Stories by Kate Jonez have been nominated three times for the Bram Stoker Award and once for the Shirley Jackson. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best Horror of the Year, Black Static, Pseudopod, Gamut and Haunted Nights edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton.
Kate is also the chief editor at the Bram Stoker Award winning small press Omnium Gatherum which is dedicated to publishing unique dark fantasy, weird fiction and horror.
Congratulations on this year’s Bram Stoker Award® nomination for your collection, Lady Bits. This is much-deserved recognition. Aside from the attention that comes from being nominated, how have you been ‘getting the word out’ about the book since publication last year—festivals, reading series, conventions? Marketing has shifted dramatically since covid-19 self-isolation began. How are you facing the challenge of selling books during these strange days?
Thank you, it’s a great honor to be recognized by the Horror Writers Association. Congratulations to you too! It was fascinating to return to Skillute with The Worst is Yet to Come. That town just gets creepier!
Getting the word out about books is something we’re just going to have to put on hold for a while I’m afraid. There is no marketing powerful enough to compete with plague and everything else going on. Selling books just seems inappropriate right now. I’d be embarrassed to put out one of those, “In these trying times…” ads.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll have a chance by the fall of 2020. Omnium Gatherum has several books scheduled for release in September and October. Hopefully the U.S. can avoid intensified chaos and falling into full on civil war by then. As for the most effective marketing in normal times, from trial and error I’ve found, you get what you pay for. Everything costs money or time. Amazon and Google ads have the best return but there’s a big learning curve and it takes quite a bit of money to make it work. Reviews as always are the key to success.
After reading your collection, and having read a few of the stories more than once, I admit: I have a crush on a couple of your protagonists. The world they inhabit tends to be gritty and unforgiving, yet they seem to have a knack for survival. Where do these streetwise, self-reliant, badass women come from?
The plots of many of the stories come from my personal experiences. The characters are often women I’ve dreamed up to deal with the situations the way I wish I’d handled things. Like most women, I have a tendency to let things slide so I won’t offend anyone. I’m also afraid of getting in trouble. My protagonists tend to be the women I meet on the back stairs after the fact. A couple of them are truly horrible…and those ones are the most fun to write.
Why did you choose the collection title, Lady Bits? What does it connote for you, and why is this something you want to convey with the book?
I was being provocative, and the title makes me laugh. I really like how uncomfortable it makes some people too. I’ve gotten a few comments from people who think I don’t know I’ve used a vagina euphemism as the title of my collection because I guess I look like their mother…and mothers don’t talk about anatomy in public. In the original cover photography all the fruits and flower looked like vaginas. The publisher toned it down. Probably for the best.
I’m always interested in knowing how writers face the page. What do they bring along and what do they set aside? When you write, are you very aware of your identity, or gender, or do you proceed from a neutral or less self-conscious place? Do you think this affects your work, and in what ways?
There are a few ways I can think of to approach writing, plot based, emotion based, character based and so on. I suppose most writers pull a little from here and a little from there. A plot-based story would focus on events for example. Emotion based would focus on inserting dread or excitement or romantic feelings at every opportunity. For a character-based story I craft the characters and get to know them as well as I can. I walk around in the real world as the characters, think about their relationships outside the scope of the story, imagine the spaces they would inhabit or go to the actual place when possible. It’s method writing I guess. All the other story elements spring from the wants and needs of the character. I noticed a big improvement in my story telling ability when I started doing this. I can clearly tell where the change happened pre-method and post-method.
Do you find it tricky balancing the multiple creative activities of writing, editing and publishing? Do you schedule separate time slots for different jobs or projects, or do you handle each thing as it comes along?
Yes!!! This is the hardest thing ever. I try to schedule things so I have days set aside to work on my own projects. That doesn’t always work out. Omnium Gatherum has turned into a dragon I just can’t slay. It’s gotten too big and too expensive to work as a small press, but I’m not quite sure I’m motivated to do all that’s involved to turn it into a mid-sized press. It’s the most successful thing I’ve ever created and I just can’t seem to shut it down. I’ve tried a few times but great projects and wonderful authors keep coming my way. We’ll see how things go with this pandemic. It might be the excuse I’ve been looking for. If not, I guess I’m going to be pulling 12-15 hour days until I die of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and dry eyes.
How has editing and publishing fiction for a decade shaped your view of writers and writing as a professional commitment? What have you learned about writing and selling fiction that you didn’t realize before you started the Bram Stoker Award® winning small press, Omnium Gatherum?
I’ve learned more about writing by editing great writers than any other thing I’ve done. More than writing every day or taking classes or being edited myself. It’s a treat to open up a story and look at its guts. I love that I get to discuss the craft of writing at the sentence level. It’s more intimate that reading. It can be a tricky balancing act though because I find other authors’ styles creeping into my writing.
Now that I’ve been doing this for ten years, the main thing I have to be careful of is managing author’s expectations. Publishing a book with a small press is a whole different animal than landing a contract with a big publisher. Many new authors don’t realize this and develop incorrect ideas about what’s about to happen. Small presses can be a great starting point for beginning a writing career, but they aren’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Your stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. You’ve been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award and two Bram Stoker Awards®. Do you have a favorite among your stories, one that might serve as a starting point for readers coming to your work for the first time?
The first story in my collection, “Carnivores” is a story that simmered for years. In the 80s, stories about serial killers were everywhere and the thought that there must be a guy out there who wanted to try his hand at it but didn’t really know how fascinated me. I lived in an apartment much like the one in the story and ran into an old dude like the guy in the story. Nothing dramatic happened because I’m nowhere near as awesome as Francie. And as much as I’d like to think differently, I doubt I could kill anyone. Francie is definitely one of those “L’esprit de l’escalier” girls.
Whose writing is thrilling to you, at the moment? Name some authors you recommend.
I’m a big fan of Alma Katsu and can’t wait to get started reading The Deep. Also, Kaaron Warren’s “Into Bones Like Oil” was amazing. I’ve recently discovered Sarah Gran’s Come Closer and now I think I’m going to read everything else she’s written.
Where do you look for a kick-start, on those days when you don’t feel motivated?
Some days it’s just better to step away and get outside in the sunshine. So I’ll go to the backyard and plant something. I also like painting and cleaning. Not the maintenance chore type of cleaning, but the take everything out of a room type of cleaning so you have a brand-new environment when you’re finished. A big two-day project is usually enough to get me back on track.
What is your current work in progress? How’s it going? What do you have coming up in the next year or so?
I write so freaking slow I should be ashamed of myself. I’ve got a novel in the works. It’s set in an imaginary town just east of Los Angeles where spirits are running things. The protagonists are twin restaurant owners, one living one dead.
I’m also very close to putting the finishing touches on a screenplay about a young woman and her non-binary dog. The villain/hero is a saucy celebrity activist who’s in reality made of a virus that looks like glitter. Hmm that description might need some more work.