The Gore Spotlight

HMS Q&A with Jason S. Hornsby

The American born and living in Malaysia Jason S. Hornsby, horror author, sat down and chatted with me recently. Discussing books, horror, and more, it was a great interview that I’m excited to share with our readers at Horror Metal Sounds.

HMS: Ok Jason, so first things first, what made you get into writing? What type of background do you have with horror and what drew you to the genre?

JH: You know, nobody’s ever asked me this before. Hmm… Well honestly, I can’t really remember a time in my young life when I wasn’t writing. In first grade, I wasn’t doing well in class because apparently I was spending all my time writing these weird little two-or-three-line short stories about skeletons and pirates and drawing pictures to match them. It actually caused a big argument between my mother and my grandmother one night while I was taking a bath, with my mom of the belief that I was going to fail first grade. I felt so shitty about the argument brewing outside the bathroom that I got my act together in school right after that, and never had a bad grade again. It really traumatized me, this idea that my imagination and stories might cause me to fail in my studies and subsequently ruin my whole life. I kept writing, though. One Christmas my parents bought me an old typewriter, and I went to work. My first short story was this little bit of retarded called “Murder in L.A.” that I wrote when I was around nine or ten years old. Fully illustrated, might I add. A couple of the more liberal teachers liked it, and had it copied and binded and they would share it with their classes. My first published work, I guess. After that it was stories about the Yeti, stories about shape-shifting American Indians, stories about skeletons…and you know, I just kept hammering em out. In high school, of course I abandoned fiction for a while and of course I started writing these incredibly gothy-type poems about death and being so misunderstood and all this other nonsense that I was too young to understand was simply one big collective symptom of teenage angst. These lyrics and my fondness for the new wave of metal that was sweeping the suburbs back in the late 90s eventually came together and I joined a nu-metal rock band called Broken Foundation. That was fun. We got a few girls’ phone numbers out of that, and caused a tiny little mosh pit at my senior year talent show. During the summer after high school and then college, I got back into prose, and it was only then that I started taking writing seriously. I majored in Creative Writing and American Studies in college, and was producing one novel roughly every six months. My final three semesters or so at university, I worked pretty hard on this “Winesburg, Ohio” kind of mélange of interrelated short stories, called “A Conversation on Belladonna.” But you know, the whole last four or five months working on this totally non-supernatural hipster-fest of a book, I couldn’t stop thinking about zombies. Now, I love zombies. Always have, since maybe seventh grade or so. The problem was, no one at that time had ever really written a good zombie novel. So I decided I was going to be that guy. As soon as “Belladonna” was finished in late 2004 (and subsequently filed away for all eternity), I jumped into the research for what would later become my zombie opus, EVERY SIGH, THE END. It was written at a pretty dark and uncertain time of my life: that first year after college, when you have no idea what you’re going to do with your future, you’re too smart to be working at the shit-ass restaurant or collection agency or garage or whatever else you’re doing to make ends meet, your romantic relationships are intense and soul-sucking and way too experimental for your comfort zone, and everyone around you just seems so incredibly narcissistic and selfish and hedonistic, including the person looking back at you from the mirror. I wasn’t a happy person when I wrote it, and it shows. Seven or eight years later, and ESTE is what it is.

HMS: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a writer?

JH: To be totally honest, it’s not the writing part. That’s always a pleasure and reprieve from normal life, even when I get stuck on a chapter for a long time and have to beat myself over the head trying to figure it out. It’s excruciating, having writer’s block, but it just makes the sense of accomplishment that much greater when you do finally smooth out the kinks. For me personally, the biggest writing challenge is self-promotion. I just really hate the kind of person I become, looking at sales ranks on Amazon, running my mouth all over the internet trying to get people to buy the books, worrying over royalties and fretting about how well each novel is doing and who’s saying what about it. I always wished that the books could just speak for themselves…and sell themselves like ladies of the night in Bangkok. It is my sincere hope that they are original, challenging, and I already know that a lot of love and care and time (I only release one book every three or four years) goes into each of them. I write because I have something to say about this troubled and often terrifying world, and because I have stories brewing in my head that need to be told, one way or the other. I write because I love writing, period. The fact that the books happen to be published now is just a great stroke of luck. I self-published ESTE in 2006 without even attempting to find a real publisher for it, because I didn’t want to deal with submissions, emails, rejection letters, all that disheartening crap. I knew what the book was, and that it had both zombie-lover and literary appeal. What happened was, a few months after I published it myself, Permuted Press contacted me and wanted to buy the rights and re-release it, and I was happy to let them. I’ve been with Permuted ever since. I never forget for even a moment how lucky I’ve been in this regard. But still – the self-promotion. One friend of mine from the UK got irritated that I even mentioned the fact that I was a writer to some people we met from Israel one time when we were backpacking together in Xinjiang. It really bothered me, because I was just doing what I’d been encouraged to do upon release of “Eleven Twenty-Three.” I felt like I’d been spamming new friends, when all any of us really wanted to do was get drunk and dance with the Uyghurs.

