Author Spotlight: Jonathan Hansen
Friday, March 16th, 2012

When I think about Science Fiction, I always think about that Ray Bradbury quote about Science Fiction being the literature of ideas. Jonathan Hansen is a man who embodies that idea.
His story in Cifiscape Vol. II is something of a gem. Especially given the nature of what we're trying to do, his story, Harris, sums up what this anthology is about: local authors, talking about the future of the Metropolis they live in.
I personally love Jonathan Hansen's style, and wit, and find his writing to be both entertaining and deep (which is a rare quality these days).

So without further ado, I give you the Author Spotlight of Jonathan Hansen:

How did you get into writing?
Jonathan: It was because of Star Wars. Later on, there was Jack Vance, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Stan Lee and Stephen King, but I was three when I saw Star Wars for the first time and that was it, George Lucas blew my three year old mind. Me and an entire generation, right? Clichéd, but true, just like Spielberg forever scarred me when it came to swimming in the ocean; Lucas turned me on to new worlds. After that, I was all about genre stuff. I watched it, I read it, I made it up with my action figures and eventually I started to write it down on stacks of yellow legal pads. That was how it started.

Do you have a background in English or is this something that’s come on later in life?
Jonathan: I studied English Lit at the University of Colorado Boulder and I took a few Creative Writing classes here and there, but in college I was more focused on Archeology. I loved to write stories, but the idea of being a professional writer never occurred to me. Then I found out how few Archeologists actually get to fight Nazis on a regular basis, so I moved to L.A. and bummed around for a few years instead. I didn’t decide to really try to be a writer until just a few years ago, after moving to Minneapolis, and finally realizing I didn’t want to—and wasn’t really capable of—doing anything else, so…

Where did the idea for Harris come from?
Jonathan: Harris grew like most stories. I started with the image in my head of a man in some post-apocalyptic ruins using a bow to hunt a deer, and that was cool, but I didn’t know what else to say with it. It was really the question of motivation that solidified the story for me. It had to be something simple, due to the story’s size, and yet still be believable that someone would put themselves through what the main character puts herself through. When I figured that out, I knew who the main character was and the rest just sort of worked itself out.

Do you have other stories that operate in that world, or is that a one-off story idea?
Jonathan: Actually, I wrote down the kernel of an idea that was kind of cool, maybe and it would include one of the side characters from this story and a group of characters from a different short story of mine, but it would take place in space and I’m not really sure if it will ever actually exist, so… yes?

Are the characters from Harris inspired by anybody in your own life?
Jonathan: No. I drew from some experiences, maybe, but not in any real, direct, tangible way. Except for the cannibals, that part is totally true.

What made you base the story in Minneapolis?
Jonathan: Well, I live here, so that’s a big part. I know it. I also like Minneapolis’ status as “the big city” for like, five states around, but it’s also the biggest small town on the planet, so I figured, if alien invaders bothered to destroy Minneapolis, then they must have destroyed everywhere else too. Its inclusion in the damage adds scope.

In your bio you talk about having you worked as a service coordinator for a cemetery, what did you actually have to do?
Jonathan: This was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s in L.A., right behind the Paramount lot on Santa Monica and it has a crazy history. Some of Hollywood’s original settlers are buried there, as well as Valentino, John Ford, Tyrone Powers, Mel Blanc, Cecil B. Demille, Bugsy Siegel (His plaque says: "From the Family"), and Douglas Fairbanks. I saw his corpse once. Fairbanks Junior was going to be buried in the same plot, so they had to dig up Senior to make room. So one day I went into my “office”—a dirty little storage room off the chapel—and there’s this casket sitting there in the middle of the room. Creepy, right? So I opened it. Inside? Douglas Fairbanks Sr. dead as a doornail (Thankfully…). Guess what? The guy had hermetically sealed his coffin, so you could open it and look through the glass and see this long-fingered, shriveled up, beef jerky man laying there in an immaculate silk tux. His hair was perfect. So yeah, that was the cemetery.
A man named Jules Roth for decades had owned it for decades and when he died, it was discovered that he had stolen all the money. So when the new owners came in and they were repairing the place from years of neglect, I worked as an Assistant to the Interior Designer and then as the Archivist for all the crazy old Hollywood, Masonic Lodge, L.A. gangster stuff that had accumulated in the back rooms and old buildings over the many years and after that, I was hired as the Service Coordinator. I prepared the services, I casketed the bodies.
One time, I saw the body of man who had been floating in the ocean for days. He looked like an old bloated pumpkin, all whitish-orange and puffy. And when we told the wife that she didn’t want to view the body, because of how he looked, she said: “Yes, I do. I want to make sure the son of a bitch is dead.” I also filed the death certificates and I picked up the cre-mains, where I learned that the offices of a crematorium are covered in dust… HUMAN DUST! I also drove the Limo and Hearse and worked as the Site Representative for any TV and Film shoots—which were mostly just bad TV shows that have long since been canceled. L.A. Doctors. Remember that show? Neither does the rest of the world.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Jonathan: Easy. My first job in high school. I was a dishwasher at a restaurant/hotel. It was a terrible job in a terrible place run by terrible people. And it was really gross. After that, I’d rather handle dead bodies than other people’s chewed up, wet food. Plus, the manager was a jerk like he had stepped out of an 80’s teen comedy. I ended up quitting suddenly and his whining was like a soothing balm on my soul.

