I recently had a chance to chat with Adam Christopher, the writer of the recently reviewed Empire State and the upcoming sequel, The Age Atomic. In the following interview, Adam chats his influences, his love of superheroes and his attachment to tea.
Tell us a little about yourself. Did you always see yourself as a writer?
I’ve always written, right from an early age. It was, thankfully, part of schoolwork – one session a week called “process writing”. I’ve still got a couple of exercise books from primary school, and they’re filled with mash-ups of my two favorite things at the time – Doctor Who and ghosts!
I grew up in New Zealand, and in 1985 (when I was 8) TVNZ started a big repeat of Doctor Who, starting with a couple of Patrick Troughton stories, then running through everything from Jon Pertwee’s first story, Spearhead from Space, through to the final story of the original series, Survival. So while I’m an Eighties child, my Doctor is, oddly, the Third.
That started my love of science fiction, and again I was fortunate in that our primary school had a great little library filled with the Target Doctor Who novelizations all of The Chronicles of Narnia, a tonne of David Eddings fantasy. Not bad, really! So while I was watching Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 on TV I was reading The Magician’s Nephew and The Belgariad (and lots of books about ghosts), and I was writing science fiction and fantasy of my own. Looking back it was wonderful that these were all encouraged. I hope writing fiction is still part of schoolwork today, especially for young children.
I did drift away from writing for a while – I continued during high school but then had pretty much stopped during university. It was when I moved to the UK in late 2006 that I really started to pick it up again and rediscovered my love for it. I also realized that if this is what I wanted to do then I had to take it seriously – in fact, it had to be the number one thing in my life. It’s a sacrifice to make, sure, but it was worth it. My first novel was a steampunk occult fantasy thing, which is trunked (forever, I hope) but which taught me a lot about writing and how to sustain a story over 100,000 words or so. After that I wrote Seven Wonders and then Empire State – Empire State sold to Angry Robot in 2011, and they took on Seven Wonders as well, which ended up getting switched around in publication.
With The Age Atomic, did you envision writing a sequel to the critically acclaimed Empire State?
I knew that there was more I wanted to write in the world – given the nature of the story I could move forwards in time with relative ease, as the idea I had was for more of a pulpy 1950s science fiction story than a pulpy 1930s detective novel. There are robots in Empire State, but they’re more steampunk machines. I wanted to use robots again – this time a whole army of them – and having touched on Prohibition in the first book I wanted to move on to the Red Menace and the bizarre mix of optimism and paranoia that seemed to characterize America in the 1950s. Enter Atoms for Peace, and their legion of atomic robots!
And I like Rad, the main character of both books. He’s an everyman hero, dragged along by events, the reader taken with him. I must admit I kinda enjoy dumping him into the middle of these crazy and dangerous situations. Alternate universes in the first book, and now a madman building a robot army. He takes it all in his stride, bless him!
Crafting a novel with alternate versions of the same city certainly seems like a daunting task. Did you find yourself struggling with any part of the novel or did you have a clear vision when you initially put pen to paper?
For Empire State, I had my story – Raymond Chandler meets the Rocketeer in Gotham City – and I just wrote it without worrying about whether so many different elements would fit together. It’s got superheroes, a dash of steampunk, a pulp detective, alternate universes, but they were all in the story I wanted to tell and each element serves a purpose. The Age Atomic was a little easier, as having established the world, I could focus more on a straight science fiction story, albeit one that’s still a little weird.
In Empire State, due to Wartime being in force, the city rations commodities from its citizens. Rad laments only having a small amount of coffee, something that would probably destroy my own productivity. What would be the one commodity you’d dread having only a limited amount of?
Tea! I couldn’t live without it – I love coffee, and I’d miss it, but tea is essential. I’m not sure I’ve ever noted how much I drink a day, but it must be half a dozen mugs, at least.
