The Disrespectful Interviewer: Dissing J.A. Konrath
The Disrespectful Interviewer is a semi-regular feature in which your intrepidly disrespectful correspondent is as rude as she likes with prominent writers of the day.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: The last time I donned my Disrespectful Interviewer hat, my subject was Adriana Trigiani. If you know anything at all about Adriana Trigiani, then you know she’s just about the nicest author ever to be published, meaning it took a superhuman effort on my part to be as disrespectful as this column necessitates. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll have that same problem with you. What do you think?
J.A. Konrath: Who are you again?
LBL: Let’s start with that name of yours, that nom de plume as it were. You publish books under the gender-vague name of J.A. Konrath. But your real name is—wait for it! because while you no doubt know your own name, all of our readers here might not—Joe. When you opted to go the initials route, were you trying to pull a J.K. Rowling?
LBL: Do you think the Harry Potter books would be as successful if they’d been published under the name Joanne Rowling? Do you think your books would be as successful if they’d been published under the name Joe Konrath? (I realize I just packed two questions into one section but I just have so many questions to ask you.)
JAK: J.K. Rowling is kinda hot. I’d date her. But I love her for her wit, not her billions of dollars. On second thought, I’d rather date her billions of dollars. As for my books, they’d be successful no matter what name I wrote them under, except for maybe “Lauren Baratz-Logsted.”
JAK: I like boxers with fun cartoon prints. Women really miss out when it comes to comic underwear. If I were a chick, I’d want all my bras to have Homer Simpson on them.
JAK: Who’s that? Is he the guy that played Robin Williams’s son on Mork & Mindy?
LBL: You have a mystery series that features a female detective named Lt. Jack Daniels. Since I’ve already asked more than one name-related question, I’ll refrain from asking the obvious question here, i.e., what possible nefarious motives you might have had in writing a series, using a possibly misleading pen name, featuring a detective with a possibly misleading name. Instead I’ll focus on the titles of the Jack Daniels mysteries: Rusty Nail, Bloody Mary, Dirty Martini, Whiskey Sour, Fuzzy Navel, Cherry Bomb. In case you haven’t noticed, those are all names of drinks containing alcohol. Are you an alcoholic, Mr. Konrath?
Actually, that’s a lie. I only wrote that because I’m drunk. The next Jack Daniels book is Shaken. Stirred will come out in 2011, and that will be the last one in the series.
LBL: Are you wearing now, or have you ever worn, women’s clothing?
JAK: Have you? I’ve seen pictures, and can’t tell.
LBL: I see that Bloody Mary has a blurb from Dave Barry saying, “I haven’t actually read this book.” Gee, I wish I had a blurb like that from Dave Barry. What other famous people haven’t read your books?
JAK: Jonathan Franzen. But I’m not entirely sure he can read.
LBL: What’s the name of one famous person you wish actually had read your books?
JAK: Have people actually read my books? God knows I haven’t. Too many words. And the ones that are in there kinda suck.
LBL: What’s the single most scathing review you’ve ever received? Feel free to quote a snippet. I’ll bet you’ve got lots to choose from.
JAK: Kirkus once said, “Konrath’s prose ranges from careless to wretched.” I used it as a blurb on the back of an anthology I was in. I’m also thinking of printing tee shirts.
Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, critique. Those who can’t critique well, work for Kirkus.
LBL: Do you think genre fiction is superior to literary fiction? If so, why?
JAK: Lit fic has its place. Like on the shelf, unread. Or used to help those with insomnia.
JAK: I can’t name one I've finished. I like my books to have plots.
LBL: I write in several genres; you write in several genres. I publish all my books under one name; you, in addition to J.A. Konrath, also write under Jack Kilborn and Joe Kimball. Why do you do things the way you do?
JAK: Since I’m three different writers, I make three times as much money. Soon I’ll be six writers. Then I’ll buy a flotilla, and we can all sail around the world, burning stacks of twenties for fuel. I’d invite you to come along, but unfortunately I have standards.
