Friday, 8 July 2011

INTERVIEW: Christopher Ransom

Here at Falcata Times, we love the chance to chat to authors and with his third book, The People Next Door (published today by Sphere) released we thought it was high time that we say hello to Christopher Ransom and see how he'd developed not only as a writer but as an established author.

Chris chats to us about the long road to becoming who he is, his surrogate family and Donuts...

FT: 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?

CR: I don’t buy the afflicted or tortured artist routine. If you don’t want to write, if writing is hell, don’t do it. Tortured writers are probably just tortured people. They are usually the same ones who would be miserable doing anything else. I don’t have to write. I do it because it’s something I enjoy and respect.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

CR: When I was 19, I discovered that I enjoyed writing and was not terrible at it. Well, actually, I was terrible at it, but not for someone who had just started. And there were no other occupations that interested me, so I decided then to become a writer, knowing full well it might take 10 or 20 years to do so.

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: Writing a “good” short story is very difficult indeed, but the ability to write a good short story doesn’t mean you can write a novel, a poem, a screenplay. Each form has its own demands. Writing a novel utilizes many of the same skills, but it’s a marathon that requires additional knowledge and a different set of emotional tools. Patience, endurance, a larger vision, the ability to juggle more elements across a broader scope, and so on.

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: I would take the shopper by the arm, gently, and whisper, “Buy this book. I wrote it and I need to eat.” If the shopper asked me what my book was about, I would say, “Human appetite, death, love, sex.” How could they refuse?

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

CR: A thriller concerning one struggling American family’s frightening, hilarious, creepy, sensual, disturbing, and poignant misadventures in suburban America.

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: Peter Blauner, Colin Harrison, Tom Perrotta, Rafael Yglesias, Peter Straub, Dan Simmons, Bret Easton Ellis, Scott Spencer.

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 ideas develop as you write?

CR: Yes to both methods. I create character sketches and profiles, construct outlines, keep notes on vivid scenes that come to me early on, and so forth. And then I abandon 90% of this stuff once I am writing the draft. Plotting is next to useless. I never know how my novels will end until I reach the end.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

CR: Reading, cooking, watching movies, and walking my dogs all help me relax. The best book I read recently was Scott Spencer’s Man in the Woods. I found it a gripping, exquisitely crafted literary thriller.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

CR: I try not to allow guilt into the things that give me pleasure. I like some pop music and unhealthy foods, but I don’t feel guilty about either. OK, donuts.

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: I have two rescue dogs, both mutts. While my wife and I did not have children, I realized we were using our dogs as surrogates in some respects, to fulfill some missing role. I thought this would be a useful facet of a marriage to explore in my first novel, The Birthing House, which focuses on a couple who are undecided about having kids. So, our dogs were a kind of inspiration for the dogs in that book, but I did that once and don’t intend to shoehorn my pets into any future works.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

CR: In The People Next Door, my main characters are a struggling American family, so it was great fun to change points of view, from Dad to Mom to Daughter to Son. Kyle Nash, the 15-year-old boy, was a blast to write, because I reconnected to many of the emotions and experiences I had at that age.

FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?

CR: Mick Nash, in The People Next Door, is a husband, father, restaurant owner, former jock, fading hotshot with a temper, paranoid, and tired but wired. I don’t have kids, don’t own a restaurant, was never a jock or a hotshot, and have a very mellow, almost non-existent temper. I am only a little paranoid and almost never wired, so I guess the answer here is, not very similar at all.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

CR: I don’t have many hobbies now beyond reading, writing, cooking, and travel. But most of my hobbies, sports, and passions as a kid were solo activities: riding my bike, waterskiing, golf, keeping and breeding snakes -- creative activities where you compete primarily with yourself. I see some parallels there to writing. I want to travel more and use those experiences for future books.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

CR: Life. The world. People I know and the everyday problems they face. My imagination. Wal-Mart. Denny’s. In the shower.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

CR: I’ve never felt blocked, though I don’t write every single day no matter what. I take breaks between books or to travel. I don’t really believe writers get blocked. I just think we need to feed ourselves in different ways, with new ideas and experiences. Whenever I am stuck, I think about my paycheck and how not working is not really an option.

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: When I had a day job, I wrote at night and that was harder to balance with family and social time. Now I write full-time, so making time is not a problem. My wife and family and friends always took my writing seriously, as a career goal, as legitimate work, so I had a lot of support.

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 don’t have soundtracks for books, but sometimes certain songs or albums give me an energy boost or inspire me to hit it hard. Last fall I wrote a chapter set in the early 80s and for some reason Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” popped into my mind as the perfect encapsulation of the cheesy, self-centered mood I was trying to get down. I listened to the song over and over as I wrote this 14-page piece in about 3 hours, but that was a freak occurrence. Most of the time I write in silence.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

CR: I think I was fairly realistic about the long road to publication. I knew that for most writers it takes a decade or more to get any good, and I was fine with this. One of the reasons I was drawn to writing fiction was that it was something I could pursue on my own, at my own pace, reading what I wanted when I wanted, developing my work in isolation. In other words, the exact opposite of a four-year university program, which I tried but did not enjoy at all. Even so, you can’t know when you begin how hard it will be, how much dedication will be required. After I had been writing for about 9 years, I realized I was almost ready to begin.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

CR: Writing and reading -- consuming and creating fiction -- is how I digest and contribute to the world. It is how I frame real life, looking for storylines, using story to see and appreciate the ups and downs of life. Writing is life and living and loving and being. It’s everything to me.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

CR: It will be done on a larger geographical canvas, not confined to a neighborhood or single town like my first three novels. This one, my fourth, will be something of a nightmarish odyssey across America, with more movement and larger set-pieces, skipping from mountains to deserts, from highway to airports to midtown Manhattan. It will feature a small cast of main characters, but most of them will be in constant motion. It will be a ride, with intimate moments, of course. I haven’t settled on a title yet.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

CR: Amazon, my bank, The New York Times, Gmail, and various updates to my own author site. Oh, and that one with all the shoe porn...

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

CR: The best things that the few writing classes I took in college taught me were that I enjoyed writing and analyzing other people’s stories. Most of what I really learned came from reading good books and the years I spent writing on my own. Nothing teaches one how to write a novel like writing a novel.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

CR: I understood from reading books on writing, and from comments made by other writers, that criticism and rejection are part of the job. Once you accept that, really accept it on an emotional level, you can assume that if you are getting criticized and rejected, you are doing the job. I took pride in my rejections because they were evidence I was at least playing the game.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

CR: The best aspects are that I am earning a living at something I love and respect. I am my own boss and business owner. I set my own hours. Hearing from readers, that I touched them in some way. Knowing that I now do, in some small way, what my heroes did for me -- that is a fine feeling. Becoming a published novelist was my lifelong dream, so if I die tomorrow, I can smile and say, “Well, pal, we did that much at least.”

The worst is . . . well, compared to the above, my complaints aren’t worth your readers’ time. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to tell stories for a living, but it would be nice if we could get some decent fucking coffee around here.

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