Interview with Author Gregory L. Norris

Bec: Welcome to my blog, please start out by sharing a little bit about yourself –

Hello Rebecca (and Rebecca’s readers). My name is Gregory L. Norris and when I was little, I promised my grandmother, the late, great Lovey Norris, that I would discover the secret for immortality so that she would live forever. My grandmother was a brilliant, gifted woman. In a way, I kept my promise because I frequently write about her, and dedicate books like my The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Alyson Books, 2008) to her. So as long as my work stays in print, she has been immortalized, after a fashion.

I am a professional writer, with work published in a wide range of venues. For many years, I wrote feature articles and columns for national magazines, mostly sports and celebrity stuff. I’ve had many short stories and over a dozen novels published, the odd nonfiction book, even a TV episode or two. Now, I am solely focused on my fiction writing, in its various formats – the short story, novella, novel, and screenplay. Writing is all that I’ve wanted to do since I was fifteen years old. And pretty much all that I have done, even when the world has tossed up roadblocks and distractions. Now, in my mid-40s, I’m blessed to be able to write full-time without much in the way of distraction.

Bec: What first got you interested in writing?

I grew up in a beautiful small town called Windham, New Hampshire, surrounded by tall, dense pine trees, a lake, meadows.  I had a best friend.  We watched Lost in Space, the original Star Trek, and the most-awesome Creature Double-Features on WLVI Channel 56 out of Boston – on rabbit ears.  When he moved away, my only close friend was my imagination.  The year I turned ten, Gerry Anderson’s brilliant series Space:1999premiered on an early September Tuesday night.  I was so blown away, so challenged by the pilot episode in which the moon is blasted out of Earth’s orbit, taking the men and women of Moonbase Alpha deep into unexplored and often hostile space, that I picked up a pen and began to write my own episodes.  Those juvenile stories still lurk in the top drawer of one of my lateral filing cabinets.  I’m approaching my 1000th completed fiction project, and #1000 will be a Space:1999 novel called Metamorphosis.  I plan to finish it in Los Angeles in September of 2012 – at the 1999 fan convention, where actors from the show will be in attendance, which I think is fitting.

Bec: What are the worst struggles you think writers face, writing and marketing?

From experience, I know the biggest and worst of them is the wolf at the door that threatens a writer’s survival.  I worked very long hours, often with disappointing results, to keep a roof over my head, food on the table, the bills paid, and my pets fed.  I’ve had many experiences in the past where I worked like a madman to deliver articles, books, etc., on time, only to have paychecks show up later than promised, if at all.  One national publication folded leaving me owed more than $5,000.00 for work that was contracted for and published – at a time when that kind of money would have made all the difference in the world.  The worry about staying afloat is a terrible thing for a writer to face and keep writing – and even great writers like Lovecraft struggled to keep that wolf away.  But it can also motivate, and has lit a match under my theso (as my Lebanese grandmother would have said) to produce, to complete, to edit, and to submit to ever larger markets.

As for marketing, I’ve learned that one truly has to network through social media, a decent blog, and by constantly submitting only the best, most polished work.  One must and should be vigilant to get the right sort of notice.  I don’t believe in the writer’s block, which I think is a convenient excuse for not writing daily.  I choose to believe in the Muse, instead.  The passionate relationship I’ve earned with mine has led to incredible output.  One of the best obstacles I’ve overcome is learning to get out of my own way.  Once I did that, the amount of joy for writing in every phase of the creative process has been constant.

Bec: Tell us about your book/s –

My short stories routinely appear in anthologies.  In the summer of 2011, I was approached about doing a single-author collection of original stories by the editorial powers-that-be at Evil Jester Press, who recently published the brilliant Help! Wanted anthology.  The stories could be anything I wanted, so long as they were engaging, creepy, and page-turners.  I think I accomplished that with The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris, which is being launched in March at World Horror Con in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As a note, I turned in the manuscript last November, as it was then-envisioned at a very healthy 100,000 words.  Senior Editor Peter Giglio came back to me with an offer to bulk up the book to twice that length, to include a number of the stories I sold to various anthologies at The Library of Horror, who cancelled most of their anthology projects this past October – I had some two dozen stories and novellas accepted for those books.  This also gave me the opportunity to add to the variety of the collection, so I penned five original stories to enhance what already existed, four of those five novella-length.  Muse is a tip of the hat to those old Creature Double-Features, and explores all the things that have terrified me over the years, like homelessness, spiders, haunted houses, snake-infested swamps, giant monsters, alien abduction, dolls, my father.  In one of the stories, a brooding castle high on a hill can only be seen when the wind is blowing just right – as a kid growing up, our town had such a castle, and you could see it at certain times of the year if the weather conditions were correct.  I had many dreams about trying to cross the woods to reach the castle, and my story “Alms of the Dead” plays off one such dream.  There is also a horror novella with romance elements that I hope surprises readers.  The whole collection, I hope, is surprising.  One story is set in ancient Abydos, Egypt; another, 1960s London.  I take readers to Tora Bora in Afghanistan, the Everglades in 1946, Rwanda in 1994, and to the L-shaped room at the back of my home.

