Interview with Gregg Maxwell Parker, Author of “The Real Truth”

BY: Angie Haddock


A funny and touching novel about media, memory, compassion, confusion, religion, regret, politics, and purpose.

Goodreads


I found “The Real Truth” through Goodreads, and was excited that the author was open to doing an interview. The book itself was an easy and enjoyable read – it comes in under 300 pages and has a recognizable format.

The main character, Derek Severs, is a conservative radio show host who thrives on getting into arguments on-air. He starts being visited by ghosts – not of people he knows personally, but of well-known figures from history. Unlike this premise’s Dickensian predecessor, these ghosts visit in groups of 3-4, usually, and take Derek to various places he hasn’t been before (including Woodstock), in addition to some places he has been. Eventually, as Derek becomes more accepting that the ghosts are going to continue coming back, they take him to the point in his college days that he currently needs to come to grips with.

Without giving away the resolution, I would say that the book ties things up nicely, but not too unrealistically.

The author, Gregg Maxwell Parker, published this book a few years ago. He has since put out two more novels, the most recent being a middle grade novel. Here’s my unedited interview with Gregg.

Angie: Where are you living/writing from these days?

Gregg: After living in the US most of my adult life, I’ve relocated to Japan. My wife is from here, so that makes things easy. I am very happy to live in an era where I can stream NFL and NBA games from another continent. Otherwise, I might miss LA a lot more.

Angie: Did you always want to be a writer? Or, what inspired you to want to write books?

Gregg: I remember stating that I wanted to be a screenwriter as early as middle school. I loved movies and wanted to write them, though I had no idea how someone actually went about that since I lived in Nebraska and knew no one who had ever worked in movies before. I’d always loved to read, but never considered what went into actually writing a novel; books just sort of existed. Junior year of high school, my AP Lit class (shout-out to Mr. Holechek) read “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner and “A Place Where the Sea Remembers” by Sandra Benitez, and I discovered George Carlin’s books. That was when it first dawned on me that authors weren’t impossible geniuses, and that anyone could sit down and write a story about whatever they wanted. I studied Creative Writing at USC, and that was where I really fell in love with it and decided this was what I wanted to do.

Angie: Considering the topic of this one – have you ever worked in media before? 

Gregg: I’ve had a strange and meandering career path, with stints in many different industries – online media, film & TV, education, health insurance, industrial/agriculture, nonprofits, and plenty of office jobs. I think “The Real Truth” is a little informed by my own experiences, but what I found in writing it is that the book really took shape the more I moved it AWAY from the concrete reality I thought I knew and allowed it to be its own thing, let the character be his own person. Instead of making him as much like the talk show hosts I’d listened to as possible, I focused on how he was different from them, why he wouldn’t like them, and that’s when I was able to see him as a full human being and understand where he was coming from. Now, when I’m preparing to write something, I might do a little research, but as soon as I start developing a list of facts or details that I’m determined to include in a novel or story, I know it’s time to stop researching and start making things up.

Angie: The ghosts who show up seem pretty random – both as individuals, and in how they are grouped together – was that intentional? How did you pick who you wanted to write into the book as ghosts?

Gregg: I remember those sections were some of the first things I outlined when working out the idea. It may not seem obvious, but the choices of who those characters were and how they behaved were extremely calculated. This is a book that is largely about expectations – not just the main character’s, but the reader’s as well. These are, for the most part, people Derek has specific ideas about, just as he has specific ideas about morality and life and death and all sorts of things, and what he finds isn’t what he was hoping for. When he sees Abraham Lincoln, he’s expecting a specific thing, but it turns out this version of Abe isn’t the same as the one from life, and isn’t providing him with what he wanted. Derek is perpetually disappointed in both himself and the world around him, and now he’s finding out that this fantastical afterlife may be just as disappointing.

The same is true for the reader. I have to swim against a current in this story because it fits into a narrative that you’ve heard a thousand times. I know, based on the concept, that you have specific expectations about what will happen to this guy and how the story will end, and I have to subvert those expectations in order to open you up to the possibility of something different. The ghosts do a good job of making sure the reader understands what they’re in for. When Bob Marley shows up, I know how you’re expecting him to speak and act, and it becomes clear quickly that you won’t be getting it. In the same way, I know you’ve seen a hundred TV episodes based on “A Christmas Carol,” and you’re comfortable with that structure, but making you comfortable isn’t my job. It would be easy to write a story where a middle-aged white man is visited by people from his past, or people he admires who order him to change, but that doesn’t reflect the world as I see it. Everything you watch or read is “Man is selfish, writer/deity teaches him a lesson, he changes.” So the question becomes: “How do I do the OPPOSITE of that? What person is the OPPOSITE of who would be useful to Derek in the traditional version of this story?” The only way for me to give you something you’ve never seen before is to take something you’ve seen a million times and blow holes in it until it’s unrecognizable.


