Friday, September 14, 2012

Author Interview--Craig Grossman

Good Friday,

Welcome back to Fiction Friday and another author interview. This week we have Craig Grossman. As always, the interviewee will do the talking. Take it away, Craig.

-What book and/or experience made you want to be a writer?

I’m not sure there is one book or experience that I would classify as the driving force behind my decision to become a writer. Rather, it was more of an ongoing process through college that began with adding creative twists to assigned papers and getting good feedback on those. At first, I wanted to write non-fiction, but when I took a fiction writing class, I was hooked. I then changed my major to creative writing and earned my BA. I then Attended Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program and earned an Master of Arts degree in the mystery genre. Then the program changed to A Master of Fine Arts, so I continued and earned that degree in the Horror genre. A Walk Through Hell, is my thesis novel for the Master of Arts in Mystery.

-What genre do you write?

My first novel, A Walk Through Hell, is a neo-noir suspense/thriller. Many people ask me just what neo-noir is, and I explain to them that unlike traditional noir where you have a protagonist who is on the “right” side of the law, neo-noir protagonists tend to be of the criminal element.

-Publication history?

A Walk Through Hell, 2009

Short Stories
Perception, Eye Contact Literary Magazine, 2008
Duty, Backroads magazine, 2005
Snowfall, Backroads Magazine, 2005

Better Safe than Sorry, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (one act play performed)

Twelve Boys, Separation, Washington Square, Backroads Magazine, 2007
Gone, Terror, The Edge, Backroads Magazine, 2006

-Works in progress?

I currently am working on three projects that I had begun and put aside. I hope to have them ready to shop around in the next six-months to a year.

-For other aspiring writers, any tips?

Well, here’s my chance to give words of wisdom.

The first and foremost tip I can give to any aspiring writer is to write. Without words on the page—no matter how sloppy or poorly written—there is no chance for success.

Second, find a place, or time, to write that motivates you. Writing is hard work and trying to do it on a whim only exasperates the problems that come with it.

Third, Writer’s block is a myth. Sure there are times when you can’t get the words out for your current project, but that doesn’t mean that you have nothing to write. Even freewriting counts (this goes back to tip #1.

Fourth and final, revise, revise, and revise again. Don’t be afraid to cut blocks of text or to add what’s necessary to make your writing the best it can be.

-What’s your favorite book/genre to read?

I read almost anything that survives the first pages test. That being said my favorite genres are horror and mystery. I also like to read non-fiction.

-What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

Hmm, it’s hard to place one complete work above the other, so I think I’ll focus on my favorite scenes. I wrote a scene where a guy who stole from a crime boss had his tongue cut out in a horrible torture scene that I later revised and used in my novel—A Walk Through Hell. I also wrote a scene where one of my protagonists meets up with the woman he has been fantasizing about, and they witness a murder of crows kill one of their own. Another scene I like is the dream sequence where my protagonist spirals into the eye of someone and hangs on to the edge for dear life and then falls into another world where souls are tended to in fields by large ant-men, sort of a surreal Alice through the rabbit hole.

Want more from Craig?

Check out Craig’s website here.

Want to read “A Walk Through Hell?”

Grab it on Amazon in trade paperback or for the Kindle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"That idiot, over there."

Welcome to another Writer’s Wednesday

Last week I discussed villains. Today, I will discuss the necessary component to almost any villain—the bumbling henchman. Following that, I will begin a sub-series that I have entitled “Wednesday Word Tally” and that will continue every Wednesday for the remainder of 2012.

Before I begin, though, a tribute. Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of a tragedy on American soil—9/11. That day called into action many new fears, sorrows, and questions for the United States. In the last eleven years, I’ve been asked many questions myself about how the attacks affected me. Where were you? How old were you? Did you know anyone who was killed in the attacks? What do you remember feeling when you found out? My answers are mine, but I have a feeling they are not unique.

I was sitting in my seventh grade history class. We were about to begin another class discussing an ancient civilization (which escapes me) when one of the librarians walked into the room. She exchanged words with our teacher, and then said teacher informed us that the Twin Towers had been hit. I was twelve. At first I thought the entire thing had been an accident—how quickly that reaction, born of childhood innocence, was taken from me.

Thirty seconds changed the world I knew and took for granted as safe. I didn’t fully understand. What twelve-year-old could? In the last eleven years I’ve grown to understand. I’ve learned that as much as I wanted to curl into a ball and hide from the world that day, I couldn’t because that was exactly what the terrorists wanted. And how can I justify curling up and pretending nothing happened when three thousand people are dead?

If there’s one lesson to take from 9/11 it is to never give in. Don’t stop living your life. Fear is crippling. Fear lives in all of us. But we need to fight. Not just for ourselves but for those who lost. We need to fight for 3000 people who woke up and went to work or got on a plane and who never dreamed they’d never see their loved ones again. Fight the fear. Fight for the hope.

Please join me in a moment of silence for the 9/11 victims and their families and loved ones.


Thank you


All right, evil henchmen. Why are they there? I’ve discovered a couple of uses. I’ve seen them be comic relief, allow the villain’s presence to be in multiple places at once, mess up the villains plans, and annoy the villain.

Notice that I did not include “help the villain.” While this does happen occasionally, I’ve seen far more cases of just the opposite.

What does this mean for the creation of henchmen? It means that room should not be left within the story’s plot for the “henchman’s great discovery.” Odds are good, there isn’t one. To try and help this process, here are three qualities to give your characters to make them the best (or maybe worst) henchmen ever.

-“I’ve got the gold here, pa.” – The Outlaw Josie Wales
This is a common problem. Money is tantalizing, and henchmen often fall for the “I’ve got the gold/money/loot/gems/valuable cargo” line. And, just as often, there is no valuable cargo to speak of. In its place is usually a weapon that the good guy uses to shoot the henchman. But if the henchman didn’t fall for the gold line, then the villain might. What good would that be?

-“I want my own Robin Signal in the sky.” – Batman (1997)
Believe it or not, the side-kick of Gotham City’s caped crusader actually said this. Though Robin is not an evil henchman, the concept outlined here still applies. I will refer to another quote from my father to explain this. “All super heroes have a weakness. Superman had kryptonite. Batman had Robin.” And why was Robin a weakness? Aside from the obvious fact that Batman would have survived just fine without him, Robin’s ego grew from association with the disguised Bruce Wayne. It’s no good when henchmen’s egos get inflated. They start to think on their own and question the villain’s motives. “I do not like bright and ambitious people. You have to watch them all the time” (Hogan’s Heroes). Translation—smart people think, figure stuff out, and eventually want to be the villain rather than the stupid side man.

-“So you took care of him, huh? Dead as a doornail. Weren’t those your exact words?” – Disney’s Hercules
Henchman will lie to their boss to save their skin. While loyal (mainly because they don’t think about exactly why they’re working for a nut case who wants to blow up the world) they are also extremely into self-preservation. They know the villain will be furious when he discovers their mistake—might even find a new stupid henchman. So they do whatever they must to keep their job. This always backfires because, sooner or later, the cat gets out of the bag.

Keep these in mind when creating your own henchmen. They are kind of like puppies—incredibly loyal but not terribly smart. I mean this lovingly. I love puppies. All dogs are puppies, but the comparison here works.

Wednesday Word Tally

I announced on my Facebook author page about a week ago that I was making it my goal to finish two of the novels I have in progress by New Years. At the time, one was just under 20,000, and the other was (still is) sitting around 35,000 words. So I decided to take the one that was just under 20,000 and keep track of my words. I did some quick math and found out that to reach my total word goal of 80,000 by December 31, I would have to write 531 words a day.

That’s easy!

Right. As any writer will tell you, that seems like nothing until you get that week where there’s no time whatsoever. All of a sudden, it’s a thousand words a day, then two thousand, and so on.

However I really really do want to finish this by December 31. So, to keep myself honest and to have a public record of my word count each week, I will be posting it here.

But that’s not all. To compliment my Wednesday Word Tally, I will give a little info about the book each week—character profiles, concept inspiration, excerpts. But never enough to give the story away.

Week 1

I have mentioned this work in passing before. It is an urban fantasy set in New York City in a world where magic is a part of everyday life. So, it’s New York as we know it with wizards, fairies, vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, pixies, witches…all right. Maybe it’s not exactly how we know it. Oh and humans. There are plenty of humans walking around perfectly aware of their magical counterparts.

DayStart CountWrittenFinal Count

Total words this week: 3090
Average per day: 1030
Words remaining: 57,552

Wednesday Word Tally is made possible by Practiceboard (an html practice site provided by and the basic calculator.

Monday, September 10, 2012

SF vs. Fantasy - Round 1: FIGHT!

K, this post actually doesn’t pit sf and fantasy against one another. I just really wanted to use that Mortal Kombat reference. Lol

Hello folks,

Happy Monday and welcome back. Today is the second in a series of installments that will be based off of my responses to the books for my science fiction and fantasy readings in the genre class for Seton Hill. Two weeks ago I discussed George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.” This week “Game of Thrones” is still on the scene, but the science fiction work “Leviathan Wakes” by James Corey is joining it. Together, the works represent the sources for my comparison of science fiction and fantasy and what readers expect/take from each. Here we go.

NOTE: For the sake of argument, when I refer to fantasy throughout this post, unless otherwise specified, I mean epic fantasy and its similar subgenres.

SF (science fiction) vs. fantasy

How much of a “vs.” is there here? Let’s start with the basics.

The following points are generalized to each genre. Not all works from both may exhibit these qualities.

-rooted in science of some kind
-people have developed new behaviors to adapt to life
-as of yet undeveloped living conditions and technology

-takes place in the past
-contains a magic system of some kind
-people live and behave as they would in the appropriate era
-contains past forms of living conditions and society appropriate to the era it resembles

All right, that’s not all of them, but it’s enough for now. On the surface, the two genres look very different, but what I’ve listed here is what you’d include on a venn diagram. These points can be easily applied to “Leviathan Wakes” and “Game of Thrones” respectively.

“Leviathan Wakes” definitely takes place in the future, which is evident by the technology and the fact that people are living in space. The story is rooted in science. If you took away the space ships and other advances (such as the ability to change the amount of gravity effecting an area), the story falls apart. People have developed new behaviors to adapt to life—such as the gesture of nodding with one's hand brought about by the inability to nod normally while in a space suit. Finally, there are living conditions, such as 0g, that we don’t have today. And there is definitely the feeling of futuristic society. The human civilizations not on Earth rely on the Earth for everything. And I mean everything—water, food, air, etc. If that’s not different, what is? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what I’d do if I was suddenly thrust into an environment where breathable air wasn’t a given.

Similarly, Thrones exhibits the elements that define fantasy. It takes place in a time that we’d consider the past. There is a magic system (no matter how small/as of yet unexplored). People in Martin’s world live as people would have in the past. High-born individuals do what they must to keep their land and their own safe and empowered, and the characters address one another formally (i.e. “My Lady Mother). Finally, there is no electricity, horses are the main mode of travel, and dueling is commonplace. All of these are symbols of a time not our own.

So yes, Leviathan and Thrones fit within the basic outlines of their genre. That’s good for a surface look, but what about a deeper analysis? Take away these basic elements. What’s left?

-escapist (to whatever degree)
-what people will do in extraordinary (ones we don’t face today) situations
-how people will survive (or not) against impossible odds and how the battle will change them

I would argue that these three elements are present in both sf and fantasy. They are orchestrated in two very different ways for each genre, but they are still there.