I am the author of numerous novels, both as Gregory L. Norris and my Rom-de-plume, Jo Atkinson.  A decent selection of my titles can be found at Ravenous Romance (www.ravenousromance.com) or by doing a Google.  My novella “The Mushrooms” was one of five contained in the recent Grand Mal Press release, MalContents.  I’m particularly fond of that tale, which pits a celebrity chef in a kind of kitchen competition she never imagined after a jealous wannabe convinced the chef has stolen a family recipe corners her, intent on revenge.

Presently, I am wrapping up new manuscripts for my publishers, including a novel for GMP, two for Ravenous Romance, and a boxing-themed novel for another publisher who has graciously invited me to be one of his regular novel writers.

Bec: Are you working on a sequel/s?

I am – a novella, “Windtryst,” which is a sequel to a swashbuckling future romance I penned last year called “The Winter Waltz.”  I am also wrapping up a sequel to my shapeshifter romance novel, The Wolfpact 1: Endangered Love (Ravenous Romance), which was republished as a special edition by Home Shopping Network for their “Escape With Romance” collection in 2009 and 2010.

Bec: If the world came to an end, which restaurant would you raid for food first?

Though I have a fondness for Panera Bread’s asiago bagels, it would have to be a Chinese restaurant, one with a great hot-and-sour soup, boneless spare ribs, and a decent egg foo yong, with lots of brown sauce.

Bec: What other projects are you working on or involved with?

I have a screenplay in draft form that I’m pretty excited about called “Bully” and a bunch of stories of varying length and format that I’m eager to tackle.  I was invited by three different editors to contribute to anthologies they’re publishing, so I’m also working on half a dozen short stories.  One, “Mason’s Murder,” is a surreal mystery set at a private beach and is really challenging me, which I love the work to do.  Since I was fifteen, I’ve kept all of my ideas on note cards stored in a metal recipe box, which sits on my desk.  For three decades, I’ve gone to sleep, hearing them call to me in the night.  Eventually, I hope to listen to every last one.  Empty out that idea box.  The most recent headcount was 132 unwritten ideas, which sounds a lot, but six years ago, the number surpassed 260, which was a bit overwhelming.

Bec: What’s your favorite color?

Cobalt blue.  My wardrobe is peppered with it – shirts and even my new black cross-trainers have cobalt blue laces and soles.  We have cobalt blue glass lamps, plates, goblets, bowls, and other decorative pieces all around the house.  Seafoam-green pulled a close second for a long while.  I find builder beige and eggshell repellent.

Bec: If a bridge troll told you that you had to give them one of your limbs to cross the bridge and get back to your family, which would you give him?

Hmmm…I like my legs, I love both arms right where they are.  I’d probably try to trick him with that fake limb I keep in the closet, behind my Christmas decorations.

Bec: Do you like to listen to music while you write or have complete silence?

I love to listen to the right music.  Nothing that screams at me.  I also love to write to the television.  When I first started writing, I would write in front of the tube, lying on my stomach, with root beer and pretzels at my side – a favorite writing snack to this day.  In the summer, I write with baseball in the background.  In the autumn on Sundays, I love to write in my living room with the football game on our flatscreen TV.  And when there’s aStargate Atlantis or Project Runway marathon on the tube, I’m in there all day, tearing fresh pages off, one after another.  I’ve written in cafés, in hotel rooms, at the MFA in Boston in front of original van Gogh paintings, on trains, buses, and airplanes…though the cabin pressure tends to force the ink out of my fountain pens in big blots.  Messy business when I’m traveling to Los Angeles.

Bec: What genres do you most like to read/write?

I love Paranormal Romance – to read and to write.  I love good, spooky horror, preferably light on the gore.  I’m a sucker for a mystery, an epic science fiction tale, anything, really, even the literary genre.  I used to say that I hated Westerns because growing up, that’s what they showed on TV for the rest of the weekend when the cool stuff, the Creature Double-Features, weren’t on.  Then I wrote a romantic Western and have been in love with the genre since, to read and to write.

