Shells chats with author John X. Grey
What made you want to be an author of fiction?
After my failure to complete a Master’s degree in history during the 1990s, and a later personal religious salvation experience in April 1997, I gradually got the notion of trying fiction writing as a potential career by 1999. I had been an avid reader of fiction in the fantasy, horror and science-fiction genres, and non fiction academic subjects. I thought fiction writing might be the best possible career where I could become self-employed and use my active imagination for creativity’s sake.
What is your favorite thing to write about?
The basic answer would be whatever ideas come to mind. To elaborate further, I would say the less-than-perfect hero rising a basic evil force’s challenge or some daunting goal with greater (possibly cosmic) significance. And if the hero can be a little cynical or beaten down by life but not destroyed from adversity, I find that more appealing than the knight in shining armor type hero coming out of the muck immaculate and smelling like a rose.
What is your inspiration as an author?
My relationship with Jesus Christ since being saved in 1997 has inspired some of my novels. Various daydreams and nighttime dreams or fragments from those have also formed the basis for some of my shorter works. Also the good old fashioned settings of movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer or The Shadow with their strong nostalgic pulp fiction content depicting a simpler if imperfect actual past.
How has your studies in the history field helped with your writing?
What I learned as an aspiring historian has added some background color and setting structure to certain books or stories I’ve written, especially 20th century settings in my Jack Petrov stories and debut novel (A Legacy of Blood) and certain characters from that century (Evelyn Weiss from 1957 in Sister Helena of the Sword - an unpublished novel I intend entering at Amazon.com’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year). Another example was reading as a youth about the murderous Countess Elizabeth Bathory of 17th Century Hungary and later using that historical figure as the origin for the vampire in A Legacy of Blood.
Which do you find it harder to write short stories compared to longer works?
The short stories have sometimes proven far easier, especially when I have them clearly thought out to the point they could almost write themselves. On a few rare occasions I wrote stories in a few days, and during last year finished 45 fresh pieces of short fiction. My first novel took from August 1999 - June 2000 as a first draft, but my creative speed improved over time, and now a new rough draft novel can take from one to three months with additional months of revisions. The two novels written for 2010 and 2011's National Novel Writing Month were the briefest obviously at 28 and 26 days out of the 30-day contest period.
Is there a specific character you have written that is your favorite and why?
I would have to say private eye Jack Petrov at present, who came to life as an idea in 2001 when I wanted to create an adventurer in the Indiana Jones mold, but ended up mixing into that some of the hard luck from a Jim Rockford and the slightly-paranoid atmosphere of literary or film noir in creating Gotham, New Jersey as his home base. Jack is the hero almost worn down over time by evil forces, both supernatural and corrupt humanity, arrayed against him, but refuses to give in to the darkness, or at least not entirely, while championing his own sense of justice. A close second place goes to my costumed crime fighter Professor Midnight, inspired by similar pulp fiction or movie serial heroes of the 1920s and 1930s. That psychiatrist-turned-masked adventurer suffers tragedy but leads a more charmed life than the grittier Petrov even with the private detective’s innate inherited knack for hunting down vampires and the supernatural.
What do you find most challenging about being an author?
Finding an audience for my fiction, lacking reservoirs of self-confidence needed to be skilled as a shameless self-promoter. I get so little feedback from any readers complementing one of my two self-published novels or mentioning a story from some anthology I appear in. I began a website and blog in December 2010 and self-published two of my books last year, along with joining writing message boards and other similar web sites toward greater self-promotion. Unfortunately I cannot tell yet if these efforts are working or do not know what else I can try toward that end at present.
In your experience, how do you view the current writing world out there?
From my limited pessimistic vantage point, things look bleak, but then I’ve almost always been a glass half-empty person. Some bookstores that once sold the printed word are disappearing like relics, while online book sellers take their place even if I cannot tell whether those distribution channels are helpful to my career so far. I also see the increasing popularity of the e-book reader pads (Kindle, Nook, etc.) and am having my first novels adapted to the Kindle by CreateSpace even now. Personally I still like to hold printed pages between my hands for any reading and hope print never disappears entirely in a few more generations. Based on things I’ve read about the publishing business, mainly through the Internet in recent years, it seems harder for any new talent to break into the traditional writing career paths. I have only received token payments for a few stories in 2011, most of my work appearing in for-the-love story collections that grant some exposure at least, for which I remain grateful. The basically bottom line-minded book business (but all businesses think in those terms) wants the sure thing fiction bestseller from established names, just as with celebrity non-authors in non fiction books. Self-publishing appears to be one way around the career roadblocks, but could also become glutted with many books seeking some attention in the marketplace. I hope my work will stand out more in the future.
What is your ultimate goal as an author?
