A post in which J.A. Konrath discusses books, writing, and dogs.
Many of you already know that I’m a big fan of author J.A. (Joe) Konrath. For those who don’t know, he’s the author of numerous short stories and several novels (that are available for free at JAKonrath.com). He’s best known for his thriller series featuring Chicago Police Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels.
On March 31, AFRAID hits store shelves. Writing under the name Jack Kilborn, Joe delivers a startling horror novel that is unlike any of his previous works. As a run-up to the AFRAID release date, Joe is taking a blog book tour. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to have Joe/J.A./Jack here to discuss a little bit about what goes into his writing.
-Joe, there’s quite a contrast between your “Jack Daniels” series and the new Kilborn title AFRAID. When you’re writing, is there a different mind-set between Kilborn and Konrath?
Yes. When I'm Konrath, I'm more playful. I have a great deal of fun writing the Jack Daniels thrillers, and I hope some of that translates to the page.
With Kilborn I try to freak myself out by going places that scare me. I'm pretty sure that also translates to the page, because people who have read AFRAID have cursed me out for giving them nightmares.
Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." That also works for fear. Which means I manage to scare myself a lot.
But for some strange reason, that doesn't work with humor. Maybe because when I think of a joke, it isn't a surprise to me, and humor is very much about surprise, whereas fear is a slow, suspenseful build.
That said, I did laugh aloud a few times writing CHERRY BOMB, all of them concerning the character of Slappy. I think Slappy is the greatest character I've ever written. Just thinking about him cracks me up.
-From conversations we’ve had before, I know that you can sometimes crank a book out fairly quickly. What’s involved in your writing process?
I sit my butt in the chair and crank it out. Inspiration is for writers who aren't on a deadline.
Creativity is like any other skill. I'm able to turn it on and off at will.
-I love comedy; so much that about 75% of the content on my iPod is stand-up comedy. There are a lot of laughs in your Konrath books. Who influenced your sense of humor?
We've hung out often enough that you know I can find a joke in any situation. It's a bad habit, sort of like Tourette's, except instead of inappropriate language I spout inappropriate one-liners.
Robin Williams is very good at that. So is Woody Allen, and Groucho Marx. I wouldn't call them influences though--this is just how I'm wired. Pop me in a situation, I start tossing off jokes until I've offended everyone within earshot.
I think of it as comedic chess. What are my possible moves, what's the best one, where will that lead to next.
Some of that happens in my books, but it's really more of an in-person thing. Jokes in books tend to slow down the action.
-You’ve been writing for a while, and your line, “What do you call an author who never gives up? Published,” serves as an inspiration to a lot of aspiring writers. What was the moment when you realized that you wanted to write for more than just the fun of it?
After college. I had the writer dream real bad, wanting to some day be paid for being creative. It only took me ten books, five hundred rejections, and twelve years for the dream to come true. If it took twice as long, I still would have pursued it. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet, and get to make a living doing something I love.
It's a living that involves driving a ten year old car and eating a lot of Ramen noodles, but I still wake up every day with a smile.
-Everybody has to deal with a lot of day-to-day drudgery; did you have any regular jobs before you become a big-shot author?
Photographer. Bartender. Bookseller. Waiter. Corporate video editor. Pizza delivery guy. Water meter reader. That was a fun one. I used the "I'm taking a leak" joke a lot on that job.
-I was picking Jen’s brain for some questions to ask you and she’d like to know what, in your opinion as a reader, makes the perfect book?
I like books where I want the characters to succeed. If the writer throws in a few twists that I didn't see coming, I like them even more.
My basic formula is to take a flawed but likeable hero, drop her into a situation that she'll never be able to survive, then figure out how to keep her alive long enough to triumph. If it's a Jack Daniels book, I also add some jokes. If it's a Jack Kilborn book, I add set pieces meant to prolong and enhance terror.
-Does anyone else in your family write? If so, are they influenced by your writing or vice versa?
Thankfully, I'm the only writer in the family. My eleven year old writes stories for fun, and I've told him he can be whatever he wants to be when he grows up, after he gets his medical degree.
It's a tough profession, writing. I've heard there are more NFL players than full time fiction writers.
-This blog is called My Life with Dogs; so what is you're life with dogs like? Also, one of our dogs died back in January and I know you lost a dog last year. What impact, if any, did that have on your writing?
I have two dogs, Jack and Herb, both bitches. Jack is a Rhodesian Ridgeback, with a bit of Lab in her. She's a big, fat, laid back dog who doesn't mind if you pick her up, throw her around your shoulders, and go for a jog. Which I don't, because she weighs ninety pounds.
Herb is a Shar-pei and a temperamental little princess. She's dark brown, and looks a lot like a pot-bellied pig. Herb bosses Jack around, even though Jack is the pack leader. Much like their relationship in my books.
