Interview with Author Gregory L. Norris

Note: This interview formerly appeared in my bi-monthly newsletter.
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Bec: Greg, thank you for doing this interview for my newsletter; it’s great to have you! Please start out by introducing yourself:

Greg:  Greetings—and a pleasure to be interviewed!  I’m Gregory L. Norris, and when I was a little boy, I vividly remember waking up in our small, enchanted house in the woods and cuddling up against the heating vent on the floor in what passed for our dining room.  I didn’t want to leave the house to go to school; I wanted to stay home and be warm.  Forty-plus years later, here I am at my home—a big old drafty New Englander within view of Mount Washington—with the door to my Writing Room closed and the heat cranked up.  In the last week, I’ve left home twice, once for my weekly writers’ group meeting and the other to give a reading at a bookstore from Live Free or Sci Fi!, the latest in a series of pulp fiction volumes centered around my home state of New Hampshire.  The book contains my combat science fiction story, “The Moths.” The reading was well attended, and a group of writers from my aforementioned group and I joined the editor for dinner.  If not for the reading and writers’ group, with the snow and the cold, the farthest I would otherwise venture (apart from traveling the entire universe through my writing) would be to the mailbox, which is fixed to the outer wall of my house, right outside the sun porch door.  I’m not a hermit, truly; I just love to be home where I work as a full-time writer, and I love being warm.

Since the summer I turned fifteen (when I had one of those huge Eureka! moments) I’ve worked to claim the powerful sobriquet of ‘Writer.’  It’s not a title I wear lightly.  I’ve written for numerous national magazines and fiction anthologies and worked as a freelance screenwriter on Paramount’s Star Trek: Voyager.

Bec: I know that you’ve been published two thousand or more times… Do you have any favorite stories out in the world that you’re particularly proud of?

Greg:  For over a decade, I worked writing thousands of articles for national magazines like Sci Fi (the official magazine of the Sci Fi Channel before all those ridiculous Ys invaded),CinescapeSoap Opera Update, and Heartland USA, then the second-largest Male General Interest Magazine, right after Playboy.  Heartland boasted more than three million readers per issue—I covered the X Games, building demolition, and a number of celebrity and sports stories for them.  When added up, the amount of publication credits numbers somewhere past 4,000 total.  Since 2006, however, I’ve been focused mainly upon my fiction.

Favorites?  I’m smitten with my longish short story “B.E.M.s”—about bug-eyed monsters running rampant through Tinseltown of the 1960s.  That story appeared this past summer in the excellent anthology Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam.  I’d have to state I’m also quite partial toward a recent collection of mine released by Elektrik Milkbath Press in September of 2013, Shrunken Heads: Twenty Tiny Tales of Mystery and Terror.  Earlier in March of the same year, my partner and I fell in love with this house and purchased it.  The place was a fixer-upper that we’ve since done plenty of fixing-up to.  While my Writing Room was being worked on, I wrote at our kitchen table in the dining room.  It was such a transition from where we were to where we landed here in the state’s North Country, and many of the stories I wrote during that time (including one I penned on the three-hour trip of our move north, with an enormous moving van creeping at the rear bumper of our car) found their way into the collection.  The idea for a book of flash stories came to me while writing at the kitchen table, and I’m quite enamored with the results.  But I’d say I’m also quite proud of my collected short stories and novellas that were collected into The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (Evil Jester Press).   That monster of a book gathered together some of the stories I am most fond of having written—a historical set in the Everglades, a parable about material goods set in a tiny apartment where we once briefly lived, a story about mummies in ancient Abydos, Egypt, another set—and written—in a New York City hotel room, some twenty stories up from the cold Manhattan pavement.  Voyager Captain Kate Mulgrew blurbed that book.  I’m proud it bears my byline.

Bec: What is your favorite genre to write?

Greg:  I love paranormal romance, ghost stories, mysteries, and the unclassifiable.  I used to despise Westerns, and then I wrote one—and found great love for that genre, too.

Bec: What is your favorite genre to read?

Greg:  I read everything that garners my interest through solid writing.  I’m presently reading a fantasy paperback downstairs, a poetry chapbook in my Writing Room, and a creepy old paperback from the 1970s upstairs.  Last week, I ate up a collection of Gay/Lesbian literary flash fiction.

Bec: What helps you keep on your writing schedule? Do you have any tricks to keep yourself on target when you’re dealing with life in general?

Greg:  Thank you for asking this question, because in August of 2013, I encountered the first real test to my writing schedule in some while and now feel qualified to comment on the matter.  I’ve worked to a loose but productive writing schedule for years.  I wake up, feed the cats, make the coffee, and then vanish into ‘Writer World’ for hours on end.  During those hours, I write fresh longhand drafts of stories, novellas, and novels, edit work on the computer for submission, proof galleys, research, and organize.  For the better part of the month of August 2013, I fell into a zombie state where I found myself staring at the blank page and struggling to get down a paragraph, let alone my usual ten pages a day.  It was horrible.  On a trip to Canada in September for writing work, a friend suggested it might be a Vitamin D deficiency.  Which made great sense, as I’d spent so much time indoors, out of the sun.  So I took to daily supplements, and sitting outside in my front yard on sunny days, and started feeling like my normal self again.

As for tricks, I write every day to maintain the pattern.  I try to get my ten pages in earlier in the day, which unleashes all sorts of wonderful energy to keep going so anything that follows is a bonus.  I’m lucky to have a partner who shovels the driveway, washes the dishes, mows the lawn, and does most of the banal work that gets in the way of writing to keep me writing.  But sometimes, I wash the dishes, dust the cobalt blue lamp in the living room, and do those necessary chores because they help me to work out story issues outside my home office.  We keep the house clean and organized, bright and cheery—I have strings of little white and blue lights atop my tall windows in the Writing Room, which are beautiful, uplifting.  An organized home surrounding an organized home office really does help.

Bec: Of all the books you’ve read in 2013, what are your favorite three?

Greg:  I read a lot of books earlier in 2013 as a judge in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category of the Lambda Awards.  The book selected for the win, Green Thumb by Tom Cardamone, is brilliant, and one of my three top reads of the year.  I also loved the Ellery Queen paperback, 1951’s The Origin of Evil, which is just a stunning read, with delicious language.  And this list is easily rounded out with Win! Poetry Contests by Esther Leiper-Estabrooks.  I don’t write poetry, but was gifted this book on the first night after our move north to the new house, when I attended a local writing group meeting.  I met Esther there and was given a copy—what a neat way to be welcomed to town!  I devoured the book.  The information easily works for other forms of writing and, as a neat footnote, I read Esther’s columns in the late, great magazine, WRITERS’ Journal, in the 1990s during that very formative beginning time of my publishing career.  She wrote for that publication for over thirty years, and here she was at a table across from me!

Bec: What was your best fan moment in 2013?

Greg:  I’ve had a lot of great feedback from readers and plenty of solid reviews of work that appeared in 2013.  I’d have to say there were three standouts, if you’ll indulge me.  The first—after moving here, I met a fantastic writer who is now a member of the writing group who had a copy of my The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on his bookshelves that he and his wife took with them to read on a cruise a few years ago.  One day, he handed it to me and asked for my autograph.  You never know who buys and reads your work, truly!  And the second came from editor Alex Scully of Firbolg Publishing.  Doctor Scully had assigned me to write a story for their Dark Muses anthology from the point of Lovecraft’s ultimate baddy, C’Thulhu.  I knew the story I wanted to write, but completely struggled with the execution.  It didn’t look that way following fierce edits, and I sent the story off, thinking I’d done a decent job.  A few hours later, I got back a glowing acceptance on “The Whisper of C’Thulhu” (which appeared with reprints by Lovecraft, Polidori, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and Poe, who is my favorite author—talk about humbling!).  My story had left her breathless and was accepted with plenty of editorial praise.

The third and perhaps biggest came about after an article on my career and move to the new house appeared in our local newspaper.  Four days later, I received an email from a reporter onNew Hampshire Chronicle, a lifestyle’s magazine show that reaches millions of people, five nights a week.  He and his cameraman traveled north on perhaps the hottest day of the new summer to tape a segment on my writing career.  It was amazing!  They documented the body of my work (and did so with a great deal of enthusiasm and pizzazz) and on July 11th, 2013, there I was, and there was my work as a writer, showcased on the flat screen in our living room—and on quite a few others throughout New England!

Bec: Do you have any writing goals you have left to achieve? If so, what are they?

Greg:  Oh, I have many!  Every year, I print up new copies of two lists—completed stories, and those I’ve yet to finish a completed draft of.  I’m always inspired by the former, and driven frenetic by the latter.  Those uncompleted stories howl at me in the night, demanding to be written.  151 ideas as of this new year!  I’ve completed four of those stories since January 1, 2014.  But I have so many ideas, and the silly impetus to complete each and every one of them follows me around like a second shadow.

I would love to have a series, and also to complete and submit certain projects.  My novel, The Zoo, gets closer to that goal by the day.  It’s about a homeless girl who is forced to live in an abandoned zoo with her dad and pet cat after their lives spiral toward disaster, like so many in this post-Bush America.  Other homeless souls have created something of a Hooverville at the zoo—the humans have become the animals, the imprisoned.  Soon after her arrival, the girl witnesses a murder, only no one believes her.  So she’s trapped in this hostile, horrifying environment, with a murderer that’s got her number.

I’d like to work more in TV, see one or more of my feature film scripts made, and bring that inflated number of unrealized drafts down to a manageable list.

Bec: I know you’re involved with writers groups… What benefits do you get from them?

