Nov 18, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Daryl Gregory

There's been a brief hiatus of Keeping An Eye On... entries as I've already had the pleasure of talking to most of the authors on SF Signal's Watchlist and there are only a few authors still escaping my completist grasp. When I first saw the list I checked out a few of the most repeated names that I hadn't heard of. At the top of the list was an author by the name of Daryl Gregory. A little google research led me to an unassuming book by the title of Pandemonium. A few hundred pages later, I had finished my favorite read of 2008.

So it was no suprise when Pandemonium, Gregory's debut novel was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award for best dark fantasy or horror novel, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, The Mythopeic Award for Best Adult Fantasy Novel, and helped Gregoy take home the 2009 Crawford award for "outstanding new fantasy writer."

And that was just his first novel, not counting any of his other shorter work which has been nominated for various awards as well. It might sound like I'm a huge fan of Daryl's but I actually hate him. I read his stuff and I know that I could never write anything of comparable quality so I probably should just give up trying now. He's a veritable SoulCrusher.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to quit reading his stuff. I'm vitriolic not stupid.

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently? If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what should they be reading?

DG: Never heard of me? But… but… I was on the list of 21 Genre Writers to Keep an Eye On! I thought that after that everybody in the world would be, you know, eying me.

Excuse me, I’m going to have to take a moment to adjust.

Okay, I’m back. How about this? Read “Second Person, Present Tense,” a short story that first appeared in Asimov’s and was later picked up by some other anthologies. It's not too long. Then if you like that, read everything I publish from here on out -- it’ll make my mother feel better about this career path I’m on.

The next thing to come out is a story called “What We Take When We Take What We Need,” which will be appearing in a special issue of Subterranean that was edited by Jonathan Strahan. Any similarity to the title of the famous Raymond Carver story is entirely intentional.

And [later this month] my next novel will be published—The Devil’s Alphabet, from Del Rey Books. It’s a story about quantum mechanics, addiction, universe-hopping viruses, alternate evolution, and small-town politics. It’s my entry in that overplayed sub-genre, Hard SF Southern Gothic Murder Mystery.

SoY: Do you have anything planned after The Devil’s Alphabet?

DG: Regarding the next book, I'm only talking about it in vague terms. It has a working title of Raising Stony Mayhall, will be coming out from Del Rey at some point, probably late 2010 or early 2011, and is unrelated to the previous two.

SoY: Portions of Pandemonium read like a love letter to the genre. Was this something you set out to do when you were writing it or an unintentional consequence of your childhood reading habits?

DG: After that love letter—the first of many, actually—the genre sent me a restraining order. I’m ignoring it. The genre WILL know my love, no matter how many times it changes its address.

And the answer to your question is: Yes. It was both an intentional act and something I felt compelled to do by my childhood reading. And by “childhood” I mean “childhood and adulthood.” I haven’t stopped reading comics, or Philip K. Dick, or pulp novels for that matter. But when I started writing Pandemonium I realized I had an opportunity to create a mash-up of all those things, while still examining them a little critically. Are these power fantasies and superhero archetypes at all appropriate in a post-911 world? The answer is, Not Really. But I can’t help loving them anyway. It’s a moral failure.

SoY: Every author has that one story they’ve always wanted to tell. Is either Pandemonium or The Devil’s Alphabet that story? Or is that one still to come?

DG: I hope I never discover what that one story is. Because after I write it, then what? I mean, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, but you have to wonder what Harper Lee was thinking by publishing that first. That's just terrible career planning.

SoY: One of my favorite things about Pandemonium was how it was undeniably a piece of genre fiction but the narrative style felt very “literary” (albeit in a very hard to describe way) As an author who has dabbled across genre boundaries, do you have any opinions on the “ghettoization” of science fiction/fantasy/horror?

DG: All I can say about the ghetto is that it’s mug’s game for a writer to care about it, at least while he or she is trying to get some writing done. I’m aware of genre as I’m writing—Pandemonium, for example, was consciously designed to be a fantasy that feels like science fiction, and The Devil’s Alphabet is SF written to feel like fantasy—but whether it gets me out of the ghetto or keeps me there is a marketing problem for after the book is finished.

As for whether something is literary… well, I think that just means that the writer is trying to write as best he or she can, word by word, sentence by sentence.

SoY: Pandemonium almost defies classification. What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

DG: I’m a fairly picky reader. I have to be, because I’m short on time and I’m not a fast reader anymore. (At some point around age 16 I noticed that stories were made out of words, some of which were better chosen than others, and perhaps I should read all the words -- and that ruined my speed.) But what I do pick up ranges across sub-genres, or steps outside the genre entirely. The only thing I consistently avoid is anything similar to what I’m currently writing.

And when I write, I’m attracted to “+1” stories. Take the real world, add one strange thing, and follow that idea wherever it goes. That strange idea can be plausible—like the neurological oddities I write about in some of my short fiction—or completely implausible, like Jungian archetypes possessing people at random. The neuro SF is considered hard sf, some of the other stuff is fantasy, but for me, the similarities far outweigh the differences. Genre ain’t nothin’ but the spin on the pitch.

SoY: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

DG: My first sale, to F&SF, in 1989. Nothing yet has topped that moment. I was weeping in joy and relief. Publishing one story was all that I ever wanted, or expected. Everything since then—award nominations, getting into best-of anthologies, meeting my idols at conventions, drinking with my idols at conventions—has been wonderful, but it’s all gravy.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? (can be as serious or as funny as you would like) Who do you nominate in your place?

DG: Geez, I hope it’s because I become a current star of the genre. I want to stay in this game long enough to become a falling star of the genre, then a has-been known only by collectors, and finally a rediscovered artist who is finally recognized as a creative giant misunderstood in his own time. Then forgotten again.

But if I get removed from the list, it’ll probably be because of the usual cause—there are just too many damn good writers out there, and any poll of some assortment of editors is going to come up with an equally valid, equally varied list. In short, please give my spot to Jack Skillingstead, who should have already been on the list, and has released a short story collection and a novel this year.

SoY: You get to choose a single SF/F author (can be living, dead, or reincarnated spirit of Philip K. Dick) to write one additional book. Who do you choose and why?

DG: Philip K. Dick needs to kick one out from beyond the grave—perhaps an Ubik 2. But this time he has to do at least two drafts.

SoY: Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

DG: My favorite word is antisesquipedalianist, because if you use the word, you’re a hypocrite. I’ve never been able to get it into a story, though.

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

DG: Hit me up at Free stories! Free opening chapters! Ginsu steak knives!

So that's Daryl Gregory. I've had the pleasure of reading The Devil's Alphabet which comes out next week already and surprise, surprise, it's one of my early favorites for Book of 2009. And if you don't trust my word (why are you here?) you can refer to Publisher's Weekly who named The Devil's Alphabet one of it's Best Books of 2009 (one of only 5 genre novels on the list).

I'd go so far as to say that The Devil's Alphabet is the best Hard SF Southern Gothic Murder Mystery Novel in the history of fiction. All kidding aside, this is another great novel by one of the most impressive genre writers I've discovered in the past decade. I cannot recommend Gregory enough to anyone looking for genre fiction that is both intelligent and enjoyable.

I'll have a full review of The Devil's Alphabet up on Monday. You can buy it Tuesday. I recommend that you do.


  1. Already a fan, but thanks for the great interview!

  2. You are only a hypocrite if you use antisesquipedalianist to describe yourself. You can use it in non-hypocritcal sentences like "Away with ye, accursed antisesquipedalianist!"

    pendantically yours



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