Angie: I felt like religion/Christianity was handled pretty fairly here. By that I mean – yes, there are some hypocrites in the bunch, but most of the churchgoers were kind and inviting (well, at least, to someone they thought of as one of their own). Should I assume you grew up going to church? Did you want to include religion in this story for any specific aim, or was it more just a part of the character’s atmosphere?

Gregg: I grew up in a religious environment, and I suppose some of those experiences informed the sections of the book that involve Derek’s church. I was thinking on this today, and I honestly don’t remember when or why those aspects of the novel entered the picture; I think it was just always a part of it, since the story deals so heavily with the afterlife, and with a person who has a definite idea of what that afterlife is and should be, so much so that he doesn’t want to look into it for fear that it’s not going to be what he expects. There is something tragic about people who are afraid to admit they don’t know something, and that’s the part of it that stays with me, looking back. I rarely read my own work once it’s finished, so it’s been a couple years since I opened this book, but I don’t think of the religious characters as being hypocritical or whatever words one might use, since that’s not how they see themselves. They’re convinced they know what is true and what is not, and they’ve made up their minds about this man. He’s thought of himself as part of a large collective of like-minded people, but as the story progresses, his mind is less made up than it once was.


Angie: Tell us a little about what you’re working on now or next. 

Gregg: After finishing a book each of the last three years, I decided I didn’t want to put anything out in 2020, and instead concentrated on learning how to advertise and promote my latest book, “Troublemakers,” which has been my most widely-read title and I think is my favorite thing I’ve worked on (though again, I don’t go back and read my old stuff, so that’s probably recency bias). I wanted to wait to let the next idea present itself to me, and after a few months, I settled on something that will be a real challenge. I’m still in the outlining stage, but this is looking to be the longest and most serious book I’ve ever written, so I honestly don’t know if it’ll come out in 2021 or later than that, but I’m excited to try something different.

Find Gregg’s books at his website or on Amazon.


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T.J. Tranchell – Author Interview

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS


Author T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween, has worked as a journalist, horror movie columnist, pizza delivery man, warehouse worker, haunted house monster, customer service clerk, college instructor, and other less glamorous jobs. Tranchell has his master’s degree in literature from Central Washington University with, naturally, a focus on the horror genre.

Tranchell published his first novel, “Cry Down Dark,” through Blysster Press in 2016. In 2017, Blysster released a collection of short stories, poetry, and film criticism titled “Asleep In the Nightmare Room.” He has also published horror short fiction, is at work on his second novel, and was co-editor of GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries, a dark fiction anthology from When the Dead Books. He is a rising star among horror scholars, having presented work on Stephen King at the Popular Culture Association’s national conference, and has been a panelist and interviewer at Crypticon Seattle for several years

He currently is the author development coordinator for Blysster Press, writes for Northwest Public Broadcasting, and is a freelance writer and editor. Email him at tj.tranchell@gmail.com.


BRITTANY LEWIS

T.J. please tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did that inspire your writing?

T.J. TRANCHELL

I grew up in Utah. One thing that did for my writing early was to push me toward darker stories. I’ve always been something of a rebel. In the last few years, however, I’ve accepted that Utah is a place that doesn’t have enough horror stories set in. So I’ve made it a point to do that.

BRITTANY

On the topic of inspiration, what authors/novels/short stories, etc. inspired your writings?

T.J.

I’m a huge Stephen King fan and I borrowed a line from one of his books for the title of my first book. Beyond that, and even beyond horror, I love Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. Shirley Jackson has been huge for me, too. Lately I’ve gotten more into Brian Evenson, who also grew up in Utah.

BRITTANY

How did you choose which genre to write in?

T.J.

I write mostly horror. I don’t do a lot of gory stuff, though. I’m more about atmosphere and emotion. I leaned toward horror as a place where characters can face the worst of the world (and other worlds) and hopefully come out stronger. It doesn’t always work out like that, but it allows me to explore drama and comedy at the same time without being either. That, and my birthday is on Halloween. It’s a natural fit.

