Kirk Jones (k3rk Dʒoʊnz): 1. English Director of Nanny McPhee 2. “Sticky Fingaz,” rap artist and actor who played Blade for the television series 3. Canadian who survived a dive over Niagara Falls . . . only to return and pass upon his second attempt. 4. Boring white author of Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals (Eraserhead Press, 2010), Journey to Abortosphere (Rooster Republic, 2014), Die Empty (Atlatl, 2017), and Aetherchrist (Apex, 2018) who often gets mistaken for the other, arguably more notable, Kirk Jones fellows. 5. Also not Kirk Byron Jones.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I come from a small town called Fine, NY about an hour from the Canadian border. I like quiet.
2. You are a teacher. I imagine that with the school year being in full swing that makes you pretty busy in the evenings and possibly on the weekends. How do you balance your work load and your writing?
It used to keep me very busy. I still remember doing writing conferences with students on AIM years ago. I was pulling like 10-hour days back then.
Those days are behind me though. I leave my office between 3-5pm every day, and I don’t take work home with me, except checking e-mail after hours.
My writing counts as scholarship in my job, which is a requirement for advancement, so I spend 8-10 hours a week in office writing. Right now that happens on Fridays typically.
If I’m really in the groove I’ll continue writing at home, but I haven’t done that since last fall. I’m too tired when I get home and I like to unwind with the kids.
The important thing is to not compromise. No matter what. You want a Friday free, don’t schedule meetings or classes on Friday. If you have to work every day, set a time aside and work when you can. Set a number of hours a week and make it happen. If the work isn’t appealing, try something different.
I realize I’m writing from a position of privilege. I’m lucky as hell to be doing what I’m doing and to get paid what I do and to get professional recognition at my job for writing fiction. What I don’t always see is my ignorance about others’ situations. So if that line about not compromising comes off as pompous or idealistic, then fuck me and my advice. Here’s something more all-encompassing:
Write like you’re Burger King. Have it your way.
3. Can you take us through a typical writing session? Do you listen to music? Or maybe lock yourself in a basement for complete peace and quiet?
I write in six stages:
- Rough outline
- Detailed outline
- Working draft
- Ask Atlatl or Apex if they’re willing to read my work.
I brainstorm and write the rough outline in my basement, breaking an idea down scene by scene, preferably with a beer, but I’m trying to cut back on that. Getting too old and tired for that now.I usually play a shitty 80s flick in the background on low volume, or He-Man. Nostalgia is my jam, but I don’t have much time to focus on it, so 80s has kind of become the soundtrack to my life. It hovers in the background because I don’t want to stagnate by actively focusing on it.I write the detailed outline in my office.I write the detailed outline out one scene at a time.With the door shut.
With the lights out and ambient music playing softly. I’m really into chillwave lately, but man I really love The Midnight and Timecop1983 as well, which I think is synthwave. I can’t keep track of all the delineations. All I know is I really enjoy it.
I let that detailed outline for the first scene percolate overnight.
The next day I turn that detailed outline scene into a working draft scene.
I have two monitors. I have my detailed outline on one monitor, and I write the working draft on the other.
Once I am done fleshing out my detailed outline in “working draft” form, I go to the next section’s rough outline and flesh it out into a detailed outline.
The next day I go in and do the “working draft” writing on that.
Right now I get to do this once a week, so I usually try to flesh out a few scenes each week in preparation for my Friday writing. If I’m lucky I’ll get through all of those scenes and I’ll be able to detail outline a few scenes for the next week.
In between those writing days I’m thinking about and talking about my book on my audio recorder, collecting ideas, and preparing for future stories. So while I don’t “write” on my current project every day, I’m thinking about writing every day and talking about it, and I write about 10 pages of e-mails and feedback on the daily, so I’m always going through the motions. The trouble is shifting gears from academic writing to professional correspondence relating to assessment to casual conversation to creative writing, all of which have different genre conventions. But that’s a discussion for another time.
4. You were in The New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press. I know they used to use it like a trial period of some sorts. I suppose you had to impress them with sales and promotion to get a contract with them. Was it difficult trying to meet their sales requirements? What have you learned about promoting your work since then?
We had to sell 200 copies. To meet that figure towards the end, I bought copies wholesale from EP and then sold them for $5 to my college students who were interested. Then I’d take that money and buy copies from Amazon to count towards my sales goal. So ultimately every two copies I sold resulted in one actual copy sold that counted towards my 200 total.
I was about 10 short of the 200 goal.
But then we were told that the 200 goal was just a superficial number and to write a letter explaining why we were interested in becoming part of EP, which was good news for us, because most of us thought we hadn’t made it.
