Adam Christopher is the debut author of Empire State, an ambitious parallel world, science fiction, detective noir standalone novel released in early January 2012. Recently, I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy of Empire State and found it to be a fast-paced, exciting and unique read complete with memorable characters, a fascinating setting, and near-endless plot twists. The next logical step was to contact Adam himself to find out more about the man behind the book. Thankfully, he was more than happy to answer some questions.
Introducing Adam Christopher
Hi Adam, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview.
It’s a pleasure!
Empire State is your debut novel. How does it feel to see your work in print? Was it a long road or a pleasant surprise?
Every writer says this, but so they should: having a book published is a dream come true, literally. Writing a novel is a heck of lot of hard work, and it’s a very solitary pursuit. So when you finally do show it to someone and they like it enough to buy it, there is nothing to beat that feeling.
It was a long road. I’ve been writing since I was about seven years old, but I realized about five years ago that I really had to take it seriously if anything was going to happen. Empire State was the third novel I completed, although the first that I actually got into good enough shape to submit it anywhere. Of course it was a surprise when I got that phone call from Angry Robot (on my birthday, no less!). “Pleasant” is not how I’d describe it. I’d go for something like “the most incredible day of my life.”
It’s a combination of hard graft and pure luck: the right book at the right time for the right publisher. I’m completely aware that I got a very lucky break with Angry Robot—I met Lee and Marco on Twitter; they were the first and only publisher to see Empire State; Empire State was my first novel submission anywhere. And they said yes! But that is something I will never take for granted, and it also just goes to show that everyone’s road to publication is different, and that there is no secret or shortcut. The only thing you can do it keep on trucking—keep writing, keep submitting, keep building contacts, keep working. As they say, there is a word for writers who never give up: published. And Empire State might have been my first submission, but that book was the result of a year of writing and the preceding twenty-odd years of practice.
I assume that you don’t intend to rest on your laurels. Do you have other big projects planned? Can you give us any idea of what to expect from you in the future?
I have another book coming from Angry Robot in August or September 2012 called Seven Wonders, which is a big superhero adventure—plenty of brightly-coloured spandex, people shooting laser beams out of their eyes, that kind of thing. Oddly enough, it was actually written before Empire State, but is coming out afterwards. I’m lucky in a way in that I have a backlog of novels to work on. Seven Wonders and Empire State were my second and third, respectively, and since then I’ve added another three. I don’t stick to genres, either; Seven Wonders is pure superhero fiction and, while Empire State has superheroes in it, I think of it as science fiction. But I’ve written a steampunk novel, a space opera, and even a godpunk crime novel. At the moment, I’m working on the edits to one of those, and I’m also halfway through a brand new manuscript which is a sort of science fiction/urban fantasy about television broadcast signal intrusion, intelligent noise and parallel universes at the bottom of swimming pools (I appear to be partial to parallel universes!).
I’ve got a corkboard on the wall in my office which is covered with little index cards. Each represents an idea for a single novel. At the moment, there are enough cards to last me 15 years of novel writing—although, to be fair, some of those cards will be combined into single concepts. That’s what happened with Empire State—there were about three index cards that I suddenly realized fitted together into a single book. That’s also why I use an actual corkboard and cards instead of just making a list on my computer. I need to be able to see that board every single day, so my subconscious can get to work in the background, putting the pieces together.
I’ve heard you had quite some success with your short fiction before Empire State. Apart from the obvious, what were some of the main differences you found between writing short stories and writing a full length novel?
Short and long fiction are two completely different forms of writing, and I think there is hardly any relation between them. Some people may still offer the very old fashioned advice that to make it as a novelist, you first have to cut your teeth writing short fiction, but I think that’s not true at all. Today, the short fiction market is a very niche one and is continuing to shrink, and I think there is even separation of the audience these days, so success in one form won’t necessarily translate to success in the other. But more importantly writing short fiction will teach you nothing about writing long fiction other than the very basics of the craft, which you can pick up from trying your hand at a novel anyway. My advice, such as it is, is that if you want to write a novel, write a novel.
