An Interview of J.B. Stevens
By Bobby Mathews
I recently had the pleasure of conducting an interview with author J.B. Stevens. J.B. is a prolific short fiction author and he has a crime-fiction short story collection coming out with Shotgun Honey in February. The book is called A Therapeutic Death and is available for preorder HERE. J.B. also has a free collection of short crime fiction to introduce readers to his work, that book is available HERE. One of my favorite things about J.B.’s work is how often it transcends what the reader expects it to be. There’s always an emotional punch with J.B.’s stories that sneaks up on the reader and wallops them in the gut, and that’s true whether he’s writing poetry, comedy, genre fiction or literary stuff.
One of the things we’ve talked about before is that you don’t just write crime or noir like a lot of the indie writers we know. Instead, your stuff runs the gamut from poetry to literary fiction to genre fiction. What motivates you when you sit down to write a story?
I seem to have different motivations for different styles of writing. With comedy pieces, it is usually a single sentence I read or overhear (fark.com’s Florida section is great for this) and my desire to poke fun at something. With war-poetry it is a feeling that won’t leave my gut. The poetry allows me to get it out and onto paper so I can eliminate it from my mind. It is how I excise bad memories. With crime fiction, I want to enthrall and surprise a reader. To me, reading a good story, one that that really draws me in, is magic. I want to produce that magic. I want the person consuming my story to lose track of time, feel every feeling, engage every sense, and be truly surprised. Great fiction is literal magic. The reader is staring at black scratches on pieces of dead trees. Somehow, they are having an overwhelming sensory experience from this. It is sacred.
Talk a little bit about your writing process. I know for me, when I’m writing, it’s usually an hour in the morning and then maybe an hour editing at night. I can usually knock out a couple thousand words a day that way. What about you? What do you need to do or have to write regularly?
I need an environment free of distraction. I usually write during my lunch break at work. I put white noise on my headphones and close my office door. I’m fortunate in that I have a private office, and I’m senior enough that if my door is closed, people don’t bother me. I don’t have a set writing schedule, but I try to read and write something every weekday. On weekends I read but almost never write.
You have a new short story collection coming out on February 4, 2022 with Shotgun Honey: A Therapeutic Death – Violent Short Stories. I love the title, and I especially like the kicker there: violent short stories. Lets you know what you’re in for. How did the collection come together?
I’ve been writing crime short stories for a while. My first story was published on a now defunct website called Story & Grit (ran by the talented writer Mark Westmoreland). Anyway, I wrote and submitted and published for many years. In mid-2020, I realized I had enough stories for a few collections. I gathered up some of my favorites and submitted them to a small British publisher. They accepted. However, the publisher and I had a falling out over their PR guy being an in-custody convicted murderer. The publisher was gracious and fully released me from my contract. I sent the stories to Shotgun Honey, and they accepted, and here we are.
You’re a guy who’s kind of surrounded himself with violence. You’re a former Army Infantry Officer with over a year of combat time in Iraq, you’ve studied martial arts and you an undefeated MMA fighter. And yet, when you write about guys who have done and seen things that you yourself have experienced, you bring so much depth to it. What’s the secret behind that?
I realized, at thirty-five years old, that I’m a writer. Everything else was preparation. I suspect I did some of those other things to prove myself to myself. I never wanted to doubt who I was, or what I was made of. After being punched in the face enough, and shot at enough, and nearly blown up enough, you realize none of those things mean much. What is most important is what you create from those things, the mark you leave on the world. If you are fighting a war in furtherance of a noble goal, then you are leaving a mark. If you are there for other reasons, there is no point and it is a waste of life.
Fortunately, I’ve made it through all that with only a few scars and how I have a safer job.
To circle back to your original question, I think I’m able to bring that extra depth because I have a writer’s heart with a combat-veteran’s soul. I think it’s led to a unique well from which to draw for my fiction.
We read together at a Noir at the Bar in suburban Birmingham, Alabama in June 2021. The story you read was one of the most brutal and touching stories of the evening. You got choked up reading it, and the audience was really emotionally invested in the story as well. This was something taken from real life and fictionalized, wasn’t it? Do you mind sharing something about that story?
Yes, that story is a tough one. I still get upset thinking about it. The actual story is 100% fiction. The idea behind the story, death being a welcome and cleansing relief, is a call back to people I was close to committing suicide. My friends that died in combat, it affects me differently than the ones that killed themselves. The title of my upcoming book “A Therapeutic Death” is a reference to that feeling. The feeling being a tired veteran’s internal sense that just being fucking done is a welcome relief. However, that is wrong. If any reader feels that way, please call 1-800-273-8255. The two people I thought of when I wrote that story are Logan Lonkard and Neil Landsberg. You should Google both. Logan had a single-vehicle accident on a dry road in daylight on his way to a Veterans Administration counseling appointment. He died. Neil killed himself after the war. Logan was my gunner in Iraq and he took care of me. Neil was a year ahead of me at The Citadel and he was one of the strongest (mentally and physically) guys I’d ever met. Both are gone.
One of the great things about you is that you want to market your work and other people’s work so that we’re all kind of riding the rising wave of indie fiction. What’s the biggest thing you think writers should be doing to advance their careers, outside of writing and submitting stories and novels?
Every writer should be identifying people who like their stuff and figuring out a way to keep in contact with those fans. Being a writer is, essentially, running a small business. You need to identify your customers and have a way to sell to them. I push all my friends to do this as I want them all to be successful. That is the value the “big” publishers provide. They have identified the customers and have great contact methods. The customers trust that big publisher’s brand, so they are easy to sell to.
As an indie author, I imitate that, and encourage my friends to as well. I want my friends to become HUGE as it is better for all of us. A rising tide lifts all boats. If you (Bobby) have 100,000 rabid fans that love your writing, and you tell them, “Check out J.B.’s stuff”—then we both win. That’s my goal.
Anything you would like to add?
Thanks to you (Bobby) for doing this interview. Thanks J.D. and EconoClash for giving it a venue. I want to thank my wife and daughter for always supporting me. Also, in my last interview I forgot to mention my mom was a big reader and a sports reporter, so thanks Mom for instilling a love of letters in my heart. Regarding my work (and everyone else’s) if you like it, please go to Amazon and Goodreads and leave a review. It is a huge deal. Finally, pre-order my new book HERE.
Thank you so much for your time, J.B. As always, it’s a pleasure. Folks, make sure you check out his new book, swing by his website, jb-stevens.com. Thanks for reading!