Science fiction and fantasy writer, John Grant (aka realthog) is a prolific author and winner of many writing awards (including two Hugos, a World Fantasy, and a Locus). Earlier this month, he added this year's Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Book Title (his second) to the already full, trophy cabinet in his downstairs bathroom. John kindly agreed to answer some searching questions about himself, his work, and his winning entry, The Intelligent Child's Guide to Bullshit.
Which came first, the book title or the idea?
I think they both came around the same time. My grandson was born about three years ago, and when he was still a wee squidge I sent my daughter an ARC of my book, Denying Science. That triggered in me the notion that, while lots of folk like me are producing books for adults trying to counter the rising tide of antiscience, the people who really need the protection from bullshit are the kids.
How many times did you change the title before you settled on the one you use now?
An embarrassment is that I've changed the title since I entered it for the Puddle Award. The project's now called The Young Person's Guide to Bullshit. It may of course change again.
Tell us a little about the book. Is it finished/published?
I'm still struggling to get the proposal right. I'm working disgustingly hard on another book right now. There are a couple of aspects of the proposal that require me not to be completely shagged out from too many 'til-1am working days in a row. But I’m getting there, honest.
As a reader, does a good book title make a difference to you?
Yes, absolutely. I've far too often bought books with fabulous titles only to get them home and wonder what on earth possessed me. On the other hand, some of those fabulous titles have introduced me to wonderful books I might not otherwise have read. At the moment I'm reading a physics book about time called From Eternity to Here (by Sean Carroll). It's a knockout title. I might have read the book anyway, because my pal Bill DeSmedt recommended it to me, but the title did, as it were, make it more likely that I listened to his recommendation.
What’s your preferred genre/wordcount?
In nonfiction, book-length; I've written a lot of nonfiction articles/op-eds (and am always open to suggestions), but there's nothing quite like having the freedom to spend time going deep into a subject. In fiction, I really like the novelette/novella length. I'm not sure why this should be. When I first started writing fiction everything was Real Short -- hey, I got onto the second page, this is serious! I think that what I'm trying to do in my novellas is to achieve the same kind of emotional and intellectual depth you'd expect from a novel -- in other words, what I'm producing is not so much a novella as a somewhat short novel.
What’s your current WIP?
A vast encyclopedia of film noir. I'm covering about 3000 movies from all over the world.
Are you a pantser or an outliner?
Probably a pantser.
What are your long term goals as a writer?
To get back to the position where I can make a living out of this game.
Tell us about your very first sale.
Oh, sheesk, that's a difficult one. I think my first fiction sale was to Maxim Jakubowski for his fantasy anthology Lands of Never (1983). My wife was trying (quite rightly) to improve me a bit by getting me to spend a day out of my study doing some gardening. I'd more or less plucked my first weed when I said, "I have this idea for a story . . ." Very decently, she let me rush off and do it. Maxim bought it more or less by return of post. My wife said, "Okay, you've proved your point . . ."
'Course, by then I'd published a couple of nonfiction books and edited an anthology.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
From Alec Waugh: 'The way to write is to sit down, put the sheet of paper in the typewriter, and type.'
But the best advice I really got was from Colin Wilson, although it wasn't something he told me. I was working on a book with him, very early on, and I wondered why it was his bits were so much better than mine. I eventually realized that Colin was, essentially, talking onto the typewriter, whereas I was trying to commit a Formal Act of Writing. As soon as I realized that I should try talking to readers rather than being An Author, the dam broke.
What’s the worst?
What was the last story/novel you pitched/submitted?
My agent has been pitching for a while a book-for-adults-that-looks-like-a-book-f
What was the last story/novel you read?
I'm reading a nonfiction book at the moment, as noted. This is because the last couple of novels I picked up evoked the Pfaugh! response after about 50 pages. Most often these days I’m reading Brit psychological thrillers by the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Peter Robinson.
Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why?/Why not?
No. I tried a few, way back when. The only ones that ever gave me any help were Milford UK and Writers*Blot, the latter an offshoot of the former that Mary Gentle created. The advantages of both were (and still are, so far as Milford UK is concerned) that the contributing writers have to have some kind of track record of professional publication. The Milford folk gave me not just incalculable writing wisdom but a "family" whom I regard as of the utmost importance.
Where can readers find your work?
All over the place. My website's best, because then I likely get a bigger share of any sale. The publisher, AAPPL, for whom I’ve written a lot over recent years (like The Chesley Awards: A Retrospective, which won me my second Hugo), has just released three of my science books in e-editions here: http://tinyurl.com/calov47
What do you know now, that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
Have rich lovers.
Is there’s anything I didn’t ask you, that you want to answer anyway?
Nope. Oh, yes. Since you're offering, a pint of Hop Devil would go down well.
Who do you think would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen (and why)?
Astroturf. It'd last longer than either.
ABOUT JOHN GRANT
John Grant's sixty or so books include novels like The Far-Enough Window; Leaving Fortusa;
The Dragons of Manhattan; the story collection, Take No Prisoners. and the two novellas, The City in These Pages and The Lonely Hunter. You can find details of these and many more here: