Coffeehouse Welcomes Author Victoria Grossack

Hi, Victoria. Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us a little about who you are and your background?

My name is Victoria Grossack. I am the author, with Alice Underwood, of four novels set in Bronze Age Greece. Our first novel is Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus, which tells that ancient story from the point of view of Jocasta. I wanted to write it since I was fourteen years old, when I read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in high school, because I was fascinated by the question, did Jocasta ever realize that she was married to her son? Writing Jocasta was a childhood dream come true – especially cool since it has also been published in Greek by a publisher in Athens.

While we were writing Jocasta, we studied Niobe, who was queen of Thebes just before Jocasta became queen of Thebes. Niobe is most famous for talking trash about the goddess Leto – and then being punished by having her many sons and daughters slaughtered by the gods Apollo and Artemis. However, when we looked at all the myths together, we realized that there was another, very likely explanation. We had discovered a mass murder more than 3000 years old and we believe we know who did it! So we wrote a trilogy covering this: Children of Tantalus; The Road to Thebes and Arrows of Artemis. Our series (which includes Jocasta) is called the Tapestry of Bronze and you can find out more about it at http://www.tapestryofbronze.com/.

 How did you learn to write?

When Alice and I started to write these books, I was not a very good writer (even though I had published a few short stories and articles and had a degree in Creative Writing and English Literature from Dartmouth College). I did what research I could and I participated actively in online critique groups and my writing improved. I kept thinking and striving to better my writing and developed many ideas and articles about historical fiction and character development. These morphed into online classes which I teach through the http://www.coffeehouseforwriters.com./ I’m especially pleased with a series which goes through different levels of structure in fiction, start with words, phrases and sentences and finishing with series and “all literature.

 Describe your creative process. Owl or lark? Do you write every day?

Definitely lark! But I am a lark that would fly into window panes and drop stunned until after coffee. In fact I have learned that it is unwise for me to hit the SEND key on email before I have finished the second cup. Too many missing words and grammatical mistakes! Very embarrassing!
And yes, I write almost every day. When I also had an office job I wrote Wednesday s through Sundays, because Mondays and Tuesdays were too heavy in the office. I think it’s important for authors to understand their own schedules and rhythms. Although you need discipline, you also need to be realistic.

 How do you write fiction with someone else?

Fortunately our strengths are complementary. I’m skilled at managing the plot—maintaining tension and pacing and inserting twists and surprises. Alice is more visual and has studied the archaeological record. She supplies many of the descriptive details that bring our scenes to life.
Our usual method is to start by brainstorming the general shape of the story together at a very high level. I then sketch out the first version of each chapter, and hand it off to Alice to begin fleshing out. We pass the chapters back and forth by email, each of us editing and revising the previous version until it begins to feel complete.

 What has been your most rewarding accomplishment thus far?

There have been a few great moments. I discovered that Jocasta made it on to a high school reading list! That was fabulous – being on a list with Jane Austen and Charles Dickens (and by the way, don’t let those names put you off – our books are not difficult). Then, some of the reviews of our Children of Tantalus trilogy were wonderful. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorites:
“Children of Tantalus, The Road to Thebes, and Arrows of Artemis … will draw comparisons to the work of both Robert Graves and Mary Renault, but throughout these books Grossack and Underwood consistently manage a wit and breadth all their own. Readers will find themselves flying through these volumes, gripped the whole time. Very strongly recommended.” – Steve Donoghue, Historical Novels Review Online, August 2011.
That review assured me that we had achieved what I wanted to achieve.
I want to point out that I could never, never have done this on my own. There is simply so much to writing great books and I don’t have all the necessary talents. Alice’s skill set complements mine.

 What would it surprise others to know about you?

I’m very good in mathematics! I’m also fluent in French and German. I’ve even taught some of my www.coffeehouseforwriters.com classes in German. OK, the lessons are still in English but I can read and comment on assignments in the other languages. I shouldn’t be correcting any spelling and grammar, but the storytelling principles are the same.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about a writing career? What is the best that you’ve ever given?

I won a short story contest about ten years ago and the judge told me I should be writing professionally. It was huge encouragement.
What I would advise others – if they don’t write a lot – is to start with small pieces instead of embarking upon the great novel. You wouldn’t sign up to run a marathon without some training, would you?

 Do you think that the economy has had an adverse effect on the bottom line of today’s writer? Or do you feel that writing is recession proof?

Writing has never been a great way to make money. So you can be poor either way!
The one thing that has really changed is that the costs of self-publication are so low. So you can get published for very little. As e-books don’t cost a lot to purchase, it is actually something that many people can afford.

What’s your take on social media?

It is useful. Having an unusual last name has helped me to reconnect with many old friends, which is extremely pleasant, although it was sad when my college roommate unfriended me because she disliked my politics. Social media also enables writers to connect to others, including strangers, in many ways. I have done interviews at goodreads.com, and one of their groups chose Jocasta for a group read.
Nevertheless, the public nature of Facebook makes me queasy. I’m afraid if I update my status, and let the world know that I am traveling, for example, that my house will get burgled.
So I have mixed feelings about all of it. There are pluses and minuses. It certainly isn’t going away so it is best to get used to it.

 If you had not chosen writing, what other career might you have pursued?

I did insurance mathematics for many years, and have often considered teaching math. I occasionally tutor it; I find algebra and geometry extremely relaxing.

If you could be a literary “super-hero” what would your power be?
Interesting question! If the power is based on what I can do already, I would say it is creating consistent and credible characters with lots of tensions and unexpected plot twists
If I could add any super-hero skills, I’d simply like to be faster at all this…

What’s the biggest myth about building a platform?

I’m not an expert on platform building, so I don’t know that I can talk about the “biggest myth.” Writing novels doesn’t allow a lot of energy for blogging so I can only do that occasionally. We’ve focused instead on adding value to our website, with a pronunciation guide – Greek names are hard – and maps. We also have a poetry contest twice per year, with a special section for students.
Although we feel good about supporting educators – and encouraging people to write poetry – we’re not sure that it has increased our sales much. Perhaps platform building, like creative writing and virtue, is simply its own reward.

If you like writing poetry, then check out www.tapestryofbronze.com/OdeForm.html and see if you feel like writing an ode to an Olympian god.
And, last but not least…

Can you share a little about any upcoming book or project?

We’re working on a sequel to Jocasta, about the showdown between Antigone and Creon. The working title is Guardians of Thebes, and it’s inspired by a pair of real caves just outside of Thebes, Greece, where Antigone’s brothers are said to have been buried. I think it’s especially relevant in these days of civil disobedience, truth and falsehood, might versus right. We have a ways to go so if you feel like escaping to the Bronze Age, then start with another book.

Note: Victoria has been an instructor for Coffeehouse for Writers for eight years. Her classes are among the most popular offerings.


  1. Thanks, Jennifer, for helping us get to know Victoria a little better. Victoria, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insight. I appreciate your encouragement and inspiration!

  2. Jennifer Brown BanksJuly 16, 2012 at 10:02 AM


    It was a pleasure. Thanks for your thoughts.


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