T.E. Grau is an American writer of Cosmic Horror fiction. He has published a collection of short stories, The Nameless Dark, and a novella, They Don’t Come Home Anymore.
What is your earliest reading memory?
Probably a book called the Saggy Baggy Elephant by Kathryn and Byron Jackson, one of those Little Golden Book releases from the 1940s/50s with the gold foil on the spine. I must have been 3 or 4 years old when I read it (obsessively so, as I did with all my books when I was very little), so this was the mid-70s. Another big one from a few years later was Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipparumpazoo by Mercer Mayer (1976), which was my first monster book.
Has writing been a conscious choice or a natural thing for you?
I can't recall ever making a conscious choice to sit down and write, and - looking back - it seems to be something that I unknowingly developed early on in my childhood, as I much preferred writing to speaking while growing up. Still do.
I read a lot as a kid, and played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I was fascinated by fantasy, science fiction, and horror, as well as history, geology, chemistry, the animal kingdom, ocean creatures, dinosaurs, space exploration. Aside from my chores, school, church, and organized sports, I spent a large portion of my youth either outside exploring the countryside or inside reading and playing RPGs. I think those two factors led to a pretty active imagination.
I was merely decent at drawing, and even worse at music, so my only creative outlet that seemed to give me any satisfaction whenever I attempted it was writing. As I grew older, and figured out that I probably wasn't going to be an oceanographer like my hero Jacques Cousteau or a paleontologist digging up dinosaur bones, I started to piece together what I'd do with my future, which always involved writing in some way. That pretty much turned out to be the case.
Do you have any special habits or rituals when you write?
An ordered desk and background music, although both aren't a necessity.
Do you choose your stories or do the stories choose you?
A bit of both. Sometimes things just come to me, unbidden, and I try to get down as much of it as possible before I forget. Almost like a waking dream. Other times I seek to write a certain story or explore a certain theme, character, setting, time period, or concept, and I set out trying to come up with the best way to tell that story.
What national books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
In terms of American writers, I always re-read Hunter S. Thompson, as he's my go-to and personal favorite author.
Whenever I can, I re-read Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Ligotti, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, T.E.D. Klein, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe, Toni Morrison, Ambrose Bierce, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Brautigan, Lawrence Block, Gwendolyn Brooks, Stephen King, Emily Dickinson, Kurt Vonnegut, Shel Silverstein, and Cormac McCarthy. Ray Bradbury, as well. I've gone back to the Big Three Pulp Weirdists - H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith - a lot, but not recently.
When I want to remember how I should be writing, and what the best of language has to offer, I re-read Zora Neale Hurston, and try to avoid the feeling of my own ineptitude and linguistic bumbling.
What foreign books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
I can always re-read Adam Nevill, as I think very few are doing horror in the long form better than he is right now.
Neil Gaiman is fun for his light, warm approach. Zadie Smith for her sense of dialogue and humor. Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen also get return visits, as do T.S. Elliott, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tadeusz Borowski, Albert Camus, Michael Marshall Smith, and a few others.
What is so important about fiction?
Stoking imagination, sharing a point of view, different world, or an entirely new way of perceiving our day-to-day existence, or reality in general. It teaches and inspires and entertains us. Good fiction can change the world.
Flaubert says he was physically sick when he wrote Emma Bovary’s death. Are you empathetic with your characters?
Some of them, but not most. I'm quite fond of Hettie Wexler, from my novella They Don't Come Home Anymore, who more or less grew herself into a surprising badass as the story progressed on the page.
The majority of my characters aren't very good people, or not particularly likeable, so I have a hard time feeling a sense of kinship. Overall, though, I feel a bit of distance with them, as I know they're just made-up puppets in my head, even those that are inspired by or modeled after someone I know. They've been programmed to do what I tell them, so it's difficult to embrace them as something organic.
I don't dwell on my characters after I've written them, as I've moved on to a new world in whatever I'm working on next. I'm pretty sentimental, but that rarely extends to the character I create. They were written for a purpose, which was to help tell the story.
What is your ideal reader?
Someone who is a careful reader, interested in themes, textures and (hopefully) the sort of style in which I write. A person who is curious about the world, and the darker elements and deeper mysteries of existence.
Should writers be embraced by society or should they be exiled?
Embraced, certainly. Why would a society exile its eyes, ears, and cerebrum?
Without writers, who would create a society's songs, books, films and television, document its histories, memorialize its languages, make eternal its existence?
Remove the writers, and all of human civilization would be a crude shape drawn in shifting sand, erased as soon as the wind blows.
Is there a God or are there gods for writers?
Well no, there isn't a God or gods, as far as I can tell, but I'm certainly not arrogant enough to know what is most likely lurking in unexplored areas of this reality/plane of existence/corner of the multiverse. But, I feel that there isn't any god or gods that we know about, and certainly none with any sort of interest in us as individual human beings, as a species or as a civilization.
What makes a writer a writer?
The ability to express oneself effectively on the page with language, the devotion to doing so, and the discipline to make it a regular practice.
Tell us about your fiction.
My fiction reflects persons, places, and things that fascinate, inspire, worry, and annoy me. I like to explore concepts that fill me with awe and wonder, as well as fear and loathing.
What is the purpose of your writing?
To tell an engaging story, create a specific atmosphere, and to explore the things I find interesting, both positive and negative.
How do you really feel about recognition and fame? Are you a satisfied mind or always craving for more?
I'm not sure if recognition and fame are the same thing (they probably are), but as someone who creates stories and books for public consumption, I am certainly interested in increasing awareness of my work. I'd say most authors are, or else they'd never try to get their work published, and instead keep one hell of a creative journal.
If achieving fame means I get to stay home with my wife and kid and write fiction for living, give me fame, and give it to me yesterday. That would suit me just fine.
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