Stephen Graham Jones is the author of It Came from Del Rio, the horror collection That Ones That Got Away, and seven other books, with two more on the way from Dzanc. His stories have appeared in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, The Best Horror of the Year(s), and around a hundred and twenty magazines and journals. Jones teaches in the MFA program at CU Boulder. More at demontheory.net.
Stephen’s story “Little Monsters” will be appearing in Creatures!
What was the first monster that scared/moved you?
That mutant bear in Prophecy: the Monster Movie. Seriously messed me up. Do you remember it? It was so tall, and so wrong, and, what kind of made it all worse for me — I saw this in the early eighties, on somebody’s cable, up later than I should have been — was that I could tell it wasn’t actually evil, that it was just there to punish. Camping was always terrifying for me, after that.
Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?
I don’t think so. The first Jaws doesn’t provoke pity, right? And it’s a better monster for it, I think. I mean, the pity trick can work, and has, of course, but that’s always set up for an Old Yeller kind of ending, isn’t it? Once that pity bell’s rung, you know that this monster, it’s not coming out the other side of this movie intact. It strips a lot of the surprise away.
If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?
Harry, so I could live with the Hendersons? I mean, really, a werewolf, which, they’re monsters — I define ‘monster’ as ‘that which is impervious to bullets’ — but if we count werewolves then we have to allow vampires and zombies and pretty soon I’ll want to be a centaur unicorn with wings. So, a larger than life monster. I’d say either that boar-god that opens up Princess Mononoke — that boar god who will not stop running — or that big lizard that jumps from world to world in Brian W. Aldiss’s “Heresies of the Huge God.” I’ve never stopped thinking about that lizard. Or it could be a bug. But I always imagined it had gecko feet.
King Kong, or Godzilla?
King Kong, definitely. I mean, it’d be cool to walk under the ocean for weeks like Godzilla, see all the things that can’t be seen, drift with the jellyfish, see a giant squid and eat it, but still, to live on Skull Island even for a while, with all those giant snakes and pterodactyls, man. I’d know I was lucky, I think. Except for that being the last of my kind thing. But up until then, yeah.
What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?
The camera angles and grammar of film allow the writer to just kind of ‘track’ this creature slouching across the landscape, and it can go from that to a first-person or close-third — the protagonists, the witnesses — with no problem. We the audience accept that, have been conditioned by it. On the page, though, in fiction, if you switch perspectives too much you tend to lose the reader. Not just because of the technical hurdles but because they don’t trust you have the craft to do exposition without cheating. And, not that I’m against monster point-of-view conceits — Gardner’s Grendel comes to mind — but that opens the door for that pity we were talking about, or at least empathy, and then things get more complicated, and not always in a way that serves the story.
Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.
My favorite two recently, by far, are those big walkers in The Mist adaptation and in Cloverfield. Just because they’re so difficult to even think about. My favorite on the page would be Mieville’s slake moths. They’re such perfect predators, and, like Freddy, they feed on dreams. Favorite over-all, though, that’s easy: Alien. I like my monsters highly evolved but completely savage, outside this whole morality play we like to think we’re in. It’s not about right and wrong, it’s about food. The best creatures know that.