Greg:  I came from a wonderful group in Southern New Hampshire—the Nashua Writers’ Group.  When we moved up North, I briefly attended the monthly meetings of a local group, as stated, but was, frankly, turned off by the cattiness and general lack of focus.  And so, with other writers of a similar mindset, I helped to found a weekly group where members read fresh work and receive constructive feedback, an environment more suited toward professionalism and productivity.  For me, writing is a solitary pursuit, one I adore, yes.  But I realized long ago that I’m not an island.  I’m more of a peninsula when it comes to writing, connected to other humans on one thin side of the land bridge.  I genuinely love being in the company of other writers at my weekly group, at retreats, and at conferences, where the passion for writing is narcotic.   What I get most is the joy of my fellow creatives’ company, the necessary dialog after one of my drafts composed in isolation is read aloud to my fellow humans, and the fun of being part of the writing community at large.

Bec: You’re one of the most positive writers I know (we writers are known to be a moody bunch)… What keeps you in such high spirits?

Greg:  Thank you.  I guess the answer is that I am committed to living a literary life and, as such, want to live it as a certain type of writer, of person.  And it’s easy to stay upbeat when I’m writing every day, living out the storylines of my biggest and smallest, most secret dreams as my pen scrawls them onto the page.  I live in a house I love where I’m happy, I love my small family, am constantly being romanced by the Muse and, at this strange, late-forties stage of my life, I’ve done so many things, met, interacted, and interviewed so many of my childhood icons, that I feel beyond fulfilled by the work I set out to accomplish way back when, at fifteen, lying on my stomach with a glass of root beer at the right of my fountain pen and notepad, and getting lost in the storylines of my imagination.  Through my writing, I’ve been to the ends of the galaxy and back.  So seriously, how could I not be in high spirits?

Bec: Since this is January of 2014, what are your big plans or goals for this year?

Greg:  To write, complete, submit, and hopefully sell certain projects.  I was just assigned six new short stories from a publisher in Germany.  I’m working on another short story for an anthology on creepy-crawly bug fiction I’ve been invited to contribute to.  I want to finish my novel, and work on any number of other ideas as follow ups.  In June, our thirty-month mortgage on the house is halfway paid off to completion, and so I’m structuring a writing schedule around the mortgage schedule, in anticipation of getting closer and closer to the end of that burden and a kind of freedom I look forward to enjoying.

Bec: Do you have any upcoming releases or news you’d like to share with us?

Greg:  I have stories forthcoming in numerous anthologies, but there is one in particular that totally has me walking above the floor.  I recently sold a short story to Firbolg’s environmental horror-themed anthology, Enter At Your Own Risk: The End is Really the Beginning.  I learned the Table of Contents will also contain reprints by Poe, Lovecraft, and the Mary Shelley.  The woman who penned Frankenstein!  My story set in the Pacific Northwest will share covers with one of her tales.  The book is due out in May 2014, and I might pass out when my contributor copy appears in my mailbox…located directly outside the sun porch door.

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

Greg:  Only that if your readers are interested in following my literary adventures, they can check out my blog at www.gregorylnorris.blogspot.com—I try to update fairly frequently.  And this has been wonderful!  Thank you so much for your interest in my writing work.

Bec: Thank you for stopping by and sharing! It’s always a delight speaking with you.

Greg:  Thanks bunches, Ms. Rebecca—what a treat to be interviewed!

Enjoy this excerpt story from Gregory’s book, Shrunken Heads:

Coffee Talk
by Gregory L. Norris

Above the clink of coffee spoons, coordinated to a performance of coy smiles, hair twirled between fingers, and other body language impossible to misread, Courtney asked the handsome young man, “So, if you had to name the one thing you’re proudest of…”

“What would it be?” Brent finished her sentence, a good sign that their first date was going well.  “That’s easy.  The winter I volunteered at a homeless shelter.”

Courtney sipped, loving his image beyond the rim of her big white porcelain cup.  “That must have been so rewarding.”

“It was,” said Brent.  His smile widened.  “It really put me in touch with humanity.”

What he didn’t tell her, as others in the bistro sipped their coffee and read their newspapers, was how easy it had been to slip poison into the soup, or antifreeze into the bottles of alcoholics, or the giddy joy that had possessed him at giving one of those sub-humans a shove, right over the edge of the bridge, dropping the useless bit of flesh a hundred feet down, face first onto the ice, one less drain on civilized society.  Getting close enough to do the deed had been effortless.  The mark knew him from the shelter; Brent was one of the good guys.  Of course, he’d gotten away with it.  Nobody really cared about the homeless.

Courtney sighed, drawing him out of that winter and back to the present autumn.  “You’re amazing,” she said.  “You should be so proud of yourself.”

“Yes, very proud.  In fact, I’m thinking of volunteering again this winter,” Brent said, then took another sip of his coffee, light on the cream, heavy on the sugar.

 

 

©Rebecca Besser and Gregory L. Norris. All rights reserved.

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