YAY! Look who is visiting us! Cornelia Grey

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Thank you for taking some down time and spending it with us. Let’s start this off with a beverage. We have coffee, tea, some sort of juice (I think it’s been in here a few weeks) and soda. What would you like?

Definitely tea. 🙂 I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to that. (And mugs. By now, I have to sneak new ones in the house, since my boyfriend keeps threatening to relocate my entire collection out of the window…! ^^) Last week, I came back to Italy from London, and half of my luggage was filled with tea boxes. Ditto when I went to Japan last April! I still have a small box of kelp and plum tea that I dare not taste… sounds quite an odd combination, don’t you think?

tea

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, let’s see! I’m a 25-year-old Italian, and I’ve spent the past five years bouncing back and forth between my hometown and London, where I’m currently a PhD student.

Last year, I completed my Creative Writing BA, did a few internships, and now, I split my time between writing, translating, and researching. I quite like constantly moving from the excitement and variety of London to the quiet and stillness of my hometown in the hills.

I studied fine arts for a long time, and I visit art galleries as often as I can (God bless London’s free museums!). I have a soft spot for the Italian Renaissance and will shamelessly drool on anything by Michelangelo, especially his later, rougher works; I also love the expressionists, especially Van Gogh and Egon Schiele, and odd performances and installations like the ones by Yayoy Kusama.

Theatre is another passion of mine; I used to perform in a theatre company, and I run to see performances whenever I can afford it. The latest play I saw was the ‘Tempest’ at the Globe Theatre, and it was absolutely wonderful – it moved seamlessly between touching and bittersweet and insane and hilarious. Plus Colin Morgan, playing Ariel, was just dreamy! 😉

I’m a little random and constantly hopping from one interesting thing to another like a hungry grasshopper. I love pizza and tea, I can’t help petting any animal that crosses my path (and that doesn’t chew my hand off if I try), and, of course, love cats… which I’m sure doesn’t surprise anyone :)!

When you received news that your manuscript had been accepted by Storm Moon Press, what were the first words that fell from your mouth?

Eh eh, actually nothing, because I was at the university’s library and I couldn’t really celebrate out loud. But I may have fist-pumped a little. 😉

What forces brought you over to the GLBT Genre? Do you focus on one part of the QUILTBAG or do you write various identities, expressions, or orientations? What made you want to write what you do?

I never really made a conscious decision to write GLBT fiction – it just happened. It started when I was 13 or so, writing fanfiction, which is a really good training ground to practice writing without yet having to worry about world- and character-building. There was a manga I really liked, and it featured two male characters that had this amazing chemistry and an intriguing past history that were just begging to be explored (they were Kurama and Hiei from Yuu Yuu Hakusho). I remember thinking: ‘if they were a man and a woman, it would be taken for granted that there’s something romantic going on between them. But, just because they’re two guys, it should all be brushed off? That’s not fair!’ So I set about correcting this, and writing myself the love story I wanted to read.

It was several years before I heard the term ‘heteronormativity’ for the first time, and I was able to pinpoint exactly what irked me so much. I get annoyed when, in movies, two guys have the deepest, most complex relationship, and it’s all brushed off – or even worse, made into a joke – because ‘ewww, no homo!’, while the male and female leads can look at each other sideways and, without having a scrap of chemistry or any reason except having the customary combination of genitals, automatically fall in love. There are still too many people who react with completely irrational hatred to relationships other than cis-het monogamy, and I really hope that writing about these can help improve the situation.

Actually, many of my characters are bisexual, even though I think it’s only been obvious in a couple of stories. Sometimes, they are bisexual but, for a series of circumstances, so far have only ever had romantic relationships with men; it’s a situation I’m familiar with and, according to some corners of the internet, it means they don’t have the right to identify as bisexuals. I am aware that there are several issues – such as, for example, bisexual erasure and discrimination – even within the QUILTBAG community, and I hope to explore these themes further in my future works.

Would you care for some cookies? We have chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal with or without raisins and a package of mystery ones. We have cake too. Your choice.

Oooh, cake please! My favourites are the soft spongy ones, without any filling, either lemon or chocolate. My French roommate is a cake fairy and often bakes those. Needless to say, with 7 flatmates, the cakes never last long… 😉

angel food cake

How many hours a day do you spending writing?

That really depends. When I’m on a roll, I can spend five or six hours writing (which is not as good as it sounds, because I also have to work on my PhD and translate in order to pay for, uh, food and stuff, so I can’t devote all my time to writing); and then when I’m stumped, it’s a miracle if I can squeeze an hour of work without interruptions.

I am embarrassed to say that I usually swing like a pendulum on steroids from one extreme to the other, and never really settle on a sane middle ground for long. I am working on it, though, because freelance work and academic research absolutely require better time management skills. In fact, I am testing out a schedule this summer – and if any of you have any tips, by all means go ahead and share! 🙂

Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

My first drafts are just this side of unreadable. I’ve discovered that what works best for me is to just get the ideas on the page as fast as possible, otherwise I’m going to lose track of what I wanted to say and stumble to a stop. Plus, it really takes the pressure off: the chance of just getting it out there, knowing that I will be back later to sort everything out, gives me a lot of freedom. So, the first drafts barely have any punctuation, there are typos, repetitions, entire chunks of prose that will be surgically removed later because the complex feeling I wanted to convey can actually be summed up in one more refined sentence; usually the text is part in Italian and part in English, depending on what language I’m thinking in at the moment.

When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

I’m definitely a plot person. I didn’t always use to be, but now, I firmly believe that a solid, balanced structure is the backbone of a good story. I like to sketch down the plot diagram, with the tension growing and growing until it peaks in the climax, and then set out to put in place the key elements: the inciting incident, the turning points, the escalation of disaster, and the final explosive resolution. The first couple of days are devoted to working on the plot to make sure it’s airtight, that every step is logical and the escalation is as urgent as possible – I don’t want any lagging tension!

After that, I like to figure out what the scenes will be and in what order. If I can’t fit them all on a timeline, then I make little cards I can shuffle around as I please. I have rough summaries of what’s going to happen in each scene – this is also the stage where the rough character ideas get fleshed out and I get a clearer sense of who they are.

And that’s when I finally start writing, picking up from whatever scene strikes my fancy and usually working bouncing back and forth – very rarely in chronological order. In fact, usually the very opening scene is the last thing I write! It’s a lot of pressure having to get the hook right to instantly suck the reader into the story, and I don’t want to get stuck on that halfway through the work. 🙂

Of your characters, do you have a favorite and why?

This is a difficult one! I am a bit smitten with all of my characters, each for different reasons. 🙂 A few months ago, I would have answered James Campbell, the bandit from my Bounty Hunter short story (and its upcoming sequel!). It’s probably because I was writing from William Hunt’s – the other character – perspective, and I could clearly see why William was in love with James, and I was a little bit, too.

But, in the sequel, I was writing from James’ perspective, too; and the result is that now I’m a little bit in love with William, instead, and I’d say he’s my favourite. Now I can see him through someone else’s eyes; I see how beautiful he is, I see how hard he tries to carry on and do the right thing no matter how much it pains him, I see him struggle with his decisions, and I love him for it. I love his determination, how strong and reliable he can be, and also how he loses his temper sometimes and takes the occasional wrong turn, but then tries his best to fix things. And I love how he tries to always put James’ choices and freedom first, even though it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done. And he’s all dark and mysterious and rough and handsome, too – which never hurts, right? 🙂

Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?

I suppose so, yes. I guess everybody has their slightly different brand of writer’s block… mine is not a lack of ideas, but rather a sort of paralyzing procrastination that prevents me from getting those ideas on paper. I think it stems a bit from performance anxiety, really! I remember that, back when I was just writing for myself, I used to write smoothly and serenely. Now that I know that editors will look at it, and then readers, and that everyone will expect it to be somewhat better than my last story – now that I’m acutely aware that there is a certain standard I need to achieve… well, gosh, that can be quite intimidating sometimes! (Of course, I get it multiplied by 100x when it comes to academic papers. Somebody break out the chocolate cookies, stat!)

Sometimes, the (very unproductive) response to performance anxiety is to just retreat in one’s shell and keep procrastinating, because until something is actually on paper, there’s always the chance that it will be better, that it will be the best thing ever.
Of course, this is a very bad course of action, because any story actually on paper is better than a story that hasn’t actually been written. And besides, the way to improve is to keep practicing and work through the challenges, not panic and drown in chocolate chips. 😉

So, I don’t really have any magical remedy for it. When I’m sick of my procrastination, I just make myself sit in front of the computer, open the document and just remain there until something gets done. The first paragraphs are torture, and they take ages to complete, since I keep finding excuses to stop and procrastinate some more to escape the stress. But really, it’s just a matter of being stubborn – and after the first bumpy page or so, usually the juices start flowing more freely, the words start pouring on the page and suddenly I can’t remember why I was even so reluctant to get writing in the first place. And that, dear friends, is the best feeling in the world! 🙂

Do you have a particular spot in your house that you call your comfy zone? (The place where you write.)

Not really! I haven’t really had one in a while because of student life – you move around a lot and you always have to share your house/room with other people, and you usually never get to have a decent desk and chair. For a year or so, I was always using the computers at the university library, since I went there with another student and we worked quite well spurring each other on. Then, for a few months I was routinely taking over the couch in the living room at night, and writing with the laptop propped up on a chair. Often I just sit on the bed with four pillows piled behind my back, but then I get the worst muscle pains and I end up crawling around like a turtle for a week. 🙂

Now that I’m back in Italy, living with my boyfriend, I’m trying to create a corner just for me, so I can get into the habit of using it as an office of sorts. I’ve only just started setting it up two days ago, so it’s still work-in-progress… but here’s a pic! Top2Bottom - Cornelia Grey Picture

When you’re in the mindset to write, do you put a sign up that warns others not to disturb you while at work?

Not really – I don’t really have a place where I can lock myself in. And it doesn’t even work – people see you at home on the computer, and they really struggle to see that as being ‘at work’, so they just interrupt you whenever, even just to chat for a minute, because it doesn’t look like you’re really ‘doing anything’ anyway.

The strategy I’ve come up with is simple: I work at night, when everyone is asleep and no one can interrupt me. In London, since my roommate is sleeping, I take over the living room and write peacefully until dawn – we’re 7 flatmates in the house, so it’s pretty much the only time there is any peace and quiet in the house! 😉

Then, I take a break around 5:30 when one of the guys comes back from the club where he works. We have a snack and chat for a bit, and then he goes to sleep and I get back to work until the first flatmates start getting up to have breakfast. Then, it’s my clue, and it’s my turn to go to sleep. 🙂 I have to say, it really messes up my schedule, but it works wonderfully!

How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?

I’m not quite sure! I laugh easily and find a lot of things funny, and I tend to play the jester whenever I’m with friends. I find that being silly and using self-irony is a good way to break the ice and put people at ease, and I’m unnerved when people instead try to mock and embarrass others in order to be funny.

I really like what I would call ‘Italian humour’ – it’s a sort of bittersweet humour, about the little petty dramas of everyday life, often paired with subtle social or political satire. For example, the humour of the characters of Pulcinella, from the Commedia dell’Arte, or Fantozzi, from the movie series.

What question is your most frequently asked as an author?

Curiously enough, in Italy, the question I get most often is: “So how much did you have to pay?”. Unfortunately, over here the concept of ‘vanity press’ is still not well known, and many people believe it’s normal to have to pay in order to get published. There have been a few cases in which publishing houses have sued websites for listing them as ‘vanity presses’, even though it was true (and in fact they lost the suit, but still).

I did fall into that trap as well when I was 16 and didn’t know any better. There are even a few new-sprung self-proclaimed literary agencies that follow the same policy, charging hundreds of euros simply to read someone’s manuscript. I sincerely hope these practices will soon be weeded out, because I think it’s a terrible way to take advantage of people who just don’t know any better.

What are you working on now?