BRITTANY

Tell me about “The Private Life of Nightmares”? Where did the stories come from?

T.J.

The stories in The Private Lives of Nightmares are almost entirely from the last two years. I put all the good stuff I had written before into the collection “Asleep in the Nightmare Room,” so the next one had to be all new work. Many of the stories were written or revised for specific submission calls. They weren’t all accepted, but that’s how they started. Others were written during my brief time as an MFA student. As for the ideas behind them, most of them were inspired by music.

BRITTANY

How has becoming a published writer affected you? Are you the same T.J. you were before? What’s your schedule like?

T.J.

I’m basically the same person. A few more people know me now than did before and I’ve made a ton of new friends. But I am still the same me. Always thinking of stories and thinking “what if?” My schedule now is that I write when I can. I’m homeschooling my seven year old son and my wife now works ten hour days. And I’m a college English instructor (online for the year). Writing time is precious so when I get it, I work hard and fast.

BRITTANY

Do you have any tips for others out there who like to write but might not think publication is possible?

T.J.

These days, anyone can publish. The biggest tip I have is to finish something. You’ll never get anything published if you don’t finish. And don’t let other people tell you not to go for it. You want to be a writer? Then write. Worry about publishing after. You don’t need a Twitter account devoted to writing unless you have something written.

 

BRITTANY

Is there anything you thought I would ask that I did not?

T.J.

The other thing is to read! Read everything for a long time. Read bad books and good books. Short stories, poetry, nonfiction. Read the newspaper. I’ve had some of my best stories come from the news. Listen to people talk. Go to plays (when they return). I want to say “don’t just sit at home” but that was a different life. Find ways to engage with life, even if you don’t like people.

BRITTANY

Tell me more about how Utah pushed you toward darker stories. Is there a specific incident or event from childhood that stuck with you?

T.J.

My first book was set there because it was based on a true story. A friend of mine died from a brain tumor and the book was my grieving process. Then I wrote another (seeking publication still) and set it in a fictional version of the town I grew up in. After that, it’s been universe building.

In “The Private Lives of Nightmares,” there is an essay titled “Street View” that is about some things from my childhood. I don’t want to spoil it, but the unpublished novel is about Mormon exorcists. The incidences in “Street View” are the nugget of that novel. Utah has just seeped in. I’m almost 41 and now truly reckoning with my childhood on the page. Young adulthood was easy to write about because it wasn’t that long ago. Childhood, though, seems like a lifetime in the past.

BRITTANY

Tell me more about how music inspires your writing.

T.J.

When I write, I listen to movie scores. The consistency keeps me on track, and it comes with natural story beats. But the songs that inspire me can have a lyric that sends me off into a story, or something about the performer can give me an idea for a character without actually being that person. “The Private Lives of Nightmares” starts with a story inspired by Bruce Springsteen and John Steinbeck.

BRITTANY

Do you have any ideas for your next book? What have you been writing lately?

T.J.

I’m still trying to get that exorcist book published. I had a publisher who unfortunately closed before it could be released. But I have some scene sketches, not really an outline, for a follow-up that meshes that and “Cry Down Dark,” my first book. I also have an unfinished serial killer novel that my wife wants me to finish before I do anything else. I’ve also started working on a nonfiction project about horror literature. There are many scholarly books about horror films but not enough about horror novels.


Purchase T.J. Tranchell’s latest book “The Private Lives of Nightmares” through Blysster Press.

Even bad dreams have secrets.

Around the corner awaits a new set of shadows, demons, and nightmares. From T.J. Tranchell, author of CRY DOWN DARK and ASLEEP IN THE NIGHTMARE ROOM comes a thrilling set of tales—even a few that are true—to keep you awake past your bedtime.

Showcasing his penchant for bringing the monsters inside of us and the monsters surrounding us together, Tranchell invites you to walk with him through small towns, across a desert, along a beach, and into events that have shaped him and will chill your blood. You are even invited to a once-in-a-lifetime birthday party, where the cake has a special ingredient you will never forget.

And those are only the dreams seen from the safety of a pillow, covered in your favorite blanket. Tranchell has saved the worst nightmares for the bright light of day, where the truth can’t be denied.

The bad dreams are out in the open, but they hold tight to their secrets. Turn a few pages and you will discover THE PRIVATE LIVES OF NIGHTMARES.”

Buy Now!


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