Writer's work is like a shot of adrenaline

Feb. 18, 2015 at 4:45 p.m.

A.J. Ortega

A.J. Ortega   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Stephen Graham Jones, a prolific writer of many genres, has a Twitter account, @SGJ72. His avatar features two large, bloody slashes across his face. But don't worry. I am fairly certain the wounds either a.) healed or b.) were not actually real gashes to begin with.

If an award-winning author in strange, horror makeup doesn't move you in some way, maybe his writing will.

And Jones is a real writer. I mean, he writes. He's such a monster with words that he has more than 20 books published as well as 200 individual stories in a variety of journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Cutbank and Weird Tales as well as dozens of others. He cites some of his inspirations as Stephen King, Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut - odd guys in their own way.

The American Book Review is pleased to welcome Jones to Victoria and to the UHV/ABR Reading Series at noon Thursday in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

I can recall the first books I really started reading. They were these Mysteries of the Unknown books that were sold on TV. I begged my dad to order them for me, and he eventually did. I read volumes on mysterious creatures, haunted places, aliens and telepathy. I have no reservations in admitting that I didn't read a whole lot for schoolwork, but I read any weird books I could get my hands on. I needed something that wasn't ordinary. Step aside "Red Badge of Courage," here comes "The Loch Ness Monster" and aliens from "Alpha Centauri."

Much of Jones' work is classified as either experimental or horror. The horror designation is clear enough, as Jones writes about zombies, werewolves and murder, all tropes of the genre. However, the label of "experimental" is a little puzzling.

What exactly makes a piece of writing experimental? As a writer myself, I actually think every piece of writing is experimental. I don't know if the story will work or not until I conduct my experiment. I always start off with a hypothesis: "I believe this story will move the reader." Sometimes, I'm right. Other times, my experiment fails.

Jones' novel "Not for Nothing" is one of his latest experiments. The novel, set in Texas, is told in second person. This makes the reader part of the action in the story, making it a page-turner, so we can see what happens to ourselves by the end.

The best part of Jones' work is that it is odd, weird and can't easily be placed in a box alongside other, more conventional authors and books. It is because of this distinctiveness that Jones' work has garnered numerous honors, such as a Texas Monthly Book Selection, the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction and an NEA fellowship.

Too often, we are conditioned to think that good books have to be written a certain way or that they must obey certain conventions. This is particularly problematic for students, not unlike me at a young age, who are looking for something weird, peculiar or unconventional to catch their eye. Boring writing will suck the life energy needed to read right out of you. Weird, exciting and bizarre writing is like a shot of adrenaline, where you flip page after page, hoping you're not going to get face-slashed by one of the baddies.

A.J. Ortega is assistant editor of Huizache and teaches English at the University of Houston-Victoria. He may be contacted at ortegaaj@uhv.edu.


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