This interview was conducted by Ilya Parker, panel moderator for Extraordinary Seeds at this year’s WriteAngles conference.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
It was kind of an always thing. I remember thinking up books as young as seven or eight. I had my mother transcribe my first attempt, because she was a newspaper editor and typed impossibly fast. As I went through elementary school I got more serious and mapped my first fantasy world. Then I picked a random kid and had him draw a line on the map: the hero’s journey. Then I built the plot around it.
Okay, how long did it take you to write DEAD BOYS?
It depends on what you consider writing. I had the idea for the world in 2000, but the first draft was absolutely awful, with nothing worth keeping. I kept kicking the idea around, and years later I tried what I call the William S. Burroughs version, which had the physical comedy that ended up staying. The final version took me a year and a half, full time. Then my editor and I pulled it apart for about four more months. So depending on how you calculate it, it’s either fourteen years or almost two.
Are you working on DEAD BOYS II?
No, what I’m working on is a cousin, but not directly related. The seed of the idea came from what would have been DEAD BOYS II, but I decided not to do anything further in the “Land of the Dead,” at least for now. This one is inverted, with living characters. This story uses life and vital organs to talk about death and mourning, whereas DEAD BOYS is a book that is pretending to be about death and is really about life, about how to deal with existence.
You have been writing your whole life and your first novel just came out about six months ago. You’ve made the transition from writer to published author. What are the differences?
I’ve seen two things happen simultaneously. On one hand I have a lot more confidence. My psychic water level has risen, the doubt has quieted. At the same time, I don’t think as highly of myself or my work. It used to feel more like I was a misunderstood genius. Now it feels like I’m very, very fortunate to be allowed to write books. The criticism that I levy at myself hurts less, while seeming more valid.
Has it changed your writing practice?
In terms of the writing itself, it’s not as if I’m sitting down and feeling the eyes of many readers scrutinizing what I’m doing. I’m mainly thinking of how it sounds to me. I read everything aloud. If it sounds like garbage, I throw it away. The difference, in terms of process, is that after I’m done, I just don’t regard it as finished anymore. It used to be that I’d write something, I’d polish it, and I’d consider that the finished product. Almost as if I was challenging the world to disagree with what I had done. It was hard for me to believe any editor was going to find any fault with it. [He laughs.] That is a form of arrogance that has been smacked out of me in the best possible way.
What are your goals moving forward?
I have no idea what kind of books I’m going to be writing five or ten years from now, and I like that. Right now my goal is to see what happens when I produce more quickly, when I’m less precious. What happens when I produce a book every year or two? The writers that I’d like to emulate tend to be prolific. That’s what I’m more interested in right now, instead of laboring over perfect works, or shooting for a really wide audience.
I’ve noticed you are very active on Facebook. I’ve seen poetry there. Are you a poet as well as a fantasy novelist?
I have what Lawrence Ferlinghetti termed poetry seizures. I write poetry for extended periods and I can’t stop. Then when it’s done, it’s done. I don’t miss it when it’s gone, but when it’s there I can’t turn it off. The reason that I put everything I did on Facebook over those two years or so was because my focus was on being accessible as a writer and as a human. It made sense to me to try to appeal to people directly as I could, and composing explicitly for status updates seemed like as good a way as any.
Do you have any favorite interview questions?
Not yet. I’ve gotten used to the questions people ask when I’m at Barnes and Noble, foisting my books on strangers. What’s interesting is that those questions tend to be the same in a single bookstore, but they change from one to the next. In Albany everyone wanted to know how long it took, while Kingston was more philosophical.
More about Gabriel.
Author photo by Bill Wright