Like most authors today, Chris had a passion for writing from an early age, influenced by the likes of Lucas and the many comics which enthused his youth, it probably came as no shock when he presented his first Sci-Fi novel and has been a solid name in the genre since publishing with Pocket, Solaris and Pyr. Here we chatted to him about life, writing and his strange obsessions...
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Chris Roberson: I’ve always said that anyone who can stop writing should—if you’re really a writer, you don’t have a choice in the matter. I’m certainly one of those who has written compulsively since childhood, and I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Luckily, I love writing, so it’s not any kind of burden. But definitely, even if no one was paying me to write, I’d still be doing it.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
CR: Very early on. I wrote my first “novel” when I was nine years old. It ran to 426 words on three and a half handwritten pages, and it was entitled Space Crash. And it in no way resembled Star Wars, which had been released two years before. I kept writing through high school, short stories and poems mostly, all of them horrible. In college I started writing novels, and just didn’t stop.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
CR: It’s certainly true that the skills and discipline involved in crafting a successful short story are the basis for all good writing, and I think anyone who can write a good short story has it within them to write a good novel. Novels just take longer!
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
CR: Book of Secrets is a murder mystery combined with a secret history of mankind, wrapped up in a story about a man coming to terms with his heritage. Oh, and there are gangsters, masked avengers, highwaymen, mythological beings, cat-burglars, and more, to boot!
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
CR: I quite like the tagline cooked up by someone in the Angry Robot offices, “It’s Angels & Demons but with real angels and demons.” It’s not quite accurate, but it captures the flavor nicely.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
CR: Anything by Alan Moore I will sit down and read the minute it appears, and deadlines be damned. High on my list are people like Kim Newman, Michael Moorcock, Kage Baker, Terry Pratchett, Michael Chabon, Grant Morrison, et al.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
CR: I outline compulsively, and write incredibly in depth character profiles and such before ever typing word one. I keep a wiki database for all of my research and worldbuilding, a personal encyclopaedia that gets bigger and bigger as time goes on. My outlines are closer in some cases to extremely rough drafts, describing the content of each bit of narration and dialogue, but written quickly and without any concern over how it will read. Then, when it comes time to write, I just rewrite that outline into prose form bit by bit, and when I’ve rewritten the last of the outline I’ve got a complete story.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
CR: To relax I watch cartoon with my daughter, read comic books, and noodle around with writing projects other than whatever I’m supposed to be working on at the time. At the moment I’m a judge for the World Fantasy Awards, so I’m having to read everything published in 2008 that might conceivably be called fantasy. The most recent book I finished and enjoyed was Jeffrey Ford’s The Shadow Year, which is just a tour-de-force of a writer working at the height of his powers.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
CR: I have no guilty pleasures, or rather I don’t keep any of my pleasures private. I’m proud to admit to all of my strange obsessions, from kids cartoons to puppetry to superhero comics and so on.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
CR: We have a cat, or rather a cat has us. But he has not yet appeared in any of my stories, at least not so far as I’m aware…
FT: Which character within your latest boo was the most fun to write and why?
CR: Most likely the most fun to write was Tan Perrin, the Fagin of cat-burglars.
FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?
CR: Spencer Finch is very much an overly-idealized self-portrait of myself at a younger age. I was never much like Finch, but I think I very much wanted to be. He is, however, much cooler than I am.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
CR: My hobby is my work. That’s the real advantage of getting to do the thing you love for a living.
FT: Where do you get your idea's from?
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
CR: If I get bogged down in one project, I just switch to another for a while.
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
CR: I’m very boring in this regard. I write during banker’s hours, you could probably say, in the time that my daughter is away at preschool. Usually it’s from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon, these days.
FT: sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
CR: I know some writers listen to music when they write to get them into the mood, but I can’t manage it. I have to have silence, as complete as possible.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
CR: I had the impression, as many writers do when starting out and meeting rejection, that the publishing industry was this giant monolithic thing that was designed to keep new writers out, a closed and hermetic system that only those with connections could enter. And I was completely wrong. It wasn’t that the editors couldn’t recognize my genius, it was that my stories were mostly crap. Continue to write, improve, and keep submitting, and sooner or later you’ll get published.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
CR: I haven’t the foggiest, I’m afraid.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
CR: Um, it depends on whether you meant the next one out, or the next one I’m writing. Well, if you mean the next thing of mine to come out after Book of Secrets, it’s actually a comic book miniseries I’m doing with Shawn McManus for Vertigo Comics, a spin off of Bill Willingham’s Fables entitled Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love. It features the reimagined fairy-tale character, who is now “Cinderella, Super Spy,” and is Sex in the City meets On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
CR: Google Mail, Google Reader, Facebook, Blogger, and my own blog at www.chrisroberson.net.
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
CR: I took a few creative writing classes, but I don’t really recommend them. The best of them I took basically involved the professor assigning us novels to read, some of which were genius and some of which were crap, and asking us to figure out what worked in didn’t in each of them. I think the best training in writing comes in reading.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
CR: Dogged determination, you could say if you were being kind. An obsessive compulsion, though, would probably be a better term for it.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
CR: The worst aspects are probably the interminable wait between finishing a book or story and readers actually getting a chance to read it. The best part is that you get to write for a living…