HMS: I think you’ll have an interesting answer to my next question… If you could travel back in time, what would you go back and change in the history of the world?

JH: I love time travel, and have thought about this quite a bit. So I guess we’re talking more “Back to the Future” time travel here and less “Twelve Monkeys,” right? And I hope it’s okay if I give two events of the twentieth century a tie. One, and I think readers of the first two books could see this coming from a mile away, I’d at least like to be present on November 22, 1963 when America lost Kennedy – and every vestige of our innocence forever. What happened? Who was involved? If I could even catch a glimpse of that grassy knoll and that sixth floor window that day, at least I could put it to rest in my mind, and sleep comfortably in the fact that that day was, in fact, not a coup d’état. The problem with the conspiracy theories nowadays, for me, is that they stopped being fun and they’ve become yet further platforms for left or right wing political leanings. Even when you’re screaming about “sheeple” and shooting people to exercise your gun rights. For example, I think Alex Jones has lost his friggin mind, and kind of regret giving him a cameo in “Eleven Twenty-Three” now. For the other half of my answer, I’d like to somehow prevent Chairman Mao from ever leading the Revolution in China and having the government shift violently into his brand of Communism. It’s not the socialism inherently that disturbs me about China’s history, it’s the sheer numbers of people who suffered and died under his regime. I mean, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of millions of people here. Not to mention the complete desecration of their own natural resources, which would lead today to their current imperialism in Southeast Asian waters. I mean, during Mao’s Four Pests Campaign in 1959, he decreed that sparrows were a nuisance, and all around the country his devoted people worked together to wipe them out. Well, of course there were huge insect infestation problems, and crops all over China died. Then, the people died by the millions. All on the dumbass whim of a man who once bragged, “I bathe my prick in cunt.” During the Great Leap Forward alone, something around 300 million people starved to death. I’m just honestly of the belief that Mao was the worst thing to happen to China in all its history, even when they were the so-called “Sick Man of Asia.” So anyway, I wouldn’t want to kill him, because I don’t have it in me. But maybe break both his legs, or find him a nice job at Club Obi Wan, something…

HMS: I think your JFK answer to the time travel question is very fitting. It seems in your writing that the conspiracy culture is alive and well. What made you want to incorporate mystery and conspiracy into violent, zombie horror?

JH: At the time I was doing research for my zombie book, I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with the Project Montauk reports from people like Preston Nichols. Yes, there is a real Preston Nichols. That’s where I got the name used in ESTE. I’d been into JFK conspiracy theory since I was seventeen and my dad showed me the movie one night, but Montauk opened up all kinds of new stuff to me: MK-Ultra, the Philadelphia Experiment, traveling to other dimensions, inhabiting other human beings’ bodies, men just walking right into walls and disappearing. All this appealed to me and kept me up all night reading, but it also scared the shit out of me and some of the images I conjured up while reading these fringe theories and anecdotes were just so haunting, so vulnerable to description in a novel, that I just put the zombies together with them. I always figured that, should the dead ever actually walk the earth, it would be government secrecy and ineptitude that would sink us first. Then their cold equations and eventual Pyrrhic victory over the undead enemy. Forget the having to remain unemotional part. America is so gun crazy already, I think a lot of folks would just love the chance to shoot at their neighbors, or perhaps minorities, and get away with it. Anyway, the conspiracy craziness and the absurdity of doing a zombie novel at all just really came together pretty organically after that. I never questioned it. For “Eleven Twenty-Three,” I was into new conspiracy stuff by then, like chemtrails and plastic coffins being stockpiled at Atlanta International and other weird greatness. Plus, I had become pretty involved in the Free Burma campaign, and went balls to the wall with that for a long time. I’m still pretty passionate about that corner of the world, and disagree with Obama’s recent stance regarding their military junta government. My second book seems more of a global conspiracy book rather than a straight-up assault on America’s shadowy puppet masters like the first one was.


"Now, I love zombies. Always have, since maybe seventh grade or so."

