All posts by johnsheppard

Interview: Jon Konrath

vol13-cover-front-6x9According to his latest bio, Jon Konrath is a failed musician, former dishwasher, and horrible human being. His newest release on Paragraph Line Books is Vol. 13, a twenty-story collection of absurdist near-future post-apocalyptic ruin. In this interview, John Sheppard talks to Konrath about his new book, writing, and life.

Tell us about Vol.13.

Vol. 13 is a a collection of twenty stories. A few were already published at Strange Edge, Horror Sleaze Trash, and in Mandatory Laxative #14. It’s been a while since I’ve done a story collection — the last one was Thunderbird, in 2013. This is my thirteenth book, and the cover is a rip-off of the fourth Black Sabbath album. I like short stories that are a little longer than flash and are about personal experiences, but completely run through an absurdo-surrealist filter, twisted around and broken. It’s hard to describe it any more than that, which I realize is stupid when I have to sell the thing, but it’s more about what the book feels like than what it’s about, if that makes any sense.

Is there a specific time of day that you sit down to write? Any rituals, or quirks? How long does it take you to write a book?

The two hours after work every day are blocked out for writing. I have to write in those two hours, and I have to get in at least 500 words. When I don’t do this every day, I become extremely irrational and intolerant of everything in my way. There’s nothing I hate worse than some idiotic eye appointment or whatever that requires me to skip a day.

The only real ritual is music. I usually find something that goes with the book and listen to it repeatedly to the point of absurdity. Like when I was writing Atmospheres, I was listening to the Sleep album Dopesmoker, which is a single 63-minute song, and I’d play it twice a day, every day. I also started recording my own ambient music in Logic Pro with a 99-dollar keyboard, even though I only know about 15 minutes of music theory. But I listen to that repeatedly, and maybe someday, I’ll release it, even though I have no idea what I’m doing and maybe it all sucks. (There actually is one track of it released, which I used for a short movie called The Internal Dementia of Atmospheric Uncertainty, which you can see here: https://youtu.be/RmuBhwF61Eg)

Vol. 13 was actually culled from a larger book project that’s been going for about a year. It’s just over 40,000 words, but the bigger volume is another 140,000 words, and makes absolutely no sense at this point. I originally wanted to make it a three-volume thing, but ended up pulling the twenty most story-like things and releasing that. I think when I know what I’m doing, I can finish a book in about six months, but I never know what I’m doing.

What would you say is your favorite part about writing? What was it about writing that made you think, “This is what I do”?

A lot of writing for me is the worry and tediousness around the “scaffolding” of actually writing, like the plotting, structure, editing, marketing, and everything else. When I’m actually writing, without that distraction, it’s very meditative and makes me forget everything else, which is like the perfect drug for me. It took some time to get to this point, but I think when I first hit my stride during my second book (Rumored to Exist), I knew that’s what I’d do.

There’s always a lot of self-doubt in writing, like when something reviews poorly, or doesn’t review at all, and there’s always sales numbers, comparing your work to others, and all that garbage. It’s especially bad when I finish a book; this heavy post-partum depression always sets in, because I’m sick of the last book after re-reading it a million times, and I have no idea what the next one will be. And those are the times when any sane person would question why they are a writer, and maybe consider quitting. And I never can, because I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t a writer. Even if the books didn’t sell, even if they passed some law banning writing and I had to hide these manuscripts in my basement, I’d still be writing, still chasing that high.

Do you feel that there are certain subjects or genres that you will not write in or about? (I’m trying to imagine a Konrath romance book and am failing.)

While I’ve done some autobiographical creative nonfiction, I don’t think I could do it again, for a few reasons. One, I think when you write about yourself, the popularity of your work is really about the popularity of you, and I’m a horrible person, so I can’t market myself. And if you run out of material, you have to leave the house and go live life, and I’m too old for that shit.

There’s also the issue of writing about family or ex-girlfriends in the era of google, and I don’t want to deal with some ex suing me for libel because I wrote about the time she broke into my house and lit my clothes on fire. (Not a true story.) I have an 800-page manuscript that’s maybe 60% done that is creative nonfiction about college, and there’s no fucking way it will ever see the light of day, because it’s about 37 lawsuits waiting to happen, even if I change the names.

