Alexander Grass - When an Evil Romanian Monk Manipulates Social-Media Influencers

Alexander Grass - When an Evil Romanian Monk Manipulates Social-Media Influencers

Born in Harrisburg, PA, Alexander Grass lived in Philadelphia, Israel, and a few other places before settling in Brooklyn with his wife and three kids. As a teenager, Alex was in a thrash-metal band called Shock Syndrome. He later worked in construction, landscaping, driving in a car auction, and worked in parts and shipping for a Honda dealership. After obtaining his GED, he went to Penn State online before attending Cardozo Law School on scholarship. While at Cardozo, Alex was a Floersheimer Student Fellow in Constitutional Law, and a law clerk for the Institute for Justice and for the New York County Defenders. After a stint in rehab, he dropped out of law school to become a full-time author. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about The Influencer.

Please give us a short introduction to what The Influencer is about.

An evil Romanian monk who uses social-media influencers to possess cell phone users.

What inspired you to write about a mysterious Romanian monk that arrives in New York?

Well, I kept seeing this picture of Rasputin--it’s the famous one where you see these really dark, sunken eyes of his with a lot of shadow underneath his eyebrows. At the same time, I was rewatching the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, and I sort of wondered what it would look like if Batman had to battle a Rasputin-like occult figure.

Anyone who’s a Hellboy fan knows that the mystically-powerful Rasputin-as-dark-sorcerer idea has been pretty well-done by Guillermo Del Toro (based on Mike Mignola’s comics).

But, I like to think that any really good story is, in many ways, a rip-off of a much better story that came before. Sort of like Star Wars, which couldn’t happen without Frank Herbert writing Dune, or Joseph Campbell writing The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Why did you use followers in this story as a way to get people to sell their souls to evil?

Honestly, that idea is based more on feeling than a long drawn-out thought process. There’s something about the way people seem to need their phones in a way that doesn’t make sense. Sure, new technology is always valuable, but previous technologies--steam engines, airplanes, air-conditioning, etc.--improved people’s lives in a tangible way. Phones, social media… it just seems like a huge propaganda power has been transferred to Silicon Valley, people who are younger and less socially capable than the previous “bosses.” The new boss may be the same as the old boss, but these days you don’t even know who the new boss is.

Also, everyone has a phone. If you wanted a way to corrupt everyone, that would be the easiest mechanism.

You have lived in Philadelphia, Israel, and a few other places before settling in Brooklyn. How has this shaped your writing?

More experiences. You get to see what’s different, what’s the same; and, you learn to get tougher or softer depending on where you are. In Israel, you kind of have to be an asshole to get things done, and there’s a lot of corruption, so you have to know how to grease the wheels.

In Philly or New York, people really hustle. There’s something about being in the Northeast that makes folks bust their humps. Which is good when you want to order food and get a quick lunch, but not so great when you want to--out of nowhere--relax and talk with somebody (which is something I appreciate about visiting Louisiana or Mississippi).

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I can make ice cream. I’ve also built guitars. Also: calligraphy, watercolor paintings, and a few different musical instruments.

When did you decide to become a writer?

In a formal way--as in I’m deciding now I will write as a profession--probably two years ago. But I’ve always written.

When I was thirteen I wrote a bunch of bawdy poems about smoking crack and committing crime while I was on a cross-country trip with a bunch of other teenagers. They thought the poems were hysterical. My mom did not (she found them when I came home from the trip). Ironically, I hadn’t smoked crack or committed very much crime back then (though that came later).

Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.

My man Chris Bodily! He’s an animation teacher and freelancer out in Utah, and he’s done two covers for me, both of which are awesome! Chris is really the best. I’ll use him for book covers… forever.

The process is simple. I write Chris and say something like, I want a dude who looks like Rasputin, controlling people through their phones. Then I send him a couple of pictures from the internet for inspiration.

His website is

Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with?

Yes. Three out of the last four books I wrote because I was working out something in theodicy, or metaphysics, or something else that I wanted to clarify for myself, to sear it into my brain. That’s the prime motivation.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

I wake up early. Today I was up at 3am. I read for an hour and a half--all non-fiction in the morning. Then I write for an hour or two till I hit a thousand words. It’s almost always exactly like that. I make sure to sit at the dining room table where there’s nothing and nobody to distract me (which is why the morning routine is so important).

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

On Goodreads: I’m pretty good about answering people on there, lickety-split.