Open Book Society’s, reviewer Scott, is back with an all new interview this week. Here he chats with Peter J. Story author of THINGS GRAK HATES, in which they discuss the book, its verb tenses, points of view, characters, the tribe, and more. Enjoy!
- Read our review for THINGS GRAK HATES here at OBS.
- For more information about the author and his book visit him at his Official Website here.
Scott: First off I’d like to inquire as to why you wrote the book in three tenses. One is usually enough; two are usually suffice for a novel, and I know the ending hinges on it, but third person active, third person omniscient, and first person grammatical switches made entry into the novel a little awkward to begin with. It becomes transparent later on, but what was your motivation for having so many different styles?
Peter J. Story: The book was written in present tense, though Grak does occasionally reminisce, which would naturally require a shift to past tense. But that doesn’t shift except where one would expect it.
In regards to the voice shifts, while active voice is generally advised in order to make a sentence stronger, I find passive voice useful when conveying victimhood. Since Grak sees things as happening to him, I sprinkled that voice throughout the story.
I chose the limited point of view in order to show how the world of the self-absorbed is truly limited. Of course, there’s a sense of omniscience to the narrator’s point of view since the story is written in third person, and that was meant to reflect Grak’s self-importance. I only switched person when Grak was thinking. Naturally, he wouldn’t be thinking in third person.
Scott: The character of Grak is a sort of “Mayor of Simpleton” as it might be described by XTC. The implications, however, that in such an individual a single-minded hatred, of even simple things could lead to all out totalitarianism seem almost a play on ineffectual leaders past and present, in different countries. Did you have a particular historical figure in mind while you developed Grak’s character?
Peter J. Story: I think a big distinction there would be that XTC’s song describes someone who doesn’t care about being intelligent, whereas Grak has a desperate desire to be considered brilliant by everyone. And, because of this desire, he’s unable to admit his flaws. As a result, his errors are compounded until he causes the downfall of his society.
That describes every bad leader of a fast food chain or nation I’ve ever known or studied. I imagine someone somewhere could find greater similarities to a specific individual from that pool, but that was not my intent. I personally dislike such low-level critiques of society. They tend to focus on a person’s flaws rather than on the larger picture.
Scott: The “tribe,” as it stands in the novel, is an apt metaphor of the people in any society of any size from tribe to metropolis. In your novel, most are complicit, through action or inaction, in some of the atrocities committed. Was this supposed to reflect a social trend of following leaders out of either love, fear or duty; or were you thinking along the lines of 1984, in which the security or perceived security in society is enough to give up what would be your human rights?
Peter J. Story: Yes, it seems to me that society, as a whole, tends to follow first and ask questions later. And love, fear, and duty (along with any other state of such strong emotions) tend to drive trends the fastest.
It seems to me that hatred is the greatest catalyst, though. If you can get people to hate something, they’ll rush out to buy an answer or race to the polls to vote against that opponent. So if Grak can teach anything, I hope it would be that we should take care when responding to that which we hate.
And along those lines, fear and subsequent hatred are the natural catalysts that lead to a 1984 type of society where rights are traded for security. So, to answer your question, both.
Scott: This is a bit of a loaded question: at what point in the novel did you consider Grak morally compromised? It seems to read differently than if analysed – reading it one would say as soon as the clamp down on society happened, but Grak is so inept that on a subsequent reading, it seems to stem from his initial “mistake” (which could refer to his simple hatred of olives or how he deals with them).
Peter J. Story: My goal was to show that Grak is morally compromised from page one. He’s so focused on himself that he can’t see beyond his own needs. That’s the true culprit in the story. Everything else simply stems from his self-absorbed nature.
Of course, I gave some causes for his dysfunctional state, but I also left it up to the reader to decide if those causes really constitute an excuse for any of his actions. Even going back to when he was teased as a child. Was he justified in feeling ostracized? One reviewer thought it was harmless childhood teasing, and through the beauty of the printed word, I was able to leave that up in the air. Was he actually bullied as a child, or was he so self-centered that he took friendly jokes as calloused mockery?
Scott: Lago’s head on a stick: Grak seemed truly to have bats in the belfry with the introduction of this. He truly goes over the wire here. What was your intention of including this, aside from the obvious “nobody understands me better than myself” issues Grak experiences?
Peter J. Story: I wrote that as both a natural extension of his victimhood and a glaring warning that he had pushed everyone else away through his self-centeredness. At least, it should have been a glaring warning to him. But, since he can’t see beyond himself, it simply ended up comforting him.
Scott: The chapter titles are things Grak hates, but also alter due to circumstance, that list increases and is incorporated into the snowball effect of the novel. Were you commenting on hatred feeding into other hatreds with this?
Peter J. Story: Absolutely. Emotions are addictive, and hatred seems to me to be the most addictive. It’s powerful and energizing, yet comforting in its approval of your own actions. As a result, hating just one thing is never enough.
Scott: The importance of a “leader” in a group as small as a tribe of 100 or so, as the tribe stands at the end of the novel, seems to bring with it a drastic upheaval. “Interest parties” (modern or primitive) seem to contribute to the problems as well. Focusing on the “interest parties” do you feel that, shall we say, “ground-breaking” theories can disrupt a whole society?
Peter J. Story: Sure, ground-breaking theories tend to disrupt society. That’s what they do. Though, I wasn’t attempting to make a blanket statement that it’s always bad. My only intent with that was to show how much caution is required in order to ensure that the disruption isn’t harmful.
Scott: The redemption of Grak was perhaps the most surprising occurrences in the novel. However it brought with it an ominous tone along with it. He starts to think over his actions in the presence of Olive. With the introduction of the “gleam in his eye” we start seeing that banishment was perhaps not the best outcome. Was the intention here to bring to light the fact that leaders are more dangerous the more they start to think things through?
Peter J. Story: My intention there was to show that we regularly think we’ve learned and grown beyond the mistakes of the past without having actually changed. By the end of the book, Grak is following his nature and has yet to learn the warning signs. Really, throughout the last chapter, as he’s finally admitting that he’s done something wrong, I was trying to show that while he’s taking a needed first step, he still isn’t changing. All of his thoughts there are about how badly he was behaving. He wasn’t thinking about others except how he had done something bad in relation to them. It’s a good start, but he still isn’t looking out to see the needs and hurts of others. So, since the sickness wasn’t rooted out, the symptoms return.
Thank you to author Peter J. Story for an amazing interview!