Emerging Author: Damien Walters Grintalis

Damien Walters Grintalis was imprinted with a love of reading at a young age by her father. At the age of eleven, she saw the movie Alien and read Stephen King’s The Shining and her attraction to all things dark and scary turned into true love. Rumor has it she still peeks behind the shower curtain on occasion to make sure no monsters are lurking there.

She is an Assistant Editor of the Hugo Award-winning speculative fiction magazine, Electric Velocipede, a staff writer with BooklifeNow, and lives in Maryland with her husband, two former shelter cats, and two rescued pit bulls.

We are honored to feature, as one of our Emerging Authors, Damien Walters Grintalis whose debut novel, Ink, will be released in December 2012. If you’re curious about Grintalis’ work, be sure to check out her site which links to many of her amazing short stories. Thanks, Damien, for supporting LitStack and for taking the time to sit down and chat with us!

A tattoo can be a work of art…or a curse.

The fearsome griffin inked on Jason’s arm looks real enough to climb off and take flight. Jason thinks his new tattoo is perfect. Until he wakes up one night to find his arm temporarily ink free. Until he finds a brick wall where the tattoo shop should be.

As Jason’s world spins out of control, he comes to realize a truth as sharp as the griffin’s talons. The tattoo is alive, it’s hungry, and if Jason tries to kill it, he’ll die. The artist will remove it for a price, but he’s not interested in money or Jason’s soul. He wants something far worse…

LS: What has your writing journey been like? Did it begin with a love of reading in childhood? What was your favorite book as a child?

As far back as I can remember, books have been a huge part of my life. Every Friday, my father took me to the library, and I’d walk out with a huge stack of books. By the end of the weekend, they’d all be read. I’d spend the week rereading the ones I really loved. I can trace my reading childhood by the books I have fond memories of – The Jenny and the Cat Club books by Esther Averill, What the Witch Left by Ruth Chew, the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol, The Girl Who Owned a City by O. T. Nelson, Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan, and the book I read at eleven that changed my reading habits forever – The Shining by Stephen King.

LS: You write, among other things, horror. What drew you into that genre?

At eleven, I saw the movie Alien with my father and it was my first experience with real fear, the sort that leaves you trembling and dry-mouthed. I should clarify. I attempted to see the movie. After the chestburster scene, I begged my father to leave. We did. But I could not get the movie out of my head. I wanted to know how it ended, so I begged him to take me to see it again and promised to sit through the whole movie no matter how frightened I was. He agreed, and took me again, a week after that first interrupted viewing. It terrified me, but I loved it.

Then, also at eleven, a family friend lent me King’s The Shining, since she knew I liked scary stories. The Shining did not terrify me. It took that terror and kicked it up about ten notches. I developed a serious fear of shower curtains and what might lurk behind, but I was hooked on the horror genre.

LS: You’ve had, particularly in the past few months, great success selling your stories. Are you generally so prolific? What’s your writing routine like?

I wake up, make coffee, and then sit in front of my computer until the word machine in my head is empty and begging for mercy. Seriously, though, I’m very fortunate in that I’m able to write full-time. I write every day. I’m a firm believer in constant exercise for the word machine. Some days, the words flow like a heavy downpour, and other days, they trickle like a broken faucet, but even if I only manage a page or two, it’s progress.

And I’m a total pantser, not a plotter, so every day I’m taken somewhere new. Even on the days when I’m struggling to write a coherent sentence, writing is an amazing journey of discovery.

LS: Every writer struggles with rejection. What has your writer’s road been like? Did you ever want to give up? What kept you going?

Although I know realistically that sometimes rejection simply means ‘this isn’t for me’, to me, rejection means failure. It means I’m not trying hard enough. My work isn’t good enough. That mindset might leave some writers in the corner, too scared to ever pick up another pen, and I’ve had plenty of moments where I think ‘x is never going to happen’, but I push on. I’m far too stubborn and driven to stop.

LS: Talk, if you would, about inspiration. Are there particulars you rely on to inspire you: art, films or music, etc.?

Not really. I think life is inspiring enough. Music distracts me, so I write in silence. I read every day, which helps refuel my brain, but honestly, I can’t always pinpoint where the ideas come from. They just appear. Writing is a strange sort of magic, I think, born from memories and life experiences and the possibility of what-ifs.

LS: INK, your debut novel, is forthcoming this winter. Tell us about the process you took to write this novel. Did you have many drafts?

I’d just finished another novel when I had a tiny flash of an idea that would become Ink. I thought it was going to be a short story. I was wrong. I wrote the first draft (about 90k) in 40 days. When it was done, I put it aside for a bit, then after the second draft, I had several beta readers read it. Once the third draft was complete, I started querying agents. I did another round of edits, based on a revise and resubmit request, and ended up with a few offers of rep, both on the revised version and the version I started querying with.

LS: How do you know when a draft is complete?

Are they really ever complete? I think you get a sense of ‘this is as complete as I can get it.’ A writer can never truly be 100% objective about their own work. We know it too well, and we won’t necessarily see something that’s missing from the story because of that knowledge. A story is sort of like a patchwork doll. We build it and add the stuffing, but sometimes we need outside eyes to help show us that this arm needs a little more, this leg need a little less, and hey, you stitched the mouth on upside down. That sort of thing.

LS: How long into your writing career did it take you to “conquer the craft of writing” and to produce stories you found publishable?

I don’t think you ever conquer the craft. I will always push myself harder. I read some of my older stories and cringe, but once the cringing stops, I look at newer work and say yes, I’ve learned ‘x, y, or z’ since then.

Writing is always a growth process. I’m not the same writer I was a year ago, and I’d better not be the same writer a year from now. I don’t ever want to become complacent with the craft. That paves the way to failure, in my opinion.

LS: The scope of the publishing industry is changing. What is your opinion of the evolution of the e-book and self publishing and their impact on the industry?

I was very e-book resistant, but once I bought a Nook, it didn’t take long to fall in love with the format. And buying a book at three in the morning from the confines of my living room? Fabulous. In my mind, a book is a book is a book, whether it’s hardcover, paperback, or e-book. I’m paying for the content, the story, not the package.

With that being said, there are a few authors whose work I buy in hardcover, but more often than not, I also buy the e-book.

I think self-publishing has led to a glut of bad books. There, I’ve said it. I think many people write a book, slap on a crappy cover, and upload it to Amazon just so they can say they wrote a book. But there’s a difference between that process and what an author who is serious about their craft does. That’s not to say that all self-published authors aren’t serious about their craft. There are many who are, but I think for a lot of people, self-publishing is simply an ego-stroke. Sure, a lot of people can write a novel, but that doesn’t mean they’re an author.

LS: What would you consider your personal dream fulfillment?

That’s an easy question to answer – to walk into a bookstore or library and see my work on the shelf. To know that my words are sitting in a space with all the other words that have come before. To know that a complete stranger could pick up my work and be transported into the world I created.

Maybe she’ll be a gangly-limbed red-haired girl dreaming of being an author. Maybe I’ll give her a nightmare or two. And maybe she’ll fondly recall my work when she’s looking back on all the books she read.