We welcome author Ross Jeffery to DEMAIN with his entry to the SHORT SHARP SHOCKS! series (Number 68) Milk Kisses & Other Stories. The book is released on Kindle on the 2nd July 2021 but is available currently for pre-sales.
A couple of weeks prior to publication, Dean and Ross sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Ross! Great to have you as part of the family over here at DEMAIN. For those that don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself and Milk Kisses?
ROSS JEFFERY: Hi! I’m Ross, I’m the Bram Stoker & Splatterpunk nominated author of Tome, Juniper and Tethered. I live in Bristol but I’m originally from Downham/Bromley (South East London). I’ve always had a passion to tell stories, but always thought that writing was above my reach, that it was something I could only gaze at fondly and dream of one day doing. I’d never been very good at English at school, hated reading out loud in class and I have to say it put me off, I had an awful teacher that used to pick on me. But I eventually went to university to study film and video production and rediscovered my love of telling stories, and started the process of writing, I initially sent out short stories and then one day one got picked up, I had the bug and then things just steadily progressed and now I’ve written three books with a few others on the way.
DP: Teachers hey (it’s okay, I’m sure they’re not all bad haha) – I had a similar experience with an art teacher of mine when I was at school where he came up behind me grabbed my brush and snapped it in two saying I had no aptitude for painting. I was only 13 or so. Wow. Anyway, anyway, so your background, can we talk about that and whether that had any influence on you as a writer.
RJ: My background is from a working-class family, my dad has always been a person that’s said if you really want something in life you’ve got to go out there and get it yourself, no one is going to give you a hand out. I guess he was right, for me writing has never come easy, it’s a labour of love don’t get me wrong, I love creating stories, I love the process of writing, but it’s the grammatical and spelling side of things that I’ve always struggled with (but I’ve discovered that’s what a good editor is for) – but as with anything if you want to be good at it, you’ve got to keep practicing, keep striving and now, I don’t even think about those hang ups I had about my own self-worth – I just write and take what comes from it, and so far people seem to be really enjoying what I have to offer, it’s a very humbling experience!
DP: It is, it is. What was your first introduction to the horror genre?
RJ: Stephen King’s IT I had stolen my dad’s hardback copy of it at about age nine – I read it at night when they’d gone to bed, most of it went over my head, but I was smitten with what it had to offer. My dad used to have a big old bookcase in our lounge, full of hardback, all horror, The Exorcist, The Rats, Misery, The Entity, Pet Sematary (pretty much every King hardback at the time) – and for me I’d love just taking those books out and gazing at their covers, and then flicking through the pages. I remember those days fondly. As for horror films – I’d watched Jaws, The Thing and The Exorcist at a very young age and they are still some of my favourite of the genre, but I guess a lot of that has to do with nostalgia and how it felt at the time.
DP: Definitely – I love The Entity, one of my favourites! So, the reason we are talking – your Short Sharp Shocks!
RJ: Yes. Well, these three stories are a few drippings from my mind, I’ve a huge folder on my computer which is named ‘Beautiful Atrocities’ [great title for a collection by the way – DP] and it’s where I store all my short fiction, some are rough musings, some are short stories I’d like to expand upon and others are just sitting their waiting for a collection to form. But these three stories in particular are varied in their scope of horror and I feel that they each compliment the other and show a broad range of work. What I love about SSS! collections is the scope of each one and when the opportunity arose to put something together these three called out from the drippings and begged me to send them out into the world.
DP: We were very happy when we talked about the possibility of you being involved in the SSS! series and we know you really get what it’s all about. What would you say is your biggest success to date Ross?
RJ: My novel Tome – it’s up for a Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a first novel and it’s also up for a Splatterpunk Award for best novel [well done !!!! – DP]– so that’s just been crazy, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be recognised by two great horror organisations, it’s blown me away and imposter syndrome has definitely kicked in, but I’m just humbled by the whole thing and looking forward to seeing what happens in the coming months!
DP: Thoroughly deserved. What books / authors do you read and do they influence you?
RJ: I read everything, I don’t just stay in the horror genre – although I do love horror and all it has to offer, sometimes I need a break to preserve my sanity. Everything I read influences me in a way, there is some great work going on in the Indie Horror Scene and some of those voices that have influenced me to date would include people like Gemma Amor, Eric LaRocca, Kev Harrison, TC Parker, Michael Clark, Laurel Hightower, Tracy Fahey and many others. Other authors that I love would include Donald Ray Pollock, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King, Benjamin Myers, Josh Malerman and Hubert Selby Junior.
