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Summoning Darkness, Exuding Light: Remembering Dark Fiction Renegade, J.F. Gonzalez

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The world of dark fiction lost one of its most unique, vital voices last week when novelist J.F. Gonzalez succumbed to cancer after a maddeningly short fifty years on the planet. 

Gonzalez was a kinetic, stylish literary force of nature; an irreplaceable master of both extreme horror levelers (SURVIVOR, PRIMITIVE) as well as gonzo, gore-drenched nuttiness (the marauding giant crab CLICKERS series co-authored with Mark Williams and Brian Keene). And yet, despite his formidable talents and considerable genre cachet, to encounter Gonzalez at a signing or con was to find oneself in the presence of perhaps the kindest, most easygoing, effortlessly cool motherfucker on the planet. The words “humble” and “everyman” don’t do justice to this roiling creative being capable of summoning such exquisite darkness in readers’ imaginations, even as he exuded a transcendent light in this corporeal world so much poorer for his loss.

Today FANGORIA gathers some of horror writing’s best-known renegades and subversives for a celebration of the life and work of Gonzalez. These tributes are, at turns, beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring, and we are lucky to have them. Those interested in Gonzalez’ universal legacy, however, should visit his Amazon page and buy a book…or ten. Let the man take your hand from the Great Beyond and acquaint you with ideas and altered realities of which you would otherwise never have dreamt.

It’s not the way any of us would prefer, but J.F. Gonzalez persists—he lives on.

• Brian Keene (pictured right with Gonzalez, top)

Jesus’s family used to call him Chuy—pronounced Chewie. He’d get annoyed if anyone outside his family called him by that nickname, so of course, I called him that all the time. One day, Jesus and I were on the phone, and my youngest son overheard me call him Chuy, and asked me if Jesus was my Chewbacca. I thought about it a minute, and agreed that he probably was. Chewbacca was loyal, intelligent, gentle but fierce when the situation required it, did not suffer fools, fought for what he thought was right, and called Han Solo on his shit when Han needed it. That was Jesus.

Jesus and I were fans of each other’s work before we ever met in person. When we did meet, we became fast friends, and eventually collaborators. We wrote four published novels together, plus a screenplay, and a bunch of other stuff. Collaborating with him—one of us could end in the middle of a sentence and the other could pick up where we’d left off. Our voices meshed, our styles meshed, and our appreciation of the genre meshed. I haven’t been able to write a word since he passed. I feel like I’ve lost my right arm, and I’m typing one-handed.

He was so knowledgeable about our genre’s literary history—he could discuss everything from Melmoth the Wanderer to obscure H.P. Lovecraft poems to Karl Edward Wagner to Stephen King. And he lived in the center of a great deal of that history over the last thirty years. As a young man, he got to hang out with the Splatterpunks in their heyday. He was there through the rise of authors like Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum. He was there at the beginnings of the Internet, which changed everything from how horror fiction was published to how horror fiction fans communicated. And he was there through the fall of Dorchester Publishing. He was in the center of all these amazing things, like some sort of horror version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

He loved horror fiction in all its forms—quiet, extreme, supernatural, splatter, pulp—and more importantly, he was able to write it in each of those forms. Undoubtedly his biggest contribution to the genre was SURVIVOR. Unflinching and brutal and possessing a sharp emotional core, it is often cited along with Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, as one of the best extreme horror novels of all time. And it is. It definitely is. He could have made a career writing in that same style over and over again, but he was never content to do that. He could write quiet horror on par with Charles Grant or Ramsey Campbell, and then turn around and deliver a cosmic tale in the style of Thomas Ligotti or Laird Barron, and then follow that up with a splatterfest that would make Edward Lee weak in the knees. He was so versatile, and when you read through his backlist—CLICKERS, FETISH, PRIMITIVE, BULLY, and so many others—it really is quite amazing how fluid his style and voice could be. This has been a huge loss for his family and friends, but it’s also a huge loss for our field. He was definitely one of the most diverse, important voices in modern horror, and his loss will be felt for a long time to come. (Keene’s official site)

