I’ve been doing this blog for two years now. If you peruse my offerings you will find nothing like what’s about to happen. In other words, I don’t do interviews. At least not as the interviewer. So, why did I decide to throw questions at Stephen Kozeniewski? Because he’s good, folks. Really good.
Stephen’s debut novel, Braineater Jones, first garnered my attention back when Red Adept Publishing announced they had acquired his book. The title intrigued me. But when I read the description, I knew I wouldn’t be passing this one by. Now, for full-disclosure purposes and whatnot, you should know that Stephen and I have both been published under the Red Adept imprint. We even share the same genre: horror/thriller. Because of this, I cannot review the book. I wish I could, though. In fact, it breaks my heart that I can’t. I have a short list of favorite authors, mostly consisting of big dogs like Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Chuck Palahniuk, and, now, Stephen Kozeniewski.
So, without further ego inflation…
E: Stephen! It’s a pleasure to have bounding around the hallowed halls of Ruminating On. I want to start this with the obligatory “Where did the idea for Braineater Jones come from?” question. While you’re thinking of your answer, I’m going to have a couple fingers of Old Crow. Fancy a zozzle?
SK: Thanks for having me, Ed! Normally when a horror author tells me I broke his heart, I worry that I’m going to end up like Fredo at the end of The Godfather Part II. But in this case I choose to take it as a compliment.
So, the story of the genesis of Braineater Jones (or, as I call it, “the jonesis”) is mildly interesting and wholly peculiar. I was watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade one day and I got to the part where the ludicrously hammy actor playing the German tank colonel yells out, “WO IST JOOOOOOOONES?” (Translation: “WHERE IS JOOOOOOOONES?” God bless my liberal arts degree.)
For the next few days I walked around yelling, “WO IST JOOOOOOOONES?” which gradually morphed into “BRAINEATER JOOOOOOOONES!” Then I began to think about who might have such an appellation. I realized it could be only one thing: a noir zombie detective. The rest, as they say, is history.
As to your offer, I have only one response: When Dr. James Crow invented the sour mash process in 1835, he revolutionized Kentucky bourbon making. Old Crow soon became the world’s best selling bourbon. Through the years, Old Crow has often been imitated but never duplicated. Enjoy the true original!
E: I’ve had some pretty far out or off the wall story ideas, but none that evolved from repeating a line from a movie over and over again. I have, however, run around the house reciting the poetry that is the Howard the Duck script. Don’t judge me. Moving on!
Did you outline/brainstorm/plot the novel, or did the the whole thing just kinda fall out of you?
SK: [Howard the Duck] George Lucas’s greatest film, bar none.
Hmm, interesting question. In terms of brainstorming, I do recall that one day in 2009 I went to my day job (I was working at a call center at the time), had a sudden visit from the muse, and scribbled the entire worldbuilding in a Steno pad in one day during smoke breaks. I think that my flash of inspiration was that booze is what makes the zombies work, and then the rest all just poured (ha!) out of me. I think I called this document “The Rules” and I may still have it somewhere…
As for the outlining/plotting business, my apologies but I’m not wading into that debate. I don’t even usually like to invoke the unpleasantly juvenile terms that we in the writing community have for some ungodly reason assigned to these matters. I rarely write more than a note or two to myself in the Word document I’m working in, but I usually have an idea of what story points my characters will hit, which then tends to fall into place during showers when I should be paying closer attention to my loofah. So your readers can choose whichever “P” term they’d like to assign to me based on that. I remain staunchly agnostic on the matter.
E: Good answer. I must say, though, I’m shocked you’ve used the Z-word twice, as I didn’t see it once in the book. Did you make a conscious effort to keep “Zombie” out of the book? If so, why?
SK: Ah, a man of discerning taste! It’s true, I don’t use the Z-word in the book and there are two reasons for that. The first is that in the 1930’s the word was not in common use, and certainly had nothing to do with our modern usage. IF a character had heard it he MIGHT have thought it meant something like “mindless slave.” You’ll have no doubt noticed some of the winking nods I made to the Z-word anyway, including the drink that Lazar orders at one point. When an actual Haitian witch doctor is introduced he assumes that Jones is not a mindless “zombie” but rather a “jumbee” or a sort of a backwards-headed revenant from Caribbean folklore. Of course, in such an over-the-top story there was only so much anachronism I was worried about. The second and “real” reason I didn’t use the word is because it’s a long-standing tradition not to in zombie literature. This goes back to Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, which introduced the concept of the modern flesh-eating walking corpse. Yet you’ll note the word “zombie” is never uttered once in the film. The most commonly used term in the movie is “ghoul” although we also got to enjoy such exciting euphemisms as “murder-happy characters.” In conversation and meta-context, though, I don’t mind it. (It’s in the glossary and on the back cover, for instance.) People need to know what you’re talking about.