I’m actually working on a steampunk series that’s been a long time coming. Over the past two years, I wrote three novels and the full outline of a fourth, and then just… left them languishing in their folder. I’m pretty much specialized in short stories, and such a big project is a little bit daunting, I suppose. But I believe that it’s important for authors to constantly push their boundaries and never settle in a comfort zone, so this is a step forward I am determined to take. So, I am currently halfway through the revision of the first book, and I hope to be finished with them in the Fall – so stay tuned! 😉

Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your lifestyle as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive, both in your work and out of it?

Usually, I don’t really need to keep it alive – if anything, I need to try and tone it down, because the creativity wants to pour itself in a dozen different activities, and there is just not enough time to do everything. I’d say the hardship is to keep the spark “focused” on the same activity for long periods of time: no, Cornelia, you’re not allowed to drop everything and make a bouquet out of recycled paper / try that new stitch on a scarf / decoupage a jewelry box, you have to finish the chapter and that’s final!

Inspiration for creative stuff is everywhere – I can’t go for a stroll or browse a magazine without ending up brimming with ideas and possible projects. The problem is that the creative genius is adept at starting a billion things and then just abandoning them unfinished to move on to newer, shinier ideas. Learning the discipline to finish what I started has probably been my greatest conquest in recent years, and I’d say it’s an ongoing struggle.

What kind of books do you like to read outside of the GLBT Genre?

I love fantasy books, but not high-fantasy – more like weird fantasy, the ones with strange creatures and weird worlds and preferably a good pinch of humour and irony. I’m also very fond of the steampunk genre, with its strange machines and resourceful characters; and I love the classics, especially Italian literature dealing with historical and social issues.

Pick one: Scientist, Astronaut, Retail, or Horse Trainer.

I’m going to have to steer clear of retail – after two summers of drama in the Supermarket of Doom near my town, I’ve decided I’d much rather muck stables for the rest of my life!

I find science endlessly fascinating, but that’s mostly because I don’t understand the least thing about it. I mean, I’m still half-convinced electricity is actually black magic and chemical reactions are the work of wizards. 😉 So, I suppose I’m probably not the best person for the job… and there go my chances at being an astronaut, too!

I love animals, so horse trainer would be wonderful. However, I have to confess that my one and only experience with horses was when I was 8 and tried to ride old Tex, my aunt’s white-and-brown leopard… I just clung on for my life and couldn’t even persuade him to move! Do you think I could just… pet them and sneak them treats? 😉

Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

Quite a few things! I enjoy most creative hobbies and crafts, really. I used to act in a theatre company, paint and sew handbags, but I haven’t really had time for those in the last couple of years. At the moment I’m focusing on knitting, which is quite handy to carry around with me, so I can sneak in a bit of work on the bus or in waiting rooms.

When I’m in Italy, one of my favourite ways to relax is to hang out with my grandma on her balcony, basking in the sunshine, chatting and pottering about with the plants. She’s also very fond of crafting projects, and we should really stop hanging out on websites about creative recycling – we have to stop keeping stuff because ‘it might come in handy someday’… 🙂

Any special projects from you at Storm Moon Press that came out recently or will be coming out soon we should watch for?

Actually, yes! After much cajoling, my first sequel is finally about to be released. I often get sequel requests from the readers, and I’d very much like to oblige, but alas – I always end up getting sidetracked by a new shiny project instead! This time, however, I finally managed to buckle down and get it done. It’s the sequel of Bounty Hunter, my Western short story about bandit James Campbell and the bounty hunter on his trail, William Hunt. It will be out this winter – and a steamy encounter in a stifling hot Mexican prison is just what’s needed to warm up a chilly day… 😉

Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?

Sure thing! Here are the links:
Website: http://www.corneliagrey.com
Twitter: @CorneliaGrey
Livejournal: http://corneliagrey.livejournal.com/
Blogger: http://corneliagrey.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/corneliagrey

It was a pleasure having you here with us today. Please come by and let us know how you’re doing from time to time. OH! And before you leave, can I get your help here in the kitchen? Thanks!!

Ehehe, unfortunately I seem to be the only Italian woman I know who is absolutely hopeless when it comes to cooking… did I mention I once managed to set the spaghetti I was cooking on fire? Are you sure you want me to help in the kitchen? 😉

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