I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Hornsby, author of EVERY SIGH, THE END and ELEVEN TWENTY-THREE from Permuted Press, about his work, including his latest novel, DESERT BLEEDS RED.
Craig: Welcome to the blog, Jason! Tell us about yourself and your work.
Jason: My name is Jason S. Hornsby – not a pen name, which I get asked sometimes because my name sounds fake, apparently. I am originally from Lakeland, Florida and wrote my zombie novel EVERY SIGH, THE END not long after finishing my degree at the University of South Florida. In July 2008 I moved to Beijing, where I finished up my second book ELEVEN TWENTY-THREE, and where I would live for over three years. Since moving to Asia, I’ve traveled quite a bit, and many of the things I’ve encountered along the way have ended up in my writing. For the past year, my wife and I have lived in Seremban, Malaysia, where we plan to stay now that she’s pregnant with our first child. My first two novels were first-person nightmare narratives rife with zombies, government conspiracies, time travel, paranoia, numerology, and social commentary. With my newest novel DESERT BLEEDS RED, I’m trying a completely new approach, and taking a stab at different genres. I can’t even describe how excited I am. I think readers will enjoy it.
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Jason: Of all the horror subgenres, I feel that zombies are the most malleable for originality and social comment. They can serve as a reflection of humanity and existence, but also make great antagonists that no one has a problem seeing die in various grisly ways. However, I feel that in recent years, the zombie angle has become rather stale in fiction due to saturation of the market. There are still a lot of great undead books out there though, and every once in a while, someone approaches the subject in a totally fresh and original way. Just as with vampires and monsters and slashers, the quality comes in waves, I think.
Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Jason: When I was younger I was obsessed with Bret Easton Ellis, who taught me to just go balls to the wall with whatever I was writing about, and not to flinch when describing human beings at their most fragile and unbecoming. In the past few years, I have come to adore Cormac McCarthy, whose lyrical prose and absolutely gorgeous descriptions of both the natural world and the violence within it have inspired some of the epic style of my newest novel DESERT BLEEDS RED. My editor Natalie Ballard has gotten me reading William T. Vollmann, and he’s quite good and we share some style in our writing. Aside from them, I’m also an admirer of Michael Crichton, who always did his research, the travel writer J. Maarten Troost, the mystery writer John Burdett, and of course the Greats like Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Phillip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Jason: In the past few months, I’ve read Peter Clines’ lycanthropic take on Robinson Crusoe and absolutely adored it. I’m also a fan of Thom Brannon, Kim Paffenroth, and David Snell. I look forward to reading your novels sometime in the future, Craig, but it’s kind of difficult getting Permuted titles in Malaysia, unfortunately. Next time I’m home though I will definitely pick up some new Permuted titles! I would also like to read the sequel to JOHN DIES AT THE END sometime when I have the chance.
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Jason: This is a great question, and I’ve been contemplating the answer for a good while now. I suppose for me, the most important element, the foundation of the story, is the characters themselves. I’m a huge fan of well-executed characterization, and every novel I write begins with characters first, and the story follows later. Just as important as your characters though is the story idea, the mechanism which puts your characters into motion. Originality is always important to me, as well as keeping the unfolding plot unpredictable or at least satisfying when the predicted events occur. Sometimes it’s okay that we guessed what was going to happen in a novel, as long as the author handles it with panache and style. Another major component of a successful story is the craft that goes into the narration, the nuts and bolts of the page, so to speak. I mull over word choice, syntax, paragraph length, the aesthetics of the page, the whole Russian formalism approach, with everything I write. That may be why my novels typically take years to complete, and drive me to the brink of insanity while writing them. But oh, what great insanity it is.
Craig: Your books have great action but are funny at the same time. What is your approach to humor and what do you think it adds to your work?
Jason: As dark as my novels can be, in real life I’m a pretty fun-loving and happy-go-lucky guy. Not many things are more enjoyable to me than sitting around with friends, pounding beers and cracking filthy jokes and ragging on one another. I suppose some of these late nights with mates find their way into my writing, as well as my own brand of dark humor. Dialogue is one of my great pleasures in writing, and I try to use the words exchanged between characters to offset some of the more twisted and upsetting developments in the story. I enjoy putting people we all know and hang out with in extreme situations and seeing how they react. Sometimes their reactions turn out funny, as in life.
Craig: What makes a great character?
Jason: As I mentioned, a great character is someone the reader knows from their own life. A great character is someone you don’t necessarily love or agree with, but whom you at least understand and show some sympathy toward. A great character is flawed but not hopeless, an asshole perhaps but not a monster (unless the character is in fact a monster), and a person whom we see just a little bit of ourselves in. People have asked me if I base my protagonists on myself. I usually have more in common with the supporting cast than with the lead, truthfully. To me, basing the main character too much on the author him/herself is a mistake, and runs the risk of alienating readers. Readers these days are more jaded than ever, and if they suspect an author is using their narrator as a soapbox, it turns them off quickly.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Jason: DESERT BLEEDS RED is just a few pages short of being finished, and I’ve been working on it for the past three years. It is a bizarre and frightening retelling of the King Solomon legend, complete with demons, prophets, and the Queen of Sheba – all set in the wastelands of China. In the novel, a young expat named Logan Solomon has surrounded himself with evil men and demons masquerading as humans. When his wife is abducted by a mysterious doppelganger and taken deep into the bowels of China, Solomon sets off after her, with two demons and a jaded young clairvoyant in tow. This is the most ambitious and complex work I’ve ever done, and contains what I consider my finest writing. The book is chock full of demons, hellfire, the grittiest landscapes you could ever imagine, philosophical musings, intense but often hilarious dialogue, mortal peril at every turn, prostitutes with glowing red eyes, secret government installations, thugs who vomit locusts, geysers of blood, and even serves as a travelogue of sorts to all the most nightmarish hole-in-the-wall locales in China. It is the closest thing I will ever write to magic realism, but set in a world few people know about. Not to count my chickens here, but I do believe it’s going to knock a lot of dicks in the dirt.
Craig: I look forward to reading it, Jason! Thanks for coming to the blog today!
Jason: Thank you for having me, and hope we can do another con together in 2013!