The busy mind of Cornelia Grey (the author interview)

First, Cornelia, welcome! Thanks for allowing me to feature you as an author and discuss your work. In a bit I’d like to talk about Apples and Regret and Wasted Time, and maybe a bit about some of your other stories. But first, perhaps you can give readers a bit more information about you as a writer:

Q: I know of several short stories (in addition to Apples and Regret) that you’ve had published. If readers look at several of your stories, will they find a common thread, or theme? How do your stories come in to being—do you create characters and the story grows up around them, or do you start with a plot and invent characters as they’re needed? (Or some other mixture?)
A: I noticed there’s definitely a common theme. My stories are mostly set in alternative realities, worlds that are either urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic, steampunk… or just plain weird . And often these worlds’ societies are flawed, deeply unfair, crushed under some oppressive power. The stories revolve around the underdogs, random and unconventional, who strive to fight against this oppression, even if in small ways. Another common element in my stories is that the protagonist is originally on the side of the oppressors, or at the very least completely uninvolved in the events, and his perspective changes completely when he gets to know the underdogs. This is a storyline that comes to me naturally, and even though I’ve used it more than a few times, it’s still my favorite.

I’m also usually a plot person. I tend to think up an ending, the more climatic and explosive the better, then a beginning (in this order!) and then I plan out the intricacies that come in between. By the time I start actually writing, the skeleton of the story is ready, complete with a fairly accurate bullet point list of the scenes. I like to have the full movie, complete with sound and fancy special effects!, all flowing in my head before I start putting it down on paper.

The characters sort of come naturally as the plot flows. Often I don’t know much about their back-story – heck, sometimes I don’t even know their names! – as if I was stumbling across two strangers at the beginning of the story and just stalked them around to see what they’ll do. I think that sums up rather nicely how the whole process works for me, actually – the story’s unfolding almost by itself and all I have to do is keep lurking and be quick to take notes.

Q: In the excerpt from Apples and Regret and Wasted Time, the language is in some places (particularly the line that contains the title phrase), gorgeously sensual. Is that something readers will find throughout your work? If so, perhaps you can talk a bit about what influenced you in that direction. Does it affect the way you see or “feel” your characters? (Their emotions, their actions, their sex?)
A: Thank you for your kind words! To be honest, the issue of language is a little complicated for me. My mother tongue is Italian and I’ve only been writing in English for a couple of years, so my control of the language is still a bit limited. I can never tell if a sentence sounds English or if it sounds like Italian translated into English, for example, so especially in my first stories I had some funny sentence structures floating around. Italian has long, convoluted sentences, and that doesn’t quite make sense in English. Plus I tend to use lots of Latin-derived words, because they remind me of Italian and therefore come easy, while in English they tend to sound obscure and overblown.

I think I keep improving, though – if I read stories I published last year, I can now catch some sentences that sound odd and that I would phrase differently today. I notice my latest stories have a much cleaner use of language, without all the twists and twirls of my Italian writing. I manage to keep things simpler and more effective, and I think it results in a sharper, more incisive writing style.

However, I think the poetic undertones that Apples has are a little unique among my stories . I was caught up in the atmosphere of the story as I was writing it, suspended in its dream-like, foggy scenario: I think that bled into the use of language, shaping it to enhance that particular mood. I notice it with every story, really—the language changes subtly to suit that particular piece’s atmosphere. I don’t plan it rationally, it just comes out that way. A story I just finished, for example, set in the Wild West, has a dry and dusty feel to it, and the language is accordingly grating and sparse. It seems like it all comes instinctively together to bring out the atmosphere I have in my head—use of language, dialogues, setting, the character’s attitude, their approach to sex…

Q: About the characters in Apples and Regret and Wasted Time—in the blurb and in the excerpt, the characters are not named. Are readers given their names in the story? If so, can we have them here? If not, why not? How do you think that changes the way we see them? These characters both seem the type that I, rather crudely, would describe as badass. In the excerpt, it’s apparent that history, as well as strong physical attraction, draws them together. Without giving away the story, can you tell us anything about that history, and the roots of that almost irresistible attraction? How much of that need for one another is emotion deeper than sex?
A: No, we never learn their names. Truth to be told, I never picked any. I just never felt they were necessary. The story was much shorter in its original version, and when I decided to expand it I wondered whether the absence of names would work in a longer piece or whether it would become heavy for the readers: but I just couldn’t imagine forcing names into it. It would change the whole tone of the story, I believe, and make it weaker. It was also an interesting experiment for me: I wondered if readers would relate to the characters even without knowing their names. I know I certainly do. I always wonder exactly how much we have to know of someone in order to care for them, how much is necessary to reveal about a character in a story to make him or her a ‘real’ person, someone the reader can relate to, can grow attached to.

I’ll hide behind a no comment regarding the characters’ history—there are hints scattered around the piece, and I’d rather let the readers dig them out and piece them together as they please.

