Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. He was born to the soothing strains of “Boogie With Stu” even though The Who are far superior to Zep, for reasons that he doesn’t even really want to get into right now.
During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. The depiction of addiction in his fiction is strongly informed by the three years he spent working at a substance abuse clinic, an experience which also ensures that he employs strict moderation when enjoying the occasional highball of Old Crow.
He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s degree is in German.
First off, for people like me who can’t seem to sound out words, would you like to tell us how to pronounce your last name?
Ha ha, yes, I’d be happy to. I made up this mnemonic device: causin’ ooze key. (It helps that I’m a horror writer, and, hence, your key to causin’ ooze. Anybody? Anybody?) But if that doesn’t work, then the first part “Koz” is pronounced like the first part of Bill Cosby’s last name…and most people just stop there.
~Thank you for that.
Are you un-dead? And if you are, how much alcohol must you consume to stay “fresh?”
Sigh…I didn’t want to get into this, but…yes. I’m what’s known as an “alcoholic vampire.” That either means that I’m a vampire who only drinks the blood of alcoholics or possibly that I’m an alcoholic who’s also a vampire. Either way, I spend a lot of time at VA, which is either the vampire equivalent of AA or possibly the Vampire Academy. But whichever of those it is, I also spend a lot of time hanging out at the VA, because I’m a vet. And by vet I may mean either a veteran or a veterinarian. Possibly both.
There were some extremely funny moments/lines in BJ. Are you as humorous as your characters?
You know, it’s peculiar, but I’m such a stick in the mud at work. My byword in life is professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. I don’t believe in addressing someone you don’t know by their first name and I wear a tie even on casual Friday, and all that sort of jazz. So I think part of my writing is blowing off all that steam that I build up at my day job. Sort of a creative static discharge. I like to believe that I’m pretty humorous on social media and in my off hours, but my friends and family are all constantly eager to disabuse me of that notion.
“Her brother was still controlling his legs remotely, kicking to let her know he was still alive. Undead . Whatever. It was a signal, a distress call, an S-O-S by L-E-G.”
Did you run into any problems writing about a zombie who’s lost his memory?
Oh, heavens, yes. It was such a tightrope walk between what an ordinary person would know, what a denizen of the 1930s would know, and what an amnesiac would know. So I would find myself writing paragraphs like, “The guy was as big as King Kong. Wait, what’s King Kong? Oh, right, that big gorilla movie. Must by my memory peeking through. I wonder if I knew this guy before I died. Even if I did, would I remember him?” And so forth. Some of that made it into the final manuscript, but I tried to polish off the rough edges and keep it funny rather than a heavy-handed narrative bore. The concept of him having “flashes of memory” was my way of keeping the Depression-era pop culture references without having to break down the fundamental obstacle of his amnesia. My editors, Cassie Cox and Michelle Rever, also took me to task for this, so you can thank them if the book is readable.
What would be the first question you would want answered if you lost your memory?
Who dressed me up in this pretty pink lingerie and why does it feel so…right?
Your walking dead are different than most reads out in the book-o-sphere. I read that the braineaters have an expiration date of sorts. Was this a device to put a limit on how much damage they could do?
Ah, yes, the “deathspan.” I actually included that because it seemed more realistic. I know, I know, it’s strange to talk about realism in regards to a world that features robots, talking heads, and an extra year of Prohibition, but I felt like if alcohol would artificially extend their unlives, there had to be some kind of limit. A rotting body can really only last so long, and I think I was actually kind of generous (from a medical standpoint) in granting my characters 5-10 years in which to unlive. I’m sure a real doctor could tell me how long a rotting corpse would ACTUALLY last, but I have no idea.
The expiration date also opened up a few avenues from a narrative perspective. For one thing, since all zombies live in fear of becoming mindless braineaters, it sort of unites them as a people. And it also made me question how long a really dedicated zombie could extend his life with alcohol, which led to my conception of the Old Man…
Out of all the players in Braineater Jones, who did you have the most fun writing?
Oh, the Old Man, hands down. I know that sounds peculiar since he only shows up in three or four scenes, but there’s something eminently amusing about that juxtaposition between a crotchety, misogynistic grandpa-type personality and the Old Man’s…well…shall we say…youthful appearance. Also, I should probably confess that I have an obsession with puppets, and I can’t help but picture the Old Man as a puppet.
Your local cinema is playing your favorite horror movie all day. What is it?
That is…a toughie. I’m going to say…”Dead Alive.” (But only because “What a Girl Wants” is far too horrifying.)
There’s a zombie in the house, you’re in the bathroom, what do you grab for protection?
The bathroom? I think the only option would be the toilet seat lid.
Name your top 3 reads of 2013?
Is that the top 3 books I read in 2013 or the top 3 books that were released in 2013? Eh…let’s just go with both.
For books I’ve read this year I’m going to say CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller, THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett, and ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac.
For books released this year I’m going to say ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES by Mary Fan, ORACLE OF PHILADELPHIA by Elizabeth Corrigan, and BREW by Bill Braddock. (Full disclosure: two of those are from my publishing house. Not Braddock’s.)
What can we expect from you next?
Well, my sophomore novel THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO was recently released by Severed Press, and I’m very excited about it because it’s the greatest work I’ve ever produced, combining my love of hardcore horror, incisive social commentary, and puppet jokes.
Right now I’m shopping around a dystopian political satire tentatively titled EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED, so I’m hoping that gets picked up as well. (Hint hint, agents and publishers!)
And I might have a little something up my sleeve for ABNA 2014, so keep your peepers peeled for that…
Where can we find you?
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Stephen. We wish you nothing, but the best!
Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a delight!
You can check out my review of Braineater Jones here.