We horror enthusiasts keep lists for almost everything: movies we want to see, books we need to read, horror memorabilia we simply must own. Now that Summer’s begun, and you’re likely putting the finishing touches on your 2019 Summer Reading List, it’s about time someone introduces you to the most creative living horror author in the U.S.
Jeff Strand is, among other things, a comedic genius. Yes, he’s a horror writer, and yes, he knows how to terrify readers…but he also knows how to find the hilarity in even the darkest situations. His short story collections Gleefully Macabre Tales and Dead Clown Barbecue are two of my favorite Strand books to show the uninitiated, and I’ve found that even the most elitist horror fan is quickly able to re-locate their funny bone after reading only a single story.
Strand was kind enough to answer some questions for Crypt Teaze about his career as a writer and his latest novel, My Pretties.
Crypt Teaze: You’ve covered A LOT of creative ground over the years with dozens of novels and a few short story collections, and yet you still manage to release a few books a year without running out of ideas. How do you stay so prolific?
Jeff Strand: I quit my day job about three years ago, and now writing is my only source of income. When I was in the office at my old job, I didn't have the option of saying, "Gosh, I just don't feel like working today!" and it's basically the same now. Since I do not have a big healthy bank account, I have to stay prolific or I'm going to end up right back at that desk job.
I keep the new ideas flowing by bouncing around with different sub-genres and tones. So working backwards with my most recent books, My Pretties is a very dark psychological thriller, Ferocious is a fun action-packed B-movie-style romp, Bring Her Back is an incredibly violent pitch black revenge comedy, Sick House is a slow-burn supernatural novel, and so on. And then I'll throw in something like Kumquat (romantic comedy) and Bang Up (smut comedy) just to mix things up, though—excluding my young adult work—if I veer too far from horror sales suffer in a big way.
CT: Can you tell us a bit about your latest novel, My Pretties?
JS: This is one of my more "serious" novels, along the lines of Pressure, though of course there's still a lot of humor in it. It's about an extremely unpleasant man who kidnaps women, locks them in cages dangling from the ceiling in a soundproof basement, and lets them starve to death. He sucks as a human being. Our protagonists, Charlene and Gertie, are restaurant servers who end up on his radar, which is not a good place to be. Early readers are saying it's one of their favorites of all of my books, so I'm very hopeful about its success!
CT: You’re well known for finding the perfect amount of dark humor in horror scenarios without undermining the tension within a story. Did it take you a while to find this balance, or are you naturally a funny guy?
JS: The balance has always been there, but it took a while to hone it. I wanted to be a comedy writer before I wanted to be a horror writer, and my first novel-length humor/horror blend, Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) was really written as a whodunit mystery that just ended up turning really, really macabre turning the writing process. The hero, Andrew Mayhem, is an amateur private investigator, and of course there's a long tradition of heroes like that who wisecrack in the face of danger, and the reader accepts their ability to be witty with a gun in their face as a genre convention.
Moving away from the Andrew Mayhem series, I had to be a little more conscious of what people would actually say in these nightmarish situations. There's some creative license, of course (it's a novel) but you can't have people constantly shooting off clever one-liners when a maniac is chasing them with a butcher knife. So I was more focused on the balance. With one of my earlier novels, Pressure, Paul Miller at Earthling Publications had me cut out a few bits that overstepped the line. These days it's pretty instinctual, though I still do occasionally end up trimming funny but inappropriate lines when I'm looking over my work.
CT: What book inspired you to become a writer?
JS: There was no one book. As a kid, I loved to read, so I devoured book after book after book with no one particular standout that made me say "THIS is what I want to do with my life!" The closest to a life-changer was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, because I never realized that you were allowed to be that silly and funny in a professionally published book.
CT: When you finally win a Bram Stoker award, what can we expect from The Reign of Strand?
JS: I'll keep doing interviews like this, but it'll cost you.
CT: What is your favorite word?
JS: Does "woo-hoo!" count as a word?
CT: What is your least favorite word?
JS: I would never discriminate against any particular word.
CT: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
JS: "Your story 'After' is absolutely true!"
Each issue of my newsletter contains an original short story. A recent one had the story "After," where in the afterlife you get to read all of the books that WOULD have been your favorites if you'd discovered them during your time on earth. So if, for example, I'd never read Robert McCammon's Boy's Life while I was alive, it would be waiting for me after death. That would be cool.