Adam Christopher is a guy I can’t help but like. He’s a great writer, a good friend, and a guy who doesn’t quit when it comes to writing. He’s a machine, which is apropos then that he’s got a couple of books coming out with Angry Robot Books (those fine cybernetic madmen who will also be publishing my first two original novels) next year. And we also share uber-agent Stacia Decker. Anyway — the fact I was able to get him to stop writing for ten minutes so I could strap him to a table and fire Query Particles into his brain is something of a small miracle. Check out his website here, and follow him on Twitter. Oh! And this is a HUGE-ASS MOFO of an interview. Thus, it’s only the first part. Second part airs next week.
This is a blog about writing and storytelling, so before we do anything else, I’d like you to tell me – and, of course, the fine miscreants and deviants that read this site – a story. As short or long as you care to make it, as true or false as you see it.
Ask, and thou shalt receive:
GREEN EGGS AND HANDGUNS
by Adam Christopher
“Oh, you’d like it. Full of retired cops playing detective. Trenchcoats and hats and murders, the works.”
West raised an eyebrow and raised his glass. The ice silently rocked against the side of the tumbler as he took a sip. He replaced it on the microscopic table between him and Frances and wondered why the table was so small anyway.
“Death and Taxes, Arizona.”
West snorted. “Don’t tell me, retired accountants?”
Frances laughed and studied his own tumbler. The vintage Scotch looked great, it was just a shame it had no flavour at all.
“Oh, better than that,” he said. “Retired forensic accountants.”
“You’ll have to explain to me how that’s better that regular accountants.”
West shifted a little in his chair and glanced around the bar. It looked good. Authentic, with the right level of light (low) and the right kind of barman (surly). To the left of their table was a roaring fire which was silent and put out no heat. Okay, so some things would need fixing. Above, resting on two silver studs in the wall, hung a pistol next to a signed photograph of Walter Koenig. West wondered if the picture, at least, was real.
“That picture real?”
Frances shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“The gun then. I sure hope you’re going to use that.”
Before Frances could reply, a barmaid appeared out of nowhere, balancing a large, dark tray on one shoulder. She dipped down to unload her cargo and smiled sweetly at West. West smiled back, and wondered whether the food would be food or whether it wouldn’t be, like the Scotch. He was hungry, and he told Frances this as the girl placed a silver-domed plate in front of each of them. Somehow the table seemed a little bigger than it had been.
“There’s a lot to be tested, West,” said Frances. He winked at the barmaid as she turned to leave but she didn’t seem to notice he was there at all.
West reached for the cover on his plate but Frances tutted and waved his hand away.
“Allow me.” He lifted the cover with a flourish and a grin. The fire continued to be a pleasant screensaver out of the corner of West’s eye.
Under West’s cover was a smaller tray. On the tray was a plate with two eggs, sunny side up. The sun, on this occasion, was key lime green. On the tray next to the plate was a pistol.
West glanced at the other tray, which looked the same with two eggs with green yolks, except Frances had a revolver. The metalwork was ornately engraved and the white ivory handle handsomely worn. West’s was a more or less featureless automatic, all squares and rectangles and all business and no pleasure.
“The fuck is this?” asked West. There was a knife and fork on the tray too. West used them to lift his eggs and examine the undersides, in case a typewritten explanation from the kitchen was provided below. There was nothing there, and when the egg flopped back down the yolk was still a surprising colour.
Frances seemed less interested in the eggs and was busy eying up his piece.
“This is called ‘Green Eggs and Handguns.’”
“I had a toilet seat this exact same colour when I was living in Florida.”
Frances had tucked a napkin down his shirt front and looked about ready to start surgery. He lifted the knife and fork and then paused, and then pointed at West’s plate with the knife.
“Based on a kid’s story from, oh, long time ago. Hundreds of years. Written by Doctor Who or somesuch. Guy wore a striped hat.”
“No shit.” West slumped back in his chair and wondered why his gun was a government-issued relic while Frances had got the chef’s special.
“Who was your trainer again?”
Frances sliced an egg. The key lime yolk ran to perfection.
“Decker. Four-dimensional story simulation and immersion. Her speciality.”
“Huh.” West was more impressed with that than his simulated meal. “You know who I had?”
Frances ate and shook his head and spoke with a mouthful of green egg.
“No. Tell me.”
Frances coughed. “Wendig? You heard what happened to him?”
“I might have,” said West after a sip of Scotch with no flavour, texture or temperature. The sooner he was out of here and back in his cabin, the better. The drink was better, for a start.
“Wendig got brain baked. Took his class hostage, was convinced his beard was conspiring with the Feds. Real tinfoil hat stuff.”
“Oh,” said West. “Maybe I heard something else. I heard they let him retire gracefully, shipped him out to the Motherland. Took his brain out and turned him into a robot or something.”
“Mmm.” Frances had one eye on his gun. “Enough to piss anyone off.”
West smiled. “Oh, he was angry all right.”
West sat back and left his eggs and gun untouched, and watched Frances alternately shovel green yolk into his mouth and stroke the creamy handle of his shooter. The fire in the fireplace looped back to the beginning, and West wondered if maybe the barman had bugged out. He’d been polishing the same glass a mighty long time.
Nothing happened for a while longer. Frances took a thousand years to eat his eggs and West watched the fire and thought about taking a holiday somewhere sunny.
West leaned forward and the bar door crashed open. A man strode in, one hand pushing the door back, the other waving yet another fine handgun around like he was watering the grass. The man caught sight of West and Frances and walked over, quickly. He said something that neither West nor Frances could hear, then raised the gun and fired. West counted four shots, but later on Frances would insist there had only been two. It was something they’d need to work out later.
Satisfaction attained, the man holstered his weapon and sauntered out, buttocks tight like a bad John Wayne impersonation.
West looked down at his shirt. There were two holes, black and crinkled at the edges, showing where he’d been hit but there was no blood. After a second the holes faded away. Beta-testing.
Frances laughed. The sound was wet with key lime egg yolk and flavourless Scotch. West looked up from his shirt and looked at Frances. He frowned.
“What was that?”
Frances waved at the door through which the assassin had entered.
“Golden rule of writing.”
“Never write your novel in Bleeding Cowboy?”
Frances waved again and his eyes went tight and thin with frustration. “Jackass,” he said. “Golden rule: when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
West puffed his cheeks out. He wasn’t sure that Frances was such a good scenario programmer as he thought he was this morning. That was before he’d asked West to join him in the simulation suite and run his story with him.
West stretched, and watched the fire awhile, perhaps happy that he hadn’t tried the eggs. Frances ordered two more Scotches on the rocks. The drinks arrived and the pair drank, for effect if nothing else. The chairs were comfortable, and that was something.
“Truth and Consequences, New Mexico. Popular with retired cowboys.”
West shook his head and watched the ice move in his tumbler.
“Ridiculous. Now I know you’re making it up.”
How would you describe your writing or storytelling style?
That’s actually a pretty difficult question, because it’s not something I really think about. I like to write what I like to write, right? So that just means taking an idea that excites me and that I feel I have to tell the world about, and write a book about it. It could be SF, it could be horror, it could be noir, it could be a mix of all those and more besides.
So if the idea – the story – is king, and if I’m not particularly bound by genre, then I’d have to say the same rules apply to my writing style. My writing style is whatever suits the idea or story being told. It all has to come naturally – you can’t write a story that doesn’t excite you, and you can’t write in a style that isn’t yours. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change – I’ve written steampunk in baroque, Victorian first-person. I’ve written science fiction in a clean, natural style. I’ve written science fiction in a pulp, noirish style. If it works, it works. It should never be artificial – people (and yourself, as the writer) will spot it a mile off. Don’t try too hard. Don’t think, write.
Style is of course different to voice, and voice is one of those intangible X-factors of writing that only really becomes apparent with time. I think I’m still in the process of finding my voice, although there is definitely something there now having written about half a dozen full-length novels – voice is something you discover. Certainly other people say I have a strong voice, even if I find it hard to pin down myself.
What’s awesome about being a writer or storyteller?
You know how some people get excited when they go into a stationery store? All those blank notebooks and clean paper and new pens. It’s all there for the taking and there are, at that single point in time when you walk in the door, no limits. My wife is like that. Please, whatever you do, don’t ask her about stationery.
Writing is the same. There are no limits and no restrictions. When you have an idea, and that idea drives you to create something, there is nothing like it. You’re creating worlds, characters, events and situations which are brand new and which, if you’re doing it right, will start to take on a life of their own inside your head. This is the bit where non-writers start to think I’m barking, but it’s true. When your heroine makes a decision in the middle of a story that wasn’t in your outline, that wasn’t in your chapter breakdown, and that opens a whole new door in the story that you – as the writer – had no idea was there… well, that’s pure creation, and it is the reason I’m a writer.
Conversely, what sucks about it?
The flipside to this wonderful art of creation is the fact that writing is a job and publishing is a business, and this means there is stuff you have to do that isn’t your favourite thing in the whole world ever. However, that’s the same with every job in the world, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it sucks. The worst part for me is editing, but as with any writer it’s a kind of love-hate relationship. I want my story, book, whatever to be the best thing I am capable of producing. This takes a boatload of work, and often the editing is just as an intensive and time-consuming process as the writing. There are times, at 2am when you’ve read your novel so many times you have no clue whether it is good or bad or not – it’s just so many words – that you can feel like throwing it all in and applying for a job with your local parks department so you can at least get some damn sunlight.
But all writers feel like this. Even the big ones. It’s all part of it, and if you can’t accept that then perhaps you really are in the wrong job.
I guess that can be distilled down to one thing that sucks: time. Time away from friends and family, time mashing a keyboard at weekends, on holidays, at Christmas.
But with every investment, there should be a reward. That’s the way the world works, not just writing.
Okay. You say that every investment should yield a reward. That makes me want to ask: how do you reward yourself after finishing a big writing project? Do you do anything for yourself?
Every time I hit some kind of milestone – not just in terms of writing, but also the business side of publishing, like signing a contract or reaching some particular time point on a project – my wife and I go out for dinner. Hey, we like to eat… and we happen to live just a few minutes from a really awesome steakhouse! Both of us are pretty busy people so having a nice night out together is a pretty sweet reward. That seems to be a more meaningful reward than buying something… but I reserve the right to change my mind when the money gets better! And I’ve always fancied a 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car…
Look for the next part of the interview next Thursday!