When The Spooks Come Out – MMP Interview with S R Jones…
On March 15, Martian Migraine Press will be releasing SOFT FROM ALL THE BLOOD: 7 Surreal Tales of Terror by S R Jones. This is a strange and unsettling collection of fiction, so the Face sat down with Jones for a little chat about writer’s shame, writer’s block, and the curse of H P Lovecraft. The results were strange. And unsettling…
MMP: So, we’re fairly excited and proud to be bringing out SOFT FROM ALL THE BLOOD in a couple of weeks! It’s a weird little book and we think folks are going to dig it. Are you a weird little man?
Jones: I’m 6 feet 2 inches, so I’m gonna say no. As for weird, well, I can never hear that word without flashing on the original definition. It’s Celtic or some such thing, and basically, it means “that which actually happens”, like the actions of the gods, as opposed to all the everyday stuff. So you’re asking me if I’ve happened, or am happening, and I’m going to have to go with no on that one too. I’m not weird, because I don’t feel real, or actual, at all, most days. Which can be a handy mode of being… but I want to be weird. Someday. I would like to actually happen.
MMP: You sound like Pinnochio. And pretty weird.
Jones: Ha ha! Yeah, a real boy. I think we’ve all got this problem, only writers are perhaps a little more honest about it. More comfortable with saying hey, I’m not really here, I’m just a vehicle for these other people, these characters, who are even less real, but more entertaining. I dunno.
MMP: You write in the afterword for SOFT that you find writing embarrassing. Most writers we’ve met tend to let you know right away that they write, but not you. Can you explain why?
Jones: Well, horror writing is embarrassing, for sure. I don’t know why. I think it’s basically admitting, in a really kind of intimate but also public way, that you’ve thought about these things. Just to get them onto the page, you have to think about them. Cannibalism, knife play, mutations, demons…
MMP: Mutant demons.
Jones: With knives! I remember when I was writing Coronation, which is the second story in SOFT, when I was writing that I was also reading, for the first and last time, thank god, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. And a passage in that, y’know, a passage describing a murder or murders, just something really appalling and horrific, coming right after an entire chapter on the merits of different brands of mineral water or something… this passage comes out of nowhere and hits me right upside the head and I get physically ill. And part of that, that sickness, y’know, running to the toilet to puke and everything, part of that was due to the realization that Ellis, well, he had to go there, to that place, in order to put it down on paper. There was no distance, in that moment, between the writer and the reader and I felt too close to that guy, too in his head. The paper was too flimsy a barrier between his reality and mine.
Which is great, because it means the writing worked the way it’s supposed to, but also kind of embarrassing, because that’s his head, or my head, spilled out. In public. It’s a shame, a shame that I guess the good writers have to bear. But we do it, usually in a compulsive way, and hopefully it’s entertaining.
MMP: Some would say that writing like Ellis’ is courageous, since he “goes there” and these days you hear a lot of writing coaches and inspirational speakers talk about how writers are brave. Do you agree? Does writing take courage?
Jones: Can’t speak for others, can I? But no, I don’t think we are. No writer is out there saving the world, and I don’t necessarily trust the ones who say they are. I mean, there are probably brave writers out there? And maybe lots who need to feel brave to do what they do. But I’ve never felt that. You know, you can’t escape addiction, so choose yours carefully, right? There’s worse things you can do to yourself than write, it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else all that much. Okay, maybe a little. But it’s still an addiction. The language virus working itself out in an interesting way.
MMP: Sounds like Burroughs…
Jones: I love Burroughs. He’s my cure for writer’s block.
MMP: How does that work?
Jones: It’s just his ability to see beyond the ego that writers develop. Can’t recall how he said it exactly, but there’s an interview with him out there that has him saying something like “look, the book is already there and the good writer takes dictation” or finds them, in the ontic sphere or the Platonic realm or whatever. Checks them out of the astral Library. Finds them and copies them out. The poet Jack Spicer used to say the same thing, that the poet needs to rid themselves of all the ego-fictions, clear all the cheap furniture from his head and then just, y’know, just listen. Listen to the Outside, to the spooks and the Martians.
That’s what I try to do, mostly unsuccessfully, when I get blocked. Realize that the block is, somehow, me: my identity and my needs and personal crap. And then just stop and listen. Late at night, usually.
MMP: When the spooks come out? So Spicer and Burroughs are obviously big influences on you.
Jones: Oh yeah.
MMP: But there’s no indication of that in SOFT. If anything, the writer who seems to influence you most in these stories is H P Lovecraft.
Jones: Aaggh. That name…
MMP: A holy name, in some circles!
Jones: Oh, absolutely. In my circles, too. No, I got hit by Lovecraft early on, what, late teens, early 20s? And I’m still working him out of my system. Worse, when I found HPL I found Brian Lumley at the same time… Lovecraft in one of those old Ballantine paperbacks with the surreal art on a black cover, The Lurking Fear, I think it was, and Lumley’s Return of the Deep Ones at the shop. Bought them both. So there’s Lovecraft, the original, and then an example of a decades-later interpretive, and some would say derivative, writer riffing on Lovecraft.
