Noir interview and reunion with JA 'Joquin Phoenix' Konrath aka Jack Kilborn

JA Konrath & Jack Kilborn Cornered By Rob Walker (an interview and a reunion)


Today my Friday the 13th blog at Acme Authors Link dared welcome the indomitable JA Konrath to our humble niche of the internet. Konrath is the author of six thrillers in the Jack Daniels series, all named after drinks. He’s also got a new book coming out, a horror novel, under the pen name Jack Kilborn, called Afraid. You can visit him at http://www.jakonrath.com/.


I stalked suspense-thriller writer JA Konrath amid the Chicago shadows on a moonless night in search of the vacant warehouse that fronted the winding Chicago River where it turned sharply as a knife’s edge. Using the light from my cell phone, I hastily checked the address scribbled on my palm. If things got ugly in my search for the creator of the Jackie Daniels series here, author of Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail and more, I might need the phone to call for help. Konrath, it was rumored, liked to do hands-on research, and my father didn’t raise an idiot, and having read Konrath’s ticklishly horribly scary yet hilarious novels, I truly did not wish to wind up in a Konrath novel myself. Especially not as a victim. Somber boat rigging beat out an anthem in the night. The shadows here befit a Bogart film, I was thinking when a George Raft voice came lilting out from behind a creaking door just cracked open. “Walker, inside now.”

I had come to this seedy section of Chicago to interview Konrath who some believed had an evil twin, one who actually wrote the books while the ‘other’ put forth the gargantuan, amazing marketing efforts on JA’s behalf. Of course, no one knew for certain how Konrath kept his cottage industry going at such a breakneck pace, but it had become legend among mystery, suspense, and thriller authors, not to mention the entire horror community. This since his arrival on the publishing scene a handful of years before. I was determined to learn the truth, but I hoped to come away unscathed as I’d promised my wife and children that I’d return safe and whole despite going to see a man termed by many as a true maniac. To ensure my safety I had a sealed affidavit of my last known whereabouts placed in a bank vault, and I was packing a snub-nosed .38.

Konrath remained in shadow, one eye on my wake as I entered the shabby place he’d selected for our meeting. No drinks, no music, no crowd—an empty warehouse, or so it appeared in the darkness. Then he threw a light switch, and I marveled at the sight before me. What appeared to be a million or more books! At first I assumed the poor fellow had had to purchase back every book he personally guaranteed to his readers as worthy of their purse. Then it dawned on me, and I realized why we were here—the place housed every book that the man had ever read in every genre. With head downtrodden he confessed: “The wife said I had to get them out of the house. Besides, the dogs were chewing up my first editions.”

Joe led me to a small table and chairs in one corner of his warehouse of titles where he lit a small kerosene lamp and shut down the costly overhead lights. Here too he had a cooler and from it, he snatched out two Sam Adams for us, and I began to relax. We sat and I tugged out my phone and pressed the key for tape record, and damn if my gun didn’t fall out at Konrath’s toe. Joe grabbed it up, twirled it around like a kid with a toy, and was about to fire it off when I said, “Hold on, it’s real and it’s loaded.”

“Why the gun, Walker?” he asked, a look of absolute puzzlement coming over him, the gun still in his hand.

“The neighborhood.” I shrugged. “Hey, I grew up in Chicago, too, you know. I followed the Blues Brothers.”

He accepted this and placed the gun between us. “So, you’ve got questions for me?”

I rolled out a scroll filled with questions. “Hope we have time for a few of these.”

He sipped his beer. “Best get to it. Twenty minutes I have to be on my way to O’Hare to hop a plane for Florida—speaking at the Writers Who Can’t Type Convention.”

I raised an eyebrow, surprised. “You can’t type?”

“No. Neither of my personalities can. JA Konrath, he’s the hunter. Jack Kilborn, he’s a real pecker.”

“I see. Well, we’d best begin.” I raised the volume on the recorder. “How has Chicago, this great city with its colorful history, informed your novels?”

“Informed my novels of what?” Konrath again looked puzzled but then he cracked up and slapped the table.

“Come on, you know what I mean? You’re a product of Chicago, right? How has it affected your stories, your style, man?”

“Born and raised in the Windy City, my friend. Perfect setting for thrillers. You got locations galore, plenty of room for action, intrigue, suspense, romance, laughs… and horror.”


