Gregory Norman Bossert Author Interview
Two Things About Thrand Zandy’s TechoThèque was written during a Clarion Workshop, correct? Could you talk a bit about the experience of Clarion, and how the story came about over the course of the workshop?
I wrote the first draft of Two Things About Thrand Zandy’s TechoThèque in the sixth and final week of the 2010 Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Though, overall, Clarion was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, this story was a struggle.
I was fortunate to have a truly extraordinary set of classmates— Adam Israel, Dallas Taylor, Dustin Monk, Erin Gonzales, Jennifer Hsyu, Jessica Hilt, John Chu, Kai Ashante Wilson, Kali Wallace, Karin Tidbeck, LaTisha Redding, Laura Praytor, Leah Thomas, Nick Farrar, Stacie Brown, Tamsyn Muir, and Tom Underberg—and instructors—Delia Sherman & Ellen Kushner, George RR Martin, Dale Bailey, Samuel R, Delany, and Ann & Jeff VanderMeer.
Though we avoided the competitiveness and politics that occasional foul a writing workshop, the bar was set pretty high at Clarion 2010, as post-Clarion careers demonstrate: twelve of us have since been published, including sixteen stories drafted at Clarion and another five written for Clarion applications. And we’ve remained close friends, both students and instructors, which has lead to some fantastic opportunities, like doing the One Minute Weird Tales videos with AnnVanderMeer or providing illustrations and videos for Jeff VanderMeer & Jeremy Zerfoss’s Wonderbook.
My Clarion fifth week story had not gone over well, and so I was determined to nail my sixth and final draft. I was determined all that week…to no avail: by the end of the week, with a Sunday night deadline, I had no ideas and no words. So Saturday morning I took refuge in a local cafe with Kai Ashante Wilson and just started frantically dumping whatever came to mind onto the page. I worked pretty much continuously right up to and a little past the deadline the next day, with Kai occasionally reminding me to eat and drink.
I usually do most of my real writing in revision, but this one went raw into the Clarion grinder… and came through it pretty much unscathed, and with some encouraging comments. I’ve done a fair amount of revision on the story since, for the most part in understanding Halo and clarifying her voice. The comments of my Clarion-mates have been invaluable during that process, particularly in helping me avoid the pitfalls of my writing a female character. But at a plot and paragraph level, this is pretty much what I wrote that weekend.
What are you currently reading/what have you read recently that you’re excited about?
Over the holidays I read several of the excellent e-books from Cheeky Frawg and was just blown away by Michael Cisco’s The Divinity Student and Leena Krohn’s Tainaron. Reading writers like these, who ignore and transcend received structure and style, and genre, is both liberating and terrifying, like discovering a bottomless chasm just around the corner from your familiar neighborhood, filled with strange glowing wonders, and people floating there in the void shouting “Go on, jump! We did!”
I recently finished Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame series, and think it’s a brilliant example of exploring (often difficult) characters through (often extreme) action and (often alien) setting. It’s a perfect example of what fantasy and science fiction can do.
I love short fiction, and read a lot of it. I can’t pretend to be unbiased, but I think that some of the recent stories from my Clarion classmates and instructors are just fantastic, e.g. stories in the last year from Karin Tidbeck, Kai Ashante Wilson, Kali Wallace, Leah Thomas, Tamsyn Muir, Dale Bailey and Jeff VanderMeer.
Speaking of Jeff VanderMeer, I’ve been fortunate to read his new series The Southern Reach as he drafts and revises it, and it’s fantastic in every sense. Watching the books come together has been a real master’s class in writing, for which I am quite grateful.
What’s your favorite piece of cryptographic fiction (written, filmed, or otherwise)? Alternately, what real world cryptographic mystery (solved or unsolved) intrigues you the most?
As a kid, I read David Kahn’s The Codebreakers, and for a while was convinced I wanted to be a cryptographer when I grew up. Then the year after I got out of college, William Gibson’s Neuromancer came out and for a while I was convinced I was a cyberpunk. Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is the book that leaps to mind as having successfully used cryptography as a thematic device and setting.
More generally, many of my favorite writers work with the ideas of encryption and code in language itself, sometimes quite explicitly as with Borges or Delany. In this extended sense, storytelling itself is a act of cryptography, so maybe my childhood plan worked out after all.
What are you working on or do you have coming up you want people to know about?
I have my first weird/horror story out now at Schlock Magazine and another upcoming at Kaleidotrope. I’m plugging away at two big, complicated fantasy novellas and a couple of SF shorts. And I’m looking at some longer stuff: I’ve got rough outlines for a couple of novel, and I am getting back to my writing roots with some screenplays, including an adaptation of Two Things About Thrand Zandy’s TechoThèque.
Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?
The job that was the weirdest to do day to day is actually not that big a stretch for a writer: I worked (and still freelance) as a researcher and librarian for feature films, including Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and Alice in Wonderland. It involved a lot of reading and writing—no surprises there—but on a wide range of topics I might not have otherwise considered. On any given day I might be researching sixth-century Danish dining, Victorian street vendors, or common English shrubs. I’ve got stacks of reference books and web links on everything from historical costume to photographs of insects, and I’m constantly finding inspiration for new stories in them.
I’ve had the requisite writerly odd jobs: dishwashers, folk-rock sound mixer, failed-Silicon-Valley-start-up engineer. And my current job as a layout artist at Industrial Light & Magic is pretty durn wacky.
