We’re back with the second part of our interview with Alex S. Johnson, writer and editor of Axes of Evil, a heavy metal themed horror anthology. The first part of this interview was largely about his work as editor for Axes of Evil. This time, we delve more into the topic of writing fiction.
When did you start writing fiction?
I’ve been making up stories ever since I was a little kid, even before I learned to read and write. My first writing teacher was my dad, Steven M. Johnson. Not in any formal sense, but in the way we used to take camping trips and tell each other stories. He would start them and I took them up and continued them. I think I developed an almost visceral thirst for narrative from those trips. When he got tired I would beg him for more; I would get so psyched up, it was almost painful when the story time stopped. I just wanted them to go on forever. I think that was my first impetus to start writing, so I could continue the stories. We would make tape recordings and I listened to the tapes so many times that I memorized them and wrote them down in notebooks and illustrated them. It was so much fun to enter a completely imaginary world and inhabit it. To this day we still do routines and make up funny voices. It’s an unusual relationship to say the least. From there, it’s been a matter of trying to tap that pure element of storytelling while at the same time incorporating all those formal aspects I’ve learned.
Do you only write horror or do you branch out some?
Over the years I’ve tried different genres, from fantasy to science fiction to horror, but I’ve never been able to confine myself to the rules of a single game. I do love and appreciate writers like Stephen King and Clive Barker, but I’ll never be them. Part of the reason is that I always want to interrogate the ground rules or the limits of the genre and mix it up with humor, which results in a hopefully unique blend of genres with a satirical/meta-fictional slant to it. My stories are always at some level about storytelling. Authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, Nicolai Gogol, Jorge Luis Borges—Fabulists—have probably influenced me as much or more than any strict genre writer. I want to give you a rollercoaster ride while at the same time doing a meta-analysis of the rollercoaster ride experience. In the words of Jim Morrison, more, more, more!
Do you have any writing credits you’re particularly proud of?
Yes, and they’re probably not the ones people would expect. I’m proud to have published stories in magazines like Bloodsongs and Chthulhu Sex alongside Edward Lee and Wrath James Waite. I’m proud of my music journalism, especially the articles I wrote during the final years of Metal Maniacs in its print form. I’m mostly proud of the fact that I continue to write and have gradually improved over the years, sanding off some of my excesses and self-indulgences. My latest published book, Outlaw Circus, contains a novella co-written by myself and Charie. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever accomplished in terms of writing.
Are there any writing goals you’re still hoping to achieve?
I want to create much lengthier works, more and larger novels. I’d like to push whatever talents I may have to their ultimate extent, and maybe a little further. If I ever find myself settling into a pattern or repeating myself without adding something new with every iteration, that will be the day I take some time off and go foraging again. I just want to be better at everything—narrative, dialog, plotting, pace, characterization, setting—than I am now. That is the basic goal, to be better.
Other than continuing Axes of Evil, do you have any other current projects you’d like to share?
I’m working on a collection entitled Doctor Flesh and Other Stories
Do you have any advice you’d like to pass on to other writers?
Try to find that aspect of the story you tell that is larger than you. Invest that place with human reality. Always ask what motivates your characters; why should we care about their dilemma? Write every day, and write well. If someone gives you advice about your writing, consider the source. They may not know what the hell they’re talking about. At the same time, do listen, and never forget the reader. Treat her kindly and with respect and give her a satisfying experience. Writing is a form of love in action.
I’ve read that you’re the author of a Jason X book that at least one reviewer on Amazon has suggested may be the worst novel ever written, but you take an odd sort of pride in that. Why is that and what advice can you offer others for taking unkind criticism so well?
I haven’t always responded so well to unkind criticism. I think the main thing to keep in mind is, as I said above, consider the source. There’s a list of one star review of classic novels circulating around on the net. If your unkind critic reacts with violent hostility to your steampunk epic, bear in mind that they may only read paranormal romance and have no understanding of how well you’ve deployed the conventions of the steampunk genre. How old is the critic? What kind of education does she have? Check out the other books they enjoy. I am a huge fan of the author Pat Cadigan, who wrote the original Jason X novelization, and my book is very much in the vein of hers. Pat was generous enough to tell me I should be proud of it. Yes, it has huge flaws, but it’s hardly the worst novel ever written, or published, or whatever.
I hope they weren’t expecting to find a soon-to-be classic literary gem in a Jason X novel. If it was violent, I think you probably hit the mark (or at least close enough.)
The two-star reviewers complained that there wasn’t enough Jason in the book. I don’t know how much Jason they required or if there’s some kind of quota. He wasn’t on every page but maybe every two pages. There is a great deal of bloody mayhem in Death Moon that should more than suffice, if you like that kind of thing. After awhile you find yourself struggling to come up with novel ways to kill off teenage campers. In outer space. But to answer your question, I did attempt to create a soon-to-be classic literary gem in a Jason X novel, and it still hasn’t found the appropriate readers.
Who are some authors you would say have been influential to you or who you look to for inspiration?
William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Baudelaire, Vladimir Nabokov, John Shirley, Poppy Z. Brite, Truman Capote, Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare…there would be far too many to list in this interview and do justice to my inspirations or influences. I’ve lately become a great admirer of Joe Hill.
That’s all for now. There is one final part of this interview, which is much shorter and less serious. It will be published on Editor-In-Chief David Stegora’s personal blog sometime in the near future. You can expect an announcement here on the main Dark Futures site when that happens.