“Who is This? What’s Your Operating Number?” – An Interview with Adam Christopher

The next author to grace us with an interview here at Port Haven is the amazing Adam Christopher! We dropped him a line to ask about all things writing. He discusses writing for Star Wars and other Intellectual Properties, what it’s like writing short stories versus novels, and of course the ins and outs of his story in Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, where he brought an iconic scene to life from a whole new perspective. His other science fiction works delve into urban fantasy and crime drama. Make sure to check out his website here for all of his work. (He’s also a great follow on Twitter: @ghostfinder.)

Let’s start general. How did you catch the writing bug? How did you know you wanted to be an author?

I guess it’s a cliché, but it’s still true – I’ve always wanted to be a writer! I was probably fortunate

in that I started creative writing in primary school in New Zealand (around second or third grade equivalent in the US), and amazingly I’ve still got a couple of exercise books from back then, filled with a mish-mash of Doctor Who fan fiction and ghost stories – I guess those were my two obsessions when I was seven years old!

The impetus to write came and went over the years – I did a lot in high school, and won a couple of awards, but then I got busy with university and it kinda died away a bit. But the urge to write was always there, at the back of mind, occasionally driving me crazy. It wasn’t until I moved from New Zealand to the UK in 2006 that I really decided to start taking it seriously – that is, to work at writing as a way to make a living. Five years later, my first novel, Empire State, was published!

You’ve written several of your own novels as well as writing for Intellectual Property. What is the process of writing for IP compared to writing an idea of your own?

It’s the same and it’s different. Useful answer, right? Obviously the biggest difference is that you’re not writing in your own world, and usually you have at some pre-made characters provided for you. My first IP work was Elementary: The Ghost Line, and my task was to write what was essentially an extended episode of the TV show, because a novel is obviously a lot longer than an episode. So I took the approach that I was writing a big, two-part, mid-season special!

The most important thing about licenced work is that you have to give the reader what they want – in the case of Elementary, I absolutely had to write Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson as played by Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu – not to mention all the supporting TV characters that I was able to include. Not only did I have to nail the characters, I had to craft a story that would fit within the Elementary universe, yet still be big enough to fill an entire novel.

So that’s the difference, really. It’s not your world, they are not your characters, and you have to treat the property with respect. It is easier if you are a fan – Elementary is one of my favourite shows, and when they were looking for someone to write the tie-in novels, for various reasons (mostly to do with an amazingly tight schedule) they needed someone who knew the show inside-out and back-to-front. I had to do an initial “audition” chapter using the two main characters to prove I understood the show, and they were very happy with that. Writing those two novels was some of the most fun I’ve had with fiction!

How did you get involved in writing for Intellectual Property?

I had actually found out about Elementary by accident – Titan Books had already bought a couple of original series from me, and when I went down to meet the editors, I discovered by chance that they were doing the Elementary tie-ins. But at that stage everything was organised and, while I made a case for myself as the world’s number one Elementary superfan, that ship had sailed, and I kinda forgot about it.

A few weeks later, I got an email from my agent – did I still want to write Elementary novels? It seemed that the schedule had changed, and they needed a book very quickly (I think it was in three weeks), and I was top of their list of authors!

Obviously I jumped at the chance, and from Elementary I got Dishonored (also published by Titan). Apart from enjoying the work, I also looked at it as solid experience in licensed work, which I knew would be useful groundwork if and when I got a shot at the biggest – and the best – storytelling universe around, Star Wars.

How did you become a part of From a Certain Point of View?

I got an email from the editor, Elizabeth Schaefer! Easy, right?

Actually, that totally sells it short. Contributing to From a Certain Point of View was a dream come true, and I really need to thank Elizabeth again for the opportunity. We’d known each other for a couple of years, she was familiar with my work and knew that I wanted to get involved with Star Wars, and as it turned out, this was the perfect project for getting my feet wet, so to speak.

Were you a Star Wars fan prior to writing End of Watch? Did your feelings towards the Galaxy Far, Far Away change as a result of writing a piece of it?

Absolutely yes. I’ve mentioned Doctor Who and ghost stories above, but my other childhood obsession was Star Wars. It was, literally, the first movie I saw (I was only six months old, but that still counts, right?), and it’s been with me my entire life. I recently wrote about it at Unbound Worlds – readers should check out. Click here to visit UnboundWorlds.Com.

Although End of Watch is only a short story, writing it really did bring me even closer to the Star Wars universe. I was now part of something amazing – not just writing a Star Wars story, but contributing to a charity anthology, being created not only to celebrate the 40th anniversary of A New Hope, but to support a wonderful cause. I was really honoured to be part of it.

In End of Watch you wrote about Commander Pamel Poul. Were you able to pick this character? What inspired you to create this character?

We pretty much had free reign to choose our scene – there was a list of suggestions, and Han’s “We’re all fine here” conversation was on it, so I grabbed it instantly. I’ve always loved that scene and, before the anthology ever existed, had often wondered who was on the other end of the call.