I wrote my letter, and was not offered a contract. One of my friends later said he heard through the grapevine that one of the reasons I was not offered a contract was because my letter never really mentioned a contract at all. Truth be told, I was pussyfooting around very carefully because I heard that the contract might result in publication delays because EP was a growing publisher and releasing titles from NBAS folks might be a lower priority. But ultimately it really depended on the appeal of the title and story and the pace at which the story was written. Some NBASers, like David Barbee, are published fairly consistently because they have great, high-concept titles that they can bang out really fast. Others, like Eric Hendrixson, may work on a title for years before it finally sees the light of day.
Maybe it is just me infusing the experience with a bit of karmic balance, but I also suspect I wasn’t offered a contract because me and another author were self-righteous pricks about the whole process. Our egos were larger than our prowess as writers. We felt we deserved more at the time. We used to call one another about imagined slights . . . I won’t elaborate. I’ll just say it was a toxic dynamic we both contributed to. That was my second life lesson on a topic that has become a prominent feature in my life: never trust someone who tries to drag you into their misery. If I had a dollar for every time I was dragged into a dynamic like that . . . I’d have about four bucks, and I still kick myself in the ass for every dynamic I foolishly dove into like that. And I’m not just talking about in the writing industry. I’m talking everywhere now. I’ve promised myself never to get drawn into dynamics like that again.
It is hard to avoid when you’re starting out. You have to watch out for folks who try to commiserate with you. It’s like a game of asshole poker, for lack of a better simile. And it starts off innocently enough, with people just sort of picking at wounds, testing to see what kinds of things bother you. If you indulge them at all, they’ll keep upping the ante. But eventually folks who initiate this kind of game will up the ante to a degree you can’t get down with. They’ll try to draw you into openly shitting on someone, or trying to draw more people into the fold, and if you don’t go along, they’ll cash in the chips and you lose the rapport you’ve built up with that person, and they’ll sell you up shit creek. You know the trope. Next thing you know they’re going around telling everyone about the shit you talked like they were innocent bystanders.
The hardest part is distinguishing between folks who are just venting about an industry or profession, because there are frustrating idiosyncrasies, and people who are venting because they deal in muckraking. You kind of have to keep a degree of professional distance from people.
My recommendation is, if you need to vent, vent to someone you trust outside of the industry. Because then very little is at stake.
I’m always generally reluctant to share errors in judgment like the one above regarding my time with NBAS, but the truth is we need more authors to be candid about their errors. We all fuck up. If you don’t you’re either very lucky or you have a very good mentor, in which case you’re lucky for that. The rest of us learn through trial and error, sometimes more errors than others. I’d say at the end of the day I’m one of those authors who learned how to do things the right way by doing just about everything the wrong way. But I’m sure there’s still plenty more for me to fuck up along the way.
5. What has been your biggest struggle with writing? Is there a book or story of yours that was more difficult to finish than any other?
As far as struggles with writing go, I’ll defer to my response above. Politics. Politics were very tough for me when I started. I’ve always been pretty naïve when it comes to that shit. I don’t think I truly learned a great deal about interpersonal dynamics until I was 34 or so, like a year or two ago. Prior to that I was constantly fluctuating between outspoken, taken aback, confused, and angry. I’m still learning now, but I’m less of those four previously-mentioned variables than in the past. Well, maybe not less outspoken. But I’m not as angry or confused.
Journey to Abortosphere was the hardest book to write. I hated writing that fucking book. The further I got into it, the more I hated it. I wrote it because I thought it was my best bet at a continued chance in the bizarro genre, nothing more. I’ve said before I had only a superficial understanding of bizarro at the time, and I wrote the juvenile tripe I associated with bizarro: buttholes being displaced by time travel.
I enjoy the book in retrospect, but upon writing it, ugh. It was a fucking nightmare.
6. Who are your literary influences? What books are your favorite? Are there any books or authors that you repeatedly re-read?
Philip K. Dick is the man. I go back to Barker’s Great and Secret Show and Everville every few years. For Dick I love Valis and A Scanner Darkly. A few years ago I started really getting into Anderson Prunty’s work, which makes having Die Empty published with Atlatl even more surreal. I really like Fill the Grand Canyon and Live Forever. The protagonist has such a superficial goal, and for me it’s a metaphor for all of our goals. What do they really mean? Double rainbow, man. What does it meeean!?
I’m digging Lucas Mangum’s work too, particularly Mania, which I still believe is his best work to date.
I think old George Billions (Buying Illegal Bugs with Bitcoin) is an up and coming voice as well.
