Friday, 5 October 2012

Author Interview: Adam Christopher

Empire State
Seven Wonders

Short Stories: several, some of which you can read for free here


> What is your new novel, Seven Wonders, about?  

Seven Wonders is an all-out, spandex-clad superhero adventure. It's set in the city of San Ventura, California, the home of the world's last superteam, the Seven Wonders, who are locked in an endless game of cat and mouse with the world's last supervillain, the Cowl. One day, an ordinary guy, Tony, wakes up with superpowers, and he decides he can finally do what the Seven Wonders have never been able to - take down the Cowl, once and for all. Only Tony soon discovers that the Seven Wonders aren't as grateful as he thought they'd be to have a new superhero in town...

> Your first novel, Empire State, also deals with super heroes, but in an alternate 20s New York.  How much research did you do on the prohibition era and what interested you in that period?
I've always been interested in the Prohibition and 1920s America - looking back, it's such a bizarre period, and it's amazing that the Eighteenth Amendment actually came to be. I remember a fascination with that period going right back to when I was about ten, I think! And looking ahead into the 1930s, you start to get the whole hardboiled detective thing, and the beginnings of what we'd recognise as modern comics, including superheroes. So it's an amazing and crazy period of history. And because of this, there has (fortunately) been plenty of research into the period. For Empire State, I leaned heavily on Dry Manhattan by Michael A. Lerner, which specifically deals with the impact of Prohibition in New York. The hardboiled/noir aspect of Empire State came from my love of Raymond Chandler and the great pulp writers - there is something very satisfying about writing those kind of characters, complete with trenchcoats and hats and that very dry sense of humour.

> What drew you to writing about superheroes?
I love superheroes, but I never grew up with comic books - when I was about seven, en route to our regular summer vacation, we stopped at a corner store and my dad bought me an issue of Batman, an issue of Iron Man, and one of those Marvel character compendium things (to shut me up in the car, I think - and in those days you could buy comics in corner stores!), and while I read each one cover-to-cover about a hundred times, I was more interested in the Marvel character encyclopedia. Years later, a friend at high school used to read 2000AD, the weekly British SF anthology comic, under his desk at the back of class, and I remember being fairly impressed with the stories, although after he moved away I kinda forgot about it.

Fast-forward again to about 2003, and I was browsing the magazine rack in a book store and saw 2000AD there. I picked it up on a whim, and was hooked immediately - for some reason, at the grand old age of 25, I'd discovered something that I felt was really for me. So after reading 2000AD for a while, I decided to go for broke and try some superhero comics, starting with Iron Man and Batman. And that was it - it was like a switch was turned on in my brain. I'd found my home, and since then superhero comics have been a burning passion.

So it made sense to write a superhero novel, to get it all out of my system, as it were! Seven Wonders was the second novel I wrote, and Empire State was next.

> If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Super-speed, like The Flash! I could get so much done! Although, when you think about it, it's a weird power, because The Flash's mental processes also accelerate to match his speed (they have to, obviously)... but that means if he runs to China, and it takes like one second in real time, for him it has still taken three months! So yeah, with super-speed I could write a novel a day... but from my point of view, that would still feel like 9-12 months! Hmm, on second thoughts...

> What made you want to be a writer?
I've always written - we wrote at school regularly, starting when I was seven - it was just something you did. This coincided with a huge repeat run of old Doctor Who on New Zealand television, which I became completely obsessed with, so most of what I was writing was my own interpretation of whatever episode had been on the previous week! As I got older, the creative writing was replaced with things like essays and assignments (I followed a science path, rather than something like English), but I kept my hand in with some Doctor Who fan fiction for TSV, the fanzine of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club (which I eventually ended up editing, and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for in 2010).

Just as I was moving to the UK, a new SF publisher was being set up and they were open to unagented submissions, so I decided to give it a shot. I was rejected, of course, but it was an important moment, a real turning point. Because that made me realise that a) I really did want to be a writer, and b) if I was going to make it, it had to be the most important thing in my life. Having had that lightning bold realisation, I started listening to writing podcasts, not just for writing advice but to find the community. One of the first ones I came across was I Should Be Writing, by Mur Laffterty, which was a huge help and really set me on my path. And it worked! Which is still a constant source of wonder and surprise for me.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
Good grief, no way! The main character in Empire State, Rad, gets put through the wringer, and I'm not sure I'd want to go through the events of Seven Wonders myself! But that's the point of a good story - nobody comes out the other end unchanged. For some it is for the better, but for some it is definitely for the worse!

