Adam Christopher Interview (March 2012)
Adam Christopher was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn’t a bad start for a child of the 80s. In 2006, Adam moved to the sunny North West of England, where he now lives in domestic bliss with his wife and cat in a house next to a canal, although he has yet to take up any fishing-related activities.
His first novel Empire State (review here – 8.1/10) was released in January 2012 through publisher Angry Robot Books. Reviewer Ryan Lawler caught up with Adam to chat about fan fiction, desert islands, and much more.
Ryan Lawler: Hi Adam and welcome to Fantasy Book Review. Can you start by letting us know a bit about yourself and what lead you towards a career in writing.
Adam Christopher: Thanks for having me here!
I’m a New Zealand-born writer who moved to the UK in 2006. I’m an avid fan of comics, Stephen King, The Cure, The Dandy Warhols, and typography. I write science fiction (sort of) and I enjoy reading SF and crime. I don’t like olives. My favourite film is Ghostbusters and drink an inordinate amount of tea.
I’ve always written, right from an early age when we used to have this thing called “process writing” at primary school. Every day after lunch for about five years we had a period of writing, and I’ve still got exercise books full of stuff. It’s mostly “original” Doctor Who fiction based quite obviously on whatever story was showing on TV at the time – although I grew up in the 1980s, TVNZ started a big repeat run of Doctor Who in 1985 which began with a couple of Troughton stories then ran from Spearhead from Space right through to Survival. My seven-year-old self quickly became hooked, and I’m not entirely sure I read anything that wasn’t a Target Doctor Who novel for a couple of years! This also got me started writing – because creative writing was a regular thing at school (and I hope it still is, although I have no idea) so I wrote what interested me, which was mostly Doctor Who! I was also into ghosts and UFOs and paranormal stuff like that, so there are a handful of horror and alien abduction stories in there too. And as far as I can remember, my teachers all encouraged me to continue with writing science fiction and stuff like that – it was considered to be exactly the kind of thing a boy of my age should be into.
Then I stopped for year, and didn’t really pick it back up again until I was at university. Ironically, the first stuff I had published was actually Doctor Who fan fiction, in TSV and Timestreams, two fanzines produced by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club. Years later, I ended up as editor of TSV, and in 2010 won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for it.
When I moved to the UK in 2006 I was in the middle of a novel submission to a new publisher who was open to unsolicited manuscripts. I submitted it before we left New Zealand, and about a week after we’d arrived it was rejected. This was pretty much the moment where I decided to take it seriously – my submission, my first one ever, was awful, of course, but the rejection came at the right time. It was a wake-up call: take it seriously, or forget about it.
Ryan: You left the land of the long white cloud to go live in England of all places. Was this move about chasing the writing dream, or was about the need for a change in scenery?
Adam: It was mostly a job actually, although we’d wanted to move to the UK for a while so it was too good an opportunity to pass up. New Zealand is a wonderful place but it’s an awful long way from anywhere else. Being in the UK has obvious advantages as there are a lot of big publishers suddenly in the same time zone as you are, and the time difference to somewhere like New York – again, another publishing centre – is a lot better.
Ryan: Would you consider coming back to the southern hemisphere?
Adam: Maybe, although we’re more likely to shift to the US first. We found that having done it once, and discovering that really moving countries isn’t that difficult, you kinda get the itch to do it again.
But we’ve been back to New Zealand for holidays, which was nice. There’s just the 30-hour flight there and back which isn’t so great.
Ryan: Empire State is your debut novel, one that blends a bunch of different genres into a story about a parallel dimensions. Did you set out with the intention of blending a bunch of genres together, or was it the byproduct of the story you wanted to tell?
Adam: The blending of genres was unintentional, or at least I think it was. Empire State was the result of several different ideas all coming together to form a single novel. I wanted to write a Chandleresque pulp detective story, and I had this character Rad Bradley all ready to go. I had another idea centred around an alternate version of New York, trapped in an endless Prohibition. And then there was Captain Carson, an old polar explorer, investigating “The Case of the Robot Zombie”, which never got any further than a title and the vague idea that a crazy B-movie plot might be fun.
