THE SEVEN: John Shirley

Continuing my interview series called THE SEVEN, in which I invite some of my favorite authors to answer seven questions about their most recent projects, today’s guest is the inimitable John Shirley. John is the author of numerous novels, story collections, screenplays (most notably THE CROW), teleplays and articles. A futurologist and social critic, John was a featured speaker at TED-x in Brussels in 2011. His novels include EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, The A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy (omnibus released in 2012), BLEAK HISTORY, DEMONS, CITY COME A-WALKIN’ and THE OTHER END. His short story collection BLACK BUTTERFLIES is one of my all-time favorite collections and quite deservedly won the Bram Stoker Award, and was chosen by PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY as one of the best books of the year. His new story collection is IN EXTREMIS: THE MOST EXTREME SHORT STORIES OF JOHN SHIRLEY. His stories have been included in three Year’s Best anthologies. He is also a songwriter (eg, for BLUE OYSTER CULT), and a singer. Black October records will soon be releasing a compilation of selected songs, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS: RECORDINGS BY JOHN SHIRLEY, 1978-2011. The authorized website is at

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Q. What is your most recent release?

A. EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, novel from Prime Books. Almost simultaneously the cyberpunk trilogy, A SONG CALLED YOUTH, re edited, freshened up, came out from the same publisher in one volume, an omnibus…

Q. What inspired the project?

A. Thinking about the near future a lot. It has a lot going on it–it’s a disaster novel, a coming of age novel, a noir novel, a bit of science fiction–but ultimately I wanted to write a political allegory. It’s a sort of LORD OF THE FLIES for the 21st Century but directly aimed at people who are anti-government (I’m not for too much government…but in a world of 7 billion people, we don’t want too little government, either), like tea party types, extreme libertarians.

Q. What is the primary theme you’ve chosen to explore with this project?

A. It’s about a town that has had its resources gutted by libertarian/Reaganomic principles and so when a nightmarish catastrophe happens they’re not prepared for it. It’s also about crazed local characters–it’s rather horrific, really. And it’s an imagining of an enormous American tsunami…what it would be like, for something like that to hit California…But it’s also about a young man coming to terms with the responsibilities life has thrust on him–and he stands in for all humanity, really. We have to accept our responsibility for the community. He has to fight, to protect people he loves–a classic theme, but with contemporary political ramifications…

Q. Of everything you’ve written to date, which project has been the most difficult for you?

A. Whatever’s the most recent. But BIOSHOCK: RAPTURE, my most successful “tie in” novel, was difficult, as the game company who licensed it to the publisher were very hands on–ultimately it made for a better book. Lots of times books that are hard to write turn out to be better for it…My horror novel WETBONES was hard too because it was partly about my personal recovery from addiction, and that penetrated deeply inside me. It was emotionally painful.

Q. Which title would you suggest as a good introduction for newcomers to your work, and why?

A. Kinda depends on what genre they’re looking for. A SONG CALLED YOUTH is three novels in one book, and is bubbling with science fictional ideas, has an intense cyberpunk setting; my novel DEMONS remains in print, and it’s quite horrific, but, I think, meaningful…If they like extreme horror, that would be WETBONES–the new edition has a sequel story included in the same volume. For suspense–EVERYTHING IS BROKEN.

Q. What are your thoughts on the burgeoning digital market?

A. Writers have to adapt to the marketplace, to go where the readership is. I love physical books, but most of my books are in ebook format, and I love that. I do have a Kindle and sometimes order books and I love that the books materialize right out of thin air, in a sense, almost instantaneously…they’re transmitted to your Kindle or Nook or iPad, ziiiiiiip, as if by magic. So that may bring in more readership, ultimately–it’s even faster than ordering from Amazon.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I’m just finishing a graphic novel, for IDW comics, THE CROW: DEATH IS MY DOJO. I co-wrote the movie THE CROW and this is a new imagining of THE CROW with another character–The Crow as a spirit of vengeance who’s inhabited a young American in Tokyo after tragedy befalls…It’s THE CROW set in Tokyo in a way, but with a lot of science fictional elements, but also with a visit to Buddhist Hell!

I have also just finished writing a television pilot, which my agent is taking out–and so is an interested director–called INTRUDER TOWN. I can’t really say what it’s about yet…

Then–finally–I get to finish my novel FOGG IN THE AFTERLIFE, a kind of urban fantasy…

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Learn more about John Shirley at the author’s official website and blog


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