Jan Kozlowski is a freelance writer and web consultant, who lives in Connecticut with her husband of 24 years, a neurotic German shepherd mix named Louie, and 8 rescue cats. She chatted to me about her new book, why e-books are the new pulp fiction, and why you should write what you love.
You’ve run your own writing business for years – got any tips for freelancers?
Don’t do it!
Seriously, if you can do anything else, if you can get training to do anything else, do that instead. Find a job that pays you on a regular basis, offers benefits and most importantly, one you can walk away from when your shift or day is over. Freelance writing is a tough, tough way to make a living and I say that as someone who used to get shot at during the course of my workday as an urban Emergency Medical Technician.
If however, you’ve just read this and thought “Up yours, you cynical b**ch, I’m a great writer and I’m going to make you choke on my success!” then my best piece of advice is to find a topic that you love, do all the necessary work to become an expert on that topic and make it your writing niche.
It doesn’t have to be a glamorous or ‘hot’ topic, but it does have to be something you don’t mind spending hours and hours immersed in, thinking about, talking about and researching. At least then, while you’re scratching for work, you’ll be doing something you enjoy. It might not sound like much, but it sure beats spending your days writing articles like ‘What Does a Cement Engineer Do?’
What dreams have you realized as a result of writing?
When I was a kid, books were the most magical things in my universe. I grew up in an abusive situation so being able to escape into the stories saved my sanity, if not my life. I was never confident enough to think that one day I would write my own books, but I always thought it would be SO cool to meet and maybe become friends with real authors – people whose work I admired and respected. And amazingly, that’s exactly what’s happened…and I’m still blown away by the wickedly cool, talented and funny people I get to have in my life. Nothing tops that.
The first tweet of yours that caught my eye was about a short story included in an anthology called Fangbangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love – can you tell me a bit about that?
It’s an eye-catching title isn’t it? When Lori Perkins, editor of Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance, announced the call for the Fangbangers anthology, I knew I wanted in on it, even though I’ve never been that into vampires. My husband has always liked them, but they’ve never popped for me. Then I started thinking what if, instead of sucking blood, my vampire was more useful? What if he did something women could REALLLY get excited about…like sucking fat? From there, the characters of Lolly and Maddik just took off and the result was the short story And Ye Shall Inherit the Fat of the Land.
What attracts you to writing horror?
I’ve spent most of my career writing, editing and researching for non-fiction projects. I’ve done straight journalism, feature writing, business work like newsletters and brochures and tons of service pieces like ‘Toe Fungus and You.’ I’ve enjoyed it and made money doing it, but when it came time to read for pleasure, I’ve always gone straight for Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, or any other author that could scare the pants off of me. So, when I decided to cross over into seriously writing fiction, the horror genre seemed like the natural place to start. To hell with writing what you know, write what you love!
Do you think gender has any impact on the way you approach horror?
Sure, in that I write from my own experience and my own imagination and part of that is that I am female. I’m also 50 years old, white, overweight, a retired emergency medical technician, a survivor of childhood abuse, an animal lover, a level II Reiki practitioner, a wife, a good cook etc., etc., etc. I believe that everything we are, or have been, informs on what we write.
Do you think that the way scary movies have developed has impacted on the type of material horror writers deal with?
While I’m not a fan of them, I think horror movies like the Saw series and other over the top gore & torture fests have blown the doors off the censorship box for all of us. I absolutely believe my novel Die, You Bastard! Die! would never have seen the light of publication, ten, or maybe even five years ago if it weren’t for the acceptance of these movies into the mainstream. I think the challenge, for writers anyway, is to find a way to use this added freedom to tell a great story, not just as an excuse to play body count bingo.
What is your take on genre snobbery?
If the literati don’t like horror in general, or my books in particular, that’s fine by me, especially since I don’t have a very high opinion of ‘lit-tra-ture’ either. IMHO, there’s no faster way to turn a kid, or an adult for that matter, off reading than to force them to plod through some of those doorstops they call classics. I still have nightmares about my high school English teacher forcing me to read Ethan Fromme. BLEEECH. But, each to his own. There’s a reason Ben & Jerry’s makes more than one flavor and Amazon takes up so much bandwidth.
What do you think makes a good story?
To me, as both a reader and a writer, a ‘good story’ boils down to one that pulls me in with strong, three-dimensional characters, sets them up in an interesting situation and then makes me care about what happens to them on their journey.
Tell me about the best thing you’ve ever read?
That would have to be Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t read it until I was in my 30’s after I heard YA author Chris Crutcher say it was the only book he ever read during his school years. I was absolutely blown away by it-the characterization, the plot, the beauty of the language and just about everything about it. If I live to be a thousand I don’t think I will ever write anything that perfect. Running a close second, for virtually the same reasons, is Holes by Louis Sachar.
Your book is available on kindle so I’m guessing you are pro self-publishing – what are the pros and cons of doing this?
To tell the truth, I’m fairly ambivalent about self-publishing. If that’s something that an author thinks is worth it, then Mazeltov to them, but for me personally, I’d rather spend more time writing, or with my family, than wearing all the other hats that come with taking the DIY path.
How do you think the digital revolution will affect people’s reading habits in the long term?
As someone who bought one of the first Rocket E-book readers back in 1998, I’ve always believed e-books/e-publishing will become an important part of our lives and culture. There are just so many possibilities, so many applications for this kind of technology.
Take textbooks for example. I think as soon as the price of e-readers comes down, all textbooks should be switched over to e-formats. To me, it’s a no-brainer. Teachers will never again have to worry about not having enough books for all their students and students will never again have to use books that are falling apart or out of date. Think of all the money that school districts and college students could save that way, not to mention the decrease in chiropractic bills when students no longer have to schlep 50lbs of books around.
Going forward I believe e-books will become the new mass-market paperbacks, ADDING another tier to publishers, writers and readers’ options rather than taking away from hard and soft cover books. I like to think of e-books as the new pulps and that’s why I’m so happy to be part of John Skipp’s new Ravenous Shadows line.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m just starting to sketch out my next novel. I have the basic plot kernel, a few characters and a really interesting setting. I’m a huge of fan of John Skipp’s editorial vision of “short, intense, cinematic books that deliver as much plot, punch, and power as novels three times their length” so I’ll be writing it with Ravenous Shadows in mind as my first choice in publishers.
You can find out more about Jan on her website and follow her on Twitter @JanKozlowski. Her debut novel, Die You Bastard, Die! is out now – check the reviews on GoodReads to find out more before you buy!
April 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm
Thanks so much Ali, this was a really fun interview!
April 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm
You’re welcome and thank you for taking the time to chat with me, your answers are really interesting 🙂