I was born in Japan and I've lived in Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Oklahoma (my father was in the Air Force). Currently, I live in Colorado. I started writing and drawing comics as a kid. In fact, in high school, everyone thought I would move to New York and get a job with Marvel as an artist. When I was 16 or 17, I sent a portfolio to Jim Shooter, who was editor-in-chief at Marvel at the time, thinking I could get a jump-start on a real career. I still have the rejection letter in my files. Then in college, I took a creative writing class to get an easy A. When I started telling stories without using illustrations, people suddenly paid attention to the characters and the ideas and the dialogue. I was used to people just saying, "This looks cool." A new world opened up. I cranked out several short stories for the class and got my A. Then I signed up for a novel writing class the next semester. I'd always been a voracious reader, but I'd never really considered writing novels of my own. The textbook for the class was Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel from Plot to Print. It remains one of my favorite books about writing because Block made it clear that writing a novel is like running a marathon. If you finish on your feet, you're a winner. I read the book the first day of class, then for the next three weeks, I haunted bookstores (new and used) and bought as many Lawrence Block novels as I could. I loved them. Within a few years, I'd pretty much given up the drawing and was focused on writing.
2) What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you and why YOU write…
What I love about horror is that you can take people away from their lives for awhile and let them meet characters who have far worse problems than a bad working relationship with their boss or trouble paying the bills. On top of that, unlike the real world, good usually wins out over evil by the end of the book and order is imposed on chaos. It's a great escape. Since horror deals so much with the battle between good and evil, it tends to be very moral. Bad people suffer the consequences.
As for why I write in general, it's because I can't stop writing. I don't have a choice. I write a lot of horror because as a kid I loved anything to do with horror. I watched all the old monster movies. I loved Famous Monsters of Filmland. I read all the old Marvel horror comics-Werewolf By Night, Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, etc. Horror was (and is) cool. Of course, I don't limit myself to horror. I write a lot of crime fiction and fantasy as well.
3) Some writers say that what they write doesn't have much to do with themselves-others say that their writing is very much influenced by their own experiences. How is this with you?
All writers draw from their experiences whether or not they realize it. That's what lends authenticity to the work. I used to think that I was just making up stories and that I wasn't really in my fiction all that much. Then a good friend of mine named Cindie Geddes, who is a terrific writer in her own right, invited me to visit her in Reno for a week. I stayed with Cindie and her husband and then Cindie and I shared a plane ride to Atlanta for World Horror '95. We had just become friends, so we decided to spend the flights to and from Atlanta reading each other's stories. All of them-published and unpublished. I read all of the stories she'd written up to that point and she read all of mine. We finished up about half way back to Reno and she turned to me and started telling me all sorts of things about me that she should not have known. I was absolutely shocked. She ran down a pretty long list of things she learned about me from reading my stories. You can't hide. If you write, your ideas and opinions and personality will permeate the work. In fact, if it doesn't then the work probably sucks because when it comes down to the wire, the only thing a writer really has to sell is his or her own unique way of looking at the world.
4) Why do you enjoy writing short stories?
I can trace this back to one short story that really affected me: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. I must have been 13 when I read it. My parents got divorced when I was 15 and at age 18, I went to visit my father for a few weeks the summer before starting college. I was going to 7-Eleven to pick up a Pepsi and he handed me a dollar and asked me to buy him a lottery ticket. I swear a chill ran down my back. Why would anyone willingly buy a lottery ticket? If a short story can hit that hard some five years after reading it, well, that's just awesome. Stories as strong as that don't come along very often, but there's always a chance of hitting one out of the park.
5) Tell us about your short stories and more recently, your novels. How hard of a transition has it been between the two?
I think I'm a competent short story writer, but I'll be a much better novelist. I look at some of my early published stories and I cringe at certain sections. This is a good thing, of course. I'd hate to look back and think, damn, I wish I could write something that good now! I think my best stories are the adventures of a nameless blue-collar hitman. The guy is pissed-off at the world, has attitude out to here, likes to videotape his hits so he can watch them again later and has a bad habit of killing most of the people who hire him. The first story, "So You Wanna Be a Hitman," appeared in Robert Bloch's Psychos. Several people have suggested I write a novel about the hitman, but I don't think I want to be inside the mind of a sociopath for over 300 pages.
As for the transition to novels, it's been pretty easy. I found that I didn't have the room to explore certain themes and characters within the confines of a short story. So I decided to take up the challenge and paint with words on a larger canvas. I wrote a couple of really bad novels back in college. Thankfully, those have been burned. The first novel I've been willing to submit, which is currently looking for a home, is called One Way Ticket to Midnight. It's about a biker and an old blues man who team up to solve a series of supernatural murders. I'd written a draft of it several years ago, but I didn't feel it worked. So when I came back to it last year, I gave it a hard look and cut 20,000 words out of it. You have to understand that I'm actually a pretty spare writer. I don't do much with description and I don't wax poetic. I just move the story along. So I sliced a huge section out of the book and now the thing moves like a rocket and you have to hang on tight. The novel I just finished up is called Modern Sorcery and it's what the title implies-a sword and sorcery action thriller set in the here and now. I'm working on a screenplay for a small, animated film based on one of my short stories, then I'll dive into the next novel.
6) What is the weirdest true-life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
There are too many to choose from. I could talk about the death threats I received working customer service, but I already used that in a story. I could talk about the attempted robbery, but it reads more like comedy. I could talk about the armed robbery where I had a gun to my head, but I just used that in a story. I could talk about the time my sister's ex-husband showed up with his mother and kidnapped my nephew and how we had to race from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Greeley, Colorado to rescue him. I could talk about some of the really weird stuff that's happened that would read like supernatural horror, but which probably has an explanation more grounded in reality. I could talk about my ex-stepmother who tried to hit on me while my father slept in the room upstairs. This is the same woman who, in a drunken rage, attacked my father with a butcher knife. I had to take the knife away from her after she cut him. A few years later, she hired a guy to shoot her foot off with a shotgun because her feet hurt (she'd fit right into a Carl Hiaasen novel). I've got a better idea, let's just move on to the next question.
7) Who is YOUR favorite horror author?
Let's go back to the previous question. I don't think I can narrow it down to one author. If you had me at gunpoint, I'd probably say Richard Matheson. But since you don't I'll add Shirley Jackson and Stephen King and Charles Beaumont and Joe R. Lansdale and… is that a Beretta 92S? You don't need that; I'll shut up now.
8) Anything you want to add (website info, et cetera)?
Sure, check out my website at www.garyjonas.net and thanks for the interest in my work.