I had the chance to talk with Greg Kurzawa, author of "Gideon's Wall" and multiple short stories featured in Interzone and Lightspeed Magazine. After reading his work in the summer of 2014, I became a huge fan of his writing. Dark Gardens is by far one of my favorite short stories. Check out the interview and see the links to his writing below!
1. I first read your work in "The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014" edited by Paula Guran. Your short story, Dark Gardens, was featured alongside many other influential authors in the genre. What first inspired you to write this story?
The inspiration for this story came from Genesis 1:7, which goes something like this, "And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament." That doesn't sound very exciting, but it's a loaded verse. Without getting too theological, "waters" in this context probably doesn't mean H2O. Let's assume it means "dimension" or "plane of existence." So we've got the waters above, which is a reality inaccessible to us, and we've got the waters below, which is where we live. Are there waters below that? If we could get there, what would it be like? What kind of beings would live there, and would we be as godlike to them as God is to us? Sam stumbles on a doorway to a watery place, and finds the answers to some of those questions.
2. Your work has appeared in Interzone, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Can you tell us your journey to publication? What was your first published story?
My journey to publication started back in my junior year of high-school, when I threw down whatever paperback fantasy novel I was reading at the time and declared, "I can do better than that!" So I tried and tried for a really long time, and found out it was harder than I at first thought. Starting out with a novel was--for me--a terrible mistake.
Then one day I decided to write a story a month for one year because I didn't have the heart to try for another novel. I learned more in that single year of writing, reading, and critiquing short stories than I did in all the time spent hacking away at a novel going nowhere. And it honed skills that would have been invaluable for that novel, if only I'd had them.
The first story I sold was "Freshwater Sharks" to Gray's Sporting Journal. That's funny to me, because the story is fantasy, and Gray's isn't a fantasy--or even a fiction--venue. Granted, the fantasy element is subtle, and could possibly be interpreted away if one wasn't comfortable with it. I loved being in Gray's, because it's a really slick, professional journal that's been around forever. The bad part (if there can even be a bad part to selling a story) was that the audience isn't a spec-fic audience, so the story didn't get the "right" eyes on it, if that means anything.
3. What do you like best about dark fantasy and horror?
We've all heard it said, "Truth is stranger than fiction." The people who say that clearly haven't read the things that are readily available in the dark fantasy and horror genres. I like it when stories get strange and inexplicable and a little bit scary. I love the sense of wonder and awe in wholly imaginary things.
4. Who were your favorite authors growing up, and who are some of the authors that have influenced your writing as a professional author?
Growing up, I almost exclusively read "standard" fantasy. The more it felt like a Dungeons & Dragons session, the better I liked it. I read Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Lloyd Alexander, and everything with Dragonlance on it. I wouldn't go near short stories, and didn't have much interest in anything that wasn't part of a trilogy.
Then one day my brother-in-law gave me Gene Wolfe's "Shadow of the Torturer" and everything changed. Now influence is a funny thing. If I say that Wolfe is by far my biggest influence some might take that to mean my stories will read like his. They don't, and I wouldn't want them to. But he's affected how I think about writing, and the feelings I'm trying to evoke in others with my writing, which are the same feelings I get when I read Wolfe.
Beyond Wolfe, there's M. John Harrison, whose writing is loaded with mystery and power. There's Jeff Vandermeer, whose "City of Saints and Madmen" was a big influence on the last novel I wrote. Then there's China Miéville, whose novels I describe as imagination overload. I like to think there are traces of all these authors' styles in my own writing.
5. What stories, writing books, or other resources can you recommend to other writers hoping to break into this genre?
I'm not sure why, but I like to learn things the hard way. So I never read books about writing, or take classes, or anything like that. For me, doing it myself is the best teacher, followed closely by seeing it done well by someone else, then trying to do it like that. With that said, I'm a member of the Critters Writing Workshop (http://critters.org) which was useful to me from day one. The usefulness was not in having my own stories critiqued--although that was certainly useful--but in critiquing the work of others. Read a load of short stories by aspiring authors and then write page after page about what worked, what didn't, how you felt about the characters, the plot, the dialogue. It sharpened my skills.
6. Can you tell us any current works in progress?
I've got a couple of unfinished short stories rattling around, and a completed novel for which I'd like to find an agent. The novel was years in the making, and is the culmination of every bit of skill I could muster. It is the chronicle of a deranged soldier and his lifelong conflict with the doppelgänger that has haunted him since the day of his murder and resurrection on a foreign field of battle. I've titled it "The Sickness of Silas Traitor," and I'm very much looking forward to setting it loose someday.
7. Do you have any specific advice for writers who aren't published yet?
I hesitate to give advice, simply because there's already so much of it out there and after a while it all starts to sound the same. But here's my best advice: write, read, critique. Do a lot of those three things and something good is bound to happen eventually. Also, don't get stuck on one project for too long; it will stunt you.
See the links below for Greg's work:
His website, which includes links to all of his short stories that can be found online:
And a link to his first book on Amazon, "Gideon's Wall":