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Monday, May 3, 2010

INTERVIEW: Chris Stevenson

Aurora is pleased to welcome Chris Stevenson, author of Gate Walker, a YA novel published by Lyrical Press.

Chris has been writing on and off for twenty-six years, solidly for about eight years.

"I never thought that I would be a writer," he confessed. "Even with my father’s success as a non-fiction author, it never occurred to me. I wanted to be an airline pilot, a paleontologist, and even a veterinarian at one point. I fell into writing—it was an accident, right around the age of 26."

As a matter of fact, if Chris hadn't become a writer, he probably would have become a paleontologist.

"I have a deep, fanatical interest in the primordial past, especially when it comes to dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals," he told me. "That fascination with the core sciences gripped me as a small child, and I hope one day to write a book about our distant past. Perhaps the Hobbits of Flores Island needs to be put into a narrative fiction format. I would love to explore this race of tiny hominids, much the same way that Jean. M. Auel tackled Clan of the Cave Bear."

His fascination with Ice Age mammals showed up in the favorite of his books, The Lupus Strain, which recently sold to LBF books.

"I wanted to do a different werewolf book that hadn’t seen it done before. The Lupus Strain (thriller) is my dedication to Michael Crichton, plain and simple. It’s about a DNA experiment that goes terribly wrong. A geneticist attempts to cross the genes of a man-eating ice age dire wolf with a contemporary. But the genome soup is contaminated. Poof! We end up with a very strange litter, one of which is a Paleolithic female who carries the genes of her ancestors, but also has a good amount of wolf in her. Another littermate is a ferocious monster bent on mating with her, and will kill anyone who gets in his way. A lonely forest ranger finds her, and spends the entire time in the story trying to keep her out of the hands of law enforcement, the crazed monster, a warped cryptozoologist, and every nut case vigilante in state of Wyoming. It’s a total twist on the werewolf tale—a gender reversal of Beauty and the Beast, mixed with shades of The Island of Doctor Moreau."

Gate Walker is the second favorite of the books he has written. "I didn't know I had it in me to write a YA novel, using a teenage protagonist," he told me. "It was a surprise to me."

Chris is currently working with a new agent who is interested in his entire inventory of books.

"I’m particularly proud of a book called Diane Nine and the Fusion Machine," he said. "I could think of nothing more appealing than creating a female Iron Man story, with no fantasy or anything derivative from the original graphic comic/movie idea. It landed me four agent offers, three referrals, 28 manuscript requests, and tons of compliments. I just finished a final version for my agent. My newest book is a SF thriller, about a rescue involving a Stone Age race that refuses to leave their organic sponge island because they think it is a God. Plus, they’ve never set their feet on soil before."

"What authors have influenced you the most?" I wondered.

"Crichton, of course, with the addition of Joseph Wambaugh, Alan Dean Foster, Poul Anderson, Clive Cussler, Heinlein, and many more who are known for large SF epics and off-planet tales. Joanne Rowling is my favorite YA writer because she is so adept at world-building skills. She makes her own environment with absolute clarity, unafraid of naming her props, devices, and elements that appear within her story. She has that whimsy factor that allows the reader to be transported to another world, and she does it so effortlessly."

Chris told me that he believes in outlining—up to a point. When he's stuck and doesn't know where the plot is going, he knows it's time for a serious bullet point outline.

"It’s only happened twice in my career, because I do prefer to write straight off the cuff and let the characters lead the story. Characters are unpredictable. They’ll often do things you never expected, so in a sense, the author is just along for the ride like a chaperone, discovering the adventure right along with the characters. They call it organic writing."

He doesn’t use his own experiences too much in his stories, because he's afraid of author intrusion. He does have an extended family with children and teenagers, though.

"All I have to do is watch them, monitor their activities, and seriously pay attention to what they have to say, to get a real feel for how the young, and young at heart reacts to this world. Children and young adults are gems. All you have to do is study them and you’ll find all of the story meat and conflict you’ll ever need in your plots and themes."

One of his favorite themes when it involves young adults is escaping from tyranny.