To become one with sufficient name recognition and a reputation for steady output of good material people will want to read, interweaving some ideas throughout stories that might make readers stop and think while being entertained. If I ever become the best seller, well and good, but I’d settle for a long career as the excellent second or third-tier writer with the small to medium very loyal and strong fan base awaiting the next John X. Grey novel or other project. The only things I imagine to stop me once having achieved that goal are death, disability preventing new work or just running out of good ideas. I would never want to retire.
Can you tell us a bit about your novels Worldjumpers and Legacy of Blood?
Worldjumpers: An amazing Journey to Parallel Worlds begins on a parallel Earth where World War III in 1997 destroyed all life except beneath an experimental force field over the small Ohio town of Hope Valley. The scientist responsible for that miracle, Dr. Thaddeus Woodcock, learns in July 2012 the field will fail by December 21st. His unacknowledged biological grandson, the mutant orphan Alon E. Strange Chance, accidentally activates a previously failed experimental machine, while hiding from tormenting bullies in Woodcock’s basement, that creates wormholes to parallel universes. The scientist sends Alon and six other orphaned mutants from the town’s orphanage as scouts to find another Earth where Hope Valley’s 5,000 survivors can begin again. Losing their connection to home through that machine, Alon learns he possesses an innate power (inherited from the biological father he meets on one parallel Earth) to move himself and anyone near him from one world to another, and the scouts continue journeying to various universes, but find each other Earth unsuitable for different reasons, even though they must locate the right one before Hope Valley’s protection fails. They will discover one paradise-seeming Earth, but also learn that living there requires a spiritual price.
A Legacy of Blood - Jack Petrov: Private Investigator/Vampire Hunter begins with a prologue showing how Jack Petrov learned of his vampire hunting abilities in 1919 Russia while a US Army soldier. Jumping forward to 1925, the story turns to that newly-minted private eye’s first case, after his pardon of crimes he was framed for by superiors in Gotham, New Jersey’s police department and city government. Jack is hired by a retired railroad executive Joshua Sloane to investigate the man’s estranged younger wife Helena after she left him and took their young son with her. Aided by bookseller and his retired mentor Willy Krauss, former police comrade Detective Dennis Dooley and local social worker Annie Mertz, Jack uncovers Hungarian immigrant Helena Sloane is in fact a 331-year-old vampire kidnaping and murdering Gotham inhabitants with aid from her loyal domestic servants to drink and bathe in blood for the sake of perpetual youth. Helena is also an illegitimate granddaughter of infamous 17th Century Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Frustrated at every turn to expose Helena, when corrupt city leaders consider him a traitor for his exoneration sending Gotham cops and politicians to prison instead, and losing Annie as he realizes his attraction toward her to Helena’s hypnotic powers, Jack must pretend joining the vampire’s conspiratorial circle for destroying her.
Is there a specific thing from each of these novels you wish readers to understand?
I guess from Worldjumpers and A Legacy of Blood the idea of continued perseverance in the face of adversity, whether from the unfriendly inhabitants of some parallel Earth or the dark, sinister forces both supernatural and mortal in a fictional small New Jersey city, is presented in both my novels, even though practicing it myself in real life has been difficult sometimes. Worldjumpers also concludes with the literal and metaphorical leap of faith required by Alon Chance to gain a new life in paradise, faith being required pursuing a career I consider my calling from God.
Where can we find these novels?
They are for sale at both CreateSpace and Amazon.com. Worldjumpers is now $11.99 (reduced in price from the original $12.99 last month) and A Legacy of Blood $14.99. The Kindle editions for each should be available in a few weeks. I also expect a wider distribution with CreateSpace to other booksellers and including any libraries ordering copies if patrons request those books. They can be found with the keywords "parallel worlds" and "science-fiction" for Worldjumpers and "horror fiction," "vampire hunter" and "vampire noir" for A Legacy of Blood.
Based on your experience with self-publishing, what advice would you give to an author that wanted to take that route?
When all else fails in terms of getting your books to readers, assuming you have the money and time to work with CreateSpace or some other reputable self-publishing company, I say go for it. I regret not trying self-publishing sooner after almost a dozen years of wall-to-wall rejections by large and small publishers and literary agents since 2000 for six different marketed novels. You don’t have to settle for rejection by those gatekeepers in the traditional publishing routes. Just make certain your work is the best possible final draft before any self-publication.
Where can people find out more about you?
I have an author page at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/_/e/B004E5AHE6) and my web page with blog from Weebly.com (http://theanticelebrityjohnxgrey.weebly.com/), the latter site with a revamped blog starting over this year after removing some controversial or self-pitying rants from 2011. Both contain listings of my short and long fiction work, and the Weebly site also has some first chapter excerpts from some of my nine unpublished novels. I also plan to post unpublished short stories for feedback visitors wish to give. Someday I intend publishing those stories in an "orphaned" tales collection. The web site has the label "Anti-Celebrity" to make my pen name John X. Grey more distinctive and mocking America’s celebrity-worshiping culture. I hope at least some visitors to those pages will eventually read and enjoy my work.
Posted by Shells W