An Interview with the Funniest Man in the Gore Business
Today I sat down with Jeff Strand, author of DWELLER, the WOLF HUNT books, THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER, and many other gleefully macabre books. His exhaustive, exhausting, depressingly funny biography is too good to summarize, so you can find it at his website. His newest novel, BLISTER, comes out pretty much right now, so you should totally check it out.
PATRICK: Hi Jeff! Thanks for stopping by.
The main character in your new book, BLISTER, is a cartoonist, while you’re known as “the funniest man in the gore business.” Where do comedy and horror intersect?
JEFF: Comedy and horror intersect all over the place. It could be nervous laughter because of the high tension level, or it could be a great big guffaw because something is so over-the-top disgusting. Even within my own work, I’ve got books that are comedies with a horror premise, and books that are horror novels with a lot of humor, and books that give both aspects equal attention. There’s an infinite number of ways to blend the two genres.
PATRICK: Cool. With such a diverse body of work, comedy, horror, adult, young adult, do you find yourself revisiting certain themes?
JEFF: Unintentionally, yes. I never think, “Okay, with this new book I’m going to deepen my exploration of this particular theme,” but I’ll occasionally realize, “Oh, wow, I’m writing another book about a dysfunctional friendship.” And somebody once pointed out to be that the theme of good people being forced to do bad things often pops up in my work, even though it’s not something I think about much when I’m not writing about it.
Also, people often lose body parts in my work.
PATRICK: Does it pop up when you’re forced to do bad things?
JEFF: I clearly said “GOOD people being forced to do bad things.” Irrelevant in my case.
PATRICK: There is that.
So let’s flip the question on its head. Are there any themes you deliberately avoid?
JEFF: No. Which is not to say that I tackle hot-button issues with reckless abandon. When I was on a “Comedy in Horror” panel at a recent World Horror Convention, one of the panelists said that there is absolutely nothing funny about sexual assault, ever. I didn’t argue her point, but somebody in the audience did, pointing to my short story “Sex Potion #147.” So I was forced to say that, yep, I’d write about sexual assault in a comedic manner! But it’s certainly not presented in a “Haw haw, attempted rape is a hoot!” manner.
Have I ever written a horror/comedy about concentration camps? Nope. Will I ever do so? Very, very, very unlikely. But there’s no theme where I can say, “I’d never write about that.” I have a not-yet-published novella called COLD DEAD HANDS that tackles the theme of “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and it will almost certainly piss some people off. I’m okay with that.
PATRICK: Has anyone ever taken offense to your work? If so, how did you respond (if at all)?
JEFF: It happens very rarely. For the most part, I think the people who would be inclined to take offense to my work don’t buy it in the first place. If somebody is being reasonable and they’re looking to interact, I’ll respond, but 99% of offended people are expressing it within the context of an angry one-star Amazon review, and it’s always best to ignore those.
PATRICK: Right–file under “not the target audience” and move on!
So let’s talk about BLISTER. Can you tell me a bit what it’s about?
JEFF: BLISTER takes place in 1985 and it’s about Jason Tray, a successful cartoonist whose attempt to get back at some neighborhood kids who keep throwing rocks at his dog goes awry. His agent sends him to a cabin near a small town for some mandatory rest and relaxation until it all blows over. An evening of drinking with the locals ends with a visit to a shed where the town legend, Blister, lives. He looks through the window and sees a ghastly, horribly disfigured thing…is it even a woman? He reacts as one might expect, and the others have a good laugh at his expense. But when he wakes up the next morning, he feels terrible. What kind of jerk would peek through somebody’s window late at night, acting like he was at a freak show? Jason decides that he should apologize. And our story begins…
PATRICK: So his apology is accepted and everyone lives happily ever after?
JEFF: Yes. It’s a short, merry book.
Is this a supernatural book? Human horror-and-foibles? Or is discovering that part of the reading experience?
JEFF: I’m trying to keep most of the story under wraps, but I can definitely say that there are no supernatural elements.
PATRICK: Cool, thanks. So what’s next on the horizon? Any interesting projects you’re working on?
JEFF: My next young adult comedy novel is finished, but still doesn’t have a title, which is NOT the way I usually roll. It’s about a teenage magician (of the Penn & Teller variety, not Harry Potter) and will be out next year from Sourcebooks, who published my other three YA books. I have a completed fantasy novel called THE ODYSSEY OF HARRIETT, and I’m anxiously waiting to hear if an editor at a major house is going to give me thumbs-up or drop me into a spiked pit. I’m currently working on a crime thriller called SKEETER’S CASH, about a couple’s desperate attempts to return some money they accidentally acquired after a ransom drop goes disastrously wrong, and a non-stop-action vampire novel called MILES OF NIGHT.
PATRICK: Sounds… busy. Your lovely wife Lynne Hansen has enjoyed much critical success with her hilarious zombie short, “Chomp,” and I had the pleasure of seeing both that and “Gave Up the Ghost” (based on Jeff’s story of the same name) at the Buffalo Fantastic Films Festival. Hilarious and dark stuff. Anything else movie-related coming up in your future?
JEFF: A movie based on my book STALKING YOU NOW starts shooting next week in Belfast, though it’ll be called “Mindy Has to Die.” It’ll be the seventh feature film directed by George Clarke, who also wrote the screenplay. It should be a very faithful adaptation of the book except with charming Irish accents. Meanwhile, a feature film based on COLD DEAD HANDS is currently in pre-production, this one written and directed by my wife, Lynne.
PATRICK: Sounds fantastic! So what do you do when you’re not writing?
JEFF: Read. Watch movies. Goof around on social media pretending that it counts as writing time. Go through the hell on earth of car shopping (admittedly, this week is the first time I’ve done that in twelve years, but the scars will linger forever). Dinner with friends. Think about household tasks that need to be done and, 7% of the time, actually do them. I emphatically do NOT play video games, despite my love for them, because the end result of that would be an interview question saying, “So, Jeff, you haven’t written a new book in six years? Why is that?”
PATRICK: I know exactly what you mean; I haven’t played a video game in years for much the same reason.
So what can you recommend that you’ve read/watched lately? Anything in particular strike you as worth sharing with the Slush Pile Heroes audience?
JEFF: THE MAGICIAN’S LIE, by Greer Macallister, is the best book I’ve read in quite some time. Though I don’t really think of myself as a fan of historical fiction, a couple of my favorite books are WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen and CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL by Glenn David Gold, so apparently I have a weakness for books about performers set in the early 20th century. Meanwhile, on a completely different note, I enjoyed the hell out of LARRY, Adam Millard’s silly slasher spoof.
PATRICK: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
JEFF: Dave Barry, in a shameless attempt to get my name in front of his vast audience.
I’d say Douglas Adams, if he were still alive.
PATRICK: Both great choices, and I find your books similar to theirs in general hilarious flippancy. Fans of Barry and Adams should definitely check out your stuff.
A few parting questions to round out the interview:
Mustard or ketchup on a hotdog?
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Boxers or briefs?
JEFF: Mustard. Ketchup is unacceptable by international hot dog law, unless you’re a five-year-old whose parents can’t be bothered to teach the difference between right and wrong.
Star Wars, minus the prequels, but very much including The Force Awakens.
Boxers. Sexy, sexy boxers.
PATRICK: You, sir, are a monster. And totally wrong about ketchup.
Thanks for stopping by!
You can find Jeff at www.jeffstrand.com, and check out any of the books mentioned throughout the interview by clicking on the title or picture.