Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Blogger: Scott Fitzgerald Gray


Today we have a Fantasy and SF Author, Scott Fitzgerald Gray joining us for a discussion of his insight and experiences from his years of writing. Scott comes to us today as part of a blog tour to help promote his High-School coming-of-age SF thriller "We Can Be Heroes". After perusing Scott's available works, and visiting his blog, I was very excited to have him stop by for a chat. My comments are in blue. Enjoy.
Thanks for coming by Scott. First off, where do you get your ideas... just kidding, don't mail me anything that ticks or has white powder in it! Seriously, what is it that attracted you to (and keeps you passionate) about your chosen genre(s)?

The current postage rates do a very effective job of keeping me from mailing any serious threats, never fear. (Sending out bad vibes isusually all I can afford.) But what initially attracted me to fantasy and speculative fiction — and what keeps me writing there — is an easy one to answer. Imagination. I’m not a genre snob by any stretch, and I love well-written books in just about any genre, including a lot of classical and mainstream literature.

But fantasy and SF have always had a special place in my heart because they represent a degree of freedom of imagination that goes beyond what most mainstream fiction can do. Now, the downside to having genres of unlimited imagination is that it’s easy sometimes for fantasy and SF to go off the rails, layering in imagination so thickly that any hint of a real story gets lost. But when fantasy and SF really work, they do so in a way that few other genres can match.

Regarding what would become your first published work: how was that process? How long? What personalor creative ups and downs did you have?

Well, I started out in screenwriting originally, so the definition of “published” gets kind of wonky. Like a lot of writers, I yearned to be a writer from a very young age, and I went through a phase where my skill as a writer was coming nowhere close to the kinds of stories (specifically, the kinds of novels) I wanted to write. However, I discovered inadvertently that my writing style and my focus on visual narrative lent itself to screenwriting quite nicely, so my creativity shifted in that direction while I left prosefiction on the back burner. Screenwriting is unique in being the only form of writing where you can make a reasonable living without ever getting anything produced (a scenario that I first heard described as “the velvet rut”). But for me, even as I was making a living and getting frustrated because I wasn’t getting anything made, I was cranking out literally hundreds of thousands of words and becoming a much better writer and storyteller in the process.

It took about ten years, I guess, for me to decide that I’d had enough of screenwriting. But during that time, I managed to learn a whole hell of a lot about storytelling and structure, which let me overcome the hurdles that sandbagged my initial attempts to write a novel. The first novel Iever completed was finished in 2004, but hasn’t been published yet. (It’ sawaiting a rewrite, and will hopefully be out later this year.) The second novel I wrote was “Clearwater Dawn” in 2007, but it took three years of trying to shop it through traditional publishing before I decided I was ready to goindy with it.

According to your offerings on Amazon you have written or contributed to thirteen works since 2010, mostly in 2011. Some are shorts and others are promo samples of novels,but regardless, with all that's required for an indie release, that's an unusually high amount of output for anyone. How do you structure your writing day/weekand and what are your production goals and personal deadlines like? Are you an"outline" guy with endless notes and 3x5 cards all over the house or do you open a doc., freestyle, and let it fly.

My work kind of divides itself along three lines these days —working on my own writing, editing and story editing fiction for other people (sometimes film scripts; sometimes novels), and editing and designing roleplaying games. How much writing I get done in any given week typically depends on how many other projects and commitments I have to deal with. But for the most part, I try to nail down at least a thousand words a day when I’m busy with other people’s stuff, and at least four thousand words a day on the rare occasions when I’m only working for myself.

As far as actual process goes, I am the most fundamentalist, hardcore proponent of outlining you’ve ever met, and you will be too once I’ve had my way with you. I love outlining — not just in the sense of saying,“This is a valuable tool,” but in the sense of actually enjoying the outlining process more than any other writer I’ve met. Outlining to me is the most primal, fundamental, joyous kind of writing because it’s like you’re working with story in its most raw, uncut form. One way or another, I’m always messing around with an outline — like right now, I’m writing one new novel from outline, I’m working on the outline for the novel I’m going to write after the current novel, and I’ve got a couple of short stories that I’m sketching out ideas for, and which I’ll write in the odd hours in between the two bigger projects.

It’s important to stress that the outline is never the final story, however. A lot of people who look down on outlining talk about how they can’t see any point in writing a story that they already know the shape of, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. Outlining is first ideas, and as most writers know, first ideas are almost never the best ideas. The outline is thus always an organic, evolving kind of document. It doesn’t define the story in its finalform — it simply defines the potential for what the story can be.

Having said that, however, I do think that one of the most important things we can do as writers is try to challenge ourselves creatively.I’m such a heavy-duty outliner that I usually outline my short fiction inaddition to my longer works, and as a reaction to that, I set out late last year to try to write short fiction in the more traditional (for many writers) approach of New Document, Rough Idea, and Go! Three of my more recent shorts (“TheTwilight Child,” “Daeralf’s Rune,” and “The Game of Heart and Light”) were all written totally raw that way, just throwing ideas down and shaping them only through the writing. And I confess that as a lover of outlining, that process was excruciating for me at times — but totally worth it because I know it’s made my writing process better.

