Jeff Strand is one of those rare writers who can gleefully combine comedy with horror and the macabre. Some reviewers even say his stuff defies classification. For me personally, writers who find their niche and pull it off with flying colors are an inspiration. The downside is that big-ticket mainstream publishing does not see enough dollar signs to give writers like Jeff Strand the credit he deserves. At least not until recently. Jeff just signed a mass market book deal with Leisure Horror for his book Pressure, due out in June 2009. One of the sweetest spots in reading is that moment where you cringe and giggle at the same time. Tweaking two such different emotions at the same time makes the reader feel like he got his money’s worth. Joe Lansdale can do it, Christopher Moore can do it, and Jeff Strand can do it.
TH: What is The Story of Jeff? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick? Does everybody suffer a horrible death? Or just a sense of creeping dread….
JS: I hope that we’re only a couple of chapters into an epic novel, and that advance readers are saying “You won’t believe all the cool stuff that happens later!” And everybody lives happily ever after.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
JS: I literally cannot remember any time that I didn’t want to be a writer. It goes all the way back to elementary school. Though I didn’t always want to be a novelist (at various times I wanted to write movie scripts, comic books, computer games, etc.) the urge to write has always been there. Actually, my dream was/is to be a cartoonist, but I can’t draw!
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, but will never see the light of day, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
JS: Oh yeah. I wrote thousands of pages of material before I got anything published. I used to have a really bad tendency to abandon projects before they were completed–sometimes after only a couple of paragraphs, but once I quit 70,000 words into a novel. I’ve also got a dozen completed screenplays and two novels that are “learning to write” projects and best kept away from human eyes. Every once in a while I’ll swipe a cool idea from them for my work-in-progress, but for the most part, they remain hidden away in a cloak of shame. Some writers get it right on their first attempt. I am most definitely not one of those writers.
TH: You’re building up an impressive list of published works. Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Are there some unrealized accomplishments that you’re striving for in the near future?
JS: Well, at this point I’m still seeking out that elusive book deal with a mass market publisher. [Ed. note: In between this interview and today’s posting, Jeff signed a mass market deal with Leisure Horror. Congrats, Jeff.] It keeps escaping, but eventually I’ll corner the bastard so that it can’t get away. Beyond that, my answer is annoyingly generic: I just want to write books that keep getting better, and continue to increase the size of my readership. Hopefully if you ask me this question in a couple of years, I’ll be whining that my latest book only hit #3 on the New York Times bestseller list.
TH: What are some of the things that most inspire you?
JS: Gorillas with hand grenades. Dead coyotes festering in the midnight sun. And daffodils. I’m very inspired by daffodils.
TH: A lot of genre writers might be hungry to know more about the process by which you built a readership. What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work.
JS: I have a lot of fun with promotion. Since my books are comedies, I try to make my marketing efforts as funny and entertaining as possible. My favorite technique is to write phony press releases, which I would describe here except that you might shrug and say “I guess you had to be there.” Rest assured that potential book-buyers got a big kick out of the shocking revelation that The Haunted Forest Tour (co-written with James A. Moore) was not based upon a true story.
My novel Pressure was my first “serious” book, and so I decided that a more serious promotional campaign was appropriate. That idea lasted…oh, maybe a day or so, before I went back to my wacky ways.
TH: Was there a point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? Are you there yet? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt?
JS: Nope! Each year has been better for my career than the one before, but I’d have to be incredibly delusional to think “Oh, yeah, baby…I’ve made it!”
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
JS: To some degree, yes, in that I’ve embraced the “horror/comedy writer” label. Not to the exclusion of everything else, but I do try to keep the majority of my work in the sub-genre for which I’m known, just to keep building that name and style recognition. Of course, Pressure didn’t fit with my standard operating procedure and it’s been my most popular book, so my master plan does have flaws…
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
JS: I’ve got a new horror/comedy called Benjamin’s Parasite which is probably my funniest and sickest novel thus far. Beyond that, I can’t really talk about the other book-length projects (well, I could, but the details are highly subject to change and I might embarrass myself with the inconsistencies), though I’ve got several short stories in the pipeline, most notably the story “The Bell…FROM HELL!!!” appearing in the forthcoming anthology Blood Lite. The best way to keep up with all of my stuff is a quick visit to www.jeffstrand.com.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
JS: Probably the stomach-clenching, perspiration-soaked terror of receiving my very first book review, for Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary). I knew that the publisher loved the book, of course, but I’d actually trunked the manuscript after a couple of test readers absolutely despised it. So I had no idea what the response would be. I downloaded the attached file, feeling kind of sick to my stomach, and the review turned out to be a five-star all-out rave…which echoed most of the future reactions.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
JS: Yes, but I told people to check out my website a couple of questions ago.
Aw, what the hell, they might have forgotten: Check out www.jeffstrand.com.