J. Griffin Hughes
Interviewed by Author Despoina Kemeridou
This week, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by novelist/poet/photographer Despoina Kemeridou, who does a lot of work to promote her fellow independent authors. Her latest work, Fated to Meet You, is a time-traveling romance available on Kindle. You can find out more about her work at her website https://kemeridou.com/.
1) Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, or are you currently writing under one? Why/why not?
This actually is a pseudonym made up from the first names of my paternal and maternal grandfathers, plus my favorite mythical creature. I’d always liked my actual name but thought of using a pen-name ever since I first looked it up online and saw how many people I share it with. My name didn’t really feel like mine anymore. What made the final decision was learning George Orwell had been born Arthur Blair but wrote under another name for no better reason than he liked the sound of it.
2) You received a graduate degree in creative writing. Has this helped you with your writing process?
It probably impacted less of my craft and more of my sense of what it means to be a writer.
Being instructed by professional novelists and having publishers come speak to us offered a big reality check. Time and again, they said to write only because you love it, since you aren’t going to make any money.
But apart from that grim sentiment, being in a classroom with other aspiring novelists was so validating. My non-writer friends had always encouraged me, but the life of a writer was something they could only imagine--tainted by what they knew of only the most well-known writers. Only another writer understands how it feels to build a world and then share that with others.
I’m very proud of the fact that many of my classmates went on to be published, including E. J. Swift, Jaq Hazell, and Michael Donkor.
3) Many authors inspire you - from Lloyd Alexander and Douglas Adams to Stephen King, John Scalzi, and John Steinbeck. Do you see their influence in your own writing?
Working backwards, Scalzi and Steinbeck both bring a fearlessness to their storytelling. Steinbeck can go hardcore epic, while Scalzi allows his story to go places that may not follow a prescribed course. Both do so by staying true to their characters’ unique personalities.
Stephen King’s On Writing had a big impact on me, as I know it has for others. But in his storytelling itself, what you find underneath the sometimes supernatural elements is a sense of humanity that is both horrific and sublime. Similarly, Douglas Adams paints a picture of the world around us that is simultaneously terrible and ridiculous. To survive it, cultivating a sense of humor is key. Humor is heroic.
Like many fantasy stories, Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain each start with a map of the world, all its swamps and forests and castles. And he includes a path showing the journey that the heroes will take. I loved following along with that. Having a sense of the space that a story takes up, how one region relates to the next, still means a lot to me.
4) You love cooking (I’m curious about your moussaka recipe). Do you find yourself mentioning dishes or cooking in your writing?
Ah, I thought that might catch your attention. It’s very saucy with the eggplant cubed instead of sliced, and I tend to go lighter on the bechamel topping, adaptations I made over time for ease of cooking. But that flavor just goes “bang!”
And I can’t seem to avoid including food in my writing. For example, in one of my grad school workshops, I shared a piece that detailed a character preparing the Thanksgiving feast for his family. My classmates said it made them very hungry.
5) Your Crimson Wraith series is a series of comic-book-inspired novels. Where does this inspiration come from?
When we get older, we think about the things from our childhood in new, grown-up ways, right? The superhero characters I loved when I was little--Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men--had been around for decades when I discovered them, having gone through all sorts of changes. And during my lifetime, I’ve seen them go through even more.
The oldest of these superheroes have been around for 80 years, and that is a hell of a long time for anyone to fight for justice. It’s longer than any person can really imagine, a whole human lifetime. It would mean putting on a cape and mask before we learned to crawl and keeping it up after we needed a walking stick.
That is the most unrealistic thing about comic books, the idea that, for instance, Bruce Wayne could still be Batman after eight decades. And while sometimes they try to let a character grow and develop--even retire or die--the comics and movies keep bringing these superheroes back, just the same as they were before, maybe updated for a new generation.
So, I imagined what it would be like for a single superhero to have been not one person but several people over 80 years, each performing their service and passing the identity on to a new generation. And so changes we see in a character from one decade to the next--one reboot to the next--appear because they were actually different people.
6) Your books have superheroes without superpowers and psychologically complex characters. Did you choose this type of heroes or did they choose you?
Well, when you talk about the ages of comic book superheroes, some will point to a character like Superman and say that his powers keep him from aging, getting injured, or even just getting tired. I needed characters with human limitations and frailty.
But it’s also their humanity that makes a character loveable. Yes, as children, we are powerless, and the power fantasies of superheroes (or wizards or giant robots) can be very attractive for that reason. What keeps us engaged with these characters, though, are their limitations. Without the risk of real danger, you don’t have real heroism.
7) Can you tell us a few things about your main character, Gracie Chapel?
She grew up in a house with a lot of chaos and ran away when she was a teenager. The story catches up with her after she’s been on her own for over seven years of doing whatever she needed to survive. Finally, things are starting to feel stable--which is always when some new challenge appears...
Although she missed out on a lot of school, Gracie is very intelligent, able to pick up on and put together subtle details about people and her environment. That’s one of the things that kept her alive on the streets. And when Gracie notices a threat, she is quick to react.
She is a tough fighter, but no stone-cold bad-ass. Gracie has a lot of intense feelings. She’s excitable, self-aware, and has a sense of humor that makes her voice very fun to write.
Her biggest flaw is a result of just how independent she’s become. Accepting help doesn’t come easily to her, much less asking for it.
8) You are currently working on The Crimson Wraith Versus the League of Vengeance Eternal, the next novel in the Crimson Wraith series. Anything interesting your readers can look forward to in this next book?
In Legacy of the Hood, Gracie ultimately helps the Crimson Wraith solve a murder, but doing so reveals a deeper mystery. The League of Vengeance Eternal sees Gracie and the Crimson Wraith trying to stop a murder from happening. In the course of that, she will get to know one of the other Crimson Wraiths from a previous generation.
Her story interweaves with those of previous Crimson Wraiths. In The League of Vengeance Eternal, Readers will get to know the Crimson Wraiths of the 1970s and the late ‘90s, who fought such costumed villains as El Toro Terriblé, the Buzzard, the Three Billie Goats and Mister Echo.
There will be a mental hospital, a maze of death, talking to ghosts, exploration of sexual identity, and even a little romance…
9) Share a favorite quote from your book.
“Why don’t I start by telling you my name? I’m Kevin Snyder.” He let silence follow the last syllable with an ease that suggested he was used to allowing new acquaintances a minute after he name-dropped himself.
As far as Titan City went, his name held a lot of weight. Having it attached to local landmarks tends to do that.
It was known that Kevin took over the Snyder-Finn Corporation, a multi-million-dollar powerhouse, after the death of his father, who oversaw the merger of SnyTech Global and Finn Industries. Gossip columns liked to speculate on which actress, model, or musician lately photographed in his company might win the role of Mrs. Kevin Snyder. So, this was the “friend” of the Crimson Wraith who paid Gracie’s bond, sent his chauffeur to pick her up from jail, and put her up for the night there in what Gracie now realized was stately Finn Manor.
“Hi, Kevin,” she said.
“Hi, Gracie,” he said.
“Kevin, just to help me get the full picture here, in addition to owning about half of Titan City, you are friends with its very own superhero?”
“Is the Crimson Wraith a superhero?” said Kevin.
“Is he what now?”
“Is he a superhero?”
“He dresses up in a mask and fights crime. The guy belongs in a comic book. Most people would call that a superhero.”
“But does he have any superpowers?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to that part of Nights of Justice yet.”
“He has been said to appear and disappear at will, surrounded by his Infernal Mists. He can see in the dark, throw his voice, and seem to be at two places at once, but most of these could be attributed to skill or trickery. We live in the real world. There aren’t any superheroes here.”
And that was Gracie’s limit. “Thank you for man-splaining your weirdo pal in a hood!”
10) Is there anything you regret doing/not doing when you first published your book?
I didn’t know that Kirkus Reviews would work with an ARC. I think my marketing efforts would have started off with more strength if I had that in place and ready to go right at launch.
Since I’m a first-time, indie author, readers are right to be reticent. I might suck. So, having a respected body like Kirkus Reviews say, in so many words,“This is a good story told well,” means everything.