I was incredibly lucky to meet Geoffrey Girard at ConGlomeration 2016 at his book release party for first communions, a brand new collection of short stories. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite short story writers and had a bunch of other great works out there as well! I also had the opportunity to interview him about his writing and his most recent collection.
Becoming a Writer and the Writing Process
1. Hi Geoffrey, thanks for agreeing to this interview! It was nice meeting you at ConGlomeration this weekend. I really appreciate the time you took to talk to a young writer like me and learned a lot listening to you speak on panels. I wanted to ask you first about when you first wanted to be a writer and what your first stories were about.
Hello, Stephen. Yes, there was a good core ardent band of writers at Conglomeration and it was great meeting so many new folk. I’ve learned so much from other writers during my career; so glad to ever play that same role for others.
My first stories were all rip-offs of Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and Mary Stewart; epic fantasies of 40 hand-written pages written in “college bluebooks” nicked from my father. I wanted to be a writer because of these writers. Then McCaffrey and Burroughs. This was elementary-school stuff. Soon after, I’d find King, Straub, Lovecraft, Joyce, etc. Books and reading are my favorite thing, period. I knew I wanted to someday be part of that from the other side.
2. Was there any experience that motivated you to continue writing, or any piece of fiction that especially stood out to you as a young reader?
There were these story collections printed under Hitchcock’s name (like Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery) and I reread each of those fifty times. Darker stuff, short stories. Can’t imagine why I write what I do. And, I was too young to see The Shining when it came out and, so, asked my mom if I could buy the book. Finding King – a writers’ writer, one who cares about craft and shared a ton about the process and industry in his notes – meant a lot. This was before the internet, so it was harder to get info on what “being an author” was really like. King’s discussion of such things provided a path.
3. Do you often self-edit? If so, how has your editing process changed over the years of being a writer?
I still typically self-edit and, so, often write very slowly. I can write 5k words a day, but am usually only good for 500-1,000. The payoff is I don’t do rewrites. Once the page is written, that’s 95% what shows up on the printed piece. That hasn’t changed over the years, not even going back to when I worked in advertising. I like to get it right the first time; sometimes that takes time. You can bang out a rough and fix it six times. Or, you can labor over every sentence. End of the day, either way, you’re looking at 4-7 months to write a book.
4. I heard you talk a lot about research, something I appreciate in fiction yet I have a difficult time knowing where to look and what to put in. How do you go about doing your research and determining what to put in the work or keep out?
Research has always been my favorite part of the writing process. Selfish, I suppose; I like to learn. But I also teach for a living, so I also enjoy passing on what I’ve learned and helping others discover new things. I read a lot before any project, sometimes for a year. A dozen books. For one 4k-word short story in first communions, about a coalmining town, I read four books. I know Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” has more to do with narrative./thematic omission than research, but it’s the same principle” know a lot, the things that really matter to the story will find their way to the top in the telling of the story. You need that huge foundation beneath, however. That comes with reading and interviews/people and travel.
5. How has being a teacher informed your writing and what is one piece of advice that you give your students?
Many times, I’ll say: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” It’s my way of encouraging them to look at other writers’ work specifically for devices/moments/etc. that worked, to grab for their own use later. Few weeks ago, I read Karr's The Liars' Club with the sole intention of uncovering what she did so I can attempt to steal it and use.
6. So I encountered the Cain XP11 short story in an early edition of Apex Magazine, loved it, and saw that it had turned into two separate novels. Could you tell me a bit about that work and how you came up with such an interesting idea?
I’d rewritten Cain XP11 to sell as a YA novel, an introduction to serial killers for teens. When I sent to an agency for representation, they suggested it’d work better as an adult novel. So, I went away and wrote and adult novel (CAIN’S BLOOD) and they took me on as a client. During the same call, they asked if I’d be interested in trying a teen novel again/also. So, I went off and wrote PROJECT CAIN in first-person POV of the teen clone of Jeffrey Dahmer 9a side character in CAIN’S BLOOD). My new agents then went around new York trying to sell both books: ultimately Simon & Schuster published both books the same day.