Q: “Wasted time” implies that the character turns back to a forgotten goal, or perhaps a new goal that he now realizes is where he should have been heading all along. Is that accurate? Are they both headed in the same direction? Don’t answer this if it gives away too much, but I really want to know if there’s a HEA… ?
A: Well, together with the publisher, we decided to list clearly as a warning that this story doesn’t have a traditional happy ending. A HEA is sort of taken for granted in the romance genre, so we wanted to avoid disappointing readers who might expect it. Personally, I’m a big fan of unresolved endings – I don’t really believe in happy endings, but not in unhappy endings either. My favorite endings are always a little open, more of a ‘to be continued’: maybe the couple is happy for now, but – for example – they have just gotten together and we have no clue whether they’ll be together forever or if they’ll amicably part ways in a few weeks or if they’ll end up slaughtering each other with a machete… you get the idea.
Apples and Regret is the one story where I got to indulge this predilection of mine to the fullest.

I also like to explore romances in which life, for one reason or the other, takes precedence on the love story, and the lovers are forced to adjust their priorities… and the relationship doesn’t make it to the top of the list. In my opinion, it doesn’t make the romance – the love – any less important, any less true. I’m in a similar situation in my life – I’m still building my future and looking for my place in the world, and life is tugging me and my partner of six years in opposite directions. Romantic comedies make it look like dropping everything to just bask into each other’s undying love is the simplest thing in the world, but I believe life is more complicated than that. So I guess I’m trying to explore that kind of situation, and maybe learn from my characters how to find solutions: I tug them in opposites directions, heck, I tie them to two freight trains heading to opposite hemispheres, and see how they sort things out…

Q: The cover to Apples and Regret ranks, in my mind, high as one of the best I’ve ever seen. Enticing and beautiful almost to the point of being hypnotic. Who did the art and design? How involved were you in the design—choosing elements or style, for instance?
A: I have to say, I was astonished when I saw how gorgeous the cover was—and for a short story, no less! I couldn’t have asked, or hoped!, for anything better. The artist is the incredibly talented Nathie—I highly recommend you go check her Deviantart gallery. (http://nathie.deviantart.com) She’s an amazing artist, and I’m especially in love with the anatomy of her gorgeous characters.
The process was really straightforward – my editor had the idea for the composition, which I immediately fell in love with, and the rest is all thanks to Nathie’s talent. I gave my input on the character’s face, but that was all – Nathie just seemed to automatically tune in with the atmosphere I wanted to create in the story. It was amazing to work with an artist who seemed to simply read my mind and draw exactly what I wanted, even though I hadn’t quite figured it out myself. I’m really looking forward to working with her again in the future!

Q: You have stories in a couple of Dreamspinner Press anthologies, A Brush of Wings (“Angel Blues”), and Making Contact (“Making Contact”), both released in 2010. Also, in March of this year, Samhain Publishing released “The Mercenary” as a stand-alone. Do you have other published work? Anything new coming up? Are you working on (or do you have plans for) any novella or novel length fiction? Is there anything you’d like to add, now—something I’ve missed that readers really should know about Cornelia Grey, Author?
A: I do have a few things coming up, actually . Storm Moon Press recently released the Wild Passions anthology, which includes my story “City of Foxes”, a gritty urban fantasy involving fox people. This August, Dreamspinner Press will release a pirate anthology, Cross Bones, with my short story “Worth the Price”, and I have another pirate story scheduled for release with them as a stand-alone. The title is “The Tea Demon”, and it’s an odd mix of steampunk, humor and, well… really random randomness! I definitely had fun writing that one 😉

While I have a few novella-length plots sketched down, waiting to be written, I tend to do better with short stories—mainly because they come with a deadline, and I work better under pressure. Also, I have the attention span of a drunken squirrel, so I tend to get sidetracked while working on longer stories – newer, shiny ideas keep fizzing up all over my brain and I end up dropping my current project.

However, I’m currently working on my final project for university, which is a novel-length manuscript. It’s a steampunk mystery, with a good sprinkling of irony and not taking things too seriously. As expected, after working on it for months, now I keep thinking of new exciting projects I’d like to get started with. But the project is due in January, so I do have a deadline to rein myself in—even though I’ve already managed to drop the project for a week and sneak-write the Wild West story I mentioned earlier. I have just no self-control. I foresee interesting months ahead….

As a last random bit of information, I thought I’d mention that I find it essential to have a writing soundtrack as I write. Headphones and music play an essential role in helping me disconnect from my everyday routine and delve in the story’s atmosphere. While each scene tends to have its own specific song, that remains on a loop until that one scene is over, the general soundtrack is made up mostly of classic rock and blues songs—Robert Johnson, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix… And with that, I’ll leave you all with a very heartfelt: rock on!

Thanks, Cornelia, for agreeing to be featured on the blog, for taking the time to answer our questions, and letting us get a peak at your work and your author’s mind. Best of wishes with your work.

(Readers: if you’d like to ask Cornelia a question of your own, or comment, please feel free. The link to comment is (unfortunately) in rather small print, below the title. Welcome!)

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