-Escapist—both genres offer readers the opportunity to move away from current life and into another world. Whether readers want to move forward or back in time—whether they want to live in a world of science or magic is completely up to them. But the opportunity is basically the same. “Leviathan Wakes” offers its readers the chance to leap forward in time to see what mankind can accomplish and possibly become. Thrones, by contrast, hurls its readers back in time to an era where kings and lords vie for power and dominance in an environment where trust and friendship are a luxury. No matter which you choose, you are still thrust into a world that is not today’s.

-what people will do in extraordinary situations—Eddard Stark (“Game of Thrones”) finds himself in a place to make a difference where the king’s heir is concerned. He tries and fails. Jim Holden (“Leviathan Wakes”) is over and over again given important information that he chooses to broadcast to everyone who is listening. These two men can be considered righteous and both want to bring truth out into the open. Eddard fails. Holden succeeds. That’s not the important part, though. What matters is that the situations are remarkably similar for taking place so many thousands of years apart. Both genres are still about humans and what humans will do.

-facing impossible odds and the changes those odds bring—Daenerys (“Game of Thrones”) sets fire to her beloved, gives him up, and emerges from the flames with dragons. To get there, though, she overcame her brother, faced her fears about becoming more than she was, found her voice, watched her husband die, and was betrayed by the woman who said she’d help save him. Through all of that, I’d still say she came out ahead. Miller (“Leviathan Wakes”) leads a ship that has basically developed the ability to think for itself off of its collision course with Earth. It’s not clear if he survives. He’s not sure if he’ll survive, but he does it anyway. He throws himself into a situation where he might die to save Earth. Both characters faced seemingly insurmountable tasks and find the strength within themselves to succeed.

These points laid out, I don’t think “vs.” applies to the difference between sf and fantasy. Beyond the basics that define the genre, there’s very little difference between the stories, challenges, and characters that inhabit the worlds of both. I’d go so far to argue that they are two ends of the same spectrum.

Now don’t go all crazy on me. They are two separate genres, but maybe there’s a reason they’re lumped together on bookstore shelves. They’re about larger than life people taking on larger than life challenges and finding larger than life solutions.

So why read one? Why like one more than the other? For some I suspect the answer is simply “I like stories about outer space” or “I like stories about magic.” I’m going to dig deeper. Diving into my academic past for a minute, in one of my psychology classes in undergrad we talked about what peoples’ interests say about them. It came up that people who embraced science (either by finding it fascinating or making it their life’s work) were more accepting of change. Similarly, people who were less accepting of science (who favored the humanities majors—English, history, etc.) were more resistant to change.

I’m going to run with this for a second. Hold your fire. If what I’ve just said is supported by research, does it then stand to reason that people who read sf are people who embrace change and are looking for a way to see into the future? Conversely, are people who read fantasy more resistant to change and interested in looking backward in time?

I’m not saying that all people who read sf are eager to advance and that all people who read fantasy want to go back to the horse and buggy. What I am saying is that each genre supplies its readers with something that they need to keep their world stable. Sf offers its readers the opportunity to dream big. It gives people who want it the ability to look forward, see the future, and possibly even gather ideas to make that future a reality. Fantasy, by contrast, lets its readers rest secure in the knowledge that the world isn’t advancing too quickly. It allows people to sit back and forget about the potentially frightening prospects of a universe where inter-stellar travel is possible. These assumptions in mind, people who read both would then be neither overly accepting nor resistant to change.

People read for all sorts of reasons—pleasure, education, class. Books give each person something different. I argue that sf and fantasy don’t so much fill reader expectations as fill readers’ voids. It gives them what cannot be found in everyday life. It eliminates that hole where curiosity, fear, amazement, or desire sits. Whether it's into the hypothetical future or fabricated past they go, readers take comfort from their genre.

See you out of the box,