|Pauline Baird Jones & Jeff Strand: Spies, Pigs, Dead Princesses and Graverobbers Definitely Wanted|
Chain saw dismemberment? Elderly hit persons? Dead princesses in dire straits? Spies dropping in unexpectedly? Glue guns as weapons? Do any of these odd or gruesome things strike you as funny? No?
Well, then, you need to meet Jeff Strand and Pauline Baird Jones, writers with a comedic flare, who infuse the worst case scenario with a incurable case of "That's really funny." They don't live or work together, so why did I interview them together? I guess because I was afraid to face either of them alone. Only you, the reader, can decide whether my decision was sane or mad, mad, mad. Feel free to write me c/o Crescent Blues. The staff promised to forward the feedback to nice people at the rest home.
Crescent Blues: The easiest place to start is at the beginning, I think. But then, with you two I'm not sure of anything. When did you start writing and why?
Pauline Baird Jones: In first grade, because my teacher, Miss Farnes, cried when we didn't do what she asked us to do. I believe it was then I developed an aversion to the name "Dick." And "Jane." And seeing them run. I liked reading a lot more when I got to pick my own books. Eventually I started writing my own stories. My first big project was a melodrama, because the world needs more melodramas, don't you think? I can't remember what I called it, but I remember the villain chewed his toenails.
Jeff Strand: Forever ago, probably because it distracted me from diaper rash.
Crescent Blues: The following is a required question -- one of the basic tenets of Interviewing 101. It demands an honest answer (I hope). Actually, I'm just curious. When did you make your first real sale?
Pauline Baird Jones: All my sales have been real. It's the books that weren't real. I contracted my first fake book in January of 1998.
Jeff Strand: When I was 23, I sold my very goofy short story "The Private Diary of Leonard Parr" to the very first issue of Twisted Magazine, which also doubled as the very last issue. My first sale where anybody besides myself went "Ooooooh!" was a story in the hardcover anthology Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, which is still available at Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton locations across the country. For you cheapskates who just want to skim it in the checkout line, I'm on pages 532-534.
Crescent Blues: It's just to gain some sort of understanding of you as a writer. Are you married? If so, does your spouse support your obsession to write? Or do you have an obsession to write?
Pauline Baird Jones: My husband is very supportive of my writing, though my research makes him uneasy. He has a standing order for an autopsy if he dies suddenly. Since Louisiana has forced heirship (he can't disinherit our kids), they've already told him not to count on them for an autopsy. Maybe the kindness of strangers…
Jeff Strand: Yes,
I'm married to another writer, so she understands all those hours in front
of the keyboard, and supports my obsession to write as long as I let everybody
know that The Return, a young adult historical horror novel
by Lynne Hansen, is currently available from Wordbeams.
I don't think of myself as an obsessive person, but by this point it's
pretty obvious that the whole writing thing is more than a phase I'm going
through, like when I used to dress up in clown suits and hit people with
dolphins, or when I used to shamelessly seek attention by making up stories
about phases I'd gone through.
Crescent Blues: Do you have children? Pets? Do your children/pets think you are an admirable person because of your writing or in spite of it?
Pauline Baird Jones: My children are okay with it, but my cat hates my writing. It takes time away from me giving him treats. He lays on my laptop every chance he gets and when he can't, he stares at me without winking until I crack and give him what he wants.
Crescent Blues: Pauline, I must ask a very important question here. What is the cat's name? I won't name your husband and kids, but cats have to be identified. It's in their contract.
Pauline Baird Jones: [With an infectious laugh] Cat's name is Felix.
Jeff Strand: No children or pending paternity suits, but I have a mentally questionable feline named Pandora, who actively resents my writing because I have to keep moving the stupid cat off my office chair when I want to get any work done.
