Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I’ve always had two goals as a writer. First, to always entertain myself. I like finding something I can’t even remember writing occasionally in a drawer or notebook. It’s like seeing an old photo of yourself when you thought you were fat and realizing you were just young and enthusiastically vain. Second, I wanted to write exclusively about St. Louis. I’ve been to many other places, lived in a few different cities and have met many different people via my step-father’s military service and I can honestly say being from St. Louis is like being from New York or Chicago or LA, the environment is significant to the society that it produces. It is often labeled the most dangerous city by the FBI (which everyone in St. Louis, including myself, find ridiculous) when in fact what we really are is a city of extremely angry persons. If you have never been at a fight while sitting in your car at a fast food restaurant, I encourage you to call your travel agent at once. I call my work transgressive; that is my characters generally will use illegal or illicit means to accomplish their goals, but I’m at a loss when it comes to my genre. Basically, someone asks me what I write, I just tell them I write stories for men that women seem to love. I personally don’t know what the hell to call it anymore but I’m glad I get to do it and that people seem to like reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
My mom invented a story for me when I was a kid. It was a blatant rip-off of Curious George and it was way better than anything the Man in the Yellow Hat ever did. I was about ten years old when I realized that she had wrote it and that always stuck with me. I did the same thing for a while, especially when Star Wars came out, inventing different adventures for the action figures I owned. As an adult, I found if you let your imagination roam, it’s basically worthless, but if you concentrate and insist on making the horrible tolerable, even the worst shit can be kind of funny.
How long have you been writing?
I consider myself going pro as a writer about ten years ago. But I’ve been writing stories, mostly for pleasure, since I was kid.
What kind(s) of writing do you do?
I love writing short stories. When they’re good, they’re great and that’s the wonderfully enjoyable drunken feeling you hope to get every time you read someone’s work.
What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Probably my blatant use of vulgarity but it’s not done for shock value. It is how I talk, how the people who surrounded as I grew up spoke, and when I realized that it truly was who I am, it felt so much better for me as a writer to use my natural voice, I gave myself a rare permission people sometimes live their whole lives without having, the freedom to say what I’m really thinking. Of course, I think about it. Should Mr. X say, ‘I don’t care what you do, Jenny,’ or ‘I don’t give a fuck what you do, Jenny.’ My answer comes down to the casualness of the conversation. I’d use the second, more profane answer, if the statement was meant to be light or sarcastic. On the other hand, I’d use the first if the tone was serious, that by saying it so frank it is actually more malicious.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Although it is a cool idea to have five guys write five different short stories all with the same title, it can be a tough sell to a publisher. Fortunately, Grey Matter Press was on board with this idea from the beginning. Anthony Rivera was fearlessly behind all of us. Of course, having John Taff and Josh Malerman on board certainly didn’t hurt, but I think when people read this book they’ll realize something very important – we’ve written especially for an audience that ignores literature but craves and loves good storytelling.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
A great thing about I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD is the fact I was on a team. Every guy is damn good by himself, but together, we’re practically a gang… well, as much as a bunch of dudes with keyboards can be. I’m seriously hoping we get old school leather vests and big fucking back patches so we can intimidate the punks at Barnes&Noble. REPRESENT!
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
Personally, my stories usually feature social outcasts. People without a hell of a lot of hope but still hungry for redemption, no matter how small. I was raised mostly by a single mom. She remarried when I was about twelve but it didn’t work out. My whole life until I became an adult was a precarious drama of always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Jobs, apartments, possessions are all things that I know can be gone in an instant and then what? I’ve learned to survive by using words, talking my way out of fights plenty of times and talking my way into jobs I shouldn’t have even been allowed to apply for. I understand what it is like to be in a mailroom and being asked to run errands for assholes for a little cash money on the side and I know the dread of having cops bang on your door on an otherwise sunny Wednesday afternoon. I’m writing stories for people who understand the enormous joy of finding twenty bucks on the street and the pain of watching others eat lunch when they can’t afford food because their kid needed some expensive ass eye or ear medicine and, well, something has got to give. You can have a pack of cigarettes and enough gas to get back and forth to work or you can have a tuna fish sub. Either way, you’re going to have to put your pride on the altar and choose a sacrifice that you can live with.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
Big surprise – John Steinbeck. Every generation should be as lucky as to have one writer telling us in graphic detail just how fucked up life is being poor in America.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
I’m, at best, currently a part-time writer. I think many writers have to be if they want to have cool things like food and health insurance. However, I dream of becoming a smash best-seller like trailer trash dream of winning Powerball. Either way, it’s likely they’ll win the jackpot and shit it down the drain before I become even a thousand-aire, but so what. If I did it for the money, I’d already be suicidal.
