His nonfiction has included The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (with John Clute), and a series of books on the misuse and misunderstanding of science: Discarded Science, Corrupted Science, Bogus Science and most recently Denying Science. His fiction has included novels like The World, The Far-Enough Window and The Dragons of Manhattan as well as numerous short stories, some of which have been collected as Take No Prisoners and the recently published Tell No Lies. For his nonfiction work he has received the Hugo (twice), the World Fantasy Award, and various other awards and nominations.
For a number of years he ran the fantasy artbook publisher Paper Tiger, for this work receiving a Chesley Award as well as a World Fantasy Award nomination.
His A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, the largest film noir encyclopedia in the English language, was published in October 2013.
His book of short stories Tell No Lies came out in December 2014 with The Alchemy Press, and his YA book Debunk It! is scheduled for publication by Zest in late February 2015, and his book Spooky Science is scheduled for fall publication by Sterling.
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
Although I haven’t recently counted to be certain, I think it’s still the case that I’ve published more books than I have short stories. Since at least two-thirds of those books are nonfiction . . . well, you can understand there’s a bit of an imbalance! As a result, I tend to get quite adolescently excited whenever a short story of mine is accepted. You can imagine the intensity this reached last fall when Alchemy Press accepted my story collection Tell No Lies; the book came out just before Christmas, and I’m like a child with a new puppy about it.
This is my second collection. The first, published about a decade ago, was called Take No Prisoners. Janis Ian fans will recognize the two titles as the first two lines of the chorus to her song “Take No Prisoners” (on her Revenge album). Janis very kindly gave me permission to quote her.
This is rather a busy time for me at the moment, publication-wise. Tell No Lies came out a couple of months ago. At the end of this month I have a YA nonfiction book appearing from Zest, Debunk It! (It started off being called The Young Person’s Guide to Bullshit but a whole series of bottlings-out by various parts of the US book trade led to the Debunk It! compromise.) The book forms a thematic extension to earlier books of mine like Corrupted Science and Denying Science. Another such is coming this fall from Sterling, Spooky Science, which I finished in a fountain of sweat a few days ago.
Ebooks or Traditional?
We bought a tablet for Christmas with the aim of using it as an e-reader, and I’ve so far read perhaps a half-dozen books on it. I can see the sense, and of course it seems environmentally far more responsible, but I still do prefer the feel of a conventional book in my hands – plus, when you pick up a book to continue reading it, all you need do is open it at the bookmarked page and there you are – there’s no faffing around waiting for the device to fire up, go through its tiresome routines, etc.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I once heard Alec Waugh give a talk in which he mentioned in passing his advice to aspiring writers: sit down with some blank paper and write on it; after a while you’ll discover how to do it. More recently I came across Nora Roberts’s terser and I think better version of this: Apply ass to seat. Write.
Crime: Poirot or Dragon Tattoo?
Dragon Tattoo, I’d guess, although I don’t think that’s an especially good example of Scandi noir. There are other authors in that genre whose work I prefer – Karin Fossum, Anne Holt, Jo Nesbo, and especially Karin Alvtegen. I could go on for a while here . . . I also like hardboiled fiction quite a lot. I recently discovered Dorothy B. Hughes and am planning to read a few more of her novels over the next few months.
I’m not averse to Poirot, either – although Christie’s not my favorite writer of classic mysteries. I prefer John Dickson Carr, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen . . .
And then there’s Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, who’s kind of in a category by herself.
Have you ever included people you know (disguised or not) in your fiction?
Years ago I wrote a comic novel in the Judge Dredd series that Virgin published, called The Hundredfold Problem. About half the UK science-fiction community of the time is in there. I’m quite surprised I survived to tell the tale after the publication of that one. Charlie Stross – in the book as Chuck Strozza (subtle, eh?) – took me aside the next time I ran into him at a con and I was expecting the worst. Luckily he only told me I hadn’t earned a free drink from him because I hadn’t given Chuck Strozza a gory death.
Aside from silliness like that, I generally don’t use real people in my fiction. I’m sure that bits and pieces of people I’ve known get in there without my really being aware of it – and I occasionally use situations that I’ve experienced myself – but usually I’m more interested in developing characters out of whole cloth. That way I’m not just writing the story but telling it to myself.
Fantasy: Lord Of The Rings or Howl’s Moving Castle?
Howl’s Moving Castle, definitely. I went through a period of enjoying epic fantasy – apart from anything else, I was writing it! – but these days I’m far more interested in the subtler stuff. I used to like urban fantasy a lot before that genre turned into a wallow of vampire detectives and randy witches.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Lumen (1999) by Ben Pastor (pseudonym for a female academic). It’s set in 1939 in Poland and has a Nazi intelligence officer and a US priest trying to get at the truth of the murder of a charismatic abbess.
Was she really a prophet capable of miracles? That sort of thing. The central character, the Nazi, is an especially interesting creation. He’s perfectly capable of viciousness and yet in other respects he’s a decent, reasoning human being. I’d heard a lot of good thing about Pastor’s work, and so far I’m enjoying my introduction to it.
Do you allow your characters to ever take over the plot?
Alarmingly often, I’m afraid. Once they seem to me to have become real people, they have a degree of autonomy that sometimes it can be hard for me to rein in. In one of the stories in Tell No Lies, for example – a piece called “His Artist Wife” that I’m especially fond of – there’s a kind of novel-within-the-story, the novel that our protagonist thinks he’s trying to write. As soon as I’d got the characters for it, that whole element of the story – the plot of that novel – basically wrote itself while I just sat and watched.
Who would star in the film?
Julie Delpy. Whatever the book or story . . .
What/when was the first piece of fiction you wrote? And what happened to it? (Be honest now!)
I must have been maybe eight when I penned my first novel, which was called – I can remember this clearly! – The Ghost of Horror Mansion. You knew where you were with a title like that. It had several chapters – look, count’em, several – and it must have filled about twenty lined exercise-book pages. Since my handwriting was not noted for its smallness, I can’t imagine this was the longest of novels.
Oxford commas – discuss!
Loathe them. I think they slow down the reader– which is surely the last thing any writer should want to do – and very often they confuse the sense of what’s being said. Persuading US editors of this is difficult.
What are you up to next?
As noted, I’ve just finished Spooky Science. Right now I’m having a bit of a blitz on my movie site Noirish – it’s sort of an annex to my monumental Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir that came out fifteen months ago – and then I hope to get stuck into another popular science book. I also want to write some short stories, maybe thinking toward another collection.
Tell No Lies by John Grant. Published by The Alchemy Press
Herewith are the taglines for this collection of John Grant’s best stories! To thrill and chill you, to take you on journeys of the fantastic!
- It is an easy enough mistake to make – the most natural mistake in the world.
- Cello is hooked up to the machine, but whose dreams does she experience?
- The house is suddenly infested, but with … what?
- At the Edinburgh Fringe he meets Kristie; she seems to be exactly what he needs.
- The books Richard buys contain a signature that has no right to be there.
- In a West Country village petrol is ridiculously cheap; where does it come from?
- Caught in a blizzard he finds himself in Memoryville … where he meets an old acquaintance….
- Ginfalcio Beeswax and Truculence Fish are all that stand between the monsters from the blackness of outerspace and the end of mankind; but are issues closer to home more frightening than multi-tentacled aliens?
- Christopher – their miracle child.
- Nick’s lives are … haunted, but by whom?
- The artist is dead but her art lives on.
- It’s Benjy’s birthday – and he wants his own universe.