An interview with J.F. Gonzalez

JesusHere’s an interview I did with JF Gonzalez for Splatterpunk 4. He’s the author of some of my fave splatter novels like CLICKERS, SURVIVOR, SHAPESHIFTER, FETISH and IT DRINKS BLOOD. JF Gonzalez has also contributed fiction to Splatterpunk 3 and 4.

How did you first get interested in horror and horror fiction?

The interest has been with me as long as I can remember. The first movie I recall seeing was Them!, which ran as a Creature-Feature on Saturday afternoon. I must have been four years old when I first saw it. And I recall being hooked on the original run of Dark Shadows at that age as well as watching reruns of The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, and Thriller in the years that followed. I remember watching those great Richard Curtis made-for-TV movies in the early seventies – The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, Dracula – as well as Duel, which, I later learned, were scripted by Richard Matheson. Shortly around this time I got hooked on comics – House of Mystery, Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, House of Secrets, Ghost Stories, Weird War Tales. The interest in horror was always there. It was only natural that I would seek out horror fiction in prose form, which I did very early on with the first anthology I remember reading which was called TEN TALES CALCULATED TO GIVE YOU SHUDDERS. Don’t recall who edited it, but I remember who was in it – Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long, A. M. Burrage, H. R. Wakefield, William Hope Hodgeson and others from the Edwardian and early pulp era.

When I was eleven I read Jaws by Peter Benchley, probably due to the movie being out that summer. And even though I was a kid and had normal kid interests outside of books – running around with my friends, skateboarding, going to the beach, and later, music, reading and movies were always a part of my life during those formative years and horror fiction, specifically fantasy fiction in general, was a big part of my interest when it came to books.

What inspired you to become a writer?

Niaevete. I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember and I thought all writers made a lot of money. My dad always complained about having to go out and go to work everyday and I thought, “I don’t want to grow up and be like that. I’ll just be a paperback writer, like in The Beatles song and do something fun for a living.” I was really foolish to think that, but you have to understand that back then I had no other way of knowing that novelists really didn’t make a lot of money. I just automatically assumed that if you wrote novels and had them published, you made a living at it. I was shocked when I later learned that a lot of the writers I admired while growing up actually struggled financially.

Yeah, that really fucked me up. To think Robert Bloch wasn’t a fucking millionaire because of that great stuff he wrote is just fucking wrong. But that’s how it is in this biz – so many great and talented people are unable to make a living at this. I understand the economics behind it now. Back then, though, I didn’t.

Can you remember your first published story?

My first published story was this terrible piece of dreck called “Notches” that appeared in this stapled and mimeographed fanzine called Festering Brainsore back in late 1988 or so. I may have the only copy in existence. The story is so bad that I will never allow it to be reprinted. In fact, I am tempted to destroy my remaining copy of Festering Brainsore so my executors don’t come across it after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Do you write full time?

Yes. But I don’t write fiction full-time. I divide my time between the IT field as a technical writer where I write reams of material that is later packaged as technical manuals that nobody reads because they think they can just go in willy-nilly and attempt to do this highly technical computer stuff by themselves, and working in the entertainment industry, primarily as a novelist. I’ve also made money as a screenwriter, mostly rewriting scripts for low budget films that have never been made, and I’ve also ghostwritten novels for other people. I’m lucky enough that I work from home.

So I write a lot. Most of my output, though, never gets seen by the general public. Am I okay with that? Absolutely. The checks clear and I make a living. And the stuff that matters to me – the novels and short stories and articles I publish under my own name – gets out there and is read by lots of folks who like what I do.

What’s a typical day in the life…?

Up at 6:15, make coffee, feed the dog, drink coffee and read a few pages of a novel to wake up the brain. I’m usually in my office by 7:30 to start the day. I tend to work in sections throughout the day due to the fact that my daughter attends cyberschool and is home during the day, so when I’m needed to help out in school, I’m there for her. Plus I do all the household chores. Between doing domestic chores, helping my daughter with school, and my work, it’s usually a ten-hour day, sometimes eleven. When I’m deep into writing a novel sometimes I’ll put in a few hours on the weekend too.

Do you prefer to write solo, or collaborate? Why?

I’m okay with either. Collaborations are different. I’ve collaborated with Wrath James White and Brian Keene on novels. Both experiences have been extremely positive. I’ve had collaborators on screenplays and that can be an entirely different game depending on the project.

