1) What’s your earliest memory about storytelling?
There were always books in the house, growing up. I don’t remember my parents telling me stories from their imaginations, but I know I was read to, and when I learned to read I was thrilled at the freedom it offered. One of my early loves—passed down by my older brother—was the Hardy Boys mystery series. After reading a few of those, I started writing my own (highly derivative) mystery stories, and that’s the first memory I have of actually making up stories of my own. I suspect my love of telling and reading stories of crime and detection and suspense is a holdover from those early days.
2) If you could live during any era in any land, real or imaginary, where would it be and why?
I’m not sure I entirely fit in the 21st century, but I’m also not sure there’s anywhen or anywhere else that I’d be a better match for. There are fictional settings I’d love to visit—Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar or Roger Zelazny’s Amber, for instance—but I might not survive for long. I was a fencer in high school and college, and still own a lot of swords, so I could have some chance, I guess. I’ve written a lot of Western fiction, and would like to experience the Old West as it really was. But I’m also fond of indoor plumbing, electricity at the flip of a switch, and high-speed internet, so again, that could only be a brief visit, not an extended stay. The sad truth is that in most eras of Earth history, brutal, bloody death was pretty common, as it is in most of the fictional settings that interest me, so I’m probably better off staying put.
3) Do you write every day? Can you imagine a day coming where you stop writing?
I don’t write fiction every day, but I write every day. I was a full-time writer for a while, but the Great Recession ended that, and in 2010 I had to take a day job. Fortunately, I work as a technical editor, so I still spend my days working with words and grammar and the like. I think it’s helped make my prose more precise, which isn’t a bad thing. I’d love to get back to writing fiction full-time, but I have to admit it’s nice to have a steady income, health insurance, and paid vacations. And no, I don’t see myself not writing, ever. I expect that I’ll die partway through a novel, because that seems to be where I usually am.
4) How much research do you do?
That depends on how much any given project needs. I have a huge western history/natural history book collection, and I’ve spent my entire adult life living and traveling in the west, so when I’m working on a western project, a lot of the details are already in my brain. If I’m writing about someplace I’ve never been, then I do more, to find out what it’s actually like to be on the ground there, what somebody would see and hear and smell, and so on. But I greatly prefer to walk that ground myself. For my horror novel River Runs Red, for example, I made multiple trips to west Texas, spent time there, crossed the border into Mexico a couple of times, read the local newspapers, visited local history museums, and so on, in addition to the online and book research I did from my own desk. For a Star Trek book, because there are 40-some years of history over multiple shows and hundreds of novels, I have to do a ton of research just to try to get the details of that universe right. I like researching, and I like getting my facts straight, and I especially like seeing new places, so I don’t mind doing as much as it takes.
5) What’s your comfort food?
I don’t have a particular one. There are food items and types that I want to have around all the time, like chocolate chip cookies and pizza, but nothing that I turn to for comfort after a hard day, or anything like that.
6) What if you could trade bodies with one person for one day? Who would that be?
That seems like a dangerous idea. Whoever got my body probably wouldn’t want to give it back.
7) Who are the authors that influenced your life the most?
The one that comes to mind first is a western writer named Gordon D. Shirreffs, who wrote a young adult novel called The Mystery of the Haunted Mine. That book contained elements of westerns, horror, mystery, romance, and magic—virtually everything I write today. It was set in Arizona, where I live today. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it had a huge effect on my life. My first published novel was a collaboration with Christopher Golden, who then introduced me to Lisa Clancy, his Buffy the Vampire Slayer editor, so those two largely launched my writing career. Beyond that, my whole working career has been in the book business—bookselling, publishing, writing, consulting—so books in general have been major forces. Some of the authors who have steered me or made me think or affected my craft include Wallace Stegner, Ross Macdonald, Thomas Gifford, William Goldman, James Lee Burke, Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury, Joan Vinge, Charles Bowden, Terry Tempest Williams… it’s a long, basically endless list.
8) Who would you like to co-author a book with?
