By Sean Tuohy and Daniel Ford
Zombie private eye. Prohibition. Booze quenches his cravings for human flesh. Severed head as a partner.
Yeah, we’ll read that.
Horror author Stephen Kozeniewski’s Braineater Jones has one of those premises that can’t be anything other than wildly entertaining and terrifying. We’re eager to dig into it…wait…that came out wrong…
Kozeniewski put down the human arm he was devouring long enough to answer a few of Sean’s questions about his series, how his time in the military shaped his writing, and what's next for him as an author.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Stephen Kozeniewski: I've been writing since I was seven, and I started my first novel at 12. I know hearing that is usually a big turn-on, but sorry, ladies, I'm taken.
ST: You were in the military for several years. Did that affect your writing at all?
SK: Well, the most obvious way it affected my writing is that for several years I didn't attempt to publish. There's no rule that specifically states soldiers can't publish (for instance, Mikhail Lerma and Weston Ochse are both active duty horror authors), but I felt that the starkly political nature of some of my writing directly contradicted my obligation as an officer to remain apolitical. To put it simply: I didn't want anything I said to be misrepresented as something the Army said. So I held off for a few years, which means I missed the boom times of the 1990s and 2000s, but I think my writing is probably better for it.
ST: What draws you to the horror/zombie genre?
SK: I've pontificated elsewhere about the appeal/repulsion of the zombie genre, so I think I'll focus a bit on the horror part here. I actually recently attended Central Pennsylvania Comic Con with my fellow authors Mary Fan and Elizabeth Corrigan where we did a light-hearted "Battle of the Genres" panel. I, naturally, argued the appeal of horror over sci-fi and fantasy. I hope to do it again with a videographer present so I can just direct you to YouTube, but for now, to summarize my point, fear is the primal emotion. Not hope, not wonder, fear. Horror will always be able to strike the deepest chord with us of any kind of fiction because it strikes at the very core of our lizard brains.
ST: Braineater Jones is not your typical zombie book. Where did idea come from?
SK: The character name "Braineater Jones" actually pre-dated any sort of concept by many, many years. I had no idea who Braineater Jones was, but I knew that the name sounded great. I knew he had to be a zombie...but what kind of a zombie has a name? Then one day it occurred to me that Braineater Jones had to be a name for a private eye, and with that everything else practically spilled out of me: He was solving his own murder, it had to be during Prohibition, zombies needed booze to think, The Old Man sat in a vat of liquor, etc. etc.
ST: Braineater Jones is a zombie novel but feels very neo-noir. Was this done on purpose or did the story just come out that way?
SK: It was a deliberate genre mashup, à la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. At the time I thought it was unique and nobody could ever come up with such a genius idea as a noir zombie. But of course, since then I've discovered Dead Dick, Dan Shamble, Stubbs the Zombie, Matt Richter, etc. etc. I'm still, of course, very proud of my unique contribution to the sub-sub-genre.
ST: How long did it take to turn Braineater Jones from idea in to a novel?
SK: One month. Braineater Jones was a 2009 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated) entry. I don't recommend the one-month process for every kind of novel, but Braineater Jones was intentionally stream-of-consciousness in style. I think that forcing myself to pound out whatever was in my mind day after day led to the wonky, skewed worldview that makes Braineater Jones what it is.
ST: What is your writing process?
SK: Well, I just described the abnormal writing process I used for my debut novel. Normally, I hunker down in my home office, light a candle, grab a cup of coffee or something harder depending on the time of night, and just pound away at it. The novel, I mean.
ST: What does your future hold for you as a writer?
SK: The good news is I just signed a nine-book deal with Permuted Press ("Yay! Hooray! You go, boy!")! So I'm locked in for about the next two to three years on some science fiction and vampire novels. But fans of my zombie work shouldn't fret! I'm already about a third of the way through the sequel to The Ghoul Archipelago, so look for that in the next year or so. I'm also working with voiceover artist extraordinaire Steve Rimpici and legendary animator Zee Risek to bring you a Braineater Jones cartoon series. It's still in development now, so I can't promise anything on the timeframe, but I do know that a successful existing property is easier to sell than an unsuccessful one so if you want to help, the best thing you can do is help me pimp the novel.
ST: What advice do you give to other writers?
SK: Don't take writing advice.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about you?
SK: I once ate an onion like an apple to prove how tough I was.