Some time ago I talked with author Jeff Strand about his beginnings, his philosophy on tale telling, his experiences in the writing game, and his story of yuletide terror for the new anthology Christmas Horror Vol. 2. He was such a nice guy and so fun to talk to that I came up with whole new questions for him, specifically about his many books with Dark Regions Press. Thankfully he was kind enough to go through this again.
Brian M. Sammons – Thanks for taking the time to talk with me again, Jeff. Today I want to talk with you about your books published through Dark Regions Press. What was the first book of yours that they did?
Jeff Strand – GLEEFULLY MACABRE TALES. I'd been familiar with Dark Regions Press for a while, but it was after I saw what they did with Michael Arnzen's PROVERBS WITH MONSTERS that I thought, "I need to be published by them!"
BMS – That is a collection of yours, right? A compilation of three previously published chapbooks and some new stories on top? How rare are those chapbooks now? What was their original print run?
JS – The stories came from a variety of publications, but, yeah, four of them came from a trio of chapbooks: SOCIALLY AWKWARD MOMENTS WITH AN ASPIRING LUNATIC, FUNNY STORIES OF SCARY SEX, and TWO TWISTED NUTS. The first two had print runs of 150 and sold out very quickly. I'm not sure how often they pop up on eBay, but I'd guess that they're very difficult to acquire. TWO TWISTED NUTS had a 500-copy run that did NOT sell out quickly—the chapbook debuted in 2005 and Nick Cato at Novello Publishers says he still has about 70 of them left if you want one.
BMS – What can you tell us about the stories in GLEEFULLY MACABRE TALES? Such as the time period, where you were at in life when you penned them, or anything like that.
JS – They were written between 1996 and 2007, though only three of the stories came from the '90s, and two of those were from Christmas cards I used to send out to fellow horror authors. The big difference between this and future collections is that many of the stories were written without a market in mind. I'd write the story and then try to sell it. These days, I almost never write a story and say, "Gosh, what should I do with this now?" I write short stories because I promised to write somebody a short story!
BMS – It’s the dreaded Sophie's Choice question: what are three of your favorite stories out of that collection and why?
JS – I don't like that you're implying that the stories I don't choose will be killed. The Dark Regions version of GMT added the novella "Disposal," but it would be cheating to count that one. So I'll say "Really, Really Ferocious," which is one of my most popular stories and is still in heavy rotation when I do a live reading. I love the concept for "Special Features" (it's written as an audio commentary track on a DVD) and it's a rare piece of my writing where many years later I can still say, "Yep, nailed it!" My third choice has changed several times since I started typing the answer to this question, but I'm going to go with "The Bad Candy House," just because it's so mean.
BMS – You have another collection of short stories with Dark Regions Press called DEAD CLOWN BARBECUE. First, that’s a great title, where did it come from? I hate coming up with titles, do you find coming up with the perfect title easy or hard?
JS – The original title was 35 DEAD CLOWNS. I can't remember the inspiration for that title, except that the collection was going to have around 35 stories. But I had to lock in the title before I was done tweaking the final table of contents, and I didn't want to have to include or leave out a story just to keep the number at 35. So I changed it to DEAD CLOWN BARBECUE, which was infinitely better. The ease of a title varies from project to project; sometimes I'll have an awesome title before I've even started writing, and sometimes I'll be bashing my head against a desk trying to come up with something for a completed manuscript.
BMS – What can you tell us about this collection and when were those tales written?
JS – They were written between 2006 and 2013. DEAD CLOWN BARBECUE is an interesting example of promo that backfired. So if somebody publishes a single-author collection, it's rarely a case of the author writing all of those stories specifically for that book. Almost all collections (as opposed to multi-author anthologies) are primarily reprints. With DCB, I thought it would be cool to boost the amount of original content, so the book contained seven brand-new stories, which is way above average. And that became part of the marketing: "Includes seven brand-new stories!"
Unfortunately, what happened is that people instead focused on the high number of reprints. "Only seven of these are new?" And in fact the Dark Regions banner ad, which proudly announced the seven new stories, made some people think it was ONLY seven stories, instead of the rather hefty collection that it is. Doing the extra work gave the impression that I'd done less work! My third collection also contained a lot of brand-new material but I didn't make quite as big of a deal about it.
BMS – Now give me give at least three of your favorite stories from it.
JS – At least three? Oooh, you're making it easier. "Pet Semmuteary," "The Apocalypse Ain't So Bad," "Mr. Twitcher's Miracle Baby Chopping-Machine," "Specimen 313," "Gramma's Corpse," and "Dummy."
BMS – Your novel DWELLER is about a boy and his monster. Where did that idea come from?
JS – I was looking for a horror trope to mess with, and I liked the "bullied kid feeds his tormentors to a monster" one. The twist was the immense scope: the book would follow these characters for their entire lives, childhood to old age. (Which, incidentally, was a tough sell to my editor at Leisure.) I'd originally envisioned a reptilian creature living in a well, but decided that was too limiting for a story that covered six or seven decades, so I went with a Bigfoot-like creature.
BMS – What was something that you wanted to make sure you had in in this novel? What did you purposely steer clear of?
JS – Heart. I wanted it to be a genuinely touching friendship between a boy and his monster. I didn't purposely steer clear of anything, but my editor did say that the whole book couldn't be, "Awww, isn't that sweet?"
BMS – Some people are not fans of monsters. I am, can I take it by this book and what will follow that you are, too? What draws you to inhuman horrors?
JS – They're fun! I've written plenty of books dealing with human horrors, and will continue to do so, and I won't even say that I prefer inhuman horrors because I do love my psycho killers...but monsters are fun. Lots of fun.
BMS – As I alluded to, your novel, WOLF HUNT, has werewolves in it. As a Lycan lover, thanks for that. What drew you to the shapechangers? What about them compelled you to tell your own hair raising tale?
JS – Y'know, I pretty much enjoy all monsters. When one of my favorite movies is AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON or one of my favorite books is THE WOLF'S HOUR, it's out of love for that particular story. Werewolves, zombies, ghosts, mummies...they're all fine with me. So honestly I picked werewolves because I hadn't done a werewolf novel yet!
BMS – When you came up with the idea of WOLF HUNT, did you know from the start that this book would spawn a sequel or did the idea grow on you over time?
JS – It was not originally conceived as a series, but while I was writing it, I realized that I was really enjoying George and Lou and would like to bring them back in a future book. I toyed with two possibilities: having them face off a new monster in each installment, or continuing the werewolf saga. I went with continuing the werewolf saga.
BMS – Your most recent book to come out through Dark Regions Press is that book, WOLF HUNT 2. What can you tell us about that one?
JS – I tried to make it funnier, meaner, and with even more violent action. When you're writing a horror sequel with the same heroes, it can feel like the stakes are lower, so I tried to avoid that with this book.
BMS – Can you say if a WOLF HUNT 3 is lurking in the shadows somewhere?
JS – There will definitely be WOLF HUNT 3. Probably in 2019. Admittedly, I've been saying "probably next year" since WOLF HUNT 2 came out. I'm planning to write one doozy of a finale to the trilogy, but I do tend to focus on non-sequel stuff.
BMS – What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
JS – Lots of stuff. Cool stuff. But I'm being annoyingly secretive. 2018 has already brought SICK HOUSE, HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE, and BRING HER BACK, and there's more to come before the clock strikes 2019.
BMS – What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?
JS – Follow me on Twitter (@JeffStrand), friend me on Facebook (JeffStrandAuthor) or visit my website at . While they're on my website, they should subscribe to my newsletter, which has a brand-new short story every issue.
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.