Honoring the Legacy of J.F. Gonzalez
Talented author J.F. Gonzalez, Jesus to those close to him, died from cancer on November 10, 2014. The loss to his friends, family, and readers was immense. The broader loss to the horror genre and literary world was the equivalent of deleting a storehouse of knowledge and all the future storytelling potential that came with it.
His was a legacy worth preserving, and Gonzalez’s dear friend, fellow author Brian Keene, would be charged with that stewardship, for Jesus’ family, his fans, and future generations of readers. A Herculean effort, because Gonzalez cast a wider shadow than many might realize.
From Lesley Connor…
"Before I met J. F. Gonzalez in 2007, I had already bought and read several of his books. I picked one at random to read after hearing about him on Brian Keene’s blog. Then I had to have another and another and another. By the time I met him, he was my favorite author! I never expected that he’d also become my friend and writing mentor. Without him, I never would have written my novel, The Weight of Chains. I will forever be grateful for him believing in me and my writing. He made me better than I ever could have been on my own. The best thing about J.F. Gonzalez’s books is there’s something for every horror fan. Enjoy creature features? Check out the Clickers novels. Want more of a thriller? Dive into Bully! Really into extreme horror? You’re in luck! Gonzalez wrote what is arguably one of the best extreme horror novels, Survivor. From succubi, zombies, and werewolves; to evil corporations, serial killers, and the downfall of civilization; J.F. Gonzalez masterfully wrote them all, showing readers and writers alike that horror means more than one niche subject. Go out and explore different types of horror, whether you’re reading it or writing it! J.F. Gonzalez did and he’s a legend!"
Gonzalez on the Rise
Born in 1964, Gonzalez’s life was one that would make any horror fan envious. As a young man, he hung out in Los Angeles with the Splatterpunks, watching first-hand as John Skipp and Craig Spector, David J. Schow, R.C. Matheson, and many others rose to prominence. He was their number one fan, but he was also their friend, their “kid brother,” and their protégé.
He did everything from beta reading their manuscripts to driving Robert Bloch to the grocery store. Gonzalez’s very first book signing was with Richard Laymon and Bentley Little. He had seen and done more in the horror industry before turning 30 than many will in their entire career.
His first professional foray into the industry was in the early 90s, as the editor of two horror magazines: Iniquities and Phantasm. His first three novels, Clickers, Conversion, and Shapeshifter, were among the world’s very first ebooks.
Gozalez contributed to the field by publishing books of other renown authors and editing anthologies. He collaborated with Wrath James White on a number of books, producing the first published horror novel collaboration by two authors of color, Hero. He wrote over two dozen novels, both under his own name and under a number of pseudonyms. According to Keene, his biggest contribution to the genre was undoubtedly his novel Survivor, often cited as one of the greatest extreme horror novels ever.
From Wrath James White…
"J.F. Gonzalez loved horror. He worked in every aspect of the genre, from writer to editor to publisher. The first ebook I was ever published in was an anthology edited by Jesus and sold on DVDs. That was 20 years ago. He was always ahead of the game. Survivor was likewise ahead of the game in many ways. It was one of the books that helped the resurgence of Splatterpunk and the emergence of Extreme Horror, and will always be remembered as one of the best examples of the genre."
Friendship and Collaboration
J.F. Gonzalez and Brian Keene began writing in the days of the pre-internet zines. Then, when the internet came along, they frequented a chat room where authors well-known in the genre today hung out to talk horror and writing.
The pair finally met in person in 2000, at a World Horror Convention. This was a significant convention in Brian Keene’s career development, recounted in some detail in his Hail Satan series of nonfiction books. You can also read Keene’s unedited answers to the interview questions for this article on his Patreon page.
They became fast friends. Gonzalez eventually moved to Pennsylvania, not far from Keene’s house, where they hung out, collaborated, and prepared for book tour together. It was at these events that many of the young authors and creators Keene mentors today met both him and Gonzalez for the first time, including the young man who would be tapped to one day oversee Keene’s literary estate.
Keene was the one who suggested that Gonzalez write more in the Clickers universe and it was Gonzalez who talked Keene into stepping in for his former writing partner Mark Williams. Keene described the writing collaboration as magic, a level of connection not often repeated since.
From Gabino Iglesias…
"When I started to focus most of my energy on writing, I looked around and realized all my early influences—Lovecraft, Poe, Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Bentley Little—were all white guys. That made me search for horror writers that were like me, folks who made me believe I could do this, and there was Gonzalez, killing it alongside folks like Brian Keene and Wrath James White. His work was unique, pulpy, and brutal. And his last name was right there on a bunch of covers. He quickly became an inspiration. He’s a legend. We lost him too soon, but his work still matters, still inspires, and people keep discovering him. Folks like Gonzalez, Laymon, and Piccirilli are no longer here, but their work is, and it is at the core of modern horror’s DNA. Anyway, Clickers Forever!"
Gonzalez and Keene were in the middle of working on Libra Nigrum Scientia Secreta when Gonzalez called Keene and told him that when he woke up that morning, his wife, Cathy, said he looked yellow. Keene recalls making a joke about it, and they laughed, but he could tell his friend was scared. Gonzalez called again from the hospital that night. A tumor was blocking the bile duct in his liver.
He stayed in the hospital for a while, and then, one day, he insisted on being sent home. He sat down and typed something up that Brian would not see until after Gonzalez’s death.
From Wile E. Young…
"I never had the pleasure of meeting J.F. Gonzalez, but I suppose that’s the beauty of our work, really. Some people go into death leaving behind only memories. I at least get to read Jesus's words. His work came to me when I was at a low point in my life, and I firmly believe he is one of several that got me through it. He had a varied bibliography—Clickers, The Corporation, Survivor, etc. To a kid like me, each one was like an open door beckoning for me to enter, to try my own hand at writing. So that’s what I did, and I couldn’t be more thankful for his legacy, and the inspiration from it. And it is quite a legacy. Clickers is a seminal work of creature feature horror, one of the first ebooks ever made. It is also a franchise that continues to grow and obtain lifelong fans. Another I will mention here is Survivor. There are many works of extreme horror, but this is one of the codifiers for the genre. J.F. wielded the brutality in this novel like a master painter, easily rivaling The Girl Next Door in pulling at the heart. That is what an exquisite extreme horror novel should do after all, make you cry as much as it disgusts you. At the end of the day, J.F. Gonzalez proved himself to be a maestro in every subgenre of horror, elevating himself amongst his peers, and paving the way for more POC writers. I’ve talked to so many who list him as an inspiration, many of them great writers in their own right. That’s the seen but unspoken legacy of J.F. Gonzalez: he was great and inspired others to greatness."
Keene, Gonzalez, and author Bryan Smith first talked about literary legacy during the infamous implosions of Dorchester and Leisure Books. According to Keene, it opened their eyes to the long-term realities of the industry. Keene and Gonzalez decided that they each would oversee the other’s literary estate, should the unthinkable occur to one of them or the other.
After his diagnosis and an extended stay in the hospital, Gonzalez insisted on going home. He typed up very clear instructions for Keene on what to do with everything. And then he went back into the hospital. And, of course, he never came home again.
Keene said, “I didn’t see the instructions until after his death. But man, in that short time he was home, he made it so goddamned easy for me. ‘Here’s what’s finished. Here’s what’s not. Here’s the notes on everything.’ All laid out so that his wife and daughter would benefit from it for a long time to come. It was basically, ‘Hey, bro, if you're reading this, then I’m dead. Here’s what happens next.’ Other than raising and guiding my sons, this is the most important thing I’ve ever done. Full stop.”
From Wesley Southard…
"If I were to compare J.F. Gonzalez’s influence on the horror genre to another profession, he would be the “comedian’s comedian.” The Lenny Bruce of Horror. The Dave Attell of Dark Fiction. That’s what Gonzalez was to me. He was the horror writer’s horror writer. Though he may not have had the wide success of some of his peers, those who loved his work, loved his work, and never missed the opportunity to snatch up his new fiction the moment it was available. I can’t think of a single writer of my generation that wasn’t influenced by his fiction. I truly wish he was still with us, but I am eternally grateful we have Brian Keene keeping his legacy alive for the rest of the world. Hopefully they’ll catch up and see what the rest of us saw all those years. Jesus was literally one of the reasons why I became a writer. I adored him."
Since his passing, Gonzalez's estate has released Up Jumped the Devil and Monsters and Animals, which is a prequel to Survivor. Wrath James White finished Monsters and Animals based on Gonzalez's notes. New editions of Fetish, When the Darkness Falls, Voyeur, The Summoning and Other Eldritch Tales, and Old Ghosts and Other Revenants have been rereleased according to the author’s plans prior to getting sick.
