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Experimental fiction king, best-selling author Stephen Graham Jones talks graphic novel ‘Memorial Ride’

CU prof to receive Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award in December

Stephen Graham Jones in April 2021 (Stephen Graham Jones/Courtesy photo)
Stephen Graham Jones in April 2021 (Stephen Graham Jones/Courtesy photo)

There’s something about tales that take place on America’s dusty highways that stick with readers long after a final chapter’s end.

Stephen Graham Jones in April 2021. (Stephen Graham Jones/Courtesy photo)

Mile markers, roadside haunts, dim-lit diners, truck stops and cactus-dotted open spaces make for a riveting backdrop when it comes to stories of highspeed jaunts and great escapes.

New York Times best-selling author Stephen Graham Jones continues to enthrall fans with the release of his second graphic novel “Memorial Ride.”

The fast-fueled offering — decked out with bold illustrations by Maria Wolf — follows Native American soldier Cooper Town and his girlfriend Sheri Mun as the two embark on an adrenaline-pumping journey across the Southwest.

After Coop heads home from the Middle East to attend his father’s funeral, he has a squabble with the violent John Wayne gang.

In the great tradition of couples on the run — from “True Romance” to “Natural Born Killers” — Coop and Sheri flee on his late father’s chopper that Coop was initially hoping to sell for some much-needed cash.

Way more rock ‘n’ roll than a typical western, “Memorial Ride” packs a “Bonnie and Clyde” punch for the modern era.

The cover of “Memorial Ride,” a 2021 graphic novel by Stephen Graham Jones. Artwork by Maria Wolf. (Stephen Graham Jones/Courtesy photo)

The novel was released last month through a partnership with University of New Mexico Press and Red Planet Books and Comics in Albuquerque, N.M. – the only Native American comic shop in the world.

Jones is a prolific writer who has authored close to 30 novels and has penned around a staggering 300 short stories, proving that when you have that urge to share art with the world — you simply find the time.

In addition to writing critically praised sci-fi, crime and horror fiction, he is also an Ivena Baldwin Professor of English, as well as a Professor of Distinction at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Native American author will travel to Connecticut in December to receive the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award for his 2020 horror novel, “The Only Good Indians.”

Jones has a skill for blending a dramatic and frightful narrative with smart social commentary, resulting in him being coined “the Jordan Peele of horror literature.”

His 2021 release, “My Heart is a Chainsaw” blends elements of slasher flicks with bigger topics of gentrification and colonialism.

We caught up with the wordsmith and educator — an owner of broken-down trucks and an avid collector of boots — to find out more about his latest release, his love of comics and what deliciously dark page-turners we can expect from him next.

Kalene McCort: What inspired you to craft a graphic novel at this point in your career and how was the experience different from your previous literary offerings?

Stephen Graham Jones: I’ve done one graphic novel before — “My Hero,” with Hex Publishers — and a few other comic book projects, including “Marvel Voices,” but really, it’s less about deciding to, more about finally getting to.

I love comic books, but never knew how to break in. A friend of mine, Joe R. Lansdale, has done a lot of comics over the years, so, about a decade ago, I asked him how to get started with them. His advice was just to keep writing fiction. If I did that good enough, then the comic people would come to me. So, I kept writing fiction. And now I’m doing comics too.

KM: Where did you glean inspiration for this latest work and what was it like crafting the characters of Cooper Town and Sheri Mun?

SGJ: It was like they were right there waiting, really. I feel more like I uncovered them than that I crafted them, if that makes sense … I wonder if (Herman) Melville’s “Billy Budd” isn’t in there, what with Coop always punching people out instead of talking to people. I mean, I wonder that because I’ve read “Billy Budd” a lot. And Sheri Mun, her name of course is from Sheri Moon Zombie. But her character, I feel like if she had the ninja training, she could be Elektra Natchios. She likes blades and has a very short temper.

KM: As a kid, were you into comics and would you say any had a lasting impact on you?

SGJ: I got into them when I was 12, with “Secret Wars #4.” From that point on, I was absolutely hooked, couldn’t get enough. The only time I ever strayed from comics was in the ’90s, the collector craze — I was in school, couldn’t afford a weekly bag. But public libraries were there for me. And, yeah, comics have definitely had a lasting impact on me. I feel like my writer DNA is comic books and Louis L’Amour and “Conan the Barbarian,” pretty much. With some Stephen King, too.

Stephen Graham Jones in 2017. (Anthony Camera Photography/Courtesy photo)

KM: So much of “Memorial Ride” seems to be perfect for the screen. Would you ever consider adapting the story for film, either animated or live-action?

SGJ: For sure. Or, letting someone else do it. It’s kinetic, it moves and has a lot of set pieces, all of which work for a feature film.

KM: What can fans expect from you next? Do you hope to do any in-store events in the new year?

SGJ: I bet I do have in-person book events soon, yeah. And also quite a few abroad. And, next up from me is “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” the sequel to “My Heart is a Chainsaw.” But, two or three months before that — before Aug. 2 (2022) —there’s also a kind of surprise novel. And I’ve always got stories coming out here and there. Just had “I Was a Teenage Space Jockey” on Lightspeed. Soon to have “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” on