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Stephen Graham Jones

CultAdmin's picture Posted by CultAdmin

Stephen Graham Jones

The Dark Professor
Rob Hart
Stephen Graham Jones

Craig Clevenger and Will Christopher Baer have long since graced this section, adding to a valuable tool for writers - ramblings from the wordsmiths themselves, about what they do and why they do it.

Now, the third and final arm of The Velvet has gotten his chance to weigh in - Stephen Graham Jones.

The Texas resident is author of All The Beautiful Sinners, Bleed Into Me, The Bird is Gone, The Fast Red Road and the upcoming Demon Theory, as well as a slew of short stories.

His work, steeped in his own Native American heritage, is tense, funny and at times, viciously heartfelt. And, as luck would have it, he loves to talk writing.

Stephen was gracious enough to sit down with me (on AOL Instant Messenger) for a rock-star session that lasted over two hours.

This is the result.

Rob Hart: To start off, could you tell me a little about yourself? Where you grew up, your education?

Stephen Graham Jones: Grew up in Greenwood, Texas, which isn't a real place, I don't guess. It's fifteen or so miles east of Midland, anyway. Didn't have a post office. Could still find my uncle's initials carved into the wall of the gym. The fight song, my mom said she wrote one of the early versions of it. That kind of place. As for education: went to school pretty steady until about tenth grade, I guess, then had all kinds of adventures until college suddenly happened. BA in English & Philosophy at Texas Tech, then an MA over at North Texas, then a good fellowship for my PhD at Florida State. All in all, eight years of post high school schooling.

RH: Your mom was a musician?

SGJ: Well, she played piano anyway. But no, not a musician.

RH: Ok. Creativity does tend to run in the family, though.

SGJ: Yeah. I've got a lot of brothers and sisters, and nearly all of them are into some kind of artistry, be it with words, paints, music, tools, whatever. It's just built into us, I guess.

RH: Was there a point or a person that sparked your interest in writing? I can peg it down to 7th grade, Mrs. Knoll.

SGJ: It was more like I was - or am, maybe - trying to get back at all those teachers who always told me I was gutter-bound. But yeah, there were some good teachers in there. A couple of them even believed in me, which meant the world. The rest just wanted me to keep my greasy head off their chalkboards. Had one teach make me stick my tongue out, so he could masking tape it out. Kind of an ugly scene. Thankful for him, though. He was one of the ones who didn't believe in me.

RH: So you weren't a "teacher's pet"?

SGJ: I don't know. I passed one of my science classes by babysitting the teacher's daughter. We'd go to the lab supply closet thing and make masks and play with stuff for the whole period. Then I magically got a grade. Had another teacher want me to move in with her. Then I had others who were always just getting me kicked out of school.

RH: Forgot to ask, but just for some context, mind if I ask how old you are?

SGJ: Thirty-three, I think. If it's 2005 - no, 2006 - and I was born in '72, then that's thirty-three, yeah? Just a few days away from thirty-four, though...

Janet Burroway introduced me to her editor, Janet Silver, I think, and, I don't know why, I just started lying and lying, about this novel I'd just written. - SGJ

RH: Do you remember the first story you had published?

SGJ: First in a big journal was "Paleogenesis, ca 1970," in The Black Warrior Review. Before that, I had a story "Three days and Eleven Years" in, I think, The North Texas Review. And before that, had a piece - maybe it was "Two for Breakfast," or maybe it was this one story about a parrot - in this little mag called Mindpurge. Think I have the only copy still in existence.

RH: From your Web site, I get the impression you have some rejection letters lying around - do you have any guess of how many?

SGJ: Man. I'd guess in the arena of 200+. Recently bribed somebody to put them all in this huge three-ring binder for me. It's a brick of a thing. I keep it right on my desk, for shame-purposes.

RH: Wow. Do you know your ratio of rejected/accepted?

SGJ: Way less than 10% accepted.

RH: But still some, so there is hope. Do you still get rejections?

SGJ: Sure. All the time. I use them like those teachers we were talking about earlier: people (places) I now want to show up.


RH: Now, was All The Beautiful Sinners your first novel?

SGJ: No, my second. Second published. Like 6th written, or something. THE FAST RED ROAD was my first, in 2000. Then I wrote and had THE BIRD IS GONE accepted, and THEN sold ATBS. But ATBS came out before BIRD. Now DEMON THEORY's on the way, and I wrote it right in the wake of FAST RED ROAD. Right before BIRD, almost. But then I've never stopped writing it either, as my editor could attest.

