SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author/Comic Writer Adam Christopher
Adam Christopher, has two novels Empire State and Seven Wonders out from Angry Robot Books. His next book, The Age Atomic, a sequel to Empire State comes out in April. He also has Shadow’s Call forthcoming from TOR. Born in Auckland, NZ, he’s not a hobbit, despite the rumors. Instead, he’s a Pertwee-era Doctor Who and Beatles fan, a child of the ‘80s who now lives in NW England. Adam’s fiction has appeared in Pantechnicon, Hub, and Dark Fiction Magazine, and in 2010, he won a Sir Julius Vogel award , Which is New Zealand’s highest fiction honor. When not writing, Adam can be found drinking tea and obsessing over superhero comics and The Cure. He can be found online as @ghostfinder on Twitter, on Facebook or via his website at http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk.
SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
Adam Christopher : Dr. Who, for sure – when I was seven, a big repeat run started on New Zealand television. My parents sat me down in front of it, and I was hooked. And thanks to my primary school library, which was stacked with Dr. Who books and also the likes of C.S. Lewis, David Eddings.
SFFWRTCHT: So your parents are genre fans then?
AC: Yeah – maybe not fans, but certainly genre-friendly. I was taken to see Star Wars when I was 1 year old! My favourite childhood memory is actually seeing Ghostbusters in 1984. Saw it once with mum, liked it so much my dad took me again the next week, and then the three of us went and saw it for the third time together!
SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite authors and books that inspire you?
AC: My favourite authors are Stephen King, Lauren Beukes, Robert McCammon, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker. A mix of prose/comic writers. My favourite book is Veronica by Nicholas Christopher (which I literally just finished yesterday). Other faves are: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Slights by Kaaron Warren. That’s just to name a few, of course!
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?
AC: I started writing around the same time I started watching Dr. Who – it was part of the school day and was called “process writing.” I don’t think we did it every day but it was regular. I still have some of the exercise books from then – it’s all Who fan fic!…actually, with a few ghost stories mixed in. I was into ghosts as well. So I’ve written since then. There were a few gaps now and then, sometimes for several years, but basically I’ve always written.
SFFWRTCHT: I take it that’s where the Twitter handle @ghostfinder comes from? Do you still like writing ghost stories?
AC: My Twitter handle comes from Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, an Edwardian occult detective created by William Hope Hodgson. I’m still interested in ghosts and things like that, but I have so little time now, so I’ve drifted away from the subject.
SFFWRTCHT: How’d you learn craft? Trial and error? Formal study? Workshops?
AC: As it was taught at school, that gave me the basics (grammar, etc). But then it was just a matter of writing & writing & writing.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with shorts stories, novels, screenplays? How long before you made your first sale?
AC: I’ve always wanted to write novels, although the first stuff I had published was short Dr. Who fan fic when I was around 13-15. Although that was fan fic, it was my first experience of editorial feedback and proper revision. I started writing novels in 2005. I wrote a submission for a new publishing house just as I moved to the UK, and it was rejected. But that spurred me on to take it seriously. I looked for advice and found Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast. So I kept writing. I wrote another book, trunked it, then wrote Seven Wonders and then Empire State. Empire State was the first sale (in 2010).
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your interest in superheroes originate?
AC: I’m a huge fan of superhero comics, but I came to them late – when I was 25! I never grew up with comics. I wasn’t interested. But a friend used to read 2000AD at high school, and I found it curious. Then 10 years later I saw 2000AD on a magazine rack. So that got me hooked on comics. From there I ventured into Marvel and DC superhero comics, and I haven’t looked back.
SFFWRTCHT: Empire State is about a parallel city where a P.I. discovers duplicate/opposite versions of people living from that of his own city. Where did that idea come from and how long did it take you to write?
AC: Empire State came about because I wanted to write a pulpy science fiction detective story. I’m a fan of Raymond Chandler and thought one day that it would have been cool if he’d written science fiction (which he hated!) I’m also interested in the Prohibition, and the Golden Age of superhero comics, so it all kinda came together. It took about nine months to write, including editing and submission.
SFFWRTCHT: Why set it in New York, when you live in the UK? Why not London? Does London not need superheroes, too?
AC: New York fitted the story (like the Battery). Plus NYC is the most recognisable city in the world, and also my favourite place! Although Empire State has two superheroes in it, I don’t consider it to be a superhero novel. It’s just science fiction. I love pulp heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow, and also Golden Age DC characters like the original Green Lantern. There are British superheroes in comics, but it’s a different thing entirely. For me, superheroes are an American phenomenon.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about them.