All that being said, I read pretty tame stuff these days. Anything too gory and I generally turn away from it. It doesn’t mean I don’t admire the authors or their books. I’m just a more sensitive reader now that I’m older.
7. When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Were there any books that were the catalyst to starting you on this path?
Stephen King’s Insomnia was the first book I read that made me want to be an author. (I only read about half before my I lost interest. Then my house burned down, so there was no finishing that one). I remember using my mom’s old Smith & Corona typewriters to write a story about some old guy ambling around the streets of a small town. I just wanted to focus in on the details. I gave up for several years after that. I wish I wouldn’t have.
8. How did you get into Bizarro fiction? What book was your introduction?
So this is how Edward Furlong feels when he’s asked what it was like to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not that I get tired of telling the story. I just have nothing new to say about it. So here goes:
I searched “Weird Shit” on Yahoo or Google and CM III’s page was one of the first that showed up. I was fascinated. I found the EP forum and checked that out. That was also fascinating, and a bit frightening. I bought Steel Breakfast Era, which at the time was housed with another book. I liked them both. Then I bought a starter kit and loved Donihe’s The Greatest Fucking Moment in Sports. In my opinion, it is still the pinnacle of bizarro humor to this day.
9. What is next for Kirk Jones? You recently released Aetherchrist through Apex press, do you have another book ready to put out into the world or are you finishing something up?
Atlatl is going to publish a book tentatively titled Fuck Happiness, though I’m a bit torn on the title since there are like 100 books now with f*ck in the title. F*ck this and F*ck that. It seems really tacky now and cliché. But part of me thinks, “Fuck it. Just don’t censor the title and that’ll give me the edge of distinction.” I don’t know. Anyway, we’re working with Matthew Revert on a cover and the manuscript has been done since last year. We’re just waiting for the right time to dive into it for 2019.
It’s a hard book to describe. I’d say where Die Empty is a sort of middle class dystopia story, Fuck Happiness is a working-class story about people who find salvation through misery as a social commodity. The Mandela Effect plays a large role in the story, and I think it is the most surreal, both in terms of content and style, that I have or will ever write. It may very well be my last bizarro novel, and it is the first one I am wholly proud of because I got to write it on my own terms without worrying what others would think about it or who would publish it.
After that I have Godwomb, which is complete now and sitting with Apex. Will they publish it? I don’t know. They expressed an interest in reading it, but have not said anything since my initial submission in July. I’m starting to get a bit nervous. It’s second person again (As is Fuck Happiness) and I know that can be unconventional. I’m taking a break from second person now, but it just came so naturally to me after Die Empty that I couldn’t help but bang a few more out in that fashion. My next is third person though:
Right now I’m working on a book tentatively titled Dying Breeds, a book about a camera that allegedly destroyed the silent film industry and the serial killer trying to track the camera down because it is rumored to have the ability to kill those photographed. I’m about half way done with writing it. And I’m really excited about this. It’s something I have been working on for many years. The initial incarnation of the story was submitted to The New Flesh, a collection WP III planned to publish back in 2010, I believe. Then this website called Death Head Grin published that story after the publisher who agreed to publish WP III’s anthology folded. I submitted a sequel story to Lamplight, but they passed. Honestly, the follow up wasn’t as compelling as the first. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this story for a long time, and I’m glad I’m finally finishing it.
10. Tell us about your most recent release. How has it been received compared to previous releases?
Aetherchrist came out in May through Apex.
It’s classified as dark sci-fi. It has been described as fast-paced, paranoid, and ultimately it takes a turn in directions unanticipated. I’m really pleased with the concept, the idea that analog was used to suppress naturally-occurring wavelengths human thought was transferred across interpersonally. Now that analog is being phased out, people’s ability to pick up on the thoughts of others is returning, and it is resulting in paranoia and chaos rather than peace and harmony. Some people have such strong wavelengths that they can transmit their thoughts onto old analog receivers like televisions and old CB radios, and they’re using that power to broadcast their ideas to the world. Others have a sort of converse wavelength that inhibits analog frequency.
Anyway, the ideas are only explored a little in the book, and the book is so fertile in terms of concepts that I’m definitely doing another, longer book down the road based on this mythos. I’m already priming myself for it, but I have a few other projects to burn through first.
It was received by the audience I have carried with me from other titles well, and the audience Apex brought to my work has been pretty positive as well. Some folks like the bizarro elements (I often wonder what bizarro elements) and others find it too out there for their tastes.
But Apex is all about genre bending and experimenting, so I think it was a great home for Aetherchrist. I’m not sure about sales or anything. I haven’t heard anything yet in that regard, but as long as folks are reading and hating or loving it, I’m happy.
You can find Kirk Jones at these various sites: