Adam Christopher: The Terribleminds Interview, Part Two

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. This is the second part of that interview.

You’re a bit unique in that you were discovered — “discovered?” — as a writer on Twitter. Can you talk a little about being the first writer discovered on Twitter? How’d it happen?

Well, that’s true, I was “discovered” on Twitter, but not because I was deliberately using Twitter to find a publisher or to market a manuscript, and I certainly wasn’t tweeting Empire State line-by-line (although there are plenty of Twitter novel projects which do just that).

I joined Twitter in early 2009 because it seemed like a neat way to meet people with similar interests. I enjoy reading and writing and books, and I enjoy talking about those subjects with other readers, writers and fans. Twitter is great when you have a distinct interest like that, because there are very strong communities that grow up around them.

So when Angry Robot was launched, they started with a very strong online presence and I started following what they were doing pretty closely. Lee Harris, their editor, and I sort of bumped into each other on Twitter not just because of Angry Robot, but because we share similar interests in books, film, TV, and comics. Having got to know him online, we then met in person at a couple of events and got on well. Meanwhile, almost incidentally, Angry Robot became one of my favourite publishers because they produced some really good books – it became clear to me pretty early on that they were a very rare example of a publisher from which you could just buy anything on spec, regardless, because you could trust their judgment. I’m pleased to see they’ve now introduced the ebook subscription model, which does just that.

Anyway, all the while I was writing first Seven Wonders (my second full-length novel), and then Empire State, and was blogging my progress, as well as writing a few short stories here and there which got into places like Hub. Of course I tweeted about things like that, so everyone – Angry Robot included – knew what I was doing.

Then in mid-2010 I was going to be in Nottingham, where Angry Robot are based, and I dropped Lee and Marc a line to see if they wanted to grab lunch. We went to a pub, and over a drink and a bite to eat Lee mentioned that I had a short story in Hub that week (Lee is the publisher of Hub, although Hub is completely independent of Angry Robot). That got us talking about writing, and then Marc asked a very important question: Have you written anything longer?

I actually hadn’t gone to Nottingham with the intention of pitching Empire State, but the opportunity arose and I went for it. After confusing them for an hour, Marc said it sounded really interesting and he invited me to send the manuscript in when it was ready. I was just finishing off the final edit at that point, so it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I actually sent it in.

That meeting was really the key to it all, because Angry Robot don’t accept unagented submissions, unless they know who you are and invite it in. After sending in a synopsis, character sheet, the first five chapters and a brief document about my inspirations and intentions, it was another month or so before they said they liked what they’d seen, and would I please send in the whole manuscript.

Then time passed and Christmas came and everything sort of ground to a halt, as it does at that time of year! I had a couple of positive emails in the New Year saying they were still reading Empire State and still enjoying it, but the wait for a yes or no was pretty hard so, as any writer should, I just kept on trucking with other projects.

Finally I got word in February 2011 – on my birthday, no less, which happens to be Groundhog Day. I’m a fan of weird customs (and the Bill Murray film) so that day I was on a deadline for the day gig while keeping one eye on a live stream of Groundhog Day from Punxsutawney… while a plumber and gas engineer practically demolished the kitchen downstairs to install a new boiler. In the middle of all this, I got THE phone call from Lee.

So that was quite a birthday to remember!

To be honest, I never really thought of myself as being “discovered” on Twitter, because that implies I was doing something on Twitter like posting novel excerpts or somehow using it primarily to get Empire State sold. But really Twitter was just a place where I met the right people – Lee and Marc primarily, but also a multitude of writers and editors and publishers and agents and readers, all of whom are passionate about books and writing and who form the most amazing online community. A day or so after my Angry Robot deal was announced, Lee wrote a piece for The Bookseller’s Futurebook blog about how I had got the deal, revealing that he’d been surprised I have never pitched anything to Angry Robot for nearly two years until that lunchtime in Nottingham. I think that was interesting and important – I’d been watching them, they’d been watching me, and it was only when the time was right that it all came together.

Seems playing it cool paid off. Also, I think my whole experience does demonstrate some interesting facets of how publishing works. Publishing is partly who you know – which is why things like Twitter but also going to conventions and events are important, because you need to get out there and meet the people who might, one day, make it all happen for you. But this all has to be backed up with something – none of this would have been worth a dime if I hadn’t had a kick-ass manuscript to show and hadn’t been continuing to work on my craft.

How can authors use social media to improve their careers?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Social media (Twitter and Facebook predominantly) is a great innovation and obviously I think it’s tremendously important since it has pretty much launched my career! I met my publisher on Twitter and I met other writers, one of whom *cough* then introduced me to their agent, who in turn became my agent. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But I think it’s important to do a few things well rather than try and spread yourself around too thinly. My main focus is on Twitter and my website. I find Facebook too static, not to mention a great aggregator of spam, although it’s easy to keep it linked to Twitter and my blog and keep it up to date. Whatever you might think of one particular site or service, there will be people who absolutely love it and will use nothing else – for, this is Facebook, so it’s part of my job to use as best I can.