MMP: Not even riffing. Pastiche. There’s many who hate Lumley…
Jones: So glorious, though! I’m not one of them, I love Lumley’s brand of muscular, almost gleeful horror. You just know, as you’re reading, that he’s totally enjoying himself! No shame there, and I guess I admire that. Just tapping away there in England, grinning. I mean, come on, Necroscope? That series? That man was having a balls-out crazy good time and the reader could tell! It’s infectious. Which is perhaps what appeals to so many about HPL, too. Not that he was having a good time, if the biographies speak truly, but, y’know, the man was invested. We read HPL not so much because the stories are good (although in many ways they are) but because the man is in there, inside his stories. And he’s interesting.
But yeah, those were my early influences and I made all the usual newbie mistakes with my efforts round that period. In fact, I’m working right now on re-tooling my first novel, The Waiting Deeps, which is… I mean, talk about embarrassment, this thing is a mutant child best left in the attic…
MMP: How do you mean, re-tooling?
Jones: It’s everything you shouldn’t do in Lovecraftian fiction, a real object lesson. It is the worst kind of pastiche, which is to say it copies all the tropes and typical flourishes of HPL without an authentic appreciation of what makes HPL work. So, I’m making the object lesson obvious, re-tooling it as a guide, and re-titling it The Waiting Deeps: How Not To Write A Lovecraftian Novel.
MMP: Sounds educational and fun!
Jones: So fun. And embarrassing for me, but I get to go back and horribly abuse the Jones from 1996, and maybe help new writers not make the same mistakes.
MMP: Maybe three of the seven stories in SOFT could be called Lovecraftian…
Jones: Well, Greetings from Sunny R’lyeh, yes, definitely, and Notebook Found In A Deserted Houseboat, that’s a nod to Bloch and HPL. Coronation is a speck of Bierce filtered, magnified through HPL. The Frozen is another nod, but to Derleth, really, more than anyone else…
MMP: That’s four.
Jones: Oh. Yeah, there’s four. That’s four out of seven. Alright, it’s a big old Lovecraft-fest, I guess!
MMP: I was going to say that your protaganists are not of the usual type. Mostly they just seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jones: Yeah. I got tired of writing about men of learning learning too much, right? That’s the pastiche trap. “Now that I know what I know, I wish I didn’t know it, oh god, the hand at the window, etc.” So in Greetings, which I’m not especially proud of, because it’s a clumsy attempt at cyberpunk with a little Cthulhu thrown in…
MMP: A lot.
Jones: Okay, a lot. In it you’ve got these media punks who just consume everything, that’s their way, their mode of being, and should we feel sorry for them that they consume a little cosmic madness along the way? No. I wanted to say something about sanity as a commodity, I guess, which I think we as a society might be just giving away without knowing it, but I don’t think I said it all that well.
And in Notebook, I wanted to just explore the idea that it’s a harsh, weird world, and sometimes when harsh things happen to decent people, it just opens a door and invites more of the same into their lives. I wanted to take that as far as it could go, so we have a protaganist in Notebook who thinks he’s lost everything, but he’s wrong. And the Universe, cold bitch that she is, educates him as to her nastiness and brutishness and shortness. Though not so much with the latter. He’s a victim, totally.
MMP: But a deserving one?
Jones: No, not at all. With him, it’s literally a case of turning left when you should have gone right. That’s what eventually feels so arch and false about HPLs protaganists: they could stop researching anytime! Don’t read that horrible old book, dude. You know it’s horrible, you’ve read the insane journal of the guy who read it before you and he died in the asylum, put it away! Jesus. We feel no sympathy for the Danforths and the Armitages and their colleagues because they’re idiots on one level, they walk right into their fates with eyes wide. Same thing with some of Steven King’s characters. You always know which ones are going to get it in the end. Which is not how the world works.
So my characters are victims, mostly, and sometimes they walk right into it, but in the same way you or I would turn a corner, or make one bad decision. Eyes to the ground, or turned inwards. So there’s some sympathy for them, because we all do that to a greater or lesser degree. It’s the horror of the shoulda-woulda-coulda…
MMP: Earlier you mentioned media consumption and it’s made me think of hype and spin. Would you say that there’s fear of a future event, the hype, and then the event itself, and then after the event the spin, or regret? I mean in the case of these stories, specifically.
Jones: And regret is the worse portion? Interesting, I hadn’t thought of that. Living to regret something is perhaps worse than the actual thing or action. Yeah, I can see that applying. This could be a book about regret.
MMP: As a writer, do you regret being influenced by Lovecraft?
Jones: Ha! No. Sure, he’s a curse, and maybe you never really get over him. But he’s fun. Fun on one level and actually pretty profound on other levels, and if you can get over the aping of his style, I think he does some decent things for your world view and your art. He’s a curse, but in the same way that getting bit by a werewolf is a curse.
MMP: Pretty sure that is a curse!
Jones: Yeah, but let’s face it, at the end of the day, or night, I guess, after all the pain and weirdness and blood, guess what, you still got to turn into a wolf! You’ve always got that. And that’s pretty cool, that’s a decent trade off, to my mind. HPL is like that for me.
MMP: Alright! One last question: your initials. Care to enlighten us?
Jones: The R is for Rabid.
MMP: And S?
SOFT FROM ALL THE BLOOD: 7 Surreal Tales of Terror by S R Jones will be released as a Kindle e-book on March 15.
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