LBL: Why not J.A. Kilborn or J.A. Kimball? Is it that you think readers of horror and sci-fi have a preference for books written by clearly male authors?
JAK: Hey! That sounds like a legitimate real question!
Mysteries are predominantly purchased and read by women. Horror is pretty asexual. Sci-fi is mostly men. I went with the name “Jack” because I’ve had people call me Jack many times, confusing me with my character, Jack Daniels. All the names end in K so they’re close to each other on the bookshelf.
But the real reason for the many pen names is so the IRS can’t find me.
LBL: Remaining focused on gender, do you think Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner et al are right in what they say about gender bias at the New York Times?
As for bias, life isn’t fair. Never has been. Never will be. We’re all discriminated against.
Unless, like me, you're a rich white male. We’ve got it made in the shade.
LBL: What do you think of James Patterson and the way he works? Should he be admired or reviled?
JAK: I would love to control an empire like Patterson. Except, instead of thrillers, I want to do it for flipbooks. You know, the ones where you turn the pages really fast and the pictures move like a cartoon. But my agent just doesn’t listen to me when I tell her it’s the future of publishing.
LBL: In addition to being J.A. Konrath, Jack Kilborn, Joe Kimball, Joe, you also have another title, don’t you? Isn’t it true, sir, that you are in fact . . . The King of Kindle?
JAK: I’ve been called that. I've also been called a hero, an outlier, a messiah, a rebel, an evolutionary figure, and a dick. Of all the names, the one that I’ve heard most is dick. But if you aren’t pissing off some people, you’re doing something wrong.
Actually, I have heard hero a lot lately. Which is silly. I’m just a guy trying to make a living. I’m no different than any other working-class writer who is single-handedly destroying the publishing industry.
LBL: So tell me, just between us: Do you hate big publishing?
JAK: Of course not. In fact, some of the coolest, smartest people I’ve ever met are in the industry. I believe that big publishing is in trouble, and I feel bad about that. Especially for all of those editors who have turned down my novels—the same novels that are now making me rich on Kindle.
In fact, I want to help those poor folks out. When they lose their jobs in big publishing, I’ll still be in need of a good editor. So I invite them to send me a query letter, telling me about the services they provide. One page, double-spaced, include a SASE. I’ll try to get back to them within six months.
LBL: You seem to be a man of opinions. In 100,000 words or less, what do you think is wrong with publishing these days?
JAK: Three things. First, returns are ridiculous. A 50% sell-through is considered successful. Imagine if Chevy destroyed one out of every two cars it built.
Second, books cost too much. A hardcover shouldn’t be a luxury item. E-books for $12.99 are a travesty and an insult to consumers.
Third, publishers wield far too much power and control over an author, but they make so many mistakes I have to wonder if it isn’t intentional. I don’t know a single author who doesn’t have stories about the bone-headed things their publishers have done.
LBL: In 100,000 words or less, how can those things be fixed?
JAK: Downsize and ditch print, which is going the way of the 8-track tape. Give authors 50% royalties and guaranteed marketing commitments. Keep e-books priced at less than five bucks. And try listening to the authors every once in a while. Some of them may have good ideas, and might know how to make a profit.
LBL: I understand you have three dogs. Are we talking little dogs—you know, dogs that are more like cats but yappy—or are we talking big brutish manly-man dogs?
Neil was fifteen years old. A German Shorthaired Pointer. Smart as hell, but over the last year his health began to decline. It eventually got to the point where he couldn’t walk, so I had to take him in.
Our vet knows my wife, because she’s there all the time. Maria had her own dog-walking business. But I decided I’d be the one to take the dog on his last walk, because I didn’t want her to have to go through the whole saying goodbye tearfest.
So Maria calls ahead, tells them I’m coming. I carry the dog into the office, put him on the little table. There are two nurses and a vet in the room with me. One of the nurses is crying.
The vet explains, “I’m going to hook up a catheter, start an IV drip. Your dog will just go to sleep. You can hold him, talk to him, pet him, while the procedure is going on.”
So she puts in the needle, and I’m patting my dog on the head as his eyelids close, and I say, “This sure seems like a lot of work for just a rabies shot.”
The nurses’ jaws drop, and the vet freaks out, reaching to pull out the tube, her eyes filled with panic.
“Just kidding,” I say. “We're killing him.”
They’ve since banned me from the office. But afterward I bet they found it pretty funny. I think Neil would have appreciated it, if he hadn’t already been dead at the time.
It was much harder on my son. But luckily, there are many children's books out there that help kids deal with the death of a pet. Here are a few titles I found helpful.
It’s Euthanasia, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schultz
Ribsy and the Drunk Driver by Beverly Cleary
Garfield’s Myocardial Infarction by Jim Davis
The Cat in the Hat Gets Cancer by Dr. Seuss
Cuddles Died Because You Didn’t Love Her Enough by Judy Blume
Fun Facts About Decomposition by Bill Nye the Science Guy
Where’s Waldo’s Dog? by Martin Handford
The Black Stallion: Fatal Malnourishment! by Walter Farley
One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, Your Fault by Dr. Seuss
Where the Breathing Ends by Shel Silverstein
The Velveteen Rabbit Stew by Margery Williams
See Spot Die (or Dick and Jane Dig a Grave) by Unknown
Parvo the Puppy: A Matter of Time by Ken L. Coff
Where the Wild Things Rot by Maurice Sendak
You Said Kitty was in Heaven and I Found Her in the Trash by Erma Bombeck
Harold and the Purple Decomposing Kitty by Crockett Johnson
Polly Want a Eulogy? by Nina Laden
The Berenstain Bear Rug by Jan and Stan Berenstain
All Dogs Taste Like Chicken, a Walt Disney Reader
Everything Dies, Including Daddy, Mommy, and You by Steve from Blue's Clues
Why Won’t Huckle Cat Wake Up? by Richard Scarry
The Very Hungry Hamster Ate Her Babies by Eric Carle
A.S.P.C.D.O.A. by Sandra Boynton
Babe the Pork Loin by Dick King-Smith
My two other dogs are named Jack and Herb. They’re both healthy, at the moment.
LBL: I’m sure you still have more to say but I have to go watch “General Hospital” now. Crazy Lisa is trying to make it look like Robin’s the crazy one, Brenda’s back after a seven-year absence and Jason’s wearing a black T-shirt and jeans—really riveting stuff. Feel free to close with any last words you hope will one day be famous.
JAK: I’ve got a lot of new books and projects I could pimp, including my blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, but I assume everyone has already stopped reading by now. Thanks for the interview, though, I guess. But next time, I’ll ask the questions.
Books by J.A. Konrath:
Win a free copy of The Education of Bet! We will be giving away a copy of her latest young adult novel, The Education of Bet, to this week’s lucky winner. To enter, send us an e-mail with your name. That’s it. For this drawing, all names received on or before Friday, October 8 will be entered, and the winner’s name will be drawn that evening. We will notify the winner over the weekend. Only one entry per person, please. (We apologize to our international readers, but due to high postage costs we can only mail books to U.S. addresses.) There is no obligation, and your name and address will not be saved by BiblioBuffet or used for any purpose other than mailing the books.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted has sold twenty-three books to six publishers since 2003. Her published novels include The Thin Pink Line and Vertigo for adults; The Education of Bet for teens, Me, In Between for tweens; and the first five of The Sisters 8, a nine-book series for young readers, co-written with her novelist husband Greg Logsted and their ten-year-old daughter Jackie. Later in 2010 she'll have two more books published, including the sixth title in The Sisters 8 series and the YA novel The Twin's Daughter. Lauren still lives in Danbury, CT, where she writes and reads pretty much all the time. You can read more about Lauren’s life and work (and contact her) at her personal website and the Sisters 8 site. Contact Lauren.