 And because I was writing it from the Imperial POV, I had to ability to create a whole new set of characters, as well as using some existing ones – in this case, Han, Tarkin and Vader, although you would only hear their voices.

As for the inspiration behind Commander Poul…

What prompted you to write a created character instead of an already known character?

That scene was my first choice, as I love it so much, so I was less concerned with using existing characters. But given that my scene allowed me the freedom to create entirely new ones, I was very keen to create some new female characters, given that the original Star Wars trilogy unfortunately doesn’t have that many. Elizabeth was in complete agreement, so along came Commander Pamel Poul and Sublieutenant Slallen!

It was a lot of fun to see conversations from A New Hope from the background Imperial perspective. Was that always your goal with the story or did those opportunities present themselves as you were writing?

Yeah, that was totally the goal. Who was on the other end of Han’s call? What were they thinking? As I broke it down, I soon realised that in an organisation as large as the Imperial Navy, aboard a vessel as unimaginably gargantuan as the Death Star, most of the personnel would not have a clue what was going on. Taking that as the central concept – the banality of evil, you could call it – I came up a group of Imperial officers who were really just trying to get through their shift.

What was your favorite part about writing End of Watch?

Definitely the moment I was able to incorporate Han’s dialogue from the movie. I must have watched the scene dozens of times as I tried to get it exactly right – because it is partially ad-libbed (I think, anyway), it’s very natural, and therefore very hard to transcribe accurately. But it really worked – you’re reading this Star Wars story about some Imperial officers and you’re wondering what’s going on and then suddenly THAT call comes in, and it all falls into place. That was so much fun. As was fitting in the second call to Tarkin. The dialogue there is actually pretty weird and choppy, so I wanted to have Commander Poul react to it.

How do you go about tackling a short story versus tackling a novel or even a series of novels?

They are totally different things, and in some ways a short story is actually harder. With a novel, you have room to move. With a short, you really need to be… efficient. Luckily with End of Watch, I already had a scene that was going to be fairly short, so that made it easier.

What it is like working with a team like the LucasFilm Story Group? Do other IPs have similar groups?

They were great, and were very helpful! Generally licensed work is overseen not just by the editor at the publisher, but by people from the licensor. After all, they know the property better than anyone!

Did you have much contact with other Star Wars authors during your writing process?

I’m lucky in that I knew a lot of them already. Chuck Wendig and I are old friends (we even co-wrote four issues of The Shield for Archie/Dark Circle Comics), and I’ve known Delilah S. Dawson, Mur Lafferty, and Cavan Scott for ages, as well as a few others. It was pretty cool to find out who was in the anthology too, and I made a lot of new writer friends through it! And then, at the big From a Certain Point of View panel at New York Comic Con, we all finally met up! That was pretty cool!

If you could write for any Star Wars character in past or current canon, who would it be?

That is such a difficult question, because Star Wars is such a huge universe, and it also depends what we learn about in the next two films! But from the end of the Aftermath trilogy up to The Force Awakens, there’s still 35-ish years to fill in – there’s the rise of the First Order, and a whole lot of mystery around the Knights of Ren and the fall of Ben/the rise of Kylo Ren – he needs his own novel, like Phasma, or Tarkin!

But that’s the beauty of Star Wars – there are so many characters and so many stories to tell!

If you could be anyone in Star Wars, who would you want to be?

Ha! Han Solo is my favourite character – but then he gets a lightsaber to the gut. Lando Calrissian is the coolest guy in the galaxy – but I’m not sure his life has been all fun and games. I think I’d want a lightsaber… so put me down for Mace Windu.

 Or, actually, I think I’d want to be Sabine Wren. Because not only is she my favourite Star Wars character, she has – or had – something better than a lightsaber. The Darksaber!

For readers discovering you through Star Wars, what would you want them to know about your other works before trying them out?

It depends what you like! My current series with Tor Books is The Ray Electromatic Mysteries, about a robot detective turned hitman working in Hollywood in 1965. So if you like your sci-fi retro and your prose hardboiled, I’d recommend people head over to Tor.com and read a free prequel novellete, Brisk Money. (Link Here! ) If you like that, you can move to Made to Kill and follow the series from there.

I’ve also written a couple of space operas – The Burning Dark and The Machine Awakes – and going further back I’ve written two more hardboiled detective science fiction novels (Empire State and The Age Atomic), an all-out superhero novel (Seven Wonders), and a weird urban fantasy (Hang Wire).

And if you like Elementary or Dishonored, check those books out.

 So yeah… something for everyone, I think!

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I’d like to thank Adam for chatting with us and being super amazing through the whole process! I also can’t begin to say how encouraging it is as a fan to know that the people making Star Wars love Star Wars so much. I believe the Star Wars fan community is the best out there- and knowing that the content creators are right there with us is a large component for that environment. I hope “End of Watch” will not be the end of Star Wars for Mr. Christopher!

YB, also known as YodaBauer, is a moderator at Port Haven. She generally likes anything with "Star Wars" printed on it somewhere as well as numerous TV shows that she never shuts up about. Any of her spelling and grammar choices are purely her own and do not reflect the views of Port Haven.

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