Welcome to the six hundred and thirty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical suspense thriller / mystery novelist Chris Angus. 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: Writing is in my blood, I’m afraid, or perhaps my DNA. I come from a large family of writers and I suspect because of that, I resisted taking it up as a career. But apparently the dye was cast. I began as an outdoor writer. I live just north of the Adirondack Park of New York State. My first real writing “gig” was a weekly outdoor column called Canoe Country, in which I wrote about all sorts of environmental issues. In a bit of writer serendipity, just two months after I submitted my first column, I sent a piece on a legal issue regarding canoeing in the Adirondacks to the New York Times. It appeared, with illustration, on the Op-Ed page on my birthday, no less. That seemed propitious, and I haven’t stopped writing in the twenty odd years since.
Morgen: No apology necessary. Writing’s in my blood too – I can’t shake it off even if I wanted to. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Chris: I began writing fiction almost thirty-five years ago after my mother, the author of a series of murder mysteries, became too ill to continue. With her blessing, I attempted to take over the series and wrote three more using her character, Mrs. Wagstaff. None were published, but it got me interested in fiction and I moved on to write thrillers and young adult adventure novels. During the years in which I could not find publishers for my fiction, I wrote non-fiction, publishing over four hundred essays, articles, book introductions, columns and reviews, as well as two collections of essays about the out-of-doors and a biography of iconic Adirondack conservationist Clarence Petty, entitled: The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty, Wilderness Guide, Pilot and Conservationist, published by Syracuse University Press.
Morgen: Wow. A great grounding for when your fiction was picked up. Do you write under a pseudonym?
Chris: My non-fiction is published under Christopher Angus, my fiction under Chris Angus.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Chris: My fiction books are available in print and as eBooks. I was quite involved in the process in terms of editing and also, to some extent, designing the covers. I still do not own an eBook reader myself and prefer print but more and more people are calling me a Troglodyte, so the day may be coming…
Morgen: 🙂 I grew up with an older brother so am a techie, yet I only bought a Kindle early last year. I’ve since sold it to a friend as I now read via the Kindle app on my iPad but I still have hundreds of paper books at home so I do read both. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Chris: My thriller London Underground, just released by Iguana Books, is being considered by Hollywood. I just read an interview with John Grisham in the NYT Book Review in which he says he tries not to be involved in his films, because he knows nothing about them. That seemed about right to me. However, I always liked the idea of having Viggo Mortensen, a fellow alum at St. Lawrence University, play a U-boat captain in another of my books, The Last Titanic Story.
Morgen: He’s a great choice. You mentioned John Grisham, which author/s would you compare your writing to?
Chris: Most of my books I consider historical thrillers. I enjoy weaving plots rich in history and science and try to make them believable and possible, nothing too far out…well, maybe a little far out. But I want them based in reality. I have never been a huge fan of science fiction (other than the original Star Trek series, which I watched avidly with my mother in the 1960s.) She wrote a series of murder mysteries and loved to have as much history and science in the books as possible. My writing was definitely influenced by this. I find some of the top writers today, authors like James Rollins and Dan Brown, to be too far out for me. They are hard to believe and I want believability more than anything else.
Morgen: It’s what readers want too, even in science fiction / fantasy where there are different worlds. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Chris: I think titles are very important. I once wrote an entire young adult novel based on a title that popped into my head. Everything else followed from that. The titles of all my books have been my own creations.
Morgen: I’m a big titles fan and often the exercises I set on my online and in-person writing groups are titles. It’s great seeing how different writers can be. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Chris: I am working on another thriller, untitled at the moment, which may be considered a sequel to my medical / science thriller Flypaper, about the mysterious origins of a pandemic that begins in China and sweeps around the globe. It is published by Cool Well Press. But I am always thinking about other possibilities and I am not averse to shelving something if another idea calls to me strongly.
Morgen: Hopefully putting to one side rather than shelving. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Chris: I usually write something almost every day, but I am not one of those writers who tell you with a straight face that they write ten hours a day from morning to night. If I am going well on something, I may put in three hours in the morning, another two in the afternoon and maybe even some at night. But there is always down time. I don’t think of it as writer’s block at all, but rather time for research, reflection and perhaps discussion of what I am working on with those whose opinions I value.
