed" to be that silly in a published book), along with Dave Barry and Richard Laymon.
When was your first sale and what market published it?
In 1996 I sold a humorous story called "The Private Diary of Leonard Parr" to the first (and only) issue of Twisted Magazine. That year, I attended Necon for the first time, and the magazine was included in the freebie bags, so I got to sign a lot of copies and feel like a celebrity. After the weekend was over, I quickly returned to my life of obscurity.
You’ve worked in many genres with many different flavors. There is of course horror, which you’ve done the most in, but there are also comedy, thrillers, even fairy tales. Other than horror, what is the genre that speaks to you the most?
Humor. My novel Kumquat is a comedy with no horror elements, as are most of my YA novels. I'd write more adult humor novels if they sold better.
Is there a genre/style you have yet to write in that you really want to?
I'd love to tackle a great big epic fantasy novel. Or put my quirky spin on a historical saga.
You’ve done a lot of short stories and full-length novels, which format do you prefer writing? Are there specific challenges to one that’s not there when doing the other?
I love 'em both, but ultimately I prefer novels. My challenge with short stories is that I'm really not a big "idea guy." I'm better at executing a premise than I am at coming up with the premise in the first place. But short stories are fun because I can be more experimental. I can try out weird new narrative voices and write from the perspective of unsavory characters who are great fun to read about for 10 pages but not 300. Novels are more satisfying to me, but I'm glad I don't have to choose between the two formats.
If I asked you for three stories or books that would give a reader who is unfamiliar with your work the best representation of you as an author, what would those three be?
When people ask, "Where should I start?" I almost always point them to Wolf Hunt or Blister, since those are probably the two where the humor and horror are the most balanced. After that, if I'm specifically going with "best representation" rather than "favorite," I'd point them to one of the short story collections, like Dead Clown Barbecue.
Do you have any advice to a new author just starting out?
Don't be in a hurry to get published. In today's world, you can finish your first novel and have it up on Amazon 12 hours after you type "The End." Don't do that. It's perfectly okay to write "practice" novels while you hone your craft. Before the Kindle, almost all authors had what were called "trunk novels," books that helped them learn to become a writer but weren't good enough to publish and were thus destined to be locked away in a trunk. There's no shame in a trunk novel.
Last I heard a book of yours, Stalking You Now, was getting the movie treatment. As someone that has a story stuck in option limbo for years, can you tell me how long this has been in the works? Has production started on it yet, or is there a scheduled date to start?
Mindy Has To Die (which is what they were calling the movie version of Stalking You Now) got halfway through production in Belfast, Ireland, and then shut down. I honestly don't know if they're going to finish it up, or if that's the end of it. I've had various other books considered for film treatment, and I can relate very easily to the whole "stuck in limbo" thing.
Are you involved with transitioning the story from the page to the screen? Is there anything you can share about that process?
I had no involvement with Stalking You Now; the script was written by director George Clarke. When a movie based on my novel Pressure was in development, I did several drafts of a screenplay after the "hot young new writers" they hired didn't deliver something that worked, but that one never moved forward. The only film adaptation of my work to actually get made was my short story "Gave Up The Ghost," which was directed by Gregory Lamberson as a segment of the horror anthology Creepers. For that one, I wrote the script, and I was on the set helping out with menial tasks and staying out of the way of the people who knew what they were doing.
What do you like most about being an author? What keeps you writing?
Fan mail! That's where my YA work has been so satisfying, because the goofy comedy of my books means that I get a lot of "I never enjoyed reading until I discovered your work" e-mails from kids. Because writing is my sole source of income, what keeps me writing is "money," but I kept writing for many, many years when I had a full-time day job and was getting teeny tiny wee adorable little royalty checks, so I suppose I also keep writing because I love it!
If you could change one thing about the writing and/or the publishing business, what would that be?
I would change the status of a couple of select editors from "employed" to "unemployed."
On to the new anthology from Dark Regions Press that you’re part of, Christmas Horror Vol. 2. What first attracted you to the book and to do something for it?
I'd published several books with Dark Regions, so my involvement was as simple as Chris Morey saying "Hey, would you write a story for this anthology?" I was in Volume 1 and thought the book turned out great, so I was excited about being part of the follow-up.
Your story in the book, “December Birthday”, spoke to me on a personal level as a December baby, so thanks for that. What can you tell me about your tale without giving too much away?
It's a greatly exaggerated look at how many of us feel when we receive gifts and are told "This is for your birthday AND Christmas!" It's never a double-value present. Maybe, just maybe, this could cause somebody to snap...
Do you see yourself revisiting any of the characters, locations, or themes of this story in later work?
Nah. I feel like this story is my final statement on the subject. Some literary works are rich tapestries that offer infinite storytelling possibilities in the world that the author has created, and some make their sick one-joke point and move on.
Can you give us any glimpse of what’s next from you or anything you’re working on right now?
Sick House is a very dark horror novel about a home invasion with ghosts. The publication date is "January 2018," which is when I'm answering this interview question, so it may or may not already be out by the time people read this. My next YA comedy, How You Ruined My Life, will be out in April. And there's plenty of other stuff on the way that I can't blab about yet.
What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?
Follow me on Twitter (@JeffStrand), friend me on Facebook (JeffStrandAuthor) or visit my website at www.JeffStrand.com.
Jeff Strand is a four-time nominee (and zero-time winner, but c'mon, he lost to Stephen King TWICE!) of the Bram Stoker Award.
His novels are usually classified as horror, but they're really all over the place, almost always with a great big dose of humor. He's written five young adult novels that all fall into the "really goofy comedy" category.
He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and one gigantic freaking cat.