Coming in the future, as of the writing of this article, new versions of Shapeshifter and Conversion are on the way. There are enough uncollected short stories to fill four or five more short story collections. There are about a dozen unfinished manuscripts. Two of those will definitely see publication. One of them was a sequel to Retreat, called Final Retreat, which Brian Keene is finishing based on Gonzalez’s notes. This is likely to be the final release after everything else. Gabino Iglesias is finishing Gonzalez’s most autobiographical work, Crossroads.
J.F. Gonzalez wrote a ridiculous amount of nonfiction as well. None of it has ever been collected before now. His Lamplight columns are being collected as Shadows In The Attic by Apokrupha. Even with that coming release, there’s at least enough material for one other non-fiction collection called Diary of a Madman, named in honor of his column for Afraid.
Over the years, Clickers has gone through countless printings in many different languages and has become a genuine cult classic, viewed by many critics and academics as a seminal work of pulp horror. It spawned three sequels: Clickers II: The Next Wave, Clickers III: Dagon Rising, and Clickers vs. Zombies, co-written with Brian Keene.
One of the instructions Gonzalez left was, “Do a tribute anthology. Make sure all the money goes to my family. I’ve contributed to enough of those over the years. Fuckers better contribute to mine.” Keene says, “And fuckers did indeed contribute. And all of the money went to his family.” Clickers Forever was the result.
Rebooting the Clickers universe was something Keene was initially against, but one day Gonzalez’s wife told Keene that she’d like to see it done. The Clickers stories are so popular, and beloved, and she wanted the franchise to live on. Every Clickers novel was co-written, so Keene knew he wanted that to continue. Stephen Kozeniewski and Wile E. Young were tapped first and produced Clickers Never Die. Other author collaborative pairs are working on subsequent Clicker novels.
From Cina Pelayo…
"One of the biggest regrets of my writing career, is that I’ll never be able to meet J.F. Gonzalez and tell him thank you. Gonzalez wrote several horror novels, including the Clickers Series and the brutal Survivor, which I’ve heard from Brian Keene was difficult for Gonzalez to write, given the intense content. Overall, I admire his position as being an early Latinx horror author and being dedicated to his craft. I’m grateful his work is with us, and I hope that myself and other Latinx horror authors are honoring his memory as best as we can."
And On It Goes
Brian Keene decided a few months after Gozalez’s passing, he wanted Stephen Kozeniewski making the decisions for his estate once Keene was gone, with filmmaker Mike Lombardo attached as another advisor. Keene said, “Steve reminds me of me, and Mike is legitimately like a third son to me. And they both have good business sense. So, I knew they were up for the challenge. Hopefully, I made things as easy for them as Jesus did for me.” They are to guide Keene’s sons, see to it that beneficiaries get paid, and make sure all of the unfinished work and unpublished stuff is taken care of. Keene created a Word doc that has all of his passwords, contact info, terms for each publisher, etc., as his friend had done for him.
From Kozeniewski’s perspective, he says he and Keene had a number of things in common, from being veterans to ways of looking at the world. Both were “blue collar writers” in their mindsets. From my own perspective, Kozeniewski is loyal to a fault, and I think Keene might have seen that in him at a time when he really needed that. Still, he was surprised to be chosen as one of the people to oversee Keene’s literary estate.
In that capacity, Keene has told Kozeniewski the priority is providing for his family. He’s less interested in the artsy, self-aggrandizing side of legacy. Kozeniewski says, “His legacy, in his outlook, is his children's surety, not his body of work in some philosophical sense.”
Brian Keene closed our interview with a message for everyone reading, “If you are a writer — regardless of your success, status, published or unpublished — you should have a literary estate. Not tomorrow. Right fucking now. Neil Gaiman has a free and easy template that you can use right here.”
From Brian Keene…
As part of a longer and more eloquent answer everyone should check out on Keene’s Patreon page, Brian Keene said, "Nobody can read everything that’s being published, but John Pelan and Jesus were in the unique position of not only knowing all of that really old stuff, but also being up to date on the current goings on, as well. John because he was publishing all of it, both old and new. And Jesus because he had grown up reading all of that old stuff and was one of the most prominent voices among those of us who were creating the new."
"Both of those voices are silent now, and that’s a loss to this genre that just... well, they can’t be replaced."
"I still miss him every day, even after all this time, but working on this stuff... it allows me to still have a connection, you know?"
"He was my best friend. The best friend I’ve ever had."
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