Bec: If you came face to face with the REAL Santa, what would you say to him?

How the hell did you get in and out of the heating system in the house where I grew up?  We had no chimney.

Bec: Do you find writing a lonely profession?

I did, once, a very long time ago, but even then the payoff for devoting my time to so worthwhile an effort far outweighed anything else I might have gained by walking away from the desk.  Today, and for the past six years, I don’t feel alone.  In the late spring of 2006, I gave my Muse a face, and he’s been a constant companion, equal parts taskmaster and lover.  So I certainly don’t feel lonely or alone, and if I don’t spend copious amounts of time with the Muse, the writing, I get very cranky.  So does he!

Bec: Which do you think is more valuable to a writer: Toilet paper or printer paper?

I live in the country, where we have plenty of trees and, as such, leaves, so I’m going with the printer paper.

Bec: What would you share with a beginning writer?

To write often, every day in fact.  You can always find some time to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper.  A true writer will generally do this anyway; it’s impossible to resist the Muse.  To write when no one else believes in you. To edit fiercely and submit only your best effort, every time.  When an editor passes on a manuscript but asks to see your next, thank the editor and send along your next.  More than anything, to embrace one’s writing like the gift that it is, which is a second heartbeat, as important as blood and oxygen.

Bec: What do you wish someone would have told you when you first started your writing journey?

Demand ‘Notice of Tentative Credits’ upfront and early – a screenwriting term I learned the importance of too late while working on my two episodes of Paramount Television’s Star Trek: Voyager series.  ‘Notice’ entitles you to see how the writing credits will appear at the start of your episode and to challenge them if your name isn’t spelled correctly (or even there!).

Bec: If there was only one kind of cheese in the world, which would you like it to be?

Muenster.  Because it’s really yummy and it sounds like “Monster.”  We love our Monster Cheese in this house, with rosemary and olive oil crackers, summer sausage, and big bunches of red seedless grapes.

Bec: Do you think having other writers as friends is a good thing for your growth as a writer?

I think having the right writer friends can be tremendously helpful.  Throughout high school, my friendship with a poet named Tina proved invaluable.  We read our work to one another, wrote together, talked shop and shared our very big dreams.  For the past nineteen years, I’ve split my time between three different writing groups, with mixed results.  I’ve met and made some great friends, but also seen the absolute worst that can result from rubbing elbows with your fellow creatives, such as jealous writers seeking any entrance into the publishing realm; individuals who would leave deep divots in your spine from walking over you.  So again, the friendships that result can be wonderful and supportive, and those are the ones you want.  The people who knife you in the shoulders are to be avoided, and will make great villains in your stories.

Bec: What’s your favorite book? Why?

I would have to say On Writing by Stephen King.  That book gave me a sort of permission slip that I needed at the time when I first read it.  I usually read that book twice yearly as a bit of a refresher.  It’s also a fun read.  On my recent trip to New York City, I cracked open the latest issue of The Writer and read it cover to cover.  I enjoy upbeat trade publications.

Bec: What’s your favorite kind of jello?

Black raspberry or blackberry.  This question conjured an image I haven’t thought about in a very long time: seeing the plastic rings of jello parfait at the grocery store when I was a kid, all those bright and dreamy colors, and salivating in response.  To this day, I’d take jello with fruit over chocolate cake any night of the week.

Bec: Who’s your favorite author? Why?

Edgar Allen Poe.  When my first book Ghost Kisses was published in 1994, I would travel to my writers group a few hours early on Thursday nights with a fresh contributor copy and a beat-up paperback of Poe’s stories and poems in my backpack and camp out in a remote grotto outside the campus library where that group used to meet.  There, I would read Poe aloud, and memorized my favorite of all poems, his or otherwise, “Lenore.”  My book was a collection of Gothic gay romance tales, so we established a kind of literary kinship.  I love Poe.  Years later, I still have “Lenore” memorized, line for line.

Bec: Is there anything you would like to share that I haven’t asked you about?

Only that I truly appreciate your interest in me and my work.  Being a writer isn’t the easiest thing in the world, all the time.  But I daresay it’s the most rewarding.  I hope that shows in the writing of mine you’ll read – that I loved the creative process and, as a result, your emotions, too, were stirred.

Bec: Thank you for stopping by and sharing! Best of luck with your book and future projects!

 

©Rebecca Besser & Gregory L. Norris, 2012. All rights reserved.

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