It’s time for another of my blog’s occasional series of posts called “Five Questions,” wherein I ask an author, uh, five questions. Plus a bonus question, if they’re inclined. I’m excited to introduce Grant Price, author of By the Feet of Men. In this new dystopian horror story, disastrous climate changes and radiation have ravaged Earth, and humankind’s future depends on a convoy of supply truck drivers. It’s in my reading queue, and I can’t wait to get started. Many thanks to Grant for his fascinating answers!
Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.
The one that mattered was Clark, the protagonist of my first miserable little novel, Static Age. I was following every bit of advice I could get my hands on at the time, with one of the main recommendations being to write about what I knew. I knew toxic masculinity, existential angst and unfulfilled potential, so that was how Clark came into being. Three years of frustration and self-destructive habits went into him. When I was done, I felt clean.
How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?
In electronic form it was underwhelming. Unless it’s appearing in The Paris Review or The Atlantic or something like that, it’s difficult to get too excited about having a short story or an essay posted on the internet to be seen for a day and then ignored for eternity. I mean, it’s always nice to have a piece of work acknowledged, but it feels too temporary. Print is the prize, I think. The first time I had a short story published was because of a competition in a national newspaper, so actually being able to go to the newsagent and buy it was pretty special.
Print is the prize, I think.
As for my first properly published book, By the Feet of Men, I didn’t really enjoy it because I had to pick up the copies my publisher mailed me from a dry cleaner, which was where the mail service left them. The woman running the place wouldn’t give me the box because I didn’t have a passport on me to confirm my identity (my whole wallet of cards was no good), so I had to go home and get it. Then when I came back she still refused to give me the box until I recited my address, even though I’m pretty sure that’s not legal. I suppose she was just being thorough (like all good Germans), but impotent rage is what I remember more than anything.
What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
Don’t tell anyone that you’re writing until you’re ready to show it to the world. Otherwise, you place unnecessary pressure on yourself to get something done, which usually means rushing and cutting corners and taking the cake out of the oven before it’s cooked through. Your readers will likely be underwhelmed with the results and you’ll be discouraged.
If you were king, what would you change about the publishing world?
Nepotism is alive and well in the publishing industry, or at least that’s the impression I get. You can see it in the novels that garner gushing critical reviews but which crash and burn when released to the public, or in the established authors who get put forward for certain literature prizes (if you’ve won an award once and your reputation is secure, is it really the best use of anyone’s time or resources to award that same prize to the same author again years later?). I feel like a so-so novel with a referral from a big name is much more likely to find its way into print than a fantastic novel whose chances rest on nothing more than a well-crafted query letter. So if I were king I suppose I would…somehow override people’s natural tendency to favor individuals they are familiar with rather than unknown quantities. How would I do that? I’d delegate it to my Thomas Cromwell and get him to sort it out.
What is your next project? Timeline?
I’m writing a novel about a refugee who finds solace in boxing. I’ve read books like Fat City by Leonard Gardner, The Fight by Norman Mailer and On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates to prepare for it, and I’m keeping it short after writing a couple of novels that blew up to around 150,000 words each. I’m coming up to the halfway mark, and I’d like to have a first draft done by the end of summer. Other than that, I’m querying for my novel that I wrote after By the Feet of Men, which is called Mekong Lights and is about a one-armed Greek expat living in Laos who uncovers evidence of a criminal conspiracy operating there. It’s supposed to be a political satire for Brexit and the post-truth era, but who knows if it’ll ever see the light of day.
Bonus question: If you could reincarnate as another writer, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I went to this photography exhibition of writers once and I noticed that most of them died between the ages of 40 and 60, many due to depression or addiction. Capote, Kerouac, Fitzgerald Kennedy Toole, Orwell, Woolf, Foster Wallace, Hemingway (just about). Those are a few off the top of my head. In that spirit, I don’t know if I’d want to come back as another writer, because there’s a greater-than-average chance that I’ll be miserable as hell and die early. I’d rather come back as a photographer, like Germaine Krull. She was a badass.