So while I have written some short fiction, it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. My short stories were only written because the idea for each came to me unexpectedly and needed to be written, but that’s a rare event. That some of them were longlisted for various awards, including the BFS and BSFA awards, was quite a surprise! I would never sit down to deliberately write a short story, it’s just not how my brain is wired. Likewise, I don’t enjoy reading them—give me a novel, any day!
Creating the Empire State
One of my favorite aspects of Empire State was that it contained so many unexpected twists and turns. For the majority of the novel, I had absolutely no idea how it things were going to play out, and it continued to surprise me right up until the last page. Did it ever surprise you while you were writing it? Or did you already have all these developments planned out from the start?
A bit of both, actually. Empire State was outlined, although my outlines are a little loose. Basically I make a list of chapters from 1 to 40, add in the key scenes, events or moments—the beginning, middle, and end—and then connect them up to make a continuous narrative.
I work like this because once I start writing, things will start to happen that I didn’t expect or plan. When things are going well, the characters come to life in my head and start making their own decisions and piloting the story in completely new directions. This is logical, because as the story progresses I learn more about the characters and how they react to and behave in certain circumstances, which is information I didn’t have when I was doing the outline. So the storyline often takes twists and turns that I didn’t expect. Often I’ll go back to that original outline and adjust it, or make some notes on how and where to steer the story back on course. Which means spending too much time writing a detailed outline at the start seems like a bit of waste, as it’s going to change significantly anyway.
Empire State does have a number of twists in it, and a couple of big ones were a total surprise. There is one in particular near the end which really threw me—I remember writing it, then sitting back and staring at the screen for a while, wondering what the hell the character in question was doing! But then I understood his motivation and what his own agenda was, and it became clear.
Things like that are the best thing about writing—pure creation, when not even the writer knows what will happen next!
Empire State contains some truly fascinating characters. Do you get your inspiration for them from anywhere in particular? Do they develop slowly or just waltz into your mind almost fully formed?
Because I wanted to write a science fiction pulp detective novel, I knew I had to have certain characters and that they would fulfill certain archetypes. So there’s the down-and-out private detective, the dame, the mysterious friend, etc. Rad and Captain Carson were the first characters, Carson from a jokey title that some friends challenged me to write in true pulp style—Captain Carson and the Case of the Robot Zombie (which I’m tempted to write as a short for the Worldbuilder project). Rad and Carson were the most fully formed, but even so, when they appeared on the page they took on their true personalities.
The Pastor of Lost Souls is an interesting character. I wanted to infuse the story with as much feel of the Golden Age of superhero comics as I could, so apart from a couple of rocket-powered superheroes and mysterious agents in gas masks and fedoras (shades of Wesley Dodds there!), I wanted to represent the establishment which, a little later in our own world, eventually fought the comics industry. This blended in with the various organizations and people who championed Prohibition with righteous fervor, creating a hooded cult leader who wrote a book called The Seduction of the Innocent. The Pastor is not a pleasant man.
One character, the Chairman of the City Commissioners, is actually a real historical figure, although I’m assuming my version is nothing like the original!
Do you have a favorite character in your novel? If so, who is it and why?
I think it has to be Rad—he’s the kind of guy who I’d be happy writing forever. He’s smart, he knows he is past his prime, but he’s a fighter and one not to give up. It doesn’t matter what situation he is in—even ones totally beyond his understanding as in Empire State—he tries his darndest to do the right thing. I suspect “keep on trucking” is his motto, too.
Have you been to New York City? What about that particular city suggested it to you as a setting for your story?
I have, although prior to writing Empire State, only briefly. It wasn’t until September 2011 that I actually had a proper look around—and I was relieved I had represented it pretty well in the book! Being a noirish pulp novel about a private detective, I needed to set it in a big city in America. I’ve always been fascinated by New York state’s nickname of the Empire State, and thought it would be a cracking title for a novel. Plus, New York in the 1930s is such a fascinating place, central to the history of Prohibition and comic books.
Empire State contains elements of many genres and successfully mashes them together to create something unique. Were you ever worried that they wouldn’t successfully blend? What are your favorite things about some of these genres and what do you think they bring to The Empire State as a whole?
