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  • Writer's pictureBP Gregory

Smashwords Q&A

Smashwords writerly questions! These are a bit of a cheat 'cause most of them are system generated, it's not like a real life person is asking them ...

As at August 2017 you have four novels as well as a cluster of short stories that seem to vascillate between science fiction, humour, and horror. Did you set out to be a genre writer?

I love to write about people. Both horror and sci-fi allow me to frogmarch characters through extreme situations. Peeling back their layers bit by bit to discover what, if anything, lurks inside. Do we each treasure some inviolate core of self, kept safe from our actions and choices? Would it matter if nobody ever saw it?

With such an interest in people, do you write about real life?

I never write about real life. I figure if I wanted reality, I could stand on a street corner and watch it. But I'm always thrilled to hear someone complain, "You wrote about me!", even though they're dead wrong. Because that's the idea: you're supposed to identify, it's what makes the characters rich. A male friend once proudly claimed I based Simon from Only Skin on him, which horrified me to hear. That character's a real jerk.

Pretty much every novel finds its germ in something that's happened to me, however. Even if you need to dig a long way back to find it.

Can you share some of them with us?

Well, with Automatons I remember back in school I had this classmate suddenly blurt out their conviction that people only believe in God because they're too weak to believe in themselves. I was of course flabbergasted. However, it got me pondering what it must be like to hold such an ironclad, one-size-fits-all belief concerning folk around you, especially people you know little to nothing about. Out of that, Joyce's character sprouted readily, like a gin-soaked weed from a compost heap. Only Skin had an even simpler genesis. I was on the beach, and became piqued by the odd behaviour of a young man sitting on his towel. Despite the fact that nobody was looking (well, besides myself), you could tell by his smirk beneath those mirrored glasses that he thought himself the bees' knees. Centre of the entire beach. Once again, it got me to wondering what life must be like experienced through those filters. He wasn't really seeing his surroundings at all. From there I came eventually to conceive of my sociopathic protagonist, Simon. A man with no true boundary between fantasy and reality.

How about your novel Outermen?

That's another that hearkens right back to school. We'd a representative from the space program in to give a talk. He spoke about the mundane aspects of space: fluid retention, skeletal damage, etc.

All shiny-eyed, front and centre, I couldn't get enough. We ran well overtime as I pelted the poor fellow with question after question. He's lucky I didn't knock him on the head and bundle him into the trunk of my car.

He gave me the context to see gravity, something we can't do without, as a physical barrier. To exist within a barrier is to be enclosed; you must have an inside, and a negated, unreachable outside.

Outermen is about an enclosed world, a world without a universe. And the terrible things that happen to those who dare to leave.

Even while working on books, you seem to find time to release short stories along the way. How do you approach composing shorter pieces, as opposed to novels?

What I try to convey in each medium is quite different. In a short story I aim less to string a narrative, and more to describe an event. A frozen moment. I wish the reader to understand how it felt, that one instance. To have somebody else's emotions put inside of them. Wear another skin, so to speak. Whereas when plotting a novel I commonly have a character's beginning state, their end state, and then take the audience on a journey to understand what could possibly take somebody from state a) to state b). The aim is to show how such a transformation may be plausible; or indeed, why somebody might fail to transcend themselves even when all the stars are right. Both long and short stories do share the same hopeful goal. I would like to change how my readers think or feel about something. Show them the world slightly different, even if it's only for a moment. Such glimpses can sow long-lasting changes.

Do you feel that working in a contentious genre like horror is helpful toward achieving such goals?

I find that when speaking to people, even with those who dislike it, horror has a universal accessibility. Few can claim to have never felt afraid: and to be afraid is to feel small, and mortal, and human. As a chronic nightmare-sufferer from way back, I find horror particularly liberating. It bestows boundaries on fear, helps to master it. Fictional evil can be avoided, subverted, or defeated. Even at its most extreme, failing all that, you know the story will end (ignoring the fourth-wall stuff).

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