Welcome to the three hundred and fifty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with fantasy and religious fiction author and 30-day challengee Christopher C Starr. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Chris. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Chris: Hey everybody! So happy to be here. Something about myself…hmmm. Well, I’m shorter than I sound on paper, my favorite color is blue, I’m an Aquarius (and, ladies, I like candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach). My favourite food is lasagne (and I married an Italian), I frequently change the words to popular songs to suit my mood (or embarrass my kids) and I honestly, sincerely hate pandas.
Everyone says they’ve been writing as long as they can remember. I believe that to a certain extent: I think the combination of your perspective and experiences shape how and what you write. For example, I spent the first 5 years of my life in New Jersey where I learned, among other things, just how tough my head is. I sustained 5 concussions before I was six years old—highlights include running headlong into a brick wall, falling headfirst off a slide, and my younger sister hitting me in back of the head with an iron-cast frying pan. It was bad enough the insurance company advised my parents to make me wear a helmet. You gain a unique perspective on the world from experiences like that. I think it has definitely shaped my sense of humor. I live in Seattle now, where I have plenty of rain and far fewer head injuries.
Morgen: Ah, poor pandas… but then I’ve never met one so what do I know? What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Chris: My first novel is a combination of fantasy and religious fiction, along the lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. My blog, though, is definitely humorous and seeks to understand how and why I see the world like I do. I’d love to write in every genre. I think it stretches you as a writer and I love a challenge.
Morgen: Me too. I can’t seem to settle on one, although I say I write dark and light so that probably covers pretty much everything. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Chris: My debut novel is The Road to Hell, and it’s the story of the war in Heaven, the fall of Lucifer and the dawn of humanity, all told from the perspective of the angels. I use my own name—I think Christopher C. Starr is an awesome author name.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Chris: When it comes to my writing, I’m a control freak. When I first started writing, I pursued an agent but got rejected a few times. The first one hurt: who would not want this story? It’s amazing, right? But I started writing around the time the self-publishing boom was taking hold and decided to circumvent the submission / rejection process by publishing it myself.
Morgen: Me too. I didn’t try many (a dozen or so) but I love having the choices self-publishing (eBooks) gives you (me). You said you tried to get an agent, do you think they are vital to an author’s success?
Chris: I do think they absolutely have a role to play, even with the dynamics in the publishing world. Yes we have more access to tell our stories but agents to help grease the skids and provide access and expertise to markets the new author isn’t aware of. I’m a fan of anyone I can learn from.
Morgen: Me too… that’s why I keep going on courses, to conferences etc., but then I just being immersed in writing. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Chris: My books are available as eBooks and paper. I’m a hands-on type of guy so I learned InDesign to do the layout of my book for print. I did get professional help on the cover and the conversion from print to eBook. I like a challenge but I recognize my limitations.
As far as what I like to read, I do both. I’m impatient so when I find a book online, I love that I can download it and have it right NOW. However, bookstores are my guilty pleasure and I LOVE the feel of paper between my fingertips. There is something very special about holding, touching a book and still gives me goosebumps.
Morgen: I love paper books too but am nerdy about damaging the spines so like hardbacks where I can (although they take up more space) but you don’t get either with a Kindle (and I’ve just treated myself to the new Touch). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Chris: I’m trying to do it all, learning as I go along. I’m learning the power of social networking, taking each bit step by step. I get the blog thing—that much is fun and particularly therapeutic for me. I’ve also learned a lot from my writing through it—just by following stats, I can see which posts resonate with people and which ones fall flat. I’m up to my ankles in Twitter—I kinda get it but it’s tough for me. I also have a full-time job, a wife, 2 kids and a dog and an insane desire to keep writing. Branding is tough. I recently made a food-for-work deal with a Marketing student. We’ll see what she comes up with.
Morgen: I try and keep up with my stats but with nearly 900 postings it’s hard. I just think you need to have a mixture of content and so many of the older posts are still being read that I think it’s good to have variety. Do you have a favourite of your characters? If your book were made into a film, whom would you have as the leading actor/s?
Chris: My favorite character is definitely Lucifer. He’s the most complex character I can imagine: he experiences the full gamut of emotions in his relationship with God and his emotional arc takes him literally from the heights of Heaven to the depths of Hell. It’s quite a journey but he gets to be so deliciously mean along the way and he enjoys every minute of it. Lucifer is incredibly fun to write. If it were to made into a movie, I’d have Terence Howard or Bradley Cooper as Lucifer (who actually was cast as Lucifer in the upcoming Paradise Lost movie) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Idris Elba as Michael.
