One Foot in My Grave (2013) – Written by Joel Jenkins – Pulp Work Press.
Welcome back, everyone, for the 12th installment of my Atomic Interview series. If you’re a regular reader of the Anxiety, you know I’m taking a break from writing reviews for the time being but I still hope to have new interviews and new fiction up through the summer. Today, I’m happy to post my interview with Joel Jenkins about a host of topics, including his latest novel, ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE (available for purchase here).
Official Description of ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE:
September Peterson has received death sentences many times from well-meaning doctors speaking in hushed tones. Living with cystic fibrosis means that he’ll die from cystic fibrosis–a long and excruciating death–unless, by tempting fate, he can find a quicker, faster way to go. When September’s cheerleader fiancee dumps him for a college man, September picks fast cars, motorcycles, and hard alcohol to do the trick, then witnesses his life unravel into a series of death defying encounters–all the while battling his own inner demons.
Mark Bousquet: Joel, your latest full length work is called ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE. In the Prologue, you introduce the book by writing: “On his death bed, September requested that I write his life story. I could not deny him this last request, and I’d already done taped interviews with him at a prior time, so much of the groundwork was already laid. For years, however, I struggled with just how I would tell his story, and then it struck me that I shouldn’t complicate things. I should tell the story in his own words, just as he related them to me those cold days in November. Still, assembling those stories into some rhyme or reason was a daunting task and the reader will note that in addition to grouping them chronologically, I also group them thematically.” This narrative style – recreating yourself less as the novelist and more as a transcriber of another’s story is a technique I employed in my last novel, THE HAUNTING OF KRAKEN MOOR. Your approach in GRAVE is less the straight transcriber and more active than my role. Can you talk about why you tried this approach for GRAVE and any of the pros and cons that you experienced while writing the story?
Joel Jenkins: In this case, after much mulling and pondering, I realized the obvious–that it would be much easier to relate September’s attitude and viewpoint if his story was written in first person. As you noticed, my role as transcriber is a bit more active than is often the case, but less active than, say, Watson who transcribed Holmes stories. The reason for this is that I was present for some of the events transcribed, but I also made a conscious decision to downplay my presence or role, because first and foremost this is September’s story and not about me.
The limitations of first person are myopia or limited vision, and the handicap of not being able to draw on any other viewpoints. The story being told may be reliable or unreliable depending upon the narrator and there is no such thing as an unbiased viewpoint. In ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE these factors worked in my favor, I think, because I wanted to get inside September’s head and let him tell people what makes him tick.
Mark Bousquet: September Peterson is a man with cystic fibrosis and after getting dumped, he “witnesses his life unravel into a series of death defying encounters–all the while battling his own inner demons.” You’ve got a guy in a bad situation thrust into a worse situation who then seems to attack the life he has left. Where is September when the book opens?
Joel Jenkins: September is about to get shot because some drug dealers think he’s a snitch. Although I wasn’t present for that event, I was present at that time period and witnessed related events that tended to corroborate September’s story.
Mark Bousquet: Does the cystic fibrosis/getting dumped double shot reveal a new part of his personality or does it exacerbate the man who was already there? At one point in the story, September mentions that he “tops out” at around 150 pounds but likes to project himself with the confidence of a bigger man. Was that attitude always part of his character?
Joel Jenkins: That’s an interesting question I’m not sure I can completely answer. Having cystic fibrosis deeply affected his personality. As far as getting dumped, it was the impetus that exacerbated the self-destructive tendencies which were already there. September always had tons of attitude and had few qualms about projecting that attitude or getting in the face of people much bigger and stronger than him.
Mark Bousquet: What is he trying to accomplish and what’s standing in his way?
Joel Jenkins: September wanted love and acceptance and to live a worthwhile life, but just like any of us he had to battle our own natural tendencies. September’s life was a dramatic illustration of that personal battle.
WEIRD WORLDS OF JOEL JENKINS
From an ancient temple in the icy Martian mountains to a forbidden road haunted by the ghost of an Indian brave, this collection of tales will take you on a thrilling journey. Meet vampire hunters, a rock musician who takes on the heavyweight champion of the world, the reluctant warrior of the mystical land of Saffronyia, giant Nazi robots, and the Mormon gunfighter Porter Rockwell … as well as a few hungry apes and one very lovely assassin.
