I’m very happy to welcome Geoffrey Girard back to Books, Bones & Buffy! I was lucky enough to chat with him a couple of years ago, and now he’s here answering a completely different set of questions. Geoffrey’s latest is his debut short story collection, out now from Apex Books, called first communions (and yes, it’s supposed to be all lower case). And keep reading until the end, because Geoffrey himself is offering a signed copy of his book to one U.S. winner!
Welcome back, Geoffrey! Your short story collection, first communions, includes stories that go back a number of years. Can you tell us how you went about assembling the collection?
Mostly just pulling together all my best stand-alone stories published over the past ten years. Some are straight horror, others sci-fi or fantasy. So, a good grab-bag of ghosts, killers, bad science, demons, zombies, and things who walk that oughta slither, and vice versa. That they’re all speculative and lean kinda dark, and explore similar themes in different ways helped. It was fun to revisit many of these tales after so many years. Some got tweaked a little. Some, including the first one published, I was still happy with
One of your stories—Dark Harvest—came out of the Writers of the Future program. How did that experience influence your writing career?
Oh, wow. That’s the week. Classmates (guys who’d not yet published anywhere) included future pros like Jay Lake, Ken Liu, Myke Cole, and Steven Savile. Teachers included craft/business studs like Tim Powers and Kevin J. Anderson. Proved as formative as you get. First writing of mine to make it into every bookstore in the country. First time in fifteen years I started thinking again seriously about creative writing and that I could maybe become a pro writer. A dozen of us would sit around the pool each night, bouncing around story ideas, craft talk, and big plans. And specific advice from Jay Lake led me to getting focused so that by year’s end, I’d left my corporate job to become an English teacher, sold half a dozen stories and my first book.
I loved the story notes at the end of first communions. Many of your ideas seemed to come from real life experiences. Do you find it easier to build stories around those ideas?
Thanks for that. I always love when authors add those, so hoped people would enjoy. To your question, a lot of (most?) writers seem to start their projects with Character. But I always start with Theme, so have – I think – a little more work/obligation to do to catch up with that emotion/feeling that comes with great characters. Using real-life stories and people and applying those to a given theme helps me bridge that very-needed connection. Whether zombie heads in a church or meeting a guy who collects chips of bone from skulls, most of the characters are real people and very real-life situations.
What is your personal favorite story in the collection? (I’ll play fair and tell you mine: it’s a toss-up between For Restful Death I Cry and Unto the Lord a New Song.)
Cool, two very different stories! That’s the great part of collections: usually everyone finds something to like, and the “faves” are always different depending in the reader. For me, you’re asking for a Sophie’s Choice here; how to pick my favorite? Depends on the day. I’ll often just say Dark Harvest because it’s what got all the rest of this started; might not be a writer today without it. That sucker came out in less than a week and still holds up, I think. Also, my earliest reader/writer roots are in high fantasy – wanted to be Tolkien, Brooks, or Mary Stewart when I grew up – so it’s fun to have one set in those worlds.
You are heavily involved with Apex Publications, as both a writer and a close friend of masthead Jason Sizemore. I recently read Jason’s memoir For Exposure, and your name pops up quite a bit in that book! Tell us a bit about your involvement with them.
Jason and I met more than a solid decade ago, at the very start for both of us. He had only one issue of Apex Magazine out and I’d just published Tales of the Jersey Devil (first book). We met at a convention when he and I were the two panelists and there was no one in the audience. A totally empty room. So, we talked for an hour and have been good friends ever since. We’ve kinda grown up in the industry together; thus, I’m an official Apex “minion” who’d take a bullet for what they’re/he’s doing, and Jason has always supported me artistically. A lot of these stories came from Apex (or someone connected to Jason) asking me if I could write them a story about [fill in the blank here.]
You’ve written both short stories and novels over the years. What are the different challenges you have with each, and which do you enjoy writing the most?
Great question. I’m gonna be a wimp, however. I like them both for different reasons. I love reading short stories, and feel an English-major’s responsibility to contribute to that particular way of telling a story. I always feel I can demand a little more from my reader with a short story. And if they don’t like what I’m doing, they can move on; no worries. I like Stephen King’s metaphor of calling short stories basically a kiss at a party from a stranger while a novel is the full-on affair. Novels allow, obviously, more room to explore ideas, character, etc. I think in both ways pretty easily. When asked to write a short story, I think of “short story ideas” and when it’s time for a new novel project, I think of those. Not yet had one foot caught in both. EG: I knew CAIN’S BLOOD would be a novel eventually from Day 1. And I knew H.E. Double Hockey Sticks, for instance, is specifically a short story. The challenge with novels is, well, they’re so damn long. That is always daunting for the first 20-30k words; the “I’ll never finish this” feeling. Short stories, the challenge for me, is wanting every single word to be perfect. An absurd goal, and a fulfilling one.
From reading your bio, you seem to be an extremely busy man! You currently work as a teacher, in addition to writing. How do you balance the day job, writing and family life?
Now, don’t forget the MFA, and upcoming band gig! I often attribute it to a borderline-sociopathic compartmentalizing ability. When at school, I’m 100% focused on that; but school never follows me home. When writing on weekends or after school, I’m 100% into writing, and can shut out everything else. Family time is 100% that. And, so on… By segmenting my life, it seems to keep everything operational. Also gave up video games 7-8 years ago; a major time suck.
I understand you have a new YA novel coming out next year from Carolrhoda LAB that deals with 9/11. Can you give us an idea of what it’s about?
A teen girl discovers she may be the sole survivor of what “really happened” that day, part of the notorious “inside job.” She needs to figure it if the man who raised her is insane or if there’s some truth to his claims. It’s a balanced/historical account of what happened on 9/11 and some of the strangeness connected with, and – I hope – will be a great introduction of that day for teens (many of whom were not alive); and adults curious about the conspiracy phenomenon that seems to surface with everything these days.
This has been fun, thanks again for joining me!
Geoffrey Girard writes thrillers, historicals, and dark speculative fiction. His first book, Tales of the Jersey Devil, thirteen original tales based on American folklore, was published by Middle Atlantic Press in 2005, followed by Tales of the Atlantic Pirates (2006) and Tales of the Eastern Indians (2007). Simon and Schuster published two Girard novels simultaneously in 2013: CAIN’S BLOOD, a techno thriller, and PROJECT CAIN, a companion novel for teen/YA readers which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for “Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel.”
Carolrhoda LAB will publish TRUTHERS, a YA novel about the 9/11 conspiracy, in Fall 2017.
Girard’s short fiction has appeared in several best-selling anthologies and magazines, including Writers of the Future (a 2003 winner), Prime Codex, Aoife’s Kiss, The Willows, Murky Depths, Apex Horror & Science Fiction Digest, and the Stoker-nominated Dark Faith anthology. The debut collection of his short fiction, first communions, will be published by Apex Books in May, 2016.
Born in Germany and shaped in New Jersey, Geoffrey currently lives in Ohio and is the English Department Chair at a famed private boys’ high school. Prior to teaching, he worked as an advertising copywriter, web developer and marketing manager. He has a BA in English literature from Washington College and an MA in creative writing from Miami University, where he is now working on an MFA. He has presented and led workshops on creative writing at schools, bookstores and various writers’ conventions/events.
And now for the giveaway…one U.S. winner will receive a signed copy of first communions. Simply fill out the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends May 13th. Good luck!