Then we have DESERT BLEEDS RED. I tried to stay away from the heavy conspiracy theory on that, because in China, as far as the people are concerned, everything is a conspiracy theory. You have millions of young people today who don’t even know what happened in Tiananmen in ’89. That’s just amazing, isn’t it? That in one generation the CCP there can just erase such a momentous and blood-soaked event like that from all record, and while the world remembers it, the People who need to remember most do not. So, I just tried to say it how it was in the PRC, or at least how history seemed to indicate it to be, and the way I saw it firsthand. Even now, if I ever want to remember the little details from living there in Beijing so long, of experiencing so many of these places and being utterly petrified to be so out of my element at times – I go back to DESERT and read a few passages. Truth be told, I think I’ve done as much of the conspiracy stuff as I’m going to do. I used that angle in the first two books, stayed away from it mostly with this new one, and unless some new thing happens in the world that is pertinent to the next novel’s plot, I’ll likely leave that approach alone from now on. I want the next book to take place on an island, and I want to get primitive with it.

HMS: So when you say primitive, and you bring up your next book, you know I gotta ask...tell me about your next work.

JH: It’s in a state of intangibility right now, really. There are things I do know about the book: the protagonist’s name; too long backpacking the world and now there’s a dead wife and she’s dead because she planned it that way; having conversations with plastic bottles and being able to feel their journey from the factory to the hands of a consumer to the inevitable rubbish they become; an apartment in Singapore that’s the only inhabited space on the entire floor and how unnerving that situation is…and I know the book takes place mostly on an island and that it’s going to be a more isolated novel than DESERT, because I enjoy those cut-off-from-the-world settings. I think I’m good at them, and those were always my favorite episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “X-Files.” There’s a little more but I’m not ready to share that just yet. I’m certain of this, though: it’s an island novel, and the descriptions will be a pretty far cry from what was going on with China in this current book. I wrote about the desert, and now I want to write about the jungles and the reefs and about the loneliness of being in paradise alone, or worse, being in paradise with nothing but varmints and scoundrels. It seems safe to say also that the next one will also probably have something to say about the environment, because frankly, it’s on my mind.

HMS: So what elements of horror will you incorporate into this next project? (If you can share)

JH: I don't want to get too much into it now, because not only will it spoil the surprise, but I also might change my mind of the angle I'm going with at the drop of a hat. I have a tendency to do that sometimes. I'll say this, though: I did zombies with ESTE, I did ghosts in 1123, and I did demons in DESERT BLEEDS RED. I'm going to move on to the next logical scary trope.

HMS: Aha, so I can only imagine that it should have something to do with werewolves, vampires, or serial killers? Let's hope for all three! What is your personal favorite genre of horror?

JH: You mean, like subgenre of horror, like vampires, zombies, ghosts, slashers, etc.? Hmm…I can tell you right now that I straight up don’t like most vampire novels and films, so that one is out. That scene just doesn’t do anything for me, and the vampire role-play kids have always given me the giggles. Really, I kind of like at least a few films and books from every niche of horror, but I’m going to have to be lame and choose zombie stuff as my favorite, because it has the most nostalgia factor for me. I don’t like that running bullshit they do in a lot of modern stuff, though, and hate “28 Days Later” for bringing about this whole “virus” angle. What a lame-o movie that was. The only running zombie flick I like is “Return of the Living Dead,” because that movie is so punk rock. For straight up scares and weirdness, I love J-horror. Two of my favorite films of all time are “Battle Royale” (come on – it’s kind of a horror movie. It was the biggest influence on “Eleven Twenty-Three,” that’s for sure) and “Suicide Club” by Sion Sono.

HMS: What is your least favorite cliché when it comes to PA or horror fiction?

JH: The market is just so inundated with this kind of writing these days, I’m almost tempted to say that Post-Apocalyptic stuff itself is totally played out. I’d like to see someone do a zombie book or movie in which the undead walking the streets is merely an inconvenience, and not a sign of End Times at all. The other thing I’m just so tired of is this fetishizing of weapons, especially guns. Too many authors just spend so much time on describing machine guns, rocket launchers, armored vehicles, this or that implement that’s used to kill a corpse, and so on. I hate – I mean, I absolutely can’t stand – America’s obsession with guns. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time living in Asia and not worrying about people shooting me in the face, but gun nuts are all just sick in my eyes, and I think it’s weird for writers to spend so much time on descriptions of weaponry. In fact, this was Max Brooks’ only major mistake in “World War Z,” in my opinion. And in the end, what killed the corpses were old-fashioned rifles and those Lobo things.

HMS: t is the zombie apocalypse right now, the object directly to your left is your only weapon. What is it?

JH: A plastic gun that blows bubbles. It’s my daughter’s. Okay, I’m kidding. It’s mine. I think I play with the bubble gun more than she does.

HMS: Lol, I like that answer. Thank you Jason for the wonderful opportunity and I wish you tremendous success with your future projects!

JH: Thanks so much Stevie!

Check out these great links from Jason S. Hornsby and as always, thanks for reading!


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Stevie Kopas, Managing Editor HMS

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