Morgen: “deliciously mean”, I love that. I’m a big fan of Bradley Cooper (‘Limitless’ was brilliant) but Idris Elba is a great choice. I missed the first series of Luther but had heard the hype and so saw the second. I rarely watch TV (too busy) but let’s just say I’m selective (Dexter is another ‘won’t miss’). Did you have any say in the covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Chris: My wife is a graphic / web designer. I had plenty of say in the covers. She won. Even in this electronic age a cover is vital. A raggedy cover looks cheap and unprofessional and readers will expect the writing is equally bad. Invest in your cover. Do it professionally.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Chris: I have three things in front of my right now: Come Hell or Highwater, which is the sequel to The Road to Hell; a screenplay, which will serve as the outline for my next novel, Rabid (yes, I outline in screenplay form—I see all my writings as movies); and a Celebration of Wickedness—30 days of blog posting about some of my favorite villains in literature and cinema.
Morgen: Rather you than me on the screenplay. I wrote 102 pages for Script Frenzy and found it far too bitty (but I liked the story so have it as part of a novel). Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Chris: I don’t write every day. I know: I suck. I want to. Between work and family and my trash tv fetish, I skip it. I never have writer’s block, though. For me, writer’s block doesn’t exist: in my experience it’s usually the writer fighting against what the story wants that causes the writer’s block. The story wants to go one way but the writer doesn’t. Stories have lives of their own. They go where they need to and once you write them into existence, they do and say what they want. And no writer escapes unscathed. Writing is about honesty; writer’s block occurs when the writer is not honest about what needs to be written. My cure for writer’s block: stop trying to write it and just write it. Once you get out of your own way, it gets easier.
Morgen: You don’t suck at all. I keep saying that 300 words a day is 100,000 words a year but I do about that (the 300 not the 100,000!) a week for Tuesday Tales and if I didn’t have that… Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Chris: I get an idea and usually mull it over for a few days, twisting and turning it so I can get a better feel for the scenario or the characters. Until I can see a scene—see how they move and react and get a feel for the story. Once I can see it, once I can hear it, I can write it. I kind of outline: I do use Viki King’s How to Write A Movie in 21 Days method. I break everything down into a movie script, mainly because dialogue is the toughest for me and screenplays rely on dialogue. I also like the pacing movies have. Once the screenplay is written, I write a draft from there.
Morgen: You mentioned a couple of your characters earlier, do you have a method for creating then, their names… what do you think makes them believable?
Chris: Characters are always a part of you so I incorporate things that I see from real people—little traits or phrasing they use. Things that make them come alive. I say every line of dialogue out loud (often in public) and hold entire conversations with myself. If I can’t make those conversations sound believable, it’s back to the drawing board.
Last summer, I took my daughter to the movies and she saw the trailer for the Green Lantern. In the trailer, they say that only one man can save the Earth. She looks at me and says, “Why is it always a man? Why can’t a girl save the world?” Valid point. It wasn’t until then that I realized how few female characters, especially females of color, there are in popular fiction. I’m going to be writing heroines for a while. For her.
Morgen: It’s amazing the difference saying something in your head to out loud – it’s so much easier to spot flaws out loud. I’m planning to see the new Marvel Avengers movie on Tuesday (my treat after my Red Cross stint) and Scarlett Johansson plays a strong woman in that… but yes, heavily male-dominated. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Chris: Only non-fiction is on my blog. I can’t do poetry—I don’t get it—although I used to write rap lyrics in college. I have one short story so far. I’m too long-winded.
Morgen: It’s so funny you should say that about poetry, it’s exactly what I say (about not getting it, not writing rap lyrics ) but short stories are my first love so I have over 100 of those (probably over 200 but I haven’t been counting recently). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Chris: I don’t think you ever stop editing. I never want to. I look at everything I’ve written and, though I think it’s done after the first pass, I always find stuff I would change or do over. Finding that happy spot between it being done and that one more thing is tough.
Morgen: I agree but I suppose a second opinion helps with that. Do you have to do much research?
Chris: I’m a lazy writer. I make stuff up. As I switch genres, I’m sure I’ll have to do more research but, right now, it’s all the fruit of my imagination, baby.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Chris: I used to be wholly a third-person type of writer. And then I heard Lucifer’s voice, clear as day, and I wrote it just like I heard it. Haven’t been able to go back. Since I tend to write in the gray (I don’t think anyone is wholly good or wholly evil), I like being able to describe, from their point of view, that descent from good to evil. I like that transition and I like the inner monologue that accompanies such a fall.
I’ve never tried writing in second-person and I think the only time I’ve ever read it was those Choose Your Own Adventure books that came out when I was a kid.
Morgen: I love second person – and most of the shorts on my Tuesday Tales page are second person but I do remember the Choose Your Own from my (sort of) childhood… Will Sutton mentioned those only yesterday. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Chris: All of my writing is utterly fantastic. At least it is in my mind. The first full thing I remember writing was a screenplay sequel to the 1986 Transformers movie. I remember creating something called Dragatrons. Not my finest hour.
Morgen: But you’re oh so much wiser now so you can fix it. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Chris: My favorite aspect of my writing life is that it exists at all. There are so many frustrated writers who want to see their words in print but they can only see one way to do it. They’re silenced but, in many ways they’ve silenced themselves. And they miss out on this fantastic writers’ community. It’s like a special club only a few people get to be a part of.
The least favorite aspect is the business end of it all. Praying for someone to actually purchase my book. Hoping someone reads my blog. Finding ways to be heard over the cacophony of people talking all at the same time. Trying to find time to manage that part of the writing life with the part of life that isn’t writing.
The thing that surprised me at all is that people actually read and like what I write. Writing is such a solitary endeavor and you’re writing for this enigmatic “reader” that you never get to see. It’s cool when they finally start to have names, faces, opinions. That makes it fun.
Morgen: I’ve had a lot of writers say the same thing (about the surprise and least favourite). It’s great speaking to your readers but there’s no doubt that marketing takes away precious time from the actual deed of writing (so I may be mad but I’m starting up a service to create blogs for other writers – details on my writer for hire page – we shall see how popular that is (or not). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Chris: Do it. Don’t aspire. Don’t reconsider and mull it over and plot and plan ad infinitum. Do it. Commit. Put words on the page. Tell your story and forget about trying to sell it. Tell the story you’re meant to tell, not the one you think we’ll buy. That’s the story I want to read,
Morgen: Because the passion will be behind it. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Chris: Paul Robeson (the 20th century Renaissance man), Leonardo da Vinci (the real Renaissance man), and Stevie Wonder. We’d have pizza.
Morgen: Can we make that four people and I’ll join you (Stevie Wonder’s ‘Lately’ is one of my favourite songs). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Chris: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Morgen: In other words, the old 300 words a day is a 100,000 novel in a year. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Chris: Nah. I work for a talent management software company as a training manager.
Morgen: ‘talent management software’ wow… the geek in me is intrigued by that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Chris: When I’m not writing, I’m fantasizing about not doing P90X, watching movies, laughing at people fall, and hanging out with my husky, Rocky the WonderDog.
Morgen: Cute. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Morgen: Joanna Penn (aka The Creative Penn) was here earlier this month… Easter Sunday in fact. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Chris: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Edgy Christian Fiction. They are valuable and I’ve met some fantastic writers and bloggers. Keeping up with it is tough—at least it is for me. I think I’d get more out of it with a more cohesive strategy. Still working on that.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Chris: I think the future is richer than ever. The gate is being crushed. I think we have a lot of work as indies to bring up the quality of our work, to act as our own gatekeepers, so to speak. But I think the opportunity to take your story directly to the reader, directly to the world is phenomenal. I think it only gets better from here.
Morgen: I hope so… it’s exciting. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Chris: Thank you so much for having me! I think what you’re doing is fantastic for writers like me and I can’t thank you enough.
Morgen: Oh, you’re very welcome. It has rather consumed me over the past year (and 29 days, but who’s counting ) but it’s very rewarding (if not in book sales, definitive trickle), in visits to the blog (53,000 in that time) and of course getting to meet so many writers. I live and breathe it so it’s wonderful. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Chris: When are you coming to the States? I owe you a drink.
Morgen: Planes and I don’t get on so whoever invents time travel or computer-to-computer transmission of liquids first gets my business. Thank you, Chris. Good luck with the rest of your 30-day challenge, last day tomorrow… then I start Story a Day.
Christopher C. Starr is the author of The Road to Hell: The Book of Lucifer, the first novel in the Heaven Falls series. These stories examine the God’s relationship with Heaven and Earth, told through the eyes of the angels. The next book in the series, Come Hell or Highwater, is scheduled for late 2012 / early 2013.
Chris makes it a point to look at the dark side of his characters, both heroes and villains, and his work explores the “grey”—that place where good and evil come together in all of us.
When he’s not being chased out of churches, Chris enjoys comic books and movies, staying away from cemeteries, and poorly participating in P90X. He lives in Seattle with his wife, two kids (The Boy and the Honey Badger), and his husky, Rocky the WonderDog.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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