Short Sharp Shocks! #20
David T. Griffith: Plain
Reviewed & Additional Questions By J.A. Sullivan
If you met Essy on the street, you probably wouldn’t give her a second glance. You might pick up something off about her, but quickly dismiss it and be on your way. But author David T. Griffith wants you to see everything about Essy. Hidden behind her ordinary appearance is a history of violence, alcoholism, and voices of the past which haunt her daily. Plain takes the reader deep into Essy’s fractured mind where the past, present, reality and delusions bleed together.
After Essy is released from Brook Haven psychiatric hospital, her life seems to be coming together nicely in Stratsbury, Connecticut – stable job, decent apartment, and located close to her psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Brody. As the story progresses red flags pop up, hinting that all is not what it seems. Bit by bit Essy’s world unravels, plunging her further into self-loathing and psychosis. Can she ever escape the torturous voice of her deceased mother, or is she doomed to remain unhinged and dangerous?
Griffith brilliantly uses an unreliable narrator to evoke empathy and revulsion, with glimpses of the character’s life as both victim and perpetrator of violence. While primarily a character-driven story, flashbacks to the events leading to Essy’s hospitalisation provide a nice balance of action. Normally I prefer plot-driven tales, but the writing of Plain was so compelling that I didn’t even notice the minimal amount of activities until long after reading. And not to worry gore fans, there are a few blood and brain splattered scenes to delight you as well.
I loved every minute of this story and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a disturbing and immersive reading experience.
J.A. Sullivan Post Review Questions
With Essy’s unstable mental health, did writing the story from her point of view present unique challenges?
Yes, particularly with placing my mind in what one goes through following childhood trauma and how it would manifest in Essy’s situation. I’ve read a lot on the subject over the years and continue to study how different types of trauma might affect a person’s psychology.
I draw from my own difficult situations dealing with loss and undergoing major medical procedures a few years back. I’ve had more first-hand experiences in dealing with friends and loved ones’ traumatic circumstances than I care to admit, taking on issues like drug abuse, mental illnesses, and PTSD, a few of which resulting in untimely deaths. It’s ugly and it sticks with you, but it’s all part of today’s human condition.
I channel what I’ve learned and felt into my characters and build upon it. I use creative license in how it’s portrayed, but Essy is a product of these real-life experiences and observations, at least fragments of those feelings and moments. Just know, though, that she is not based on an actual person.
If you could go on vacation with any of the characters you’ve created, who would you choose and why?
Hypotheticals are not my friend, but I’ll do my best. I like to people watch when I take trips, so I guess Essy would be a fun character to watch interact with unsuspecting strangers knowing things could go sideways at any moment without warning. I wouldn’t want her to know I was there, though. I’d rather be watching from a near distance sipping drinks with Melissa and cracking jokes about the insanity we’re witnessing.
What motivates you to keep writing?
A love for storytelling. The ability to open someone’s mind. To possibly effect change in this world, as art intends to, one reader at a time. Maybe it’s to feed my starved creative ego and leave behind a legacy of great works to be admired for generations to come. Perhaps it’s to write the stories that have yet to be told and remember ephemeral moments that will soon disappear into oblivion.
Mostly, though, it’s the love of writing that motivates me.
Essy is released from a psychiatric hospital after orchestrating her mother’s death a few years earlier. She moves to the neighboring town, where she can continue therapy with her psychiatrist. In pursuit of an idealistic happiness and normalcy, she finds herself both haunted and driven by those she hurt…
David T. Griffith: The Kendall Reviews Interview
(This interview was conducted back in February 2020)
KENDALL REVIEWS: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
DAVIDTGRIFFITH: I am a creative professional who spends the workday in the eCommerce world. I went to school for art and writing, and spent my professional life in related fields and positions. I have been honing my crafts since high school, though I didn’t begin the pursuit of publishing until I entered a creative and professional writing MFA program in 2010.