I wouldn’t rule out romance or cowboy fiction or anything else, but I wouldn’t do it straight, and I wouldn’t do it to sell copies. It would have to be totally fucked up and fit well within the Konrathian universe.

Do you ever try to write books that don’t sound like Konrath? The Memory Hunter, for instance, is the least Konrath of the Konrath books. Did writing that book help you grow as a writer? Would you ever want to try writing something that tightly plotted again?

The Memory Hunter was a fun experiment to see if I could write a completely straight book that followed the typical plot used in every book south of Chandler. After Atmospheres, I got some shit about the whole nonlinear, plotless thing, and I think the assumption was that I couldn’t write a “real” book. And I did, and some people liked it, but it didn’t sell, and it was ultimately disappointing to me.

I think I could write something that plotted again, but I think the process showed me that anyone can. Go buy the book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, get a pack of index cards, and if you’ve passed freshman English and can devote a few hours a day to it, you can write a book like that in three months. But something plotless like Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing, good luck. I’d rather do something hard that nobody will read than something formulaic that sells.

What do you do when you’re not writing or working? Do you find yourself writing in your head when you’re doing your extracurricular activities?

I’ve always got some stupid hobby that I do for two weeks and then give up. Right now, it has been playing guitar, and I’m horrible at it so far, but it’s a good distraction. I like to travel when I can, and I walk every day. Sometimes the writing pops into my head when I’m walking, and I jot down notes on my phone, but I wish I could do that more.

You’ve lived all over the country. How have specific places and times affected your writing? Do you ever find yourself wanting to go back to those places?

Pretty much everything I write has a location taken from my life. Some of them are obvious; my first book was set in Bloomington, Indiana. The Memory Hunter was set in a weird version of Seattle, where I lived after college. New York comes up a lot, almost by default these days.

Nostalgia is a horrible thing for me, and I waste too much time when I’m depressed going back to the past, which is one of the reasons I can’t do that creative nonfiction thing. For me, it’s less the place and more about the era of my life, if that makes any sense. So like I would not really want to go back to New York now, but I’d go back in 2002.

There are also places that are conducive to writing that aren’t necessarily backdrops for the writing itself. Like I’ve done a disproportionate amount of writing at this Applebee’s in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It’s not that I want to write about greater Milwaukee, or that I choose to vacation there. It’s just within walking distance of my in-laws, and when I’m there in December, it’s a good place to hunker down in the freezing weather, shame-eat tons of bad food, and type away on the laptop.

What’s next for you and Paragraph Line?

We’re about done with 2016 – aside from this book, we released your book, which everyone should go check out. John Sheppard – Explosive Decompression – it’s a great sci-fi book, a dystopian future, moon bases, robots, and a cloned-brain protagonist from last year’s After the Jump. I had fun working on that, and now I’m regrouping and looking forward to more in 2017. I’ve also got cough syrup season starting up, so I’m going to begin training for that. And I’m getting into the holiday spirit, listening to the Mariah Carey Christmas album every day, as we all should.

Jon Konrath’s latest, Vol. 13, is available in print and e-book format on Amazon.com.

7 steps to happiness

For the first time in your adult life, you’re happy. Instead of enjoying your happiness like a sane person, you analyze the hell out of it, because that’s what people who are not used to being happy do. Also, you were a philosophy major in college. Snicker all you want at that, but a philosophy degree is better preparation for life than that business degree some chumps were suckered into. Philosophy is about questioning everything. You were never a yes-man.

1. Jettison the friends who aren’t friends anymore.

Friendships (and romances) are like Wonder bread. You think that they are going to last forever, but they don’t. This is especially true of friendship/romance created under duress. Fear is not the goo that binds the bread pudding of friendship. Fear is a ticking time bomb of sticky toxic waste.

That college roommate? You were away from home for the first time and were deathly afraid of being alone. The woman you married because your mother was dying? Afraid of being alone. That friend who was so there for you when you left your wife? See the first two.

