Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: Chad has worked as a phone service rep for various tech companies, a gas station attendant, a middle school language arts and history teacher, and even spent one night cutting the mold off the cheese at the cheese factory. He currently works part time at the local library, and spends the rest of his time writing, reading, hiking, gaming, painting miniatures, and binge-watching Netflix. His superpowers are procrastination and dyscalculia. He lives near his children in Cottonwood, California, with his boyfriend and an assortment of pets, including a very bossy cat. He is an associate member of SFWA. You can find him online at chadgrayson.com, on twitter as @chadgrayson, and on tumblr as @therandomavenger.
Thanks so much, Chad, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Chad Grayson: I wrote my first story when I was around eight years old. It was about Indiana Jones fighting a mummy in the middle of a tornado (I’m from Indiana and tornadoes loomed large in my imagination). Also, I think he was about to get married? Some of the details have faded over the years. I knew I enjoyed writing of all kinds, but had no idea I might actually be good at it until I was in sixth grade. I was in a new school, with a new teacher who didn’t know me. He accused my report on Pearl Harbor of being plagiarized, because it didn’t sound like a twelve-year-old wrote it. So, it was kind of a backhanded compliment, but it was still a compliment. Later, in high school, I had English teachers who told me I had the potential to write professionally.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
CG: My genres tend to be all over the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum. But I tend to focus on relationships of all kinds and how they grow and develop, among all the genre tropes. I also tend to write about people you can root for, but who might also be a hot mess.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
CG: I would tell him to keep trying new things and developing his skills, because one day it would pay off. I would also tell him it was okay to be self-indulgent, to fill his stories with the things that he loved, because if he loved them other people would love them too. But most of all, I would tell him to quit apologizing for himself and for his work. He had talent and potential and his efforts, as inexpert as they could be at times, were valid and were the only way to grow.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
CG: My fitbit has a longest timer setting of 99 minutes, so every writing day I set that timer and give myself a goal of producing 2500 words in that 99 minutes. I write until one of these goals is hit. Usually, I hit 2500 words with about ten minutes to spare on the timer. I find my adhd hyperfocus can kick in for about this long, which helps. I do this four days a week, and use my writing time on the fifth day to do other book business or work on my blog or newsletter. I find writing at this pace keeps me engaged without feeling burnt out. This also means I produce around 10,000 words on a full week, which gets me through a novel fast enough that I don’t get bored with it, which is a hazard for us neuropunk folks.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
CG: I kind of can’t help myself. I wish I were the type of person who could ignore them, because I realize they are not for me. But I want to know what people are saying. I’ve been lucky so far in that I haven’t had any super-negative reviews (I’m sure that is coming someday). I try to feel good about the good ones without putting too much stock in them. What I won’t do is respond to reviews, or, worse, argue with a reviewer. There’s no upside here. You will only come off like a jerk, even if you only mean to correct a factual error.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
CG: There are all sorts of underrepresented groups in my books. In my first series, which is otherwise a cishet sci-fi romance, there are major characters who are gay and trans. I also try to have a balance of characters representing different racial groups. And with every book I can’t help writing neurodiverse characters. Sometimes this becomes obvious, sometimes its subtext. My main character in my first series went through the process of being diagnosed with adhd (under another name) in the third book in that series. In an upcoming fantasy, one of the co-leads is an autistic wizard.
And, though I will finish my first series (Broken Stars) everything else I write from now on is going to have queer lead characters. My current book, The Soul Cages, is the first thing I’ve published under the queer fiction label, and I’m grateful for how it’s been received. It took me a long time to fully accept my identity as a queer person, and I’m not going back now.
JSC: Where do you like to write?
I used to be a nomad, taking my laptop to various libraries and copy shops. And that worked for a while. But then I realized I had the room in my house to install a nice home office, and now that I have it fully set up, it’s been amazing. My office is a place where I feel productive and inspired, and has been a game changer. It’s my favorite place in the house. The place that feels most like mine. And I have been so much more productive since I’ve had a nice place to work, and invested in a better keyboard/monitor setup.
JSC: What does success mean to you?
