Tuesday 21 January 2014

This week I've been chatting with Adam Christopher, who is about to bring out not one, but two books, with two publishers shortly. He is running a fantastic competition here: http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/hang-wire-starred-review-advance-praise-for-the-burning-dark-and-the-awesomely-kick-ass-pre-order-contest/

Here is my review of one them (Hang wire) and my interview with him:

Hang wire by Adam Christopher

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of this book from Angry Robot which is due to be published end of Jan/beginning of Feb 2014 (US/UK have different publication dates).
Ted Hall works for a blog in San Francisco and on an evening out in a Chinese restaurant his fortune cookie explodes in his face. After that he starts to lose time, seems to be sleepwalking and is writing on his laptop in the middle of the night in Chinese. He’s worried as his night walking seems to coincide with a grisly set of murders committed by a new serial killer in town, nicknamed the “Hang Wire killer” by the media. Is it coincidence that a new circus is in town, one that has a new acrobatic star called Highwire? One where the vintage carousel has a monkey with ruby eyes at its centre? One where the manager wears an old fashioned stovepipe hat and has one completely grey eye. And who is the beach bum who teaches ballroom dancing really? And what’s the link to the big quake of 1906?


Christopher parcels his plot detail out in small increments as the story unfolds keeping you guessing at what is really going on for a goodly proportion of the book. For me this is an effective technique and one that can draw you slowly onwards. In a lesser writer’s hands this could be annoying or just confusing, but in Christopher’s capable hands it builds well and reaches a satisfactory conclusion in time for the action to really kick in in the last section of the book.

There were a few minor niggles for me, not enough to really throw me out of the story or hamper my enjoyment too much though. There is a bit of repetition of information , and the characters could have felt a little more real.
The worldbuilding is light but effective and the plot runs along at a fair pace with some great imagery.
Black hands reached up toward him. He bent over, reached down, and then a black hand was in his. It burned like fire, although it was cold, so very, very cold. The hand pulled him forward with surprising force; then another burst through the black dirt and grabbed his forearm, then another his elbow. Robert toppled head-first into the trench as the black figures – two, three, four – emerged from the ground.


Overall - Being an Angry Robot book you expect it’ to be pacy and intelligent with good plotting and Christopher really delivers. Recommended.

Many thanks to Adam for agreeing to answer a few questions:
BBB - You have two books out next year, Hang Wire and The Burning Dark and you’ve mentioned that you were editing both books at the same time. How big a challenge was that?
AC - I’m not going to pretend – it was tough going! Both Hang Wire and The Burning Dark needed a lot of work. Hang Wire was a re-write of a manuscript I wrote a while ago, which not only needed straightening out but required a whole new chunk of text. Normally that’s no problem – work is work – but at the same time, the end of The Burning Dark needed to be redone after my editor, Paul Stevens, made a single tiny comment on one line, something along the lines of “This is really cool. Shame we don’t see it again.” At that moment, I realised how the book really should have ended, so I lopped off the last third of the text and wrote it again. It was a lot of work, but it was exactly what I had to do. But writing IS rewriting, and there is no book that can’t be edited again, and again, and again. That’s actually the part I enjoy the most – taking the raw draft of a novel and carving the real story out of it. It’s immensely satisfying.
The only problem was that I was doing the same kind of extensive work on two books at once. From October 2012 to August 2013, I was editing. Editing is weird because at the end of it, you just have the same book, and it’s hard to measure progress – unlike writing, where you can count words and feel like you’re getting somewhere. But although I didn’t have a new book written – like I had planned – I probably wrote more than 100,000 words as part of the edit anyway.
I’d rather not do that again, though!
BBB - Following on from that how has it been working with two different publishers at the same time?
AC - It’s been really cool and very interesting, because they’re really so different. Angry Robot are small and cool, and can turn things around quickly. With a small stable of authors and a small staff, you get to know everybody and figure out how the best ways to do things.
Tor are gigantic – I don’t even quite know how many editors they have! So it’s a totally different way of doing things – timelines are much longer, production schedules (and by extension work deadlines) are completely different. Everything is scaled up exponentially, as you would expect. Titan, who are publishing The Burning Dark outside of North America, fall somewhere in the middle in terms of size.
So it’s a matter of adapting to different ways of doing things. But essentially it comes down to the same thing – find the right editor, one who really gets what you’re doing and works hard with you on the book, and everything else is secondary. Almost, anyway!
BBB - If you could be a character from the book who would it be and why?
AC - From Hang Wire, it would have to be Bob, although I’m not sure we have that much in common, what with him being an exiled god who teaches ballroom dancing on a beach. But he’s chilled out most of the time. He’d be nice to hang out with.
From The Burning Dark… I’m not sure! Quite possibly the shuttle pilot at the beginning who drops the protagonist, Ida, off at the space station Coast City, then gets the hell out of there! The Shadow system is not a place you want to stop at for long.
BBB - You’ve mentioned on your website that your writing process evolved with this book – can you elaborate?
AC - Hang Wire was interesting because the original version of the manuscript was about three years old, at least. So when I dug it out to work on the edit/rewrite, it felt completely alien. I’ve changed a lot as a writer since I finished that draft, and while I recognized most of it, I couldn’t remember specifics. One thing that struck me, coming back to a first draft after so long, was how different my writing style was. I’ve written a lot in the last three years, and when you write a lot, you get better – or at least that’s the idea. It’s not even conscious most of the time. Your brain just figures stuff out and you learn from just writing and writing and writing.
There’s a lot of that original draft still in the book, of course – I didn’t throw it all out and start again. Incorporating new material with the old, and rewriting the original text, was a great experience, because I could see how I have developed over the last few years.
BBB - What are you most proud of about the book?
AC - Tough question! I think the book is pretty fun. I enjoyed going a little crazy with mythologies. My favourite bits are probably the interludes that follow Joel Duvall, a 19th century wanderer who finds something nasty in an Oklahoma wasteland – so I guess he’s what I’m most proud of. His scenes practically wrote themselves. I’m kinda wondering whether he might turn up again in something else.
BBB - You’ve got a pretty special book launch planned for the two books, can you tell me a bit about the plans for the night?
AC - It’s still at the planning stages, but it’ll be fun – Angry Robot and Titan are joining forces to host the launch at the Forbidden Planet megastore in London on March 6th. Because I have two books from two publishers out so close to each other, it made sense to do a combined launch.
There’s going to be a strawberry liqueur, which is the favourite tipple of one of the characters in The Burning Dark. There’s also going to be fortune cookies, which play a big role in Hang Wire. And there will be some giveaways too. And more! But I’m sworn to secrecy!
The launch kicks off at 6pm!
BBB - Talking about your short stories for a bit, what do you most enjoy about short stories?
AC - Actually, not much! I have to be honest – I don’t like short stories. I don’t like writing them. I don’t like reading them. I need something way more substantial to hold my interest.
Of course, I have written them, but it’s about the hardest kind of writing there is for me. The ones I have done came about because a specific idea arrived in my head, unexpectedly. I have never consciously decided to sit down and write a short story. So those I have done have been few and far between.
I’m quite partial to novella and novelette-length fiction, though. I discovered this by accident when I wrote Cold War, a short tie-in piece to The Burning Dark for Tor.com. I had the idea, started writing it, and before I knew it I was at 11,000 words! The same thing happened with another Tor.com short which will be published later this year; my editor and I briefly chatted about it, I started writing it – and it came to 12,000 words! So in terms of “short” fiction, that seems to be about my natural length.
While I may not be interested in short fiction, specifically – and I don’t really seek it out to read – I have to say I am rather awestruck by those writers who can do it well, and I’ve read shorts that make me weep with envy. Maybe it’s a skill I wished I had!
BBB - Which one of the worlds in your books would you like to explore more via short stories?
AC - If I did, it would probably be Empire State. I’m quite attached to that world. There’s also plenty of scope in Seven Wonders. I do have ideas for more stories in those two universes – but it’s all novel-length fiction.
There’s also a lot to explore in the universe of The Burning Dark. This is far-future space opera, with all of humanity united against a relentless, gestalt machine intelligence. The possibilities for stories are endless.
BBB - Do short story ideas occur to you whilst working on a novel? If so do you then find yourself using them to take a break from the novel?
AC - No, for two reasons. Like I said, I don’t like short fiction so I don’t really think about it much. But secondly, if I’m writing a book, I’m on a deadline, and I’m usually running late! The books take precedence, always.
There is an exception to that, and that’s when I’ve been specifically asked to write something else. Cold War, for example, was written while I was working on the draft of The Jovian Conspiracy, the second book in the Spider Wars series. Likewise, the next Tor.com novelette. But in both cases, I had discussed the stories with my editor first. It’s not quite the same as being commissioned, but on the other hand I didn’t just stop working on the book and write something new just for the hell of it.
BBB - You have described Hang Wire as “god punk weird/dark urban fantasy” Do you find genre labels useful or restrictive?
AC - They’re useful for readers, for marketing, and for booksellers who need to figure out where to shelve a book. I never think of the genre before I start writing – a lot of writers write epic fantasy, or space opera, and stick to their genre because that’s what they love. My interests float around a little, so I just write the story that needs to be written and worry about the genre later. Possibly the only exception to that is a crime novel I’m writing this year – that needed to be a conscious choice, otherwise I end up sticking a robot in it somewhere.
BBB - Since it is close to New Years are you the sort of person that sets resolutions? If so any you’d care to share?
IAC - didn’t make any resolutions, but I did make a set of promises to myself: work harder, work smarter, use time effectively. This year is going to be my busiest yet, so I need to keep on track.
BBB - And looking back at 2013 what were your personal highlights and which one book did you read in 2013 that you think deserves a wider audience?
AC - 2013 was a good year for me – Hang Wire and The Burning Dark got finished. I sold two more in the Spider Wars series to Tor, and then Titan bought the UK rights to all three books. A few other projects got the go-ahead, including a cool collaboration that I’m really looking forward to.
It was also a great year for books – I really enjoyed American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty, and Vicious by V.E. Schwab. It was also the year I discovered mystery writer Grand Master Lawrence Block via his new novel Hit Me. I’d recommend any of those.
BBB - You seem to have plenty of projects on the go. Is 2014 going to be an especially busy year for you? What can we expect apart from the two books coming out at the beginning of the year?
AC - Yes, 2014 is definitely busy. So there’s Hang Wire and The Burning Dark, and two novelettes which I’ve already mentioned – Cold War and the other one which hasn’t been announced yet. The other stuff I’m working on probably won’t appear until 2015 at the earliest, but there might be a couple of announcements here and there. I’ve got “literary” urban fantasy to finish, a crime novel to write, and another SF novel, in addition to The Jovian Conspiracy, which I’m working on now. I’ve got some comics work in the pipeline too – nothing I can talk about yet, except that they’re joint ventures with myself and author Chuck Wendig. We’re super excited about them too and can’t wait for all to be revealed.
BBB - And finally in one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?
AC - Keep writing. Don’t stop writing. Oh, that’s two sentences, right? But that’s the key. Keep writing. Even when it sucks and you hate it and it’s too hard and you’re convinced you’re the worst writer in the world. Keep writing. Don’t stop writing. Finish it, then start the next one. Rinse and repeat.

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