I first became familiar with author Damien Walters Grintalis through Twitter, and shortly thereafter through backing the Kickstarter for the second issue of Fireside magazine (for which backing, Damien “tuckerized” me into her wonderful short story “Scarred”), and when we finally met in person at last year’s Readercon, we hit it off famously. Damien is an active member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She’s a staff writer at BooklifeNow and an associate editor at Electric Velocipede. In addition to her short stories (which include recent appearances in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Electric Velocipede, Penumbra and Arcane magazines), her first novel, INK, has been out since early December. INK is about a recently divorced man who meets a really sketchy tattoo artist in a bar … which sounds like the set-up for a joke, but things take a much darker turn when the new tattoo takes on a life of its own.
ANTHONY: INK has been out for a few months now. How has the reaction been?
DAMIEN: So far, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive and readers seem to like it. I’d assumed release day would come and go without a peep and that if anyone read it, they would hate. A normal debut author mindset, I’d like to think.
ANTHONY: Why are tattoos such a staple of genre fiction, and specifically of horror fiction?
DAMIEN: I know tattoos are a recurring staple in Urban Fantasy but when it comes to horror, I was only aware of Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” and thought a living tattoo was an unexplored facet of the genre. I’ve since heard about another book and an episode from the Tales from the Crypt TV show so it’s obviously been explored before, but I’d like to think it hasn’t been done to death yet.
ANTHONY: If you encountered Sailor, unaware of who he was was, what would your tattoo be?
DAMIEN: I have a penchant for text tattoos, so it would be the line “Something wicked this way comes”. Given Sailor’s ink game, I wonder if the letters would emerge and wrap themselves around my neck or force their way down my throat? Shakespeare was brilliant, but I’d rather read his words than choke on them.
ANTHONY: In INK, Jason’s ex-wife is particularly snobbish about horror fiction. Most bookstore chains don’t even have a “horror” section any more. Of all the genres, why does horror seem to have more of a stigma attached to writing/reading it?
DAMIEN: I suspect it has to do with the glut of horror fiction published in the 80s. There were a lot of great books published, but there was also a great amount of dreck and, unfortunately, the genre was left with the reputation of the latter. I do think horror is shaking the last traces of that stigma, though.
ANTHONY: What was your writing process like for INK? And how has it changed as you’ve worked on other novels?
DAMIEN: I wrote INK mostly at night, cranking out 2,000 words or more in each session. I write during the day now and my progress is a bit slower, although I attribute that to taking more care with my words than the schedule change.
ANTHONY: You also write a lot of short stories (including what is for obvious reasons my personal favorite, “Scarred”). Does your writing process differ from novels to short stories?
DAMIEN: Slightly, yes. With novels, I usually see a character in my head doing or saying something (In INK’s case, I saw Sailor walking.), and sometimes I know right away the why and how and what; sometimes they linger for a bit until they reveal their story. With short fiction, I often have a handful of lines pop out that define the basic concept and spin the story from there. Sometimes the concept remains the same throughout; sometimes it spins off in a different direction.
ANTHONY: I was lucky enough to be “tuckerized” into “Scarred” by you as part of a Kickstarter perk for Fireside Issue 2, long before we finally met in person. What sort of pressure is involved in tuckerizing someone as a lead character into a story when they know they’re being tuckerized (as opposed to doing it as a surprise for the person)? And did that affect the writing and editing of the story at all?
DAMIEN: After the first draft was complete, the only real pressure was “Will Anthony like this story?” But when I was writing that first draft, I didn’t think about it. The story grew from the first line and your character simply slipped into place.
ANTHONY: Back to INK. There was a Mercedes Benz commercial during the Super Bowl after which you tweeted, and I paraphrase, “He’s perfect for Sailor.” (Awesome commercial, by the way!) With Willem DaFoe as Sailor, who else would you cast in a film version of INK?
DAMIEN: I never thought of anyone specific as Sailor before I saw that commercial and, in truth, my image of Sailor isn’t quite Willem Dafoe, but he does come close. I see all the characters very clearly in my head and they look like regular, non-celebrity people to me, so it’s hard to say who I’d cast. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal and Kate Hudson for Jason and Mitch, but they’re both far more glamorous and attractive than the Jason and Mitch I envision.
ANTHONY: You’re very effective at stringing out the tension in INK — the reader is aware of what’s going on long before Jason is, but even so we don’t get to see one of the “monsters” of the piece in “full light” until near the end. Why is this such a staple of horror fiction and film, and why is it so hard to do effectively?
DAMIEN: What we can’t see is so much more effective, more powerful, than what we can. Think of the movie Alien. You see bits and pieces of the creature throughout, but it’s not until the end that you see it in its entirety. If Ridley Scott had chosen to reveal it early on, the movie would definitely have lost some of the nail-biting tension.
Is it hard to do? I’m not sure. As you mentioned, in INK, the reader knows what’s going on before the character does and I worried that technique would spoil the story for some readers. But given who Sailor is, I couldn’t find a way to effectively hide that fact without it coming across as trite. Instead, I put his card on the table up front and chose to keep the griffin under wraps for as long as I could, hoping that knowing it was there but not seeing it would keep a reader engaged.
ANTHONY: Well, it worked for me! What else do you have coming up, and where can people find it?
DAMIEN: I have short fiction forthcoming in Interzone, Lightspeed, Apex Magazine, Shock Totem, and Daily Science Fiction, and my agent and I are working on the final edits to my next novel.
ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?
DAMIEN: I have quite a few favorites, but I think I’ll spotlight one that many people (in my experience from talking about books with friends) haven’t heard of: I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman. It’s a brilliant, dark dystopian book. If you’re the type of reader who wants everything explained and everything tied up with a neat bow, it will frustrate you and quite possibly piss you off, but it’s haunting in a very, very good way.