I use social media because I like talking to people and being part of the conversation. If you use social media because you want to and you enjoy it, not because you’re trying to sell a book or a story, then I think it’ll work well for you. Be yourself, but be professional (this is going to be the public face of your career, after all), and play it cool. As I said above, if you do have that killer manuscript or great idea and are working hard on it, then everything else will flow. Social media will provide you with the contacts and networks that might make it easier, when the time is right.

A better, and weirder question — how can authors use social media to improve their *stories?*

There’s actually an obvious answer to that – in fact, two answers.

Firstly, by meeting readers, writers, editors, artists, agents, creators, etc, you’ll expose yourself to a wealth of advice and opinion and material, everything from people discussing the writing process itself to great fiction (free online fiction, book recommendations, reviews, etc) and ideas. I think I’ve bought more books and have learnt more about writing in the three years on Twitter than at any time in the past!

Secondly, social media is a source of inspiration. You’ll meet people who are in the same position as you and people who have taken those next few steps that you hope to follow. The success of others should always be an inspiration and, in part, a motivator – everybody who gets a deal or creates something awesome is helping everybody else, and that’s always worth celebrating.

Social media is a terrific gathering point for weird and wonderful links and news. One of the primary functions of social media is the sharing of information. From information comes ideas, and ideas are the foundation of creative writing.

Deliver unto us a single-serving dollop of writing or storytelling advice that you yourself follow as a critical tip without which you might starve and die atop a glacier somewhere:

Finish what you start. That’s the key – in fact, that pretty much sums up novel writing (my particular chosen field) rather well. If you write a novel and you finish and it’s great, then you’ll have had an adventure and learnt a lot. If you write a novel and it’s horrible, then you’ll have had an adventure and learnt a lot. The dreams of millions of would-be novelists come to nothing simply because they give up. You have to keep going when times are good. You have to get going when times are bad. And over the course of a novel, there will be plenty of both. You can’t wait for your muse to appear and you can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to sit down and type the words and write the book. And when it sucks and it all goes wrong – and it will, believe me – you have to keep going. There’s no such thing as writer’s block and there’s no such thing as a dead end.

Sounds simple. I suspect a lot of people don’t get it though. And actually from this comes a piece of secondary advice – don’t edit as you go, finish the book first. Because what’s the point of spending three months polishing chapters 1-15 until they shine like mithril when (as mentioned above) your heroine goes and changes everything in chapter 16 in ways which were totally unforeseen and which (and here’s the kicker) require you to go back and adjust things in those first fifteen chapters. Which you’ve just wasted your time editing. You can’t see the whole thing – including what needs to be fixed and edited and changed – until you’ve reached the end.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Cavalcade. It’s a word that you really can’t use ever, because when the hell is there an opportunity? And if you ever did use it, people would start backing away slowly. Cavalcade? Cavalcade.

My favourite curse word is comparative mild: sonovabitch. It’s important that you string it all together. It’s great because it can be serious and it can be funny. I’m not such a fan of dropping anything much stronger than that in a story – but then again, if my characters swear, they swear. Ain’t nothing to do with me!

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

I have to go with non-alcoholic and say: tea. But I mean real, English tea. Not green tea, or Chinese tea, or herbal tea, or any variation. Tea tea. Cold milk. I’m going to be a heathen and say teabag tea is preferable to leaf tea as it produces a cleaner brew.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, game: something with great story. Go!

Ed Brubaker’s run on Catwoman from DC Comics. From 2001 to 2005 he wrote 37 out of 82 issues of this volume, and it’s basically the best damn comic book ever written, ever. I’d even go so far as to say issue 17 is the best single comic book issue I’ve ever read.

And I like me my comics.

Ed is one of those writers where you if you see his name on anything – comic or not – just buy it and read it. Satisfaction guaranteed.

That volume of Catwoman as a whole – all 82 issues of it – still stands as the best series DC ever ran. It was cancelled due to lack of sales… which is usually a good sign that there is something special going on. People often don’t get ‘special’.

Grab the trades or grab them digitally off Comixology (they look hot on an iPad – way better than on paper, dare I say). Start with issue 1. Keep reading. You’ll thank me.

Where are my pants?

Dude, we’ve been through this already. I didn’t know she had a thing for beards and how was I supposed to know it was against the law in Pennsylvania? Hell, I haven’t even BEEN to Fiji!

Got anything to pimp? Now’s the time!

My first novel is coming out from Angry Robot at the end of this year! It’s called Empire State, and it’s a science fiction noir, with detectives and trench coats and fedoras and gas masks and a dude in a white hood and rocket-powered superheroes. There’s robots, airships, speakeasies, mysterious butlers, dead bodies, and action.

It’s also one of those books that is hard to describe without giving it all away. But, essentially, it’s the story of Rad Bradley, a shabby private detective in the foggy, rainy city called the Empire State. He gets followed by a couple of strange, masked agents, and then rescued by a deceased superhero. To top it off, he’s then hired to find a missing person and quickly finds the body instead, which draws him into a conspiracy which crosses dimensions… because there’s another place, another city which bears a strange resemblance to the Empire State called New York, and Rad uncovers a threat to the existence of both.