What is the Scribblerati?
Jonathan: The Scribblerati is my writing group. Most of us met during a Loft Class taught by local author Lyda Morehouse. I had been in a writing group previously with Mark Teats, but that one was quickly dissolving, so when the chance came up, we decided to form a new group with fellow classmates Shawn Enderlin and Lisa Bergin. We had a couple of members come and go and then Claudia Hankin joined and the group really solidified. Now, we meet twice a month to critique, encourage, support, etc. We’ve been together since 2009, so there’s a good foundation of trust and respect, which allows us to be honest and give tough, but fair criticism without people getting all hurt, because we understand that we’re all working toward achieving the same goal of getting published. So, it’s a really good supportive group.

Do you guys ever work on projects together?
Jonathan: We put together a sample book called: The Scribblerati Sample Book. Impressive title, huh? It actually turned out kind of cool. It’s just a little thing that we gave away as schwag when we went to Diversicon this past summer. Other than that, no, we all have our own projects. We’re all genre writers, yes, but we have different focuses and styles and ideas, so I don’t know how well it would work.

Would you guys ever consider actually publishing that anthology or compiling another one?
Jonathan: The Scribblerati Sample Book is just that...a book of samples. It's 50 pages, so you get a ten-page sample of what each of us are working on. There aren't any complete stories, just some good and hopefully enticing excerpts. But that's why we don't sell it, we don't feel like it's a "real" product. We gave it away for free at the last Diversicon, but also figured we would put up the link so that anyone who didn't make the convention (and was interested) could still get one. It's just a fun little thing, so there really isn't anything to publish. It's just samples. The cost is just the cost of making and shipping the thing from Lulu, it doesn't go to us. We don't make any money off it. But as far as making an Anthology ourselves, I'd never say never (Sean Connery taught me that...), but it's not on the table right now. As a group, we're not only genre writers, but we're also novelists and currently everyone is knee deep in their own projects. Lisa is just about to start querying, Shawn and Mark are wrapping up the final drafts of their books, and Claudia is well into the 2nd draft of hers. (Curious what those books are? Here's a link: http://thescribblerati.blogspot.com/2011/09/two-years-later.html) So we're busy and not really short story writers in the first place. Like I said: I'd never say never, but for the time being, probably not.

I know that you took a class from David Oppegaard last semester, what did you think when you heard that you were going to be an anthology of work with someone you took a class from?
Jonathan: I really enjoyed David’s class. He’s a nice guy, a good writer and he’s published, so it was an all around good feeling for me to be included in his company.

I know that you have a full-length novel called Gunslingers of the Apocalypse, could you give us a brief synopsis of that?
Jonathan: Here’s what I sent out in my queries:

Six months ago, the Dead rose and the world came to a sudden and violent end. The virus burned across the face of the planet and in the aftermath, the choice was clear: You either learned the rules of survival or you joined the legions of the walking Dead.
“Black Magic” Jack El-Hai learned these rules; that's how he managed to stay alive in the fiery ruins of the Collapse when so many others did not. Amidst the chaos, Jack meets a young woman named Noelle Easter—tattooed, resourceful, and rowdy—they are a perfect match and soon, wild in love. Together, they survive the end of the world.

However, staying alive means hard choices, it means spilling blood, it means killing. But when they find refuge in a small Minnesota town—a place spared due to isolation and a tall fence—Jack and Noelle also find a new purpose: scavenging. They spend their days among the ruins of the old world hunting for the things people need to survive. It’s a dangerous occupation, a daily battle against both the ravenous Dead and the murderous living alike, but the town depends on them. It’s not a great life, but it’s better than most.
Lately, though, things are getting worse. Trouble is coming; Jack knows it. The Dead are gathering at the fence in greater numbers, scavengers are dying, and the shaky truce struck with the rival camps of survivors is beginning to crumble. Finally, when the town is invaded and an iron-fisted new rule threatens everything he holds dear, including Noelle, Jack realizes that the true monsters are not the ones locked outside the fence… they’re locked within.

