Louis Greenberg is a Johannesburg-bred author and editor. He was a bookseller for several years, and has a Master’s degree in vampire fiction and a doctorate in post-religious apocalyptic fiction. His first novel , The Beggars’ Signwriters, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and he’s also the author of Dark Windows and Green Valley. As S.L. Grey, he co-writes occasionally bestselling horror fiction with Sarah Lotz, including Under Ground and The Apartment, which has been translated into over 15 languages.
I originally came across S.L. Grey whilst read the novel Under Ground on holiday this year. As is my habit these days, I researched the author and with intrigue read S.L. Grey was partnership. I reached out to Louis to find out how a writing partnership can work.
Thank you for joining me Louis. What do you do when you’re not writing?
The other half of my job is as a freelance editor so what I do when I’m not writing looks quite a lot like what I do when I am, just with a bit less crying. Away from my desk, I fold the laundry, vacuum, see to the kids, watch lots of TV, wait (im)patiently for my turn at the Xbox, watch football, read, do killer sudokus, cook, walk along the canal, dream of travelling.
Where are you based?
In gorgeous Warwickshire, England, at the moment. We hope to stay a while longer.
Tell me about your upbringing / your story?
Gosh. Long and complex story. I was born and bred in Johannesburg, South Africa – three of my grandparents were immigrants from different places, with three religions between them, so my sense of identity and belonging is protean. I’m an African European with my deepest roots in hereditary fantasies of Cypriot, South African and English culture, trying to teach my children to be ethical citizens of the world.
Where do you write?
In a small third bedroom that will soon be colonised by my expanding son. It’s upstairs and overlooks a hedge and some trees with robins, pigeons, magpies, blackbirds, tits and squirrels and seasons that entertain and delight. Sometimes there is rumour of a fox or hedgehog.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I fill up the water jug on my desk, Freedom for four hours and go at it.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Have fun. If it’s not fun, it will be hard to justify the pain.
How do you write?
I used to be a pantser, with the belief that I was transcribing something direct from some divine source. I began losing that faith and confidence just around the time my second manuscript was roundly rejected. Ever since then I’ve tried harder and harder to balance the initial spark, excitement and momentum with an actual clue of what I’m trying to do – still very much a work in progress.
How did the S.L. Grey partnership come about?
Sarah and I had met online on the forums of Book South Africa, which for a while was quite a lively online club of South African writers. Later, in 2009, we met in person at a crime fiction conference at my university in Johannesburg. We bunked the afternoon session and had a few beers, discovering our mutual love of horror, and decided to write a novel together.
How does producing a novel as a partnership work for you?
Sarah was based in Cape Town and I was in Johannesburg and our partnership worked very well. We worked by email, focussing simply and intensely on the writing without bringing in any outside distractions. We were both equally motivated to write something interesting and to work hard without being precious or ego-heavy. It’s unusual to find such a smooth collaboration.
For those who have not read Under Ground, each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. Did have an agreed plot / plan and each of you would write assigned characters?
We started with the characters and very little sense of plot and generally alternated. In the Downside books, we had fun putting our characters in tricky situations, sending the chapter across and saying ‘write your way out of that’ – it was like a creepy game of Consequences / Exquisite Corpse. Under Ground needed to be more carefully plotted.
Did you ever disagree with Sarah Lotz whilst working on novels and how would you resolve the issues?
We trusted each other a lot and rarely disagreed. We had a lot of fun and gave each other room to play. My worst bits were when Sarah demanded that we scrap sections or rewrite extensively – I was always struggling for time and energy (still am!) and I hated redoing stuff. But of course she was right and every well-motivated rewrite makes a book better.
Are you planning any future novels as S.L. Grey?
We’ve always intended to, but as life and other projects become a priority, our plans have moved from the back burner and slopped onto the floor where the dog is currently licking them up. It’s become really hard for both of us to free up six months at the same time to write a draft together, but if we could – or if a publisher paid us an advance to do so, hint, nudge – we’d love to put our heads together again.
I notice you are releasing Green Valley next year, which is a new novel with yourself as the sole author.
Yes, that’s right. It’s my third solo novel, and the first published outside South Africa, so I’m quite excited. It’s a noirish mystery set in an alternative near-future where people have banned the internet and gone back to analogue ways. In a way it’s about what comes after we break down a system we dislike.
Do you consider yourself a sci-fi writer?
No, not really. Green Valley is the first of my books that’s being pitched as sci-fi, and that’s because of the technological aspects and the near-futurism. I’m not interested in crashing any genre parties. I annoy all my publishers by being hard to place. With Sarah and alone, I’ve written body horror satire, gonzo dark fantasy, straight(ish) literary fiction, and political, domestic and psychological thrillers with and without a supernatural edge. The vague category ‘speculative fiction’ covers some of them. I guess I’m always speculating about alternatives.
Thank you Louis for taking the time to talk with me today and I wish you luck in all your future endeavours. I recommend Under Ground to all that will listen and Louis’s books, along with those of S.L. Grey, are available to buy from Amazon now.
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