Later this year I will be marrying my wonderful fiancée Melissa, an incredibly funny and brilliant writer and producer in television news. We live in my home state of Connecticut, less than an hour’s drive to New York City. I have a daughter named Skye, who is currently studying biology in college and considering career options in medicine and environmental science.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
DTG: When I’m not writing or working, I spend most of my time with Melissa, my fiancée. We love to go out to restaurants and bars and see live music and comedy shows. Occasionally, we’ll take in a museum or spend time along the Connecticut and New Jersey shorelines. When I’m alone, I read a lot about current events, arts, and sciences, but make it a point to read fiction every week. I have this thing for video games, too – what Gen Xer who grew up with the Atari 2600 and Nintendo consoles when they were new doesn’t love their video games?
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
DTG: Two favorites come to mind – I loved The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss and at the same time I loved reading from a collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. You could say I was equally drawn to whimsical scenarios and dark moralistic storylines as a young kid. The darkness and the whimsy never left me.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
DTG: I love many artists crossing different genres, but one of my tops is …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid. Their music is incredibly well written and executed while maintaining its raw punk rock roots as it tackles numerous emotions. And it’s still fun to listen to 25 years later. Seeing them in concert recently their music from this album sounded just as strong and timely as ever.
I come from a musical family and learned to play piano and guitar, even went on to play in a few local punk and alternative bands in the early 1990s. As a result, I like to incorporate music into my stories when it makes sense. Probably the most obvious example is my short story “T Is for Transformation: Cacophony in B Minor” from the anthology The Grimorium Verum edited by Dean Drinkel. The protagonist is a piano virtuoso whose music plays an essential driving force throughout the story.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?
DTG: My all-time favorite horror movie is Jaws. At an early age I recognized the beauty of the great storytelling in Jaws and it had inspired me years later to write dark fiction. The scene that always stayed with me was in the boat, the calm yet jovial time as the climax builds, when Quint shifts the mood as he shares his war story about the sharks picking off sailors trying to survive an attack in the open ocean. What an incredible scene for Quint to go out on. I was sad that he met his demise minutes later.
KR: What are you reading now?
DTG: I’m finishing the anthology Dreams from the Witch House, featuring Lovecraftian short fiction by all women authors and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I have The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham sitting on my nightstand begging for my attention, which I plan to dive into soon. I’m also working through Stephen King’s Different Seasons and plan to read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy in the near future.
KR: What was the last great book you read?
DTG: This is a challenging question. The first great book that comes to mind is Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. I can’t get enough of his creative use of the English language, his ability to capture a character’s actions and mood and placement within the setting in a just a sentence or two. Even the subject matter, the portrayal of a serial killer in early 20th century Tennessee, is creepy and offbeat, yet so vivid, and so beautifully illuminated.
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
DTG: I like e-books for the ability to highlight passages, which I use primarily for business and other nonfiction reading. I like the easy ability to pull quotes for my business writing straight from the text. When it comes to reading fiction, I do prefer hardback books. Paperbacks are fine when hardbacks are not an option, but I hate seeing the spines deteriorate. While reading fiction, I can be easily distracted with an e-book’s ability to look up unusual words or references online as I read, so I tend to opt for the printed versions.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
DTG: I was first inspired to write by reading In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I read both around the same time while in high school. Hemingway’s simplistic yet effective writing style captured my attention as a teen, making his short stories and vignettes accessible and intriguing, with the dark undercurrent of war throughout the collection. Meanwhile, Hammett’s storytelling opened me to the genres of noir and hard-boiled detective fiction, a strong influence that has stayed with me all these years.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
DTG: Typically, I start with a simple idea, theme, or character, sometimes a sentence that might be packed with multiple meanings and grow the story from there. Often times, the final story bears minimal resemblance to the first draft. Usually, I don’t know how or when the story will end. Taking a step back, I appear to be a masochist in taking this freeform approach. I’m considering trying out the outline process for my next stories.
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Research varies greatly from one story to the next. When I write about topics I know well, I might look up a few things to confirm factual details and leave it at that. It really depends on what the story calls for. I’m happy and willing to research any topic for as much as I need until I am comfortable writing about it. That could mean a few hours or a few weeks. Even years of ongoing interest in a subject. Whatever is necessary.