Empire State certainly is a mix, and there was a lot of stuff I wanted to meld together. If anything didn’t work as I was writing it, I took it out, but overall I think things fitted themselves together pretty well. Having said that, the first draft of the book is quite different to the published novel. But then, what first draft isn’t?
Writing detective noir is fun, especially setting it in the 1930s, where it originated. I think a lot of the enjoyment I had with Empire State was the fact that it was all period—Golden Age superheroes, Prohibition, wisecracking detectives, agents in gas masks. Although it’s a lot of material and ideas, I think they belong together, even if the end result is a little trippy!
Do you think there is any chance you might return to the world of the Empire State in future works?
I have some notes on what happens next, both for Rad and the others immediately, and also looking at the long-term story. However, I have no particular plans to write a sequel; I tend to prefer standalone novels. But, never say never. Of course with the Worldbuilder project kicking off, there’s going to be a whole year of Empire State-related stuff being created, which is tremendously exciting.
Reader responses, Worldbuilder, and the other Adam Christopher
How do you envisage readers responding to your books? If you could choose just one thing for each reader to take away from your work, what would it be?
That’s such a difficult question! My primary aim is to entertain—if I can give readers a few hours of enjoyment and escapism, then that’s my job done and I’m happy! I guess with the Worldbuilder, we’re inviting readers to take a closer interest than most books and get involved. So really, if Empire State can inspire others to create something in the same world (be it fiction, comics, art, music, anything at all) and to expand that world beyond what I created, then that would be marvelous.
But in the end it’s the story of one man against the world. I hope people enjoy Rad Bradley’s adventure.
Time for a creative question. Empire State deals with countless examples of doubles and contradictions, not the least of which is the setting itself. If you had a double who resided in the Empire State, who would he be and what do you think he would be like?
Hehheh. There is another me, I’m sure of it. He lives way uptown, in a secret lair somewhere in the alternate Harlem. He’s working on a master plan and he might be building an army. He’s my dark side, distilled, like the evil Captain Kirk from The Enemy Within. I’m not sure I’d like to meet him in a dark alley!
Empire State is to be used as the basis for Angry Robot’s first Worldbuilder project. How do you feel about others using your work as a basis for their own creative endeavors? Are you excited to see what people come up with? Have you seen any yet?
The Worldbuilder project is tremendously exciting. Empire State may be a science fiction noir, but there is so much scope—literally, anything is possible.
A lot of people have asked whether I’m nervous, allowing others to step in take control of my creations, but I’m not at all. The Worldbuilder has rules, although they are pretty loose, and there are gatekeepers—me as the creator and owner of the original work, Angry Robot editor Lee Harris, and Mur Lafferty, who is both manager and producer. While anyone can create content for the Worldbuilder and submit it to empirestate.cc, it gets reviewed by the three of us first before going online. Then the best of the online submissions will be selected and go into the quarterly anthologies alongside commissioned work by professional creators.
A few of the pros have been announced already—Hugo award-winning writer and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal is doing a toy theater/puppet show, and renowned writer James Patrick Kelly is doing a short story. I’ve heard a bit about his contribution, and it sounds completely insane! There are some other as-yet unannounced projects which I have seen bits of, and each and every time I’ve been totally blown away. It’s amazing. There are people out there—talented, creative, famous people—making original content based on a book that I wrote. That’s crazy and wonderful.
Submissions to empirestate.cc open in January 2012, and already I’ve had people getting in touch to tell me what they plan on doing. Obviously, I’m not going to influence anything, but I can at least thank them and offer my encouragement. It’s terrific. It’s going to be a blast.
Is there any question you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview but no one has touched on yet? If so what is it and how would you answer?
So far nobody has asked me what my favourite MC Hammer track is. The answer is not “U Can’t Touch This,” as many may assume, but “Dancin’ Machine.” Trust me, it’s quite the superior track. I recommend it.
Oh, you mean writing-wise? Well, it’s early days yet. Come back in a year and ask me!
Thanks heaps for your time Adam! Personally I’ll be eagerly anticipating your future works and I’m sure many others will be doing the same.
Adam’s debut novel, Empire State, was officially released on the 5th of January 2011 and we wholeheartedly recommend you pick up a copy.