Horror Tree presents … An Interview with Jeff Strand
I first discovered Jeff Strand in 2010 when a novel titled Dweller arrived in my mailbox as part of the monthly Leisure Books horror club back in the day.
After reading it, Dweller instantly clawed into my Top 10 all-time books. It chronicled the entire decades-long friendship started between a lonely boy and an even lonelier Bigfoot-like creature. It was horror but unlike any horror I’d ever read before.
I met Strand at a Bigfoot conference in Georgia last year where he and his talented artist/wife Lynne were selling their books and art at one of the booths. I, of course, had to have him sign my copy of Dweller, and I even bought a print of his wife’s Dweller cover.
While mostly known as a master of horror-comedy, Strand writes straight horror with the best of the genre. Two of his novels, Dweller and Pressure, were nominated for Bram Stoker Awards. His short story, “Tipping Point,” won a Splatterpunk Award for Best Short Story.
With more than 40 books to his name, Strand released four more in 2019. The plots ranged from zombie animals and a serial killer with family issues to clowns versus spiders and werewolves.
So, which one was the most difficult to write and which one was the most fun?
“Ferocious was the most difficult to write because of its simplicity,” Strand said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “Two characters in a cabin surrounded by zombie animals. It was basically just a constant series of ‘Okay, now they’re totally screwed again. How do I get them out of this?” decisions.
“The most fun to write, and I suspect that this answer will surprise you, was My Pretties. Something like Clowns Vs. Spiders seems like it would be an absolute blast to write, but the absurd-yet-scary tone was a fairly tricky balancing act, and I’m slow at writing action sequences. My Pretties is more about suspense than action, and I really enjoyed figuring out how to parse out the information that revealed the big twist.”
Strand returned to his Wolf Hunt series in 2019, continuing the story of his two beloved characters, George and Lou. Why does Strand keep returning to these characters?
“About halfway through writing the first Wolf Hunt book, I thought, ‘I love these guys! Maybe I’ll write another one!’ But I focus on original novels far more than sequels, which has meant a four-to-five-year gap between each of the George and Lou novels, and that, my friend, is a terrible way to do a series. Though compared to my Andrew Mayhem series, I am blasting out the Wolf Hunt novels at a lightning-fast pace!
“Wolf Hunt 3 came from reader demand and the fact that Wolf Hunt 2, though it didn’t have a cliffhanger ending, left plenty of unanswered questions. So, there was always going to be a third book … but when? A combination of elements made me decide that it was finally time to bring these poor bastards back. I don’t consider this the final book of a trilogy, but I did purposely write it so there doesn’t have to be a Wolf Hunt 4.
“Jumping back into these characters was effortless. I could write an entire novel of just George and Lou driving and talking. But, of course, the series is also about insane, over-the-top action, so I had to make sure the book delivered that aspect as well. If Wolf Hunt 2 is the darkest and meanest book, Wolf Hunt 3 is the weirdest and sickest.”
On January 13th, Canada’s Binge Bros. Productions announced they were optioning Strand’s 2016 young adult novel, The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever, for a movie adaptation. Strand wrote the screenplay himself, admitting he had to cut a lot of content.
“There’s actually stuff happening with several other books, but it’s all under a thick veil of secrecy,” Strand said. “Well, not Disposal — I’m allowed to say that Buffalo, New York filmmaker Mick Thomas is writing and directing that. The gag orders usually don’t bother me, although with one project in particular it’s kind of maddening.
“The process for The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever involved viciously hacking and slashing away as much of the book as I could. ‘Okay, here’s a page of really funny dialogue, but can I figure out a way to trim it down to two lines?’ I couldn’t be precious about anything, because even with what I thought was a brutal culling, my first draft was waaaayyyy too long for a goofy comedy about kids making a zombie flick. So, I got out my machete and chopped away even more. It’s still too long, but we’ll work that out as I enter the ‘working directly with the producer/directors on the rewrite’ stage.”
Strand said he never thinks about actors playing roles in his books.
“I never think about specific actors when I write a novel, and when people ask who I’d cast, I’m usually at a complete loss.” Strand said. “That didn’t change when I adapted my book into a screenplay. Other people will be making those decisions.”
Up next for Strand is a novel tentatively titled Hazel.
“Hazel is about a middle-aged woman with telekinetic powers that she can’t control,” Strand said. “She can make you raise your hand into the air … but she’ll probably break your arm in the process. If she gets emotional, very bad things can happen to the people around her. She’s learned to manage it through prescription medication and by basically staying away from other human beings as much as possible. Enter a desperate hit man, his pregnant girlfriend, and a scam so cruel that no amount of pills can mute Hazel’s reaction.
“There’s not a publication date yet, but I will narrow it down to ‘reasonably soon.’ Beyond that, I’m being tight-lipped about other forthcoming projects. I’ll say that one of them will make long-time fans happy, and another will be something completely different from me. I do have a specific publication date in mind, and I may spring these upon the world with little or no advance notice! Beware!”
Since Horror Tree is a site that supports writers with markets, publicity, and writing advice, I asked Strand if he can offer any tips to writers.
“That’s a really tough question because self-publishing has opened up a completely different path to success,” Strand said. “Twenty years ago, I could stand behind a podium and say, ‘First, you need to find an agent,’ and nobody would scream ‘Liar! There are other ways to go about it!’ It’s not even just about what works best for a specific author. I’m a hybrid author; I do both traditional and self-publishing, so it’s about what works best for a specific book! It’s extremely difficult to give any kind of useful advice without actually talking to people about what they want out of their career.
“But I’m not gonna wuss out on your interview question. One piece of advice that is perhaps even more relevant now is ‘Don’t be in a hurry to be published!’ I was in a hurry to be published, but I didn’t have a choice. The gatekeepers said ‘Nope, not yet!’ It horrifies me to think that today’s options, where I can finish a book and people can buy it a few hours later, might have been available way back when I only thought I was producing publishable work. You can’t imagine the crap I would’ve put out into the world.
“So, don’t be in a hurry. Practice novels are totally cool. There’s no shame in your first novel never being published. There’s no shame in your first ten novels never being published. Like a sport or a musical instrument, you’ve gotta practice to get good at it!”