Where did you get your inspiration for that book?
Jonathan: The inspiration came from two places.
1. I was REALLY disappointed in Land of the Dead. Really disappointed.
2. One night I was riding home on the bus and it was mid-March or maybe April, so it was a really ugly time of year in Minneapolis. Dirty snow, mud, everything just felt gray and winter worn out and for some reason, a lot of people on the route 17 bus had luggage with them. They weren’t going to the airport, and they got on after me, so they weren’t coming from the airport, and they weren’t sitting together, so here’s all these strangers with crappy suitcases piled on the bus, just looking sweaty and bedraggled and beaten down. It was really depressing and I started imagining it was a bus full of American refugees, like something awful had happened and these people were all riding silently in the dark, heading for somewhere safe, just worn out and clutching everything they owned. And then this moron comes sprinting out of the dark, right in front of the bus. The bus driver slams on the breaks, everyone goes lurching forward, and super idiot goes running pell-mell off into night—most likely he was late to take a ride in his homemade catapult or something equally as stupid and suicidal. So he’s gone and the bus just goes on, no big deal. So, then I imagined that the bus driver just ran him down and everyone on the bus made that same shocked noise they had just made, while the bus bumped over him and the driver ran the wipers to get rid of the blood, and we drove on like it was no big deal. Why was it no big deal? Well, the guy must have been a zombie. In fact, that was what the bus was running from, a zombie apocalypse… and that was the beginning of the idea. This is what I think about on the bus. Also, I was watching a lot of Deadwood at the time…

Is it part of a series, or is it a stand-alone novel?
Jonathan: It’s part of a series. Four books. The first one was supposed to be Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead, a kind of two-fisted noir, neo-wild west, quick draw outlaw kind of thing. The other books would kind of progress that way. Four loosely connected books featuring the same characters (more or less) which, if read together, would tell the tale of the Zombie Age from the beginning to its eventual end. Neat, huh?

What’s been your experience of trying to shop it to publishing houses?
Jonathan: I queried 30 agents and I got a lot of really good interest. Some requests for more, some requests for full, but no one picked it up. Maybe I missed the zombie zeitgeist, maybe it’s just that first novel that never gets to be, maybe it just needs more work, either way it’s trunked for now. One of my plans for this year is to print it out again and do a new edit with (hopefully) fresh eyes. After that, who knows?

What else are you currently working on?
Jonathan: Well, besides the new edit on my first book, I have also applied to Clarion West, so fingers crossed on that. Plus, I have my blog and the Scribblerati blog, so those will keep me occupied.

Any more short stories coming out?
Jonathan: No. Well, I’ve only got one submitted at the moment and there’s maybe a half dozen or so more in various states of undress on my computer. They’re being tweaked and edited and rewritten, etc, etc… I was working on them more a month or so ago, but…

Any more full-length novels that you’re working on?
Jonathan: Yes, I’m very excited about it. It’s in progress and the prose is flowing like a mighty river! I’m about six chapters into the first draft, which is almost a third of the way done by my calculations, so that’s very exciting. It’s a post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy Dirty Dozen versus a Dragon type of thing, so it’s fun to work on.

How do you feel about self-publishing?
Jonathan: With a firm and honest commitment to the editing process, multiple drafts, and to putting out the best story possible, I don’t care where a book comes from. Bottom line: a good story is a good story. That being said… if you’ve hand-drawn your cover yourself, didn’t really do more than one draft, and didn’t bother to have a real-life professional editor look at your work, then I’m out. I have a very low tolerance for that crap. This is you, this is your thing, treat it like it’s important, for God’s sake. Anything less and you should have stuck to blogging, because you’re wasting our time. For myself, I don’t rule it out as an option, but I’ll be honest with you: I want a real book. That’s what I really want. A real book in a real brick and mortar book store. That’s the pie in the sky for me. Not to say that e-books aren’t real, they totally are, but for me personally, for my own goals, if/when I ever get published, if the only version I get is an e-version, I won’t feel like I’ve really made it. Of course, the industry is continuing to change and adapt, so who knows what the future holds, right? At the moment, I don’t really give it much thought, since I don’t have anything publish-ready.

Do you listen to music when writing or editing, and if so what do you listen to?
Jonathan: No, I can’t not-listen to music when it’s on. The same goes for my wife’s voice. Both break my concentration. I can write in silence, but really I prefer to write at home with the TV on. I can totally tune that out and get to work.

Does it change depending on whether you’re writing or editing?
Jonathan: No, but I watch the same things everyday, if I’m at home. Judge shows and Cops, all day. Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, the People’s Court. And Maury too, I love him, he’s the most insincere man on television. Why do I watch them? People’s bad behavior and lack of awareness of themselves or the camera… it fascinates me. Plus, I can totally tune it out. Also, I learn things. 1. Never put anyone on your cell phone plan, because they will always try to rip you off. 2. No one can be a 1000% sure about anything.

Is it based on mood?
Jonathan: No, it’s based too much on ritual. Sometimes I worry that I’m Rain Man. I think I’ve seen every episode of Cops, ever. That fact embarrasses my wife so much. Hi, honey!

Thank you for visiting for another edition of Author Spotlight. We'll have another one next week, as well as more story synopses. Cifiscape Vol. II: The Twin Cities is complete, and will be out next week. Because of the way our publisher works we can't give you an exact time, but you will see us broadcasting the news of it being on sale as soon as we see it.