> What were your literary influences for Seven Wonders and Empire State?
Seven Wonders: a lot of comics, obviously - Astro City by Kurt Buseik was the biggest influence, but also the work of Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Paul Levtiz, and many others. Not forgetting the greats of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics - I've described Seven Wonders as my homage to the Silver Age, with a dose of Bronze Age angst and grit thrown in!

Empire State: Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep is one of my favourite novels - in fact, the idea for Empire State came about after reading that novel, and wondering what it would have been like if Chandler had written science fiction - which he famously hated), and a fascination I have with period superheroes .The Golden Age adventures of superheroes like the Green Lantern and Batman were frequently bizarre, and I've always thought that the film Batman Begins would have been brilliant if it had been set in 1939.

> You've had several stories nominated and longlisted for awards, and have posted the stories for free on your website.  Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?
Novels, absolutely. I don't particular enjoy reading or writing short fiction - the short fiction I have written only came about when the idea and plot arrived in my head complete from beginning to end, but I'd never actually sit down and say, right, I'm going to write a short story! Also, I think that old advice of starting on short fiction then graduating to novels is completely bogus - they are two different forms entirely, and writing one will not teach you anything about writing the other. You should write whatever you like, no matter if it is 1000 words or 100,000!

> What's the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
The first novel I wrote is called Dark Heart, and it's sitting in a trunk somewhere. It was an important achievement, and it told me that yes, I can write a 100,000-word story. It's an occult steampunk novel, and while the plot is pretty solid (as far as I can remember), it needs a heck of a lot of work - like, a total rewrite - to bring it publishable quality. Maybe I'll dig it out and have a go, one day!

> When and where do you write?
I write in blocks of 1,000 words with breaks in between, and try to fit as many of those into a day as I can - which depends on my schedule, but the minimum is 2,000 words a day when I have other work to do, and around 3-4,000 words if I'm writing full time. For the first draft, I work on my laptop in a comfy chair in our library (really a converted dining room!), which is nice and relaxed, and then for the edits I shift upstairs to my office and sit at my desk, because that's a little more formal and business-like, and I have a big monitor so I can have multiple documents and notes open at once, which is handy for copying and pasting and rearranging stuff.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?
The best thing is being paid to make stuff up and write it down. I mean, come on, that's the best job in the world! The worst thing is knowing that I've got more ideas than I'll ever be able to write in one lifetime.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?
The whole thing has really been a learning experience and I find the publishing process fascinating - there is a reason it takes a year or more for a book to go from submission to the store shelf! Probably the biggest thing has been discovering how amazing and valuable good editors and good copyeditors are. My goodness, the magic they weave.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?
Keep writing. You learn by writing, and writing, and writing, and the more you write, the better you get. Write something, send it out, get rejected, write the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. Keep writing and keep getting rejected. I think there are four key factors to a career as an author - talent, skill, luck and perseverance. Talent is something those lucky few are born with, but for the rest of us you can skill up, learn things, get better. Getting published is a combination of hard work and good luck, but you can get yourself into the right situations where you might get lucky by persevering. Keep on trucking - that's my advice. Print that off and stick it on the wall above your desk!

> Any tips against writers block?
Write through it. Write total garbage, it doesn't matter, you can fix it later. And by writing garbage you might discover something new and unexpected. The most important thing is not to worry about it.  Re-outlining can help, just give yourself a few more tentpoles for the section you're working on.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?
Deadlines are a great motivator! But seriously, whether you have an actual contract deadline or whether you're unpublished and working on your craft, set yourself deadlines. Make them realistic, and assign a reward to each of them. If you plan everything out and schedule it - whether it's the work you need to do for your editor, or agent, or publisher, or what you want to achieve in your own work over the next year, you know where you are going and you can take charge of your time.

1 comment:

Paul Weimer said...

Thanks, Jessica, and thanks, Adam

I've always been interested in the Prohibition and 1920s America - looking back, it's such a bizarre period, and it's amazing that the Eighteenth Amendment actually came to be

There are a couple of books exploring that story. Its an interesting tale about politics and electioneering as well as social dynamics.