Welcome Tuesday readers, I’ve got such a treat for you today, you are not going to want to miss this. It’s an interview with Jeff Strand, one of the hardest working writers I know. Jeff and I first met in the Sourcebooks booth at ALA 2016. I could tell he was full of stories, I mean chock full, I mean so completely stuffed with stories that you just wanted to open him up and make him spill his guts on the floor. OK. That would be very dramatic and also very messy. So instead I asked him to talk with us today. At the end of the interview you can tell me if I made the right decision.
Jeff Strand is a four-time nominee (and zero-time winner) of the Bram Stoker Award.
His novels are usually classified as horror, but they’re really all over the place, from comedies to thrillers to drama to, yes, even a fairy tale.
His book STALKING YOU NOW is being made into the feature film MINDY HAS TO DIE.
Because he doesn’t do cold weather anymore, he lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and cat.
SR: I’m not even really sure where to start. I’ve read tons of interviews on you and I feel incapable of capturing your brilliance (snark) or that of your interviewers. So let’s just stick to the facts and I’ve got to say they are preeetty impressive: 4 Bram Stoker nominations, a movie adaptation of one of your books, short stories in notable anthologies, and just recently, have a book mentioned on Cultured Vulture’s List of 13 Halloween Books You Should Read (If You Dare) and tons of appearances at writing conferences and panels. How do you do it all? And what’s your favorite part of this business?
JS: Ultimately, it comes down to the scientific formula of “Writing = Butt in chair.” I like to joke around and call myself a lazy slacker, and I’m far from immune to the distractions of the Internet, but ultimately, writing IS my job, and I treat it like one. So I pretty much get out of bed and get to work.
My favorite part of the business is going to conventions, where I get to see my writer friends and feel like a semi-celebrity for a weekend, before returning to my life of obscurity.
SR: I love the conventions and conferences also! I feel like a real writer when I’m there. So let’s talk about your latest release, Cyclops Road.
Evan Portin is at a sad, scary place in his life. While taking a long walk to compose himself and figure out where to go from here, he encounters a young woman being mugged in a park.
When he tries to intervene, he discovers that she doesn’t need his help. At all.
Her name is Harriett. She is very, very good at defending herself. Everything she owns is in a large backpack. She’s never seen a cell phone. She’s never been in a car. She’s never really ventured into the outside world.
And she says she’s traveling across the country to slay a Cyclops.
She’s crazy, right? Evan is not in the habit of hanging out with delusional women he’s just met. On the other hand, it can’t hurt to offer her a ride out of town. And maybe this insane journey is exactly what he needs…
SR: Can you tell us specifically what made Cyclops Road the story you wanted to tell?
JS: Many of my book ideas go through a long gestation period before I start writing them, and it’s also not uncommon for me to write a few chapters and then take part of that concept and turn it into something else. Cyclops Road was sort of a reworking of a barely-started project called The Dragonslayers Five. I took the germ of that idea, changed the dragon to a Cyclops, and also changed…well, basically everything. The story appealed to me because it covered so much territory: it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s action-packed, it’s scary, and it’s got a great big mystery at its core. Of course, that made it officially a “cross-genre” novel, which creates its own set of problems…
SR: As an author, we all worry about how to get our books into the hands of our readers. I feel like you’ve sort of nailed that. Can you tell us about the brainstorming that goes into your titles and your covers in general and then especially as it relates to Cyclops Road.
JS: The titles come from a lot of time spent looking through a thesaurus, by which I mean using www.thesaurus.com. I keep plugging in words related to plot or theme until something sparks an idea. Then I’ll go to Amazon, discover that a dozen other books have already used that title, and try again. Sometimes the marketing team takes over and comes up with their own title, as with I Have a Bad Feeling About This, Stranger Things Have Happened, and Wolf Hunt. Cyclops Road was originally called The Odyssey of Harriett, but I decided to go with something that had a “darker” tone, and I’d also already reached my limit of people saying “Ozzie & Harriett? Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!”
