Friday, July 9, 2010

Interview with author Jeffrey Goddin

Today, my guest is Damnation Books, LLC author, Jeffery Goddin.  Jeffery's book Vasilov's Demon is now available for purchase.  Jeffrey has agreed to discuss his book and his writing life.

1) Tell me a little about your book.

Vasilov’s Demon is about a man who makes the choice to become a survivor in the Soviet era in Russia by being among the strongest, the toughest, and the most violent.  There’s a spiritual price to pay, however, and in the process, he’s haunted through his life by an ambiguous demonic figure that encourages him on the path he’s taken.

2) What gave you the idea for this particular story?

The story is kind of an exorcism of disturbing images I’ve picked up from readings of the awful violence and paranoia of Soviet rule in Russia.  The Russian Czars were no Boy Scouts, but from the execution of the Czar’s family in 1918 to the end of Stalin’s rule in 1953--and for years after that, millions of people in Russia and occupied countries literally spent their lives in fear--and the atrocities committed rival those of the Nazi camps.  This is real Evil, and one can’t help but wonder if it has a demonic element as well as a human element.  What kind of person would it make you into to live in such an era?  I’d think it would be like the guy says in Bladerunner:  “Either you’re cops, or you’re little people.”

3) Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?

I teach business communication as a profession, so with that, and trying to keep up with my family, and a 90 year old house to maintain, I’m definitely part-time.

Although not a morning person, I often get up before dawn when my son goes to school and write for awhile, then try to get in a nap before the real day begins.   I also take a legal pad with me about anywhere I travel in case I get the idea for a project.   Keep a lot of projects going at once, so if you don’t exactly feel in the mood to write something romantic, you can sit down and write something scary, or some nonfiction.  There’s always something you can work on.

4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I began to write in my pre-teen years.  My first writing was morbid, and Dad didn’t like it.  Then I sold a story to Galaxy, like, about 30 years ago, and  I knew it was possible.

5) What do you hope readers will take from your writing?

It varies.  I write fiction, nature articles and essays, do some photo work and write paranormal articles.
In the nature writing, I want to try and share that love of the outdoors that my family gave me.
In the fiction, I mainly just want to entertain you.  Vasilov’s Demon is really an exception here, because part of my motivation in writing it was to illumine a time and place where you could literally be sent to Siberia with only the clothes on your back for moving a picture of Stalin from one wall of your apartment to another.

6) Which genres do you write, which do you prefer, and why?

I write supernatural tales, horror, fantasy, dark fantasy, and a little science fiction.  I like these genres because you can do things with language and events and scenes that you can’t do in more realistic writing.  Also, these are the genres I enjoy reading.  There are some writers, like Tanith Lee, and the late Karl Edward Wagner, whose work just takes you completely away into the world they’ve created.  I also love classic supernatural writers like Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Montague Rhodes James, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, and Robert E. Howard.

7) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?

Getting time for it.   You have to learn to take advantage of any block of time when you don’t have something else to do, and regard writer’s block as an illusion.

8) Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.

The protagonist and the specific scenes are totally fictional, but all the main historical events and historical details are true.

9) How much is your protagonist like you? How different?

Not like me at all.  That’s part of the fun of writing.  The only thing I and Vasilov share is a love of classical music.

10) What kind of research did you do for this type of story?

It happened I already knew a lot of the history, and I also consulted a friend named Chuck Burkart who
has a deep knowledge of the era.

11) Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you? Why or why not?

Writing sexual scenes is fun, but that doesn’t apply to this story.  Writing violent scenes isn’t disturbing because you’re concentrating on how to make the scene effective in terms of craft.  I do find reading violent scenes disturbing if they’re too realistic, or obviously non-fictional.

12) What about your book makes it special?

It has a mix of history and intense scenes and a supernatural/spiritual strangeness that I’ve not really seen in any short fiction I’ve read.

13) What is your marketing plan?

Though I’ve been writing a long time, I’m new to the whole online publishing and marketing scene.
Working on that.

14) Where can people learn more about you and your work?

There’s not much to know.  Most of my writing’s out of print, but I’ve quite a few internet tracks that might lead to some of the publications.  My easiest writing to find would be a couple of early novels, work in Space & Time and Fate magazine, and fiction that was anthologized in the DAW  Books’ Year’s Best Horror paperbacks.

15) Any tips for new writers hoping to write in the genre of your book?

Read Peter Straub’s Ghost Story if you want to write book-length horror.  It’s terribly hard to really keep tension up through hundreds of  thousands of words, but this is one of the few works since Dracula  that actually maintains a level of supernatural suspense over the length of a novel. 

But whether you want to write short pieces or long, you have two choices: write something different, or write to an existing genre. My biggest mistake, lifelong, was not really getting into any writing community and networking, and not keeping up with trends on what people are reading.  Another problem is writing a story without a specific publisher in mind.  I have stories I think are good that it took 20 years to get published because they didn’t exactly fit market niches.

On the other hand, don’t take an editor’s rejection too seriously.  One of my stories that one editor called
“a very dumb story” made it to a year’s best anthology.   Editors, particularly those who publish their own magazines, have quirks.  But remember, it’s their project, not yours!  Keep looking (and networking) and good luck!

Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your tips and information about your writing life.


  1. Excellent interview. I'm intrigued by this book. Thanks for sharing Jeffrey and Penny.

  2. Karen, thanks for stopping by and seeing what Jeffrey has to say about his writing life.