Creepy collection! A must-read by a stellar author…
“If I’ve read better horror writers than Jones, I’ve forgotten them. He’s at the apex of his game. After the People Lights Have Gone Off is the kind of collection that lodges in your brain like a malignant grain of an evil dream. And it’s just going to be there, forever.” – Laird Barron (The Croining; The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All)
“Stephen Graham Jones is a true master of the horror short story. Inventive, quirky, unexpected and masterful.” – Jonathan Maberry (Fall of Night; Bad Blood)
“Stephen Graham Jones is a great devourer of stories, chewing up horror novels and detective stories and weird fiction, ingesting literature of every type and pedigree, high and low and everything in between. His stories betray his encyclopedic knowledge of genre and of storytelling, but what makes After the People Lights Have Gone Off unique is how Jones never rests among his influences, going beyond what other writers might dare to craft terrors and triumphs all his own.” – Matt Bell (In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods)
Introduction by Joe R. Lansdale
I no longer remember what I first read by Stephen Graham Jones, but it knocked me for a loop. Perhaps it was Demon Theory, which is about movies in a way, written in what some would call an experimental style, and I would call the correct style for the story. That may well have been my first read of Stephen’s work, or perhaps it was one of his short stories, but whatever that first discovery was, I thought, wow, that was good, and it led me to his other works, and pretty soon his was a name I was watching for. I began to gobble his stories and books like a chicken gobbles corn, and if you are unaware of that activity, find a chicken, toss some corn on the ground and watch it work. If you want to be polite, put it in a pan. You’ll get the idea.
Stephen had novels, short story collections, experimental stories, horror and crime, memoir-style tales, and…a little bit of everything, and I was happy to discover that he had a lot of it. No grass grew under his feet, he was constantly moving, writing, creating new worlds for me to enter into. Unexpected worlds, not just a rehash of something he had already written, which in the literary world can be both a blessing and a curse. For most, a curse, as editors and agents love it when you do one particular thing and they can sell your next book as a clone of the previous. That’s a pretty dull writing life, if you ask me.
As I’ve said, I don’t know the first thing I read by Stephen, but I do know when he first came on my radar. It was on a Robert E. Howard panel that we both shared. I liked what he had to say, and I think he liked what I had to say, because afterward we spoke a little, and at some point in time I was invited out to a class he was teaching in West Texas. Not only is Stephen a fine writer, he is also a PhD, a professor, and a good one. Then teaching at a West Texas University, now teaching in Boulder, Colorado.
While out visiting him in Texas, I talked to him about some of his work I had read, and we had long talks about other things, and I discovered we had a lot in common. One of the main things we had in common besides an intense love for our families and stories about Neanderthals (it’s a weakness), was that we liked to read a lot. We are both fanatic devourers of words.
He liked books and stories and comics and film. He read everything from pulp to high literature, experimental fiction, cereal boxes and the ingredients on an aspirin bottle. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. That’s me. I’ll have to ask Stephen about that. You name it, we enjoyed it. It sounds like a simple thing, and most writers like to read, of course, but not all are as widely read as Stephen, nor are they as gifted, nor are they as hard a worker as he is. He does not mess around, friends, as you can see by his long list of books and stories.
Stephen liked to do what I liked to do with the books he read. He liked to measure each on its worth, not its supposed position in the literary cosmos due to genre branding. He also liked to blend genres to such a degree that you can’t really separate any one thing out enough to call it securely by any label. Literary intent moves through the crudest of horrors, the darkest of crimes and mysteries. Stephen is a real writer, and the thing I admire most about him is that he’s not doing it to show he can blend his work, he’s doing it because it is his work. It comes from some pulsing passion inside of him. He loves writing. He eats and sleeps it. But most importantly, he actually writes.
He writes in different styles, but I have come to the point now where I can recognize his voice no matter how different the presentation. Johnny Cash might sing rock and roll songs, country songs, you name it, but his voice is always his own, and Stephen Graham Jones is the same as a writer. He is uniquely always himself, and that self is also a Blackfeet Indian. And that background is frequently a part of what he writes, as in his books The Fast Red Road, and All the Beautiful Sinners.
This isn’t the first time I’ve said it, but it bears repeating: I love all manner of literature, but nothing is quite as exciting to me as the short story. I prefer it to novels, both as reader and writer, though I certainly wouldn’t want to have one without the other. A short story is a unique little gem, and you can write about so many different things, different expressions, as the short story is less confined to the market. Its markets are frequently broader, from literary magazines to genre publications, be they on paper are on your pulsing computer screen. You can write something absurd one week, something traditional the next, something experimental the following week, and then you can go for pure pulp, or a character pondering the importance of mowing the lawn without running over a yard gnome. You can go anywhere with a short story and in a short time. I love them.
And Stephen Graham Jones is one hell of a short story writer, and that Ladies and Gentleman is why we are gathered together here today. Put down your hymnals and take a seat. We are in the church of the short story, and you will soon have these stories from the Reverend of Words, Stephen Graham Jones. Amen.
After the People Lights Have Gone Off ‘is a collection of fifteen swift little gems of weirdness, for they are all what we in the business call really damn strange.
I won’t go through every story and tell you about it. First off, Stephen tells you about the stories at the back of the book. I’m also afraid I might make a mistake and give too much away. But before I depart and leave you to the good stuff, I’d like to make some general comments on some of these stories. I’ll pick a few of my favorites.
“Thirteen.” I’ll simply say I’m a sucker for horror stories that have to do with theaters, drive-ins, and the cinema in general. This is one of those, and it’s a good old-fashioned fear of the unknown type that is like a kind of campfire story, or legend that is told as the truth, and in time seems to be the truth.
“Brushdogs.” I adore this one. The term brushdogs is an old country term I’ve heard used here in East Texas. You’ll find out more about that as you read. This story reminds me, for some odd reason, of Robert E. Howard’s, “The Horror From The Mound.” Perhaps it’s the atmosphere. It also reminds me a bit of David Drake’s much pulpier, “The Red Leer.” But it is still all Stephen. Stephen’s style is really lean and simple on the surface, not a lot of gesturing and purple window dressings. And it’s that knife-edge prose in this one, the very disturbing ending, that causes me to suggest you might not want to read this one before bed or in some place shadowy. It would creep a creep. Very fine.
“Welcome To The Reptile House.” Oh hell, this is so wrong and so good and so beautifully written. It’s a fine and marvelous trick when it doesn’t look like anything unique or stylish is happening in the prose, but it is, and you feel it, even if you can’t quite deduce it, and it builds and builds, like a pimple soon to burst. This one is a favorite for the writing alone, not that the story itself won’t pull the skin off your ass and over the top of your head, because it will. It’s got the skin-crawling goods, dear readers. You think I’m lying. Just wait. You’ll see.
“Doc’s Story.” My favorite monster is the werewolf. Always has been. Oddly, there are very few great werewolf films and books and stories as compared to others. This one is pretty special. It’s no secret what it’s about, but how Stephen approaches the idea is what makes it sweet. Darkly sugary, and like ice cream so cold when you bite into it you get brain freeze. The whole business with the ball-peen hammer gets to my nerves something dreadful. It reminds me of some things I’ve seen in my life and would like to un-see. That’s another key to Stephen’s work, no matter how fantastic: telling, realistic details. If the characters are believed, the setting is believed, you can tell any damn story you want, and it’ll work. Provided of course you have the writing voice for it. This is one of those stories. It’s got it all, and in not too many pages.
“Uncle.” Another real skin crawler. Disturbing.
Oh hell, enough said. I’ve already said more than I meant to say, and I still fear I might give something away. I’ve tried hard not to, and have mentioned only the things that are obvious and don’t harm the stories, but I’m getting nervous. And I don’t want me to get in the way of what matters here. This collection. Stephen’s stories. His voice. His unique talent.
You need this book. If you like anything close to horror, and also like your stories to have other elements other than just standing in the darkness with a bloody knife, you have the right book.
I have no doubt you will.
Joe R. Lansdale
March 25, 2014
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