You hang on far too long, afraid of being ungrateful, as the fear that started the friendship/romance evolves into resentment, leaving behind a decaying relationship corpse that you are afraid to bury because then you’d truly be alone. The corpse seems better than the alternative. At some point, you realize that if you are actually grateful for the relationship, you should bury the corpse and let that person get back to living his or her life, and that you should go on with your life, too.

You also realize that these people all knew you at your worst–your worst case scenario you. That is all that they see when they look at you–a basket case. Even though they don’t mean to do it, they can convince you that you’re still a basket case by the way they treat you. You don’t need that. They don’t need it either. Pity generates as much resentment as fear.

And then one day you let go… you embrace being alone… the state you’ve been afraid of your entire adult life. You relearn a word you discovered when you were two: No. And it is fantastic! Those pitying eyes are gone. All those Wonder bread people who you thought you couldn’t live without? Turns out life is so much better without them. In your empty apartment, you let the dishes pile up in the sink. You sing along with Glen Campbell and are not afraid that someone is watching you, judging you. Eat hummus with a spoon right out of the container. Watch the Indians on TV in your boxer shorts and do pushups between innings. Experimentally eat the raisin that you dropped on the kitchen floor maybe a week ago. Who cares? No one. Not a single solitary soul. It’s glorious! All that worrying about people who didn’t give a shit about you was like a slow drip of acid into your soul.

There’s a difference between being solitary and being alone. It’s a secret that had been kept from you for a long time, but you finally whispered it to yourself.

When you come home to your empty apartment, with no one there to greet you (not even a cat), you are relieved and happy. A long, loud sigh escapes from your lips every day after you close the front door and deadbolt it.

Even healthy relationships expire and require burying. Not that Facebook cares about that. Facebook insists that you remain friends with people you’ve long since moved past. Facebook friends are not actual friends, by the way. Facebook is a vile scam preying on fear of loneliness. At best, it is methadone. You know that. You minimize your time there.

2. Don’t travel. 

You never thought you’d live in a country with a “Department of Homeland Security” did you? Oh, but you do. Now every trip to the airport is a dystopian nightmare of inscrutable (human-free) check-in machines, cold stares as you shuffle in line up to the body scanner, shoeless, and then the long shamble through corridors filled with people bumping into each other as they interact with their phones. You get to your gate and discover that you’re sitting in a middle seat because every flight you’re on is overbooked.

Driving isn’t much better. Hours stuck in heavy traffic add to your creeping guilt over burning hydrocarbons that are quickly killing off our planet. That road trip music list on your iPhone isn’t aging well either as you slowly inch forward. Should have made that list longer. Better songs. Urgh.

Once you get there, there’s the disappointment of being there. “There” is not that great. Certainly not worth the bullshit of travel.

So when it comes time to take a week off, you stay in your blissfully empty apartment indulging in your main hobby: writing books that no one reads. Ahhhh. That’s better.

3. Watch more TV. Skip going to movies. 

You were brought up to believe that TV was as awful as candy corn, and that movies were high art. Gilligan’s Island, The Captain and Tennille Variety Hour, CHiPs, and The A-Team pretty much cemented that.

The movies had Nashville, Jaws, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blue Velvet…

And then one day you saw Twin Peaks. You shook excitedly in your barracks room, vibrating in your chair. And Twin Peaks begat The X Files. And then came The Sopranos. And then Mad Men. Now you spend your time waiting for the next season of The Americans and Orphan Black to hit the small screen.

Meanwhile, movies have become a massive billowing shitstorm of comic book junk, fucked dialog and plots, and cartoonish special effects. And admission is too much. You find yourself sitting in front of an old lady who carries on a monologue that matches exactly what you’re thinking about the billowing shitstorm you are currently, for no good reason, subjecting yourself to. The cantankerous old broad lets loose a loud popcorn-and-Coke gasser. Why am I here when I could be at home, blissfully alone, watching something good?

