[Interview] Bosley Gravel

Bosley Gravel was born in the Midwest and grew up in Texas and southern New Mexico.

His work includes the novels, Servant of the Mud (Shadowfire Press, 2009) and The Movie (Bewrite Books, 2009).

In this interview, Bosley Gravel talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember.

I first sought publication in the mid-90s, but that didn't amount to much. In 2006 I took up writing again and have written close to half a million words since then. About 200,000 of those have seen publication in some form.

Between 1996 and 2006 the Internet became a critical tool for writers and I’ve leveraged that in a predictable way by targeting online journals, using it for research and making cheap, efficient submissions via email.

The number one thing I did to achieve the goal of publication was to write every day and study the craft of storytelling. As for the reasons for seeking publication, that is hidden in treasure chest and buried deeply somewhere between my ego and my id.

How would you describe your writing?

My novels typically involve plots centering around personal growth.

I tend to use simple structures and complex characters (all male so far) who, through extraordinary circumstances, must come to terms with a hidden aspect of themselves. These characters have built entire worlds of myth around themselves and subsequently struggle to align themselves with both the myth and the reality of their lives.

Essentially, these are coming-of-age stories built on top of the hero’s journey formula. If that sounds rigid, it’s not.

I pride myself on not being afraid to take a chance and follow some strange and unusual paths. For example, I’ve written about an independent filmmaker who struggles to get his absurd imagination on the big screen; a troubled polymath who must come to terms with not only the brutal world, but his own fears of loss and love; a handsome anthropophobic accountant who finds his true nature in a new found world of organized crime and sorcery; a gifted musician who is orphaned at an early age and soon learns that even fame and fortune can not fill an empty soul; a could-be messiah who must come to terms with both his human needs, and his divine responsibility.

With my short fiction pretty much anything goes though. Most of that is available online in some form or another. A lot of it is genre stuff with emphasis on plot and trope, some literary and some just a kind of unclassifiable other. In my short fiction I’ve written everything from splatter-punk horror to morality fables.

I read widely and I think my fiction reflects that.

Who is your target audience?

I’m sort of a selfish writer, I hate to say.

I don’t think much about audience and, since I don’t really stick closely to one genre, I pay for this by not having consistent readership. When I write, the only loyalty I feel is to the story and, ultimately, to the protagonist.

With that being said, I have a handful of faithful readers who read early drafts and I’ll often oblige their tastes or tailor content for them in some fashion. But it will always be on terms that are true to the character or story.

Which authors influenced you most?

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn had a tremendous influence on me. I still go back and read that book occasionally. The depth and layering of both the Huck character and the story itself has had a big impact on me and introduced me to concepts of irony and metaphor in fiction -- although I didn’t know that the first time I read it of course.

Also, there is a book called Wyvern by A. A. Attanasio that is story about a Bornean native/Dutch half-breed who goes from the jungles to the shore of America in the 1500s. It’s really a story about destiny and human potential. A great book.

In terms of something I’ve read more recently, I think Rebecca Wells wrote some excellent short fiction in Little Altars Everywhere and Ya-Yas in Bloom.

Little Altars Everywhere, in particular, inspired me to start writing again after a 10-year hiatus. I was impressed with the depth of her characters and the simplicity of her prose.

Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker and William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Poppy Z. Brite, Louis L'Amour and Lawrence Block have also all made significant contributions to my writer’s toolbox.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My writing is in stark contrast to my day job.

I deal primarily with computers and computer networks in the real world and, when I sit down to write, it’s the last thing I want to think about. So my stories almost never contain elements of technology. In fact a good deal of my longer works are set pre-1990 in order to avoid having to deal with the Internet, texting, cell phones, etc. I find all of that terribly boring.

Obviously though, as I writer, I’ve been gathering details on people, places and situations for years, and these come out in my writing. I think all the ups and downs of my life do come out in some way or another in my writing. I’m a bit reluctant to reveal any specific details though, so like the reasons for seeking publication, it will have to remain a mystery.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I think writers have an obligation to tell the truth.

The truth isn’t always pretty and the truth is often subject to perspective. Worse yet, the truth is sometimes fluid and changing.

I get concerned that a reader will misinterpret something I’ve written and use it to justify a rigid view of the world.

In the same vein, it would bother me a bit if I thought people were associating me too closely with my characters.

I try to avoid the problem of having too loud a moral voice by writing about people and less about ideas.

Apart from being accused of evangelizing some half-baked belief, my only other real worry is being a bore -- the worst sin ever for a writer (makes me shiver just thinking about it).

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge is finding the time to go back and edit what I’ve written.

By the time I’ve completed a chapter or a short story or even an novel, my imagination is already taking me to the next one, and the previous one becomes a lot less shiny and pretty.

The only cure for this is discipline, and the desire to be published. No editor wants a first draft on his desk; well, no editor in their right mind, anyway. The only real way to deal with the final polish is to just go ahead and do it.

By the same token, I try to avoid over-polishing a piece. I think too much commercial fiction is edited to mush and really has no remaining voice. I'd rather not do that.

Do you write everyday?

I write every morning. I go for about 500 to 750 words; on occasion more. I just grab a cup of coffee and write a page or so, get my kids out the door for school, then hack out another page or two.

I've written about five novel-length manuscripts. Two of those were released at the tail end of 2009, one as an ebook, and the other as a paperback. The others remain in various stages of drafting.

The two that have been released are:
  • Servant of the Mud, Shadowfire Press, Dec 4th 2009. This is a mythic urban fantasy that follows Pauly, a reluctant Christ figure, who transitions from an irresponsible street kid into something far more, and
  • The Movie, Bewrite Books, Dec 10th 2009. This is a story about a small town kid with big dreams, and a very weird imagination.

What would you say your latest book is about?

In The Movie, the unemployed young feller’s dream is to break into Hollywood with a DIY movie called Cannibal Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space -- versus -- Doctor Clockwork and his Furious Plastic Surgeons of Doom. This was the book’s original title and still stands (in small print, artfully hidden in the front cover image -- my publisher added The Movie as main title).

See what I mean about my characters taking myth and building reality?

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Twenty-four very, very busy days.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I’ve always been keen on small presses. I’m still cutting my teeth as an author and I like the idea of dealing with editors who are hand-choosing their projects and not having them assigned by acquisition folks.

I like the idea of a ‘mom and pop’ style press in this day and age.

BeWrite Books was one of the handful of small presses that turned up in my research as being flexible and open to literary-type fiction that is fun and unpretentious.

What advantages and/or disadvantages has your association with BeWrite Books presented?

BeWrite has been everything I’d expected it to be ... and more.

Craft is obviously very important to the staff, and it shows in their titles and the attention my manuscript received (the first draft took me twenty-four days ... it was almost a year in edit as revisions passed between me and BeWrite Books over and again).

The disadvantage, I suppose, is that small presses can’t afford the media-blitz marketing big publishing can do ... with an emphasis on can. It doesn’t look like big publishers do much advertising for their authors these days anyway, other than a select few.

I think in the day and age of virtual everything, handling distribution/production the way BeWrite does it is the future that big publishing will eventually yield to anyway. So that’s really less of a disadvantage and more of a ahead-of-their-time kind of thing with BB ... but it still limits sales.

Bewrite’s no-pulping methods are a lot better for the environment. And while I’m rarely seen hugging trees, I think being frugal with our limited global resources is important.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into The Movie?

This book wrote itself. I’m told every author gets one of those sooner or later.

I think the most difficult thing was to go clean up the prose and punctuation, etc.

I read once that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on a single sheet of paper that rolled continuously through his typewriter, he used no punctuation and no indents. My manuscript was not much different.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

This book was just fun to write. The characters all have an innocence about them, an innocence they’ve chosen to indulge. In direct opposition to this innocence is the lead character’s screenplay with these bizarre and decedent scenarios.

I enjoy deliberately blurring opposing concepts like that.

I’ve had beta readers from all over the world, from middle aged American housewives to Australian teenagers, even a moderately curmudgeonly (but brilliant) Scottish editor -- they've all loved it.

The idea that I could write something that would be enjoyable by such a vastly different group of people is immensely encouraging.

What sets The Movie apart from other things you’ve written?

This is the most light-hearted manuscript I’ve written. My other books tend to be dark and only cautiously optimistic about human nature.

In this case, caution is thrown to the wind and I’m thrilled that it came out this way.

It’s also written in first person which is a rarity for me.

In what way is it similar to the others?

It includes several hallmarks of a Bosley Gravel story: male protagonist with a somewhat flawed sense of reality and vivid imagination, a meta-story woven into the story proper, love, sex, death, the absurdly tragic ... and the tragically absurd.

What will your next book be about?

My current novel manuscript, American Woman, is about Hollywood Tommy.

Tommy is a self-absorbed womanizer, who as a way to deal with a mid-life crisis, rekindles a relationship with his ex-wife and his children in suburbia.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Writing one word after another. Finding a reason to do it each and every day.

Having the guts to get things in front of editors and readers.

Aspiring to write a book better than the last one I wrote.

Having the guts to get my work out there to editors and readers.

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Ricky Bush said…
Hey, I know Bosley Gravel (on Facebook)...now I know him better.

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