Interview with Author and Editor Val Griswold-Ford

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am happy to be interviewing Valerie Griswold-Ford, writer and editor. Val was journalism major in college and covered several political beats, wrote a weekly column and rose to associate managing editor of The Daily Campus, the fifth largest daily newspaper in Connecticut. Val writes dark fantasy, horror, paranormal romance and urban fantasy, in addition to her nonfiction works. She is currently co-editing the third book in the “Complete Guide” series with Lai Zhao, entitled THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING FANTASY: THE AUTHOR’S GRIMOIRE. Her two dark fantasy novels NOT YOUR FATHER’S HORSEMAN and DARK MOON SEASONS are available from Dragon Moon Press, and she is working on the third book in the trilogy, LAST RITES. She lives with her husband and three kittens in Concord, New Hampshire. Her web page is www.vg-ford.com

Val, your most recent work is the pirates and magic collection of short stories RUM AND RUNESTONES, due out in April of 2010. Where did the idea for this come from?

VAL GRISWOLD-FORD: Well, I’m a pirate addict. I adore pirates, and always have. So I was at a party at RavenCon last year with Misty Massey and Gail Martin, and we decided that we had to do an anthology of pirates and magic. I pitched it to Gwen Gades, the head of Dragon Moon Press, got the okay, and we were off!

VENTRELLA: Tell us about this new collection!

GRISWOLD-FORD: It’s amazing. More than I’d ever imagined. The writers were given a very simple assignment: to write a short story, under 8k, that used pirates and magic as the main impetus of the story. It was an invitation-only anthology, and I approached about 20 authors. Thirteen of them (including you!) responded. We’ve got everything from dark and creepy to love-lost-and-found to comedy. Even a song! It’s a great anthology, and I’m very proud to be the editor.

VENTRELLA: What is the process that you take as an editor when organizing short story collections?

GRISWOLD-FORD: This is my first short story collection, so I sort of made it up as I went along. I waited until I had everyone’s story in and read, then I listed them all in a word document and arranged them in an order that I thought made sense.

VENTRELLA: Some short story collections are reprints, and some (like RUM AND RUNESTONES) are by invitation. Is one easier or better?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Easier for who? The writer or the editor? : )

I think that by invitation is easier for the editor, because you can pick and choose your authors, so you’re getting a known quality as far as work. I specifically chose authors for R&R that I enjoyed reading, so I knew what level of quality I was getting. On the other hand, as a writer, I can see how the invitation-only anthologies might seem a bit cliquish. I don’t normally write short stories, but I was in one invitation-only anthology (WRITERS FOR RELIEF 2), and knowing that I had been chosen put a little bit of added pressure on me. Could I finish the story to the editor’s expectations? It can be tough.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also cowritten guides to writing, specifically THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING FANTASY. Why did you think such a book was needed?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Because there wasn’t a how-to on specifically writing fantasy. The Complete Guide is more like a reference guide than a “this is how you write.” Each book (there are three in total) goes into detail on topics that specifically apply to fantasy. The first one has topics like medieval feasts and clothing, writing fantasy fight scenes, things like that. We went a little deeper in the second book, building on the first and going into topics like combining mystery and fantasy, writing sex into your fantasy and government systems to use in fantasy. The third book was what to do once the book was written -– it went into things like querying magazines, agents and publishers, writing query letters, what to do about advertising -– things that writers don’t necessarily think about. It definitely filled a need –- I’m still getting emails from writers about what they’ve found in it.

VENTRELLA: As an editor, what submissions have you seen that just make you scream?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Hmm. Well, when we were doing the second guide, we got a submission that looked like it had been written in another language and then run through Babelfish to translate it to English. It was seriously weird -– all odd tenses and sentence construction. That was really the oddest. Most the subs I get are from professional authors, so I don’t get too many howlers.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written novels and short stories of your own. Does a background in editing help? When an editor is assigned to your work, have there been major problems?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Not really. I tend to edit my own work before I send it off to Tina (my long-suffering editor), so she’s yet to threaten to murder me. The only time I saw her slightly aggravated was when I was having issues with a chapter in Horseman –- I actually sent her the chapter with “This sucks” as every other line. She was not impressed.

VENTRELLA: Where did the idea for NOT YOUR FATHER’S HORSEMAN come from?

