Q&A With Russ Colchamiro

Crossline coverWith the debut of Crossline this week, we thought it a good chance for readers to further get to know Russ Colchamiro. Over the last week, Russ and I exchanged ideas and witticisms, the results of which follow.

C8: Why do you write?

Russ: Starting off with an easy one, I see. I write because I’m compelled to write. I’m energized, focused, and optimistic about the future when I’m writing, and if I go even a few days without clacking the keys, I get noticeably grumpier and unhappy. Some may call it an addiction — or even possibly a neurosis! — but I like to think of it as a calling. I simply have to do it. It’s not a hobby. It’s not just for funzies. It’s fundamental to who I am. Whether I’m the descendant of some Frankenstein experimentation, alien abduction, or other cosmic intervention, I seem to have the authordude chip permanently fused with my DNA.

C8: What is the appeal of science fiction?

Russ: Science fiction is fun because you can plausibly create almost any ‘universe’ you want, with any rules you want, just as long as you are consistent with them. Dogs talk? Right on. The Universe is overseen by a flamboyant talk show host from Eternity? Coolio. I also tend to write big. And by big, I don’t necessarily mean long, but expansive. I naturally trend toward multi-layered storytelling with a far reach. And science fiction gives me the opportunity to explore the big questions — science vs. gods, fate vs. randomness, multiple universes vs. self-delusion. I also like to juxtapose the big vs. the small. ‘My girlfriend might dump me. How do I win her back? But, wait. Hang on a second. The universe might explode if I don’t act now, so let me get back to you on the whole boo-hoo-hoo lovelife thing.’

C8: Which authors influence you?

Russ: For fiction, I’d start with Christopher Moore, Douglas Adams, Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Busiek, and Alan Moore. From them I’m extra motivated to find the big, the funny, and the scope. I also read a lot philosophy, mythology, and psychology, so there I’d say M Scott Peck, Carl Jung, Wayne Dyer, and Joseph Campbell, among others.

C8: Which authors are you currently reading?

Russ: I’m almost done with Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, by James Hollis, PhD. He’s basically recapturing ideas Jung wrote about, but because of my age — I’m almost 42 — the themes are striking a chord with me. I’m also hoping to get to Aaron Rosenberg’s wacky scifi sequel Too Small for Tall (okay, shameless Crazy 8 plug!), but that DuckBob cracks me up. I’ve also got volumes 4 and 5 of the Chew trade paperbacks in my queue.

C8: How does Crossline differ from your previous work?

A: Crossline is a pulp science fiction adventure, about an American space pilot who is forced through a wormhole and into a parallel universe – a parallel Earth – where he finds himself in the middle of a civil war he may or may not have been destined for all along. So there’s some actual spaceships and such — which I typically don’t do — although there’s my usual time bending-philosophical shenanigans going on, and a lot of humor as well. Whereas Finders Keepers was a scifi backing comedy. Think American Pie meets Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

C8: What came first with Crossline, the character(s) or the concept?

Russ: Crossline is actually the melding of two completely disparate ideas I developed a dozen years apart. Back in the late ‘90s, I had an idea for a sci-fi comic book mini-series. It never made it to print, but the general idea was in place.

But to connect the dots … back in high school I wrote a trilogy of short stories — inspired by a girl, of course — and based on the ‘the troubles’ in Ireland, because who better to capture ‘the troubles’ then a 16-year-old Jewish kid from Long Island who knew absolutely nothing about Ireland?

I based one of the characters on a 10-year-old-girl who visited from Northern Island, and whose family had been severely impacted by that turmoil. As part of my story — which I wrote in 1988 — a plane flying from the UK to the U.S. exploded over the Atlantic Ocean. Within days of finishing my story, Pan Am Flight 103 from Lockerbie, Scotland actually exploded in real life. So I sorta freaked out. And to make it freakier, in my story, the 10-year-old girl character died in the bombing. The real life girl was supposed to have been on the Lockerbie flight (cue up Twilight Zone music here). Turns out she had a last minute change of plans, so she was okay, thank god. But it’s something I never forgot.

Then a few years ago I saw how my sci-fi adventure could raise the stakes to the earlier political, human drama, which I then rewrote to be far less ‘serious’ and a lot more popcorn fun.

C8: Did Crossline require a lot of research?