We had a third dog, Neil, that we had to put to sleep a few months ago. Get your hankies ready and I'll tell the story.
Neil was 15 years old. A German Shorthaired Pointer. Smart as hell, but over the last year his health began to decline. It eventually got to the point where he couldn't walk, so I had to take him in.
Our vet knows my wife, because she's there all the time. Maria has her own dog walking business. But I decided I'd be the one to take the dog on his last walk, because I didn't want her to have to go through the whole saying goodbye tearfest.
So Maria calls ahead, tells them I'm coming. I carry the dog into the office, put him on the little table. There are two nurses and a vet in the room with me. One of the nurses is crying.
The vet explains, "I'm going to hook up a catheter, start an IV drip. Your dog will just go to sleep. You can hold him, talk to him, pet him, while the procedure is going on."
So she puts in the needle, and I'm patting my dog on the head as his eyelids close, and I say, "This sure seems like a lot of work for just a rabies shot."
The nurses' jaws drop, and the vet freaks out, reaching to pull out the tube, her eyes filled with panic.
"Just kidding," I say. "We're killing him."
They've since banned me from the office. But afterward I bet they found it pretty funny.
I wouldn't say it affected my writing, but it did show me that I could still crack jokes when I was all broken up inside. I think Neil would have appreciated it, if he hadn't already been dead at the time.
It was much harder on my son. But luckily, there are many children's books out there that help kids deal with the death of a pet. Here are a few titles I found helpful.
IT'S EUTHANASIA, CHARLIE BROWN! by Charles M. Schultz
RIBSY AND THE DRUNK DRIVER by Beverly Cleary
GARFIELD'S MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION by Jim Davis
THE CAT IN THE HAT GETS CANCER by Dr. Seuss
CUDDLES DIED BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T LOVE HER ENOUGH by Judy Blume
FUN FACTS ABOUT DECOMPOSITION by Bill Nye the Science Guy
WHERE'S WALDO'S DOG? by Martin Handford
THE BLACK STALLION: FATAL MALNOURISHMENT! by Walter Farley
ONE FISH, TWO FISH, DEAD FISH, YOUR FAULT by Dr. Seuss
WHERE THE BREATHING ENDS by Shel Silverstein
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT STEW by Margery Williams
SEE SPOT DIE (or DICK AND JANE DIG A GRAVE) by Unknown
PARVO THE PUPPY: A MATTER OF TIME by Ken L. Coff
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ROT by Maurice Sendak
YOU SAID KITTY WAS IN HEAVEN AND I FOUND HER IN THE TRASH by Erma Bombeck
HAROLD AND THE PURPLE DECOMPOSING KITTY by Crockett Johnson
POLLY WANT A EULOGY? by Nina Laden
THE BERENSTAIN BEAR RUG by Jan and Stan Berenstain
ALL DOGS TASTE LIKE CHICKEN a Walt Disney Reader
EVERYTHING DIES, INCLUDING DADDY, MOMMY, AND YOU by Steve from Blue's Clues
WHY WON'T HUCKLE CAT WAKE UP? by Richard Scarry
THE VERY HUNGRY HAMSTER ATE HER BABIES by Eric Carle
A.S.P.C.D.O.A. by Sandra Boynton
BABE THE PORK LOIN by Dick King-Smith
-(By the way, when I read this in my email, I laughed so friggin' hard. I know it's twisted, but it's also hilarious. If, for some reason, you think Joe's a bit too twisted I highly recommend you read this to get Joe's thoughts on pushing the envelope.)-
Now I've got a question for you. I place booksellers on a pedestal somewhere between God and people who buy me beer. You've read both AFRAID, and the new Jack Daniels book, CHERRY BOMB. Without spoiling any of the major plot points, I'd love to get your opinions on both books.
Sure thing. AFRAID was the creepiest book I’ve read in a long time. I’ve reviewed it here in a previous post, but I’ll say again that AFRAID starts with a bang and never lets up. It’s been a while since I’ve had to set a book aside to get away from the tension. Read it as soon as you can. As always, I know where you can find a copy.
Now, about CHERRY BOMB. Hands down, this is the best of the Jack Daniels series. (I say that, knowing that I’m a character in the fifth book, FUZZY NAVEL.) While it’s clearly the same series, CHERRY BOMB has a different feel than the rest of the books. Joe takes us on a journey that will challenge everything we know about the characters we love.
CHERRY BOMB opens mere days after the end of FUZZY NAVEL, with Jack attending the funeral of (name of dead character). The narrative splits equal time between Jack and Alex Kork (the twisted antagonist), making us privy to the all the thoughts and actions of these characters who are readying themselves for a final showdown. In the ultimate game of cat and mouse, which woman’s need for vengeance will win out? Coming in July…
Thanks so much for stopping by, Joe. It’s always interesting, and entertaining, to get little peak behind the curtain.
Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for having me.