Empire State is out in the US on December 27th, and in the UK on January 5th, and will also be available on the Kindle and from Angry Robot’s own ebook store as a DRM-free, region-free epub file. At the moment you can pre-order the US edition at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com – or just take a look at your favourite retailer. The UK and Kindle pre-orders will go online shortly.

Later in 2012 I’ve got another book coming from Angry Robot, Seven Wonders, which is out-and-out superheroes – it’s all spandex and primary colours and people shooting laser beams out of their eyes. I love comics, but more specifically I love superhero comics. Although I’ve tried and read an awful lot of comics and graphic novels across a whole range of genres, superheroes and crime are the only categories that have ever really worked for me in comics. There’s something primal about superheroes that strikes a chord within me – superheroes are, broadly speaking, about boundless optimism and limitless potential. So I wrote Seven Wonders as a big honking superhero adventure which tries to explore those themes. I’m still editing the manuscript, but it’s actually turned into the longest book I’ve written yet. It should be a lot of fun once I hammer it into shape!

What’s next after Seven Wonders? What are you working on now?

I’m lucky in a way in that when I got the deal with Angry Robot – and indeed when I found my agent – I already had a miniature back catalogue of completed novels. Angry Robot have an option on a third book, and my agent is working through another completed manuscript (science fiction) and a proposal (post-apocalyptic horror). But right now, after I’m done with the Seven Wonders edit, I’m starting a new novel called Night Pictures, which is about a woman coming back to her home town after the death of her mother and the disappearance of her sister. The town is a nice place in the country but there are some mighty odd things going on, including spooky sightings at a nearby ghost town and a mysterious pirate television station that comes and goes. Night Pictures is about nostalgia and memory and street light interference phenomena and parallel universes at the bottom of swimming pools. And people wearing Max Headroom masks.

I’m also one of those writers who has like a zillion ideas for stuff – I have a corkboard on my office wall with little index cards pinned to it, each one representing a future novel. There’s enough on the board for the next five years’ of writing! Plus, being on display like that means I see the board constantly, and am always reminded of titles, ideas, characters, etc. I think that’s a pretty good way to do it rather than just making a list which can be very easily forgotten about.

15 comments

  • With how many retweets I’ve seen, I am amazed this isn’t filled with comments yet. Great read – congratulations on getting the books picked up, Adam. I will absolutely be picking these up as finances allow.

    It’s great to read different ways that social media is enhancing attracting an audience, and how working it can definitely build your career. I don’t really believe it is all luck, though that plays a bit into (people happening to find each other across networks), and I think in our modern world that is akin to professional suicide to ignore social media. There are a few authors that have launched their careers by social media, and it seems that agents and publishers are paying very close attention to all those tweets and retweets.

  • I have known Adam for a while now since we served time in the same office. I was also lucky enough to beta read Empire State. It’s a great book, really enjoyable and I just know that it’s just the start from him. This interview is very illuminating and I think highlights what’s best about Adam’s approach to writing. Yes he has good ‘product’ and this is most important but he also has a tenacity, dedication and organisation that goes above and beyond that of mere mortals. When we were wage slaves together he was doing his day job at a very high standard whilst using every other waking moment (before breakfast, lunchtimes, after work) to do what he loves best which is writing. It must also be said that his other half Sandra must have the patience of a saint. Adam thoroughly deserves what is coming for him but it’s a misnomer for him to be known as ‘the guy that got a book deal from Twitter’. He got the book deal through years of bloody hard work and dedication. Twitter helped achieve his aim a little quicker. I’ve no doubt he would have achieved it anyway. As an amateur photographer he has helped me to realise that you cannot wait to be discovered or for things to ‘happen’. You need to get out there and ‘do’ using all the tools at your disposal.

  • Good luck with Empire State. It sounds like something I’d like.

    Talk of comics reminds me of one of my elderly aunts. I don’t recall books in her house, but there were stacks of comics, supposedly for visiting children, but not many kids visited. Yet, the comics were well-thumbed. She had superheroes, westerns, Archie, Scrooge McDuck.

    My mother mocked her behind her back, but I thought she was pretty cool. She died in her sleep one afternoon after telling dirty jokes to the other members of the retirement home. She had a young mind right to the end.

    O/T: Some nice person gave me a review on Amazon, and now I’m doing the Happy Dance.

  • The more I see and hear of Angry Robot, the more I like of them. It seems like they publish my kind of books. Plus, dude, how cool is their name?

    Awesome interview, and I gotta agree on the word cavalcade. Nice flow, rare usage–which is a shame, really.

  • Man, this is the best article on social media I’ve read. It completely shows what a smart writer can do with social media and the right motives. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I already have Empire State on pre-order from Amazon. Twitter seems to be buzzing with positive comments from the beta-readers. Can’t wait to get my copy.

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