Thursday, August 07, 2008

Interview with Gregory Frost

Gregory Frost is the author of, most recently, LORD TOPHET, the sequel to the acclaimed fantasy novel, SHADOWBRIDGE (both from Del Rey Books). Shadowbridge is a world dreamed into being, as its creation story--included in the first volume--makes clear. It's an accretion of our myths, legends, folk and fairy tales but they've all altered in the translation somewhat, and taken on lives of their own. Everything in Shadowbridge thus sounds familiar and alien at the same time.

1) What was your inspiration for writing these books?

The answer is, there's no single inspiration. The idea of this world of bridges was one I kicked around for years. I talked it over with other authors, like Michael Swanwick who threatened to steal it if I didn't do something with it (nothing like that sort of terror to push you into action). One inspiration might be Gormenghast. Another is surely M. John Harrison's Virconium stories. And Hadawy's translation of The 1001 Nights. The Trelawney translation of The Ocean of the Streams of Story by Somadeva. But you won't find any direct reference to these things. Samuel R. Delany has a concept he calls "received language" and to a degree, I think that's what happens with all of us--we absorb, we receive, and bits and pieces accrete, and this thing emerges. It's original, it's us, but it's also all this stuff we've read, seen, heard, thought about. This is one reason why as a writer you absolutely must read beyond your narrow genre or you're going to be boring.


2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Walter M. Miller, Mikhail Bulgakov, Homer, T.C. Boyle, Donald Westlake, Jack Williamson, Kelly Link, Shirley Jackson, Ian Fleming, John Irving, Alexandre Dumas, Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte, Rafael Sabatini, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Chandler, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar...I don't know if this is anything like a definitive list, but it comprises the names of writers whose work I treasure and can come back to time and again and be rewarded.


3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I think, as a kid, it was the 'gosh-wow' factor. Fiction that took me away from where I was, and at the same time sort of wryly commented on where I was. I loved its strangeness, its otherness. Really, I wallowed in reading it. I never thought I would be writing it.


4) How did you come to make Leodora your protagonist?

When Mr. Swanwick threatened to run off with my world, I immediately went out and wrote a story called "How Meersh the Bedeviler Lost His Toes." I created the "Coyote" figure for all of Shadowbridge, and in the frame of that tale created a storyteller named Bardsham (which is a Shakespeare joke of sorts--the faux bard). Bardsham was based on a real shadow-puppeteer I'd met. But when I came to the prospect of a novel, I didn't want to write about him. At some point, I arrived at this vision of a girl, Leodora, standing on top of a bridge support tower, high above the city, and looking at her world. What I said about about things coming together out of all the material you read, things you see...I don't know where she came from, where that moment came from. The view from Arc de Triomphe, or from a railroad bridge I'd climbed as a kid, or looking down from the Palatine Hill in Rome? I have no idea. Maybe it's all those things at once. But it pushed the book in a direction, and the rest unfolded from there.


5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I've been an avid cyclist for (shudders to admit it) 38 years. This is the first summer, in fact, in all that time, I haven't been on a bike (I had a serious leg injury last fall and I'm still working that off). I studied aikido for ten years, under the tutelage of sf/fantasy author Judith Berman. Used to sing in three garage bands (not at the same time of course). And I tremble to admit it, but I like to read research.


6) What sort of research did you do to write the Shadowbridge books?
What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?


Frankly, every book requires a different amount of and sometimes entirely different kinds of research. I got hooked on that element back in the 1980s, researching for TAIN and REMSCELA, which comprise the retelling of the Tain Bo Cuailnge and subsequent events in the life of the Irish hero Cu Chulainn. A lot of sociological research into bronze-age Celts went into those books. Research into Druids, and into mythology. Shadowbridge has been more of the same, but now it's not just one branch of mythology, it's all of them shoved in a blender and pureed. But my first novel, LYREC...I did no research at all. That book came, whole-cloth, out of my head. I heard Jeffrey Ford say the same thing about The Physiognomy, too--to my amazement. He just invented that world and ran with it. Didn't do a lick of research, and those three books are just sodding brilliant.


7) How much of you goes into the characters? How much is Leodora like you?

They're all me, aren't they? Villains, heroes, heroines, lovers and fiends. She isn't "like" me. How could she be? She's herself. I think that writing fictional characters is akin to acting. You adopt the role of the character and try to inhabit it while that person's on stage. Then you try to become the next character, and so on. To a degree you have to know these people before you pick up the pen and write (sorry, I still use a fountain pen so that's my metaphor). You have to know what motivates. You have to know at the very least what they want. Even if they want nothing at all--wanting nothing is a state of being. It tells you something about the character and how she'll react. It sounds horribly pretentious, but it's not. It's ridiculously basic. Creating characters is understanding on some intuitive level what they want right now.


8) What are you writing now?

A supernatural mystery (no, there are no frickin' vampires in it, so stop asking now). Contemporary, and set on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. As far from Shadowbridge as one could get...which is no doubt why I have no career at all. I just can't stay in one place long enough to concoct a series.


9) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I thought I wanted to be a comic book illustrator. I wrote and drew comics all through junior high and high school. Showed them to nobody, really. But I'm not one of those who says "Oh, yeah, I popped out of the womb knowing I was going to be a writer." Great, man. Love ya. Not me, I had no damned idea at all.


10) Why genre? Is there something special about science fiction or fantasy that draws you to write in the field?

I think it's hard-wired into me. The first book I can remember ever choosing on my own from the library was a retelling of The Odyssey. I grew up on Captain Midnight and Superman and The Twilight Zone and Commander Cody. And comic books. I was utterly fantasy oriented, and story ideas when they come are invariably fantastic or horrific. I don't think in terms of "people paralyzed by angst at recognizing the human condition." Sorry, just not my cup of hemlock.


11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

That would depend on where I am in the book and whether or not I know what the next part looks like. First drafts are hard, and crappy and fragmented. Revisions just seem to last forever. Different parts of the brain and different processes, and so different lengths of time. But I now write far more often in coffee shops than I would ever have thought possible.


12) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

Before this was FITCHER'S BRIDES, a reworking of the Bluebeard line of fairy tales. The serial-killing husband. Dark, nasty, and great fun to write. There's a collection of short stories out from Golden Gryphon Press called ATTACK OF THE JAZZ GIANTS & OTHER STORIES--I've been publishing short fiction since 1981. I mentioned already the early novels. There's also a science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT, that was a Nebula nominee back in the mid-'90s.

The Shadowbridge books are available pretty much everywhere, but I recommend purchasing them through Powells.com simply because I support independent booksellers.

If you want to order Shadowbridge, go to http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780345497581-0
If you want to order Lord Tophet, go to http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9780345497598-1
If you're interested in Attack of the Jazz Giants go to http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9781930846340-0
If you're interested in Fitcher's Brides, go to http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-9780765301956-0

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

2 comments:

Gary said...

Hello,
Thanks for the interesting interview.

"I still use a fountain pen." My question is, how does a novelist get from pen to book? See, I like writing with a pen better than with the computer, too. But I keep telling myself this is just too inefficient...

Priscilla said...

I'm a huge fan of both Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet. Thanks for this interview with a man who is a brilliant weaver of tales.