Interview: J.W. Schnarr, author of Things Falling Apart

Spent a little virtual time with J.W. Schnarr last week, querying him about his forthcoming collection of short horror, Things Falling Apart, and the writing dynamic in general.

J.W. Schnarr

Lorina: One might say the horror you write is very aggressive. Is that a conscious choice?
J.W.: I’d say it definitely is, to some extent. Part of it is also the stories I’ve read that have influenced me the most over the years. Pushing boundaries is something good writing should do, and I think horror writers especially have an opportunity to really shake things up for people.
Another reason I think it’s been called that is due to my writing style. I’m a reporter, and I write tight for a living. I bring that to my fiction. I am also constantly striving to bring reality into my work, and I think people take it for aggression. I’m simply trying to keep your eyes open and be brutally honest about what you’re seeing.
Here’s an example. If someone gets in a car accident, they may bump their head and fade to black, but the scene doesn’t end there. The emergency workers might be trying not to puke while scraping up this poor screaming, thrashing person’s entrails off the highway. That’s where the real action is, and that’s where I want to be.
I don’t want to look away. I don’t want you to look away. I want you to see it for what it really is.
Lorina: And why write horror? Why not dark fantasy or some other genre? What is it about horror that interests you?
J.W. Well, I actually do write a little dark fantasy and a little science fiction. It’s just that my primary influences are guys like Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite, and Clive Barker. I started reading Robert E. Howard’s horror when I was a kid, and I just kind of never looked back.
There have been a few times in my life when I’ve been genuinely moved by the books I’ve read, and those books just happened to have been horror stories. Matheson’s I am Legend is one. Barker’s Books of Blood and some of King’s short stories have done it too.
But reading Brite’s Exquisite Corpse was like a revelation. Everything about that book was strange and dangerous to me. The sex was different than what I was used to. The violence is almost comical in its depravity. The characters are all warped and damaged. It’s brilliant. When I read sometimes, I like to see how long an author is willing to keep you conscious while the really bad stuff is going on. In the 1990s, Barker and Brite were two writers who were liable to slice your eyelids off so you wouldn’t miss a thing. Recently it’s happened again, with Chuck Palahniuk.
Lorina: Why write the stories you do? Why choose those subjects? Your stories range from classic subject matter, sometimes drawing on legend, sometimes delving into the human beast.
J.W.: Like most writers, I write whatever comes to mind. But there are a few things I strive for in fiction, and I’ve kind of skirted around them in my previous answers. Grounding my work in reality is a big one. I’m often disturbed by people’s reactions in fiction. I think Barbara in Night of the Living Dead is really how most people would behave in a catastrophic event. The world is going to hell, and she kind of bounces between catatonia and hysterics.
Willem Dafoe blamed television for the explanation to an execution in the movie Boondock Saints, and I think he’s right: “Television is the explanation for this – you see this in bad television…that James Bond shit never happens in real life!”
That being said, I think man is truly the biggest monster. I love to write about the kinks that come from having such an intricate thing as the human brain running the show. Often my stories are a bit of a mashup between this belief and whatever monstrous topic I think is suited for the characters. They really do come from everything – I read a lot, watch a lot of interesting television, and things happen in everyday life that really get your brain thinking.
Lorina: Tell us a little about your writing process? Do you write daily, at a certain hour, with any expectation or discipline?
J.W.: Well, I write everyday…at work. But fiction is one of those things that I really try to enjoy, without putting too much pressure on myself. Writing novels, I like to work out the scenes in advance before I write them, and then see where it all leads. A lot of the short stories I write with actual goals in mind – rarely do I simply sit down and write them. There might be an anthology or magazine I want to get in to or a topic I want to specifically cover, but I almost never just open my head to see what comes out. Having that goal and a deadline really gives me a chance to laser in on the subject at hand.
Often stories build up until I can feel them behind my eyes waiting to be birthed. Then I’ll sit down to work and they’ll come flooding out.
Lorina: Is there a novel waiting to happen in J.W. Schnarr’s future?
There are a few. There’s also one in my past. I wrote a novel called Alice & Dorothy last year, kind of a Thelma and Louise meets The Wizard of Oz meets Alice in Wonderland. It began as a castoff idea for my Shadows of the Emerald City anthology and just grew up out of that.
I’m currently working on a novel called Big Pig, about some people who escape the zombie apocalypse in Calgary only to run up against a pair of disturbed pig farmers in rural southern Alberta. The research on raising pigs alone was enough to make me want to give up bacon forever. Once again I’ll be blending raw meat with all kinds of craziness. The flavour has a tang to it I’ve really come to enjoy.
Lorina: There are some who feel writing is a job, like any other. There is another camp that says being a writer is a sensibility, that even if you earn your living doing something else, you’re always writing. How do you feel about that question?
J.W. I think they’re both right. I’ve spoken to a lot of successful writers, and they all talk about hitting work count goals and being diligent. Fact is, 90% of “talent” is really just the hard work you don’t see, and nobody throws down a novel without a lot of hard work. I have to tip my hat to anyone who pulls that off, even if their book never sells more than a handful of copies.
Writing for a newspaper has taught me a lot of inspired work and a lot of pressured work comes out as a wash in the end. The only difference between the two is your mood while you’re writing it.
I also believe that writing is a vocation, and a certain mindset comes with that. People are called to it. They want to reach out to other people in some way. They want to make connections. They want to understand profound things about life and the universe and they want other people to see the fruits of that understanding. Myself, I’m always watching for something interesting to write about, and I try to never intentionally close myself off from anything that could be distasteful and disturbing, or beautiful and life-affirming.
I’m always filing away little jokes and mannerisms and stories people have to share, if only to put it through the meat grinder in the back of my mind and see what kind of sausage comes out. Even if I’m the only one who enjoys it.
Things Falling Apart
Available August 1, 2012
ISBN 9781927400036
eISBN 9781927400043