According 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.