RH: Can you tell me what it was like the first time, from inception to publication?

SGJ: First time: FC2 just told me get the thing ready, which I did. Oh, wait. That's not where it starts. It starts at this party at FSU, with all these big wig editors. Janet Burroway introduced me to her editor, Janet Silver, I think, and, I don't know why, I just started lying and lying, about this novel I'd just written. Was making it up as I went, too, and could feel myself getting loster and loster. So went home at two that morning and started FAST RED ROAD, which was called GOLIUS: A FAILED SESTINA or something at the time. And THEN I wrote it out, used it for my dissertation, and, surprise, my committee liked it enough that one of them volunteered to get it published for me if I wanted. But of course that seemed too easy. So I got one of my friend's in NY to pretend he was an agent, go into all these places after hours and use their letter head etc, and submit it all over. Which got me and him a lot of rejections, and maybe him in some trouble. So then I came crawling back to that professor, asked if the offer was still stood. It was, and it happened, and THEN I got the thing what I thought was perfect, gave it to them, at which point they chewed it up just enough to make me consider suicide, and I made it better, and maybe we did that again, and then I had it wrung out by the proofreader, who preferred 'america' and 'coke' to be in the uppercase, and then, suddenly, bam, I guess there were galleys floating around, then the novel. As for the galleys, too, I'm not confident I ever saw one until Mirka here showed me one. But then I dug in some dusty box, and there in a padded envelope was a galley of FAST. Which I thought was so cool. But anyway, yeah, then it got out there, pulled some good reviews - PopMatters was best, I think, though I dug the "My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys" one too - won some awards, lost some others, and, I don't know. I've written a page here accidentally, I think. All shaky - just slammed a vanilla coke, so I could get in the mood of ATBS, which you mentioned having.

RH: ATBS I really liked... alot. I also have The Bird Is Gone, but had to put it aside for a couple of books I need to read for my new job. As soon as I finish these textbooks, it's back to TBIG.

SGJ: Just hope it doesn't twist your mind like it did mind. Promised myself to never do that again. And then I got lost in DEMON THEORY all over again...

RH: Twisting is half the fun. How long does it usually take for you to write a book?

SGJ: I've done it in as few as 72 hours and taken as long as ten months. or, counting DEMON THEORY, seven, almost eight years.

RH: Which one was 72 hours?

SGJ: THE HEDONIST CHRONICLES. It was for that 3-day novel contest. A beautiful, wonderful time. Had, I think, twelve pounds of manwhich, three bags of Fritos, lots of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET cued up, and just liters and liters of vanilla pepsi (it'd just come out then (I stared ATBS within a day or two of vanilla coke coming out - it's why I associate the two (some pretty important mile markers, I know))).

RH: I'm curious, in ATBS, the main character, Jim Doe -- why is his whole name used every time, outside of dialogue? And why the proximity to John Doe?

SGJ: Maybe I was thinking of John Doe from that old ROADSIDE PROPHETS (isn't that what it was called?). But, really, Hillerman already had 'Jim Chee' all sucked up. Too, it's always funny to me how in Indian stories, the Indian everyman can never be just 'Ted' or 'Walter' or anything. Guess it makes them more 'spiritual' or 'noble' or whatever if you can make their name sound foreign by always saying all of it. Which is a fun thing to play with. Or, too, could be that the first two Jims I think of when I hear that name, neither of them - well, I don't want to think about them. So I don't.

RH: Did you do a lot of research for the novel? There's some pretty deep criminal psychology going on there...

SGJ: For ATBS, yeah. Man. I read, I suspect, a solid 60% of the pop-lit on serial killers out there. Everything off the Schecter-shelf anyway. And a lot more besides. Which isn't so good for somebody already paranoid to the  point where it's hard to function like a normal person. Like, today, catching WOLF CREEK in a huge tilted-over theater where I was the only human in there. Kept edging up and up, until my back was to the wall.

RH: What was it that inspired you for that particular story?

SGJ: For ATBS? An episode of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES, where Mr. Spooky Voice dude was talking about that little girl who was abducted in the wake of the big tornado in 1947, up just over the Oklahoma line. It stuck. I wrote in my notebook "most successful killer in American history hides his kills in natural disasters,' or something like that. Then, like a year later, I was talking to this publisher who wanted me to write a thriller for them. So I paged through a few notebooks, centered on that. But that's just a premise, I guess. The real trick's getting inside the story, living there. Hurting and laughing and making yourself vulnerable to the point where . . . I don't know. To unhealthy points, I suspect. But then playing AD&D, I never could separate myself from my character. Like, needed some serious alone-time if all his hit points got taken away, or he lost his good sword, etc.