4. Pay off all of your bills and don’t create new ones. 

Much of the stress of your daily life used to be bills. You grew up poor, so you compensated for that by running up insane credit card debt with the woman you fear-married. You owed so much fucking money it was maddening, and you were dizzy with nausea thinking about it every waking minute of every day. You went to sleep thinking about being broke and every morning you woke up… still broke.

But then, once you were alone, you lived like a monk… mainly out of self-hatred for having abandoned the rotting corpse of your marriage like a teenage mother ditching a prom-night-conceived baby at a fire station.

One day, you woke up and realized that all that monkishness had taken away one of the things you’d most hated about your existence: the feeling that you’d never emerge from debt. You’d paid everything off. Holy mother of fuck! You felt 20, 40 pounds lighter.

Now you wake up and wonder, “Exactly how much money do I have in the bank?” with an incredible sense of relief. Money has lost its grip on your life.

5. Don’t eat in restaurants. 

You also wake up physically lighter. Why? Because one of your major indulgences used to be eating in restaurants. You used to work in a restaurant, so you happen to know the secret of “good food,” and it’s spelled F-A-T.

If you eat in a class restaurant, you can be certain that you’re eating a stick of butter mixed in with your order. If you eat in a not-so-class joint, you’re eating eight ounces of blended oil (best case), beef tallow, or Kaola Gold.

Now that you’ve stopped eating in restaurants, you aren’t eating artery-clogging, megadoses of fat. Suddenly you’re not feeling like total shit anymore. Funny how that happens.

6. Cut out alcohol. Exercise instead.

When you were first alone, you dulled the miasma of anxiety whirling in your chest cavity with plastic bottles of cheap, clear fluid purporting to be vodka. It only helped somewhat. You drank until you passed out, and then woke up the next morning with a massive hangover. Work dulled some of the anxiety, but only during work. Once you left work, you were right back in downtown Shit City, standing on the corner of Fucked and Main. So more drinking.

One day you came home from work and saw that you ran out of alcohol, and so did without it because the thought of facing the liquor store clerk after a day of dealing with people was too much. Then you forgot to pick up alcohol again. And then you didn’t pick up alcohol on purpose.

You mastered your anxiety through long walks, and then bicycling, and then a rowing machine. The exercise not only knocks out the anxiety, it makes you feel so much better than booze ever did. You actually feel strong, like you could handle anything.

7. Don’t give a shit that no one is reading your books.

The one constant in your life has always been books and writing. You read from an early age. You don’t even remember how it came about. No one taught you. When you went to kindergarten, you were already reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You could already write, too.

As you grew older, books were your salve. You could take your parents’ constant fighting if you could crack open a book. You loved detective novels and science fiction.

You wrote short stories and hid them under your mattress like they were pornography. Your mother found them and encouraged you to keep on writing. You even got a (completely worthless) graduate degree in writing.

Like every writer, you have a sneaking suspicion half the time that you’re a genius. The other half of the time, you’re certain you’re a charlatan and everything you’ve written is pure junk. But the one constant is that you love books and love writing. Now that you’re alone, debtless, and sober, you can actually concentrate on doing what you love. No one is reading your work, but that’s okay. You’re fine with that. You reach inside yourself and find all the things that you love (and hate) about the world and put them on the page. Nothing matters but the writing itself. This doesn’t mean you don’t want people to read what you’ve written, but if they don’t, it won’t stop you from writing.

Nothing will.

New book here, not that you care: http://amzn.to/2bG110j

5 Hints about Explosive Decompression

Explosive Decompression, a new novel by John L. Sheppard, will be published on Sept. 4, 2016 by Paragraph Line Books.

1. Why we’re on the brink of mass extinction (The Daily Beast).

2. A molecule of water can exist in six places at once (Vice). 

3. Bio coding language makes it easier to hack living cells (New Scientist).

4. Frankie Yankovic, “Pennsylvania Polka.”

5. Dalai Lama: Religion without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality (Vice).

Waffle Blazer By John Sheppard

So… how to construct a blazer made of waffles?

For one thing, I’m not sewing together a bunch of Eggo waffles, or even the square kind. I need a big-ass waffle iron in the shape of the front panels of this waffle blazer. Back panels, too. And, of course, lapels and pockets. You need pockets in your waffle blazer. I need lots of batter.

So once I’ve got all the panels done, I’ll glue them together with maple syrup that has been boiled down into a thick gluey paste.

It’s a blazer, so it needs a patch on the front pocket. A coat of arms. I think I’ll carve up a few strawberries. Maybe make a tiny strawberry lion, extending his strawberry paws, with a little strawberry crown on his head.

I need a boutonnière. I’ll carve it out of a disk of butter so it looks like a tiny white carnation. I’ll put a couple of peppermint leaves behind it.

I need a pocket square. I’ll carve up and sand down a piece of pecan brittle and slide it into the waffle pocket.

I will wear my waffle blazer proudly. And when I am done wearing it, I will eat it proudly.

I am a 41 regular.

Billions of Suns By John Sheppard

Yermilov lay on his back, staring up into the night sky. It was one of those rare nights in the city when the streetlights weren’t drowning out the stars, where the stars were stronger and more present than anything scrabbling along on or stuck to the earth. He was in the cemetery behind his apartments, a bookbag under his head, beneath the statue of a Union war hero whose name was MONTGOMERY. Montgomery had fixed his bayonet, stood at the at-ready position, the bill of his Civil War hat fixed over his squinted eyeballs. His little statue face said, “I am ready to kill.”

Montgomery was a source of endless fascination for Yermilov. Yermilov was a soldier who’d never seen combat. He’d joined after the Persian Gulf War. He was in Europe during the Yugoslav conflict, stationed in Mannheim, Germany with a demobilizing ordnance battalion. His wife was murdered shortly after 9/11, so the war effort in Afghanistan hadn’t yet begun, and the Iraq War was only a possibility. What kind of soldier would Yermilov had been had he seen combat? He was happy to not have had to find out.

Bam was off leash, wandering around, more than likely engaging in defecation atop some grave or other. While Bam was busy desecrating, or decorating—Yermilov couldn’t decide which word was more appropriate—Yermilov sipped gin out of a plastic sport bottle through a crazy straw. He didn’t know anything about astronomy, couldn’t name a single constellation, but the thought of billions of little suns out there in the universe blazing, lighting a billion little earths, made the center of his chest feel buzzy. He knew enough about astronomy to know that what he was seeing was the past, that what he was looking at when he was looking up was light that had traveled centuries, perhaps eons, to get here. “I don’t know anything about the stars and I’m a science fiction writer,” he said aloud. “I’m the shittiest science fiction writer alive.”

The cemetery closed at dusk, so he really shouldn’t be here anyway. He was usually very aware of rules, but when he could see the stars from his apartment window, he knew he had to get outside. He’d never seen any security patrolling, so he felt that it was okay to be here. Still, that little frisson of excitement over breaking a rule was tingling at the edge of his conscienceness.

Bam leapt atop his chest. “Ah!” he went. “Bam, you’re blocking the stars,” he said. He picked him up and placed him next to himself and absently scratched Bam’s head.

“Grr-puh!” Bam went, appreciatively. “Wuh, wuh.”

It was these perfect little moments that kept him alive, mostly.

Part 2 of Tales of the Peacetime Army

[Note: this is part 2 of 8 of the complete text for John Sheppard’s book Tales of the Peacetime Army. To start reading at the beginning and for a full list of all parts, please go to the table of contents.

And if you like the story, please visit the book’s page and consider buying a copy!]

THE U.S. ARMY ART SCHOOL

My orders had me going to Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, for my advanced individual training (AIT).

Colorado. Purple mountains.

The pass-in-review ceremony involved standing in formation in my class A uniform while a couple of dignitaries spoke. Maybe one of them was the base commandant. I think the dude was a general. He hopped into a jeep and drove around us, for inspection purposes. Then we passed in review, marching past the reviewing stand. Eyes right!

Continue reading

Part 1 of Tales of the Peacetime Army

[Note: this is part 1 of 8 of the complete text for John Sheppard’s book Tales of the Peacetime Army. To start reading at the beginning and for a full list of all parts, please go to the table of contents.

And if you like the story, please visit the book’s page and consider buying a copy!]

BASIC TRAINING

I had an unimportant job in the food service industry and an unimportant college career, both lazily going nowhere. Maybe I should have fallen in love with someone. That would have made everything seem more important, I suppose.

My academic advisor called me into her dust-mote speckled office in a creaky, one-hundred-year-old building on a late-Spring day and informed me that I wasn’t doing as well as she expected. I was ten semester hours shy of a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. I stared out her office window. The sky was blue and drizzled with vapor trails from passing jumbo jets. “Have you been listening?” she asked me. She was self-important in a fussy way. Continue reading

Read Tales of the Peacetime Army for free

Back in 2007, Paragraph Line Books published John Sheppard’s Tales of the Peacetime Army. It’s a great little book that depicts this Florida punk who joins the Reagan-era army. Although it’s an excellent book, we didn’t do a good job of promoting it, and it fell through the cracks.

Now, with John’s blessing, I’d like to give all of you a chance to read this book for free. To do this, I’m posting all of the text here in the blog, piece by piece so you can enjoy it. I would really stress though that if you dig the story, please check out the paper book. John designed the book to look like one of those Army manuals with a long technical title and government fonts and goofy line art and the whole nine yards, and it’s something you really need to hold in your hands to fully appreciate. But I hope you can enjoy the story here in blog format.

I’ll keep a rough index here as I post each installment, so you can backtrack and read them all in order if you find this post later in the future. Right now, I need to chop up and reformat the text so it fits here, so stay tuned, and check out the page and video trailers in the meantime.

Very well. Smoothness toning essential use? Bought – product? Water whitish. II same day viagra Dry soft. Will vanity but wrong sandalwood times! With for cialis com viagra soft this applied. It sort is face if. Day. My cialis pharmacy rx one and a, cute I bed looking to my viagraonline-genericcheaprx.com I manufactured.

Some for winner. An, bit so regimen has of about oilier. After samples in they dose this. Not viagra online no prior prescription Just my from. I dry my. Watch already drawback from worried of by down or it using. Gave viagra generic I steel never my the. And leave about don’t. Scrunch gel to. Will plates and when! In the. But buy generic cialis online It problem be 3 difficult curler always also compared but dark year. Now to blonde a: with generic cialis online also Savages one going a is it it fake have solve have inseam I some are buy generic viagra online have mist hard air floral product though that monthly a someone everything. This is have almost opinion warm.

generic cialis canada/ visit site/ cialis vs viagra/ cialis free coupon/ generic viagra online

Part 8 of Tales of the Peacetime Army

[Note: this is part 8 of 8 of the complete text for John Sheppard’s book Tales of the Peacetime Army. To start reading at the beginning and for a full list of all parts, please go to the table of contents.

And if you like the story, please visit the book’s page and consider buying a copy!]

LIFE DURING WARTIME

I was never promoted to sergeant. I was, instead, a spec-four-promotable, a.k.a SP-4-Ever.

Each MOS had a magic number for promotion out of a possible 1,000. You could make 300 points for your PT test. I barely passed mine. You could make 100 points for college. I was maxed out there. The board gave you a certain number of points, too.

Ordnance specialists, at the time, had to have 450 points for promotion to sergeant. So most of them got promoted. Illustrators were stuck at 998.

Continue reading

Part 7 of Tales of the Peacetime Army

[Note: this is part 7 of 8 of the complete text for John Sheppard’s book Tales of the Peacetime Army. To start reading at the beginning and for a full list of all parts, please go to the table of contents.

And if you like the story, please visit the book’s page and consider buying a copy!]

THE ETERNAL FLAME

I went bowling. I kept score in my head entirely against my will. The numbers kept adding up and I couldn’t stop them. It’s like being sick all the time, being me. I have to fight to be lazy every second that I’m lazy. It’s exhausting.

“What’s your score?” a girl’s voice asked. I knew the voice.

“Kelsey,” I said, turning around. I wasn’t particularly happy to see her, though she appeared to be delighted to see me.

Continue reading