DP: Some cracking authors there and wow, only the only week was I having a discussion about Hubert Selby – glad that somebody else digs his work. What does horror mean to Ross Jeffery?
RJ: When I read a horror book I want to be horrified, I don’t want some half assed attempt at a scare I want to be shredded by fear and anxiety – but also I don’t want something to be gratuitous just to offend, it needs to have a good story, great characters and brilliant pacing – their the three things I look for. David Foster Wallace said “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” That’s what I try to do with my horror.
DP: I’ll admit I’ve never read Infinite Jest but it’s on my TBR – I really like Wallace’s work though so now you’ve inspired me to read IJ. What draws readers to the horror genre? What do you think readers look for?
RJ: I think readers of horror are looking to face their fears, well that’s what I’m looking for, I’m looking to dip my toes into that murky water from the comfort of my chair, to be scared but know I’m safe, I believe from a young age we’re conditioned to be scared of things, why else do we say Boo to babies!
DP: Haha indeed, indeed! With everything that’s been going on for the past 18 months or so, would you say the horror genre affected by world events? Do you ever put world events in your work?
RJ: I’d say heavily so, but I also believe we should be doing this more – In Tome I’ve used this book as a vehicle to highlight the systemic racism that is still deeply imbedded in our cultures today. Tome is set in Juniper a fictitious town but not far removed from our own, it’s a microclimate of a society, a racist society and I tackled this issue head on – I also go into more detail about the book and the atrocities I’ve tried to shed a light on in the afterword, which I believe makes for good reading and shows the reasoning behind my vision.
DP: Is there an upcoming book or film you’re particularly looking forward to?
RJ: Josh Malerman’s Goblin which is just out actually and I’m also chomping at the bit for the next Michael Clark book to drop – I’ve beta read this and I can tell you it’s something special. Also I’m very much looking forward to Kev Harrison’s latest offerings that are slowly bubbling away behind the scenes.
DP: Ah we know Kev very well here at DEMAIN. What new writer (or director) interests you and why?
RJ: Eric LaRocca – man this guy has exploded onto the scene, each of his works are just beautiful, horrific, but beautiful – before reading his work I never realised how beautiful horror could be. He’s one that has a bright future in this writing game, and I for one will be cheering him on all the way – also he has a poetry collection Fanged Dandelion with DEMAIN which I’ve got ready to go!
DP: Haha – we love Eric and his collection has gone down a storm. There’s so much love for him in the community – deserves it too. There have been numerous reports recently that the horror genre is dead, what do you think?
RJ: As long as there are horrors going on in this world, the horror genre will remain – but it might not look the way we think it should, I’m a strong believer that the work going on in the indie horror scene is much better than at the big publishers – they don’t seem to know how to market horror and I have to say the majority of the books that have scared me this year have all been either self-published or published by indie presses – they’re able to take a chance on an author that a big publisher wouldn’t – that’s why reports suggest the horror genre is dead, because big publishers are just sticking to their guys and girls who they know have sold some books, they don’t want to take the risk on the little guy or girl. It’s a money-making machine that isn’t as invested in the author as they once were, and that’s fine, indie horror is doing pretty well without them.
DP: True, true. Is there anything that Ross Jeffery is scared of?
RJ: I’m petrified of Spider, any spider, I’ve tried to get better over the years, trying not to put my fear across to my children, but I can’t man… spiders are the devils spawn. And no, I’ve never written about spiders, I probably never will… but never say never!
DP: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
RJ: I’d love to collaborate with an author on a novella or a novel, the process intrigues me and I’d love to give it a go… we shall see, I’ve put some feelers out!
DP: Best of luck! Let us know how you get on with that. Final question then Ross: is writing a long term or short term career for you?
RJ: To be a career I guess it would need to pay my bills and for me to live a comfortable life, that would be the dream yes! But I’m in for the long haul – I’m using writing as a creative outlet and from early on I’ve always said that I write books for me, I write books that I’d love to read and if people dig that, cool, if they don’t – they don’t. Things are moving in the right direction, I’m happy where things are at the moment, but I’d love to do this as a career, read and write who wouldn’t?
Ross – thanks a million for your time and all the best with your upcoming Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Ross directly:
Other social media: https://rossjeffery.carrd.co
Dean M. Drinkel