SGJ: Of course.

RH: What's that?

SGJ: Oh: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

RH: That legend, in the book -- two Native American children taken by a storm -- is that a real legend?

SGJ: Man, I can't even remember anymore. I do recall - this is just from research, from anthropologist notes that I'm sure were smuggled out in some truly evil fashion - something about some 'flint children' or something. But yeah, that whole Indian-myth thing, it got pushed a whole lot more in the marketing of ATBS than I'd pushed it in the novel, I think. Unless I disremember.

RH: It was more marketing, so maybe it shadowed the reading experience...

SGJ: Yeah, could be.

RH: You're Native American, correct? Can you tell me a bit about your heritage?

SGJ: I'm Blackfeet. Which, even if there's just one of me in the room, I'm still Blackfeet. As opposed to 'Blackfoot,' which is what the Blackfeet are in Canada. As for heritage, I don't know: does MTV count? Like I said, grew up in West Texas, and Texas of course is just very very proud of having chased all the Indians out, then shot their horses too...

But I do lots of stupid things. Just because, sometimes, once every hundred times, they work. - SGJ

RH: It plays very strongly in your writing.

SGJ: Yeah, until I was about twenty-two, I think, I never realized that the reason all my characters were part Indian was that that was the only person I felt I could authentically render. Still most comfortable there, I suppose. But it's not the bears and eagles and suns kind of Indian either. Which I don't have anything against - I sound like Seinfeld episode now, I know - it's just not what I'm into. But I do like blasting deer. I mean, in a nice way, of course. But then that's hardly just an Indian thing. If I wanted to fit the stereotype, I'd use a sharp knife or something, and hold it between my teeth as I dove onto the deer's back. Which, I mean, if I could ever GET that close...

RH: This isn't necessarily a writing question, but maybe it could shed some light on your writing choices - how do you feel about the way Native Americans have seen their history play out in America?

SGJ: The way I feel about how the history of Indians in America had played out, anyway, it's like, I don't know: it feels like ironic laughter sometimes. Like I can almost hear it. Like, in Silko's CEREMONY, I think, a smart character suggests that what Indians are doing is just waiting out this white tide. But maybe that's a bit idealistic too, I know. It's easy to use your status as a vanquished people to explain away your current, possibly self-destructive behavior too. Like, that's a way of not buying into this new way: by killing yourself, slow or fast. I don't know. This is so complicated. And I'm always trying to answer it, I suspect.

RH: Yea, this is a long conversation, in and of itself. One last query on this topic: When your themes are steeped in your culture, do you hope that maybe people are reading you are taking something away from it? Gaining perspective or learning something?

SGJ: Yeah, I do hope that. That they can see that Indians don't necessarily have to be all bogged down in some tragic narrative. I mean, for me, ATBS is an up-ending: Jim Doe, shooting north, ahead of the taco-hatted Texas Rangers.


RH: Now, let's get into the nuts and bolts: The writing process. How do you work it? Hand-written? Computer? Music or silence? What's your ideal writing environment?

SGJ: Computer. When I go longhand, all these numbers and symbols invade my words. Like something's gotten itself wired wrong in my head (I could probably identify which night(s) in particular, too). So, got to have a keyboard, and, more than that, got to have a curvy ergonomic keyboard, just to really fly. And, definitely music. Even for this (right now it's a mix of Earl Thomas Conley and Ed Bruce and Eddit Rabbit (they're all right by each other in the directory)). But for writing, it's loud/fast/heavy. Or just sappily sentimental. FOOTLOOSE-type stuff. Usually I'll burn a CD for a novel, then will only listen to that CD when writing - i.e., no other music - and won't listen to that CD anywhere else, either. So it's cool, when I find one of those CDs, all scratched up behind some books or something. Listening to it, I'm back when I was writing whatever book. When I was still going to take over the world. As for environment: just a closed door behind me. Otherwise I have about sixteen heart attacks a minute. I can't handle open doors (or open jars or bottles or windows etc). They wholly freak me out and just sap every last bit of my attention. Oh, and no sunlight. Hate hate hate sunlight when I'm inside. My eyes can't handle it. Or any bright lights really. So, yeah, okay, a cave then, with some good speakers and an ergo-keyboard. and just a lot of stimulants. Trick is - for me anyway - just to get going fast enough that the critical part of my mind shuts down or gets distracted, and then, maybe, if I'm lucky, I can do something good, on accident. How it happens every time, anyway. I don't believe in calmness or serenity or any of that while writing, though. Anyway, going long here, so'll shut it down. I just like talking writing.