Crescent Blues: A practicing proponent of unbiased journalism, Crescent Blues always tries, where possible, to give both sides of a story. In this instance of what seems to be a blatant case of "catism." Whisper, the owner of one of our editors and an intrepid journalist in her own right, agreed to interview your felines and write a sidebar to your own interview. Are you afraid your cat will give away family secrets in its interview for the sidebar? I mean both of you had some rather derogatory things to say about Felix and Pandora, so are you afraid they will grab the chance to get even?
Pauline Baird Jones: I know Felix will, but what can I do? He knows where I sleep.
Jeff Strand: Ha! That dumb cat doesn't pay enough attention to what's going on in this household to reveal any family secrets.
Crescent Blues: Well, I think Pandora and Felix will answer in their own time, so let's move on, shall we? I know both of you lived in other places in the past -- places further north and with colder weather. Does your current of residence influence your writing?
Pauline Baird Jones: I think New Orleans has been a HUGE influence on my writing. How could it not when such famous authors have written here? You can almost feel the creative current as you walk the streets of the French Quarter.
Jeff Strand: Up until now, it hasn't influenced me much. Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) takes place in Florida, but with minor changes it could take place almost anywhere. However, my current book, Infested, is set firmly in Tampa, Fla., because I feel that if I'm going to write a novel where an entire city is overrun by killer bugs, I should be man enough to set it in my own hometown.
Crescent Blues: Whenever I speak to groups or schools, I'm always asked some of the same questions. I don't know what difference it makes, but I will ask you as well. Where do you write? Do you have a private office? Does it have a window?
Pauline Baird Jones: I recently re-took my office, so yes, it is private now (if you don't count the cat as another occupant). I arranged my desk so I can see out one of two windows. It overlooks the street, which is lined with old, termite-infested Oak Trees. Despite the termites, the trees are lovely. It's a peaceful scene, and I can tell if salesmen are coming and hide.
Jeff Strand: I write in my own office at home. It has a window, but I'm far too dedicated to my craft to spend much time looking out at the birdies and this really cool lizard that's crawling along the ledge and not responding to my taps on the glass or attempts to communicate with it in lizard-speak and probably enjoying the wonderful sunshine while I'm stuck in here doing this interview, and I think it's time for a break.
Crescent Blues: I don't know why I am asking this -- in fact, after reading your books I'm pretty sure I don't want to know -- but your many fans need an answer to. Where do you get your ideas?
Pauline Baird Jones: You know, my husband would like to know too, but you can see why I need to keep him guessing. [Jones grins an evil grin.]
Jeff Strand: I start
each writing session by shotgunning eight cans of Mountain Dew, then I
run laps around my cat until I'm too dizzy to remain upright, after which
I collapse in my chair, slide my fingers along the keyboard, and the ideas
just flow, flow, flow.
Crescent Blues: Both of you have "interesting" plot lines and subject matter. How do you get your readers to believe such things are comedic? Do you get letters? From chain saw manufacturers? Hit person unions? House Husband Inc.? Politicians and park superintendents?
Pauline Baird Jones: The only thing a reader ever called me on was the size of my heroine's thighs. People are dying, things are being blown up and she points out that my heroine could not possibly have thin thighs if all she does is sit around and write. And my mom said I scared her.
Jeff Strand: Elrod McBugle on the Loose and How to Rescue a Dead Princess are all-out comedies, so it's not difficult. It's trickier with the really dark, sicko books like Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) and Single White Psychopath Seeks Same. Part of it is that Andrew Mayhem is a likable, goofy narrator, so readers have somebody to relate to during the ghoulishness, and the violence itself is never presented as inherently amusing. Personally, my favorite scenes are the ones that play as both funny and horrific at the same time, even if some readers only see one side. Most of my letters are from sweet old ladies who never imagined that they'd be reading a book like mine.
Crescent Blues: Have the two of you, heaven forbid, ever considered collaborating on a novel?
Pauline Baird Jones: An intriguing idea. I wonder if the world is ready for it though….