Back to your insanely busy 2011... why didn't we see you on the news being tasered and cuffed after having gone postal somewhere?

I try to get all my rage and social anxiety out on the page rather than letting it explode into real life. But I’ve only ever been partly successful, so if you do an assessment of how much rage and social anxiety is in my fiction, you’ll probably get a bad feeling about how much is still waiting tocome out…

I noticed you're a film guy. I'm a film guy...at heart anyway as film school was a long time ago.You have anumber of your film projects listed on your site and, I'm assuming as there are no pics or vids, that these are under development. As a said movie guy I haveto ask; how are your projects coming along and will you see production on any?

As far as anyone would notice, I’m effectively retired as ascreenwriter at this point, so the projects on the website are a kind of creative archive as much as anything else. Part of the reason for that retirement, as mentioned above, is just having spent a lot of time working as ascreenwriter and deciding it was time to do something else. But part of it also is the absolute mind-deadening, soul-crushing process of being a screenwriter, and deciding at some point that I could do better. I still do a fair bit of work as a story editor and script consultant working on other people’s film projects,and I still get called on to do actual screenwriting work from time to time, and I have older projects generate interest and occasional option money.

However, it’s not something I pursue with the same level of passion that drives my prose fiction right now. As far as I still subscribe to the dream you cite, I’d be much more interested at this point in adapting one of my novel projects for film or television than working on original film material. (There’s an off chance that might happen with the above-mentioned first novel I ever finished,which a producer I know is interested in optioning when it’s released.)

You're clearly an independent author now but do you have any traditional publishing background?Any agent/editor stories, good or bad? What is your stance on traditional publishing now? Aside from a million dollar "Hocking" deal, would you ever accept a trad-publishing offer, or are you one of those guys on a Big-6"deathwatch."

Outside of my writing and freelance work, my professional work experience has actually been mostly focused in publishing — just not inBig Six book publishing. At different points, I’ve been involved in magazines, alt-weekly newspaper publishing, daily newspapers, indie small-press book publishing, and new media, working jobs across just about all aspects of production, editing, and content creation. Thus, when I talk about being an indie author-publisher, I’m approaching it not just from the perspective of a writer who wants to bypass traditional publishing — I’m a writer who understands the publishing process to some degree, and who knows how much work is entailed in actually being an indie publisher.

I don’t have any particular hatred for traditional fiction publishing, and if a publishing contract landed on my desk tomorrow I’d look atit the same way I look at any business opportunity — weighing the good and the bad and deciding whether it made sense for me. But as an indie author, I’m of the opinion that traditional fiction publishers need to stop treating writers as the least important part of their process, and that unless the so-called Big Six publishers get their collective head out of their collective ass, their industry is in serious trouble. Ultimately, though, people like Kris Rusch do a much better (and much more well-informed job) of talking about those issues than I ever could.

My agent/author stories are all on the screenwriting side of things, and don’t bear repeating (at least until the restraining orders are alllifted…). 

Last question about trad-publishing, don't want to degenerate into a indie vs. legacy post here, but what future do you see for traditionals? Should aspiring newbs or dropped andout of print mid-listers even bother pursuing agents and editors anymore?

It would take a full frontal lobotomy or some manner of alien brain parasite for me to ever take on the services of an agent again, but that’s just one guy’s opinion. Like many writers, I think the advantages of indie author-publishing are pretty clear — but maybe better than some, I also understand how much work is involved in publishing properly. Hitting “Send” on the Amazon KDP product page isn’t the sum total of the publishing process. It’s the very last and least important step in the publishing process,and indie writers need to get a handle on all the other more important steps — content, editing, more editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing — if they plan on publishing their own work. And that’s not totry to dissuade anyone from making that leap of faith in themselves as indie authors. It’s just to try to make people understand that being an author-publisher is two very different and equally challenging jobs.

As far as the traditionals go, I think they have a potentially great future — but only if they recognize that the past is dead, and I don’t see that happening for the most part. Again, other people talk about this subject with much more cred than me, but traditional publishing seems dedicated more than ever now with trying to desperately hang onto astatus quo that’s not simply crumbling — it’s already gone.

Sort of yesterday’s news but I still like to ask: Team Edward or Team Jacob...just kidding again, Seriously though, was Twilight even readable for you? Having been at this for along time, what do you think about those writers who find huge, breakout success with the mass audience with works that are largely condemned, en-mass,by other writers?

I’d have to give Edward the edge over Jacob just by virtue of the fact that Robert Pattinson can act (though only in films other than the“Twilight” franchise, apparently). I confess that I’ve never read the books,though. I’m grateful to have a family that loves reading, and my older daughter assessed the “Twilight” books as starting off well but getting horrid by the end. As such, it’s hard for me to commit to the idea of working through the entire series.

