Interview with Author Gregory Marshall Smith

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:

I told myself that when I started this blog I was not going to do interviews since so many other blogs did them. However, I could not help but to talk about this guy!

I met Greg when he enrolled as a student in the Novel class at The Writer's Academy. He has been a wonderful student! He is an amazing writer and I often wonder why he enrolled as I don't feel I provided much help. I'm honored to have met such a great writer and person.

Let me thank you, Anastasia, for inviting me to do this. As a journalist, I’m not used to being on the receiving end of an interview.

It's my pleasure Greg. Why don't you tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Somerville, Massachusetts and raised in historic Medford, Massachusetts (unofficially the 7th oldest town in America; you may also remember it from “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”). I moved to Euless, Texas in 1982, got my B.A. in Journalism from Prairie View A&M University; got commissioned in the U.S. Navy; served in Japan aboard 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19); fought Saddam in Desert Shield/Desert Storm (not physically but against Exocet missiles, mines and SCUDs), and worked some odd jobs when I got out of the Navy.

Eventually, I got back into journalism with JDTV, Inc., a magazine company as a sports editor. I then moved over to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a sports writer/copy editor/agate supervisor/feature writer. Since then, I’ve taught Hazardous Materials & Dangerous Goods training for American Airlines and currently cover Black College Sports for on a freelance basis.

Sounds like you've had lots of adventures! I know you're a sports writer but what made you decide to become a fiction writer?

Three words – “Creature Double Feature.” It was an anthology series on WLVI-56 in Boston back in the late 70s, that showed old grade B (and Z) sci-fi and horror flicks. My mother used to hate (still does, in fact) but my twin brother and I would not miss the show for the world. We’d stop playing outside to come in and watch it and my mother resigned herself to finding alternative entertainment for three hours ever Saturday.

As I got older, I realized how truly bad and cheesy those movies and I began working on creating better stories. And from what I’ve seen of the “original” movies on SyFy Channel, my work is far from finished.

Yes, I'm usually dissapointed by what the SyFy channel puts on sometimes. It's great that you're out there trying to write great Science Fiction. So, who gives you a bit of inspiration to write?

My original influences were Robert Heinlein, Lester Del Rey, Arthur C. Clarke and the writers of the Golden Age of Science Fiction – guys like Theodore Sturgeon (“Killdozer”) and A.E. Van Vogt and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I remember walking to the library in West Medford Square for their books and then, walking five miles to the main Medford library for even more books. In fact, I was lost almost half a day in the Sue Kellogg Library in Stone Mountain, Georgia where I live now.

Later, I began to add some influences, especially when I finally noticed that, in the future many science fiction books and movies were set in, there didn’t seem to be too many black people. So, I began to read Octavia Butler (“Lilith’s Brood,” “Xenogenesis”), Samuel Delaney (“Triton,” “Dahlgren”), Kim Stanley Robinson (“Red Mars,” “Green Mars”) and Steven Barnes (“Dream Park”).

My best find was a trio of old science fiction classics called “Black No More,” “Black Empire” and “Black Internationale” by legendary black journalism pioneer George Schuyler. Turns out he’s a distant relative of mine. So, his books are in my collection.

You seem to have some strong influences, which is good for any artist! Now, I know that you are published through sports writing, short story publications, and a few novels. How has life changed since you've been published?

Being published has given me a big lift. I feel the successful culmination of a lot of hard work. At the very least, I can go to high school reunions and National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conventions as a published author.

Publishing books is only recent. My first published articles came from journalism. Having a byline, whether it was in a cable TV magazine for interviewing Arnold Palmer, online with boxer Larry Holmes or in the newspaper for covering a high school baseball game, I felt a certain amount of success and satisfaction. I mean, honestly, while science fiction is a specific genre for specific people, almost everybody likes sports.

My husband is so jealous that you interviewed Arnold Palmer by the way! Let's talk a bit about your writing specifically. How long does it take for you to write a novel and what's your schedule like for writing?

I have no firm timetable. Some writers like Stephen King have a set schedule – so many hours a day, so many days a week. Laurell K. Hamilton actually writes multiple books a day – for her Anita Blake and Meredith Gentry series. And don’t get me started on John Ringo and David Weber; those two are ridiculous with multiple projects.

The difference between them and me is – they have contracts. Editors and publishers are eagerly awaiting their books. Me? They don’t know me from the Gregory Smith who starred in Everwood (except that guy’s skin is a little lighter).

I try to write for at least an hour a day (on advice from Stephen King). But, it depends on how much writing I’ve already done, since I also do freelance sports. For example, now that college basketball tournament season is here, I tend to get a little burned out. So, I haven’t written any fiction for the last few days.

Writing for an hour everyday is a great exercise. I try to get two hours in but somedays it doesn't always work out like that! Do you character plot or have a detailed outline before you start writing or do you write on the fly?

I write fiction like I do sports – on the fly. I flesh out a beginning, middle and end in my mind, which leads to me tweaking everything fifty times. In school, I would write an “A-plus” essay or theme paper and then sheepishly go back to my desk to do the outline.

Alas, though, that approach has gotten me in trouble sometimes. There have been times when I’ve forgotten my characters’ names or where they were introduced in the book. With Land of the Blind, as you’ve seen, I had to add a list of characters for the readers (and, more importantly, for myself since I’d misplaced my original).

One thing I do plan, though, is research. I want to be like Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy and actually sound like I know what I’m writing about. Yeah, the technical stuff might have been boring in Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, but it was essential to understanding the story. I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and I’m still fascinated about how he created Middle Earth and got everything to mesh together so fantastically well. George Lucas only wishes he could have done as well with the Star Wars settings.

Amazingly, despite so many years writing, I’ve only just recently concentrated heavily on character development. I had primarily written short stories and felt I didn’t need to go so in-depth with development but the novels, well, they’ve proven a different beast altogether. Cantrell Ryker and Lin Tang in Hunters; Pegram Kimble, Mia Tran and Cayce Colvin in Slow Boat to China, and Anna Velasquez, Kober Chiang and Devereaux Marshall Fox in Land of the Blind have all shown a great need for deep characterization.

I'm the same way, Greg. I write on the fly and then find out later that I probably should have had an ouline to help me when I got stuck! Since you have a few works out there in the process of being written, do you have a critique group, editor, or do you self edit?

Self-edit mostly. I joined in 2007 and have been letting the members critique my stuff. I’ve gotten some good suggestions, too, for improvement. Recently, I joined Harley Palmer’s Writing Academy and she’s been instrumental in boosting my confidence (Sometimes, I swear she’s two different people, though).

In the past month, I’ve also joined sites like Goodreads and Authonomy to try to get some more critiques.

Aww thanks for the compliment! I am glad I could help! And yes, I can be two different people sometimes - but I think all writers have a bit of split personality to them. You write in so many areas, what's the hardest part of writing that you've struggled with?

Character development. It’s hard coming up with new characters, especially the way I write. Though I can write a scenario featuring only a small cast of characters such as in my novella They Call the Wind Muryah, I tend to use a lot of people in most of my works. I try to think of how such a scenario would work in the real world. For instance, if giant spiders took over a town, like in my novella Crawl, wouldn’t the world – in this day of the Internet and 24 hours news coverage and camera phones – find out quick and, if they did, wouldn’t they send in the military? Or how can Devereaux Marshall Fox be the world’s most dangerous and hunted man without the whole world being involved?

Maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Each character needs his or her own personality. One thing I tend to do is create a preliminary character list and then pretend it’s being made into a movie. I then try to think of the actors and actresses or friends or relatives who would be good for the role. Then, I create an amalgam of those people. Interestingly, a lot of celebs I crushed on as a kid creep into my characters – Lynda Carter, Lola Folana, Jayne Kennedy, Lindsay Wagner, Kristy McNichol, Tatum O’Neal, Nichelle Nichols, Kate Jackson, Etsuko Shihoma, Michelle Yeoh, Raquel Welch, etc.

On the other hand, physical characteristics for them give me fits. You can’t make them match too closely with real people, especially if they’re going to be bad guys or morons. The one exception is me. I use a lot of myself in my novels. You might notice someday that Marshall Fox and I have the same birth date, we both grew up in Medford and we both went to Prairie View A&M. You might also see that Cantrell Ryker’s humor is a lot like mine (though a lot of people might be asking “What humor?”).

You might also notice that the cities I live in feature prominently in my work. Hunters is set in Fort Worth, Texas, where I was living when I started writing it. Land of the Blind mentions Medford and Fort Worth. A sequel to Hunters will be set in Atlanta. Other items mention Yokosuka, Japan and San Diego, California.

Thank you SO much Greg for taking the time to answer my questions! It has been fun getting to know you a little bit more!

You all can find Greg:

Professionally -- under Black College Sports.

Fiction -- Smashwords (look for Gregory Marshall Smith)
Wicked Writers

Personal -- Facebook

6 Responses to "Interview with Author Gregory Marshall Smith"

Jay Says :
March 6, 2010 at 4:41 PM

Great interview, Harley. I need to go check out that writing academy of yours as well! And now... I've nominated you for an award over at my blog. You can check it out here -

C.J. Ellisson Says :
March 7, 2010 at 11:32 AM

Great interview, Harley! Excellent questions crafted to get insights from Greg.

Greg, you already know how bad I was laughing when I got to the part in Hunters about the hero and where he lived, his background..etc. I couldn't resist busting your chops ;-)

Hey, the only thing we can say about me and my MC is we both have red hair! Okay, wait.. and she's pushy and bit controlling, and sometimes bitchy - but after that the similarities end - I swear.

Good luck with your blog, Harley! Happy to follow and say hello and congrats on the blog award! It's always nice too be recognized when you're just starting out.

By W. J. Howard Says :
March 7, 2010 at 12:50 PM

So glad you took the time to interview Greg. I just finished reading his novella, They Call the Wind Muryah, and loved it! Can't wait to watch his career blossom.

Harley D. Palmer Says :
March 7, 2010 at 10:26 PM

Yea, when I read Land of the Blind I was really surprised by his talent! I seriously felt like I wasn't being of any help to him, but he insists I was!

Supriya Says :
March 23, 2010 at 7:09 PM

Great interview, Harley, and great site as well!

Pascal Says :
March 25, 2010 at 4:51 PM

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