The third interview in my quest to interview as many of 2012’s more exciting debut authors (see also: Myke Cole and Anne Lyle), I bring you Adam Christopher – New Zealand transplant to the UK, blogger and now published author of noir-flavoured post-super-hero Empire State. I’ve been intrigued by the premise of Adam’s novel ever since I first read about it on his website. With the novel now available, and receiving very good buzz and reviews around the genre interweb community, it seemed a perfect time to get to know a little bit more about Adam himself, his novels, and his writing process.
As a debut novelist, I thought I’d start off this interview with something easy: Who is Adam Christopher?
I’m a writer, originally from New Zealand but now living in the UK. I’m a fan of Doctor Who (classic series), superhero comics, The Cure, tea, ’80s cartoons (Transformers, G.I.Joe, etc.), New York, science fiction, crime fiction, Apple, American TV, Jerry Seinfeld, The Velvet Underground, Fender Jaguars, typography and design. I have a couple of science degrees which are (clearly) unrelated to writing fiction. I’ve been writing since I was about five or six. I don’t like olives. I have a cat, and every car I have ever owned has been black.
Your debut novel, Empire State, was just released by Angry Robot Books to much fanfare and anticipation. How would you introduce it to a new reader?
Empire State is a science fiction noir, a pulpy detective story about a PI, Rad Bradley, who is hired to find a missing woman and ends up finding a parallel universe. It’s kinda Raymond Chandler meets The Rocketeer in Gotham City – robots, superheroes, airships, Prohibition, a lot of rain, and a lot of shady characters, and more than a few double-crossings.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Empire State came from a series of separate ideas that all coalesced at the right moment to form something new – I’d discovered Raymond Chandler and lamented the fact that he never wrote science fiction (how great would The Big Sleep be if it was about robots?) and I had some ideas for a hardboiled pulp detective investigating something gigantic – something like a whole parallel universe. I love period science fiction and the Golden Age of superhero comics, so throwing this all together it was obvious I had to write something set in the 1930s.
Ideas are easy, as any writer will tell you! Inspiration comes from all kinds of places – everywhere from music to comics to TV and film, my own experiences, you name it. I read a lot, including a lot of non-fiction. As everyone should!
I read somewhere that the world of Empire State is going to be opened up as a shared setting for other authors to write in. Could you tell us a little bit about this, how it works, and what we can expect to see in the future?
The Worldbuilder is Angry Robot’s creative commons-licenced “expanded universe” for Empire State. Anyone can contribute anything at all, set within the world of the book – fiction, art, comics, music, whatever – and submit it to “empirestate.cc”. The best material submitted online will be selected to go in a series of anthologies alongside work from some professional creators. Already we’ve got a short story from James Patrick Kelly, and a set of stills from a non-existant film noir adaption of the book by JR Blackwell. Hugo award-winning author and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal is doing a toy theatre, and there is a table-top RPG coming.
The possibilities are endless, and it’s tremendously exciting seeing what people come up with. And contributors who get selected to appear in the anthologies get a share of the proceeds too.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
It was TV first – when I was seven, my parents introduced me to Doctor Who. The Pertwee era was then being repeated on New Zealand television, and I became obsessed very quickly. From Doctor Who I moved to other SF TV series like Blake’s 7 and Star Trek, and I started writing my own stories – mostly adaptations of whatever I was watching on TV at the time!
I started reading genre fiction at the same time, mostly Target Doctor Who novelisations. I remember being encouraged to read SF and fantasy at school, as it was seen to be a healthy interest for boys! I remember reading about half of the Narnia books, then I dived into my dad’s Asimov collection.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Being a writer is a lifelong passion – it’s something I just have to do. If I go a day without doing anything writing-related I start to get very twitchy indeed. Being a published author is, literally, a dream come true!
I’m the kind of person who enjoys routines, so I tend to stick to a schedule when I’m working – I write early in the morning and late at night. I do single-page outlines for novels. Most of what I write doesn’t require that much research, as I haven’t yet written anything with much of a historical setting, or that requires any specific technical knowledge. Having said that, every piece of work does require research of some sort, but I’m careful to make sure the research comes second, and the writing comes first!
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
As soon as I started school, creative writing was something done every single day – I hope they still do that in schools! I have exercise books filled with stories which are actually not as terrible as you might imagine. The weirdest thing is that I can very clearly remember writing them, even though it’s coming up on thirty years ago now. A lot of those early efforts are either rehashed Doctor Who stories, or heavily influenced by what I was reading at the time – I had a fascination with ghosts (still do, actually!), so there’s a lot of stories about haunted houses, too!
I stopped writing when I was a teenager, and didn’t take it up again until I was at university. The first things I ever had published were, coincidentally, Doctor Who fan fiction for TSV and Timestreams, two fanzines produced by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club. I ended up editing TSV for a few years later, and in 2010 won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for it.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think genre fiction is stronger than ever, but then I’m not any kind of expert – I read across many different genres and tend to pick up titles mostly on personal recommendation. I think there is more interest now in work which crosses genres, and Empire State definitely does that! That’s one of Angry Robot’s strengths, in that as well as straight SF and fantasy, they also publish books which blur the definitions a little.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
My second novel – although, oddly enough, one written before Empire State – is called Seven Wonders, and that’s coming from Angry Robot in August/September 2012. It’s a fun book, a sort of widescreen homage to the Silver Age of superheroes. There’s plenty of spandex and laser beams and people with very silly names.
Beyond that, I’ve got several projects on the go – more information when I have it!
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I’m actually reading a fair amount of crime fiction, thanks mostly to my agent who represents a lot of crime writers. I’ve just finished the wonderful The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen, which is out in April, and I’m now reading City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore, which is a zombie/crime crossover! In the past year I’ve enjoyed a variety of books including Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I also read a lot of comics – I’m trying to keep up with DC’s New 52, but I also follow writers like Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.
For non-fiction, I’m indulging my passion for typography with Just My Type by Simon Garfield. I honestly can’t recommend it enough – typography is such a dark art to most people, and the world would be a far easier on the eye if more people understood it better.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I play guitar, and back in New Zealand I played bass in a band called Black Drum with Jeremy Eade from Garageland. I’m sure if I keep telling people that someone will eventually remember us. :p
What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
This year is going to be pretty busy – I’ve got several projects to finish, several to start. Event-wise, I’m most looking forward to the SFX Weekender at the beginning of February, as well as EasterCon, Discovery, and a return to Brighton for FantasyCon in September.
Oh, and my second novel coming out. The Empire State release has been a lot of fun, and I get to do it all again in six months!