1930s noir-style detective fiction is something I’ve really grown to appreciate. Are there any specific novels or authors that have influenced you in your writing?
The biggest influence on the Empire State world is Raymond Chandler, and my favorite novel of his is The Big Sleep. I only discovered Chandler relatively recently, in 2009, and quickly burned through his small body of work. I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with film noir, including adaptions of The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, but it’s a totally different form – these works need to be read. Chandler has a sparse poetry to his writing, and his mastery of simile is sublime – there’s something on nearly every page that makes me gasp in surprise!
Classic authors of that period include Chandler, Hammett, Mikey Spillane. Anything classified as hardboiled or noir is good for me! The Hard Case Crime imprint is a great place to start, as their catalogue includes pulp era reprints as well as new novels. And they’re beautifully done – my goodness, those covers!
You’ve gone on record in saying that you’ve used Twitter to meet your current agent. Do you view social media as an essential tool for any new author trying to get published?
That’s actually an interesting question. Is social media an essential tool for authors? Maybe. A lot of the time, yes; some of the time, no. Is social media an essential tool for any new author trying to get published? No.
Social media is just that – social. I got on Twitter because I wanted to meet people who liked the same kind of stuff as me – music, TV, film, comics, and books. I was also working on that first trunked novel and because I’d decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life and that I needed to take it seriously, I’d started a blog about writing. Mostly this was for my own benefit, a sort of diary of my progress, but naturally I’d link to posts on Twitter as well. But certainly I never used Twitter or any other platform to actively seek a publisher or agent – I intended to follow the whole traditional agent query method. As it happens I met Lee Harris, the editor at Angry Robot, on Twitter, and became friends because we had a shared interest in books, comics, film and TV. I didn’t meet my agent directly on Twitter, but was introduced to her by fellow author Chuck Wendig, who I had met online.
So it was all serendipitous and unplanned. So much in publishing is, I think – it’s a mix of hard work and luck. And while that might make it sound like it’s both difficult and random, it’s important to remember that while you can’t control what the “right time”, you can get yourself to the right place through dedication and hard work. Publishing largely is about meeting people, and it just so happened that I met the people that were right for me online, rather than in a convention bar, or after sending out queries and manuscript samples. It’s really no different, because after introductions were made I still had to back it up with a good manuscript.
But you have to be involved with social media because you want to. It’s useful but not for everyone, and if you force yourself to be involved with something that just doesn’t work for you, then there’s no point.
It can also be a huge time sink. There’s a modern-day proverb that says “If you’re a writer and you’re not on Twitter… you’re probably a good writer”. The work comes first, always. Because without the work, a writer doesn’t exist.
Angry Robot has been responsible for publishing some excellent fiction, present company included. You’ve established quite a working relationship with them releasing two books already, with two more on the way. Do you see yourself continuing to work with them further down the road?
Well, that would be great. They’re a midlist imprint but they’ve got the cool factor, and have released some monumental novels over the last couple of years. I’ve got more tales in the Empire State universe to tell, not to mention an urban fantasy adventure to send Jeannie from Seven Wonders on, and that’s just to start with. So… stay tuned!
The covers for both The Empire State and The Age Atomic are for lack of a better phrase, really cool. How did the design come together and are they similar to the original vision you had in mind?
The covers are phenomenal, and I’m so lucky to have Will Staehle as my artist for Angry Robot. Angry Robot ask their authors for ideas, imagery, motifs, etc, for their covers, and while – as with any publisher – they have the final word (because they know how book covers work to sell books, which is arcane and mysterious and not something an author is expected to be an expert in at all), they’re very receptive and open to suggestion.
Having said that, I really had no idea what the covers were going to be like! I sent a giant set of notes over of ideas and imagery for all four Angry Robot covers, and somehow Marc Gascoigne the publisher managed to untangle my emails and create a design brief, and from that Will managed to create some stunning design.
When the covers first arrive in your inbox, it really is like Christmas. For each of my covers, Will has actually provided several different designs, so then there’s about a week where Marc, Lee and I try to chose the right one. Again, they know what they’re doing and they know better than me what kind of cover will work, so the final decision is theirs, but in each case I’ve been delighted. I mean, basically for that week I sit there gibbering in front of my computer and staring at these little bits of wonder. I’m a lucky boy.
I believe you’re a self-professed superhero fan, even going so far as to write your own superhero based novel, Seven Wonders. Being a lover of comics, I need to know, who would you put your money on to win in a battle between Iron Man and Batman?
I love superheroes! I remember when I first discovered superhero comics (hey, I was 25, it wasn’t that long ago!) and it was like a switch had been flipped in my brain.
Iron Man versus Batman? Tricky, but I’d say Batman. Iron Man is about firepower, but Batman is more subtle that than – he’d find a weakness, exploit it, and pretty soon Tony Stark would be wrapped up in an unbreakable cable from Batman’s utility belt.
With apologies to Iron Man fans (hey, I count myself among them).
Are you reading any current comics at the moment – if so, any recommendations?
I’m currently reading a lot of the Marvel Now! comics, which seems to be like a soft reboot (certainly softer than DC’s New 52). I’m enjoying several titles, including Captain America, X-Men Legacy, The Spectacular Spider-Man and Iron Man. I’m very much looking forward to Wolverine, by Paul Cornell (which will be out by the time you read this). With DC I’m diving back into the Silver Age – I love the sheer insanity of titles like Superman’s Girl-Friend Lois Lane and The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Monkeybrain are a new publisher, and are producing a phenomenal range of comics – High Crimes, written by Christopher Sebela and drawn by Ibrahim Moustafa, is the comic I wish I’d thought of first! I love it, utterly. There’s also Edison Rex, Bandette, Masks and Mobsters, Red Light Properties. The Monkeybrain roster is a mighty one.
The new Star Wars series from Dark Horse (written by Brian Wood, art by Carlos D’Anda and with amazing covers by Alex Ross) is the comic I think Star Wars fans have been waiting years for. Highly recommended.
Looking back, if you could pick one, what was your favorite book of 2012?
Last year was a great one for fiction – if anything, 2013 looks even stronger. I read a lot of brilliant books last year. Favorites include Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues by Diana Rowland, The Testimony by James Smythe, Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin, The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen, Alpha by Greg Rucka, and This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs.
I also discovered two older works which are now my joint favorite books ever – Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin, and Veronica, by Nicholas Christopher (no relation!). Both are literary fantasies set in New York and both are incredible.
What’s on the horizon for Adam Christopher going forward? Anything you’re currently working on?
My fourth novel from Angry Robot, Hang Wire, drops in November this year. It’s an urban fantasy set in San Francisco about a Chinese god’s lost power, a sentient circus and a serial killer who strings his victims up with steel cable. After that comes my first novel from Tor Books (title TBD), a dark space opera about a forgotten war hero, a dead cosmonaut, a celebrity starminer, and something dark and monstrous from Japanese mythology. That’s out in March 2014.
Beyond that, I’ve got a couple of other novels I’m starting to ramp up, alongside a couple of comic projects – the first of which, The Sentinel, starts in April as part of VS Comics, a new digital anthology edited by Mike Garley and James Moran. The Sentinel is an urban fantasy crime series set in Prohibition New York, and is about a rookie cop who is killed and resurrected as an ancient Egyptian god of vengeance in order to fight The Network, a cabal of magicians who worship the New York subway system. This is my first comics work and I must say, I’ve enjoyed writing it immensely. It’s a completely different thing to novels, but both tap into that creative hotspot in my brain.
Check out the EXCLUSIVE teaser for The Age Atomic.
Check out Adam on the interwebs.
Follow Adam on Twitter – @ghostfinder
Attend the launch party for The Age Atomic!
Pre-order The Age Atomic.