My stories tend to spring from a synthesis of random ideas and observations, so attributing inspiration is always a bit arbitrary, but as an example: I was working with stop motion animator and film concept sculpture Tony McVey, helping mold and cast some props for a short film, and that experience was one of the threads that tied into my “yeastpunk” story Lost Wax, which came out last year in Asimov’s.
One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.
Well, the fact that I was forced to read and recite Beowulf in the original Old English lead to my first real job in the film industry, which in turn lead to my trying my hand at a screenplay, which lead in turn to writing fiction, so there you go.
But the debate over education is not about facts or ideas, obscure or otherwise: in the lack of other experience or context, people will discover and/or create an endless supply of their own facts and ideas. It’s about providing children with the time and setting and tools to develop social, communication, analytical, and empathic skills that transcend that of their family and immediate social context. The debate is thus between those who hope that the next generation will be something new, and those afraid of that, between who can let go of their old culture identity and revel in the new ones that develop, and those who stubbornly, fearfully cling to that identity and try to force it on their children.
As a reader, let alone a writer of science fiction, I am absolutely confident in the human ability to create new facts and ideas, and thus I will happily let go of those things I have received from the past and trust future folk to provide new wonders. From what I’ve seen and learned, those new ideas grow best in an educational environment that is equally open to, and mingles, children from all cultural and economic backgrounds. Doing so requires significant, serious effort and resources, applied equally and fairly across all children. But that’s what society is for: not living, but living better.
We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.
When I first received these questions, I immediately jotted down Stepan Chapman’s novel The Troika. In the few days between doing so and getting back to writing my replies, I got the sad news that Mr. Chapman passed away. Fortunately, The Troika is available in a new e-book edition from Ann & Jeff VanderMeer’s Cheeky Frawg Books, with a great cover by Jeremy Zerfoss of Wonderbook fame.
Everything from Cheeky Frawg, by the way, pretty much falls into the drop-everything category, e.g. Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath, Michael Cisco’s jaw-dropping books beginning with The Divinity Student, works by Leena Krohn, Amal El-Mohtar, Amos Tutuola and others.
Just looking at the nearest shelf to my desk here, I see authors from Gerald Kersch to Jo Clayton whose work should not be obscure but seems to have become so. There are so many wonderful books out there to be discovered by the diligent reader willing to take some risks in the dim stacks of the nearest used bookstore.
We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?
I started writing in 2009, and had my first sale that year. It was my second completed story, The Union of Soil and Sky, which Sheila Williams plucked from the slush pile for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I am still a bit flabbergasted by that, and I’m still deeply grateful to Ms. Williams for her support. I wrote four more stories that year, and sold two to Asimov’s, and then attended the Clarion Writer’s Workshop in 2010, so it was a bit of a whirlwind start. After Clarion, it took me about a year to regroup and to some degree reinvent my goals and process for writing; it wasn’t until 2012 that I started getting stories out there again.
Looking back now at The Union of Soil and Sky, I’d say it is less ambitious in structure, setting, and style than what I am writing post-Clarion; it took several years to allow myself to attempt interesting, risky stories instead of well-crafted, safe ones. But I am fond of the characters, and of the fabrilum, the alien grass artworks around which the story revolves. At some point I’d like to do a pass over the story and add a short sequel, and see if I can get it back into print. As soon as I finish this stack of half-written stories here on my desktop, that is, and a novel or two, and that screenplay, and…
Gregory Norman Bossert lives in Marin County, CA under a vast untidy heap of words, sounds, and pixels, and spends his weekdays wrangling the same at the legendary Industrial Light & Magic. He grew up in Cambridge MA and wandered to California via Vienna and Lisbon, Minnesota and New Jersey, Silicon Valley and Berlin.
He says: “I began writing in 2009, after artists Iain McCaig and Dermot Power dared (and inspired) me to write a screenplay, and author JC Hsyu convinced me to try his hand at a short story. I attended the 2010 Clarion Writer’s Workshop with an remarkable set of instructors and students. The support and friendship of so many great writers and artists has been a wonder and an immeasurable help to my writing: thanks to this inspiration my first science fiction sale was out of the slush pile to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and I won the 2013 World Fantasy Award for my first published fantasy story, The Telling.”
Greg also freelances as a design researcher, sound designer, animator, and musician: you can find examples of all of this at www.suddensound.com and www.gregorynormanbossert.com
STEP RIGHT UP! GET YER CLOWNS HERE!
Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix is hot off the presses! So get your hot, pressed clowns today! Or if you prefer your clowns cold-pressed, never fear. A clown is nothing if not adaptable.
22 tales to horrify and delight, by authors Derek Manuel, T. Jane Berry, J.H. Pell, Jeff Wolf, Kristen Roupenian, Carolyn M. Yoachim, Mari Ness, Evan Dicken, Carlie St. George, Line Henriksen, Virginia M. Mohlere, Dayle A. Dermatis, Jason Arias, Joe Nazarre, Karlo Yeager-Rodruigez, Sara K. McNeilly, Chris Kuriata, Cassandra Khaw, Cate Gardner, Charles Payseur, Chillbear Latrigue, and Holly Schofield, with an introduction by Robin Blyn and illustrations by Bryan Prindiville.