Tuesday, October 7, 2014
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Chris Northern
1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
There are two answers to this. Ironically, they are both the same answer, just separated by a few decades. The answer is that I literally couldn't think of anything else to do in the situation I found myself in.
The first time was when I was about to leave what I laughingly refer to as school. Utterly unprepared, geographically isolated, and looking at dead broke. What shall I be doing with my life? Write. I sold a few things even though I then knew almost nothing about what I was doing. Paying jobs soon followed. Lots of them.
The second time was when I had just dropped a truly painful amount of money on an ill advised project. I found myself in the same situation, asked myself the same question and came up with the same answer. Write. The main difference was that in the intervening years I'd inadvertently learned what my job was. Knowing what your job really is turns out to be half the battle.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
Initially, I guess Michael Moorcock was my biggest influence. He made writing look effortless, which is probably why I assumed I could do it. I read everything SF&F that I could get my hands on. Telempath was Spider Robinson's first novel, way back when. It is one of the best first novels ever written. Go grab a copy. Trust me.
As for now, I really don't read much fiction at all. Every now and again I'll pick something up but I have a hard time with it. I just have a hard time not noticing the underlying structure...it's this kind of story and it works this way, so the next scenes will be more or less these. That kind of ruins the fun for me, so I tend not to read fiction much.
I guess I like to be surprised, and that's what makes a story stand out. I was recently surprised by, One Damn Thing After Another and Brood Of Bones; both of these books are a delight, though completely different.
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel The King's Ward?
I had an idea and it kind of sat there waiting for another idea to spark of off, as many ideas do. We do not nurture. I liked that, I liked that a lot. If you are a powerful telepath then any telepathic child, mind both vulnerable and unprotected, will be utterly imprinted with you own personality. A mental clone, in effect. In any society, that would be highly visible, though that's not the only reason for not letting it happen. So, we do not nurture. That was the first fixed point, the key idea.
Much of the rest of the story came from answering the necessary questions – how do vulnerable immature telepaths even survive to adulthood without guidance? Not yet in control of their powers, they hide instinctively, instinctively; they are easily forgotten and difficult to notice. Nature provides them with camouflage, like it does many immature animals. That, as instincts go, should keep them out of harms way until they mature. At least, mostly out of physical harms way. Mentally and emotionally they are isolated, which is bad news psychologically.
Now, what kind of adults would these people make, when they come into their full powers? And as this is a contemporary story, why don't we see them, or the consequences of their existence everywhere? What happens when they come into their full power? And so on. Writing is like that, asking questions and hopefully coming up with answers that resonate.
4. Will we see a book similar to this or featuring any of the same characters? The story was very vivid and will really stick with the readers once its over.
Well, thank you. I hope so. Actually, I've already been asked and committed as far as I can. There is lots to explore yet and I plan to do that work as soon as possible. It's a matter of finding a new story, as there is no sense telling the same story again.
5. Were any of the characters based on real people?
CN: I would usually more or less say no, and that would be true, as far as it went. Knowing people, understanding people, is a major part of the job. A given character is a chimera, not really made up of people you have known but of understandings and insights you have gained through experience of people you have known.
And that's one answer. There is another, but I think I will just refer the reader to the dedication, and leave it at that.
6. How did you come up with the idea of the fey and the world they inhabit?
It's consequences again, really. As I said, one question I asked myself was how is it that no one has noticed the existence of the fey? The answer came from the ability of the most powerful to create real objects. How big can these be? Well, the most powerful can create a pocket-universe, a small world. This seemed to tie in neatly with Mythology, and as the fey have always been here I decided to play with that idea. Some worlds were created long ago and have names we recognise; Nifflheim, for example. The abilities of the telepathic fey are also nicely mirrored in Mythology. The answer then becomes that people did and maybe sometimes do notice, but wrongly attribute what they have seen and experienced. Even Freya the younger believes for a while that she is in a fairly mound.
The fey themselves tend toward a romantic frame of mind, creating a strongly mythological self-image for themselves as individuals. That is also reflected in the kinds of cultures they create or perpetuate. I have friends who are active in Live Action Role-Playing, who take a weekend to inhabit a fantasy world, living in a simpler time for fun. There is an element of that in the nature of the modern fey, though some think, act and live differently.
As I said earlier, there's lots to explore.
7. Can you tell readers about your other works?
Happy to, but I'll try and keep it brief.
Prison of Power is a long fantasy novel in the vein of The Black Company, Gardens of the Moon and other more traditional fantasy novels.
The Last King's Amulet and the other three novels of The Price of Freedom series are more or less ancient Rome with magic. Sumto struggles with his place in society, and with the nature of his society, along with a few inner demons he himself is barely aware of.