Russ: Yes. For instance, I wanted to capture what a pilot might experience when losing control of the instruments mid-flight, and facing a potential crash landing. I read many accounts, and consulted a friend of mine, who is an airline pilot. He read the text, offered a few comments, and then gave me his blessing. I also read multiple texts of American Indian mythology. In one Crossline sequence, we are taken through a sweat lodge meditation, and I wanted that experience to feel authentic.

C8: What was the biggest writing obstacle you had to overcome?

Russ: Life! I was about 80 percent done with the first draft of Crossline, and then my twins were born — a boy and a girl. So I went on hiatus for about a year — the only time in my life when I wasn’t writing but still felt truly fulfilled. And since then — my kids are 2 1/2 now — it’s been an ongoing challenge to squeeze it all in. I have a full-time job, the family, and my books. So … you basically know my entire existence.

C8: How do you write your books?

Russ: With words. I find the stories flow better that way.

Russ photo 2C8: Do you have a favorite writing spot or time? Are there writing rituals you observe?

Russ: I’m early to bed, early to rise, and ideally I’ll have at least two, if not three consecutive hours of uninterrupted writing time. I try to write quickly — I’m envious of those who can I do it well — but that’s just not who I am. I’m a ‘feel’ writer, in that I need to get into the headspace of the character or scene, and embody that energy, so it often takes me a little while to find my groove. I suppose I’m a ‘method writer,’ if there is such a thing. It’s not always easy to carve out the time, but as long as I’m willing to relinquish sleep and clarity, it’s usually not a problem.

C8: What about music? Some authors prefer silence, others create playlists to set the mood.

Russ: I rarely, if ever, listen to music when I write. I like silence, so I can concentrate. But when I’m editing, I like to have earbuds in, especially when I’m editing on the subway to or from work. Mostly rock n’ roll — a lot of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Live, Green Day, AC/DC, Neil Young, U2, Coldplay — but sometimes jazz, or singer songwriters, like Crowded House, Billy Joel, or even Natalie Merchant or Sarah McLachlan. She has a great voice. But in one Crossline sequence, the pilot is flying through a wormhole, and the experience is really trippy. For that, I listened to a LOT of Pink Floyd, particularly Dark Side of the Moon. Fifty times easy. Probably more. I also listened to Break the Spell album by Chris Daughtry, and the song Spaceship off that album always put me in right mood for the crazy adventure I was writing.

C8: What is your proudest moment in the book?

Russ: There are scenes I’m really happy with, but there’s one longer sequence in the middle of the narrative when it was important — for reasons that become obvious when you read it — to create an entire back story for one of the characters. This was truly a time when I had no plan. Nada. It was purely organic. Beyond some topline information, I had no idea who this character really was or how the past would shape the present. I just sat back and let the story come to life. It was very cool. That also happened once or twice with Finders Keepers.

C8: How long did it take you to write Crossline?

Russ: Crossline was 25 years in the making. But in terms of sitting down to clack the keys, about three years, although I had a gap in the middle of the writing process due to family obligations.

C8: For someone reading this as their first exposure to your work, what would you recommend they read of yours next?

Russ: Finders Keepers

C8: And exactly what are you working on next?

Russ: The first of two Finders Keepers sequels. I hope to have the second book in print by early 2014. I’m shooting for the Farpoint con, but we’ll see how it goes. I may write the two Finders Keepers sequels back-to-back, or in between I may write a stand-alone book I have planned; it’s unrelated to any of my active projects. I’ll check in with my creative mojo at the time and see how I’m feeling.

C8: Where can fans find out more about you?

Russ: They can visit my web site at www.russcolchamiro.com, follow me on Twitter @authorduderuss, and check out my Goodreads and Facebook author pages.

I’ll also be the guest author for the #scifichat Q&A on Twitter, scheduled for Friday, March 29, at 3 pm Eastern.

C8: Where can fans find you at a con?

A: I’ll be doing author signings and panels at Lunacon in Rye, NY the weekend of March 15-17, RocCon Hudson Valley in Poughkeepsie on Sunday, April 7, and August 2-4 I’ll be at Shore Leave in Huntsville, MD, my first con as an official part of the Crazy 8 team. I may schedule other cons throughout the year. Hopefully NY Comic-Con in October, but that really depends on Crazy 8 Press!

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