Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Sean Grigsby?
Now that’s a complex question! Sounds like something I should use as a mantra while meditating. But I’ll give a simple answer.
I’m a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, USA. Father, husband, sometimes DJ. And now, I’m super-stoked to be a professional writer as well.
Your new novel, Smoke Eaters, will be published by Angry Robot in March. It looks rather fun and interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Firefighters vs. dragons… in the future. The ancient monsters have returned from beneath the ground and wreak havoc. Thankfully, a few people have been born with the ability to breathe dragon smoke and resist immense heat: smoke eaters. Cole Brannigan is a fire captain about to retire, and on his last fire call, he discovers he has these abilities and is recruited into the elite dragon-fighting force. The book has laser swords, ghosts, robots, and an evil plot involving them all.
There is definitely a potential for a Smoke Eaters series, and you might see a sequel very soon! It’d be titled Ash Kickers.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Although I’d been a firefighter for five years, I found myself in fire academy once again after being hired by a larger city. The idea of firefighters vs. dragons just popped into my head one day while an instructor was discussing how firefighters are the modern day knights.
In general, this is how most of my books begin. I’ll be mowing the lawn, or doing some other boring chore, when all of a sudden, WHAM! An idea springs to mind. If I can’t stop thinking about it, I know I have something worth writing.
I draw inspiration from everything around me: SFF movies from the 80s and 90s and our even crazier real world. As a kid, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, which was a clinical way of saying I would rather daydream about things than focus on schoolwork. But I firmly believe that it’s helped me as a creator. The imagination is a wonderful thing, and some of us were born to be story tellers.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I loved reading genre fiction and watching genre movies as a kid. I had every Goosebumps book and re-watched Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and The Mask incessantly. Besides science fiction and fantasy, I also really love horror and mystery.
If it involves lasers, aliens, monsters, ghosts, robots, or superheroes, I’m all about it.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love it. I mean, I’d have to, having pursued it for so long. Smoke Eaters is my fifth novel. This is an industry that takes persistence. My goal from the get-go has been to support my fellow writers, meet my deadlines, and treat everyone with kindness and respect.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
The research part all depends upon the book I’m writing. If I run into an area in which I’m not very knowledgeable, I’ll stop writing and Google the hell out it. My third novel was a pirate fantasy and I read all about the history of pirates before I ever put a word down.
I try for a thousand words every day I write, but I don’t get to write every day. While I’m working at the firehouse, it’s hit or miss. Many times I have to stop writing so I can go put out a fire or perform CPR. Then I come back to finish my word count if I’m not too exhausted.
I like to have incense burning while I write sometimes. Strapping on headphones and listening to music with no vocals, like movie soundtracks or chill hip hop beats, is a common practice. I try to get music that invokes the spirit of the book. So, if I’m writing about laser-wheeled motorcycle gangs in space, I listen to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. (The Reconfigured remix is my favorite version.) If I’m writing a robot detective noir, I like to listen to dark, steamy jazz.
One of my favorite tools is a program that makes my laptop keys sound like a typewriter when I strike them. I don’t know what it is, but it really helps to churn out words.
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’ve always wanted to be a writer, and loved books and stories. I just knew that I could do it. In second grade, I wrote a story about kids getting sucked into a videogame. When I showed it to one of my teachers, she had the school paper print it. But someone had transcribed it from paper and inserted typos. I was furious! Thankfully, my experience with editors since then has been way better.
As an adult, I got into writing short horror stories because I was bored with my bank job. I had some success, but anyone who’s been in the short story game can tell you that it makes the Thunderdome look like a playground.
It wasn’t until my first child was born that I decided to take writing very seriously and begin writing novels. I’d read 1984 and knew a novel was something I had to do. I hate that it took me so long, but I’m happy I finally took the jump.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
The genre is wide open for all kinds of new voices. I think people are tired of the same old stuff and crave something different. Unique. Diverse.
I’m hoping my books will help fill this hankering. I can’t do it alone! But I will always try new things, mix it up. The weird stuff. I will always be different and write stories my way.
My leaning is more to the pulpy side than the literary. I think you can still explore important issues while your characters are slicing dragon heads or shooting lasers. I think some forget that books are supposed to be fun and thoughtful. They’re entertainment, but stories, by their very nature, are also supposed to show us a different perspective and help us understand each other and the universe more.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Daughters of Forgotten Light is about all-female motorcycle gangs in space. They ride on laser wheels and shoot bouncy laser balls in a glass city floating amongst the stars. It’s a dystopian future where women are sent to be forgotten. Hence, the name of the space prison is Oubliette. All of the characters are women, and it’s very Escape from New York meets The Warriors meets Bitch Planet.
You might see this book come out very soon.
I’m also working on a robot detective noir called Robots Don’t Cry. It’s a tale of two cities: Upper and Lower Vomisa. Robots live on one side of a wall that separates them from the humans and neither is allowed to cross into the other city. Then, one day a dead human is found in the bot city and Detective EZ-42 has to solve the crime before things get worse.
Ash Kickers, as mentioned above, is also in the pipeline.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Fonda Lee’s Jade City is fantastic and I’m about halfway through. In her book, two warring clans fight for supremacy of Janloon, capital city of the island nation of Kekon. Some people on this island are born with the power to use jade for magical superpowers. It’s kind of like The Godfather with magic and kung fu.
I’m also reading Liber Null and Psychonaut, which is the textbook for chaos magic. I’m sure I’ll be inspired to write a novel from the information I’m absorbing.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
This is probably the toughest question you’ve asked me so far. There are so many I could name, but I have to go with Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. It’s one of those books that I got lost in. But the ending alone is why I chose this one. I walked around with my jaw dropped for hours after I finished it.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I used to stand-up comedy, and was well on my way to making a career out of it, but life happens and it didn’t work out. Thankfully, I can put humor in my books.
I also was heavily involved in theatre and TV, having won a student Emmy Award for sports anchoring. It’s funny because I don’t even like sports.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
So much! Obviously, I’m excited for Smoke Eaters releasing in March, but I’m also looking forward to attending Emerald City ComicCon in Seattle and WorldCon in San Jose. There is also something big happening toward the end of the year, but I can’t talk about it just yet. Stay tuned.
Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters. Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.
About Sean Grigsby: Sean Grigsby is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons.