Monday, November 6, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 16: Among the Stacks with Stephen Kozeniewski


Funny story about how Stephen and I met, which I think I shared the last time, but as he points out in his interview, it's been a bit since he was here: I received an email from him a few years back, asking if I would be interested in reading two of his books (Braineater Jones and The Ghoul Archipelago).  I'm sitting there reading the description and thinking 'man, these both sound really good,' so I go look them up on Amazon (I am obsessed with needing to know how many pages a book is)... and I actually owned them both.  First time that had happened to either one of us.  I don't know if he's had that experience since, but I sure haven't.
            If you haven't read any of his books, I highly recommend you start with Braineater.  Well told story with one of those sarcastic main characters that I absolutely adore.  Then you can move on to Hunter of the Dead.  


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, Steve.  Welcome back to The Gal.  It's been awhile since we sat down together.  What's been going on since we last spoke?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
It looks like we haven't officially spoken since October of 2014.  I signed a four-book contract with Sinister Grin Press since then, and all four books are out now: Every Kingdom Divided, Hunter of the Dead, The Hematophages, and Slashvivor!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Who are you outside of writing?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Am I even anybody anymore?  I have a day job, so I guess I'm a civil servant.  Beyond that, who knows?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
You know, I used to worry about that sort of thing.  I assumed my grandmother would be reading my stories of depravity and disembowelment, and I worried what she would think.  But I find increasingly that nobody in my family actually reads my work.  I’m not even worried they’ll get mad at me for saying that, because they’d have to actually read this to know that I said it.  A few paid lip service to reading my debut, but now it just seems like family members ask, “How’s the writing thing going?” and leave it at that.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
More of a curse than anything else.  I expend all of this effort and I lose money at this gig.  Plus it ruins relationships.  I’m getting to where I wonder what’s even the point.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Hmm, that’s an interesting question.  Doesn’t one always think of one’s upbringing as normal, and all the others as foreign?  I’m not sure I grew up anywhere interesting enough for it to color my work.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Well, I’ve had to research how much breeding stock is needed to create a stable gene pool of people.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
This is probably not a revelatory answer, but the middle.  The beginning is that fun time of introducing all of your themes and characters and you generally have an idea of how it’s all going to tie together in the end.  It’s that saggy part in the middle, where sometimes it feels like you’re just moving pieces around to get to the endgame, where storytelling gets tricky.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you outline?  Do you start with characters or plot?  Do you just sit down and start writing?  What works best for you?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
I don’t often strictly outline per se.  But I do usually write speculative fiction, which means I spend a good deal of time worldbuilding.  While worldbuilding, I hash out lots of details, and the most interesting ones that jump to mind will usually make it into the book.  So there’s a form of outlining that I go through.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you do when characters don't follow the outline/plan?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Well, like I said, planing is not so important to me.  And I’ve never really believed in the whole “my characters are independent beings and I’m just channeling them” conceit.  That sounds an awful lot like schizophrenia, not writing.  So the story just kind of goes how the story goes.  I do prefer that my characters make organic-seeming choices rather than railroad them into “idiot plot” territory, but I rarely find it difficult to make the plot jibe with a reasonable appearance of character franchise.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t.  I can usually force myself to compete in a writing sprint challenge if nothing else is motivating me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you an avid reader?

