Featured Interview With Gregg R. Overman
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I was born in New Orleans and spent most of my early life in central Louisiana under the quiet and careful guidance of the nuns at Sacred Heart Grammar School in Pineville. It was terrifying. To this day, I will not allow my wife to wear a black and white dress. I then attended Holy Savior Menard Central High School (seriously, that’s the name) where I learned to fear men with the honorific “Coach.” Having learned that lesson and survived to graduation, I went to LSU in Baton Rouge and managed to graduate with a BS in Zoology and a minor in Chemistry in just five and half short years. It was one of the worst mistakes of my life. Not the college or the degree—the graduating from college. I had no idea how much fun I was having until I was no longer having so much fun. If I had known what I know now, I would still be attending the university, having amassed roughly 10,000 undergraduate hours and several million dollars in student loan debt.
After graduation I began living the American Dream: Got married a few times, got divorced a few times minus one, got several jobs, quit several jobs and despite all that, found that I didn’t have quite enough stress in my life, so I started my own business. And that, as we like to say in the industrial detergent business, corrected my pathetically anemic stress levels.
I now live in Hernando MS, a small town just 20 miles south of Memphis. In spite of my best efforts at sabotage, my business in Memphis is still thriving, and, at the age of 70, I still go to work every day to shake my fist and yell at the workers. They smile and say, “Yes sir, Mr. Gregg,” and then completely ignore whatever I said. We have a system, and it’s working.
I have a small house with a large greenhouse on several acres way back in the woods where I live with my wife, three cats, three dogs, twelve chickens, an unknown number of mice (the cats are on strike) and a few tropical fish. The fish are almost no trouble at all.
At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
At the tender age of eight, my dear Aunt Betsey gave me five “Tom Swift Junior” books for my birthday. They had titles like “Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane” and “Tom Swift and the Caves of Nuclear Fire.” I discovered there were worlds within those covers where “Great Things” might be done and no one in a black and white habit would rap your knuckles or make you kneel on rice. It was a safe haven for a young boy who was tragically prone to taking on way more responsibilities than he could possibly handle, and I was well and truly hooked before the end of the first book. It changed my life. (Thank you, Aunt Betsey.) By the time I entered High School, I had read every single Science Fiction book in the Alexandria/Pineville Public Library.
I have always tinkered with writing. It’s gone through stages. There were times when I was writing almost every day and long stretches when I didn’t write at all. I always wrote short stories but never really tried to publish anything because I really, and I mean seriously, sucked at writing. When the author knows it’s crap, it’s crap. I was spared the laughter of my friends and family only because it is so difficult to laugh and cringe at the same time. But I did, ever so slowly, get better.
Then one day I read an article in a science magazine about how humans are hunter-gatherers, and even though there are vast cultural differences, humans share many universal traits because of our common evolutionary past. I remember walking out on the porch—not sure if drugs were involved—and wondering, “Well, what if we weren’t hunter-gatherers? What if we had evolved from, I don’t know… scavengers?” And that was the genesis of the Koombar, an alien race with a penchant for genocidal self-protection.
So I sat down to write a novel, and I have to say, the feeling was immediate. I had room to move! I could flesh out the characters and build an intricate plotline. No one would fault me for spending a page or even more just describing a scene. It was liberating! I discovered that I had no talent for writing short stories, but my struggles with the genre had borne fruit. I could write.
The name of that first book is “Blue Sunrise.” At the time I wrote it, I actually believed that if I wrote a reasonably good science fiction novel, people would read it and it would attract some attention. I know, adorable, right? I mean, I read a LOT of science fiction, and a LOT of science fiction is just awful. Go ahead. You love SciFi, but you know I’m right. Blue Sunrise is not awful. Please quote that. “Author says, ‘Blue Sunrise is not awful.’”
