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Author Interview: Smoke Eaters author Sean Grigsby

February 9, 2018

Author Interview: Sean Grigsby

This is interview number fourteen in my series of Author Interviews.

Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. Enjoy reading.

I am chatting with Sean Grigsby about his book Smoke Eaters out in March 2018. For each pre-order, Angry Robot will donate a $1 to The Leary Firefighters Foundation.


Gee, its hot out here. The air is acrid and the ground flakes away beneath my feet. A feeling of wrongness surrounds me. And something else… something or someone is watching me. My skin crawls. Peering through the air I notice little black particles. Ash? Ewww. Then I spot a familiar face.

Hi Sean, thank you so much for your time today.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a professional firefighter in central Arkansas. When I’m not at the firehouse, I try to fill my days with the three Rs: Reading, running and (w)riting. I have a four-year-old son, a two-year-old daughter, and an eight-year old stepson. I also like playing Steam games, DJing, and creating songs. I also used to do stand-up comedy and theatre, so if you see me at a con, I’ll be acting out.

Comedy? Oh gosh, I bet you have some great stories from work you can use. Hilarious. Now, tell me about your writing… What age were you when you started?

I’ve been telling stories since I could formulate sentences.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

It’s one of those things where you just know it’s what you were meant to do. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t get serious about it until I was 28.

PitchWars, tell me about your experience?

It took me three tries to get into PitchWars, and each time was with a new book. Jason Nelson selected me as his mentee, and now he’s stuck with me for life. Besides the lifelong friends I made, I learned so much during that experience that has carried over into working with my agent and editor. I finished my PitchWars stuff with a month to spare. I’ve taken the same approach to meeting deadlines with my publisher. I figure, publishing is slow as it is. I’m not going to be the one to hold it up any further.

And then it all happened. So, Angry Robot Books, tell me a little about your publisher?

They’re the best publisher of SF, F, and WTF. I’ve wanted to be an Angry Robot author forever. I knew my style fit perfectly with theirs, and it’s all finally worked out. They’re based in Nottingham, England as an imprint of Watkins Media. Penguin Random House is their distributor, so their books are available everywhere.

I know you are a firefighter, tell me a little about that? How was your training? How long have you been a firefighter?

I’ve been a firefighter for almost eight years. I started at a small town department and had to go through 17 weeks of training, including EMT and Driver/Operator. Then I was hired by a big city, so I had to do it all over again, despite having my certifications. We don’t fight as much fire as people think, but we do have some doozies every so often. Most of the job is responding to medical emergencies, some not very emergent at all.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Goosebumps books were my jam as a kid. I love monsters and ghosts and all that stuff. I love stories that are out of this world and atmospherically creepy. I can’t help add a certain layer of horror to my own work, even though I write primarily SFF.

Favorite book as an adult?

I honestly can’t rate one above all others. There are too many. However, I will say that KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames, SEA OF RUST by C. Robert Cargill, and JADE CITY by Fonda Lee have been recent faves.

Your experience as a firefighter really comes through in your story. Tell me a bit about Smoke Eaters. Where did you get the idea?

I was in my second round of fire academy and bored because I’d already been through it before. One of the instructors said that firefighters are the modern day knights and the idea of firefighters vs. dragons popped into my head. It took off like a rocket after that.

Tell me about Cole Brannigan? Is he modeled off anyone?

Cole is just short of sixty-years-old and about to retire when he discovers he can breathe dragon smoke and withstand tremendous heat. Then, he’s forcibly-recruited to the smoke eaters, who fight the dragons that have emerged from below the earth. Cole has no fucks to give and is too old and experienced to put up with nonsense. He rushes in to save anybody who needs it, and puts people in their place.

If I had to pick anybody that I based Cole on, it would be on myself. Or, at least how I would act if I had a little less tact.

Tell me about the dragons? Why dragons?

Dragons breathe fire, firefighters combat it. People have told me they’re surprised no one had thought of this concept before. (Me too!) I loved creating all the different types of dragons. I didn’t want it to just be the standard European scalies. Dragons are awesome, and you can look at them as a metaphor for fire.

And yet… robots? I love that you have a robot dog here, but the other robots are… well not evil but certainly programmed to strict guidelines, so why robots?

What I really wanted to do with SMOKE EATERS was mix fantasy with science fiction in equal measures. Setting it in the year 2121 was a start, but I also wanted to include all kinds of interesting technology, including robots. They also act as a problem for certain job sectors losing human employment in preference to the droids. People right now are actually scared they’re going to lose their job to a robot.

I think you really show us that even though the dragons are acting according to their nature and the robots are also acting according to their nature, it’s the humans in Smoke Eaters that really have the capacity for evil, was that something you were trying to show?

Definitely. Humans are the ones you have to worry about ultimately. The dragons in my book aren’t like Smaug or Skyrim’s main antagonist. They don’t have an agenda or evil intentions. They’re animals. Highly dangerous and destructive animals, but still. Fire and technology aren’t evil, but evil people can use them to do terrible things.

Will there be a book two? (I really hope there will be, this is a terrific world you have built. There must be so many more stories to be found within.)

I can’t say anything as of this writing, but you might be very happy in the near future.

Ahhhhh! *excited bouncing* What is your writing process?

I’m a pantser, although I have the general idea and direction in my head. I may write down a little of what I’m going to do in the next scene, but I don’t do full outlines unless I’m asked to. I shoot for a thousand words every time I write, but I don’t always get to write every day. After finishing a draft, I let it sit for a month and come back to revise. I’ll then send it out to beta readers, if not just my agent. He used to edit for Tor, so he’s a huge help.

How long did it take you to write Smoke Eaters?

About five months for the first draft and another month for revision. It was out on submission for six months before Angry Robot picked it up.

Are you working on anything new? Tell me a little bit about it?

I have a finished book called DAUGHTERS OF FORGOTTEN LIGHT that you might see soon. It’s about all-women motorcycle gangs in space. They ride laser-wheeled bikes and shoot laser balls in a city called Oubliette, where they’ve been sent to be forgotten. I have a work in progress I’m calling ROBOTS DON’T CRY, which is a robot detective noir.

OMG Women, motorcycle gang, space? I’m in already. And a Robot detective… damn… okay I want this too. So finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

Just do it. You can’t fully learn this craft until you’ve done it a few times, fallen on your face, and gotten up with a better grasp of how to do things. Persistence is the magic sauce. Also, write what you want to write, not what you think the market wants or what everybody else is doing. Be different. Be you.

Thank you so much Sean for your time today.

The air is starting to thicken, its getting pretty hard to breathe. I give a wave Sean’s way and watch as he disappears into the cloudy air. The ground begins to rumble. There’s a screech of something electrical somewhere nearby.

Something inside me tells me to run.

Oh shit!


You can read my review of Smoke Eaters here

For each pre-order, Angry Robot will donate a $1 to The Leary Firefighters Foundation.

So pre-order now. I did.

You can find Sean at the below places

And buy his book at the following: Remember for every pre-order, Angry Robot will donate a $1 to The Leary Firefighters Foundation. Smoke Eaters is out in March 2018.
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