Morgen: Absolutely. The brain needs a break to spend time on something else, even if it’s related to it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Chris: I am definitely a guy who runs with an idea. Remember that YA book that came from the title? I like not knowing exactly where I am going at every minute and I think it keeps the reader from being able to figure out what is coming next too. I used to think this might not be the correct way to go about it, but I have since read interviews with many top authors who say this is also how they work. This is not to say that I don’t write things down, however. If I get any sort of an idea or plot element from something I’ve read or seen or a discussion I may have had, I make note of it, so the idea is not lost. By the end of a book, I always have hundreds of pages in a notebook filled with these ideas.
Morgen: I’d say 95% of the authors I’ve spoken to have been ‘pantsers’, I’m one too. I like to think that if a book keeps me on my toes, it will for the reader too. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Chris: Books are always improved by editing and rewriting. This is a process that never ends… often even after the book is published.
Morgen: There are always things we’d change, especially with a gap of time in between but there has to come to a point where we have to let go. Do you have to do much research?
Chris: An incredible amount is necessary to base the books, as I’ve said, in the believable. This is why I try to choose subjects that really interest me. The more passion you have for a subject, the less like drudgery the research becomes.
Morgen: It certainly does. I say that research and editing are my least two favourite aspects of writing but we’re so lucky these days having everything on the internet. You mentioned about ‘shelving’ if an idea grabbed you, do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Chris: Years ago, I started writing a book about the strange characters I grew up with in my hometown. Unfortunately, it is STILL my hometown, and I finally came round to the realization I could never publish it until I either moved away or passed away.
Morgen: My debut novel is set in my hometown. None of the characters are based on people here but the locations are real (one place kept changing its name so I had to keep changing it. I was rather tough on one place so I went back before I published the novel and found it had had a major uplift so I changed it – I would have toned it down anyway. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Chris: You’re kidding, right? This business is defined by rejection. Just get on with it.
Morgen: Some authors I’ve spoken to haven’t had any. Not many authors, a handful, but it’s true. You’re right – you do have to just get on with it. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Chris: Yes, without my agent, I would never have published fiction, and I had three agents before I found one who was successful. The difficult part is that finding an agent is equally as hard as finding a publisher.
Morgen: More so, I’ve found, and been told. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Chris: It’s a hard way to make a living. Also, since it is an invisible activity, people tend to think you are not doing anything, so they ask you to work on committees. I’ve been on more committees than I can count. The work is rewarding (most of the time) but also time-consuming and if you are too involved, it is hard to turn it off and concentrate on the writing.
Morgen: It certainly is. I’ve been running this blog since March 2011 and when I was working (albeit part-time) I’d be up to 1am / 2am every night dealing with it and the associated emails. Since I left my job (March 2012) it’s still been a full-time job, although with earlier nights. I’ve had to cut down on the amount of interviews (to weekend mornings only) because I had no time for my own writing, which defeated the object of quitting my job (and seeing my savings almost disappear helped that decision!). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Chris: It has to be a passion. Keep your day job.
Morgen: Oops. I do have passion, too much sometimes… if that’s possible. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Chris: http://chrisangus.iguanabooks.com, http://www.facebook.com/chrisangusauthor, http://iguanabooks.com/books/london-underground-print-edition, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/chris-angus
Morgen: Thank you, Chris.
I then invited Chris to include an extract of his writing and this is an excerpt from chapter 23 of London Underground…
It was an incredible sight, Sherwood had to admit. There were rats climbing up telephone poles, jumping onto gutters and roofs, snaking under parked cars. Many were ferociously fighting other rats, and the squeals and howls of pain when one was bitten echoed through the streets.
The entire neighborhood was in an uproar. Residents stared out their windows in disbelief. Fire trucks arrived and firemen began using hoses to try to contain the outbreak. But there was nowhere to corral the rodents, so the high-pressure hoses simply gushed through the streets, while rats that didn’t move quickly enough were picked up and sent flying through the air. It was the most bizarre scene he had witnessed in his nearly twenty years on the streets of London.