In fact, Blue Sunrise is a good book, much better than most of the books I read these days. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to promote the book, and I also started my business soon after finishing the novel. So, the book sat on Amazon for over ten years, and for all that time, the sequel was bouncing around in my head. I have recently started promoting Blue Sunrise (hence this somewhat painfully long story), and it’s been gratifying that, as of this writing, it has a rating of 4.7 stars with nothing below a three.
But the sequel would not leave me alone, and, in the hope of quieting the voices, I finally sat down to write “Blue Sun Rising.” It’s been an amazing amount of fun. It seems that I have improved as a writer over these last few years. Blue Sun Rising is going to be a fantastic book, and if I quit spending so much time shaking my fist and screaming at workers, I might finish in the next six months or so.
Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
I don’t really have any favorite authors, and even though my favorite genre is hard SciFi, what I read depends heavily on what I need at that point. Much of the time I read for escape (see above). If that’s the aim, then hard SciFi it will be, and it doesn’t need to be anything great or even particularly good. B. V. Larson is a good writer, but you’re not going to get any intricate plot twists or surprise endings in his “Undying Mercenary” series. On the other hand, you don’t have to work at understanding what’s happening or what’s going to happen. McGill will do something stupid, die several times, get himself out of an impossible situation by a nearly impossible action, hookup up with Galina at some point and then retire to his parent’s farm in Georgia. It all makes for a leisurely afternoon of reading.
I read certain authors for certain things. If I want to brush up on how to relentlessly drive a plot forward, Dan Brown is a good choice. Anne Rice helps me hone my ability to describe scenery. Steven King can be counted on to show me how to write a novel that is 400 pages too long.
The point of all this is that I read for relaxation, but I also read with purpose. B. V. Larson can hold a class on character development and keeping things light and uncomplicated even on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. I read everything with what I call a “writer’s eye.” I’m constantly scanning for punctuation, especially punctuation that breaks the rules of “The Elements of Style” and yet still works. I’m always looking at how an author manages and directs the rhythm and flow of the story. If I get particularly caught up in a section of a book, I stop and go back a few pages to figure out how the author did it. Great writers can show you great things, but really bad writers are helpful also. Ask yourself, why isn’t this working?
Tell us a little about your latest book?
I have two problems with this question. Where to start and where to stop. Blue Sunrise was written while working full time and took about a year and a half to finish. I didn’t watch a lot of television during that time. There are three main venues in the novel. Ben Allspot is a particularly tortured individual working on the Moon. He loves his children more than anything, but drugs run a close second, and his life is, of course, in ruins. There is an ensemble cast on Mars as the first manned mission lands and sets up camp with all the surprises and struggles you might imagine in such an endeavor. Meanwhile, lightyears away on the planet Harmony, the Koombar have enslaved a race of intelligent sessile aliens referred to as “Trees.” One of the Trees is tasked with teaching the son of the ruling Koombar King, and a lot of their dialogue consists of discussions of how their respective evolutionary paths have shaped their views and morals. I know that sounds a bit dry, but trust me, it’s not.
So, the Koombar have stolen technology from the Trees, enabling them to destroy all other intelligent life for thousands of years. From the Koombar perspective, this makes perfect sense. The Trees disagree, but their own prejudices prohibit action to stop the Koombar. The plot thickens as our main Tree begins to doubt the wisdom of standing idly by while the Koombar destroy nascent civilizations.
Of course, Blue Sunrise begins as the Koombar discover Earth.
The thing I’m most proud of is getting into the heads of unique aliens. The reader will actually begin to appreciate why the Trees don’t act and why the Koombar are so genocidally paranoid. From our standpoint, they are both insane. From their standpoints each of the other is insane, and yet none of that is true. We are all acting from our own frame of reference, and all frames of reference are valid as long as they are consistent.
Blue Sun Rising, my current cross to bear, takes up where Blue Sunrise finishes. Spoiler alert: The Mars crew makes it (or at least most of them). You’ll need to read Blue Sunrise to find out how the Moon, Earth and Ben Allspot make out.
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