Jason Allan Cole e-interviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke (May, 2008)
Jason Allan Cole debuts with a collection of eleven short stories in 50 Rooms, enlightening readers about 'the dark streets of the Los Angeles underground' - stories of the homeless, addicts, the down and out, set in Los Angeles, California.
Jason was born in 1969 and 'lived on the canals of Venice, California, for the first five years of his life'. He worked in telecommunications and computer networking. Cole wrote poetry, short stories, and songs on 'concert flyers and the like', until he finally acquired a typewriter, then a word processor. He 'started banging out stories' and hasn't stopped since. Jason resides in Culver City, CA with his wife Hiroko and their three-year old son Ryan Isao. His father is bestselling author, screenwriter, and award-wining reporter Allan Cole.
Q: What is the significance of your title 50 Rooms and why did you choose a short story format for your debut effort?
A: There is no significance in the title 50 Rooms at all for me. It has been amusing to see how people interpret in their own mind some sort of pattern or meaning in the title. But that is the idea anyway, write, and let the reader interpret. So I liked the title for that reason alone. If I had called it "The life and times of Frye Dagmar" it wouldn't have that imaginative aspect to it. And it would have limited me to a linear structure that would have constrained me.
I didn't consciously choose a format. Short stories were just natural for me. I like the fast pace, no fat aspect of the short story. The book pretty much wrote itself and all I had to do was get in front of a keyboard. It literally took me over. I had no choice but to write it.
Q: What was your goal in targeting the unsettling subjects and themes of 50 Rooms?
A: I have been asked this question many times. I am always surprised that people find the material unsettling or as other reviewers have called it "depressing". It definitely wasn't intended while it was being created. The only goal I had was to be as honest as I could be with the characters and never be shy. When truth became uncomfortable I worked through it and put it to paper. I guess these days realism is unsettling and depressing. So be it. If you really want to read something depressing and unsettling check The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. 50 Rooms is a pleasant bedtime story when compared. When I read 50 Rooms I see people overcoming adversity through humor until they die. But that's just me.
Q: The individuals you portray - the homeless and those living on the edge in other ways - exist in many urban centers - what drew you to Los Angeles?
A: I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have lived here for most of my life. I have this strange love/hate relationship with the city. It is such a big place with such a diverse population that it never gets boring. It is addictive. Walk Hollywood Blvd. alone at 3 a.m. and you will feel the ghosts. It is my home town and a fertile ground for story telling. Los Angeles is my first love and she has never betrayed me.
Q: How much of you is speaking through your character in No Grounding in the Classics: 'I was trying to make a go of it as a writer, along with being a fulltime drunk ... I couldn't live without it. The writing and the drinking ... But when the doors slammed shut, I was never too lonely ... I would type it all out. Get it out of me what was driving me mad on paper and preserve it.'?
A: Good question but I wouldn’t attribute it too much to me personally.
Q: Your stories often end point blank with words such as 'Something was wrong'. Is it your intention to force readers to use their imaginations and form their own conclusions about the ending?
A: I would never try to force anything on the reader. Once they start reading the book it becomes theirs and not mine anymore. That is why I love the written word. The literary artistic form itself forces the readers to use their imagination, not me as the writer.
Q: What are the vehicles you used in research to create 50 Rooms?
A: No research necessary. It was all there to begin with.
Q: Jon, Frye, Melissa, and Rob are featured in opposing chapters. Are these characters an entity in themselves, i.e., a continuing story, and perhaps individuals you have met?
A: To answer your question, I have met some of them. The book is a work of fiction but one character, Frye, is pretty close to reality. His name was Tyge Valdemar and he was killed in a fight in front of Canter's deli in Hollywood in the late 80's. He was my best friend.
Q: I especially relished the philosophical discussions about Charles Bukowski woven into specific chapters. What does he mean to you?
A: Long story, short. I thought it would be a great idea to bring him back from the dead as an almost elemental immortal figure. It could be done with any literary giant, Hemmingway, Poe, Celine etc. but I chose him. The rest is fun with fiction.
Q: As a second generation writer, to what degree has your father's career influenced your decision to write?
A: I would never consider myself a second generation writer. I am the writer I am today. I am Irish by heritage and story telling is a natural part of our culture. So it would probably be more accurate to call me a storyteller of many generations. There will be more Cole writers after I am long gone I am sure.
My father’s career as a writer has been influential in one particular aspect. I was lucky enough to watch the process of him typing and putting finished page after finished page into the bin day in and day out. That is how you get it done. His lesson to me was the writer's work ethic.
Much more important to me was his challenge to me as a youngster to read and be a free thinker and the time he spent debating philosophical and political ideas with me over games of chess.
Additionally my father taught me to read and write at a young age. So Kindergarten should have been easy but I was dyslexic. Damn.
Q: Your stories flow so well. Do you plan to keep writing about social issues?
A: Thank you for the compliment. I wouldn't say social issues have any influence on my work in the sense that I do not hope to change anything in the world (besides the literary establishment) when I write stories. I am not advocating charities or any social movement in my work. I am writing stories. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for the characters in 50 Rooms. It's just life in realistic terms.
Q: Which author(s) has/have influenced you most?
A: I would have to say H.P Lovecraft. I love the purity of his writing and his unique view of the world around him. He was considered quite strange by his contemporaries at the time and never lived to see his work in print aside from a few hand produced "fanzines" of the time and now he is credited by writers such as Stephen King as the father of modern day horror and his books sell better decades after his death than most living writers. Funny how history works.
Q: What passions besides writing occupy your life?
A: I am an unapologetic audiophile. Music is the one thing that has kept me going during the ups and downs in this life and I collect it in all its forms. I have thousands of LPs and Eps, boxes of tapes and too many CDs to count. And now that we have all these digital formats I have had to buy an external hard drive just to store my music. My musical tastes are varied and run from punk to reggae to lounge, surf and psychobilly. Also crime jazz, horror rock and speed metal. My early writing career started as a music journalist writing for underground magazines. The job fit me quite well and I interviewed dozens of bands and wrote hundreds of reviews over the years.
Q: Will you continue to write in short-story form, and is anything on the burner at present?
A: I am sure I will continue to write short stories but I am working on the novel form as well right now. I have so much material on the burner it is hard to say what will be next. Most likely a novel or a movie based on a collaborative screenplay I have been working on.Find out more about the author and 50 Rooms at JasonAllanCole.com.
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