Jay Wilburn Interview Questions:
- What got you into writing?
I read science fiction and fantasy as a kid and wrote poor copies of those books. I started a lot of stories, but finished few. None of them were good. The first story I was paid for was a zombie story that came in third in a contest called “Zombies!” I got a check for 5 dollars and memo line read “Payment for Zombies!” After that, I believed I could do this for a living.
- I saw you were a teacher before you became a full time writer. Was it a difficult transition? Any recommendations that you would give to other authors on how to get there?
A lot of circumstances led up to that decision. The year I quit, a promising former student killed himself. After that, I lost my patience for talking about test scores and school system benchmarks. My son got sick and one of us needed to stay home with him. I was ready to quit, so I volunteered. I got permission from my principal and the school system to break my contract mid year. I quit on a Tuesday in the middle of February. As I left the building for the last time as a teacher, the air was fresher, colors were brighter, and I remember what song was playing on the radio. I had no plan other than writing stories for a living. That was February of 2013. As of the time I am writing this, it is six and a half years later of full-time writing.
There was a lot to figure out. I had a lot to learn about writing and the business of writing. I learned ways to diversify my income and build a platform to keep going. There were a lot of times it made since to quit and go back for a day job. I kept going past those moments and found a way to keep making it.
Recommendations? Don’t listen to advice from writers because they’re all just making it up as they go, and when it does work, some of them don’t really know how. You don’t have to quit your day job to go after your dream. There are some advantages to your storytelling that come from having a day job. I would never advise anyone to quit their job, but you can. If you are creative (with your survival and your finances, not just in your writing), you can find your own path to make it work. You have to know how and when to try something new. You have to have a nose to figure out what no one else is doing and then to do that first. You also have to learn from people who are doing it and figure out how to apply the processes that work. Sometimes that means turning off your brain and applying their process point for point. It is a tough balance.
No matter what you do, keep writing. You have to make words and tell stories no matter what plan you are following.
- What type of story motivates you? Clearly you enjoy zombies, any particular reason why
you are so drawn to this genre?
I was writing zombies first. That was part of it. They are a big part of my storytelling and offer a blank canvas to express ideas and concepts bigger than the story itself.
Generally, I’m looking for the story that hasn’t been told yet, hasn’t been told often, or hasn’t been told well. I write a lot of LGBTQ characters because they represent a wide range of humanity, they are natural survivors, and their stories are under-told. If I feel like I’m creating something new or exploring a concept that gives a strong journey, then I think I have potential for a story worth telling.
- Between novels and short stories, which ones do you enjoy writing the most? Name a few examples of some of your favorite work.
I like both for similar and different reasons. The story “Short Straw” is my favorite sci fi story I have written. It appears PEN My Favorite Story anthology. “Dead Song” made it into Best Horror of the Year vol 5. It inspired my Dead Song zombie series that is up to book 5 now. The story “Seersucker Motherfucker” in my short story collection Beautiful Darkness is only available on my website in print or ebook and yet it has been nominated for a Splatterpunk Award. I’m excited about that.
In novels, the Enemy Held Near and the book Yard Full of Bones, that I cowrote with Armand Rosamilia, are probably my strongest works. I recently released Vampire Christ, a horror satire about biblical vampires taking over American politics. I’ve also released The Lake Scatter Wood Tales for younger readers.
- You have an impressive list of published short stories. I told you before that your short story, Last Halloween,is one of my all-time favorites. I won’t give away the ending, but I wanted to say one of the things that made this story so good is what you don’t say in it. The big picture is eluded to but never mentioned. It made it very haunting. Was that deliberate? What other tricks do you use in your stories?
That story came pretty early in my career. I don’t think I was full-time when I wrote that one. For a long time, I’ve been playing with two oppositional concepts in horror. Horror that is distant, unknowable, unseen is one and represents more existential or cosmic horror. The other is splatterpunk or extreme horror characterized by being fully seen, fully described, in your face, and visceral. I find myself more recently trying to mix them within the same story.
The fear for me in that story comes from imagining my son alone in the world we haven’t fully prepared him for. Imagining him trying to make his way through life alone and what that would look like created the character touches to that story. I’m hurting and afraid for the boy in that story from beginning to end. My raw fear and discomfort come through on the page in that story, I think
Jay Wilburn is a Splatterpunk Award nominated author with work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5. He quit teaching after 16 years to become a full-time writer. He is the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant in 2017 and is currently training to run a double marathon, 52.4 miles, in one day. He is the author of Vampire Christ, the Dead Song Legend series, Beautiful Darkness, The Lake Scatter Wood Tales for kids, the nonfiction work How to Make No Friends Everywhere, and many more books.