Jon Armstrong, this week's featured author, didn't start as a writer. He was a travel agent for a while, worked for Pan Am for a while and then became a graphic designer. "Grey" is his debut novel.
For more on Armstrong or to read the first chapter of the book, check out his website.
WN: What kind of a story is "Grey?" Where did the idea for this story come from?
ARMSTRONG: "Grey" is a Romeo and Juliet love story set in a future where everything has become entertainment, where pop culture has gone completely to seed (yes, I'm sorry to say I don't think we're there yet), and corporations have completely co-oped celebrity for their own needs. We follow Michael Rivers, a wealthy, handsome former child star who, when the story begins, has rebelled from the bright, gaudy, narcissistic world in which he lives, only to be dragged back by a crisis with his family's business when he meets Nora and falls in love.
The idea came slowly over many years and rewrites. Originally the idea was a reversal of teenage rebellion. Instead of the kids being into loud rock and roll and counter culture, I wondered, what if in the future the world became so loud and neon the only way to rebel was to become quiet, subdued, and grey?
WN: How did working in a travel agency and in graphic design contribute to writing a novel?
ARMSTRONG: It paid the bills and helped keep me sane. Which is to say that nowadays, as I both work and write at home, I sometimes miss the water cooler camaraderie of work in an office.
Grey was not the only novel I have written. I have a metaphorical drawer full (of course that's really a hard disc full). But I kept going back to Grey, looking it over, liking the language, but feeling it needed something more, until last year, that is.
WN: You've done some promo videos for the book, a new trend lots of authors are trying. Is it working for generating buzz or interest?
ARMSTRONG: It is. I was thinking of doing many more movies when I began, but I found my ideas soon outmatched my video abilities and I got bored with the idea of me sitting before an unblinking camera and just talking. Also, I have mixed feelings about the videos as it was just about impossible to find or make images that I thought fit, and I am also aware that my vision of the book may differ from that of the readers and, since I don't consider myself a video artist (I don't actually consider myself an artist at all—but a craftsman—however that's another interview!), I decided to stop after just a few.
WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
ARMSTRONG: I read a strange assortment of things: lots of Buckminster Fuller, Jack London, O. Henry, and James Michener to name a few. However, in junior high and into the beginning of high school I wanted to be a painter and saturated myself in Matisse, Picasso, and later other abstract painters. But when I felt like I was finally developing my own style of painting, my interest was diverted by a wonderful drama teacher and I turned to improv, comedy, and writing. But I think that painting, and later work in the graphic arts, informed and nourished the visuals in my writing.
WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
ARMSTRONG: The best part of being a writer is the writing. It's the worst part too. When things are going well at the computer, it's fun, thrilling, funny (I admit to making myself laugh at times), and an adventure. When things aren't going well it's painful and depressing. Many writers would probably say the same.
Sometimes the most challenging thing is staying focused. I get ideas for new things all the time. I saw some titles of songs the other day and wanted to start a new book with them as chapters. I overhead a couple talking on the subway and thought they would be great characters! My wife told me a story about her job and I wanted to write about that.
WN : What's next for you as a writer?
ARMSTRONG: I am working on a sequel to "Grey" called "Yarn". It actually starts about fifteen years before "Grey" and follows Mr. Cedar, one of the characters from "Grey".
I'm looking to continue to flesh out the world of "Grey" of the super rich and super poor, and delve farther into possible future fashion fads and their harrowing consequences.
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
ARMSTRONG: This is difficult, as I have several books I love and reread often, but I'll go with Witold Gombrowicz's "Kosmos". The original translation, which, I understand isn’t quite as accurate as the new one, but unlike the adage, lost in translation, I found the language of the original better. Anyway, I've read it at least four times and now that I'm thinking about it again, feel like I'd like to reread it again soon. It inspired me in the way it mixed humor, the macabre, insanity, and banality.