Interview: Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of over 20 books and over 250 short stories. He is a professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. A Blackfeet Native American, some of his work explores themes of identity and incorporates autobiographical elements, but he’s too prolific and multifaceted to be pinned down as one specific type of writer. He crosses genre lines from experimental to crime and science fiction, but he may be best recognized for his horror writing, which has earned him several Shirley Jackson and Stoker Award nominations, and the 2012 This Is Horror Award for Best Novel for The Last Final Girl.

Uncanny Magazine: “Rising Star” is a story about time travel with an interesting format. What made you choose to go in that direction to tell this particular story, and how much do you think the format of a story influences the story’s impact on the reader?

Stephen Graham Jones: My favorite stories are stories that don’t look like stories. A ransom note. A recipe. Directions for assembling a shelf. A blog. A catalogue. I’m always looking for ways to smuggle story in, I guess. As for why a grant proposal for this one, it’s probably as simple as everything I’d been reading about the Rising Star find was in academic-type publications, so, for me, “Rising Star” kind of brings that tone in with it. I’m not pulling those bones out of the dirt, I’m pulling them up from pages. Felt right to be bury them back there.

Uncanny Magazine: You say that you’ve read about the Rising Star find primarily in academic journals. How deep does your interest in paleontology run? Is this something you deliberately seek out, or simply one find that captured your imagination and sparked a story?

Stephen Graham Jones: Paleoanthropology is what I read every chance I get. That and horror. When I first came to college, I took an archeology course, because studying hominids was my dream. But then the professor told us on day one that the only digging left to do was in drawers in museums. He was wrong, of course, but I didn’t know that then, so I became a philosophy major, and now I’m here, writing novels. But I’m still that kid wanting to study hominids. The DVD I’ve rented again for this weekend is Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and I just bought that book Images of the Ice Age. This stuff’s where my heart is.

Uncanny Magazine: In the world of “Rising Star” people can go back in time, but not forward. How far back would you choose go if you had to? Would you try to blend in and not leave anachronistic evidence for future discovery, or would you deliberately do things to mess with future researchers?

Stephen Graham Jones: I’d be honor-bound to step on as few butterflies as possible. As for where I’d go, that’d be right where this grant proposal wants to send people: the dawn of hominids. I want to see the first of us stand up on two feet. And to know why that happened.​ Was it to see farther? Was it to hold a baby to the chest better, now that we had less hair for that baby to clutch? Did we stand up to carry two bags of groceries instead of just one? Was it to run, to breathe? Some breeding pressure or social thing? Heat dispersion? I mean—maybe our height then always scratched our shoulders on a certain part of a grass blade, which left us vulnerable to infection or parasite. Or maybe we just didn’t like getting burrs stuck into our hands. It could have been something that simple. Granted, one life likely isn’t enough to figure that out, as it was a gradual process, and having it all happen in one location is kind of a fantasy. But still. Even to just be there for part of it.​

Uncanny Magazine: You’ve said before that you don’t want to be pigeonholed “as an Indian writer,” which is understandable, and which seems to be something you’ve successfully avoided so far. While it’s definitely true that people should be able to write about more than just one facet of their lived experiences, there are also a lot of good arguments for the importance of stories about marginalized people told in their own voices. What are your feelings on that, and how do they manifest in your work?

Stephen Graham Jones: ​I just figure I am Blackfeet, so every story I tell’s going to be Blackfeet. Also, there’s not just one “Blackfeet” story, of course. There’s not a single American Indian narrative. And every single one’s valid. Also, I’m from West Texas, so every story I tell, it’s a West Texas story. You can’t really escape where you come from, and you always inhabit the political space you inhabit. Just, what you have to figure out, it’s what you want to sell, what you don’t want to sell.​ 

Uncanny Magazine: You’ve got a PhD and spend your days teaching at the university level, but your early education was fraught, and you left school before graduating. Do you have any thoughts about how the education system might better reach out to students like teenage you?

Stephen Graham Jones: Reward curiosity rather than punish it. And don’t tell those of us in the back of the classroom to keep our greasy heads off the chalkboard. My solution was usually just to keep my whole greasy self out of the classroom, thanks.

Uncanny Magazine: You’re an incredibly prolific writer. Tell us about some of the projects you have coming out next.

Stephen Graham Jones: My Hero, a comic book, lands in May, from Hex Publishers, and my horror novella Mapping the Interior is out from Tor in June. ​And of course stories and stories and stories, all over the place.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

Julia Rios

Julia Rios is the reprint fiction/poetry editor and an interviewer for Uncanny Magazine. She is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in several places, including Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and Goblin Fruit. She was a fiction editor for Strange Horizons from 2012 to 2015, and is co-editor with Alisa Krasnostein of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction series. She is also a co-host of the Hugo-nominated podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show, and has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders, and poems for the Strange Horizons podcast. To find out more, visit juliarios.com.

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