I’m having a great time working with my incredibly talented writing partner Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell, so that’s already covered. Aside from her, I guess if James Patterson or Stephen King or James Lee Burke called me up, I’d be up for the gig. Obviously, Patterson’s the most likely. I’m easy to find, James!
9) What five people – living or dead – would you invite to a dinner party? (Universal translators will be provided)
I’d like to bring together some of the writers I never had a chance to meet, maybe Shirreffs, Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, and William Goldman, and one I did know but who I would have liked more time with, Roger Zelazny. Of those, Goldman is the only one still with us, so maybe it’s not too late to have dinner with him.
10) Would you talk about your upcoming books and their production schedule?
I’ve just had a dark and twisty horror story released called “John Barleycorn Must Die,” which I wrote with Marcy. It’s in an anthology called Out of Tune, edited by Jonathan Maberry, with all kinds of great writers in it, like Christopher Golden, Nancy Holder, Seanan McGuire, Jack Ketchum, Lisa Morton, and more. A solo story I wrote, set in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse universe, also just hit the stands in a book called Dead But Not Forgotten, edited by Charlaine and Toni L.P. Kelner. My story is called “Taproot,” and it’s focused on Andy Bellefleur.
Marcy and I just turned in (today, as I’m writing this) an action-packed vampire story for another anthology, and we’re working on edits for yet another story, but we can’t talk about those until they’re officially accepted and announced. We’re also waiting to announce a super-creepy horror novella we have coming, as one of the kickoff tales for a new novella series, but again, we have to wait on that.
In terms of books, earlier this year I turned in a horror/western/steampunk extravaganza that will be released in 2016, by Tor. It’s called Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising, and it’s set in the world of the fantastic role-playing game Deadlands. Tor’s releasing three novels, starting with Jonathan Maberry’s Deadlands: Ghostwalkers, in fall 2015 (I wrote mine first, but his comes out first). Mine’s chock-full of murder and dark magic.
The next novel release–and I’m still waiting for an official publication date–is Empty Rooms, which you already know about, but your readers might like some background on. This is a very important book for me in a number of ways.
I’ve written series books about other people’s characters–Buffy and Angel, Conan, Star Trek, etc., but I’ve never before written one that I hope to turn into a series before. Empty Rooms introduces two characters–a walking encyclopedia of crime and criminals named Richie (Maynard) Krebbs, and Frank Robey, an obsessed detective and former FBI agent who loves comic books and soul music. It’s set largely in contemporary Detroit, which is a troubled city, beloved by some, falling down around some of its residents. I’d like to keep exploring Richie and Frank and Detroit.
The story is very dark, and might be troubling for some. It’s about Frank and Richie searching for a long-time serial pedophile. I tried, of course, to treat that subject with respect and dignity, and I’ve been told that I did, but of course it could be triggery. But it’s also about how these two guys try to stay human when they’re neck-deep in the darkness, immersed in the worst acts human beings can commit. It grew out of a book I wrote called Criminal Minds: Serial Killers, Sociopaths & Other Deviants, which told the true story of every criminal mentioned in the first five seasons of the TV series Criminal Minds–and some who weren’t mentioned, but whose crimes inspired episodes. To do the massive research for that, I had to dwell inside those acts and the minds of those killers for months, and I realized that for a homicide detective, that’s daily life. I wondered how they could cope with that without burning out (though a lot of them do), and I set out to find out and write about it.
In the process, I came to like Richie and Frank too much to let them go. I’m currently plotting out the next installment of their saga. I hope your readers will give it a try, and I hope they like it (and ask for more!).
11.) How do you want the world to remember you?
With fear and awe. Or, you know, as a nice guy who worked hard and wrote as well as he could, and made some people think, or feel joy, or like they weren’t alone in the world, or that there’s magic all around us if they just look hard enough.
Good things all to be remembered as, Jeff. I hope you won’t forget about Cat After Dark and will stop by here again to chat sometime. For those of you who would like to see where he hangs out, you can pop over jeffmariotte.com. You can check out his blog here or go to his Facebook page here.