An Interview with New Member Gregory Frost
By Ron Breznay
Gregory Frost is a writer living in southeastern Pennsylvania. He has penned novels, short stories, articles, and book reviews in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres. Greg has an extensive education in writing. He is a graduate of the writing program at the University of Iowa and of the Clarion Writers Workshop, at which he was later an instructor. He attended many Sycamore Hill Writers Workshops, the Nameless Workshop, and the Philadelphia Stories Workshop. In addition, he was one of the rotating Fiction Writing Workshop Directors at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
Greg’s work has been nominated for every major fantasy award. His novelette “Madonna of the Maquiladora” was a finalist for the James Tiptree Award, the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Hugo Award. His Shadowbridge duology was a finalist for the 2009 James Tiptree Award, and the American Library Association named the Shadowbridge duology one of the four best fantasy novels of 2008.
His novels include the two Táin books, Táin, (1985) and Remscela (1988), which retell the Irish epic Táin Bo Cuailnge; the books were later combined into one volume, Crimson Spear: The Blood of Cu Chulainn (1998). He wrote two novels in the Shadowbridge series, Shadowbridge (2008) and Lord Tophet (2008), which are fantasy novels set in a world of linked bridges and tunnels. His other novels include Lyrec (1984), about two interdimensional travelers on the hunt for a monstrous creature; The Pure Cold Light (1993), a satirical novel about an alternate Philadelphia; and Fitcher’s Brides (2002), a retelling of the story of Bluebeard.
He has written many short stories, some of which are included in the fantasy collection Attack of the Jazz Giants: And Other Stories (2005).
Greg was a member of the HWA in the past and recently rejoined. Let’s give him a hearty welcome back to the Horror Writers Association.
HWA: Your bibliography includes mostly fantasy and science fiction, but there are also several horror stories listed. Why do you occasionally dip into the waters of horror?
GF: Actually, I think there’s more dark fantasy and horror in my biblio than anything else–certainly in the category of short fiction. I suspect it’s all due in part to growing up reading things like Playboy magazine, where the genres freely mixed and one could find John Collier, Frederick Brown, Roald Dahl, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury all jumbled together.
That reading material and a lot of Friday night creature features, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, all of it part horror, part science fiction, and part Roger Corman, which is likely its own subgenre. So I arose steeped in cross-genre material and I suppose I think that way. The two books I’m working with right now are full of ghosts and hauntings and curses.
HWA: What are your works of horror? What sub-genre of horror do you prefer to write in?
GF: The best known horror work of mine is probably Fitcher’s Brides, which was a finalist for Best Novel on both the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Guild Award ballots. That’s a historical thriller set in 1843 in the Finger Lakes of New York, and is a recasting of Bluebeard, incorporating the real millennialist religious fervor of the time. So, you know, the world is famously supposed to end this year, and I’m just laughing about that, because it’s all occurred before with similarly disappointing results.
I like to work a lot in psychological horror. I like stories that can leave you suspended at the end. The story’s done but you can’t stop thinking about it. I’m very fond of William Hallahan’s The Search for Joseph Tully for that very reason. It seems that my own horror writing tends to drift into the historical. The piece I have in Ellen Datlow’s Supernatural Noir, “The Dingus,” which has just come out, is set in 1950 in Philadelphia. Another, “That Blissful Height,” in John Kessel’s Intersections, was the result of encountering a portrait of an allbut-forgotten Philadelphia scientist who experimented with spiritualism in the 19th century. Another horror story, “Lizaveta,” was set in Russia in the early 20th century, and came about from reading Harrison Salisbury’s Black Night, White Snow. So…I enjoy history, but I am clearly wired for weirdness. Even when I read something purely historical, it invariably takes me down strange paths.
HWA: What is interstitial fiction? And what is the Interstitial Arts Foundation?
GF: IAF is an organization I don’t really have anything much to do with now. It was begun by Terri Windling, Midori Snyder, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman and others to promote works of art–fiction, painting, film, sculpture, etc.–that blend genres or mediums of expression: the art that falls between definable categories, the art of the borderlands.
Interstitial fiction would be any fiction that all but defies classification, that mixes things up and produces work that you can’t quite classify. Kelly Link’s fiction, for instance. It bears some relationship to what Bruce Sterling years ago termed “slipstream fiction”–fiction that was borrowing across genres–early Paul Auster, Steve Erickson’s Days Between Stations, works like that. Sterling was looking at a specific one-way flow, but interstitial fiction is flowing in every direction, vertically, laterally, diagonally. Something like China Mieville’s The City & the City is part detective novel, part Bruno Schulz homage, part science fiction thriller. The pieces are integrated perfectly. It’s brilliantly liminal.
HWA: Can you describe the Clarion experience in a nutshell?
GF: A six week imprisonment during which time you’ll live at hyperspeed and be stuffed with about two years’ worth of experience, information, and potential development. Some of you will discover that this is not what you want to do. Others will develop the addiction and not be able to stop writing fiction ever after.
HWA: Clarion is geared toward short stories. Would attending that workshop help someone interested in writing novels? How?
GF: That would depend entirely on the makeup of the workshop, on who’s teaching, on whether they address and/or allow novel segments into the cycle of work. I think novels are very difficult to teach in a workshop environment anyway, much less one that directs you to produce something like a story a week (or in a few demented cases I’ve seen, twenty-five stories in five weeks). In terms of structuring a novel, I don’t know if Clarion is tremendously helpful. In terms of improving characterization, voice, dialogue, telling details, scooping out unnecessary exposition, understanding story arc in general–all easily relatable to the novel–it can provide tremendous growth.
HWA: What are the most important reasons for a writer to attend a workshop?
GF: Well, first, as a reason not to: If you plan to sail into a workshop in order to show off your absolute genius, you’re not going to have a good time. If you’re presenting something that is confounding or eluding you–maybe you’re writing a story or a novel that’s a stretch, that you don’t quite know how to accomplish yet–or else something that you’ve stared at, worked at for so long that you just can’t trust your own judgment any longer, then a workshop can provide critical feedback. But in the end you’re going to have six or twelve opinions on it, and you will still have to make the call as to which opinions help and which will ruin the story–what you will and what you won’t do with it. So don’t depend on the workshop as a crutch.
I was just at a writing conference and a friend of mine, author Kelly Simmons, who was leading a workshop there, said she thought writers write for one of two reasons. Either for closure (writers who want to finish this work and move to the next project) or for achievement (and such writers look for validation). The workshop is maybe more useful to those looking for achievement. Just be careful not to become a workshop junkie, who just keeps hauling the same damned piece of fiction from one workshop to the next. That’s not achievement, that’s stagnation, and I’ve seen it happen.
HWA: Why did you join the HWA and what benefits are you looking for from your membership?
GF: I was a member of HWA years back but as you noted at the beginning of this, I was writing mostly fantasy and sf. I’ve steadily been moving into the realm of thrillers, supernatural fiction, and the darkest fantasy, both in my writing and in my reading habits, and so it seemed to me like it was time to re-up. I blame Rocky entirely for persuading me. I am not a joiner by nature, so I have to be prodded into things from time to time.
HWA: Tell us about your latest work.
GF: The latest is a short story, “The Dingus,” in Ellen Datlow’s Supernatural Noir. I also have stories out currently in Ellen’s Poe anthology, and in Darrell Schweitzer’s Full Moon City and Cthulhu Reigns anthologies, and in Clockwork Phoenix 3, edited by Mike Allen. I recently read a strange piece that’s interstitially horror for the NYRSF reading series in New York, and which isn’t finished (or titled) yet, so I’ve no idea where it’s going to end up.
HWA: Tell us about your upcoming books.
GF: I’m working on two at the moment. One’s a historical thriller, again set in the 1840s, rather an unusual haunted house tale; the other is a contemporary supernatural mystery that might be the first of a series. Both are in progress, so I don’t want to say too much more. I tend to be superstitious about discussing things in progress too much.
HWA: Thanks, Greg. And, again, welcome back to the HWA.