I met him at the 1983 British Fantasy Convention, which means that I've known Steve Jones for almost a quarter of a century.
And in all that time, after working with him, drinking with him, watching him, I've come to the conclusion that there are only two things to know about Steve Jones worth knowing.
Photo © Peter Colborn
Stephen Jones and Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones (early 90s)
Firstly, he loves the genre. He doesn't just like it, or enjoy it, or make his living from it, he loves it. And the genre in Steve's case is the whole thing, science fiction and fantasy and horror, the territory of the imagination, but in particular the indigo and the violet and the ultra-violet edges of the spectrum of the fantastic. He likes it dark, and he likes it darker. You can call the thing Steve loves horror or dark fantasy or what you will, but it's the stuff that Lovecraft wrote and that Ramsey Campbell writes, the stuff in which Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee lurked and strode and menaced and starred. You'll know it if you see it. Steve Jones cares about it. He wants it to be good. He knows that it matters, knows that it's important and he wants it to be done well.
And the other thing I've learned, and it's part of the first thing, is that he doesn't suffer fools gladly. Steve Jones loves the genre and he wants his love to be well treated, and if he thinks you don't know what you're talking about, if he doesn't think you care, if he doesn't think your work is good enough, he'll let you know.
"That story," Steve will say, cheerfully, lulling you into a false sense of security. "That was rubbish."
Steve is the master of the cheerful and well-timed, "Of course you think that. You're an idiot."
Ah, you think, walking away from the argument with a small rain cloud over your head, ego smarting, what a sharp-tongued and grumpy bastard that man is.
And you're wrong. He's not.
It's just that if you want his good opinion, you simply have to earn it. It doesn't come free.
Because when he think you're good enough, if he thinks something you did worked, he'll tell you. And the fact that he'll also tell you when he thinks it's not good enough makes Steve Jones's praise, when you get it, a thing of real value. If Steve likes it . . . you think, and then you beam. Well, I do. You would too, if you knew Steve.
And all of this is because he loves the genre. He understands it, he cares about it, he cares about the people who built it and he cares about the thing that they built. Steve doesn't want you to treat his love cavalierly or badly. It's not that he demands the same amount of appreciation or knowledge from you that he has, but he thinks that your opinion should at least be informed. He likes an argument as long as you're arguing with a point of view and from the facts. If you don't, then he'll grin like a fox eating shit from a barbed wire brush and tell you that you're an idiot. And he'll mean it.
Photo © 2006 Peter Colborn
Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones (FantasyCon 2006)
And, oddly, for someone who is quick to dismiss people as idiots ("I just call them as I see them," he will tell you if challenged, with that Scorpio grin) Steve is also remarkably ready to change his mind. You rise or fall in his estimation according to the quality of the work you do, of what you give back to the genre. (Also on whether or not you remember to stand your round.)
I've worked with Steve, on and off, for pretty much all of the quarter of a century. I've written stories for him. He's a good editor. He knows what he wants, and asks for it specifically. He's been doing best of the year anthologies for a long time, without burning out, and he's been finding new talent and rediscovering older talent all that time.
Steve wears many hats. I've encountered Steve Jones commercial director ("Can I have the five-drop difference?" the plant would plead, and only a heart of stone would ignore it. Listen, it was the "A Mars a Day Helps You Work Rest And Play" of its era.), as well as Steve the unit publicist, the book editor, the magazine editor, the author, the anthologist, the convention organiser, the genre historian, and I've probably left off a dozen Steve Jones identities here, and I've watched him excel in all these capacities. I miss the fact that Steve Jones, artist, doesn't draw any longer (he has a pointillist, Virgil Finlayesque line, and he says he doesn't draw because it takes too long, because he's not a real artist, because other people do it better. And he's wrong, but it's not an argument I'll ever win).
I've co-written a screenplay with Steve, and been interviewed by him for books. I've written factual stuff for him and fictional stuff for him. He's a perfectionist who still understands deadlines, he's a professional who demands a great deal from everyone and gives the same amount of professionalism in return. In twenty-five years I've never known him to miss a deadline. (The same can no longer be said of me.)
And while we're on the subject, Steve has given much back to the object of his love. He's been there at the beginning of the careers of dozens of us, encouraging, chivvying, pushing work our way, helping things along. I've seen him revive the careers of writers who were stars long ago but were now all-but forgotten. There are people who would never have met without Steve, and work, real work, important work that would never have been done if he hadn't been in the background, nudging it along, demanding the best from the people he was working with. I've seen him do important stuff, quietly, for writers and artists who were sick or couldn't work or needed help, the stuff he'd be embarrassed if I mentioned here, because it's what you do if you can, but so many of us don't.
Photo © 2006 Peter Colborn
Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Stephen Jones (FantasyCon 2006)
Buy him a drink. Buy a round. Talk to him. Steve knows more about the genre, about the heart and the pulse of it than pretty much any other person, and he loves it more deeply and more passionately than any of us.
He really does.
That's why he called you an idiot.
Originally published in FantasyCon 2007 Souvenir Book edited by Peter Coleborn.
Copyright © Neil Gaiman 2007. All rights reserved.