“Come on. Let’s see where they’re coming from.” He headed for the Holborn subway entrance.
“We’re not going down there?”
“You got a better idea, sergeant?”
“Can we at least take some men with us?” Harry pleaded.
Sherwood glanced at the mayhem all around them. “They’re going to need every man on the streets. You!” He yelled at the men who had been holding nets and staring wide-eyed at the chaos. “Block off this street and get rid of the civilians. Tell those people inside to close their windows and doors. And call Animal Health. Tell them to get their people down here. Maybe they’ll have some idea how to handle this.”
Then he grabbed Harry by the arm and pulled him toward the subway entrance, where hundreds of rats continued to emerge.
“Hang on,” said Harry. He paused at his car, which was pulled up with two wheels on the sidewalk, and grabbed a torch. Holborn station had its lights on, but they might need it if they went onto the tracks.
They inched their way down the steps, sidestepping rats or just kicking them out of the way. Harry shuddered. “They don’t pay me enough for this crap.”
The rodents were large and aggressive, but they seemed more bent on getting out of the underground then attacking them.
When they reached track level, the numbers finally began to diminish and they watched as a few stragglers emerged from the tunnels.
“It’s like something’s chased every rat in London out through these tunnels,” Harry said.
“I doubt that,” said Sherwood. “There’re a lot of rats here, for sure, but London’s got tens of millions of rats. We’re seeing only a very small fraction. But I have to agree that something’s spooking them. Rats avoid light, especially sunlight. They’re sensitive to vitamin D, which can kill them. I’m pretty sure they would avoid the bright lights of central London too, unless something forced them up.”
Harry stared at him. “How the bloody hell do you know all that?”
“I’ve been reading up on them. Here, give me your torch. Let’s check down this tunnel a ways.”
“Subways are still running, you know.”
“We’ll be able to get back if a train comes. I just want to see where these critters are coming from.”
And a synopsis…
LONDON UNDERGROUND by Chris Angus
Beneath the streets of London lie many secrets. Subterranean rivers carve channels through darkened caverns. Hidden laboratories and government offices from WW II offer a maze of corridors and abandoned medical experiments. Lost also in the depths are the contents of a looted Spanish galleon from the days of Henry VIII. And deep within lies a Nazi V-2 rocket that contains the most horrible secret of all.
Carmen Kingsley, in charge of London projects for the British Museum, and Scotland Yard Inspector Sherwood Peets race to unravel the mysteries before the great city succumbs to a frightening disease from the age of the Henrys called the English Sweat.
Unknown to them, their partners in tracing the disease began their own efforts more than sixty years earlier during WW II. A top-secret British mission is sent to the far northern regions of Norway to stop the Nazis from developing a biological weapon that will be airmailed to London via the V-2 rocket.
It all comes to a climax beneath London with the discovery of a horrifying species of genetically altered “super rats” that threaten to invade London and the British Isles in a manner more horrifying than anything ever envisioned by the Germans.
Chris Angus specializes in writing suspense thrillers / mysteries within a historical context, with subject matter ranging from mysteries surrounding the Titanic, World War II, new DNA discoveries, the threat of mutating pandemics and the debate between the world views of creationism and basic science.
Chris is also the award-winning author of several works of non-fiction, including Oswegatchie: A North Country River (North Country Books–2006), The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty: Wilderness Guide, Pilot and Conservationist (Syracuse University Press—2002), Images of America: St. Lawrence County (Arcadia Press—2001), and Reflections From Canoe Country (Syracuse University Press—1997).
While London Underground is a work of fiction, much of Chris’ precise writing style he showcases with his nonfiction comes through. Chris released earlier this year his first fiction novel, The Last Titanic Story, also available from Iguana Books, followed by his second thriller Flypaper, from Cool Well Press. London Underground is Chris’ third novel for 2012.
London Underground is available for purchase at Iguana Books.com (http://iguanabooks.com/books/london-underground-print-edition), Amazon (Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk) and Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/chris-angus) on-line bookstores.
The Last Titanic Story is available from Iguana Books.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble on-line book stores. Flypaper is available from Cool Well Press.
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