7. What about a story determines whether the work will be short fiction or a longer work like a novel?
The answer is a tad mercenary: I’m always writing to market. When I was selling short stories, or whenever I’ve been invited to submit a short story to an anthology, I think of ideas that’ll be good short stories. The idea part is driven by the end goal. Ditto for novels: when it’s time for me to think of my next novel idea, I knock around ideas that might work as a novel. I rarely have eureka moments where some story idea just pops into my head. Usually, I’m being creative for a very specific purpose.
8. Many stories I’ve read of yours including First Communions and Cain XPII are very dark and fall in the horror genre. What draws you to write in this genre? Have you tried writing in other genres?
I try to write about normal stuff — I really do – but always seem to imagine all the terrible things that can happen. Those terrible things eventually get personified into various forms of “monster,” from demons and ghosts to serial killers and imperious corporations. I personally/naturally anticipate the worst case scenario in just about any situation, so you’re gonna get some dark stories. I have a few impending projects that aren’t particularly dark in concept; but, I’m sure they’ll become bloodbaths. Ultimately, I always hope readers will be entertained and discover new ways to reflect on the real world.
9. Do you consciously decide whether a story will fall in the YA category or be an adult fiction work?
For sure. Not a fan when writers claim they “didn’t know what they were writing” and just “wrote the best story they could” and let their agents and marketing figure it out. Sorry, if that’s the case: you’re a shitty writer. You’re not taking into account audience; and that’s maybe rule #1 in communicating. (Am I being too much of an English teacher? Maybe.) Recently heard the Book Thief author explain how he’d written an adult book that became a book for kids only when the USA published it. And it’s a stunning book, brilliantly written, and I’ve read it several times, but he’s right: It IS an adult book. Regardless of sales to schools, etc. If he’d known it was for younger readers, he’d have – I strongly suspect – changed a lot.
10. What can readers expect in the future from you?
A sequel to the Book Thief. If not that, TRUTHERS, about a girl who discovers she may be part of the 9/11 conspiracy, comes out Fall, 2017. Then another teen novel and then back to adult thriller. (2018 pubs)
11. Many of the stories in first communions revolve around faith. What about this theme inspired you to write these stories?
Not intentional. Was exploring other specific themes at the time in most of them. It was one of the professors during my Masters defense who brought up the faith thing and brought up half a dozen examples, and I went: “Oh, yeah….” I was too close to them at the time. These stories cover ten years of writing and half a dozen genres (all leaning dark, but still a good mix). Took someone else to point out how faith issues keep coming up: clearly something I think about, which is fair.
12. What have you learned after revisiting these stories to put them in this collection?
You see the patterns. Things that clearly resonate with me personally (things of joy and not) because they show up in stories a couple times. An example: people standing. Several times I use that in pivotal scenes as an example of something really really terrible: just standing there and not doing anything. Made me do a little self-reflection, I assure you.
13. These stories are downright chilling. Do you remember yourself being afraid when writing them?
The cool answer to give is yes: they’re really terrifying, blah blah. The emotion, for me, comes before I write and after. Writing is its own separate process. Maybe that’ll change over time. “Scared” is such a specific emotion: not since the 7th grade and the Amityville Horror has a book really scared me anyway. I read horror for different emotions and reasons.
14. Thank you so much for doing this interview. I am really enjoying the collection. Is there anything else you want your readers to know when approaching first communions?
Thank you, also. I’d want to tell ‘em it’s a pretty darn good mix pf speculative fiction. Horror, Sci-Fi, dark fantasy, historical, etc. If you like King’s short work, or Bradbury’s dark stuff, Barker, Kelly Link… you won’t be disappointed.
Check out Geoffry Girard's new work first communions published by Apex Publications and his other work at www.geoffreygirard.com