GRISWOLD-FORD: I belong to a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and I’m part of the Storyteller’s Guild for our barony. We were doing a storytelling exercise, making up a story around a word we were given, and my word was Plague. I made up the story, and then had a dream that night about a modern-day Horseman. Nikki was the result.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about your most recent novel, DARK MOON SEASONS.

GRISWOLD-FORD: DARK MOON SEASONS is the second part of the Apocalypse trilogy. Nikki now knows both more and less than she did before, and she’s on the hunt for the other Horsemen. Now, though, she has more to deal with than just Gene-Tech –- the government has gotten involved, and she’s got to worry about Department V agents as well.

VENTRELLA: What do you do to promote your books and let people know about them?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Well, I’m on Twitter, and I run contests on my blog. I also have teabags with my books’ names on them that I put out on the freebie tables at various cons I attend. I’m going to be podcasting HORSEMAN this summer, and DREAMS this coming winter, which I hope will garner some more interest as well.

VENTRELLA: Many new authors, anxious to see their book in print, rely on self-publishing. What’s your opinion on this?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Self-publishing is a hard road. Unless you’ve exhausted all your options, and are prepared to hustle your rear off selling, I would advise against self-publishing. If you really think you can make it, go for it, but don’t make it your first choice. I know it’s a long road -– I’m still trying to find an agent -– but don’t give up. You can’t have a thin skin in this business.

VENTRELLA: Do you advise authors to start with the small press publishers and build up a reputation first, or should the pitch be given to the majors first?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Shoot for the top. Don’t get me wrong -– I adore my publisher, but seriously, if you don’t try for the apex, you’ll never know if you could have sold it to Tor, or Baen, or St. Martin’s. Believe in your work, and go for the gold.

VENTRELLA: What do you see as the future of publishing? Will e-books eventually take the largest share of the market?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Honestly, I don’t know. I like ebooks, but until the readers come done in price, I don’t know that they’ll take over. I still love my paper books, and don’t own an e-reader, although I do read books on my computer. But ebooks have definitely come, and they aren’t going away.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of advice you could give aspiring writers?

GRISWOLD-FORD: Don’t stop reading and writing. Don’t judge your journey by anyone else’s. And don’t give up. Ever.

I will tell you the story of how I got HORSEMAN published as an example. Feel free to laugh, because I was a true newbie at the time.

So, it’s September 2004, and THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING FANTASY has just come out. It’s my first byline since college, and I have never been published as an author before. We’re talking on the email list that spawned the Guide about what we can do to promote it, and I offer to set up a book tour up here in New Hampshire. Tee Morris (of MOREVI and Billibubb Baddings fame) takes me up on it, and we go on a 3-state, 6-stop tour in 4 days. Seriously a whirlwind. We end up with nothing to do Saturday afternoon, so we take out our laptops (another bit of advice: have something to write with at all times!) and he starts editing. I start noodling around with a story that will eventually become HORSEMAN. He reads what I have and says, “This is really good! You know I’m going to push you to write more, right?”

Flash forward to December 8, 2004. I know this date, because there was an ice storm and I stayed home from work. Tee calls me, and our conversation goes like this:

Tee: How’s the book coming?

Me: Um, it’s coming.

Tee: Good! Do you have an outline?

Me: Um, sort of?

Tee: Well, Gwen wants to see it tomorrow morning.

Me: …!

I pulled an outline from somewhere, and sent it off to her. She emailed me back and asked to see a rough draft. I finished it at 45k (yes, 45k!) and sent it off to her on Jan. 4, 2005. She came back and said that it was good, but short –- could I lengthen it? Of course!

Well, by then, Tee and I were working on OPUS MAGNUS, and we were talking to Gwen about launching at Westercon 58, which was going to be in Calgary that year. In one email she sent, Gwen mentioned three launches they were looking to do: LEGACY OF MOREVI (Tee’s book), THE GUIDE, and HORSEMAN. I sat and looked at that email for a good five minutes before I got up the courage to email her back and ask if that meant she was buying HORSEMAN. She emailed back and said she’d told Tee in December that she was. Hadn’t he told me?

Well, he hadn’t, because he’d thought she was kidding. Unknown authors do not sell books based on a chapter outline. But I had.

Which is why you never give up. Never.

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