"My favorite movie of all time is Logan’s Run. A futuristic society that thinks you have to die and ride the carousel before you hit the age of 30, is a puzzlement to me on one hand, and a fascinating dilemma on the other. Escaping from tyranny is one of my favorite themes when it involves young adults, who have to find their way in life, sometimes clumsily, but ultimately break out of the mold to save themselves and their culture."

Chris' first big splash in the limelight came when his first non-fiction book, Garage Sale Mania, was published.

"I was the only one in the country who dared create a book about garage sales for both the seller and the consumer," he said. "It was a glossy trade paperback, and I received my first big advance for it. It took me to the BEA, wearing an author’s badge. I was hosted on several major TV network and news stations. I must have participated in 20 live radio reviews, and had over 30 interviews and articles written in the major magazines and newspapers. One 6 O’clock news interview was particularly memorable—that was a real paper bag moment for me. I knew then, that I had arrived. My next challenge was breaking into the fiction world. So far, it’s happening. But I wish it would happen faster!"

It's this "moving slowly" that's difficult for Chris' extended family to grasp when it comes to the writing life.

"They have no idea that conception to publication might take two years or more. My sister, niece, and nephew are my biggest fans and are very excited when one of my books come out. My brother-in-law has a dim view of the writing life in a financial sense—he doesn’t understand why an agent doesn’t shower the writer with bags of money, and why I’m not on TV anymore. I have to suffer through the negative outlooks, as well as take solace in the positive reinforcement. Strangers have no concept of how publishing works, so I don’t even bring up the subject with them. Explanations would take hours, maybe days to describe the process."

He also has a gaggle of fans in his writing group who can't wait to purchase his new book.

"They’re so easy and gracious with the comments, about what they like, or what drove them mad. I think every writer lives for this type of vindication and adoration—it’s why we do what we do. If I can change someone’s life through my themes that I occasionally sneak into the narrative, I’ve really done my job to better someone’s lifestyle and outlook. No amount of money and exposure in the world could replace that."

"What's the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you (and the answer)?" I asked.

"Boy, I wish an interviewer would ask me why I think it’s so important to write a 'breakout' novel today. I would say that it’s not enough to write a good book in this economy and climate, it has to be a great book that blows everything off the shelf. It’s much harder today to grasp the attention of the publishing elite—you have to have something that stands out, when millions of writers are competing for that same publishing slot. I do blame the internet because it makes it so much easier today to craft words and send off a huge file via electricity. That’s why I strive to explain that concept/premise is the most important factor in crafting a story today and it can be found in your most important piece of writing—the query. I believe voice/style follows a close second. I have to charm the reader from the first page on. There’s no other way to do that than to show how stylistically superior you are to the average writer. I go out of my way to show this side of my prose, and so far it’s worked. Particularly in Diane Nine."

Finally, I wondered if Chris had any advice for young writers.

"I think my best advice for young writers would be to hang in there in spite of all the rejections and disappointments. Writing is a craft that can be learned and polished. This business is not filled with instant gratification—it’s a long, difficult haul to publication and success. Determination and patience play an important part in keeping a sane and well-adjusted mind. Never give up, never get discouraged. Something I wrote to remind myself in times of woe and loneliness:

A Writer is…
A humble, receptive student and negotiator
But the heart that beats within his breast
Is a determined savage
Unfamiliar with surrender

Don’t drink and drive, especially when traveling the space-time continuum highway.

Avalon Labrador is convicted and sentenced to die for her husband's murder. In a twist of fate, before the sentence can be carried out, an odd priest informs her that she is being given a second chance to right the wrongs of the past. Avalon must die, but before she does, she must also give birth to a part of herself.

Avy Labrador doesn't know what to make of the odd twists life has thrown her way since she turned eighteen. All she knows is that something isn't right and it has to do with the death of her mother and her husband many years ago. As if an odd priest, powers she never knew she had, and a brand new magician boyfriend aren't enough to turn her life upside down, she finds her own life in danger as she tries to solve a crime that happened more than three decades ago and prevent a new one from occurring.

Will Avy accept her fate and learn to become a Gate-Walker in order to clear her mother's name and find the real killer?

1 comment:

  1. Great interview, great points, and I can't wait for both The Lupus Strain and Diane Nine!

    --Gini Koch