KR: How would you describe your writing style?
DTG: It’s a casual and conversational tone built on a formal foundation. I’m a strong proponent of the adages “less is more” and “show, don’t tell.” I revise my work heavily so not only am I seeking and correcting grammatical errors, but I’m looking for more efficient methods to portray every element of the story. More so, I make sure every word choice in the manuscript is meant to be there while maintaining flow.
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
DTG: This typically occurs at night. I’ll sit down with an idea and find my mind wandering and procrastinating as I stare at the first sentence or two typed on the otherwise blank screen. I’ll turn to reading an article or scan through my Twitter feed, and then suddenly something will hit me, and I’ll return to the story and write a few pages. I never intend for it to go this way, but it seems to be the pattern I’ve developed. On the flip side, I’m always brainstorming ideas while commuting to work and taking notes on a phone app – when I’m not driving, of course.
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
DTG: The story I mentioned earlier, “Cacophony in B Minor” rang true to me when I wrote it and has always been a go-to when I think about my best work to date. “Plain,” my entry in the Short Sharp Shocks! series from Demain Publishing, is another favorite. The main character, Essy, has been with me for a long time and I am excited to see her story has finally made it to publication.
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
DTG: Yes, I like to hear or read others’ perceptions of my work so I can learn what works and what doesn’t and apply it forward. Honest readers are incredibly important to me, I’m always striving to improve my craft.
KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?
DTG: I feel I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. I know I have the skills and I sincerely believe I possess the right talents, but I am always developing my abilities to tell stories that scare, excite, provoke thought, and elicit myriad emotions. With every story or article I write, I learn something new about writing.
KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?
DTG: The advice as follows: Don’t be afraid to cut the last sentence of a paragraph, the last paragraph of a chapter, and the last chapter of a book, and then revise what’s left to still tell the same story in the most efficient and compelling manner possible.
KR: What scares you?
DTG: Losing the people I love. Hitting a dead end with my creativity and my career. Finding out I’m irrelevant. Losing my ability to laugh.
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
DTG: My latest release is Plain, a novella that I had been writing on-and-off since 2011. It started out as a concept I came up with – create the most basic, plain, and boring character possible and make that character worthy of a reader’s vested interest. Essy was created and she developed a bit of a cult following among some of my MFA peers in those early days as I worked out some scenes in workshops.
Essentially, the story explores the depraved mind of a 30-something woman who experienced a traumatic childhood thanks to her abusive alcoholic mother, and how that manifests in her seemingly humble disposition. The story follows her struggle of trying to live a normal life amidst a violent descent into her inherent madness. I enjoyed writing this book and I’m thinking about what more I can do with this character in a future book.
KR: What are you working on now?
DTG: I’ve been brainstorming a story that takes on today’s cultural version of existential dread. I’m also working out ideas for a new story that is reflective of some real-world horrors we are currently experiencing in the U.S. and around the world. Yes, I’m intentionally keeping this vague.
KR: Thank you very much David.
David T. Griffith
Fascinated by all things dark, gritty, and dystopian, D.T. Griffith is a recent entry into the horror and dark fiction genres. Like all of his other art, his fiction and nonfiction writing draw inspiration from classic and modern works alike, spanning a full range of literary masters, surrealist painters, raw comedians, and punk rock.
He has worked as a professional designer, illustrator, and writer since the mid-1990s in the marketing, branding, and communication fields. Educated in fine arts and writing, and a professional in the corporate communication and eCommerce fields, he enjoys a keen passion for writing dark fiction, noir, and horror during his free time where his brain is permitted to explore its deviant side without retribution.
D.T. Griffith holds a BFA in fine arts and an MFA in creative and professional writing. He resides in his home state of Connecticut, USA.
You can find out more about David by visiting his official website www.dtgriffith.com
You can follow David on Twitter @dtgriffith
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan