Visiting Writer Stephen Graham Jones Shares Insights

by VERONICA A. CLARK

For the past twenty years, Stephen Graham Jones, Blackfeet, has been turning out stories in multiple genres. Jones has now authored over 220 stories, fifteen novels, and six story collections.

First published in 1995, he has been going strong ever since.

Jones writes in horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and slasher, occasionally, taking a stab at romance. He even crosses genres within stories. Many of his stories can be found on his website.

Jones came to IAIA at the beginning of November as the Lannan Writer-in-Residence in fiction through a grant provided to the creative writing program  by the Lannan Foundation.

While in town and in a phone interview, Jones shared what his life as a successful writer is like ”“ everything from the writing process to what his average day is like.

Fast First Draft

Jones said in a phone interview that the average time for him complete the first draft of a novel is about six weeks. The first draft is often times the final draft, or at least close to it. His stories usually don’t require heavy editing.

Not every story Jones started has wound up published. Many times he’ll realize a story isn’t working and chalk it up as a learning experience. A good indicator of when to discard a story is the amount of time it’s taking.

If he’s been working on a single story for more than two weeks, he knows it’s time to move on. “I did that with a story, just wrote and wrote and wrote,” he said. “It’s published, but I feel like it’s overwritten.”

Time to Write

Jones teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and frequently travels for readings and events such as the one at IAIA. He has a wife and two children. With his busy schedule how does Jones find the time to write?

“I just have to steal it,” he said. “That’s the way it is with writing, you have to steal the time. You have family and work, or you have to work on your truck, and you just have obligations. At some point, you have to steal twenty minutes. You go write and you come back a better person and can work on your truck.”

When Jones is traveling a lot, he sneaks in writing time in his hotel room between events.

He said he first got into flash fiction when his children were younger because of what little time he had to write. He would scribble stories on paper towels while caring for his children, so he started writing stories short enough to fit on a paper towel.

Stephen Graham Jones chatting with students after his reading. (Photo by Veronica A.  Clark)

On an average day he gets up at about six a.m., takes his children to school, works out, goes to work to teach classes, usually writes during his lunch break, finishes class work in the afternoons, then picks up his children. He writes again at night, usually writing until midnight.

With such a full day and early morning, one may wonder how he has the energy to stay up late to write.

After his reading at IAIA, he said he used to balance and prop his knives up (he has a knife collection) around his computer keyboard to keep himself from leaning or falling on his desk, and this kept him awake pretty well. (He must really trust himself.)

When it comes to the writing process, Jones said he usually comes up with his ideas as he writes, rather than thinking up the whole story beforehand.

“Right now I’m writing a bird horror story,” he said, “I wouldn’t be writing that right now if my editor didn’t call me up and say, ”˜I want a bird horror story,’ so I’m writing it. Right now I’m about five-thousand words in. I just started it two days ago.”

Getting Back Up

In regards to becoming a successful writer, he said, “It’s about talent and technique, sure. One you’re born with, one you learn.”

Getting back up after getting knocked down is what separates people who make it from those who don’t, he said. “If you’re a real writer or a real artist, you’re not going to be able to stop.”

“The world might not like your first or your three-hundredth painting,” he said. “But that next painting might be something that changes the world, and if you don’t get to that painting, then the world’s just going to stay the same.”

If you missed Stephen Graham Jones this time, he’ll be back in Santa Fe in the spring for a reading of his newest novel, coming out in May. More details of his reading will be posted on his website.

(Featured Photo of Stephen Graham Jones by Veronica A. Clark)

 

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