AC: The Skyguard and the Science Pirate are two dueling superheroes of the 1930s. They used to be partners, but not anymore. In fact, their final battle is what tears a hole in the universe, leading to the creation of the Empire State, a parallel NYC. It’s more important for Seven Wonders, but setting either book in the UK would have meant a totally different story.
SFFWRTCHT: The dynamic between Skyguard and Science Pirate is fantastic, even though so much of their history is off-screen. Did you write more of their backstory than made it into the novel?
AC: A little, but I like keeping it vague. It makes it more interesting, even for myself as the writer!
SFFWRTCHT: How did you wind up with Angry Robot Books?
AC: I got my publishing deal through Twitter! I met my editor, Lee A. Harris, and we became friends because we share similar interests. When I got about halfway through Empire State I realised it might be the kind of book Angry Robot would like. So, one day I was going to be passing by their office, and I asked if I could come in and take a look. Me, Lee, and Marc Gascoigne went out to lunch, and out of the blue Marc asked what I was working on. I stumbled through the most terrible, unprepared pitch ever, and afterwards he said “Sounds great, send it in!” So I did…and a few months later they made an offer. Also – as an aside – I met my agent kinda via Twitter, too, thanks to Chuck Wendig. I owe my career to social media!
SFFWRTCHT: Do you think Social Media will become a new way to break in?
AC: I think social media is important to writers and it can work for you like it worked for me, but it’s still social media. Which means you should only do it because you like hanging out with like-minded people and making friends. Everything else – including getting a book deal, finding a publisher/agent – is secondary.
SFFWRTCHT: I agree. And it plays into the nature of networking in this business and how important that is obviously. In Seven Wonders, superheroes play a large role. You’ve created a pantheon, nine in total. Where’d that idea come from?
AC: Seven Wonders is a total superhero geekout – I had the central concept floating around for ages (it’s a spoiler!). After I’d written that first trunked novel, I decided that idea was strong enough to support a book. So I got superheroes out of my system (in prose form, at least) with that novel!
SFFWRTCHT: Seven Wonders is set in San Ventura, California, a city where the seven superheroes keep order. Until a new superhero arises to change that. How did you choose setting? Beyond not doing a NYC repeat.
AC: Seven Wonders is set in California because I wanted big horizons, blue sky, that kind of comic book feeling. And San Ventura, the fictitious city in which Seven Wonders is set, is based on San Diego – home of the comic con!
SFFWRTCHT: Okay, on to a few of our craft usual questions: Outliner or pantser?
AC: A bit of both – I do a skeleton outline and work out the main tentpole sequences/events. But my characters do their own thing.
SFFWRTCHT: When you write, which comes first-plot or characters? Theme? World?
AC: I usually start with an idea – “what if…” – and the characters populate the story on their own. So: What if Chandler had written The Big Sleep with robots? (Empire State). What if a space station was haunted? (Shadow’s Call)
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your next project? Any plans to follow these stories up with sequels? The Age Atomic is a sequel you said.
AC: The Age Atomic is a sequel to Empire State, although both are standalone. After that comes Hang Wire, an urban fantasy. Hang Wire (November 2013) is about a serial killer in San Francisco, a sentient circus, and old gods searching for a lost power. In 2014, my first book for Tor Books comes out – Shadow’s Call, a dark space opera about forgotten heroes and mythological evil. Also featuring a dead cosmonaut and a hot space mining celebrity, Zia Hollywood. I have big plans for Zia!
SFFWRTCHT Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or in silence?
AC: I write in blocks of 1000 words, with a gap between each (depends what else I have to do that day). I go for 2-3k words/day. I use Scrivener for first draft, then pull it into Word for the edits/rewrites. I write and edit to music, headphones on!
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
AC: There’s plenty of good and bad writing advice. Best advice? Keep writing, don’t give up. Worst advice? Probably: you must write short stories to learn how to write novels. Total nonsense. Write what you want. I have written some short fiction but I don’t enjoy it. I prefer novels. And comics.
SFFWRTCHT: Have you written for comics yet? Any plans to?
AC: My first comics work comes out in December – The Sentinel, a crime/urban fantasy set in Prohibition NYC. It’s about a cop who is killed and resurrected as an Egyptian god of vengeance. The cop is battling a cult of magicians who worship the New York subway system, trying to bring ancient evil back to life. Part of VS comics – check their site!
Filed under: Interviews
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