Greg Anderson-Elysee: Welcome, Simon Graves, to The Griotvine! It's great to have you here today! How are you?
Simon Graves: I'm doing well. Currently wrapping up my next story and getting ready for Halloween.
Greg: Nice! Best day of the year! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Simon: I'm a science fiction and horror writer, born and bred in Virginia. I've been writing off and on since high school, but decided in the last few years to really focus on bringing my stories to life.
Greg: What motivated you to start writing and what motivates you now?
Simon: I've always had a lot of ideas that I wanted to get out of my head and onto paper. I'd like to create that story or character that stays with the reader long after they've read it.
Greg: With that said, upon reading your most recent book, FIND'M... well let's just one would assume you've had a lot of nightmarish and bad experiences with dating apps to inspire some of this. (laughs)
Simon: I've definitely had more than my fair share of bizarre experiences.
Greg: What can you tell us generally about this book? What is it about?
Simon: FIND'M is a collection of gay horror short stories involving a supernatural dating app by the same name. The FIND'M app is what ties the stories together as the users find themselves drawn into bizarre and often deadly situations.
Greg: Are your experiences the inspirations to this story? What prompt you to write this story?
Simon: There are actually very little personal experiences inspiring the stories. The idea came about after I started receiving a number of messages from a faceless profile. I started imagining who might be on the other end and then one thing led to another.
Greg: Although you had very few personal experience, have you read any accounts and done some research for further ideas and inspiration? I feel there have been quite some messed up situations due to app hook ups.
Simon: As I was writing the collection, I did come across a number of news stories involving online meet ups gone horribly wrong, but I didn't want any of the stories to seem based on real events.
Greg: Ah, got it. One of my favorite things about this book was the various different characters and the difference in both backgrounds and voices. How did you keep yourself in check when it came to making sure each character sounded completely different from the next, so much so that sometimes the style seems different? I know that can be a bit of a tricky thing for some writers.
Simon: When I was working on the ideas for the first few stories, my biggest fear was the stories would sound too similar be it plots, characters, or voices. I actually started out with four stories initially, and once they were complete, I took a break before going back to start working on another batch. I think taking time away really helped the process. Some of the stories were rewritten a number of times trying to offer a unique approach.
Greg: Which stories were the original four?
Simon: The original four stories were Into Brains?, First Time, 45 degrees, and Looking?. Into Brains features the bookish Brian who is about to meet the incredibly charming man he's been chatting with. In First Time, Kurt might have found just the right date to serve as a ritual sacrifice. 45 degrees stars Allan, a veteran suffering from depression and paranoia who is not sure if he's really alone in his apartment. And finally with Looking?, Harvey is online looking for one last hookup before his boyfriend returns when he should be paying attention to the road.
Greg: Which ones surprised you while you were writing? Any particular favorites? I absolutely loved Train 182 with the young man being stalked on a train ride and threatened through the app in some twisted ways. It gave me a rather modern Hitchcock feeling and you did a great job building suspense in such a closed setting.
Simon: Thank you, Train 182 is one of my favorites too! I was quite surprised how dark and twisted Kurt turned out in First Time. Burned Before and He's Closer were two that started out very differently from their original plots. With Burned Before, art student Rusty starts getting messages from a blank profile claiming to be the dreamy college quarterback. In He's Closer, Ricky is repeatedly asked for help by a stranger online; he tries to ignore it but can't seem to let it go. I don't want to give too much away, but with these two tales I'd originally had different endings planned.
Greg: Although the book follows characters using a hook up app, I applaud you for definitely showing a lot of complexity with these characters as a lot of them weren't actually simply looking for sex. Some were there for different reasons, like passing the time, wanting to simply meet up and hang out and chat.
Simon: I know those apps have a reputation for just being hook up apps, but I really think it's all in how the user wants to use the app.
Greg: What challenges have you come across writing this book?
Simon: One big challenge was not having the online meet ups seem too repetitive. I was afraid of any of the stories seeming like a carbon copy of another.
Greg: I think you did a very good job avoiding that. What has the reception been thus far with the book?
Simon: So far the reception has been great. I love hearing which stories readers like best.
Greg: Although horror is a very popular medium for people, I feel there may not be a lot of representation when it comes to including racial and sexual "minorities", lets say. If they're included, they're usually a small supporting character or at best the best friend. What are your thoughts on that?
Simon: I would have to agree that "minorities" are underrepresented. Growing up a big fan of the horror genre, I would have liked to see some characters that were a little more relatable.
Greg: How do you feel is a good way to go about changing that?
Simon: I think the best way to change that is through sharing and supporting "independent" content that does expand representation. A review or a mention can make a big difference in helping spread the word, finding that audience who's been ignored, and encouraging more content creation and representation.
Greg: Did you have any favorite horror stories or movies growing up?
Simon: Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street was one of the first horror movies I saw growing up. William Johnston's Asylum and Christopher Pike's Chain Letter 2 were the first books that drew me into the genre.
Greg: Dude! You were a Christopher Pike fan?! I used to devour his books! Chain Letters 2 made me an obsessive fan before I was a teen!
Simon: Me too! I was hooked right from the beginning! At that age, I don't think I'd ever read a book so fast.
Greg: Haha. I haven't geeked out about a Pike book since middle school. So what's next for you and your writing and other projects?
Simon: Currently I'm working on a novella about an instance of bullying that goes too far and has supernatural repercussions. The story First Time is being adapted by Fifth Dimension Comics for Obscura Vol. 5, and I've started adapting some of my short stories for audio beginning with Last Call available on SoundCloud and YouTube.
Greg: Ah, a comic adaption of First Time? So you're a comic book fan yourself then?
Simon: Yes, I'm a huge fan of comic books!
Greg: Can you tell us a little bit about the artist and seeing your work adapted into a visual medium?
Simon: DNS (twitter.com/portless) is the artist and co-founder of Fifth Dimension Comics. It was exciting working with David Brown (writer and co-founder) and taking the story from prose to a comic script. And DNS has a style that really fits with the tone of the story.
Greg: What comic books are you generally into? What comics grabs Simon Graves by the throat and never lets go?
Simon: I'll always love superhero comics. The X-Men and the X-Titles were such a huge part of my childhood - the comics, the animated series, the action figures. I still have a lot of those classic stories.
Greg: Which characters do you feel you relate to the most?
Simon: I relate most to outsiders which might have something to do with growing up gay in a small town. I think that's why I feel such a connection to the X-Men who are outsiders that are hated, feared, and persecuted for no other reason than being born mutants.
Greg: How do you feel about the representation of LGBT characters in comic books?
Simon: LGBT representation in comics just keeps improving with time. The industry has come a long way from a character simply saying he's gay and then not mentioning his sexuality after that.
Greg: A huge issue I have with some detractors when it comes to portrayal of LGBT characters: often time people are quick to say sexuality shouldn't matter with representation. They are quick to apply sex to that LGBT character's orientation as if it's the only aspect of them and those same people claim that sexuality shouldn't be seen in books, media, etc. Yet there's hypocrisy when it's a straight character. What are your thoughts on that?
Simon: I think it's tricky to pull it off well and find that balance. And I think it when it comes to sexuality in media, it will always be a more sensitive matter than say violence. Steve Orlando's Midnighter has to be one of the best portrayals of a gay superhero. Not only is it an incredibly fun, action packed series, but Midnighter is a flawed, fascinating character comfortable in his own sexuality, not defined by it.
Greg: I absolutely love Orlando's Midnighter. It's one of my absolute favorites on-goings right now. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, particularly LGBT creators trying to put voices for other genres?
Simon: Don't let fear and self-doubt get in the way of taking a chance on your ideas. It was something I had to do. I am still working on doing myself. And be persistent. In the beginning, it took a while for me to get word out about my book. Even now with everything being online, it can still be difficult to reach your readers.
Greg: What are your other works and where can people find them? How can they get into contact with you?
Greg: Any final words before we wrap up?
Simon: Just thank you for talking with me and giving me the opportunity to share my work with your audience.
Greg: No problem, man. Thanks for coming by! It was great having you here!
Simon: The pleasure's all mine.