How do you generally work when collaborating? Do you stick to your own chapters or characters? THE KILLINGS with Wrath James White is set in the past and present. How did you both write it? [I interviewed Jack Ketchum and asked him about collaborating with Ed Lee. One would send a story they were unhappy with to the other to work on and that’s how they collaborated].

Wrath approached me about THE KILLINGS. He had a friend who was starting up a small press (Shane McKenzie) who wanted to commission a short novel from us. I had this idea based on the 1911 Atlanta Ripper serial murders (which was a little-known true crime case here in the U.S. – from 1911-1912 an unknown serial killer dispatched 20 African American and Mulatto women in Atlanta, much of them in the same manner as London’s Jack killed prostitutes; like the London killer, the Atlanta ripper was never caught). I ran the idea by Wrath and he saw the potential. He actually came up with the idea of tying in the Atlanta Child Murderer case with this due to a voodoo curse hatched by a former slave that had gotten out of control. Once we had the idea, we ran with it.

As what usually happens we would alternate chapters – I’d start it, send it to Wrath, he would revise, continue the story, then send it to me and we’d go back and forth on it. It was a great experience and I’m really pleased with the way it came out.

You’ve just done a book with about 8 other horror writers for Tom Piccirilli. Can you tell us about it?

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is a round-robin novel with Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Nate Southard, Wrath James White, Shane McKenzie and Ryan Harding. It’s a nasty, sick, perverted, shocking piece of fiction. Plot-wise, I don’t know how much I can reveal. Let’s just say it involves a haunted house, murder, possession, some pretty extreme and off-the-fucking wall sexual situations, and vomiting. Lots of vomiting.

How did it come about?

During Tom’s cancer treatment, it became apparent that he and his wife would face enormous financial difficulty in the years ahead. Unfortunately, Tom and his wife lack medical insurance, which can be a death sentence in the U.S. if you face a catastrophic illness. Thankfully, Tom was treated – they didn’t turn him away, which does happen in this country if you can’t afford to pay or lack insurance. Despite that, we knew the road would be rough, so Lee and Brian came up with the idea of writing a novel for Tom in which we would waive all compensation and direct the entirety of it to Tom to help him. The earning potential of a novel penned by some of the bigger names in so-called extreme horror would supply a steady stream of income. It won’t completely wipe out his medical debt, but it will certainly lessen it.

Who’s involved?

Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Shane McKenzie, Ryan Harding, and myself.

Was there a brief? Did you have a rough idea what was going to happen?

No. It was pretty much, here’s the first few chapters, now keep the story going. When we got to a certain length a synopsis was written up so we wouldn’t have to read through 60,000 words just to see what had happened.

Who’s publishing it and when’s it coming out?

Limited edition signed by all of us, with an introduction by Tom Piccirilli, will be published by Sinister Grin Press. Trade paperback and ebook from Deadite Press. Not sure when it’s coming out.

There hasn’t been many “horror writers” break into the mainstream. It’s even hard to find a “horror section” in small bookstores. Yet Stephen King is as popular as ever and there is a constant flow of horror movies at the cinema. Why is this?

People won’t admit it, but they love to be scared. They do love horror. They just won’t admit to it. People always tell me that they can’t read my stuff because they don’t like horror, but then they’ll say that they love all of Stephen King’s work. When I tell them my stuff is like King’s, they’re confused. Too many people equate horror with movies like Friday the Thirteenth or the Saw movies. Horror is that, of course, but it is also so much more than that.

What’s happened to horror fiction?

Nothing has happened to it. It’s still being published by mainstream publishers. It just isn’t being advertised as horror. It’s being promoted as suspense fiction, or thrillers.

In a way, we are back to where things were in the 1960’s before the so-called horror boom in publishing. Before the mass success of Stephen King, horror fiction could be found everywhere. It was just published as mainstream fiction. Surprisingly, you could find it quite easily too. Once horror was categorized by publishers it became a marketing gimmick. Horror novels had to be packaged a certain way and placed in a certain section of the bookstore. Yes there as good stuff published during the boom, but there was also a lot of crap published too.

Like I said, horror fiction is still being published. Witness Laird Barron, Joe Hill, Robert Jackson Bennet, Michael Marshall Smith, Joe R. Lansdale, Sarah Langan and Gillian Flynn.

What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.

Visit: jfgonzalez.com/

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About jackbantry

Jack Bantry is the editor of Splatterpunk Zine. He works as a postman and resides in a small town at the edge of the North York Moors.
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