Ten Questions About The Age Atomic, By Adam Christopher
Adam Christopher’s a heckuva writer and an all-around nice dude — I’d talked to him online for a while but was fortunate enough to meet him at WorldCon this past year, where he, Stephen Blackmoore, Gwenda Bond, Laura Lam Kim Curran and I started an illegal gambling ring and incited a war between the fans of George R. R. Martin and an escalator. (Sorry, House Escalator.) It was good times. Anyway, Adam’s got a new book out — sequel to the much-loved Empire State — and here’s what I said about it: ““If you’re not careful, Adam Christopher will melt your face off with The Age Atomic: the heat of the prose pairs with searing action. This is fireball storytelling and a rare follow-up that’s better than its predecessor.” Now here’s what he is going to say about it in another interview here at the blog:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
My name is Adam Christopher, and I’m a novelist. I’m from New Zealand originally, but I now live in the North West of England (I came for the weather, clearly). I’m a comics geek and a New York City history junkie. I don’t like olives, but I do like tea. And pancakes. Especially pancakes. I’m a music fan and can (and do) bore the pants off everyone on Twitter with in-depth analysis of my favorite band, The Cure. My favorite film is Ghostbusters. My favorite novels are Veronica by Nicholas Christopher (no relation) and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and my favourite author is Stephen King. My favorite painting is Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.
My debut novel, Empire State, came out from Angry Robot in January 2012, followed by Seven Wonders in September the same year. My new novel, The Age Atomic, is a sequel to Empire State. It has a very green cover, and is out right now!
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Private detective Rad Bradley must stop the quantum ghost of a Manhattan suicide destroying two universes with her army of atomic robots.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
Funnily enough, it came from that interview I did with you that was included as a bonus feature at the back of Empire State. You asked me about a sequel and I imagined what another book set in this world might be like… and realized I had an idea! I also realized that the world I had created was far larger than I had originally conceived, and I wanted to show a bit more of that in another book.
I love the history of New York City, and am constantly accumulating little facts and nuggets of strange information, purely because this is the kind of stuff that fascinates me – forgotten people and places, strange buildings and lost little bits of history. But with the backbone of the plot emerging in my head, like one of Stephen King’s story fossils, I knew I had a lot of real-life weirdness that would work brilliantly in the story. Empire State features on Judge Joseph Crater, who in our universe vanished from a Manhattan street in August 1930. He fitted the story I needed to tell in that book, and I wanted again to use real-life characters in The Age Atomic. Enter Evelyn McHale and the Cloud Club, a car called the Phantom Corsair, a cigarette-smoking robot called Elektro, and a tree stump in a theatre in Harlem which, in the Empire State, remains a still-living tree.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
New York history. Alternate universes. A pulpy detective with a natty hat. Genre-mashing retro sci-fi (kinda) with a twisting plot and hidden agendas. I’d like to think that could only describe Empire State and The Age Atomic. I’d like to think that these books – like any I have written or will write – are a little slice of me.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THE AGE ATOMIC?
The hardest thing was knowing how much of the backstory and setting to include from the first book, Empire State. This is the first time I’ve written a sequel, and I wanted to write it as a standalone novel so people could pick it up and enjoy it without necessarily having read the first book. That was a fine act to balance – you can’t just come in cold and expect everyone to know the setting and the returning characters, but at the opposite end of the spectrum is a book filled with “As you know, Bob…” exposition. It was something I had to keep constantly in mind, and was in itself a fascinating exercise in writing. Oddly enough – although I may be wrong here – it’s not something I’ve heard authors talk about much, so although it must be an experience common to many, I felt a little like I was in uncharted territory, for myself, anyway.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING THE AGE ATOMIC?
The nature of writing a sequel, as mentioned above, and what a sequel actually is, was the most important thing I learned, for sure.
But this was the sixth-and-a-half(th) novel I’d written, and over the course of those books I’ve found the development of the writing process and my own style fascinating. And I’m still learning – book one was different to book two as book two was different to book three and four and five. To see your own craft continue to evolve like that, hopefully getting better and better, is pretty satisfying. It’s a lifelong process for a writer, of course, but that’s why a life spent writing is a wonderful thing.
More specifically, I learned I could write a novel to a contract and a deadline (although see my answer below to your question about what I’d do differently next time!) – I’ve been in the rather handy position of being approximately two books ahead of contract, until The Age Atomic, which was the first novel I wrote from absolutely nothing to a finished manuscript within a specified timeframe. That sounds kinda clinical, but hey, writing is a job. And I’m sure that’s nothing special to a lot of seasoned novelists, there’s always a first time, and The Age Atomic was mine.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE AGE ATOMIC?
I love being about to mix science fiction, real New York history, and a big dollop of weird stuff. It has atomic robots in it. ATOMIC ROBOTS. Quite frankly, after that, there’s nothing left to write.
*drops mic, exits stage left*
But seriously, the universe of the Empire State is one I hope to return to a few more times, and writing in that world is a lot of fun. There is quite possibly nothing I can’t do in that universe, which is what I love about it and this book.
*Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh*
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
I’d definitely outline more! The first draft of The Age Atomic came in at nearly 160,000 words, when I was supposed to be writing a 100,000 word novel. The damn thing just kept going, and going, and going, and with the delivery date closing in I had to throw myself at the mercy of my agent, as the monster manuscript needed a fresh set of eyes. She really saved my life, cutting 50,000 words, four characters and two subplots out completely. From that, I was able to bring out the core story and develop it into the finished novel.
That experience changed the way I look at novel planning. I used to be a total obsessive about outlining, but the more I wrote, the more I found I didn’t need that level of detail, because if things work out, the characters come to life in your head and start doing things you didn’t plan them on doing. In which case it’s a bit of wasted effort constructing a detailed outline which is just going to go off the rails. My usual technique is therefore to have a loose outline consisting of a series of tent pole events and plots points that I know have to happen. From that I can link them together from A to B to C and I have a good idea of the plot. Then I let the characters and story take over.
That’s the theory, anyway, and it means I can get stuck into the actual writing quickly. But The Age Atomic kicked my ass, and from now on I’m going to put more detail in – not the huge 30-page breakdowns that I know some authors create, but certainly somewhere in between the skeleton and a full outline.
However, although 50,000 words – half a whole novel – were excised from The Age Atomic, it wasn’t wasted work. Most of that material is reusable in either a third Empire State novel, or in something new. And while it represents many, MANY hours of work, my writing process is not very linear anyway. So, in a way, those 50,000 words had to be written in order for me to figure out what the real story was and get the finished book carved out of the manuscript.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
Eighty-six floors and you can see all the way to Texas.
Seriously, that’s my favorite paragraph, just a single line from chapter 1. However, that’s a bit short, and it requires the rest of chapter 1 for context.
So… I’m fond of Chapter 2’s opener:
She was pretty and her name was Jennifer and she was going nowhere, not tied to the chair like she was. She had long brown hair with a wave in it and was wearing a blouse with ruffles down the front that Rad thought looked nice but which meant she must have been freezing.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
My fourth novel, Hang Wire, is out from Angry Robot in November 2013. It’s an urban fantasy set in San Francisco, where a serial killer has been stringing victims up with steel cable just as a circus arrives in town and a Chinese god is murdered in a back alley. It’s got ancient powers, something awful stirring beneath the San Andreas fault, a sentient, malevolent fairground, and an ordinary guy called Ted who finds himself the recipient of a rather unusual fortune cookie.
My first book from Tor, a space opera called The Burning Dark, comes out in March 2014. It’s about a war hero who finds himself sent to a distant space station, which is in the process of being demolished. With his own past disappearing along with the personnel of the station, our hero finds himself allied with a dead cosmonaut and a celebrity starminer as something mythologically evil stirs behind the nearby star. It’s essentially a ghost story set onboard a haunted space station… or at least that’s how it begins…
I’ve also got my comic debut coming out as part of the new digital anthology series, VS Comics. It’s called The Sentinel, and it’s about a rookie cop in Prohibition-era New York who is killed and resurrected as an Egyptian god of vengeance to battle a bunch of crazed magicians who are using the New York subway system to summon something nasty from the ancient past.
Those projects aside, I’ve got a couple of other novels I’m starting to work up, including a crime/thriller and an urban fantasy. 2013 is a busy year!