I checked to make sure my phone was recording. “Tell me about horror.”

Konrath grinned at me, eyes glinting. “You know all about horror, Walker. Hell, I was reading you when I was a teenager. In fact, I read you under three different pen names before I knew they were all you. Maybe that’s why I decided on a pen name for Afraid.”

I glanced nervously at the gun, then checked my crib sheet. “That’s your first Jack Kilborn book, coming out at the end of March, right? Does it take place in Chicago?”


“Wisconsin. A tiny little town of nine hundred people. Something evil comes to town, and the population gets reduced. Drastically.”

“Any funny stuff in this one?”

Konrath/Kilborn shook his head. “This one is all scares, no laughs.” He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I’m predicting that a lot of people who start it won’t be able to finish it. Too frightening.”

“Why the switch to horror?”

“I’ve always written horror. The Jack Daniels series has a lot of scary scenes. But Afraid gave me a chance to sustain the terror-level for a whole book, rather than just a few chapters.”

I checked my notes again. “Would you classify any of your books as your favorite? And if so, can you explain why?”

“I like Rusty Nail. It introduces Alex, who becomes Jack’s nemesis for two more books, Fuzzy Navel, and Cherry Bomb, coming out this July. It’s a pretty wicked book, in between the jokes.”

“As wicked as Afraid?”

“I’ve never read a book as wicked as Afraid.” He smiled. “Except for some of your stuff, Walker. Remember the first time we met, I called you a sick son of a bitch?”

“First words out of your mouth. Endeared me to you forever.” I switched gears. “ No author on the planet has done more guerilla-styled and classy promotion and marketing than has JA Konrath both on the web and in the real world, and if a prize were given for most endurance in an author on a tour and self-promotion effort, it must go to you, Joe. In fact, if I had a canned ham, I’d award it to you now.

“Thanks. I might even share it with you, if you threw in some bread and cheese.”

“You’re a generous man. My question is: Can you offer a quick word of advice to authors, new and old, who struggle with marketing or have flat out given up on it?”

Konrath took in a breath, blew it out slow. “Okay, in a nutshell. The one who gets their name on the most pieces of paper, wins. That paper could be a book, a short story in a magazine or anthology, or virtual paper, like a blog or web page. The more places people can find you, the better you’ll do as an author. So you need to help people find you.”

“How?”

“Having an Internet presence that’s all about offering information and entertainment. Making sure people can easily find you, while also making sure other people find you when they’re searching for something else. That means you have to give good content.”

“What else?”

“Meeting as many people as possible, in person and on the web. Some people have more power than others. Media folks. Reviewers. Booksellers. Librarians. Bloggers. Give them extra special attention.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“Writing is a service industry, my friend. Give good service, and people will come back for more.”

We hear footsteps just outside and Konrath blows out the single kerosene lamp we have been laboring under. “Who is it, Joe? Who’s after you? For God’s sake man, perhaps I can help. If you are in some kind of trouble . . . you must tell me who is stalking you?”

“Same people who are after you!”

“Fans?”

“Creditors!”

After a moment, the sounds from outside become muffled and soon are gone altogether. Joe relights the lamp. My gun is back in my possession, but the phone is still recording. “Final question for the ACME blog, Joe is not a question. This space is completely and utterly yours to sound off. Your time to add anything you wish. Anything I’ve failed to cover.”

“You’ve been in this biz long enough to know the secret, Walker. It’s about survival. But you can’t survive on your own. We’re writers. There’s no competition between us. My fans are your fans, and vice versa. So we need to treat each other better. Support one another. Recommend each other’s books. Hell, we should buy and review each other’s books as well. Never ceases to amaze me that something so simple, so obvious, is done by so few.”

Konrath stands up, offers his hand. “Thanks for the interview, Walker, and for watching my back. You know I’m your biggest fan.”

I nod, and he walks off into the shadows before I can return the sentiment. But if you’re reading this, Joe, know I feel the same way…

If you’ve enjoyed our brief interlude with Joe Konrath, you can learn a great deal more about him at his website - http://www.jakonrath.com/


His blogspot - http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/


MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/jakonrath

For more tedious information about moi, it’s http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/

Thanks for coming by –
Rob Walker

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