To the larger question, though, I don’t begrudge any writerany amount of success, and I admit to a certain amount of antipathy for writerswho publicly bitch about other people’s work or success. There are plenty ofbooks that I personally don’t like, but I’ve never been enough of an asshole to assume or insist that my not liking something means that it’s objectively bad. If someone doesn’t like a book, they should just stop reading the damn thing and pick up a book they do like. And even beyond that, it’s important to remember that people like books for different reasons. If someone wants to say that Stephanie Meyer’s writing doesn’t hold up to Virginia Woolf, I don’t expect I would argue that point. But writing works on a lot of different levels, and Meyer’s ability to tell a story clearly tapped into a narrative need held by a large number of people, and I’m okay with that.

Back on Aug 1 your Blog tour stopped off at Ty Johnston's page HERE  and you discussed your affinity for SF (vs. Sci-Fi) or, as you put it, "Speculative Fiction." You admit to having a strong technical ability inherrent between your ears (the kind that escapes most of us) which allows you to not only comprehend a lot of the hard science concepts in the more demanding SF works, but to also find entertainment from it. 

Which makes you a perfect candidate for this question:

In one of my first posts here, on my widely un-read blog, I mentioned a Locus magazine roundtable headed by Gardner Dozois about Fantasy and Sci-fi book performance vs. movies. The crux of their discussion was how the top grossing movies, year after year, and the all time record setters, are almost entirely Fantasy or Sci-fi related, while this performance in not reflected at all (save for outliers of all time: LOR and HP) in book sales.

Meanwhile, many of the more popular Fantasy and Sci-fi books (movie, TV and game serials ironically enough) are often not considered to be the "serious" or "real" works of their genres. Do you consider these break-out hits to be "lightning in a bottle" with genuine, quality elements that resonated with readers and viewers, or do you think there's a "fast food craving" mentality at work? Or, as any harsh critic would tell you; a "dumb" factor, driving popular sales?

Certainly, it’s clear that there’s an obvious disconnect between quality and popularity in film, television, and fiction. But having said that, I think people read fiction for lots of different reasons, and thepopularity of many “break-out books” reflects that. Some books are challenging; some books are comfortably familiar. And nine times out of ten, comfortably familiar will win out over challenging, because comfortably familiar is more inclusive.

A familiar book provides more reasons to read it, so the greater thechance that any individual will find a reason to read it, and that’s just theway it is. Talking about “Twilight” again, for better or for worse, the storythat Stephanie Meyer set out to tell resonated with certain types of readers on an emotional level, and it’s impossible to quantify an emotional connection to literature. Someone can say, “I find Stephanie Meyer’s prose flat compared toAnne Rice,” or “J.K. Rowling’s plots in the latter Harry Potter books were frustratingly pedestrian,” or “China Mieville obscures his stories with a writing style that’s too self-consciously intellectual,” or what have you. But we can’t ever say, “You’re liking that book in the wrong way,” because what people like is always a personal thing.

With the quantity and quality of your work present, and the fact that you've sustained yourself with it for some time now, you're clearly a success story. What rules, mantras oradvice would you give to others struggling to improve their writing careers, or to even get started?
Nice of you to say, so thank you. A big part of any moderate success I can cop to involves the idea that I’ve always done a number of different things, so not putting all one’s eggs in one basket is good advice for any creative endeavor, I think. It’s really hard to make a living solely as an independent author. It’s really hard to make a living solely as a script consultant and story editor, or as a freelance fiction editor, or as a roleplaying-game editor or designer. However, combining all of those things into a kind of unique Me, Inc. creative enterprise, I do okay. Another important thing is to love what you do. Not just enjoy it, not just feel good when you do it, but be absolutely freaking passionate about it. Especially for writing, if you don’t have the passion — if you’re writing primarily to try to suck up to a particular market or audience, or if you’re only in it for the promise of success — the work will show it, and the work will most often fail.

And lastly, as regards writing specifically, always move forward. To be a writer, you have to write. You have to read. You have to keep writing, keep generating new material, keep reading — especially outside your chosen genres. You need to make sure that everything you write teaches you something about your process as a writer, as was true for me when I decided to approach short fiction last year in a way that I normally never do. Everything we write needs to be better in at least some small way than the last thing we wrote. Because only by moving forward as writers do we have any chance of getting to where we ultimately want to be.

Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. That was the year that speculative fiction and fantasy kindled his voracious appetite for literary escapism and a love of roleplaying gaming that still drives his questionable creativity. In addition to his fantasy and speculative fiction writing, Scott has dabbled in feature film and television, was a finalist for the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize from the Writers’ Guild of Canada, and currently consults and story edits on projects ranging from overly obscure indie-Canadian fare to Neill Blomkamp’s somewhat less-obscure “District 9” and the upcoming “Elysium”.

Scott’s latest works are the high-school coming-of-age techno-thriller "We Can Be Heroes and the anthology  "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales".