Interview with G.D. Strauff
We recently sat down to talk with the winner of our Halloween Short Story Contest. In this interview, G.D. Strauff talks about career changes, writing inspiration, and taking your story to the stage.
U: Tell us a bit about yourself.
G.D. Strauff: Not much to tell, honestly. I’m just an average dude who grew up and lives in Central New York. I floated around since High School doing a lot of retail work and decided I needed a career change. I went into the Medical field to please my parents and close-friends but the lab I started at (as well as the Medical Center itself) went on a hiring freeze and since I was low-man on the totem pole, I was cast out. Everything happens for a reason, though — I wound up getting my butt back into college as a result — this time going through with what I should’ve done many moons ago, which is majoring in Creative Writing!
U: What got you started writing?
I’ve always been a voracious reader; one of those “inquisitive” types. Always bugging my folks with questions (who, one day, sat me down in front of the Encyclopedia Britannica set we had — just this massive collection of hardcover books and my dad said “Here. This’ll answer just about anything.”), y’know?
Then I started reading comics as a kid, becoming a GIANT comic book nerd in junior high which has lasted to this day. I thank my grandmother for supporting that habit; I aced every high school vocabulary quiz due to comics.
Anyways, then I discovered Michael Crichton whose work resonated with me in a big way, circling back to the inquisitiveness. At this time, mid-high school, I was an art student. Carried one of those brown portfolios with me every day. My plan was I was going to be a Cinematic Animator with Disney. I had the unfortunate circumstance of having a rather cruel art teacher (who happened to be head of my school’s art department) who told me I didn’t have the discipline to be a professional artist. Fourteen-year old kids like to talk during class — who knew?! And I, being a naïve kid, believed him.
We had a creative writing class that was brand new at the time, being offered by Mr. Marks, a new teacher, who encouraged me to take it. That was it. That was the gateway drug, so to speak, to creative writing for me. I discovered — hey! I could create characters and worlds and stories just as detailed with words as I could with a pencil and paints.
U: What are you writing these days?
Right now — ugh. Term papers. Essays. College stuff. But man, I’m so grateful. A lot of people don’t get the opportunities for higher education, and I’ve been blessed to be back in academia three times now!
But as to what I write, I’m a straight-up prose-guy. Usually it’s just been short stories with a mix of action, adventure, romance, horror. I love a good monster; they’re fun to write. I’ve tended towards short stories because I lacked the discipline to crank out a novel (however these days it’s not being chatty, as writing is a pretty solitary, lonely art form, but rather it’s having too many ideas that come to me and want to flow out). It’s part of the reason why I struggle with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) — just… aaah! Too many ideas to commit to! My friend from class, Andrew, actually took a very novel approach, if you’ll pardon the literary pun, in that he decided on doing an anthology for his NaNoWriMo project, which was simply inspired. That’s how I should’ve proceeded. I, myself, settled upon doing my project that won me the award for this very interview — Afflicted — since I have a template I can follow now and lots and lots of notes. So we’ll see. I’m at 18, 000 words; so far so good.
I also discovered a knack for playwriting this semester. Again, as I said above, things happen for a reason, and I’d think that, by no means being old, I’d have learned this lesson by now. I had originally signed up for a plethora of photography courses and especially this one, ALEX 249, which I thought was going to be my opus; it’s a research and art course where you make a museum piece. But after a chat with my advisor as to why my aid wasn’t going through, it was because I was lacking some fundamental courses I still needed for my degree. Goodbye, photography courses; hello mathematics, anthropology II, world civilization and…
…playwriting. I was skeptical, as for whatever reason, I was linking this with poetry, which I struggle with (I am not a poet), this has probably been my favorite course so far of my college career. I have a GREAT teacher, Paul McCabe, who’s just… I can’t even begin to tell you the support and stuff I’ve learned from just ten weeks in his class. This is where Afflicted really started as a stage play for this course and it just exploded from there. I had the entire three act play finished by the third week of school. And I have some really awesome classmates who really helped shape the characters — Cassie as Allison, Meighan as Ashley and Andrew playing Geoff — acting out scenes on workshop days — it’s been tremendous. Add to this my friend Bryanna who’s been acting as an editor and we’ve all become good friends and a close-knit group on Facebook, discussing our works and offering each other ideas. Again — it just shows how unexpectedly wonderful some changes can be and how you really can’t discount anything.
U: Why do you write?
I’d like to say I write for me, and while I certainly do, I also hope to one day get a paycheck for it. Nothing major — just enough to pay the rent and put some food in the cupboards. I’ve had several magazine articles published under my belt and I started off after high school for a local newspaper, so I always have that aspect of my writing to fall back on if my prose and fiction don’t take off.
I also write for the creativity-part of it; the creation part — that’s always the most exciting part, to me. Having that spark — that idea and then seeing how you can translate these images and concepts in your head as words on Microsoft Word (I’m weird; I can only make basic notes, jotting down quick ideas on paper. When I write I have to be on a Word Processor — Word or CeltX depending on the project). When you see a project coming together; the initial document being like a lump of clay that you whittle down and trim into a polished piece, it’s fun and exciting. I guess that’s why it keeps me going.
U: What writing advice can you give our users?
It’s really, very, very simple — write. I know, I know, you’ve heard it a thousand times, but the old adage really is true — you just have to write. It doesn’t even have to be good — I think a lot of people (myself included) think they have to have perfection on page one of the first draft and that’s just not the case. You just have to set aside some time to write, period, and follow through on it. A page a day, a paragraph a day, a sentence a day, just get something down. You’ll start to build.