I’m not good with cover ideas. My upcoming novella An Apocalypse of Our Own
has the exact cover image I suggested (a guy in a Hazmat suit holding a heart-shaped box of chocolates) but much of the time my involvement is minimal or non-existent. For my young adult novels, I’m not even consulted. I’m a “hybrid” author, so I self-publish as well as work with traditional publishers, and my wife Lynne Hansen does all of my self-pubbed covers. For those, I’ll describe the tone I’m looking for, but pretty much all of the ideas come from her. And in fact the title Cyclops Road was her suggestion, because it tied in with her cover concept.
SR:At the beginning of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever you tell your readers that there are no real zombies in the book but you ask them to go on this journey with you anyway. (Which they happily do). Do you want to tell the Tuesday Writers’ readers if there is an actual Cyclops in Cyclops Road? Or is that one of those read to find out sort of questions?
JS: It’s very much a “If you want to know if there’s a real Cyclops, read the book!” situation. When I came up with the basic premise, I worked out two completely different paths it could take in the final chapters. I was excited about both of them, but I committed to one of the paths very early in the process. Obviously, the novel doesn’t end with the characters saying, “Oh well, no Cyclops here,” shrugging, and returning home.
And, yeah, with The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever I wanted to make it clear that this was NOT a book where kids making a zombie movie are suddenly forced to use their expertise to fight off a real horde of the living dead. My (ex)-agent wanted it to have a real zombie attack, but that was never part of the concept.
SR:Can you give our readers a piece of writing advice?
JS: Writing is like sports, musical instruments, or pretty much anything else: it takes practice. It’s totally fine if the first book you write is complete garbage. It’s fine if the first TEN books you write are complete garbage. Just keep writing. I’m a huge fan of self-publishing, but the “trunk novel” should still play a valuable role in your development as a writer.
SR: Road trip books are some of my favorite kinds of books. What is your favorite road trip book of all time other than Cyclops Road?
JS: It would be unspeakably tacky of me to say my other road trip novel, Kumquat, so I won’t. Does Stephen King’s The Stand count? If it doesn’t, then I’ll say The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison. I probably missed my actual favorite, and I’ll have to call you in the midde of the night to issue a correction.
SR: Of course The Stand counts as a road trip novel! I’ve never read the Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and now I have to! You are very active in the horror and film community. Can you tell us a little about how that relates to your #authorlife.
JS: A lot of it is just social. You hang out with people who share similar interests! I’d been attending, for example, The Halloween Horror Picture Show in Tampa as a fan for well over a decade before a short film I wrote, “Gave Up The Ghost,” played there. But at the same time, networking is a major part of this business. A couple of my highest-profile anthology appearances came from the editor saying “Jeff! Author XXX missed his deadline and I need a story ASAP! Can you help me out?” The actual writing should always be the top priority, but authors should definitely become part of their writing community, whether by joining groups, going to conventions, or whatever.
SR: One of the things that impresses me about you is how hard you work and how prolific a writer you are. Can you share some of your writing process?
JS: I don’t like to work from an outline (though sometimes it’s required) but I like to know some key plot points ahead of time, and have at least a vague idea of how it’s going to end. The suggestion of “Just get the first draft done, then worry about revising it later” is a good one, but it’s most definitely NOT how I work. I revise constantly as I go, so much so that by the time I’m done with my first draft, it’s almost the final draft. Then it’s off to about four or five beta readers for their savage feedback, and then off to the editor, after which I start the process all over again.
SR: Here’s the question everyone wants to know….on your website you say you live with your wife and cat. Why not dogs? Are you anti-dog? Or simply pro-cat. Please defend.
My book Kutter takes a hardcore pro-dog stance, and my support for pugs taking over the world is a matter of public record. That said, cats are self-cleaning and you can leave them if you’re gone for a couple of days. I am in favor of all pets, except for tarantulas and uncaged lions.
SR: I know asking a person’s number may seem indelicate, but can you tell me how many books and stories you’ve had published to date?
JS: Twenty-three novels, eight novellas, two short story collections, two collaborative novels, and over a hundred short stories.
SR: Slacker! Not. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.
That’s it for today’s feature! Comment below to critique my interviewing style or to send some love to Jeff!