Adam Christopher’s new novel ‘Made to Kill’, a 1960s-set Hollywood private detective story in which the detective is a robot who moonlights as an assassin, is a great fun book with an inspiring story behind it. Adam had just sold a space opera trilogy to Tor in the US; Tor then sent Adam some questions so the answers would form an article on the publisher’s website. The question that caught Adam’s eye was: ‘If you could find any undiscovered book written by a living or dead author, what would it be?’
Adam was reminded of a letter Raymond Chandler wrote to his agent in 1953, which included a notable complaint about science fiction. Chandler included a parodic, but actually quite good SF parody that included reference to a character called Google. The letter ends with Chandler asking: ‘they pay brisk money for this crap?’ Adam told Tor he would like to see Chandler’s long-lost science fiction novel and the Tor editor said, “You should write that.”
‘Made to Kill’ started as a novelette called, perhaps inevitably, ‘Brisk Money’. Tor had a few questions about the text; Adam’s response was: “It’s in the book I’m going to write, which will probably be a trilogy…” Tor fell for the idea.
Adam says he didn’t feel the ghost of Chandler standing over him because ‘Made to Kill’ is more of an interpretation of Chandler’s hard-boiled style than a left-field but slavish copy. Adam enjoys playing with tropes and mashing up genres, describing ‘Made to Kill’ as ‘robot noir’.
Adam understands how genre can inform voice and the way these elements, along with choice of project, enables authors to develop their brands. While not something a writer consciously sets out to design, a brand is something to be earned and should be valued. It is part of that treasured relationship between author and reader, in which the latter has some idea before investing in a book of what they are going to get.
An author brand helps with self-promotion, which is the US is lauded although viewed with suspicion over here. How, then, should authors promote themselves? Adam says that social media plays a big part but that it should take the form of talking to friends rather than firing out hundreds of sales tweets.
He describes Twitter as a great community and gets a lot of recommendations from there. Indeed, part of Adam’s meta-story is how he was ‘discovered’ on Twitter through his relationship on the site with an editor from Angry Robot, the publisher who bought Adam’s first four novels. Revealingly, it was a relationship based on shared enthusiasm that formed the backbone of the eventual deal rather than something consciously sought out.
Friendship seems to be key in both Adam’s career and also his creative process. He co-writes a comic called ‘The Shield’ with US author Chuck Wendig, a very different writer. However, because they get on so well there is no preciousness; one will issue a draft, the other edits it and after the fifth edit it’s impossible to remember who wrote what.
‘The Shield’, like the tie-ins Adam writes for the contemporary CBS Sherlock Holmes show ‘Elementary’ is a commission. Adam has evolved the technical skill to operate within the inevitable restrictions but has also found a degree of creative freedom.
For example, the Shield himself was the first flag-waving superhero, predating Captain America. Spirit of the 1776 revolution, he is a soldier who returns when needed. The comic’s publisher told Adam and Chuck they could do what they liked with the character so the first thing they did was reinvent the Shield as a woman. It’s an inspired idea: a step towards a more equitable superhero gender balance, a clear separation from Captain America and an alignment of the character with other symbolic revolutionary icons like Britannia.
Adam says the trick with ‘Elementary’ on the other hand is to capture characters and the world as seen in the programme. Some readers have complained that a tie-in is just like an episode of the TV show; others say the familiarity is exactly what they want! Again there are restrictions; the story has to fit within the canon of the TV story arcs and there are many layers of control, like the show runner and CBS. These restrictions don’t prevent innovation but if something unusual goes into a story then it will have to be resolved at the end within the confines of existing narratives.
Adam admits to being a goal-oriented author, which has helped him achieve a great deal, particularly in the last three years with the comics, tie-in and a number of his own novels. He advises that goals are important on the journey to a traditional publishing deal. An author should work out the steps required to get published and follow them, at which point a degree of luck accrues.
For example, Adam started in his native New Zealand by writing classic ‘Doctor Who’ fan fiction, which eventually led him to write his own novel. He admits that the novel wasn’t very good but entered it in a publisher’s open submission anyway. After they rejected it, Adam wrote another novel, just to hone his craft. Encouraged by the support of an SF writer’s circle in Manchester, where he now lived, Adam emailed the revised novel to a publisher. They replied with a contract. Although an established author tactic is to use a deal to secure representation, Adam signed this first contract without an agent. The deal worked out and as a result Adam was eventually able to sign with the agent who successfully represents him now.
Adam is in the enviable position of being able to turn work down, although it’s a situation that brings unique pressures. What if the offers stop as a result? It’s a question of balancing risk with creativity. The main resource is craft; Adam has the confidence to know he can deliver books that fit the market he is writing for. For all the necessary planning, opportunities arrive in unexpected ways; as Adam has admirably demonstrated, it’s vital to be ready for them.
‘Made to Kill’ is out now and part two of Adam’s LA Trilogy, ‘Killing is My Business’, is due in January 2017.