When you wrote Thicker Than Water and created your characters, did you envision it as a series of books from the start?
Not at all. The catalyst for Blood Brothers was in May of 2006. I was working as an extra on a movie set with a friend. We were both dressed as gumshoes, wearing trench coats with our hair slicked back, and he caught our reflection in a car window and said, “Dude, we look like vampires.” And over the course of the next three or four hours, we dreamed up the main characters, their relationship, the title, and I just fell in love with the idea.
Initially it was going to be a movie, a ten-minute short film. But I never have any idea what I’m dealing with on a project until I start writing. They usually end up bigger than I’m expecting, and this one was like that to the point of absurdity. The plan went from a ten-minute short film to a full-length film, to three full-length films, to a gigantic tome of a novel, and finally to four shorter novels, two of which are finally done. By the time I published the first one in October of 2011 I’d already been working on the damn thing for over five years. I’m hoping I can hit the finish line before a decade is up.
Can you tell me who your ideal reader is?
I don’t know if you’re supposed to say this, but I don’t really like to think about the reader. In general, I love books. And individually, there are a lot of books I like, but to find one I can really fall in love with, that’s a rare thing. So when I start thinking, “Jesus, there sure aren’t many vampire books I can get behind. Someone needs to do one where…” you know, whatever. I’ll have that thought and then I’ll think, “Hey, wait! I’m someone!”
So it all comes from trying to create the books that I’m looking for and can’t find. And the only way I know of to do that is to make the ideal reader me. Some fourteen-year-old girl in Michigan who loves punk rock and just broke up with her first boyfriend, how the hell should I know what she wants in a vampire novel? But I know exactly what the fuck I want! That’s one thing I know better than anyone else on the planet.
Of course, at the same time, I’m the ONLY person who I know 100% for certain will NOT buy a copy of my book. But almost everything that I love, all of my favorite movies and books and albums, there are a lot of other people who love them too. I’m not usually the only schmuck cheerleading something. So my theory is if I do right by Greg, there seem to be some other Gregs out there.
That said, in the interest of marketing, I’d have to say that my ideal reader is whoever is reading this right now.
When did you decide that you were a writer?
Oh, come on. You don’t DECIDE to be a writer. You just start having thoughts about it and gradually realize you always were. And then you have to come out to your parents: “Mom, Dad… I’m a writer.” You’ve got to hope they don’t start crying, or that they don’t go, “Maybe you just haven’t found the right middle management job yet,” or, “You know, my friend down the street has a daughter who’s starting an accounting firm…”
Anyway, I don’t remember exactly what the first story I wrote was, but I know it was in second grade. We had to write stories every week in class and for the first two or three weeks I tried to tell stories of things that had happened to me in real life, but I was seven years old so obviously I had zero goddamn life experience. I complained to the teacher that I couldn’t think of any more stories and she said, “Make one up.” Somehow that had just never occurred to me. It was like there’d been a gas leak in my head my whole life and someone finally flipped the starter switch.
I already loved stories already by then. Movies, books, whatever. But it was just a moment of “THIS is where books come from? Somebody just makes up whatever shit he wants and writes it down? And I can do it too?! Why isn’t everyone doing this?” I think I’ve had at least one major project I was working on every day since then. Most of them up to about age 20 sucked, obviously, but it’s just been there. Every day when I’m walking around there are stories being developed in my head. I don’t think I could stop if I tried.
What is your favorite word and why?
There’s a French phrase: l’esprit de l’escalier. Literally, “staircase wit.” It’s basically a word for a comeback that you don’t think of until it’s too late. When you lose an argument and you walk away feeling like an idiot and then an hour later you’re eating lunch and you go, “Goddamnit! That’s what I should’ve said!” That’s l’esprit de l’escalier. I love it because my mind works really slowly and practically my entirely life has been composed of thinking of clever things to say about shit that happened twenty minutes ago. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I write.
Almost every writer puts a piece of themselves in their book. What part of you is in Blood Brothers?
There’s a fair amount of me in their philosophies toward life. A big challenge in that series was to try to take an objective look at human life, and that’s done through characters who have been around for a millennium and who have to kill people constantly in order to live so they’re emotionally detached. So to say that their view of humanity is similar to mine sounds really fucked up, but… I mean, in some ways. They view life as this incredible gift but at the same time they feel like, looking around at humanity, almost nobody’s really worthy of it. People just waste it. They’re born into the world, they get a few decades to spend however they want, and they just end up pissing it away working jobs they don’t like, living in cities they want to leave, surrounding themselves with people they don’t get along with. And Loki sees comedy in that while Tyr maybe sees a little more tragedy and even some hope in the form of Eva, but I think I see all of the above. So there’s a bit of me in them. I haven’t drank a pretty girl’s blood yet, but I’m not ruling it out.
What writer influenced you the most?
George Carlin is the guy who comes to mind who really made me fall in love with words. Not just the way he’d put them together for a really showy piece like “Modern Man” or “Advertising Lullaby” but the way he’d break them down and analyze them, or he’d make observations about the words we use in everyday speech and the hidden meanings in them, or the redundancies or oxymorons that were present. I just couldn’t get enough of that stuff.
He also had this attitude I loved. I saw an interview where he said something along the lines of, “I decided to root against species and that freed me up as a comedy writer.” I thought that was fascinating. To be able to place yourself in opposition to mankind and use that stance as a force for humor. I don’t know if I’d say I root against our species, necessarily — I hold contradictory beliefs where I’m really cynical but still optimistic and I get by pretty happily with one foot in each world — but I think there’s a little of that Carlin nihilism in my writing sometimes.
What is your best advice for a reader that is considering a career in writing?
The rewards you think you’re going to get — fame, wealth, recognition, whatever — you’re not going to get them. You can’t make it about those. The reward you’re going to get is the book itself, so make it one you can be proud of. Do. Not. Pull. Punches.
You shouldn’t even consider a career in writing unless you love writing. And if you love writing and you want to continue to love writing, you have to be sure you’re writing for yourself. A lot of ‘aspiring writers’ are full of fears. “Critics wouldn’t like the book I really want to write.” “This sub-genre isn’t very popular anymore.” “What would my friends and family think?” You have to set all that aside. The critics, your friends, your family, they can all go fuck themselves. This isn’t about them. It’s about writing the truest version possible of the book that’s demanding you write it. You can’t go halfway on this.
When you take the project that you can’t stop thinking about and you sit it on the back burner and say “Maybe when I’m more established or I’m more confident or when I’m this or that,” you’re doing it wrong. That easier-to-write second-choice book or that watered-down version of what’s in your heart it will be a slog to write and it will suck when it’s done because you didn’t listen to the writer inside you and write the thing it told you to write. But if you do listen to that voice, if you write the book you want to write instead of the book you think the world wants you to write, not only will you enjoy it more, but because you enjoy it more it will be easier to get it done and you’ll write a better book.
And remember: that’s the reward. Set it on your shelf and smile at it. When it doesn’t make you rich and famous, at least you’ll know you wrote the best goddamn book you could.
You can connect with Greg on his blog. GregSisco.com