Gregory Frost is the author of eight novels (including Shadowbridge, Lord Tophet, Fitcher’s Brides) and well over fifty short stories of the fantastic, including dark thrillers, historical fantasy and science fiction. His novelette “No Others are Genuine” (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Oct/Nov 2013) is a current “Long Fiction” finalist for the Bram Stoker Award; and a collaborative novella with Jonathan Maberry, “T.Rhymer,” graces the anthology of dark fantasy collaborations, Dark Duets (HarperCollins, January 2014). He is a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge University Press), and currently serves as Fiction Workshop Director at Swarthmore College.
Gregory will be teaching a workshop called “Writing a Compelling Short Story.” When describing the workshop, he writes, “Whether you write stories focused upon character illumination or upon event-driven escapades, you need to give readers a narrative that they cannot put down.” In the workshop, the class will examine the elements necessary to achieve this in their fiction, including everything from a “3-D” narrative structure to reversals and recognitions.
We had asked Greg to share his thoughts on the writers community, what inspires him, and what he hopes to find at this years Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. See what he had to say after the break.
PWC: How has your personal writing community influenced and assisted you?
GF: Since I first moved to Philadelphia, I’ve been part of multiple writing communities. I was already a published fantasy & science fiction author upon arrival, and so was immediately part of that community of authors and editors. Hidden within Philadelphia are award winners in both categories. Then I moved into the writing community at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching in and coordinating both the Writers’ Conferences and the Young Writers Conferences at Penn, as a result of which I became acquainted with such luminaries as Diane McKinney Whetstone, Marc Lapadula, James Rahn, Madison Smartt Bell, and Justin Cronin. Later I joined a local writing workshop run by the editors of Philadelphia Stories Magazine, and ended up briefly serving on their board. More recently, I co-founded the Philadelphia Liars Club with Jonathan Maberry. All of these communities, if you assembled them in some Venn diagram, would overlap, probably in surprising places. The science fiction circle, for instance, overlaps with the classical music world courtesy of Tom Purdom, who is both a terrific short story writer and a local music essayist for the Broad Street Review. These communities have all influenced me in some way, and I hope I’ve had some influence on them as well, because a lot of the impetus for teaching workshops such as those at Penn and PWC is the notion of paying it forward, of sharing knowledge and gaining knowledge.
PWC: Where do you draw your inspiration?
GF: All over the place. It’s impossible to know in advance where inspiration will come from. I love reading for research—odd history books, collections of lesser-known fairy tales, biographies. But, I mean, a story of mine is currently a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award, and that story emerged out of both research and my childhood. It’s about early wax cylinder players, but I gravitated to those from memories of my grandmother’s hand-crank Victrola, which was a huge and arcane device to me with its thick 78 rpm records and steel needles. The inspiration for the story—and it appears nowhere in it—is my grandmother’s Victrola. You borrow from everywhere, and you don’t always know that you’re doing it.
PWC: How important are conferences and conventions to a writer?
GF: They can be extremely important, especially early in your career, because they give you a chance to socialize with other writers trying to climb the same mountain you are, to meet with editors, to talk about things about which you’re passionate. I sold my first three novels at a convention, sitting down with an editor and talking to her about the books. She bought the first one because she wanted the second and third, which were of a pair. Had I not gone to that convention, would I have sold them? Probably, but not to her, and she turned out to be a terrific editor. About a decade later, she asked me to contribute a novel to her “fairy tale retelling” series, which is the only reason that Fitcher’s Brides exists. That convention made a lot of things happen.
PWC: What are some hints for getting your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard?
GF: Lie to yourself if necessary. Say “This doesn’t count. I’m just going to sit down and write a bunch of crap. For fun. And if I don’t like it, I’ll throw it out.” I think we all too easily psyche ourselves out, and end up like Barton Fink, staring at a blank piece of paper or a deadly opening paragraph. We can’t move because we think “This has to be great, has to be brilliant.” Well, no. In my case anyway, the zero draft is hand-written and it’s pure chaos. It’s fingerpainting with words in order to discover something. If I talked myself into believing I must produce perfect fiction like some magical cake mix, I would never start at all.
PWC: How do you balance your writing time with the rest of your life’s responsibilities?
GF: I don’t. I just try to shove the writing in where I can. My friend Connie Willis and I gave a talk at a library in Seattle a couple of years ago, and I remember Connie saying, “Don’t wait until you have time to write. You will never have time to write. You have to make that happen.” I just finished a semester teaching the writing workshop at Swarthmore, and I can tell you that I wrote exactly nothing of my own after the first month of that…which is typical. So now I’m kind of hungry for a story.
PWC: When did you first realize you were a writer?
GF: I think my first true inkling was when I was a student at the University of Iowa, and Joe Haldeman, who was then in the MFA program, coerced me into submitting two stories to the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop. I did, and to my astonishment was accepted. It was sort of “Well, damn.” I think until that moment I did not really believe in what I was doing. And I think it was a good thing that changed, because it was six years after Clarion before I sold a single story. But I sure did write a lot of crap.
PWC: What are you most looking forward to at the 2014 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference.
GF: William Lashner’s opening speech. I’ve known Bill for some years (that Liars Club circle in the Venn diagram), and I think he’s a terrific writer. I’m sure his speech will kick us all into overdrive. (No pressure, Bill.)
Want to meet Greg and learn how to writer compelling stories? Register for the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference HERE!