This interview is the first of a series of conversations with various contributors to Brewed Awakenings, the house anthology of Caffeinated Press.
Chris Galford is an author, photographer and journalist with deep roots in West Michigan. His short story, Furniture City, is available in both the print and ebook version of Brewed Awakenings 2. Learn more about this dynamic young man and his craft by visiting galfordchris.com.
Caffeinated Press: Tell us a bit about who you are—what have you studied? What have you written? Any fun anecdotes that will help our readers better understand your perspective or motivation as a writer?
Chris Galford: My name is Chris Galford. I’m actually a journalist by profession (and a graduate from Michigan State University in the same), so writing has seeped into just about every aspect of my life. Business papers, local papers, these are usually where I have ended up, but right now I’m working for a media startup with news publication tendrils in Michigan that I’m rather excited about. Big possibilities there.
As for the more creative end of things, beyond these fair pages I’ve had a robot-infused and survival-fueled short story appear in Raven International Publishing’s A Bleak New World anthology, a short tale of information addiction on Evil Girlfriend Media, and a fantasy tale of one woman’s hunt to recover a stolen child in Mystic Signals Magazine.
The latter actually takes place in the same world as my published three-novel fantasy series: The Haunted Shadows. That one’s an adult epic, a coming-of-age tale with revenge. The pitch? When magic collides with gunpowder and politics, no one comes out on top, and a renaissance can ever so quickly become a nightmare…
Caffeinated Press: How do your skills and experiences as a journalist and as a novelwright overlap? How do they most significantly differ? Do you find that your journalism training has helped or hindered your novel-writing?
Chris Galford: If anything, being a journalist has made me a quicker writer and certainly a better self-editor. The styles entertained under either hat, however, could not be more different. As a journalist, it’s important to be succinct, to the point, chock-full of information. As a novelist, you have to tease it out, because there is always the danger of information overload. You don’t want to bore readers. Journalists are often writing short pieces about a single topic. Novelists cover sweeping tales, hundreds of pages in length—too much raw information will just put people to sleep. Factor in that under my novelist hat I tend toward the fantasy and sci-fi end of the spectrum, and you already have some rather lengthy, flowy prose. The last thing I need tacked onto it is a full hundred-page history dump.
However, another thing that journalism has helped me with? Conversation. It has made the language of my characters more authentic, and helped me get inside the minds of those I have designed, because journalism is all about communication—reading people, responding to people, anticipating people, and your characters should always be people.
Caffeinated Press: Describe the best and the worst experiences you’ve had as an author. How have these situations shaped your growth as an author?
Chris Galford: Writing is rough work. You spend hours beating yourself up over details, trying to craft and patch things just right, only to spend months afterward trying to convince others it’s worthwhile too. So the best experience? That first moment of validation when, outside your editor, your friends, your family, a publication writes you back and you open the letter thinking it’s going to be another form letter, and sure enough, it starts out that way, but you read a little further out of habit, and you begin to realize this letter’s longer than the others, and all the can’ts have turned to can’s and you realize all those hopes weren’t misplaced, you weren’t lying to yourself and others, you are, truly, a writer, and while you don’t need the validation to make you who you are, it feels good to know you’re not just a crazy fellow with a pen. That first sale is rarely anything major. Mine paid a little stipend—many don’t. But that moment of knowing that your ideas have found recognition in another heart is priceless.
By contrast, my worst experience? Working as an independent author, marketing is one of the trickiest parts, so you can imagine my elation when a bookstore local to my area at the time agreed to take on multiple copies of my first book for sale. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the books never actually went on any shelves, were never seen, and several months later, a new person in charge of acquisitions there meant no one knew where the copies I had sent even went. Major letdown. I dare say that hurt me coming out of the gate because it made me a little cagier about public exposure opportunities for my work.
Caffeinated Press: Your experience with the bookstore sale gone awry raises an interesting point: Many authors, on the one hand, crave validation for their work, yet on the other hand, shy away from the spotlight. Is this a contradiction? How did you recover from that situation?
Chris Galford: Not at all. Despite the old image of us—and the image increasingly demanded by publishers looking to market—we aren’t all bards. There are at least as many Harper Lees in the world as George R.R. Martins. All of us have stories to tell, but not all of us are as eager to handle customer service and public relations. In other words, some are more than willing to let the words do the speaking for them; the rest can come across as something of a distraction. That’s not to say we don’t recognize publishers’ stances; they want us to reach out to as many potential customers as possible. It’s understandable. It is a business. But some writers recognize and prefer to play to their own strengths. Some people are simply more social creatures than others.
As to the issue of my first bookstore, I wish I could say I recovered well. It hurt. There’s no way around it. As I said, it made me a bit cagier in terms of public exposure, had me focus more heavily on internet marketing than physical marketing. There’s plenty to that, of course, but it’s a lot easier to get swallowed in the vast expanse of the internet than when you’re planted right in front of locals. It took me until my second book until I was really ready to do public readings, or invest in many physical copies for marketing again.
Caffeinated Press: What are you currently working on?
Chris Galford: I’m currently working on a brace of short stories: one, a horror tale revolving around a timeless house and the displaced forest spirit which has made it their home; the other, a short tale of a dryad caught between sides, both magical and not, and the transformation which helps her overcome.
I also recently put the finishing touches on another fantasy novel—inspired by Native American sources and experiences—which I’m currently shopping around to agents. At the same time, I also have a post-apocalyptic war novel that touches on reconciling with depression, and is likewise hunting representation.
Caffeinated Press: The stuff you’ve done, and the stuff you’re doing, crosses a wide array of subjects. How much background expertise in a subject do you need to develop before you’re comfortable writing from that conceptual frame?
Chris Galford: The answer hinges on something I always tell fellow writers: you have to read. We all have our areas of intrigue or skill, but to find them, you have to immerse yourself in them. How do you know you enjoy fantasy? Chances are, you’ve read the works that are already around and learned whatever you could from them.
You want enough racing around your brain so that you know what works and what doesn’t, but not enough that you start thinking like everyone else. When prepping The Haunted Shadows series, I knew right away that I wanted it to be inspired by the tragedy of the Thirty Years’ War—revolution at the time of renaissance, the crossroads of gunpowder and medieval warfare, religion tearing itself from religion, that whole deal. I studied events. I read up on how things were fought, the major players, desires—background information. I staked out the library and dug into the history sections. I invested far too many hours into Wikipedia.
Yet what I did not do was read exclusively that. Had I done so, I’m sure I would have made a fairly decent historian, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t have made a terribly original or interesting writer. I devoured fantasy and science fiction and historical fiction on the side, making a mess of timeframes and styles in my brain, not because they helped me with that particular story, but because I enjoy them and it kept my brain fresh while I worked. It was the learning—anything, really—that kept the moss off and kept me comfortable as I plodded out the adventures of a mercenary band, and the doom and salvation of nations.
Caffeinated Press: Who are your three greatest influences as a writer?
Chris Galford: Kurt Vonnegut, R. Scott Bakker and Robin Hobb.
Caffeinated Press: What words of wisdom would you offer to writers still struggling to find their voice or platform?
Chris Galford: It’s a strange world out there. The nature of the market has changed a lot in the past decade, but one fact remains: to get anywhere in this crazy business, you have to love writing more than is reasonable, because reason, in just about every form, is going to tell you this is a terrible idea. The hours are horrid. The pay isn’t going to be what you want it to be. Writing is an act of love. You have to love writing and you have to frequently remind yourself that you do. It will take a lot of endurance—against the market, against the world, against your own head—but if you can hold onto that love of writing while you hone your craft, eventually you will come to the stories that are yours and yours alone.
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