Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Braineater Jones" - the KB interview with author Stephen Kozeniewski

Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with Stephen Kozeniewski, author of the newly-released novel Braineater Jones.

Let's start with the blurb!

Braineater Jones wakes up face down in a swimming pool with no memory of his former life, how he died, or why he’s now a zombie. With a smart-aleck severed head as a partner, Jones descends into the undead ghetto to solve his own murder.

But Jones’s investigation is complicated by his crippling addiction to human flesh. Like all walking corpses, he discovers that only a stiff drink can soothe his cravings. Unfortunately, finding liquor during Prohibition is costly and dangerous. From his Mason jar, the cantankerous Old Man rules the only speakeasy in the city that caters to the postmortem crowd.

As the booze, blood, and clues coagulate, Jones gets closer to discovering the identity of his killer and the secrets behind the city’s stranglehold on liquid spirits. Death couldn’t stop him, but if the liquor dries up, the entire city will be plunged into an orgy of cannibalism.

Cracking this case is a tall order. Braineater Jones won’t get out alive, but if he plays his cards right, he might manage to salvage the last scraps of his humanity.

We can tell you that this novel is a gas. A hoot. A dilly! Whether or not you've ever read a zombie novel, you'll find much to enjoy here - particularly if your reading appetite includes an appreciation for a distinctive narrative voice, and a healthy dose of wry irreverence.

And... your purchase of Braineater Jones is eligible for Amazon's new MatchBook program.

That means that if you purchase the print book (for yourself or as a gift to that zombie-loving nephew of yours), you can get the e-book for the unbeatable price of 99 cents.

The blog tour for Braineater Jones closes soon! You can enter for free prizes with the form at the bottom of this post.

Now, on to our conversation with Stephen!

Congratulations on your new novel. In a few words, how would you describe your book to someone who hasn't heard about it?

BRAINEATER JONES is the story of an amnesiac zombie who sets out to solve his own murder.

Braineater Jones narrates the book. His POV provides some fascinating entertainment. How did you come to create his distinctive voice?

My publishing sister Kimberly Garnick Giarratano recently told me that voice may be my “mad skill.” I don’t know about all that, but I do know that Jones’s peculiar style flowed from a unique confluence of events.

First of all, I started out with a mission statement to write the purplest prose possible. Since noir is famous for its hammy writing style I considered it my duty to hew to tradition.

Second, I forced myself to write the entire manuscript in a month, a stricture which necessitated a liberal use of stream-of-consciousness to meet wordcount deadlines.

And, finally, I had just finished writing a novel in a deliberately clinical style, so I was perhaps subconsciously ready to flex my goofy muscle. (A “goofy muscle” is, of course, similar to a “funny bone” but slightly to the left.)

I think the overall effect is unique, but it’s basically just the best translation possible of my own internal monologue. (I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who once said, “My God, Vanessa’s got a smashing body. I bet she shags like a minx. How do I tell them that because of the unfreezing process I have no inner monologue? I…hope I didn’t say that out loud just now.”)

We enjoyed the novel's false start. It lets the reader know instantly that this is going to be a fun ride and to expect the unexpected. How do those little hooks come to you?

Oh, thanks. Oddly enough, that one in particular came about in a very practical manner. I started writing the manuscript at midnight on October 31/November 1 so the thought really occurred to me at the same time it occurred to the narrator. The opening line was always going to be “I woke up dead this morning” and the false start was a nice way to emphasize the weirdness of that statement in case the reader had glossed over it.

In general, though, a lot of my hooks came about just by applying Jonesworld™ logic to the real world. What would happen if someone was decapitated? Jones’s partner, the severed head Alcibé, answers that question. Would you feel a bond with the people you came back to life with? Hence the “morgue mates” Ivan and Kumaree. I’ll let you use your imagination in regards to the Old Man’s origins…

Tell us a bit about your background and how it equips you as a writer.

Well, my degree is in German and I’ve also studied French and (to a much lesser extent) Latin. I think foreign language study is wonderful, not only because it leaves you with a practical skill, but also because it gives you a unique understanding of grammar while generally avoiding turning you into a prescriptivist (aka “grammar Nazi.”) I particularly enjoyed putting my language skills to use for Braineater Jones, who I’m pretty sure never met a foreign phrase he couldn’t butcher, except on the rare occasions where it’s a clue to his identity.

With its pulp fiction look, the cover of Braineater Jones is wonderfully retro! How did that cover art come to be?

It was a hard choice for me between traditional oil paints or pastels. In the end, though, I think the oil really captured the mise-en-scène better. Some would say it’s unfair for me to compare my work to Leigh’s, but in a way I think she radiates my influence far more than the other way around…

No, just kidding, of course. This is about the best I can do in that sphere.

The real answer is an awed stage-whisper of, “I have NO IDEA.” My publisher asked me what I wanted and I said, “I dunno. A zombie, maybe? On, like, an old EC Comics background?” Then one night out of the blue she called me and said, “Come look at what Streetlight Graphics did!”

So Glendon Haddix from Streetlight had dummied up a dead-on replica of an old pulp novel background, replete with the 5¢ cost and everything. Then a few weeks later Kerry Jesberger had created the gory sexiness that is Jones’s face. How they did it I cannot tell you. Computers, I guess. Or maybe magnets? Who knows how those things work, anyway?

Hmm, it's probably wise that you left the cover to the professionals. 

The zombie genre is blooming, like decomposing hands rising from a field of shallow graves. (Sorry, now we're trying too hard.) Tell us, why do we love zombies?

That mixed metaphor is kind of weak tea to hang your hat on.

I wrote a really long answer to this question and then just deleted it. For some reason I always wax grandiloquent on this subject, so I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, a zombie simultaneously answers all of our dreams AND fears about eternal life. I think on a subconscious level people realize that the price a zombie pays for immortality (mindlessness, ravenousness, eternal rot) is far more realistic and equitable than the price a vampire or a highlander pays (sexiness? super strength? improved swordsmanship?)

Additionally, from a protagonist’s perspective, zombies are the perfect, guilt-free target. As our understanding of the world gradually turns from black-and-white us-against-them to a panoply of grays, it’s refreshing to see an enemy that you can hate (and destroy) without any ethical qualms. Mindless, violent, dangerous, untameable, inhuman, soulless, unnatural, devoid of history, home, or family – everything that would make you think twice about pulling a trigger on a human being is blissfully absent from the living dead. I’m glad from a cultural perspective that we’re thinking more highly of our fellow human beings now, but sometimes I just want to blow off my atavistic aggression on a deserving target. As our list of “deserving targets” diminishes the appeal of zombies as antagonists increases.

Also, gore is awesome.

You have a reputation as somewhat of a zombie savant, well-versed in zombie books and film. So, as a primer for those who are Unread when it comes to the Undead, what do you regard as the classic zombie reads?

I do? I would say “flattery will get you nowhere with me” but everyone knows that’s a lie.

If I had to say “read one book and no other” that would be THE RISING by Brian Keene. End of statement.

However, I think THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE might be a better primer for the uninitiated, because it’s funny and clinical and not likely to cause nightmares. WORLD WAR Z, despite its almost farcically unrelated film adaptation, is generally considered the WAR AND PEACE of the zombie genre. After that, I’d say lean into some more Keene or maybe Jonathan Maberry.

Some zombie novels are mash-ups a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas. What do you think of those? Who would Braineater Jones like to mash up with?

I honestly haven’t read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES because I never read Louisa May Alcott. (Or whoever the heck wrote PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.) Honestly, I’m not sure whether that admission is going to cost me my street cred as a horror author, or augment it. Now something like WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S STAR WARS I think I would enjoy, since I’m familiar with both of the sources. But until someone convinces me to read…is it Charlotte Brontë?...I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy those regency-era mash-ups.

As for mashing up JONES, isn’t it already a mash-up? Not to dodge the question, but I always thought of it as a mash-up between Dashiell Hammett and George Romero. Not sure if it would survive a third mash. I suppose if this is like a “what’s your wildest fantasy?”-type question my answer would have to be…FIFTY SHADES OF BRAIN.

What's playing on Braineater's iPod? (Yeah, we know he lived, er, existed, in the '30s.)

Oh, gosh, well, now I’m not sure how to answer this question. I don’t really know ‘30s music. I suppose Jones would probably be a jazz fan, but the only jazz singer-type people I know are Miles Standish and Jango Fett.

Um…if we’re taking him out of time (and I suppose the existence of an iPod means we are) I think he’d probably be a big fan of The Misfits, Six Feet Under, and Helloween.

What's next on your writing calendar? More zombies?

Please. There’s ALWAYS room for zombies.

I’m still about midway through the sidequel to my sophomore novel THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. Then there will be a third book in that series to wrap up the loose ends. So plenty more zombie action to come.

But as for what I’ll be working on next, with NaNoWriMo sneaking up on us so stealthily, I think I’ll be putting aside everything to work on a sort of a steampunk retelling of a high fantasy story I was working on during the war called KINGDOM.

Okay, let's get a bit more personal. Tell us five random things about you!

I have 9 tattoos but I’ve been under the needle 13 times. (Oooh, tantalizing…)
I won the award for top English student in high school.
I have never seen Titanic, Top Gun, Rocky, or Dirty Dancing. (Man, that ought to get your forums buzzing…)
I’m bringing inch-wides ties back. If you’re wearing an inch-wide…you stole that from me.
I think that there is no culinary experience on earth that can compare to a cheesesteak from Jim’s on South Street.

Hmm, we're guessing there were some do-overs in the body art, but we'll leave those details to the imaginations of our readers. 

Stephen, thanks for talking with us today, and for writing such an entertaining, well-told story. One final question. Should we be at all concerned for you?

Sigh…yes. I wasn’t going to bring this up, but since you asked…I suffer from a rare disorder known as…liber…pecuniam…itosis. Yes, that sounds good. Liberpecuniamitosis. It’s similar to Benjamin Button disease, except instead of aging in reverse, I age in direct inverse proportion to my book sales. The only cure is…sigh…for lots of people to buy my book. I’m sorry I put all that on you.

All joking aside, thanks for having me! The questions were challenging and thought-provoking. It’s been most enjoyable being here.

Steve’s Twitter’s Facebook Page
Steve’s Blog

Braineater Jones is available now to download to your Kindle! And be sure to check out the Braineater Jones blog tour celebrating the book's release - for interviews, reviews, and a chance to win SWAG from the book's publisher, Red Adept Publishing.

Braineater Jones is available now to download to your Kindle!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Replies
    1. Our pleasure, Stephen! (We love the editorial "we" around here.) Looking forward to a follow-up interview with your next novel... and maybe then we'll press a little more on those mysterious tattoos...

  2. Awesome interview for so many reasons; #1 being I am mentioned by 3 names!