Interview: Adam Christopher, Author of EMPIRE STATE

PrintE-mail Written by Abigail Chandler

Adam Christopher is a New Zealand author currently living in the North West of England. His debut novel, Empire State, was published by Angry Robot earlier this year, and has garnered much acclaim since, its popularity already spawning a WorldBuilder project based around it.

Starburst: What inspired Empire State?

Adam Christopher: It’s a combination of three different ideas, really. I discovered classic pulp and Raymond Chandler and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if Raymond Chandler wrote sci-fi?’ And I’ve always been into superhero comics. Superman first appeared in 1938 and Chandler’s The Big Sleep was written in 1939, so there was an overlap there. I was interested in Prohibition too, the gangs and that whole era. They all started off as separate ideas but I came to realise that they were all the same book.

I found out as well that back during Prohibition the gangs smuggled alcohol across the Canadian border hidden inside giant rolls of pulp paper. After Prohibition ended those trade routes still existed, and were used to provide the pulp paper that comics were printed on.

SB: How did the book come to be published?

AC: This is the third full book I’ve written but with Empire State I had the feeling that this was the one where something might happen for me. I met Lee Harris and Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot on Twitter – not because I was trying to sell my book to them, but because we had shared interests. They knew I was writing though.

I’m a big fan of Angry Robot, I always said to them that I’d take a subscription out for all of their books if I could. Then one day I was coming down to Nottingham where they’re based and we went for lunch. I’d had a short story published in Hub that day and Marc demolished it. But then he asked me if I’d written anything longer. So I talked about Empire State for about an hour, I had nothing prepared, I was just rambling and getting it all screwed up, but they were interested and they asked me to send it in when it was ready. I sent it to them in October 2010 and it was on my birthday on 2nd February 2011 when I got the call saying they wanted to buy it. There’s become this big thing about me being a ‘writer discovered on Twitter’ but it was never intentional. You go on Twitter to talk to people, not to sell your work.

SB: Can you tell us about the WorldBuilder project around Empire State?

AC: Angry Robot approached me about it six months after the book was finished. They had wanted to create a shared world for a while, they were just waiting for the right novel. Empire State struck them as being right for it – there’s so much scope in the novel.  You could write a crime story, a superhero story, you can use characters from the book or create your own.

People can add anything to WorldBuilder; short stories, comics, photos, music. It’s a combination of commissioned work and free-to-submit work, and the best will all be put into an anthology for publication with everyone involved getting a share of the royalties.

James Patrick Kelly has written a short story for it featuring McCabe and JR Blackwell has staged photos as if they’re stills from a lost 1946 film adaptation of the book. It’s amazing.

SB: What made you fall in love with sci-fi?

AC: Doctor Who. I’m from New Zealand and when I was seven they started a repeat run of it. I became an obsessive Doctor Who fan and I still am. That’s why I started to write at primary school, I’d do Doctor Who fan fiction based on what episode was on that week. We read a lot of fantasy as a class at school too, things like Narnia and Tolkien, and I started reading my Dad’s Asimov.

SB: Who or what is your chief inspiration?

AC: A lot of my inspiration has come through comics. People like Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker are crime writers as well as comic writers. Brubaker’s run on Catwoman I think is the best thing DC has ever done. The fact that she’s Catwoman is the least important thing about her.

SB: What other mediums would you love to work in?

AC: Comics! I’d love to write for one of the mainstream American superhero comic publishers. I don’t really read independent comics, just the superhero ones. They are genuinely what moves and excites me.

SB: What’s your favourite genre show/book/comic right now?

AC: I’m a huge fan of Fringe (although I discovered it long after Empire State was done!) and I’m a big fan of Lauren Beukes, who has a new novel out this year that I can’t wait to read.

I’m really enjoying Scott Snyder’s Batman at the moment. Batwoman, Avenging Spider-Man, Demon Knights, Animal Man, Swamp Thing... I’m excited about Paul Cornell’s new book from Vertigo, Saucer County, and his forthcoming novel from Tor, Cops and Monsters. There are some people that as soon as they bring something out you know it’s going to be good. Cornell, Beukes and Snyder are like that.

SB: What excites you about working in sci-fi?

AC: Genre of any kind – science-fiction, crime – has something in it which attracts me. A hook, somewhere, which I think is missing outside of genre work.

Even the non-sci-fi stuff I watch is all something that has a strong hook in it. I don’t watch soaps. I don’t want to read and watch real life, I want to watch something other. There’s no limit to the imagination, there’s no point not using it.

SB: What’s next for you?

AC: My next novel, Seven Wonders, comes out in September from Angry Robot. It’s another stand-alone novel, about a team of superheroes in California who are reluctant to take out the world’s last supervillain as it will put them out of a job.

And then after that there’s more stuff which I hope I’ll be able to talk about soon. I have maybe four book projects on the go at the moment. But then a writer is never happy unless they’re buried under work, right?

Read our review of Empire State here.

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