RH: Who else do you listen to?

SGJ: Just everybody, it feels like. Everybody good, I mean. Lots of Steely Dan, always. Seger and Springsteen. lately I've been listening, just for hours and hours at a time, to Billy Preston's old "Will it Go Round in Circles." It's like in my muscle fiber right now. As for newer stuff, I'm a big Mulehead fan, am very sad they're not together anymore. 16 Horsepower, also broken up. Really like Seven Mary Three's sound too (or is Three Mary Seven?). Like Molly Hatchet, almost. First box set I ever bought was Skynyrd, I guess. But man, can I listen to me some Earl Thomas Conley. All them eighties country guys, that, when you think of them, you like smell cologne and see a gold rope chain all matted into chest hair, and know they've never even been near a horse. They made some good music, I think. Used to drive a tractor sixteen hours a day for weeks at a time. Them guys got me through it.

RH: I feel your pain about the sunlight, too... I hate it. I work days now and it kills me. I've heard Craig Clevenger goes so far as to put tin foil on his windows.

SGJ: Yeah, me too. I put layers and layers of shielding up. I hate seeing all those motes in the air. Or the light, always trying to pull my eyes thataway...

RH: Speaking of Craig, what do you think of those other Velvet punks? Does the site benefit all of you - someone who likes Craig's book could find your books through the site?

SGJ: Yeah, Craig's got excellent fans. Him and Chris both. Which is course what excellent writing tends to draw. I'm lucky just to be hanging out there, leeching.

RH: It's a really great tool - I can't think of anywhere else that you can come up with a question for a writer, post it, and the writer responds to it… .

SGJ: Glad it works. It's good for us too, I think - me, anyway. Just talking to people.

RH: How does it help you?

SGJ: Just to be in touch with the people who are reading my stuff. Who - I mean, was going to say they're smart, which they all are, but didn't want to word it to sound like they were just smart because they were reading my stuff or anything. I don't know. It's like, I tried not teaching for a while, and thought I was going to lose my mind. Because I had nobody to talk books and writing with, whenever I emerged from my cave. With places like the Velvet or the Cult, there's always somebody awake, it seems. Somebody smart, well-read, informed. It's just cool to have that, I guess.

RH: Who are some of the writers that you admire?

SGJ: Just read George RR Martin's FEVRE DREAM, and it wholly blew me away. Like hitting I AM LEGEND for that first time. Cut my teeth on L'Amour and Jordan and King, and still like them all three, of course. Really dig Clive Barker's stuff. I think Neal Stephenson's maybe the best scene-writer we've got right now, the same way David Foster Wallace can render dialogue in a way nobody else really can. But then there's Vonnegut, and Philip K Dick. They're probably my two idols. Well, they're the only two I can't read while I'm writing, because they absolutely shut me up. Make me feel worthless, wholly inferior, untalented, all that fun. But, man, there's so many. Erdrich. She knows dramatic irony like a playwright knows it, but is able to do it in prose, and John Barth: his stuff's always felt so vital to me. Like, the way it moves from here to there: those are natural movements for me. They make sense, are beyond question. But I could go on and on here. just caught myself looking over at my shelf, for the 400 writers I'm surely neglecting (of whom Robert Coover'd be one--his GHOST TOWN, at least). Okay, okay: Whitley Strieber. For some reason his stuff has always gone right to the center of me. Him and Robert McCammon. Then I really dig Joe Lansdale too. [and then he made his ass stop typing]

RH: Since The Cult is Palahniuk-minded, how do you feel about his body of work?

SGJ: Very impressed. Even that old piece of INVISIBLE MONSTERS, I think it was, that Dennis posted in the Grab Bag a while back: even pre-fame, the guy was writing some solid stuff. Like, with some writers you can feel them showing off their craft. With him, it feels like the story's always pushing through him, and what he's trying frenetically to do is to shape it into words, make it where we can understand it. He's changed the landscape of fiction too, I think.

RH: How so?

SGJ: Was afraid you were going to ask that, and I was going to have to articulate. If I had to put the feeling into words - and, I am a writer, I suppose - it's like he's given voice to a whole swath of people, of stories, that were just slushing around before he got on the scene. Probably the best I can say it.

RH: That you don't have to be pretty and proper and polite to tell stories?

