Every now and again, it's nice to shake things up just a bit. Thanks to recent nor'easters, power outages, and the like. Here is the first in what may turn out to be a series of occasional interviews with some of the best genre writers in the business. Now, it is with great pleasure I present Thirteen Questions with Greg F. Gifune.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself, Greg.
I never know quite how to answer this kind of thing, Frank, I guess just refer to my bio.
I’m a professional novelist and editor, have been for twenty years, live in Massachusetts with my wife of 31 years and our dog Dozer.
2) Anyone who follows you on FB has seen that post as often about your dogs, Bella & Dozer, as you do about your work. I was saddened to hear of Bella's passing recently, but could you share a little about your love for these animals.
It’s really funny. Dozer and Bella have almost as many fans around the world as I do. There are a handful of people who could not possibly care less about what I’m up to and only follow me so they can keep up with my dogs and their exploits, which I think is hilarious, sweet and absolutely wonderful. Bella, in particular, came to us as a rescue when she was two, and immediately had a huge impact on our lives, including Dozer. Unfortunately she had cancer and succumbed to it in February, just three days after the death of my mother, actually. It was a horrible month, to say the least. Bella was a character and a very loving girl and we all miss her terribly. My love for animals is something that’s been a part of me for as long as I’ve been alive. From the time I was a little boy I had a connection and affinity for animals, and it grows stronger the older I get. I often prefer the company of animals to humans, and I consider them to be our superiors, not the other way around. I can only dream of loving as unconditionally as Dozer does, of having a heart as pure as his. I think at their best, animals make us better human beings, better people, if we let them, and I’ve always believed the way someone treats and considers animals speaks volumes about who they are. Dozer brought a tremendous amount of healing and joy and love to our lives from the moment we met him as a puppy, and, so did Bella. Dozer continues to enrich our lives every day, as does Bella’s memory.
3) When did you start writing and when was it that you had your first story published.
I’ve been writing literally since before I could write. I have an older sister, and she used to write down my stories for me as I dictated them as a little boy. Then she’d illustrate them. It’s one of my fondest memories from childhood. I don’t ever remember it not being part of me. I always had to get things out, to write them down, to exorcise myself of them in a way, and writing was a way to do that. I think I was born with some God-given talent, as I had this basic ability to write and have no idea how I got it or where it came from. It was just something I could do and felt the need to do. I then worked very hard and learned my craft both formally and on my own, and continued to hone it (and will continue to do so forever). I decided to give writing a shot professionally when I was in my early 30s. I went just shy of five straight years with nothing but rejections. My first published fiction was back in the late 90s, my story Down to Sleep (which a few years later became the anchor and title of one of my two short story collections). It was accepted by a small magazine called Dream International Quarterly, and things took off from there.
4) Among all of your works to date, do you have a favorite, and what would it be an why.
I really don’t. I’ll spare you the whole ‘they’re like my children’ routine (or I won’t, I guess, since I just said it), but all of my novels and novellas have their own life and meaning and value. There are some that hold a special place for me, THE BLEEDING SEASON, because it was my first published horror novel (my second novel published) and it really put me on the map, so to speak, led to everything else and has since garnered a cult classic status in the genre with many. Other novels like SAYING UNCLE, BLOOD IN ELECTRIC BLUE, DANGEROUS BOYS and GARDENS OF NIGHT I have deep personal connections with, but then everything I write has that to a degree, or I don’t write it. So no favorites, really, they all have their own unique power and importance to me in their own ways.
5) Who is your favorite genre writer and your favorite non-genre write and why choose them?
Too many to name, frankly, but whoever I’m drawn to, it’s because their work speaks to me on some level.
6) Do you ever write under a pseudonym?
Very rarely, but I have done it a couple times.
7) What is your writing schedule like? Do you have a set routine, or do you write when the spirit or the muse moves you? Do you actually have a muse?
