I have only met Chris, but has become a great friend quickly. I haven’t told him this yet, but I find Chris a bit of an enigma – he looks like Clancy Brown, is a Professor of Criminal Justice in Arkansas, plays saxaphone but writes some of the best fantasy I’ve read. A strange mix!
Anyway, the second book of the Weald Fae Journals (The Changeling) is due out in December this year and I am anxiously awaiting my copy. The first (The Steward) I read through very quickly and enjoyed it. What tricks do you have up your sleeve this time, Chris?
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
I think I’d like to write a historical fiction next. I’m very fond of the genre and always amazed by authors that can whisk readers into another time and cast a story that leaves them grappling with the “what if” questions.
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
I have ideas for stories all the time, and mull them over until one feels right. I tend to use outlines to fully develop my stories from start to close before I begin writing. I often spend days, and sometimes longer, fleshing out plot twists that I think make a believable story but at the same time catch the reader unaware. Occasionally I have a epiphany—I love those—but mostly it’s just hard work, along with trial and error.
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
No, the title “presents” itself as I write. Though I settled on the series name “Weald Fae Journals” early in the process, the title for the first book changed three times. Actually, I sent off several query letters with the second title, but just before I decided to go Indy, I realized that the title needed to be changed.
Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?
I do think the genre has a bright future. Book sales are strong and so are ticket sales at the box office—I think the two go hand in hand (I’m not alone). As long as people need an escape (and who in this world doesn’t?), there will be a demand. Creating new worlds and possibilities is the stuff of dreamers. I think William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, Zach Stentz and Ashley Miller, Suzanne Collins, George R.R. Martins, and Jane Johnson, to name a few, are some of the drivers behind that.
What themes are being overused?
I see a lot of vampire romance, but after “Twilight” I guess that’s to be expected. It’s true, I like that genre too, but it does seem to be awfully crowded these days.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
No more than they ever have.
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
Absolutely. While I personally like to have paper and leather in my hand when I read, the writing is on the wall.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I have several friends who read voraciously. I’m ashamed to say I use word of mouth, so I can’t say I have a preference. I used to follow several authors, but now I’m willing to give anyone a chance upon recommendation.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?
I love being transported to a different world, into a place with endless possibilities—and I have a confession of sorts: from the time I was a small child and began reading, I liked imagining myself playing the part of the protagonist. The more powerful the protagonist, the more he or she had to struggle, the more I liked it. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, so writing in that genre was a natural fit for me.
Can I get an autographed book? (lol)
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
Yes, my beta readers. I have several folks of different ages, some I’ve never met (friends of friends who like the genre), and I pay close attention to their comments.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
I do now. When I started “The Steward,” I wrote until I felt the story was finished. It was 216,000 words. I remember thinking, “holy cow, what do I do now?” I trimmed, recast, and reformatted until it was just over 100,000. That’s what I aim for now. I have a much better handle on length when I’m writing my outline. That’s why my series grew from three books to four.
Do you have a target each day?
No, I write each day, but I don’t push myself for a particular word count. I work full-time (I’m a professor), so that limits how much writing I can get done. When my outline is finished, and I’ve worked out the plot, I can usually write about 15,000 words a day. Some days, however, I write less, some days, considerably more.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
My work schedule dictates my writing. When time permits, though, I don’t usually take a break on my own. This entire series begs for me to write it, and it’s such a great escape I just can’t seem to tear myself away. I write the rough draft from start to finish, then I go back through it two or three times before I let my beta readers have a look. From there, I let the editors have it. Then I start on the next in the series. My second book will go to editors this week, and I am ready to get to work on the third.
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
I do. Before I started writing, I didn’t know how much time I’d spend with my characters. A lot, it turned out. I run through dialog sequences, action sequences, and their reactions to events when I’m not writing—they’re with me 24/7. The second question is harder to answer. Once I’ve decided on characters, fleshed them out in my mind, and written a little about them in my notes, they do start to take on a life of their own. Dialog, for me, is easy—as I mentioned, it plays out in my mind over and over before I ever start drafting it. Once I know my characters—get a handle on their psyche, their temperaments, their flaws—they do tend to speak to me, but that’s only after I’ve spent a long, long time developing them in my head.
After so many books, how do you keep them unique?
Really focusing on character development on the front end, I think, is the trick. I’ve had so many wonderful real “characters” in my life, and after studying sociology, I think I became somewhat of an expert at recognizing people’s uniqueness. I know it sounds cliché, but every person I’ve met had a story different from everyone else’s—tragedies, triumphs, natural ability, social and cultural capital, all of that shapes who we become. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years as a lawyer, and a professor, getting to know those stories. Even if I don’t write about it so my readers can see it, I create a history for all my major characters.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
Before I published “the Steward,” most of my friends would have said it was my writing (Yes, they feel differently now). I stay awfully busy these days. I’m absolutely devoted to my students at the University of Arkansas, I play music (tenor sax) with a group of friends each week, and I write when I’m not doing those things, so I really don’t have a time waster right now. I do like to settle down with a good book or watch a movie from time to time—but I need the diversion, so I don’t consider them time wasters, either. I’d love to get far enough along in my writing career to change that—I would love to waste a few weeks of the year on tunnels beach in Kauai doing nothing whatsoever.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
Well, yes, it was just recently. I loved the experience. I felt nirvana.
Do you read other people’s writing?
Would you read mine?
Here are Christopher’s haunting places:
Website and blog: http://wealdfaejournals.wordpress.com/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Shields/e/B004NBS7RK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1