SGJ: Yeah. But the voice he uses too. It's just somehow right. Like, one of those modes or whatever that you wonder why people hadn't already been doing it, because it was so obviously good and proper.

RH: You're a teacher, correct? What do you teach?

SGJ: Funny: last semester, "Guts." Right now, for the grad fiction workshop: BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2005 (because I trust Chabon); Pat Walsh's 78 REASONS; and LAPSING INTO A COMMA (a style guide, most of which I agree with [sometimes I'll use Pete Richardson's style guide instead; he's good]). but, that's just this semester. Some semesters for  that course it'll be VALIS and GHOST TOWN and EMBERS and THE SECRET LOVERS and Meneghello's THE OUTLAWS (which everybody but me hates). Been meaning to get some Lem in there as well. If it's a lit-course, then of course it's just course specific. Last semester it was The American Thriller. We started with Buchan's THE 39 STEPS and flew through about fifteen books on the way to THE DA VINCI CODE. Was very cool, book-ending the list with those two. Just b/c they're so, so similar, they work so much the same, and have each been something of a phenomenon. As for what we hit on the way: Turow, Grisham, Patterson, Greg Bear, Goldman, King, Ludlum. And a lot more too, which I'm suddenly blanking on. I'd dig teaching a course on comics or graphic novels, but it'd cost so much for the students to buy the stuff. And I'm probably more of a fanboy than a real historian of the mode/genre anyway. Am seriously thinking about getting a werewolf course together, though. To sister up with this vampire course already being taught - and received well - on campus.

RH: What school do you teach at? And... vampire course? I took kung-fu cinema in college, but that sounds cooler...

SGJ: I teach as Texas Tech, where I got my BA. And yeah, a real true vampire course. Though, what I'm jealous of is Thomas McKenzie over at I think he said somewhere on the Velvet - maybe his site - that he had a gig tutoring sorority girls on the Kama Sutra in college. I mean, in college, I was in the fields all day, harvesting sorghum by hand. Wasn't aware there were GOOD jobs.

RH: Just out of curiosity, what's your take on the Da Vinci Code?

SGJ: Okay. I'm in the minority I know, and'll probably get blasted, but I really respect how he just radically simpled down the thriller conventions, then just hammered down a few of the pacing tricks, just to get the reader to participate. I mean, people talk about it being so big because it's somewhat fact-based, and here we are in a day when non-fiction's kind of king of the hill, making DVC kind of a natural crossover hit. But I think it's by and large been about participation. I mean, I've read the book a couple of times now. The first time through, I went into it with a bad attitude, because I could tell immediately Brown was talking about stuff I'd been reading about for ten years already (I've been too far into the whole Templay-thing for too long now), popularizing it the same way Wayne & Garth had killed Bohemian Rhapsody. But then I got pulled in. I don't know. Guess I'm just wrapping back around to saying I respect it. And like it. And have nothing against Brown. Not just saying that because he could squash me either. Or, too - didn't Rushdie seriously lambaste Brown? Maybe, even though he's pocketed a cool $75M. Or whatever already, I still see him as the underdog. And I'm drawn to that.

SGJ: (Too, hit that key wrong before because I just pulled this big band-aid off my finger, exposing some skinless muscle, which hurts. Also not wearing my handy-dandy hand-brace I've had to have on for a while now, for a hand that's been broke too many times)

RH: How do you keep breaking it? Shouldn't a writer take care of his meal ticket?

SGJ: You'd think so, yeah. But I do lots of stupid things. Just because, sometimes, once every hundred times, they work. The rest of the time, I'm in the ER, all mangled up.

RH: Off-topic because I forgot to ask... do you have any fun vices?

SGJ: Thinking. I mean, trying to draw a line where 'vice' begins. I don't know. Closest probably be cutting myself. Which, there's a cut on my arm right now that I did the other night, weeks after I promised no more of that. But this time I decided I was going to wait until it healed until I did this one other thing. Being real vague here, sorry. I don't know. Vices. Sickly sweet tea? Writing? I guess part of something being a vice is that I'm kind of embarrassed about it, or guilty for it, all that. And, I don't know. Counting, maybe. I get absolutely trapped, you put me in a room with lines or stripes or anything I can count over and over and over. Especially sucks when I'm driving, because there's fence posts and signs and tires and stripes and windows, all of which have to fall into a certain pattern or I have to start again. That's probably my biggest vice: looking for patterns.


RH: Back to your teaching, do any of your students ever get starstruck, and do you ever teach your own work?