I treat it like the job it is, in that specific regard. I get up, have some coffee, and go to work in the morning (usually around 7-7:30). On good days I generally wrap up around 5:00-6:00, but many days end up being twelve or fourteen hour days, particularly if I’m dealing with deadlines and juggling multiple projects (which is most of the time). I usually work Monday through Friday and try my best to take weekends off when I can. There are those weeks where I have to work six or seven days a week, but generally it’s five. My muse is my mortgage and general desire to live indoors. Honestly, what moves me is internal. It’s emotional, spiritual even. It’s that feeling deep inside that needs to get out. It’s a purge for me, which is why I’ve always been in the Dorothy Parker camp in that I don’t necessarily like writing, but love having written.
8) I'm not going to ask, "Where do you get your ideas?" per se, but how about this? What was the strangest or most unusual source for a story idea?
Thank you for not asking that (I’ve been asked that so many times in countless interviews over the years I couldn’t even give you a number), and besides, I never know how to answer it anyway, because the truth is, I have no idea. As for the strangest source, probably just life experiences, in that everything I do comes from that (suffice to say I’ve experienced a lot, good and bad, enough for several lifetimes) or something I’m fascinated by/with. It’s always the jumping off point in some way, shape or form.
9) What is the best piece of advice you ever got when you were starting out as a writer and who gave it to you?
Never take yourself seriously but always take the work very seriously, and always respect both the work and the craft. Try not to take things personally, as it is a brutally difficult and often cruel business. Always remember that while it is art, it is also a business, and if you’re a professional (or want to be) behave that way. Don’t worry about being ‘published’ and concentrate instead on learning and honing your craft. Always strive to be the best writer you can be, and the publishing part will come. Never stop learning and honing your craft, because the moment you do, you’re dead in the water. Don’t allow failure to be a stumbling block but an opportunity to improve and fight harder to succeed. Prove them wrong. Respect those who came before you who have earned it and deserve it.
All that came from various mentors I was fortunate enough to have known and learned a great deal from.
10) I'm sorry to say, I haven't read all of your works...yet. But, I have read nine, and among my favorites are Babylon Terminal, Savages, and my absolute favorite, Dreams the Ragman. Please share a little about the genesis of the later.
The genesis was a friendship, the relationship between the two main characters and how it ends up defining them both in ways neither suspected it might (and yet somehow knew all along it would). It is probably the most polarizing thing I’ve written, because I got some angry letters and emails from people who weren’t comfortable with some of the themes I explored in the work. In fact, I got my favorite bit of hate mail ever when Ragman was released. One guy wrote to tell me how angry the novella had made him because it was ‘nothing more than a thinly veiled love story that attempts to normalize homosexuality.’ He was correct, of course, except that it’s not thinly veiled at all, and simply explores the complexities of love all human beings are faced with, the darkness and the light. Although it was clearly his intention to upset me, I’ve always considered his criticism a source of extreme pride, and have kept his letter in my desk to this day. So, people tend to either love or hate Dreams the Ragman, and that’s cool, because I knew that would be the case going in. The overwhelming majority of readers were really moved by it, though, and I think saw and understood that despite all the darkness in the piece, there is also a universal humanity that runs through it that is (hopefully) just as powerful as the more disturbing parts. Not long after the release, it ended up winning a reader choice award, which was nice. I don’t care about awards in the arts and generally find them self-serving and rather silly, honestly, but when they come directly from readers, it’s a completely different animal. Those (I’ve been fortunate enough to win two) mean the world to me, and I’m proud Ragman was one. It’s also dedicated to the late Tom Picccirilli, a friend and big supporter of mine, who was not just a great writer, but a great guy. So I’m glad to hear it’s a favorite of yours, thanks.
11) Your latest book is Dangerous Boys, which IMHO is right up there with Dreams the Ragman. I don't really see this one as horror, although it has some elements of that. What it is is some damn fine storytelling. Why this story and why set it in the early eighties?