Jeff Strand: No way! Pauline is a crazy woman. She'd probably boss me around and make me worry about plot and characters and stuff like that. On the other hand, she outsells me, so this could be a good opportunity to leech off her success.
Crescent Blues: Comedic writing is very difficult, but both of you do it extremely well, witness your many awards. Do you believe awards add to your sales?
Pauline Baird Jones: I do think awards help sales, in that they bring your work to readers' attention. That's the toughest part of writing, IMHO, getting readers' attention. Keeping it is the second hardest part.
Jeff Strand: Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) won the Dream Realm Award for Best Horror Novel, Elrod McBugle on the Loose won the EPPIE Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and How to Rescue a Dead Princess was an EPPIE Finalist for Best Fantasy Novel. I don't think there's much of a sales boost from simply winning the awards, since the Dream Realm Awards and EPPIEs are not yet established enough that readers actively seek out the winners, but they certainly improve my ability to successfully promote the books.
Crescent Blues: This seems like a silly question but Barbara Walters doesn't mind asking it, so who am I to quibble. If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Pauline Baird Jones: I'd rather be a plant. They don't have to lick butts. A cypress tree maybe, with lots of cool looking "knees." Not sure why, I just like trees. That's why we chose our house, it was surrounded by trees. (We later had to cut some down so they wouldn't tip over our house, but that's another story.)
Jeff Strand: A talking dog, because I'd have wealth beyond my wildest dreams, unless my owner screwed me over.
(Note: The two interviewees did not see each other's answers in advance. Honest!)
Crescent Blues: You each told me what kind of animal (or tree) you would be, but now I want to know what kind of creature do you think the other half of this interview would be?
Pauline Baird Jones: I wouldn't touch that question with a fur-covered pole. Let's face it, I compare him to anything but the King of Beasts..." Which of course, he is. Absolutely. And I'm sure his wife would agree. King of Beasts. So I guess I touched it, didn't I? You can leave off that first part.
Jeff Strand: The first answer that comes to mind involves a book she wrote called Pig in a Park, but that's probably not the smartest response. She'd probably want to be a paramecium, so she could split herself whenever she felt like it and get twice as much work done (we're assuming that a single-celled organism could still write books, but I've read some books that make such a theory seem very likely.)
Crescent Blues: Stephen King says he writes from his fears. What's your greatest fear?
Pauline Baird Jones: Having one of our trees fall on our house and squish us like bugs during a hurricane. Or a rain storm.
Jeff Strand: Yogurt.
Crescent Blues: What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Color? Flower? Book written by someone else? Authors? Time of year? Why (to all of the above?)?
Pauline Baird Jones: Chocolate mint ice cream. (Isn't it obvious why???)
Green. (It's a visceral thing.)
Magnolia (love the tree).
Be hard pressed to name just one book that is my favorite. I love the one I'm with. Fickle, very fickle.
Lots of favorite authors: Patricia White, Georgette Heyer, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Cadell, Alistair Maclean, Helen McInnes, Joan Hess, D.E. Stevenson, Mary Jo Putney, Jill Churchill, Anne George, Jeff Strand, Ann Bachman, Terry Campbell, Timothy Zahn (Star Wars Series), Tanya Huff. I know I'm forgetting some and will be toast somewhere with someone!
Jeff Strand: My favorite flavor of ice cream is Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, because it has cherries in it.
I don't really have a favorite color, but I'll say...orange.
Guys don't like flowers.
My favorite book is Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammon, because the book has everything in it, and it does almost all of it brilliantly.
My favorite authors are McCammon, Dave Barry, F. Paul Wilson, Christopher Moore, David Prill and Douglas Adams, because they're either hilariously funny, incredibly suspenseful, fantastic storytellers or all three.
My favorite time of year is Halloween because I'm just one of those Halloween-loving weirdos.
Crescent Blues: If you happened upon a genie who granted you three wishes, what would they be? (No, telling me to vanish is not one of your options.)