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Daryl Gregory: That Mythic Thing
posted 29 January 2009
Daryl Gregory grew up in Darien, Illinois, and attended Illinois State University, graduating with a double major in English and Theater, making him "twice as unemployable." He taught high school for a few years, became a technical writer, and is now a part-time programmer.

In 1988 Gregory attended the Clarion Workshop, where he wrote "In the Wheels", his first publication, which appeared in F&SF in 1990. Other stories are "Taking the High Road" (1991), "The Sound of Glass Breaking" (1992), "An Equitable Distribution" (1997), "Free, and Clear" (2004), "The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy" (2004), Sturgeon Award finalist "Second Person, Present Tense" (2005), "Gardening at Night" (2006), "Dead Horse Point" (2007), "Unpossible" (2007), "The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm" (2008), and "Glass" (2008). First novel Pandemonium, about people possessed by weird pop-cultural demons, appeared in 2008. Second novel Oh, You Pretty Things is forthcoming.

He lives in State College PA with wife Kathy Bieschke and their children Emma and Ian.
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Daryl Gregory, Writer Guy Home Page
Excerpts from the interview:

“One of the best things about the Clarion process was that somebody would explain to you what was wrong with your story, and somebody else (who was also a great writer) would explain what was wrong with your story, and they wouldn't agree with each other at all! Once Kate and Damon were bickering, going back and forth about a story of mine, and I thought, 'Nobody can tell you how to fix it -- You're on your own.' I've heard that some people get paralyzed by that realization, after Clarion, but for me it was liberating.

“I had this whipsaw experience with Delany. He completely disemboweled one of my stories, and I couldn't write for two days after that. With another story he said, 'OK, this is going to be your first sale. I'm going to put my name on the cover letter.' And it was my first sale, a story called 'In the Wheels'.”


“Usually I write really linearly, sentence by sentence, and discover things in the sentences. That was true of 'Second Person, Present Tense' (a story indirectly related to Pandemonium). There's a line that came as a surprise to me at the end of the story, 'You don't get to choose who loves you.' This girl who feels like she's a new personality is trying to separate from her parents, and her parents still love her, even though she believes she's a completely separate person. I was trying to write it from both the parents' point of view and the child's point of view. I was thinking about what happens with gay or lesbian children. When they come out, some parents feel like they’ve lost a child, but really they're just giving up their own expectations about who those children are going to be. Their job is to love the person in front of them. The science fictional element of growing a new consciousness is just a metaphor about growing up and separating from your parents.”


“In Pandemonium, there's this overarching plot that any mainstream reader should be able to follow. The premise is that since the 1940s, people have been suffering from what they call 'demonic possessions,' but nobody really knows what they are. They're personality seizures, where these archetypal or pop-cultural icon personalities act out their eternal stories through the people they take over, and then they disappear and jump into someone else. Whether this disease of possession is neurological or psychological or caused by real demons -- everybody's got their own explanation.

“I never write characters in positions of power. My characters are in the dark, don't have a lot of power in the world, and they're never the coolest person in the room. I wanted possession to be something you have no control over -- people are just at the mercy of the demons, and my characters are in no position to do anything about it.

“I wanted to treat a fantasy thing like demonic possession in a science-fictional way. If it was happening now, there wouldn't be just one secret society studying it; there would be scientists, journals, websites, fan boys, all those kinds of things surrounding it. I'm really intrigued by the 'reality plus one' kind of stories that have the grittiness of the present world, and that suggest complexity without going into exhaustive detail. With a completely invented world you have to do a lot more, but if you set your story in the real world, even if you never get to Denver, you know Denver's out there somewhere, in the background.”


Pandemonium is very much a post-9/11 book. I was amazed at the way we adjusted to this shocking event so quickly. The same thing happens in my book. After demonic possession has been going on for decades, people just cope with it, almost naturally. (Possession even explains some parts of history, like Richard Nixon!) So in that sense it's like a mainstream novel that just happens to have demonic possession in it. As an English major, I've read a lot of the canon, but I keep coming back to the weird stuff. So in Pandemonium you see me trying to have it both ways.”


“I turned in my second novel, and it's totally unrelated to Pandemonium. Instead of a fantasy that feels like science fiction, it’s a hard SF book that feels like fantasy. It's got a working title of Oh, You Pretty Things, a riff on the David Bowie song. It’s about quantum evolution running wild in a tiny Tennessee mountain town. I’m calling it a Southern Gothic/science fiction/murder mystery.”


“There are some mainstream stories where it just feels like something is imminent. I get the same kind of buzz from mysteries sometimes, a sense that there's a larger pattern that's about to cohere, that everything is about to make sense. In Crowley's Little, Big (which is a hugely important novel for me), things seem to be shimmering at the edges, about to snap into place. I love that kind of feeling, that the mythic is about to be realized -- imminence.”

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