E: I hadn’t thought of the prevalence of the word at that time in history. Good deal. Speaking of words used and unused, I loved that the word “Braineater” is a derogatory term in the novel; it added a certain reality to the fiction. The same thing with alcohol’s role in the book. The undead having to drink to maintain mental stability (in turn, pickling and preserving their minds) was one of the many things regarding your book that I will be talking about for some time. That, and the options which Hat Scratch Fever offers their clientele in the book. When the folks at home read it, they’ll understand just how disgustingly brilliant that bit is.
Let’s talk about things of the disgustingly brilliant variety for a moment. The cover states, “Corpses in Lust… It’s as gross as it sounds!” and you do indeed offer such things in the novel. Did the thought ever occur to you that certain scenes (I don’t want to spoil anything here) might be… going too far, or do you laugh in the face of such a question?
SK: No, I don’t laugh in the face of such a question. It’s a perfectly legitimate concern. However, I don’t believe in censorship, even self-censorship (in most cases.) For one thing, I wasn’t setting out to write a middle grade or young adult book. BRAINEATER JONES is strictly for adults. And even more than that, it’s horror. Horror fans are jaded, and they love their gore, so I didn’t feel compelled to rein in any of the disgusting stuff. Besides, it’s not like I’m the next Carlton Mellick III or Edward Lee. In spite of its more gruesome details, BRAINEATER JONES is tame compared to some of the stuff I read (and even some of the stuff I write.) I like to think that gorehounds will get their fix but there’s enough humorous “sugar” to help the medicine go down for everybody else.
E: Ah, a man after my own heart. You mentioned Carlton Mellick III. I thought I knew all three of his fans (me being a member of the trio). The Baby Jesus Butt Plug and The Menstruating Mall are two of my favorites. Do you have a favorite Mellick novel? Razor Wire Pubic Hair, perhaps?
SK: What, no love for Cuddly Holocaust or Tumor Fruit? Ha, sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have gone name-dropping somebody I haven’t read more widely. My favorite work of his is “Lemon Knives ‘n’ Cockroaches”, which is actually a short story, but it is probably the single work of fiction which most haunts my nightmares, barring Lee’s Mr. Torso. Oh, and that part in Looper where they started vivisecting the guy and it happened in real time to his future self…
E: I haven’t read Lee’s Mr. Torso. I’ll have to check that one out. Man, we got off on a tangent. Let me see if I can rein us back in. Where were we? Right, Braineater Jones.
Having loved your debut novel, I have to ask, can we expect more from the undead P.I.? If so, how long do you see the series running?
SK: Hoo boy, that’s a toughie. This book came from a very singular place during a very singular time in my life. I can’t imagine getting back into that headspace again. But if popular support demanded it I wouldn’t shirk my duty to write a sequel. So as not to dodge your question, my plans for HARDCHARGER JONES (if I ever write it) would involve everyone’s favorite deadhead coaching a Harlem Globetrotters-esque minor league baseball team. (When your readers get to the end of BRAINEATER they’ll know what I’m talking about.) Ultimately he and his very, shall we say, “unique” baseballers would be called upon to parachute into France for a Dirty Dozen-style mission at the onset of World War II. Right now the best thing you and your fans can do to make that happen is to buy the book, spread the gospel, and possibly start a Save Jericho-type peanut-sending campaign to demand a sequel. I’m not made of stone, after all. (And I love peanuts.)
E: As do we all! Even those of us with peanut allergies can see the seductive quality inherent in those tasty little nuts.
Well, folks, that’s all the time we have for today. I’d like to express my sincerest appreciation to Stephen for stopping by. It’s Halloween, and I have pumpkins to carve, children to dress, and candy to devour. You, on the other hand, have a new favorite book to meet. Braineater Jones, by Stephen Kozeniewski is available now.
Any final words, Stephen?
SK: So long, and thanks for all the fish!
To find out more about Stephen or buy your copy of Braineater Jones, click one of the links below.
Book Page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/braineater-jones-by-stephen-kozeniewski/
Author page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/stephen-kozeniewski/