John Skipp

I met Jesus as a fan, in the heyday of splatterpunk: first wave of Skipp & Spector & Schow L.A. signings, circa 1989. He and Buddy Martinez, Buddy’s brother Perry, and Bill Furtado descended upon us like a heavy metal Los Lobos, so enormously into the kind of crazy renegade horror we were doing that they wound up winning us over entirely, cheerfully dragging us back to Buddy’s house, where we partied and joked and got loaded and schemed. It was like a miniature convention. As such, we bonded. And somewhere in there, the seeds of their magazine Iniquities got born.

Buddy was the live wire, all big laughs and big ideas. But Jesus was the quiet, thoughtful shadow standing behind him: long dark hair and big, sad, soulful eyes, even when he was grinning. And for the three short issues that Iniquities ran—just as the 80s horror boom went ka-boom in the 90s—it was pretty clear that whatever got done there editorially, Jesus was the one serious-minded enough to dig in and see it through.

I think it’s beautiful that he went on to carve the literary niche for himself that he did. That he became a part of what kept the scene alive when we split. That his love of Guy N. Smith bought him a place in the Giant Crab pantheon. That his love of what we were doing led him to plumb the 90s “extreme horror” that followed, where he found a loving audience of his own.

But my memories are all about the quiet guy who just wanted to be a part of it. I love the fact that he made it. This is how the torch gets passed.

God bless you, my friend. See you on the other side. (Skipp on Amazon)

David J. Schow

Once upon a time, there was the Splat Pack. In 1988. The original Splat Pack, not the posse of low-budget directors who later hijacked the rubric, which was coined by MIDNIGHT GRAFFITI editor Jessie Horsting to describe a group of horror writers who self-branded as “splatterpunks,” a word I made up in 1986.

DJS-JFG

David J. Schow & Jesus Gonzalez, 1989. Photo: Schow

The splatterpunks, in the wake of Clive Barker, galvanized horror when it was in danger of suffocating in a piranha feeding frenzy of wanna-be Stephen King clones. Nearly everybody hated the label…but a few people had lots of fun with it while it lasted.

People like Jesus Gonzalez—“Chuy”—who embraced it, loved it, fed it, and ultimately took up residence in the entire field of horror, not just the parts fertilized by the “s-word.”

In 1989, horror’s greatest regular magazine market for fiction, TWILIGHT ZONE, died after a healthy run of almost a decade. By 1990, Jesus, in consort with his amigos Marcelo “Buddy” Martinez and Bill Furtado, founded a magazine called INIQUITIES, to lift the torch and meet these new forms of horror head-on.

The aspirations were huge. The dreams did not quite match the bitter realities of publishing even then, and Iniquities went down after three (huge) issues. Jesus promptly founded PHANTASM as a more personal approach just as the small-press magazine boom of the Nineties was getting started.

“Becoming” a horror writer after 1992 was a lot more daunting when the sizzle of the boom abated. Others yammered; Jesus stuck to his passions and became one of the very few fans I had ever met who transitioned all the way through to professional writer. As he transitioned from ardent fan to trusted friend.

And I cannot count the dinners, signings, parties, birthdays, all shared with him, which is a good thing. I watched him meet Cathy, the woman who would become his wife; I actually witnessed Jesus getting struck by the thunderbolt.

He leaves behind Cathy, their daughter Hannah, a double-dozen relatives and a zillion friends, because Jesus had a great bullshit alarm, and was ever true. He leaves a stack of published work as well, thanks to his never dropping that torch (the one Skipp mentioned, too)—at least 14 novels and four story collections, whereby you can learn his tastes and sample his style.

You can find “splatterpunk” in the Oxford English Dictionary today. It’s been officially listed since 2002. I’d like to think it was Jesus, and folks like him, who helped us all bust into that market, the O.E.D.—arguably one of the hardest places to get anything published!

I will never be done missing him.

Oh, and don’t spell his name Gonzales. He hated that. (Schow on Amazon)

Chet Williamson

Jesus Gonzalez might have written stories and novels that could curl your hair and make you pick your feet up off the ground and squeal like a little girl, but the Jesus I knew was the most gentle and sweet person I’ve ever met in the horror field. “Gentle” and “sweet” aren’t adjectives that fit a lot of writers in our field. Usually writers get labeled as “intense,” “forceful,” and “driven.” Jesus’ work was all of those things and more, but the man himself was a sweetheart.

When I first came in contact with him in 1990 by selling him a story for Iniquities, the fine magazine he co-edited, he was into the long hair and leather scene so many writers of the splatterpunk era embraced. But when I got to really know Jesus was when he moved from L.A. to Lancaster County, PA, with his wife Cathy. I started seeing him frequently at lunches with Brian Keene, who also lives nearby. The three of us met at Cafe East in Centerville and gobbled sushi while talking about each other’s projects and the vicissitudes, joys, and injustices of the writing life. It was obvious that Jesus and Brian were “brothers from another mother,” and it was always a treat when Brian set up a lunch date.

I saw Jesus at several other gatherings of writers, and my wife and I had a great evening with him and his delightful and always supportive wife Cathy at an Ethiopian restaurant in Lancaster, where we ate with our fingers while cracking the grossest of jokes and promising to do it again soon. I regret that didn’t happen. The last I saw him was at Cafe East on a day Brian was late, and the two of us talked for some time, quietly sharing the hopes and plans and dreams we still had after so many years in the business of making people tremble and consider the darkness. During his final illness, Laurie and I were waiting until his condition improved to visit him, not wanting to wear him down. Alas, that didn’t happen either.

The day Jesus died, I tried to get back to work on a novel in progress, to try and ease my feelings of grief and loss. When I started to revise my work of the day before, I saw that the last sentence I’d written was: “Not knowing what else to do, he started to cry.” And I did. You couldn’t do any less for a man as sweet and gentle as Jesus Gonzalez. (Williamson’s official site)

Kelli Owen

J.F. Gonzalez is responsible for one of the proudest moments of my writing career, and one of the funniest moments of my life.

Regarding my writing, when he finished reading SIX DAYS the first time he immediately contacted me to call dibs on the script. Flattered and flabbergasted, of course I agreed. Several others were bummed to find he had beat them to the punch, but he called dibs fair and square—by doing so immediately. He wrote a beautiful treatment of the novel, which is currently being shopped around.

One of the funniest moments of my life is actually tied to the previous event. When he tried to contact me about scripting SIX DAYS, I was at Mo*Con—a convention in Indianapolis—which is held in a church. My ringer was turned off during the presentation and my phone was on the table in front of me. I didn’t hear it ring. But the popup got my attention.

1 missed call: Jesus

Needless to say, no one at my table could keep a straight face after seeing that, and I do believe there is video footage somewhere of the group of us trying, and failing, to keep it together with bouncing shoulders and tight smirks.

Jesus was an amazing man. He was an incredible father, husband, and friend. And he was an extremely talented writer with plenty left to say. He will be missed…

And remembered. (Owen’s official site)

Thomas F. Monteleone

Can’t stop thinking about my friend, Jesus F. Gonzalez…

I met him more than twenty-four years ago at a con at either Seattle or Chicago. He was always accompanying a guy named Buddy Martinez…and both of them were crowd standouts because of their long black-leather dusters, Cochise-long black hair, and those funny gloves with all the fingers cut-off. They were Chicano/Chollo/Latino somethings…not sure what. But they looked cool and we became friends. I quickly discovered what a gentle, kind soul was Jesus, and I loved him for that and valued his friendship for the next quarter-century.

I never saw him as much as I should have, but I love his drive and discipline and passion for our genre. Gonna miss this guy. A lot. (Monteleone on Amazon)

Richard Chizmar

The writing world lost a good man this week. So did the “real” world.

I hate that cancer took him so young after he had already beat it once. I hate that he leaves behind a wife and young daughter who love and need him very much. I hate that all of us readers will eventually run out of his words.

What I don’t hate is all the love and respect that has been shown him this week. I was fortunate enough to have published and met Jesus Gonzalez a handful of times. He was a very good writer and a very good man. A genuinely kind soul. And a loving husband and father. We should all learn a lot from the example he set with his life.

I can’t think of any better words to say about a man we will all miss. (Cemetery Dance)

Tim Deal 

I first met J.F. Gonzalez at Context 21 in 2008, I believe.  It was my first con and I was there to showcase Shroud Publishing and to sponsor the con suite. I had read his work and knew that I wanted him for the magazine. I think it was on day one when I saw him walk by. I wanted to introduce myself, so I mistakenly called out “Jose,” like an ass.  He stopped and gently corrected me. I invited him to the Shroud party and signing that night, and he graciously appeared. I was later thrilled to be able to publish his stories in SHROUD issues #4 and #11. (Shroud Magazine)

Wrath James White 

I picked up MATERNAL INSTINCT by J.F. Gonzalez a dozen or so years ago, knowing very little about the author’s work, at that time. I’d met Jesus at Horrorfind that year and pitched him a story about maggots, and a flesh-eating virus, eating a guy alive for an anthology he was co-editing. He bought the story from me and then I noticed that he was being published by Delirium. So, I bought his book and Wow! I was blown away. He did things in that little novella that even made me uncomfortable.

A couple years later, SUCCULENT PREY was published and Jesus contacted me to tell me how much he loved the book. By then, the novella, MATERNAL INSTINCT, had become the novel, SURVIVOR. SUCCULENT PREY had been picked up by Leisure, and he and I were being mentioned in the same breath by readers who were just discovering our work. This led to two of the collaborations I am the most proud of, “Hero” and “The Killings.”

I remember, when he and I were discussing what to do for that first collaboration, I was driving home and I passed a billboard that said: “Stop Elder Abuse” and a light bulb went off. I told Jesus we should do a story about elder abuse with a racial element and he suggested we make the antagonist biracial. Writing that book with him was such an educational moment. He was such an amazing writer and shared my passion for telling stories with social relevance.

I’m proud of the work we did together, but I feel like we weren’t done. We had more great collaborations to do. More stories to tell. He left too soon. Jesus had a wonderful gift, and I am so honored to have had the opportunity to share in it, learn from it, be terrified by it, and amazed by it.

Good bye, my friend. I miss you already. (White’s official site)

John Lawson 

When I read with J.F. Gonzalez at HorrorFind 2006, we had a packed house. While I was on a hot streak at the time it was still clear folks weren’t necessarily there to see me. During his performance, J.F. demonstrated his grasp on character building and how to saturate writing with an atmosphere of dread, sure, but I suspect even that was not fully responsible for his drawing power.

See, when folks think of the horror scene they often contemplate gruesome exhibitionism or some such, but never the community building that goes on. People are the mortar holding our haunted house together, and J.F.Gonzalez was one such person. You would always find him with a group, functioning as part of the collective when he could have just as easily been pushing people aside for the chance to nudge himself forward. He left the horror scene a better place, and we owe him a debt of gratitude. (Lawson’s official site)

Brian Hodge

I connected with Jesus Gonzalez early, around the time he first put himself on the map, as co­founder of an excellent, short­lived magazine called INIQUITIES. The helpful subtitle clarified things: “The Magazine of Great Wickedness and Wonder.”

Yes, please.

There can be a tendency among people who don’t circulate very widely to regard anyone involved with horror—even as a fan—as somehow suspect. Deviant, definitely untrustworthy around children and various animals, and possibly in league with devils. To be sure, Jesus and his publishing partner, Buddy Martinez, looked the part: lean twentysomethings, all black jeans and leather and boots and fingerless gloves and jet black hair down to the middle of their backs. I can’t think of a better example of the chasm between image and actual personality. Within these trappings that would’ve sent Dana Carvey’s Church Lady scurrying for cover were two of the sweetest, gentlest guys you could possibly imagine.