Stephen Kozeniewski: 
I try to be, but I often find myself not reading nearly as much as I should.  When I discovered that I could make Siri read to me, that made a huge dent in my TBR pile.  I really do prefer audiobooks, though.  Narrators do a much better job than Siri.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
I love good zombie books.  I also find David Wong impossible to put down.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How do you feel about movies based on books?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Well, you know, people (literary types especially) often say the book is always better, but that’s not necessarily true.  THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is no great shakes as a novella, you know?  And by all accounts WISEGUY, the source material for “Goodfellas,” was a crummy read.  So I think it’s like anything: done well, it’s enjoyable.  Done poorly, it’s not.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Have you ever killed a main character?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Oh, sure.  More than a few times, in fact.  My sci-fi and fantasy-writing friends have started cursing me for it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
I don’t know if I enjoy making them suffer.  Sure, I like making jerks receive their comeuppance.  But for the most part I find something triumphant in a character overcoming massive odds.  How much lower could Paul Atreides go than being left in the desert to die, only to return, vanquish all his enemies, and be crowned Emperor of the Known Universe?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the weirdest character concept that you've ever come up with?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Well, I’ve had a couple of weird ones, you know?  I thought the zombie detective was pretty unusual.  People have told me the talking severed head was, too.  But I guess the strangest was probably a world full of identical clones.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the best piece of feedback you've ever received?  What's the worst?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Some of the best feedback came from my editor on EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.  That guy did not like me.  Or is possibly just a jerk.  But because of his attitude he had a way of pointing out all of the poorly polished turds I had littered that manuscript with.
            If not the worst, then the most baffling to me was a review of THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO that said (in effect) “I kept waiting for this to get better right up until the end, but it has absolutely no redeeming values, zero stars.”  So, okay, I know some people aren’t going to like all my books.  Different strokes for different folks, after all.  What confuses me is this: why would somebody read a 120,000 word novel that they hated that much all the way to the end?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do your fans mean to you?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Everything, pretty much.  I know it’s cliché to say that your fans are amazing, but they really are.  People have a way of surprising you with their kindness.  Maybe you’re having a bad day and someone tweets that they liked your book.  Maybe you’re not sure you want to continue with a book, and someone asks when your next one will be out.  I’ve heard all the horror stories about nightmare fans, but at this point I’m not Stephen King so it’s not like somebody’s setting up a van outside my house to accuse me of engineering 9/11.  So far all of my fan experiences have been highly, highly positive.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Oh, that’s a good question.  The mercenary in me would say Harry Potter or Harry Dresden or somebody so I could make a bundle of money.  But I think the real answer is probably Zaphod Beeblebrox.  He’s been one of my favorite characters since I was a kid, and in a weird way, has been criminally underused.  I mean, he just disappeared after LIFE, THE UNIVERSE, AND EVERYTHING.  Maybe that was deliberate, though.  Maybe a little Big Z goes a long way.  I don’t know.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
TWILIGHT V: THE RECKONING.  In it, Edward and Bella would go on a cross-country murder spree, a la NATURAL BORN KILLERS, and Jacob would be tasked with hunting them down.  In the end, no one would be left standing, and my bank account would be full.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Actually, I’ve been getting into collaborations lately.  I collaborated with Stevie Kopas on SLASHVIVOR!, which just came out, and now we’re discussing a sequel.  I’m also working on a project with Wile E. Young.  I guess if I had to pick a dream collaborator it would be Jay Wilburn, but I can’t imagine a handsome legend like him ever even talking to someone like me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
Next in the hopper is NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD, the sequel to THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.  After that will probably come THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE (which is the haunted house story I’m working on with Wile E. Young.)  Somewhere down the road THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S CONSCIENCE, a quasi-dystopian novel I’m pretty excited about.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (STaLKeR links.)

Stephen Kozeniewski:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview or the last?

Stephen Kozeniewski:
I think (I hope) I covered earlier how much my fans mean to me.  Thanks, guys.  And thank you for having me, Meghan!


About the author:
Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie.  During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star.  He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

About the books:
Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a "station bunny" - she's never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up.  But when she's offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.
            Paige is convinced she's been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies.  Whatever she's looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.
            Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates.  Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights.  The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can't extort.
            But the greatest threat to Paige's mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld.  These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in the ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home.  In just a few short, bone-chilling hours, Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as... The Hematophages.


Try Not to Die

TV-XXX (Salty language, Sexual innuendo, Vomit-inducing ultraviolence)

TBA.  Pirate transmission.

North America's number one reality television show returns with instant fan favorite Dawn Churchill, a plucky, hometown girl from the irradiated ruins of the former United States.  Will she survive the night in the electrified, booby-trapped arena or will one of the serial killers pitted against her come out on top?
            Returning slashers include evil animatronic Abraham Lincoln, eight year old "Daughter of the Devil" Abadonna, and all-time undefeated champion Denney the Killer clown.  (Plus surprise appearances by mad surgeon Doctor Feelbad, silver-tongued "Charming" Charlie Whitmore, and steel-clawed firebrand Razortooth.)
            A night of chills, thrills, and endless buckets of blood.  A must-see for Dawn's innovative use of a shotgun alone.  Fun for the whole family!

Host: Mark Winters
Producers: Marisol Martinez, Amy Green, Jacob Graves, Derron James

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