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Jim X Dodge sits down with Thoughts Words Action

We have the distinct pleasure of sitting down with the renowned author, Jim X Dodge, a master storyteller who has captivated readers with his gripping narratives in horror novels such as “The Bite” and “Theta House.”

You’ve been writing seriously for decades, with a diverse portfolio that includes poems, short stories, and reviews for Mass Movement zine. How has your writing evolved over the years, and what inspired you to explore different genres and forms of expression?


Jim: Initially I wrote poetry and short stories as classroom assignments but my 9th grade creative writing teacher saw my potential and pushed me to develop my skills. When I got older I started playing in bands and poetry became song lyrics. I still wrote short fiction from time to time but I only decided to try to write a novel when I shared a short story and a friend asked where the rest of the book was. I spent months agonizing over that story and have spent many, many hours in the years since trying to make it the best version of itself that I could. Hopefully this book, Pig Iron, will release this year. In between spates of writing I pursued other creative pursuits, the most eye-catching being my time spent turning baseball bats into post-apocalyptic weapons under the banner of Post-Apocalyptic Survival Tools, P.A.S.T. because without your past you have no future.

“Theta House” offers a unique take on the escape-room challenge, with a dark and suspenseful twist. Can you share the inspiration behind the book and what readers can expect in terms of horror, suspense, and unexpected twists?


Jim: I was in an ugly head space at the time and I had the urge to do terrible things to fictional people. Most of the time I spent working on Theta House was trying to come up with creative ways to kill the characters. Here’s a bit of a spoiler: The idea started with the character, Dana Wilson, and the (nauseatingly messy) death of Lance Bristol. Rather than end up on an FBI list for searching the possibility of that I asked a couple of people I knew who had served in the military. That’s definitely my favorite part of the whole book. As far as twists go I look back upon the work of the grandmaster of twist endings, Robert Bloch. Nothing is as satisfying as having your expectations shattered within the last few sentences of a book or story.

The premise of “Theta House” revolves around an escape-room challenge that proves to be more dangerous than anticipated. What elements of horror and psychological thriller did you aim to incorporate into the story, and how did you approach creating a sense of suspense for the readers?


Jim: The basic idea was simple. Escape rooms are a popular form of entertainment and having one go horribly wrong isn’t much of a stretch. Setting it in a three-story mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans gave me more room for shenanigans and added a layer of trouble because the affluent people in that neighborhood would be unlikely to put up with anything that disturbed their picture-perfect lives. I wanted the story to be exciting, with believable characters, and without any long breaks in the action. I wanted it to be fast, fun, and, hopefully, unpredictable. Some of the characters are supposed to be relatable and some are meant to be the types of people whose violent deaths make you cheer.


As a veteran punk rocker, how has your background in the punk scene influenced your writing, particularly in the horror genre? Are there specific themes or experiences from your punk days that find their way into your storytelling?


Jim: I was as much metal as I was punk. The Ramones was the first band I truly fell in love with but I also loved Metallica, Megadeth and underground bands like Acid Bath and Crisis. Later on I dug deeper into punk rock with, of course, The Misfits, but my love of metal remained strong. The DIY approach to both forms of music is the same, however, and writing original material and promoting shows is a huge part of both scenes. When I first started playing in bands the internet was basically just chatrooms and, well actually, that’s about it. There was no way to share a poster or promote a gig. I made tons of fliers for the shows we played as well as designing stickers and anything else we could use to get our name out there. That attitude has carried over into my writing and I strongly believe in shameless self-promotion. Visibility is everything. My storytelling is an amalgamation of the things I see, the way I feel about them, and my reactions to them. I tend to dump all my negativity into the characters and situations which gives the stories a feeling of reality they may otherwise lack. I’m also bipolar so mood swings are common but even that emotional turbulence adds sincerity to the things I write.

“The Bite” introduces readers to Mitzie Collins and her desperate gamble to survive in a world filled with the undead. What inspired the concept for the book?

 

Jim: I love zombie fiction, obviously. I was watching the series The Last of Us and was disgusted by yet another storyline where an immune person was on a mission to save the world. While I was watching the show a question popped into my head. What if someone pretended to be immune so other people would protect them? Then I had to figure out how to make the story fun, compelling, and violent. I also had to figure out how to make things go horribly wrong in the best of ways. Most of these characters are new to The Bite but three of them are actually from old stories that I never finished. I felt like they added depth to the story and it didn’t make sense to try to come up with characters somewhat like them when I already had the perfect characters already in my unfinished works.