Evolving Environment and the Dancing With Darwin stories explore what happens to the modern world when everyone develops some or other form of mental disorder via a virulent virus. The world falls apart of course, so these are partly 'the end of civilization as we know it' stories, but there is more to these stories than that. The collection has been described as an incomplete thriller, and there's some truth in that, though each story stands alone well enough.
Loser's Flight (written with Victoria Russell) is a very far future SF short novel that begins to explore a decaying civilization where some Automatics still function to provide material goods, but the coordinating Artificial Intelligences have been absent for a while, so things have been slowly falling apart. It's a Cowboys in Space kind of thing, and mostly a fun adventure romp.
8. Would you like to be "invisible" or read minds?
Growing up as Byron and Calista do would be Hell, I think. We are a social species, defining ourselves by our interactions and place in society. I don't think I would care to grow up so fundamentally unseen and thus neglected as are Byron and Calista. Also, as a writer 'invisible' really doesn't appeal to me at all.
As to reading minds... no, I don't think so. I think we need the illusions and the guess work. Experience of human nature coupled with some empathy are about as close to mind reading as I can cope with, I think.
9. What do you mostly want readers to take from The King's Ward?
Apart from an overwhelming desire to tell everyone they know how much they enjoyed it? Okay, really, I deliberately tried to keep this as much a straightforward adventure story as possible. I did want to explore how two quite different people with similar formative experiences would respond to the same and similar events. That was one of the reasons that I wrote both parts in first person.
10. Would you like to see The King's Ward in theaters or on TV? If so, what actors would you like to see play your characters?
When I wrote the Dancing With Darwin stories I definitely had TV in mind. I think that would make a terrific series with lots of fun and action, and a long plot development that I've barely scratched the surface of so far. Also, I know it would be easy for screen writers to work with. But I didn't for a moment think about visual media when writing The King's Ward. I don't think it would work well, to be honest. Visual media obey different story rules and I don't think TKW would translate well.
11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
So much depends on random chance that it's hard to imagine. What I write, and how much, depends on how successful current and ongoing works are. I guess I hope to write good work and have it be appreciated; as much of it as I can write in the time.
12. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
Life consists of doing the next thing. I have no idea what the next thing would be. I tend to burn my bridges and commit to what I'm doing. What I am doing now is writing. If not that, then something else; the next thing, whatever it might turn out to be. I would normally look around for something I haven't done, something new. Hard to guess what a fairly nebulous 'something new' might be, especially when I'm not really looking to do anything else right now. Something physically demanding, I think. I'm getting a bit soft in the middle. Too much sitting around and thinking.
13. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
I normally nudge several projects forward until one gains enough momentum to take off. Fans are demanding another Sumto novel, and I'm pushing for that. A follow up to Prison of Power is outlined but on hold at the moment. There are many more Dancing With Darwin stories I would like to write but they are not sufficiently supported to work hard at them; I'll finish one or two as they come live, but the bulk of that work will have to wait. And there are other novels set in the same world(s) as The King's Ward that I am nudging forward. I have no idea which will be completed next. Could be something else entirely.
14. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
Off the top of my head, that would rather selfishly be writers I could learn from. Spider Robinson, Larry Niven, and someone who writes great thrillers. Robert Crais, maybe. And Tom Holt or Christopher Priest, for humour. I'm so hung up on a couple of comedy stories right now that I could seriously use some help. Comedy is a nightmare to write well.
15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
Surprise is subjective, so that looks pretty impossible to me. I'm going to have to guess about what most or all readers will have assumed about me and then contradict those things. Tricky. Or very easy. Depends on the reader, I imagine.
I would guess that the only surprising thing about me is the way I live. I'm not exactly big on possessions. I started downsizing many years ago and neglected to stop. I own a laptop, a small bag of clothes, and that's about it. That makes moving easy and I do that quite a lot; at least twice a year and usually more. It's actually less effort and far cheaper than settling down somewhere, which I can't really imagine doing anyway. I buy or hire things as I need them, then abandon or off-hire them as soon as I don't need them. I've flown into and driven around Paris several times but never driven into the centre; I would if that was where I was going, but so far it never has been. I can say the same about several European cities. I don't buy expensive sunglasses because when I lose cheap sunglasses it is slightly less annoying. That applies to everything, really; possessions are inherently transient and I see no reason to waste money or emotions on investing in things when people are far more interesting. I only own one pair of shoes at a time, and I find that entirely reasonable as I only have one pair of feet. This recently lead to a situation where I went hiking with friends in fairly mountainous terrain whilst wearing a pair of Crocs. Could have been worse. Could have been skiing.
It could be argued that that is only one thing, or that it is more than three, but I think it will have to stand.
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