What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I’ve worked on oil rigs and in kitchens. Been a security guard and a newspaper delivery driver. I’ve done laundry in nursing homes, been a plumber’s assistant, mowed grass and been a paralegal. However, I’m not a Jack-of-all-trades as that would imply I actually possess skill. Currently, I work for a public library, started as a custodian ten years ago and now have my own office. Would I clean a toilet tomorrow if they asked? Without question. Is it likely I will have to? Not so much. These jobs have indeed impacted my writing. I regularly write about people without much to lose. They say write what you know and I find even when I try to avoid these characters, they have a tendency to walk into the scene whether I invite them to or not. In a sense, I’m still doing what I’ve always done, following much more interesting people around and trying to figure out how in the hell they will ever survive the horrible bullshit called their lives.
What do you like to read in your free time?
Chad Kultgen is great and those Bachman books from the Eighties blew my mind. Cormac McCarthy and Donald Goines, Elmore Leonard and Truman Capote, Donald Ray Pollack and Antonya Nelson. But here’s a cool story about a good writer. I read Mule by Tony D’Souza and was knocked out. So, I found him on Facebook and sent him my compliments. Fast forward to about six months later, I’m sitting in a restaurant having lunch with Tony, by now he’s read some of my stuff, too, and thinks it pretty good. It’s that kind of accessibility anyone can have with writers that makes being a bibliophile so damn cool. Unlike all the other pop mediums of entertainment, we are generally low profile kinds of people that will shake your hand, sign your copy of our book, and sincerely say thank you for your support. If any of us wanted to be “famous” we’d long ago gone and tried to do something else.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my novel STABCO – You Need Nothing Else, the story of two loser brothers who find salvation and redemption through the sale of knives door-to-door. It has a wonderful Coen brothers feel and is the kind of story I dearly love to read so writing it was better than sex. That is if you like sex that lasts for about ten years fervently trying to ejaculate before you die. Apparently, I do.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I hope to work with the I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD guys again. Also, I’m usually noodling around with a short story or two. I got my start in the writing game with shorts and love them. They are the crack of literature. Quick, fast, cheap and rarely satisfy either reader or writer. Depending on how well STABCO does, I’ll likely put out at least another novel or two. No reason to disappoint the three people who think I’m a great writer.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Here’s one: If I’m having a creative problem with a story, I’ll go mow the grass to work it out. Maybe it’s the vibration or engine noise, but I find it to be a fine brain laxative for my imagination’s bowel movements.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
My first and most unabashed love is John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men changed me as a person and deeply influenced my values. As for just guys I plain think kick ass, in no particular order, Chad Kultgen, Charles Bukowski, Donald Goines, Tony D’Souza and Paul Nielan have all inspired me and made me want to write much, much better.
“My name is Joe and I write stories for men. Of course, some of my biggest fans seem to be women who seem to find my writing insightful, even a bit shocking, as to how men really think. I assure you no matter how awful a thing I’ve written about, worse things have been done by you friendly, next-door neighbor.”
Joe Schwartz has written three collections of short stories Joe’s Black T-Shirt: Short Stories About St. Louis, The Games Men Play, and The Veiled Prophet of St. Louis as well as two novels A Season Without Rain and Ladies and Gentlemen: Adam Wolf and the Cook Brothers – A Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock&Roll. In his spare time he likes to lose at video games to his kids, watch movies with his wife, and read police blotters. All of Joe’s stories happen to people in and from the City of St. Louis. According to Joe, you can walk in any direction for eight blocks in this city and everything will change. ‘It is not the evil men do that I find fascinating,’ he says, ‘but the almost dire, almost predictable outcomes.’
Five Unique Voices.
From international bestselling author of BIRD BOX and Bram Stoker Award-nominee Josh Malerman — the newly minted master of modern horror — and Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS, John F.D. Taff; to the mind-bending surrealism of Erik T. Johnson; the darkly poetic prose of J. Daniel Stone and the transgressive mania of Joe Schwartz, I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD offers up five novellas from five unique authors whose work consistently expands the boundaries of conventional fiction.
Five Disturbing Visions.
I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD opens the doors to a movie theater of the damned; travels the dusty, sin-drenched desert with an almost Biblical mysterious stranger; recounts the phantasmagoric story of birth, death and rebirth; contracts a hit that’s not at all what it seems; and exposes the disturbing possibilities of what might be killing Smalltown, U.S.A.
As diverse as they are, in voice and vision, the work of the five celebrated authors assembled in this stunning volume of terror share one common theme, one hideous and terrifying nightmare that can only be contained within the pages of I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD.