{Interview} Dodging Salvation: Author Jon Bassoff talks to Kendall Reviews.

Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives with his family in a ghost town somewhere in Colorado. His mountain gothic novel, Corrosion, has been translated in French and German and was nominated for the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, France’s biggest crime fiction award. The Disassembled Man has been adapted for the big screen with Emile Hirsch attached to star. For his day job, Bassoff teaches high school English where he is known by students and faculty alike as the deranged writer guy. He is a connoisseur of tequila, hot sauces, psychobilly music, and flea-bag motels.

The Drive-Thru Crematorium

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Eraserhead Press (1 Aug. 2019)

Stanley Maddox lives a mundane life in a nondescript town. His wife is cheating on him, his colleagues at work don’t recognize him, and he has recently noticed a mysterious creature darting its way through his house. When he notices a flap of skin on his face, he begins pulling. Beneath his skin lies another person, an evil person, with the power to change his life forever.

KR: Coffee?

KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

In the words of Rockwell, “I’m just an average man, with an average life.” And that is the first time you’ve ever interviewed somebody who quoted Rockwell. (KR: This is true!) The best I can tell you is that I live in Colorado, and I teach high school English. My students don’t respect me, but they do fear me, and that’s all I can ask for. When I’m not teaching, I write weird, disturbing books. I’m very popular with the criminally insane. They think I’m one of them.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

Stare at walls. Dream of hitting it big with some type of invention. Unfortunately, I haven’t thought of anything good yet. Has anybody come up with a way to keep food cool and ice cream frozen? They have? Back to staring at the wall.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

When I was really little, I dug Where the Wild Things Are. Kids are, for the most part, powerless, and so there is a great appeal to see Max intimidate the hell out of those monsters. That’s a great book.

As I got into elementary school, I read all the Hardy Boys books. Every damn one of them. I had a big crush on Frank’s girlfriend Callie Shaw. They had little sketches of exciting scenes, and she was pretty hot. Don’t judge.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

My two favorite musicians are Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits. Springsteen influenced me tremendously as a person. Waits influenced me tremendously as a writer. I guess Rain Dogs would be my favorite album of his. And, yeah, I try to steal from him every chance I get. Despite being a musician, he’s my literary hero.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director? 

It doesn’t fall neatly into the horror genre, but Angel Heart, directed by Alan Parker, is my favorite movie of all time. It’s such an unsettling film. It stars Mickey Rourke before his face got destroyed in the boxing ring. I saw it in theater when I was thirteen. I’ve been trying to write my own version of Angel Heart ever since.

KR: What are you reading now?

I’m reading The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates. She’s somebody I admire a lot, somebody who is able to write from the point-of-view of psychopaths and racists and murderers, something most people aren’t comfortable doing. When I grow up, I wouldn’t mind being Joyce Carol Oates.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. So quiet and creepy. One of those books where you feel like you need to go reread to make sure he didn’t cheat. He’s got this understated reportorial style, and it works really well here. His latest book, Foe, is really good, too.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

For a while I tried convincing myself that I was an E-book guy. I mean, being able to get everything instantaneously is pretty cool, and being able to look up words and concepts is a good thing. But I spend so much time staring at a screen, that I prefer my reading experience to be without distraction. So I’ll take paperback. I’m too poor to buy hardbacks.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

Albert Camus, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison to name a few. But the biggest inspiration was Jim Thompson, who wrote some fantastic psycho-noir novels back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. When I first read The Killer Inside Me, I decided I wanted to write a novel. It was nothing like anything I’d read before. I mean, here we had the narrator, a complete psychopath. I loved it. The first book I wrote (thank God it hasn’t been published) was a blatant rip-off of The Killer Inside Me.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

I’m pretty obsessive, so I always use an outline. My outlines are pretty straightforward, basically just numbering each plot point. They don’t delve too deeply into the characters’ backgrounds and things like that. Without the outline, I get anxious that the whole book will fall apart, and it usually does. When I outline, I feel the freedom to take some detours, to go in unexpected directions. I wish I was smart enough to write a novel without outlining, but I’m not.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I try not to write books where I have to research too much. I’ve done it a few times. When I wrote The Disassembled Man, I did a lot of research on meatpacking plants. When I wrote The Incurables, I did a lot of research on Walter Freeman Jr. and lobotomies. The big challenge when you do a lot of research is to make it seem like you haven’t researched. Otherwise the reader becomes too aware (“Wow, the author must have done a lot of research”) and the story won’t ring true. So, yeah, generally I don’t research a ton. Maybe I’m just lazy? In any case, I’ll never write a book about Bolivia in the 1700s.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

I tend to write from the point-of-view of unbalanced, psychotic individuals, so it comes quite naturally to me! I would say that most of my writing is visual, cinematic in nature. In my literary world, there tends to be a lot of rot and decay—if not in the setting, then within the souls of the main characters. I don’t do salvation. Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to write a happy ending. I guess I just don’t have it in me.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

Well, I have a day job, teaching high school, so during the school year, I just write whenever I have a minute. That might be before work or while I’m pretending to teach or after work or after the family goes to bed. In some way, I enjoy the routine of sneaking my writing in. Makes me feel like I’m doing something pleasurable, instead of the sadomasochistic we all know it is. During the summer, I’ve got a lot more time. Doesn’t mean I’ve got a great routine, but I’ve got a lot more time. I usually head up to Leadville, my favorite little mountain town, for a few days and knock out more pages than I usually get done in a month.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

I wrote a short story called “The Last Time I Die.” I wrote it before any of my novels had seen the light of day, and it was a big deal for me that it got published in an E-zine. I love short stories, but I don’t write many of them.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

I skim them. How’s that for an answer? I wish I didn’t read them at all because nothing good comes out of reading reviews. Especially the bad ones. Only makes you go into a full-blown depression. And on a couple of occasions, I made the huge mistake of contacting the reviewer, trying to explain how they missed the “point” of the book, trying to explain what a brilliant book it was. Maybe it was brilliant. Maybe not. But opinions are just like appendixes Everybody’s got one. Except for the people who have had them removed.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

Wait, you’re saying I’ve developed? Bless you! I don’t know, maybe I’ve gained a bit more control over the craft of writing sentences. Maybe I’ve become more confident in my own voice. Maybe I’ve become a bit more of a craftsman in creating plots. But being a writer is filled with endless insecurity. The feeling that you can never get it quite right.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

Sounds simple, but the best advice I’ve received is to write what I’d want to read, not to chase after the market. It’s tempting to always check the literary trends, to see what books are getting six-figure advances, but writing books that way is pure misery. And even if you are writing for some imagined commercial base, the chances of getting that six-figure advance is about the same as having an affair with Scarlett Johannsson. Which I’m happy to say, I’ve done.

KR: What scares you?

Heights, spiders, getting buried alive, Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s supporters, Nazi paraphernalia, Hobby Lobby, electronic dance music, my father’s scowl, mental illness, and babies, especially if they’re mine.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

The Drive-Thru Crematorium is a Lynchian/Kafkaesque tale of suburbia nightmares. The novel features this hapless fellow named Stanley Maddox who lives a mundane life in a nondescript town. His wife is cheating on him, his colleagues at work suddenly don’t recognize him, and he has recently noticed a mysterious creature darting its way through his house. When he notices a flap of skin on his face, he begins pulling. Beneath his skin lies another person, an evil person, with the power to change his life forever.

KR: You can read what Kendall Reviews thought of The Drive-Thru Crematorium here.

KR: What are you working on now?

I’ve got another novel coming out next year, called The Lantern Man. That novel is a bit of departure for me as it eschews a traditional narrative and instead uses artefacts such as journals, newspaper articles, and police reports to tell the story of a horrendous crime. The reader is forced to put all the puzzle pieces together to make sense of things. I also just finished a mystery/suspense novel, tentatively titled Cruel Waters. Nobody has seen that one yet.

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

Most of the characters in my book are miserable lowlifes. It would be difficult to have them over for dinner, much less be stranded on a desert island. I suppose I would choose Dr Freeman from my novel, The Incurables. He’s the guy who pioneered the transorbital lobotomy. He could lobotomize me, so I wouldn’t have to suffer through those long desert summers. Bring along the real-life Jack the Ripper and the fictional Hannibal Lecter to make my final days even more nightmarish than my novels.

KR: Thank you very much Jon.

Jon Bassoff

You can find out more about Jon via his official website www.jonbassoff.com

You can follow Jon on Twitter @jonbassoff

The Drive-Thru Crematorium

Stanley Maddox lives a mundane life in a nondescript town. His wife is cheating on him, his colleagues at work don’t recognize him, and he has recently noticed a mysterious creature darting its way through his house. When he notices a flap of skin on his face, he begins pulling. Beneath his skin lies another person, an evil person, with the power to change his life forever.

You can buy The Drive-Thru Crematorium from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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