Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CHRIS F. HOLM Interview

Last week, we had a look at a number of books by Chris F. Holm -- his series of novels in THE COLLECTOR and a short story collection entitled 8 POUNDS. Holm was gracious enough to answer some questions for Craig's Book-ends. Mr. Holm is better with the words than I am so I'll let him take it from here...

Thank you again for agreeing to answer some questions. I hope this e-mail finds you well. I told you that I would ask you 10 questions or less but I must confess that this interview goes to 11. There was just so much to talk about.

1) When you began Dead Harvest, did you know then that it would become a series of novels?

I did. As anyone who's read my books has probably noticed, I'm a big fan of old-fashioned detective fiction, and one of the reasons is because settling in with Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer feels like visiting an old friend. I'd long wanted to conceive of a character who could support a series arc. The key is coming up with a character who could plausibly wind up involved in a number of tales worth telling. The second Sam introduced himself to me, I knew I'd found my guy.

2) How much of yourself do you see in Sam Thornton?

Sam's more a man of action than I am, to be sure. He's coarser. Less educated. But we share a sense of humor. A preoccupation with what it means to be a good person. And we're both, at heart, corny romantics. He was just dealt a crappier hand than me, is all.

Really, I see this series -- and Sam -- as my way of showing my work. Wrestling with big existential questions is a fundamental part of being human; I just do it on the page for all to see.

3) THE COLLECTOR delves into a collection (pun intended) of genres that I like to think of as "All Things Craig Loves", but in the main it seems to be equal parts hardboiled and fantastic. What were your introductions to these genres?

My mom's from a cop family. They're all voracious readers of mysteries and thrillers. We used to exchange stacks of mass market paperbacks at Sunday dinner. I probably started reading them way younger than I should have. And eventually, I traced them back to their pulp roots.

My dad's side of the family leans more toward fantasy and science fiction. I remember his father giving me a box of yellowed old books when I was little. Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov, Terry Brooks and Anne McCaffrey. I read them all, but found I preferred the fantastical to the hard sf.

4) You write with a confident voice that I assume comes from years of practice. How long have you been writing and how long did it take you to get your first publication, either short story or novel? 

Writers like to say things like, "Deep down, I always knew I was meant to write," and I suppose I'm no exception. But even though I was one of the millions who tell themselves they'll write a novel one day, I spent a long time on another path entirely.

After college, I entered a PhD program in infectious disease research. I thought I wanted to be one of those bug hunters the CDC dispatches to far-flung locales when outbreaks occur. Turns out, it wasn't for me. So, with my wife's encouragement, I dropped out, and focused on another dream: writing. This was back in 2001. It took me until '06 to actually finish my first novel, which thankfully never saw the light of day. My first published story was in '07. "The World Behind" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I remember my acceptance came on Friday, October 13, 2006. I've published twenty-something short stories since. But it wasn't until 2012 I had a novel out.

5) Your short fiction is among the best and, at times, reminds me of Stephen King. Do you prefer writing novels or shorter works and how does the two processes feel different to you as a writer?

Thanks! That's very kind of you to say. The stock answer writers are supposed to give is "I like them both equally," but in my case, that's horseshit. I prefer novels. The second part of your question -- how the processes differ -- gets at my reason why. A short story is small enough to fit inside my head in its entirety. I know every beat before I begin writing. Putting them on the page is satisfying, but there's not much thrill of discovery. Novels, on the other hand, are too big for me to see the whole picture. All I get is a glimpse, and a distorted one at that. Which means I write them to find out what happens, and that -- while challenging -- is writerly crack.

   6) You included a wonderful essay in The Wrong Goodbye called "Why The Hell?" What was your reason for writing this essay?

There are two reasons: one banal, and one less so. The banal reason is, my publisher likes to include bonus content in their books, and my first choice -- an excerpt from THE BIG REAP -- wasn't an option, because I hadn't written it yet. The less banal reason -- which answers the question of why that essay specifically -- is, loads of fans and reviewers reacted as though Biblical noir was the weirdest combination ever, when to me the connection was obvious. The essay was my chance to make my case.

7) Do you think you will ever dabble in other genres?

That depends. What genre(s) do you consider the Collector books to be?

The truth is, I've written short fiction that'd be considered crime, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Any of those are on the table when it comes to longer works for sure. My agent and I are about to go out with a straight-up crime novel. I've got a small-town mystery/ghost story manuscript I suspect will see the light of day as well. The book I'm working on now is a high-concept thriller with a slight sf bent. And I've got notes for a YA series and a sprawling tale of post-apocalyptic horror kicking around somewhere as well.

About the only genres I can't see tackling are romance and Westerns, and that's only because I lack the familiarity -- and therefore the skills -- required.

8) What have you read recently?

Marcus Sakey's BRILLIANCE knocked me flat. BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS by Hilary Davidson was terrific as well. For comics, I've been digging Brian K. Vaughan's SAGA, and Mike Carey's THE UNWRITTEN. And there's a book by Kieran Shea coming out this year called KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY that's gonna light the sf world on fire.

9) As a reader, do you prefer standalone fiction or series fiction? 

I find both tremendously satisfying. Like I said earlier, popping in on a series character can be like dropping in on an old friend. But there's nothing more thrilling than reading a well-executed standalone, because you're operating without a safety net; anything can happen. There's nothing to stop the author from burning everything to the ground.

10) At Craig's Book-ends, I try to call attention to the wonderful communities of writers, readers, and publishers that exist and the notion that we should support and champion one another. How strongly have you felt the community of writers, readers and publishers in your own career and what would you like to see different in the community? Do you think it could be stronger?

I cannot overstate the effect the crime-fic community has had on my life and my career. While I've got feet in both the crime and fantasy communities, I came up through crime first, and I'm amazed how gracious and supportive they've been of me and my work, especially when much of it falls well outside the average mystery-reader's comfort zone.

Many members of the sf/f community have lent their support as well, and I'm tremendously grateful for it, but the community is more fragmented and more contentious than I'm used to. Maybe that's because any community with room enough for the many iterations of fantasy and science fiction is necessarily a big tent. Or maybe it's the fact that there's been a demographic shift toward a younger, more diverse reader/writership, and the old guard's getting tetchy. But the fact is, the community's treatment of women and minorities has been less than stellar of late. We need to work to fix that
11) What's next for Chris F. Holm? Do you ever see yourself returning to the world of THE COLLECTOR?

As I mentioned, I suspect my next book out will be a straight-up crime novel. After that, though, who knows?

And I hope I do get the chance to tell some more Collector stories. In my opinion, THE BIG REAP closed off the first cycle of Sam's story, but his journey's far from over. Publishing is a goofy business, though, so regardless of my opinion, I don't have a lot of say as to whether that'll ever happen. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me. Take care.

It was my pleasure, Craig!

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