The other morning, as I wept after awakening to the news of his death, the random access memories spanned years and locales: conventions, link­ups during trips to Los Angeles, Facebook exchanges. But the memory I kept coming back to was defined more by his absence. Along with fellow writers Wayne Allen Sallee and Poppy Z. Brite, I roomed with Jesus at the convention where he met his wife­to­be, Cathy. Which is to say, he bunked with us the first night, then was nowhere to be found…just his luggage parked at the end of one of the beds.

Even then, he must have known he’d found the other half of his soul. It’s one of my favorite things to see: people finding the kind of happiness they can only find with each other.

Whenever someone exits this plane much too soon, I often recall a line from one of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN spin­offs, featuring his perky­goth rendition of Death: “You got what everyone gets. You got a lifetime.” And I wish they’d gotten something better. (Hodge’s official site)

The staff of Iniquities magazine:  Buddy Martinez, Bill Furtado, Jesus Gonzalez, Perry Martinez. Photo: David J. Schow

The staff of Iniquities magazine: Buddy Martinez, Bill Furtado,
Jesus Gonzalez, Perry Martinez. Photo: David J. Schow

James R. Beach

I first met JF Gonzalez in person at Horrorfind 2004, but I believe we had connected up via the Shocklines message board or one of those prior to that. I had recently launched my horror magazine DARK DISCOVERIES at the start of 2004, and JF kindly offered some advice and experience from his years of publishing magazines like INIQUITIES and PHANTASM. He and I hit it off and our love of horror, the small press and music bonded us. I worked with him a number of times over the years, publishing a few of his stories in DD and anthologies I did, and we chatted on the phone and in person numerous times. Recently, I was working with him on contributions for a couple different anthologies and some limited edition Richard Laymon books for Dark Regions Press.

JF Gonzalez was a super cool guy and a very good writer and editor. He will be missed by many friends and his family, and I’m already feeling the loss myself. He was one of the good guys and we need more like him out there. I’ll do my best to help get out the things from him we had planned and help promote other projects of his that end up being published. His work will live on.

R.I.P. my friend.

(Beach on Journalstone)

Bryan Smith

Jesus Gonzalez was one of the most vital voices in contemporary horror fiction. His novel SURVIVOR is rightfully regarded as one of the most noteworthy entries in the subgenre of extreme horror.  SURVIVOR is brutal and unrelenting and admirably does not flinch away from the darkest implications inherent in its subject matter.  For SURVIVOR alone, his would be a career worth remembering, but he wrote many other books, all of them deserving of a wider audience.

My first awareness of Jesus is from long ago, from the magazine INIQUITIES, which he published along with Buddy Martinez.  This was back in the early 90s, long before my own fiction was first published on a professional level, so my memory is a bit fuzzy.  But there was a picture of Jesus and, I believe, his publishing partner decked out in leather dusters and hats.  To an aspiring horror author in awe of the big names in the Splatterpunk movement that was still all the rage back then, they looked cool as hell.  They looked badass and rock and roll.  It was an image that evoked the essence of everything I wanted to be.  It stayed with me through the years.  Much, much later, I had a series of discussions with Jesus about rock and roll music.  We liked a lot of the same stuff.  I found his recollections of his youth spent watching future rock and roll legends Guns N’ Roses in their club days on the Sunset Strip particularly enthralling.  He was an open and down-to-earth guy.  I unfortunately didn’t know him as well as his close friends, partly because I don’t get out and attend cons the way many of my peers do.  I wish it could have been otherwise. It is to my detriment.

Jesus lived a life very much worth remembering and celebrating.  His loved ones have suffered a tremendous loss and my condolences go out to them. (The Horror of Bryan Smith)

For those so inclined, memorial contributions should, as his obituary notes, be made to The Humane League of Lancaster County.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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