Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Daryl Gregory?
What an impossible question! From the books I’ve read on neuroscience and consciousness, it’s clear that the contiguous self, this “I” who is typing this, is an illusion generated by the brain. Let’s not even mention the illusion of free will. So how about this? “You” and “I” will agree, for convenience, that there’s a person called Daryl who has somehow chosen to write a book. Ready? Here goes:
I’m a writer who lives in Oakland, California, and exists primarily on a diet of beer and coffee. I’ve written six novels, the novella We Are All Completely Fine, which won the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, as well as short stories, comics, and video games.
And now you may be regretting this interview.
Your latest novel, Spoonbenders, will be published in the UK by Riverrun. It looks really cool: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
A friend of mine calls it “The Royal Tenenbaums with psychics”. The Amazing Telemachus family once toured the US, performing amazing feats, until they’re embarrassed on national television, and then a tragedy ends the act for good. Twenty years later, in 1995, the family’s still in disarray. Frankie, who can move objects with his mind (when he’s not too nervous), is in debt to the Chicago mob. Irene, the human lie detector, can’t hold down a job or a relationship. And Buddy, who can see the future, stays mute for fear he’ll change the timeline. Then fourteen-year-old Matty accidentally travels outside his body, and he thinks the old Telemachus magic can come back. There’s a lot of comedy in the book, but I hope people fall in love with the family.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Books are made out of other books. For Spoonbenders I was inspired by the novels of John Irving, like The Hotel New Hampshire, and John Crowley’s Little, Big. Both those novels are complicated family dramas. Of course there’s plenty of inspiration from real life, but I don’t tell my friends and family which parts of their lives I’ve stolen for my book. Let ‘em guess!
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I think it must have been comics. I have a clear memory of my dad reading Spider-Man to me before I could read myself. After that, I gravitated to anything weird. There was no such thing as Young Adult when I was a young adult, so I went immediately to the science fiction section of the library. There was a K-Mart near my house, and every time my family went, I’d show up at the checkout with another SF paperback. My mom and dad, bless ‘em, always bought the book.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I feel very lucky. I worked a day job for thirty years, first a high school teacher, then a technical writer, and finally a programmer. For the last ten years of my software career I worked half-time, writing code in the morning and fiction in the afternoon, which was a good balance. Then a year and half ago I became a full-time writer, which is a beautiful and terrifying thing.
The book business can break your heart. There’s no job security and no guarantee of making any income, but for now I’m making a go of it. Talk to me in another year and a half and see how I feel!
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
The only firm rule I have is that when I’m working on a novel, I write every day. I have something I call the Spreadsheet of Shame to track my word counts. When I fall behind it starts turning red.
I’m happiest when I’m in the middle of a book, waking up every day with it warm in my brain. For the past couple of months I’ve been teaching or on tour, and I haven’t gotten any writing done. It’s eating at me!
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I don’t remember making a choice. The desire to write went hand in hand with reading. I still find it hard to believe that it’s not that way for everyone. A book would blow my mind open, and of course I wanted to do to other people. I wanted that power!
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
At San Diego Comic Con I was on a panel about bending genres, and I said that when I was a kid I read so many books, across so many genres, that the books started having sex with each other in my brain and I wanted to write about their weird, mutant babies. My first novel, Pandemonium, is fantasy that feels like SF, and my second novel is SF that feels like fantasy, and I continued in that vein, writing things that blend SF, fantasy, horror, and mystery. But the through-line has always been a focus on character, and getting the relationships and emotion right.
Spoonbenders is perhaps the book of mine that’s most accessible to a non-genre audience. Everyone understands what psychic powers are, and because it’s set in the real world, there’s not a lot of heavy lifting for a non-genre reader to deal with. The focus is on the family and how they struggle with each other. Knopf is selling it to both SF and mainstream audiences, and that feels right to me.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just started work on a new adult novel in the vein of Spoonbenders. Then I need to dive back into writing my Lovecraftian YA series, which started with Harrison Squared. Book 2 has a draft finished, and book 3 is on the way.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
The first half of the year I served on the World Fantasy Award jury, and I read nothing but fantasy novels and stories written in 2016. An avalanche of books came into the house, and now I feel like I’ve clawed my way through the snow and can breathe free again. I have two terrific books I’m reading now, both by friends: Annalee Newitz’s forthcoming novel Autonomous, and Chris Farnsworth’s Flashmob (Hunt You Down in the UK).
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Easy: John Crowley’s Little, Big.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
When I have grandchildren, I’m going to insist they call me Grandmaster D.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months
Writing the next novel, and seeing my son graduate from college. If I time this right, he can proofread the book.