Also — don’t be afraid to show your work. I think that’s the scariest part for a lot of people, showing their work to someone and asking them to read it — it’s frightening! I still cringe. When Paul asked for volunteers for the first workshop day, I was terrified. I had this stupid story about a young woman who’s a werewolf. I thought for sure I was going to get raised eyebrows and be the lone person; the class pariah. It wound up being the top-voted play for our Showcase coming up in December with a solid 10 / 10 votes — the only one. You can’t be afraid to show your work. You spent the time pouring yourself into it, it should be put out there for the world to enjoy.
One last thing — criticism. My friend Bryanna, God bless her. She’s someone who’s very brutal when it comes to her opinion which is why I couldn’t have asked for a better writing-friend and classmate. She’s told me what ideas I’ve had that are good and she’s had no hesitations telling when something flat-out sucks or isn’t working. “If I was your editor, that proposal would go right in the trash.” She once said, listing off each and every reason why it was a bad idea — and she was right, of course. Criticism — constructive, honest criticism, it’s something to be cherished because it can make an otherwise boring piece become lively and vibrant, and can transmute an already polished piece into pure gold. Never take it personally and, in fact, always take it even if you plan on ignoring it. I like to tell people “I may not use it, but, I want to hear your ideas. Tell me your thoughts, good? Bad?” Criticism is your friend.
U: What was the inspiration behind “Afflicted”?
Going back to April or March, I have a friend, Lindsay, who I was chatting with and I had the idea to approach her with a series of short story ideas. She joked at one of my ideas (I could be remembering this wrong and if so I’ll get an irate message after she reads this) and said “You should write me as the werewolf.” Not one to walk away from a dare, I did. But it was a pretty breezy five-page read. We talked about maybe expanding it and doing more, but nothing happened. Real life happened.
Jump to August: I was enrolled in Playwriting and I just had no idea what to do for my project. Our professor, Paul, was pretty easy going and he stated it could be whatever we wanted, just by the end of the semester, twenty polished pages and a blurb explaining the ending.
I went back to the werewolf idea because I thought it was something I could get away with, humor-wise, on the stage. I didn’t need to rely on images; I could address the werewolf aspects in passive dialogue, and I decided to keep the idea of a woman as a werewolf because I thought that was a more interesting approach. I remember during my first workshop day, I excused myself quickly to grab some water at the fountain just outside the classroom. As I was walking out I heard Meighan, my classmate talking over the scenes she had with Cassie, who was portraying Allison. I hear Meighan say “And you know what’s awesome about this? It’s the girl who’s the monster, for a change.” That just… I was beaming ear-to-ear when I heard that and that’s how I knew I was on to something. I know a lot of the girls I’ve dated hated the chore of shaving their legs, so I figured as a werewolf that would only be double-the-penalty, so there were a lot of fun ideas to mine and it’s been a blast coming up with the rules of this world and making up some guidelines for Lycanthropy or werewolfism. Originally, I was going to have the characters be closer to my age, around thirty or so, but I decided that that five-year drop wasn’t that significant as it was still young enough to make some mistakes but just old enough that they could have a handle on living on their own, etc.
U: What do you hope readers will take away from “Afflicted”?
Y’know… I don’t think I’ve thought about this, but really, I just hope they enjoy it and the characters, truthfully. I hope they have fun and I hope they maybe see some of themselves in the characters. A lot of it has been anecdotal, to be honest. I think we’ve all had (or may have been) the loud, crass opinionated friend, been so star-struck with our boyfriend or girlfriend that we’ve been able to challenge any road-bumps that popped up in the relationship. I hope the female readers see a little of themselves in Allison and I hope the guys see that being a monster isn’t necessarily a boy’s-only-club. But really, I hope readers are entertained and have a smile on their face; that they’ve been dragged out of this cruel, cold world we inhabit for whatever length of time it takes them to read the story. If I’ve done that, then I’ve succeeded beyond anything else I could hope for.
U: Where do you want your writing to take you? Any long-term goals in writing?
Like I said, I just want to be able to buy groceries and pay rent. That’s about as elaborate as I’ve planned. That said, I would like to see a book of mine on the shelves of a Barnes and Nobles, not really for fame or anything, just to be accomplished is all. To say “Hey! That’s mine!” I think it’d be cool.
I’d also like to fanboy for a moment and state I’d love write comics at some point. To play in the sandboxes at Marvel or DC would be an incredible amount of fun. Again, I don’t even want to do it for gobs of money or anything (which I’m sure isn’t there, anyway) but just because of the sheer amount of fun it would be.
I’ve got some plans to print-up a small run of the stageplay of Afflicted, and I have some friends, Wyatt and Brianna, a real-life couple who are willing to shoot a quick and dirty (re: rough) video adaptation of the play itself.
Speaking a tad more on Afflicted, I’m also trying to bring it into Novel or Novella-form. A series of novellas would be perfect, as I’m starting to see the format rise in popularity again and I certainly have plenty of story to explore in terms of my three lead characters. I’ll be uploading and sharing initial chapters here on Upliterate to try and cultivate a fanbase and it’s pretty freaking exciting. I think I’m getting that whole “discipline” thing down. Thanks for the opportunity, Upliterate!