 

The characters in “The Bite” find themselves in a variety of situations, both deep and thoughtful, as well as brutal. How do you balance the emotional depth of the characters with the brutality of the world they inhabit, and what do you hope readers take away from this eclectic narrative?

 

Jim: For readers to enjoy a story the characters need to have some depth. Even a seemingly one-dimensional character needs to be more than just, say, an unstoppable killing machine or a shallow jokester. The characters in The Bite live in a dangerous world but you can only be scared so much before your brain short-circuits and terrifying things become background noise. I wanted believable situations for the characters to face and I wanted each character to approach it in a way that was noticeably different from others. Jorgensen may wade into a fight without hesitation and in a business-like manner but the twins rarely take anything too seriously and approach things with gleeful abandon. This doesn’t make any character more or less deadly than another, it just adds depth to the party members. The hope is always that the reader will have fun and enjoy an emotional roller coaster in a world where the difference between life and death is blurry and, sometimes, even the strong don’t survive.

 

Your writing includes a blend of horror, violence, and unexpected twists. How do you navigate the balance between these elements to create a gripping and satisfying reading experience for your audience?

 

Jim: The real world is full of horror, violence, and unexpected twists. It’s also full of joy, love, and compassion. The ugly things make the beautiful things shine more brightly but the beautiful things make the ugly things even more reprehensible. Fiction needs to capture all of that so readers are drawn into the story in a way that feels genuine. There has to be a certain amount of reality before you add in whatever makes your universe distinctive. As Mick Garris says, a good horror story has to first be a good drama. Not drama as in viral Tik-Tok bullshit but real human drama with people that have actual feelings. If there’s no drama, the characters are drab and one-dimensional. No one will care what happens to them so there would be no reason to read the story.

 

Your accomplishments include many poetry awards. How do these early successes and experiences shape your identity as a writer today?

 

Jim: Most of the poetry awards were very minor, limited to a single website that gave awards to poem of the week and other nearly-inconsequential things. I put that in the bio because It’s technically true but also because it’s a fun way to pick on myself. The only poetry award I earned that really meant something was a high school award for one of the top three poems of the year in a school-wide contest. Things like that boost confidence and help push me to continue writing, even the really minor awards. Positive feedback is amazing. I do tend to take negative feedback much harder than I should but more people like my work than those that don’t so that keeps me moving forward.

Living in sunny Florida, how does your environment influence the atmosphere and settings in your horror novels, and do you find any inspiration from the surroundings for your stories?

 

Jim: Florida is a truly beautiful state. Within short driving distance we have woods, swamps, and beaches. The journey the characters undertake in The Bite is a trip you could take in a car in about an hour. Mole Haven doesn’t exist but every other place is somewhere you can visit. Unfortunately the political atmosphere in Florida is a fucking disaster with our governor trying to turn the state into a fascist stronghold. I mean, the governor is attacking Disney World for fuck’s sake, the largest employer in the state by a vast margin. Not to mention the fact that one Florida school district has the Merriam-Webster dictionary up for review. That means it’s on a list of books that may be banned from schools. The dictionary, folks. The anxiety caused by the current political state helps keep me edgy and that helps me keep the tense and horrible elements of my stories sharp. Good from bad I guess.

 

Both “Theta House” and “The Bite” have been well-received by readers. What’s next on the horizon for Jim X Dodge, and are there any upcoming projects or themes you’re excited to explore in your future works?

 

Jim: I’m currently writing a novel about a mob enforcer that discovers the world she lives in has a supernatural element that she was unaware of. She’s going to get dragged into things reluctantly but with an ability to take on whatever comes her way. As with my other books, this one will be super-violent with interesting characters that include the main character, Botcher. Others include her partner, Amish James, a Scottish enforcer called in from her employer’s Edinburgh office and Herr Blau, the mysterious man with luminous eyes and a story of immortality. I have two other book ideas brewing. Erogenous Jones: Private Dicktective is about a private detective whose friends include a half-leprechaun werewolf and a wendigo who loves professional wrestling. Jones occasionally becomes female, a fact he uses to his advantage when a misogynistic villain decides a woman is an easy target. I call that one bizarro noir as no other genre seems to make sense. The other one will be called The 2nd Emu War which will be a farcical take on a second conflict between Australia’s government and the country’s emu population. It’s loosely based on a true story. Look up The Great Emu War if you don’t believe me. The idea is that, even though the emus won the first war (once again, true) they never forgot and now they’re out for revenge.

Both of Jim's great horror novels, 'Theta House' and 'The Bite' are available from Earth Island Books and in most good, but scary, book stores now.

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