Jim Grimsley is best known for his novels Dream Boy and Comfort and Joy. He is also a playwright, and his works are collected as Mr. Universe and Other Plays. His ability to write believable characters draw readers in.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
There was very little fiction written about male/male relationships when I began reading, and I felt a need to write in that territory myself when I decided to devote myself to writing. I tried to write books that I would have liked to find myself. In my younger days it was much easier to feel a relationship between two men because that was what I wanted myself.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
A writer’s career is a very chancy thing. I started writing young, started trying to publish when I was young, and had some early but minor success with short stories. The writing of my first novel took a long time and an even longer time passed before I found a publisher. My first novel appeared in Germany in translation two years before it appeared in the US. My German publisher then found me an American publisher, and that was when I started to get some traction in terms of reaching readers. The career part of my life came from finding a good publisher here in the US and having the luck to get reviewed well for my first two books. I can’t take much credit for that; the exposure that my publisher obtained for me was all important to my finding an audience. I am glad that I had the right books at the right moment.
Do you find that being a playwright effects the way that you write?
I have been writing fiction since I was eight; I started writing plays in my mid twenties, so the two processes don’t interact that much. I am a decent playwright but a better fiction writer, in my own assessment. Writing plays makes me very conscious of drama and dialog; what I learned from theater is that an audience – be it a theatergoer or a reader – wants something to happen. I try to keep my fiction moving, as if it is a movie in my head that I am transcribing. This is a generalization, of course, and not true of all the fiction that I’ve written.
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
Too late to answer that now, everybody knows. Turned out I had little to be afraid of in this regard.
Did growing up in North Carolina leave an impression on the way you view your writing compared to others?
I have not lived in North Carolina for a long time, though I hope to return there when I retire. My attachment to that place is largely drawn from my childhood, and from the fact that so many writers whom I respect come from that part of the world. It’s a place I turn to when I am looking to write something new, especially when I want to write about a rural setting. I think it has probably shaped my attitudes toward writing in that way, but I have ranged pretty far in my books and plays and have not been limited to writing about North Carolina.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
Women like good writing, and there is a lot of good writing in male/male books these days. I don’t think it’s more complicated than that. People in general like stories about relationships, but, perhaps, heterosexual men are afraid to read about men who care for other men. Women don’t seem tot have that fear.
What was it like to be included in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Nineteenth Annual Collection? It must have been exciting.
I’ve been in that anthology twice, and was thrilled to be there both times.
What are you currently working on?
I have completed work on a memoir about the integration of schools in North Carolina during the late 1960s and early 1970s; I lived through that process in Jones County, where I grew up, and was aware at the time that the process of meeting and merging with African-American students there shaped me in many important ways. That book is currently in the process of publication but it is still taking up most of my energy. It’s called Good White People. I am examining the process by which my training in prejudice came about, and how I changed when I began to have black classmates and friends at school.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
To answer that question fully would take a while, so I’ll hit some high points. I have always written by feeling my way ahead rather than by outlining, but I have recently decided to outline the next book that I write, to see what that process is like. I write entirely on the computer, and revise constantly during the first draft process. Then I rewrite more and more and more. Then I show the book to my editor, who asks for more changes, and often wants a major shift in the structure or the drama, so I rewrite again. I enjoy the work with editors and find that the people I have worked with in that capacity can help me clarify what I am trying to do. I am a good listener and am willing to let other people give me feedback.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
I don’t think there is a typical time frame; I have written a book in two years, and I have taken as long as a decade to work through a book. In the case of my fantasy novel Kirith Kirin, I needed nearly twenty years to get it done.
Did the fact that you had published Comfort & Joy in the early nineties effect it’s performance on the market? Most would think that at that time many people would not have wanted to read about characters like Ford McKinney.
I’m really not that driven to think about the market; I think that is the publishers job. My job is to write a book that says something real. In the case of Ford and Danny, I was trying to fill a gap I saw in the writing of the time; in those days, there were very few novels about gay men who made relationships that lasted, and few couples in books survived as couples all the way to the end of the story. But in real life I knew couples who had committed themselves to one another for decades. So I wanted to write about a process like that. Judging from the responses I’ve gotten about the book, Ford is a character whom many people wanted to read about, a man who could easily have hidden his gay aspect within a traditional marriage with a woman, a man who had trouble coming out of the closet.
What advice do you have for those thinking about writing gay romance and what advice do you have for those who are trying to build an audience from scratch?
Write the stories that obsess you; write romance rather than sex; find a good publisher and listen to your editor. The way to find an audience is to write something that people need to read. That can be daunting, but it’s the way to move ahead. There are hundreds of thousands of people who write books. You have to find some way to stand out from that vast herd.