Thanks. It definitely is not a horror novel. It’s a crime and coming-of-age novel more mainstream in nature. I have primarily written in the horror genre, but have also always written (though less frequently) in the crime genre as well. The background with this story is kind of involved, and very personal. My mother just died recently, but a couple years ago, she became quite ill. We were always close, and one of the more difficult things I’ve ever faced was watching this vibrant and extremely intelligent woman have to go into a nursing home and slowly waste away with not only physical ailments, but the onset of dementia. Heartbreaking and very stressful, I tried my best to return to work, but found I couldn’t concentrate enough to write. I had been through some horrible things in the past and I’d never had this happen before. It wasn’t writer’s block exactly, in that I knew what I wanted to write and did want to write it, I just couldn’t seem to focus to the extent necessary to actually get it done. So for a couple weeks, I didn’t even try. Then I thought that maybe if I did some editing it might help, as sometimes that can get my creative juices flowing. I went back through all my unfinished projects, numerous novels and novellas I had to put aside for various reasons, and happened to come upon DANGEROUS BOYS. I had written the first chapter of this novel a couple of years before with every intention of finishing it, but due to other contracted projects I had to focus on instead, it ended up on the back burner and I hadn’t returned to it. I figured editing that first chapter might help, so I did, and I made some significant changes and tightened it up quite a bit. I also realized I really liked what I had, and just as when I’d first written that opening chapter, I had the entire novel in my head and could see the entire thing before me. The problem was writing it. So I played a little game with myself and decided to see if I could write the second chapter, telling myself I’d stop there. For some reason, I was unable to write anything else during that time, but DANGEROUS BOYS flowed out of me with an ease I’ve rarely experienced even at the best of times and with total focus. I went chapter by chapter, fully expecting the same lack of focus to eventually become a problem. But it didn’t, so I kept going. Do one more chapter and see what happens, I’d tell myself. And a year later, the novel was done. Much of the novel is loosely based on real incidents and the main characters are all based on compilations of guys I knew and ran with back in the day, so I knew this story, I knew these people, and I knew what I wanted to do with it. What amazed me was that I was able to do it when I could do nothing else. Miraculously, once DANGEROUS BOYS was finished, I found I was once again able to write other things and to work on other projects, so it freed me in a way nothing else had to that point. The reason I set it in the early 1980s is because everything it’s based on took place during that timeframe, and it helped with the authenticity and my ability to have these people act and speak in ways they likely never would in 2018. These guys, and their story, fit and belong in that time. DANGEROUS BOYS was a novel I always wanted to write, and now that’s it’s done and out there, I’m very proud of it.
12) When you're not writing, what are some of your favorite things to do?
I love to spend time with my wife Carol and the Doze, and to hang out with my friends. I’m a big movie fanatic, and I like to read for pleasure too (I don’t get to as much as I’d like to anymore, but I do as often as I can). I’m a sports fan, for the most part. Big hockey fan in particular (Boston Bruins fanatic since I was about age six). I enjoy vodka now and then (code for a lot), and sex, drugs, and rock and roll as much as the next person. Okay, maybe more. Probably depends on the person, who can say? I also love to cook.
13) What's next for Greg F. Gifune, provided you're at liberty to discuss?
Lots of exciting things coming, more novels and novellas, including my new horror novel A WINTER SLEEP, which will be out next month from Independent Legions Publishing and available everywhere. Six novels from my backlist that had gone out of print recently will be returning from Journalstone, including a 15-year Anniversary Edition of my novel THE BLEEDING SEASON I’m very excited about, which will feature a new Introduction from Ron Malfi and a new Afterword from Eric Shapiro. Also some film and TV things happening I can’t get into in specifics yet but should be exciting, so stay tuned.
In closing, are there any thoughts you'd care to share?
My official website (gregfgifune.com) is no longer mine, and I am no longer in ANY way affiliated with it. The domain expired while the site was down for renovation and some other entity in Japan scooped it up and now uses it as some sort of advertising site, but again, it has nothing to do with me even though they’re using my name. If you want to connect or keep up to date with what’s happening with me, find me on Facebook or Twitter (or both).
And thanks so much for having me, Frank, always a pleasure.
Thanks for talking the time, Greg.