Austin Gragg is a new author on fire. I first met him through submissions to Space and Time and his work was accepted for the upcoming first issue of Space and Time KC (January 2020). He is a top finalist for L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. His work is imaginative, fresh and well crafted. His first novella, “Chthonic Cleaning,” is available on Amazon here. Lucky for us, Austin has set aside some time from his writing to share a little about his life as an author.
AYS—Tell me about yourself as a writer. When did you fall in love with words? When did you first realize you wanted to write as a career?
Austin Gragg—I was very little when I knew telling stories was what I wanted to do. It was just a matter of understanding that was actually a thing I could do. For the longest time I was led to believe it wasn’t a worthy pursuit. I would get in trouble at school for selling my comic book series “Bubble Man and Rubberband Man.” Kids were spending their lunch money on them — the many issues printed off on our church’s copy machine. I continued to have obsessive creative endeavors all through childhood.
The moment it really hit me that I wanted to pursue writing seriously, came a handful of years ago. I was working a well-paying but soul-crushing job in an IT department and my father had just passed away (this was 2015). I was incredibly depressed with my job and started thinking about the legacies my parents and grandparents had left behind as public servants. I saw no such legacy or body of work possible through the dead-end IT life. A sort of emotive revelation happened when I asked the simple question, “What makes me happy?” I realized I needed to create in order to live. It hit me like a brick wall. Sent me to tears, because I wasn’t creating, and hadn’t been for a long time outside of my obsessive hobby in DMing Dungeons & Dragons for my friends. I wrote a larger description of this big moment in an essay and follow-up you can find here if anyone is interested in reading it.
But anyways, a few years later, after deciding to pursue this seriously, I’ve had a few short story publications, some poetry, this novelette, and was a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest. I owe it all to my partner’s love and support, as well as my obsessive personality leading me to read everything about craft I can get my hands on.
AYS—Chthonic Cleaning touches on what it’s like to be neurotic. Writers usually put themselves into their stories in some way. How much are you like Noah, or are you completely opposite like Dillon’s character?
Austin Gragg—Noah’s personality certainly pulls from my own experience with anxiety and panic attacks (which are a rarity nowadays, thankfully). Dillon grounds Noah and represents coping mechanisms in a way. But the thing I wanted to avoid was a relationship that felt co-dependent in any way — because that’s just slapping a feeble bandage over a larger problem when it comes to mental health — potentially dragging those we love down with us as we struggle. I wanted this story to be about overcoming those obstacles we’re given in life. Horror, as I think I first heard author Michaelbrent Collings say, is the genre of hope in many ways.
AYS—The character of The Cleaner is so unusual, I wonder if you can give us some insight into who it is and where it came from (without giving any spoilers, of course!)?
Austin Gragg—This is something we (my brilliant editor Andrew Reeves, who also edits Bear Review here in KC and is a superb poet) worked hard on, because in earlier versions of this story we felt there was some clarity missing — but we also didn’t want to lose the scope of this antagonist’s story or oversimplify it. The Cleaner is an ancient cosmic monstrosity — an entity whose existence is beyond time. He was made for a purpose, and has a complex relationship with his creator that puts him in direct conflict with that purpose. This conflict mirrors Noah’s inner struggles perfectly — making these two characters so excellent to pit against each other.
AYS—The story ends with satisfying closure, but the whole idea seems like it could continue. Do you see yourself writing more in this world or will you move on to new territory?
Austin Gragg—I certainly have a plethora of ideas. “Mother” is a recurring thematic element in my short fiction. I’m certain we’ll see more in this “universe” and I’m toying with the idea of turning this into a trilogy of novellas/novelettes. The form is short, but not too short to risk not being satisfying, and this is my first go at being an author-publisher — so, we’ll see. I decided to go the author-publisher route for this because it kept getting great feedback from pro-level markets, but its length made it too long for magazines and too short for big publishing. So, I might continue this route with works of that length. The most important thing to me is delivering a quality comparable to what you’d see from me in the “traditional” route.
AYS—This is your first published novella. How has the process been for you this first time around? What things would you do differently next go around? What things have worked well?
Austin Gragg—At this point, it might be a little too early to tell what I’d do differently. But, working with Andrew Reeves as an editor has been a blessing. We met through our work in public libraries and taught digital literacy classes together for a while. It was like the universe was intentionally pushing two creative minds in each other’s direction. Also, hiring a great cover artist was another thing I think went very well — better than expected. I’m excited to see the reader reactions to the story!
AYS—We both hail from Independence, though I’m a relatively new transplant. This city seems enthusiastic about the arts, new ideas and especially speculative fiction. As a native, do you find that to be true as well? In what ways?
Austin Gragg—We have the honor of saying our city birthed two of the greatest names in modern fantasy: Margaret Weis, and Jim Butcher. Nuff said. But, I’ll keep talking anyways. We have a vibrant arts scene and we’re right next door to all the amazing arts things happening in Kansas City. I could go on and on about my city. I love it. All the good that’s here outweighs the bad a thousand times over. I think Harry S Truman’s quotes on Independence capture all there is to love here. We’re rich in history, the arts, and it’s the largest city you’ll ever see with a “small town” feel to it.
AYS—What advice do you have for other writers? Any tips for cracking open your creativity?
Austin Gragg—Read. Read. READ. Then, read some more. Read everything you can get your hands on. Also, read about the craft of writing — of storytelling. Writer’s Digest’s books are almost always great publications. Visit your local library — I promise they carry or can get access to these materials. Finally, write. Write every day and be prepared to write garbage. Your first story will be garbage. Mine was. Most people’s are. In fact, I’ve written four novel length works and it’s this last one that I feel is quality enough for me to spend time on revising and editing so I can query agents and editors. If you really want to be a writer, you need to put in the time and be prepared to fail and fail and fail again. Rejection should be your default, but you should never stop. It’s like Jim Butcher said in an old blog post that I often reread when I’m feeling down, “You are the only one in the world who can kill your dream.”
AYS—What’s coming up next for you and where can we find you? (Blog, Twitter, FB, IG etc.)
Austin Gragg—I try to churn out a short story to submit to magazines every few months. So, hopefully more short fiction will accompany the few stories I’ve already got out. “Nevertheless She Screamed” is a Twilight Zone-esque short free to read at Asymmetry Fiction and my poem “Interrogation on Starship Death” is a featured, free to read, piece with The Weird and Whatnot (scroll near bottom of page). But, right now I’m wrapping up revisions on a novel length work and getting it read to hopefully start querying agents near the beginning of 2020 — and I’ve already plotted most of a western horror novel I’m super stoked about. I’ll always be writing and getting stories out there for all you readers as often as I can. You can find me at austingragg.com, or any of the social links below. I LOVE to chat with other readers and writers (I am a public librarian after all). Come say hello!
Chthonic Cleaning Available on all major eBook and paperback platforms!