HEIDI'S PICK SIX: J. Gunnar Grey


J. Gunnar Grey

1. Which of your characters is your favorite?
That’s a difficult question to answer, because I spend so much time getting to know these characters that I kind of fall in love with all of them. Right now I’m trying to renew the mutual relationship with the lead character from Trophies, my Seton Hill University thesis novel, but he’s being difficult so he doesn’t deserve this highest honor. So I’ll award it to Major Hans-Joachim Faust of Deal with the Devil and he’s a fascinating character, an educated and honorable man caught in a no-win scenario. Besides, he’d never stand me up.

2. Tell me about your travels.
3. Coffee, tea, or milk?
4. What else can you do besides write?
5. Who are you reading right now?

6. Pop culture or academia?
Oh, both! But it depends, of course, and although there are exceptions, there’s a sort of continuum, with reading at the academia end, visual media at the furthest edge of pop culture, and music running between them. I love complicated, intellectual books--detailed histories, theoretical works, true crime in historical settings, scientific analyses. Alison Weir, Jane Austen, Hans Hellmut Kirst, and Aubrey Burl are great for light reading.

But my favorite movies are disaster films. They don’t have to make sense. They can climb from the shallow end of the pool. But if nature makes things go boom, get burned, or torn apart, I’m happy. Love the Roland Emmerich version of Godzilla, all three Jurassic Parks, Twister, Volcano with Tommy Lee Jones, and Pierce Brosnan in Dante’s Peak.

Music starts with classical, runs through nature sounds, big band swing, to 1980s and some 1990s rock. Yes, I like some disco, including Abba. I also like Dean Martin, Motown with the Spinners and the Four Tops, and Hall and Oates, Pat Benatar, and Laura Branigan. And Debussy, Bach, and Don Dorsey. Sorry, should I stop now?

7. What is the toughest scene you ever wrote?
There are four major scenes in Deal where the interrogator, Major Stoner, is manipulating Faust, and it took a solid year to pull those scenes together. Kid you not. I drafted them and hated them, they were either boring or overly emotional or Major Stoner came across as cruel or Faust seemed gullible beyond stupidity, and these scenes made me wonder if the plotline was at all credible.

I quit writing forward, returned to those four scenes, and redrafted them. Then I reorganized them. Threw them out. Started over. Had a beer. Mowed the lawn. Spent quality time with the characters, then beat them up from frustration. I tried anything and everything.

Finally the key to those four scenes came clear. Faust and Stoner are two men who’d like each other if they weren’t fighting, and can’t stop a nascent friendship even then. It’s as if they have two separate relationships at the same time: the intellectual war of the interrogation, where the manipulation is an open secret between them, and a sort of mentoring warmth. In the last of these scenes, Faust even calls time-out so he can ask the more experienced Stoner a few questions about his military career before the manipulation get underway. But until I wrapped my brain around that central core and developed the four scenes around it, nothing else worked, and until they were right, I couldn’t finish the novel.

8. Where do you find your inspirations to write?
9. Food you could eat everyday.
10. Are you into sports or other physical activities?
11. What kind of music speaks to you?

12. Do you outline your stories or do they just take you along for the ride?
That depends on the story. My first novel, Trophies, refused to follow the outline I drafted. I had to write an outline as a requirement for the SHU Writing Popular Fiction master’s program, but the book scoffed at it and did its own thing.

But Deal has so many themes and subplots and layers and even running jokes, it intimidated me. I scratched out a four-page outline at first, to get my brain around the basic plotline--a German officer captured by the English in 1940, with knowledge that’s too dangerous to permit him to settle down as a quiet prisoner of war, but every time he escapes, a woman is raped and murdered. He has to help catch the killer, even though it’s helping the enemy. And no matter what he does, basically he’s screwed.

Once the outline was in place, I added a few notes here. And there. And here again. And a few pages over. By the time it was complete, the outline was 48 single-spaced pages. With reminders scribbled in the margin. And even then, the book took four years to complete.

13. Celebrity crush.

14. Who are the biggest influences on your work?
I’ve always loved adventures and mysteries, starting with The Hound of the Baskervilles in second grade, Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean in seventh, and The Eagle has Landed by Jack Higgins in eighth. (Maybe having an animal in the title didn’t hurt.) Jane Austen taught me about writing relationships, Dorothy Sayers and Conan Doyle gave lessons in planting clues and moving the story forward.

At SHU, Patrick Picciarelli and Chris Stout egged me on, while Barbara Miller and Melanie Card convinced me it’s all better with a little love. Alexa Grave and Kay Springsteen were always there for me, sometimes despite myself. Each had a hand in creating and then recreating me as a writer, and I can find traces of each in my finished novels.

15. Do you still watch cartoons?
I don’t watch television. I’d much rather write or read or play on social media, or even work. Television just seems so mindless in comparison. There’s one sitting behind my work space (that’s the dining room table, so I can’t call it an office), but we never bought a converter box for it. It is hooked to a DVD player and VCR (remember those?), and that’s all the use it gets.

My husband has a television upstairs. I bought him a set of headphones so I don’t have to listen to it with him. The constant background noise irritates and distracts me. Some of my friends say they can’t write unless the TV is going, but that seems so unreal to me.

J. Gunnar Grey never wanted to be anything except a novelist, so of course she has been everything else--proofreader, typesetter, editor, nonfiction writer, photographer, secretary, data entry clerk, legal assistant, Starfleet lieutenant commander, stable manager, dancer--and no, not that kind of dancer. Her long-suffering husband is just excited she's actually using those two degrees, one from the University of Houston Downtown and the MA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Gunnar's novels are mysterious, adventurous, and historical, but all sorts of other stuff can leap out of that keyboard without warning.

She lives in Humble, Texas, just north of Houston, with two parakeets, the husband (who's even more fun than the birds), a fig tree, a vegetable garden, the lawn from the bad place, three armloads of potted plants (make sure it's past tense), and a coffee maker that's likely the most important item she owns.

Visit her at Mysteries and Histories and Buy Deal with the Devil at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes 'n Noble.


  1. Your cover is gorgeous!

    It definitely evokes a certain feeling for a certain era.


    :) Heidi

  2. Thanks, Heidi! And I forgot to mention that Deal, part one, is now on sale for $1.99 as a promotion for Deal, part two. Did I explain that the book is in two halves? (It's a loooong story.) Think of it as a two-part serial novel with a cliffhanger ending, rather than a two-book series of standalone novels.


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