This collection of short stories and novellas ranges over the last twenty plus years of my writing career and includes my first published short story and a host of out of print and hard to find tales, as well as some of my newest endeavors. As usual, I have a hard time containing myself to one genre, which I’m told is a marketing nightmare. To make things worse, some of the stories even mix genres. What’s the one thing in common with the tales inside this book? They all tend to have some weird, supernatural, supernal, odd or strange elements (even the one non-fiction piece entitled The Ghost of Firetrail), and they all have loads of action and adventure.
Mark Bousquet: You’ve recently released a collection of short stories entitled WEIRD WORLDS OF JOEL JENKINS. You mention that these stories are culled from the last 20 years of writing. We’ll talk content in a minute, but first, what was the impetus for getting all of these stories together in one place?
Joel Jenkins: A reader contacted me and suggested I put together a collection of short stories and novellas for publication. At first I resisted the idea, since I like to package stories according to characters, but I gradually warmed to the concept since some of these character-themed collections may be years or decades away, and I also realized that I had a number of one shot stories featuring characters that I might never return to. A number of these stories were previously published in wide variety of places and are difficult to find.
Mark Bousquet: In your “From the Author” section on WEIRD WORLDS’ Amazon page, you bring up a subject that’s near and dear to my questioning heart, which is the matter of how we, as authors, brand or do not brand ourselves. You write, “As usual, I have a hard time containing myself to one genre, which I’m told is a marketing nightmare. To make things worse, some of the stories even mix genres. What’s the one thing in common with the tales inside this book? They all tend to have some weird, supernatural, supernal, odd or strange elements (even the one non-fiction piece entitled The Ghost of Firetrail), and they all have loads of action and adventure.” Like you, I’m a writer who likes to jump genres, but I also recognize that one of the best way to build your authorial brand is to have a signature series. To some people, you’re always going to be “the DIRE PLANET guy.” Is this a burden? A blessing? Does it play a role in how you determine your writing projects?
Joel Jenkins: I just think it’s nice if somebody is actually able to associate me with anything I wrote at all. I do have five published books in the sword and science fiction series, DIRE PLANET so it is natural that the few people who have heard of my writing efforts might think of that first. My experience is that it takes a lot of time and effort to get momentum going on a series, and that sales on my single novels tend to be very minimal in comparison. Even the sales on the guns and guitars GANTLET BROTHERS series and the dark fantasy TALES FROM THE CITY OF BATHOS series (both with two books each) are much slower. I hope sales on the GANTLET BROTHERS series will pick up some momentum when I release the third book, SOLD OUT, later this year.
Thus far, for good or ill, branding hasn’t really been my big concern when choosing my next project. Mostly, it’s whatever story that is compelling me to write it the most, which dictates my next book. Maybe if I had one character that was bringing in loads of money I would feel more compelled to write a follow up to that series, but the money isn’t big enough to be a factor yet. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. I won’t know until have some point of comparison.
Mark Bousquet: What kinds of stories are in WEIRD WORLDS?
Joel Jenkins: Mainly, weird stories. We’ve got one that fits into the Dire Planet series and uses a few characters that readers of those books will recognize. I’ve got stories about ghosts, vampire hunters, a rock musician who takes on the heavyweight champion of the world, giant nazi robots, an icy and alluring assassin, and even one about Mormon gunfighter Porter Rockwell. Oh yeah, and one about Hitler, Amelia Earhart, Errol Flynn, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Joel Jenkins: You’ve got your own ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE and STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE which are written for the younger crowd, so I thought you might appreciate PIRATES OF MIRROR LAND which, like your STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE, involves the adventures stuffed animals (an incorrigible gopher and a somewhat more practical rabbit, in this case) as they try to rescue a lost hamster. Really, it’s so outside of the box of what people expect from me that there haven’t been a whole lot of copies sold. It’s heavily illustrated by the super-talented Noel Tuazon, and is available on Amazon. I recommend picking up the hard copy version so you can enjoy the illustrations.
Mark Bousquet: Last summer you released THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS: A BALIN AND BALAN ADVENTURE. Balin and Balan are characters that appear briefly in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. What drew you to write about these characters? Are you “filling in the blanks” of Malory’s text or are you taking the brothers in a new direction?
Joel Jenkins: Malory pretty much decided the direction, but there were an awful lot of blanks to fill in and that fired my imagination. I, somewhat audaciously, took it upon myself to fit together the missing pieces of the puzzle and turn it into a novel. When I read about the adventures of the brothers Balin and Balan I thought that they were far purer characters than Merlin and Arthur, yet they were put upon, victimized, and horribly used. I wondered why, so I wrote the story to discover just that. My take on it was that Merlin and Arthur weren’t exactly the good guys.