Plus I love comics, especially the Golden and Silver Ages, and I love the idea of period superheroes like The Rocketeer. And then one day it just all came together – I realised there was a connection between all of these ideas. Pulp detectives originated in the 1930s. Prohibition in the US ran from 1919 to 1933. Modern superhero comics began in the late 1930s, and they began in New York. So with a little massaging of timelines it was obvious I could squash everything together.
Ryan: Your publisher Angry Robot Books has set up a worldbuilders site for Empire State where people are invited to contribute to the Empire State universe. How do you feel about giving people licence to play in your world? How would you measure the success of this endeavour?
Adam: I think it’s really cool, and I’ve loved the stuff that people have done already. I was quite open to the suggestion of Worldbuilder when Angry Robot put it to me, which was probably about six months after I’d submitted the manuscript. They wanted to use a novel that had enough scope, and Empire State seemed to fit the bill. I guess some authors might have been a little nervous, but I was more excited about the possibilities. Someone else writing a story set in the world I created? How cool is that?
Measuring the success of the project is a little tricky. Personally, if we get some neat stuff out of it – and we have – then I’m happy.
Ryan: You left readers with a lot of loose ends at the end of Empire State, particularly with regards to the Enemy. Was this done to provide material for worldbuilders or do you intend on returning to this world in the future?
Adam: I’m quite a big fan of letting people work stuff out for themselves, so there is a lot in Empire State that is either unexplained or left hanging. The characters in the book don’t have a complete grasp of the situation, so it seems reasonable that there is a limit to what the reader can find out. But I wrote the book between six months and two years prior to the idea of Worldbuilder even being discussed, so it was just the way I wanted to write it.
But now I am writing a sequel, The Age Atomic, which is coming out in May 2013. I had a lot of stuff left over from Empire State, and some other areas I wanted to explore, but I didn’t want to write a sequel unless I had a story that needed to be told. So I just tinkered with my notes and talked about the ideas with various people – in fact, you can read some of that in the interview I did with Chuck Wendig, which appears in the back of Empire State – and slowly I had cool story that not only was one I thought had a solid plot, but which addressed a few things from the first book and tied up a few loose ends. Since Empire State came out, a lot of people have asked if I was doing another book, so the interest was there. And now that I had the right story, it was time.
The Age Atomic is a little different, as we’re now about 18 months on. The political situation in the US has changed, while things over in the Empire State are in a very precarious position. Rad stumbles across an investigation into something big by Empire State Special Agent Jennifer Jones which eventually leads him back to New York. Where, of course, something equally big is going down!
Ryan: If you were stuck on a desert island, who would you choose as a companion out of Rad, Carson, the Science Pirate and the Skyguard? Why?
Adam: I think it would have to be Rad. He’s a nice guy and I don’t think he’d get too annoying! Carson would be fun at first but eventually he’d drive you bonkers. The Science Pirate might once have been a hero, but she’s bitter and cocky and not really pleasant company I expect. The Skyguard may be a little better, but ultimately he’d be very boring! A bit like being stuck on a desert island with Superman.
Ryan: What is next on the horizon for Adam Christopher? Can we expect any new material before the end of 2012?
Adam: My second novel, Seven Wonders, is out in September this year. It’s an all-out superhero epic about an ordinary guy called Tony, who lives in the bustling Californian metropolis of San Ventura. The once-great city is under siege from the last supervillain in the world, The Cowl, while the city’s protectors, The Seven Wonders, refuse to lift a finger. Then one day Tony wakes up with superpowers and decides he can take down The Cowl himself, but he soon discovers The Seven Wonders aren’t as grateful as he assumed they’d be.
Following that is The Age Atomic, out in May 2013. And then I’ve got one more coming from Angry Robot, an urban fantasy called Hang Wire, which is due out in Spring 2014. Hang Wire is set in San Francisco, which is being stalked by a serial killer. A circus has arrived in town, and suspicion quickly falls on members of the troupe. Elsewhere, in the city’s famous Chinatown, there’s hidden magic and beneath the city, something is stirring. It’s fun to write something like this, which is all about magic and ancient gods and strange powers. And a guy called Ted. And, erm, exploding fortune cookies.
Ryan: Finally can you name three of your favourite fantasy books?
Adam: Hmm, tricky. What counts as fantasy these days? I’ll go for… Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.
Ryan: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Adam.
Adam: It’s been a pleasure!