Category Archives: Interviews

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.

Ten Questions with Ryan Werner

maxresdefaultRyan Werner is a modern-day renaissance man, if by “renaissance” you mean listening to Krokus and eating food from gas station mini-marts.  In addition to being an amazing writer (he’s had short fiction in a ton of places) and publishing chapbooks as Passenger Side Books,  he’s also an accomplished guitar player, and when he’s not on a crazy far-flung car tour across the country, he’s obsessing over professional wrestling and working as a janitor, or serving food to kids.  He can be found at http://www.ryanwernerwritesstuff.com
 

PL: Who are your favorite three members of Krokus other than Chris Von Rohr, Fernando Von Arb, Marc Storace, Mark Kohler, and Mandy Meyer?

RW: They’re all drummers, actually. Freddy Steady, because he kind of sucked but really loved being in Krokus, which is admirable. (Sort of.) Steve Pace, because he played drums and his last name was Pace. Stefan Schwarzmann, because he’s like the foreign metal version of some asshole like Matt Sorum, who just plays in every band after their prime. He was on one of the Krokus albums in the mid-2000s, which he left Helloween to play on.

 

PL: What kind of guitar strings do you use?

RW: I use those Ernie Ball skinny top/heavy bottom sets. Big power chords and bendy leads. Nothing exciting, but it reminds me of the time I saw Deicide in the Quad Cities and yelled at Eric Hoffman after show, just his name over and over again trying to get his attention and once he finally turned around I just very cutely and plainly asked what gauge guitar strings he uses. He just growled at me and walked away.

 

PL: Are you going to write any novels?

RW: Man, probably not. They’re just too fucking long. And I keep threatening to reduce my entire written output to a sentence someday, so I don’t think a novel is going to ever really be in the works. I actually just got an email from an agent, and after she showered me with praise for a recent short story, basically just asked me if I have a novel. I wrote her back and said that I was thankful she contacted me, and maybe by the time I assemble a full length story collection the market will have changed enough to not just have short stories be a part of a plea bargain deal.

 

PL: Did you know there was a vice-president at IFC Films named Ryan Werner?  Have you ever tried to contact him?

RW: Every once in awhile someone gets in touch with me asking about a lecture I gave on film festival submission strategies or something. I’ve never tried contacting him, but he’s the reason my website isRyanWernerWritesStuff.com and not RyanWerner.com. I’d love to contact him and let him know that since he’s resigned from IFC now he can give me that fucking web address.

 

PL: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever found in a bathroom while cleaning it?

RW: There are two worst things, one incredibly complicated, one incredibly simple, and both a product of the four years I spent working as a janitor at a Wal-Mart in northeast Illinois. The first is when someone took two clean sanitary napkins, pressed a turd flat between them, shaped the overflowing turd to match the contours of the pads, and set it down on top of the toilet paper dispenser. The other is someone just nonchalantly putting a used tampon in the sink.

 

PL: If I am a new writer, should I self-publish or try to find a book deal?

RW: I lucked out and had my first book published by someone else, the totally awesome Jersey Devil Press. They reached out to me and did the majority of the work. I knew from the second they asked me that I would have a great book when it was all done with, but also that it would give me enough of a pedigree to start putting out my own stuff. It seems like in the publishing business, as best I can tell, you’re nothing until someone says you’re something. Not to get off on a Mike Muir rant about positivity and DIY or whatever, but that’s the sort of shit people in control say to stay in control. If you write a book and you’re proud of it, put the damn thing out yourself. Understand that you might be sacrificing perhaps a sleeker look, wider distribution, stronger public relations, and other things associated with bigger or established presses, but also understand that you might not, and that if you’ve got a vision, see the damn thing through.

 

PL: What was your opinion of the Montreal Screwjob?

RW: It changed the way wrestling stories are told. Over in WCW, the culmination of the giant build to Sting vs. Hogan would end only a month after the Screwjob. Goldberg wasn’t on the scene yet and he’d be an afterthought in a company that was doomed. The WWF needed something and ended up using the Screwjob to present a story with no good guys or, concurrently, no bad guys. This allowed the viewer to bring more of themselves to the table in deciding who to root for. The “shades of gray” mentality was a completely different approach to mainstream wrestling, as far as the way it was executed.

 

PL: Who are your top ten favorite female writers?

RW: So many great ones, but here’s what I’ll come up with today.

1) Amy Hempel
2) Lorrie Moore
3) Mary Robison
4) Mary Miller
5) Sarah Rose Etter
6) Grace Paley
7) Flannery O’Connor
8) Alice Munro
9) Pam Houston
10) Chloe Caldwell

 

PL: You are always finding weird shit at goodwill. Do you have any thrift store strategies or habits?

RW: I’m pretty open as to what I’m “looking for” on any given day, but usually I’ll just head out with the attitude of “I’m going to buy something today.” Once, I found an old Swans LP with the shrink wrap still on for 75 cents. I found a copy of a whiteface Proco Rat for $3. I’ve gotten band shirts and nice jeans and awesome shit made out of leather. Stuff with tassels. Stuff with wolves. I love looking through piles of VHS to see if there’s an old George Lynch instructional video or a still sealed copy of one of those Robocop straight-to-video releases. I guess I don’t really have any tips. I’m probably doing a really bad job of streamlining my Goodwill experience because I waste so much time just looking through everything. I just like to look at stuff.

 

PL: What is the worst experience you’ve had on the road?

RW: I’ve been lucky enough to go out almost exclusively on well-planned, fun tours. The only thing I can think about is when I was in a band called Bull Dyke Rodeo that did instrumental psych-doom jams about Robocop and we had a show in La Crosse, WI. Being complete amateurs–no van, no recordings, no anything–we took two vehicles up to the show for the three-and-a-half hour drive. The bassist went up with his parents and girlfriend and a bit of the gear and the rest of us went up in another vehicle with the gear. Our bassist had somehow managed to drink an entire bottle of gin by himself on the way up, so by the time we started loading gear in he was already yelling at the sound guy and yelling for a circle pit to get started, even though the first band hadn’t even started yet. He drank about three more beers–somehow, as he’s nineteen at the time–and when we start playing it’s already a nightmare. At several points in every song he’d just start playing the opening riff to “Raining Blood.” He tried tuning his bass at full volume–with a Big Muff turned all the way up in the chain–for a full five or six minutes. At one point I walked over in the middle of a song and punched him in the face. Later on I just slapped him. This was during a phase when we wore dresses, too, so it’s just two adult men in dresses while their band completely breaks down. Four people watched the set and thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. To this day it’s the worst show I’ve ever played.

‘They said they had come all the way from Amsterdam to f**k Charles Bukowski’

Spank Hank

Over at Vice, there’s an interview with John Martin from Black Sparrow about his long relationship, both professional and personal, with Charles Bukowski.

I mean, his public persona is very unlike the man.

Apparently, Hank was courteous, among other things. More at Vice.

Ellroy interview

I hate hipsters, I hate liberals, I hate rock’n’rollers, I hate the counter-culture, I hate movie people. I want to go somewhere quiet, peaceful and decorous, and be radical in my mind. I have fatuous American ideas about Britain. I want to go to the moors. I want to buy a shotgun from Purdey for a lot of money, but I understand it’s tough to buy a gun – you can’t just walk in and say, “I’m an American, give me that gun.” … The potential nightmare for me is I go to Britain and all I see is like in LA; meth labs, white trash and women with tattoos.

http://shortlist.com/entertainment/books/james-ellroy

Meanwhile, while James Ellroy contemplates leaving sickening America, Martin Amis has already left England for America, because England sickens him. The grass being greener, and all.