Mark Bousquet: I’m curious as to your approach writing in different genres. In the 19th century, French writer Guy de Maupassant argued that “it is always ourselves that we disclose in the body [of our characters]; for we are compelled to put the problem in this personal form: ‘If I were a king, a murderer, a prostitute, a nun, or a market-woman, what should I do, what should I think, how should I act?’” Do you have different goals when writing fantasy versus writing a weird western? Are there themes that unite your work? Are you tapping into different aspects of Joel Jenkins? What does a “quintessential Joel Jenkins story” read like?
Joel Jenkins: Honestly, I don’t change my writing style much between different genres. Whatever the genre, I incorporate lots of action and lots of descriptive (purple) prose. As far as Guy de Maupassant’s supposition (and you get extra points for quoting a dead French writer) I agree that writers get the ultimate opportunity to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. However, I feel that we may or may not disclose ourselves in doing so. I’ve put myself in the shoes of icy assassins and murderous thieves with no moral compunctions whatsoever, and I’ve asked myself, “What would I do if I were like this character and had no qualms about killing an innocent person for personal gain?”or I’ve asked myself, “What would I do if I were an infertile Martian warrior woman who really wanted to have another child?” In putting myself in those shoes I’ve changed various of my own personal characteristics, so it may be dangerous for a reader to draw any conclusions. However, that said, Guy de Maupassant’s supposition does have some truth, because I think it’s impossible for an author not to leave some of him or herself on the page.
Mark Bousquet: Who is Joel Jenkins?
Joel Jenkins: I’m a former rock vocalist and concrete demolitionist, a father of six, and an ordained elder in the Church of Jesus Christ. I have a penchant for words, and an interest in guns and guitars.
Mark Bousquet: How do you write? Do you have a favorite time of day? A favorite writing spot? Are you a laptop writer, a desktop writer, a notebook writer?
Joel Jenkins: I get up about five in the morning and write in my downstairs office/library. This enables me to get kids off to school and put some words on paper. It’s not that I find early morning my most creative time of day. It’s more of a practicality issue. That’s the only part of the day I have time to write, so that’s when I do it. I shoot for a thousand words a day, five or six days a week. Sometimes I fall a little short, sometimes I do a little more. Bit by bit this adds up and I end up with a bunch of short stories, or a novel, or both.
I gave up on writing longhand stories ever since the advent of the personal computer. The idea of having to input my words only once, and then being able to selectively edit was very appealing–and it has saved me an enormous amount of time. I recall the days of retyping entire manuscripts to make edits and I don’t miss them.
Mark Bousquet: Who are your writing influences?
Joel Jenkins: I’m very much pulp era influenced. I love the muscular and vibrant way that Robert E Howard used the language, and I’m a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Of course, I’ve got numerous other influences ranging from the Iliad to Clive Cussler.
Mark Bousquet: What’s next for you?
Joel Jenkins: I’ve got a number of short stories (ranging from the Barclay Salvage space opera series to an Iliad inspired tale about Diomedes) slated for release with different publishers, but I don’t have any definite release dates yet. The big things on the slate are THE GANTLET BROTHERS: SOLD OUT which will drop late this year (guns, guitars, a vengeful Vietnamese warlord and even a few sword fights), and then in 2014 THE COMING OF CROW will be released. This will be a collection of stories about the infamous Native American gunfighter Lone Crow and his encounters with various other gunslingers and supernatural entities. THE COMING OF CROW collects a number of previously published stories and quite a few that haven’t seen the light of day yet. This weighs in at over 100,000 words, so fans of the Weird West genre should feel as though they’re getting their money’s worth.
Mark Bousquet: And finally, where can people go to learn more about you or your writing projects?
Joel Jenkins: Anyone who’s interested in my various scribblings can find more information at JoelJenkins.com and my Amazon Author’s Page has an extensive listing of my various books that have been published as well as a listing of anthologies in which I have stories.
When he’s not talking to other writers, Mark Bousquet is doing some writing himself, including the recently posted “Why Grant Jannen Can’t Have Sex” to this very site, whichyou can read for free and stuff, minus the stuff. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including the recently released The Haunting of Kraken Moor, Gunfighter Gothic, Stuffed Animals for Hire, Dreamer’s Syndrome, Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches, and Adventures of the Five. He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.