SGJ: No, never teach my own work, though I will usually run some of my stuff through workshop. As for starstruck, no clue. They probably get fed up with me. I mean, right now I'm having my undergrads right a novel, in addition to all the stories they have to write for class.

SGJ: (Can't believe I'd spell 'write' wrong. Is that even legal for a writer/righter to do?)

RH: Probably not. But I'm sure you'll be forgiven... one day...

SGJ: Or atone somehow...

RH: Is there any advice, or anything in particular, you try to impart on students who are really serious about writing?

SGJ: On most of my syllabi (I hate that plural) I'll say always write yourself into a corner, and give it all away with each line. More broad, I guess, my advice is just to write and write and write until that thing in you 'clicks' - like Brando's all waiting for in STREETCAR - and you get into the lope of the voice you've got inside you. Or, another way to say it: if you're not wholly useless at the end of your story, like, I mean, just practically or really crying, and shaking, and pissed off, and everything else, then you've just been spinning your wheels. You've got to leave blood on that page. Otherwise it just doesn't matter.

You've got to leave blood on that page. Otherwise it just doesn't matter. - SGJ

RH: When you write, do you do a lot of drafts, or do you just tend to do it straight through?

SGJ: Good question (this is a stall). Um, really, I won't leave a paragraph, a sentence, until I think it's perfect. Then I go on, and on, pole-vaulting through the piece. But then, yeah, I go back, and suspect I was inhabited by demons or some foolish things. Untalented demons, I mean. So, yeah, I'll kill 90% of the piece, then rebuild it, then kill it again, and rebuild it. Like with that SEVEN SPANISH ANGELS novel. I bet I wrote 2000 pages easy, before I got the thing down in the area of 300. I just kept doing it over and over (usually at my then-editor's request...). With a short story though, usually, if it doesn't work the first time out, I just kill the whole thing, put it in the trash directory. Because you can always write another short story. I mean, twenty pages? I could probably hold my breath that long (lie). This could be why I've yet to show up in The New Yorker, of course...

RH: The cover for Demon Theory looks pretty damn cool. Can you tease me a bit?

SGJ: I got to be careful here, because the background for this little IM window is the document of DEMON THEORY. And I'll just start pasting pieces in here, and then my editor'll send out the monkey ninjas for me. And of course those are about the worst kind of ninjas. But, DEMON THEORY. I've got so much of myself invested in that book. Like, usually, a bad review, I shrug it off. Not the kind of shrug like 'that person is a fool, obviously,' but, 'okay, I'll do better next time.' With DEMON THEORY though, anything negative, I'll be like Clear in FINAL DESTINATION 2: locked up in a padded room. But a teaser. There's going to be one in the MacAdam/Cage catalog, which should be out just any day now, I'd suspect. I don't know I don't know. Um. It's a horror novel. It scares the shit out of me. Or, how about this: in I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, Jennifer Love Hewitt's character tells Freddy Prinze Jr.'s character to "cite your sources." When I first saw that, I wanted to be in that scene so bad, I think I thought she was talking right to me, maybe. Which is all I think I'm allowed to say right now. Without just saying everything. Which - ask my editor, Jason. He'll know better what to say. Not that I can't, or don't want to, it's just like, open the spigot, the whole side of the barrel's going to crash through, and there I'll be, all blue and fetal and steaming. Like this is any kind of real answer.

RH: That's a great answer... it makes me more interested to read it, not just because you scared the shit out of yourself, but because it's very personal to you. Sounds like it's gonna be a trip.

SGJ: Like a hole that opens up under you. For me anyway.

RH: Before I ask my final, introspective question, I'll ask the easy one I forgot about... do you still live in Greenwood, Texas? And what is it that keeps you in Texas?

SGJ: No, don't live in Greenwood. Haven't been back in forever, really. Still in West Texas, though. Or, it's in me, so it feels a lot more comfortable to be somewhere that matches. When I was in Florida doing my PhD, it was freaky - everything was so GREEN. I hated it. Didn't know the bugs, didn't know the snakes. Was only there for 14 months, I think. Wrapped the doctorate in a flat two years, just to leave leave leave. Get back where there was dirt, and snakes I KNEW, and a sky that filled up all the area over me, instead of this little bitty angle. I never realized I was claustrophobic like that until my sky got taken away.

RH: And, finally... writing is something that you obviously love. I love it too, although it can be frustrating and solitary and make my brain hurt. It sounds like an incredibly emotional thing for you. So why do it? Why do you write?

SGJ: With me, it's just a compulsion. Stories are how I order the world. And my world needs a lot of ordering.