CG: It took me a while to realize that I could define this for myself, and spent a lot of time feeling bad about my supposed lack of success, especially compared to the highlight reel I was getting from some of the self-publishing facebook groups I was in. For me, success is about connecting with readers, and building an audience. I have an income to support myself, so I don’t have to make a lot of money from this (though it would be nice if it were to pay for itself), but I want an audience. I want people to read my work and share their reactions with me (especially if that reaction is ‘How Dare You?!’). And slowly but surely, I am building that audience. I don’t feel like a success yet, but I know what it looks like for me, and can afford to do things my own way, even if that makes it take a little longer. I am proud of the books I have put out so far, and that feels like success to me as well.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
CG: The Soul Cages is the most personal thing I have ever written. I had a brother who died when we were children, and I think I was channeling that experience when I created the characters of Jeremy and Jono. The specifics of what happened were very different. We weren’t twins, and were both much younger, for one thing. But I’d always wished I could talk to my brother growing up. I wanted him to be a part of my life. So, I imagined a situation where that was actually happening. I worked very hard developing the dynamic between the brothers, one of whom was in his mid-twenties, the other one eternally sixteen. And I think, at the risk of getting overly personal, I gave them the relationship I wanted to have with my brother, but didn’t get to. There was definitely an element of delayed grief processing here. And when creating the character of Adam, Jeremy’s love interest, I went back to my own time as a middle school teacher and my own authorial aspirations. None of these characters is me, exactly, but they are all three different pieces of myself. I also wanted to write about how when you fall in love with the right person, they expand your world, and help you become the best version of yourself. I wanted to show how Adam and Jeremy helped each other grow and develop as people, even if that meant certain things would have to be left behind. From some of the reactions I’ve gotten, I think I hit the mark pretty well.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
CG: I have had many day jobs. I started out as a gas station attendant. This was before the era of pay-at-the-pump so that could get busy and stressful. During college, I worked summers in an auto parts factory, and a lighting factory. After that, I worked customer service for various tech companies in a call center. This was in the mid-90’s, before most people had the internet, so everything was on the phone. After college, I was a middle school language arts and social studies teacher for ten years. Since then, I’ve worked part time at our local community library, and that has been amazing. I’ve dealt with a wide variety of people over the years and I think all of these experiences have made me a better writer.
And now for Chad’s latest book: The Soul Cages:
When Adam, a middle school teacher, meets Jeremy, a musician, sparks fly, and the feeling is definitely mutual. What Adam soon learns, however, is that Jeremy is part of a package deal. He is bound psychically to his twin brother, Jono, who died when they were sixteen.
As Adam and Jeremy get closer, where does that leave Jono? And when Jono makes a request to Adam—“Please convince Jeremy to let me go”—will Adam have the courage to do it, even knowing how much it would hurt Jeremy to say goodbye?
When tragedy strikes, will Adam and Jeremy come together, or will they be torn apart by the strange arrangement they find themselves in? Can love survive amidst the chaos of the afterlife?
The Soul Cages is a standalone queer paranormal romance novella.
Jeremy noticed the guy with the glasses halfway through his second set. Actually, that wasn’t true. The guy had come in halfway through his first set, in the company of a couple of friends. Now his friends were gone, and he was still there, alone, nursing a drink and focusing all his attention on watching Jeremy perform.
Dominic’s Tap House was full on this Friday night. The usual crowd was there, mostly professionals trying to unwind after a long work week. Jeremy had lost count of the number of times he’d played Dominic’s Jeremy, and they’d already booked him for next week. As gigs went, it wasn’t that exciting, but he was getting paid to play and sing, and you couldn’t really beat that.
He’d just started “I Won’t Back Down” when his attention settled on the guy with the glasses a second time. They locked eyes, and Jeremy forgot where he was in the song. He looked away to get his bearings and smoothed it over. But anyone who knew the song would have noticed he’d stumbled. Embarrassing. He could usually play this song in his sleep.
For the rest of his set, he focused his attention on the ceiling fans so he didn’t get distracted again. Once he’d finished, ending with his acoustic version of “Fearless,” which was always a crowd-pleaser, he risked glancing at the guy one more time. Glasses looked away, but it was obvious he’d been staring at Jeremy.
What was this guy’s deal? As he put his guitar away and moved to the bar to get his free drink, Jeremy swung his eyes toward Glasses’ table.
Jono sat across from him.
Great. That’s all Jeremy needed.
Glasses hadn’t seen Jono, of course, but for the rest of the night, Jeremy would know he was there. Should he go over there and say something? Maybe the guy hadn’t been staring at all or had just had his attention grabbed by the lights? Maybe Jeremy was reading this situation all wrong.
Before the bartender handed him his rum and coke, Jono was there, sitting on the empty stool beside him.
“So,” Jono began casually. “Are you going to go over there, or …”
Jeremy shot his brother a glare and subvocalized his answer. Jono would hear him that way, but no one else would notice him talking to someone who was, for all intents and purposes, not actually there.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The cute nerd who’s been making eyes at you all night,” Jono said with a grin. “I know you noticed because you messed up ‘I Won’t Back Down.’”
Jeremy accepted his drink from the bartender and risked throwing a glance over at the table. Glasses was still sitting alone, but he had his phone out now, and it looked like he was texting somebody. Didn’t matter who. It was none of his business. While Glasses looked down at his phone, Jeremy risked taking a more careful look at the guy.
He was dressed in professional clothes. Besides the nerd glasses, which Jeremy had to admit really worked on him, he wore a blue button-down and a pale-yellow tie, which he’d loosened. His hair was thick and brown and sticking up a little in the front as if it didn’t want to lie down properly.
“Come on, J, he’s exactly your type,” Jono said.
“How do you know what my type is?” Jeremy asked his brother.
“I pay attention. I have no life of my own, so I have to entertain myself with yours.”
Shame clutched at Jeremy’s heart and heated his face. After all, it was his fault Jono didn’t have his own life.
“I have a feeling that if I don’t go over there and talk to him, I’m never going to hear the end of it.”
“Now, does that sound like me?” Jono asked innocently.
Jeremy sipped his drink, considering. He had half an hour before his next set; he might as well talk to someone. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
He grabbed his drink and waded through the crowd, finding the table Glasses was sitting at. He paused at the edge, clearing his throat to get the guy’s attention, and asked, “Is this seat taken?”
Glasses looked up in shock, his eyes widening behind his thick frames.
“Do you, like, need the chair, or …?”
“I was wondering if you’d mind if I joined you? For a few minutes.”
Glasses looked like he was ready to jump out of his seat. Had Jeremy completely misread things? But Glasses said, “Not at all,” and did Jeremy the favor of putting his phone away.
Jeremy dropped into the seat and took a long swig of his rum and coke. Jono had disappeared again, which was probably for the best. Though Jeremy was certain that his brother would be somewhere, watching this.
Finally, Jeremy extended his hand and said, “I’m Jeremy.”
“I know,” Glasses said. “Your name was on the sign. I’m Adam.”
“Adam,” Jeremy said, rolling the name around in his mouth along with his drink. “It’s nice to meet you.”
God, he was rusty. This was the lamest conversation opener he could imagine.
Jono appeared behind Adam for a moment, making the motion that he was hanging himself. Jeremy ignored him.
Adam grinned and saved Jeremy from embarrassing himself. “You’re very good.”
“Thank you,” Jeremy said. “Your friends coming back?”
“Oh, them. No, they’ve moved on for the evening. My roommate and her boyfriend. I think they’re going back to the apartment to … you know. I really didn’t want to be home for that.”
Jeremy laughed. “Yeah, it could be awkward.”
“So, I thought I’d stay here, get drunk and listen to some music,” Adam said.
“Sounds like a plan,” Jeremy said. “So, what do you do? For a living, I mean.”
“I’m a schoolteacher. Marshall Middle School.”
“Ah. I hated middle school.”
Adam chuckled. “I think everybody hated middle school. Probably why I like it. For the most part, the kids still want to like you, but they’re getting mature enough you can have some great conversations.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Jeremy said. “Kids scare me.”
Adam grinned again. “It’s not for the faint of heart. So … is this what you do full time?”
“I play gigs in various places and give guitar and piano lessons. I also do voiceovers for local tv and radio and narrate audiobooks. With everything mixed together, I make ends meet.”
“That’s really interesting,” Adam said. He twisted his hands together as if he were nervous about something. “A couple of your songs I hadn’t heard before. Did you write them?”
Jeremy nodded. “I did.”
“They’re really good,” Adam said. “I have no musical talent at all, so I’m always impressed by people who do.”
“I have a feeling you have your own talents,” Jeremy said and downed the last of his rum and coke.
Adam’s face flushed a deep red before he stammered, “Can I ask you a favor?”
“One of the classes I teach is called ‘life skills.’ I have guest speakers from different career fields come in and talk to the kids about what they do, and how they prepared, and things like that. Would you be interested in being one of our guests?”
The invitation was unexpected. “Did you not hear me when I said I was terrified of children?”
Adam laughed. Jeremy found he quite liked the sound.
“I promise to protect you.”
“When did you have in mind?”
“Would next Friday be too short notice?” Adam asked.
Why not? “I think I could make that work.”
“Great!” Adam said, taking out his phone again. “Let me get your number, and we can make the arrangements.”
Jeremy pulled out his wallet and took out one of his business cards, handing it to Adam. “That’s my business phone number, but I’ll give you my personal cell number, too.”
Jeremy gave him the number, and Adam read it back, making sure he’d entered it into his phone correctly.
He needed to tune up before his next set, so Jeremy checked his watch. “It was nice talking to you, Adam,” he said, extending his hand again. “I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”
God, he sounded so lame. Musicians were supposed to be cool.
But Adam only smiled and shook his hand again. “I’ll be in touch.”
Jeremy nodded, then got up and made his way back to the green room. As he did, Jono fell in step beside him.
“That seems promising,” his brother said.
“He just wants me to talk to his class.”
“Or he was using that as an excuse to get your number,” Jono said. “Honestly, how are you so bad at knowing when someone is flirting with you?”
“I’ll probably never hear from him again, anyway,” Jeremy said. “But you were right. He is exactly my type.”
Jeremy laughed. “Yeah, sexy nerd.”