15 Questions to author Christopher Starr
Q1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
CS: A lil about me: I was born the son of a sharecropper…Seriously, I was born in East Orange, New Jersey but moved to Minnesota when I was five. I grew up in Saint Paul, MN (read your Doug Dorow interview — what's with the MN connection?) but never, ever did the Minnesota stuff: I don't like hockey, never learned to ice skate, don't cross country ski or ice fish. I've lived all over the country — Atlanta for college, moved to Cleveland with my college sweetheart, got divorced and moved to Colorado Springs and Denver, got remarried and now live in Seattle. I woke up yesterday and my wife told me she wants to move to Kentucky…we'll see what happens.
Beyond the basics (wife, two kids, dog, etc.), I love movies, candlelight dinners and walks on the beach. I have a sense of humor like a Gremlin: watching people fall is uniquely funny to me; I have a trash TV fetish and love Maury Povich and Jerry Springer; and telling stories is absolutely what I was meant to do.
Q2. When did you start writing? In which state?
CS: The cliché writer response is I've been writing as long as I can remember. I lived in Minnesota from the time I was five until I was twenty-two —my mother and sister still live there —and anything I've done as a writer started there. I had half-hearted attempts as long as I can remember — I used to try to rewrite the stories I saw or read, Star Wars and Transformers episodes. I wrote an essay that got me Michael Jackson tickets in high school but nothing really serious.
While in college, I'd gone to a Perkins in Minneapolis after the clubs let out — about 1 am. The lobby was packed in the restaurant; it was impossible to not bump into someone. One woman bumps into another, pushes and shoves ensue and then a gun comes out. Shots are fired and one woman is lying in a pool of blood. I couldn't understand what happened, how a human life can be so worthless that you can try to snuff it out over bumping into someone in a crowded restaurant. And they all looked like me! These were Black men and women…I couldn't get my mind around. So I wrote, I had to. It was the first time I used writing as a way to make sense of my world and get a handle of my emotions. I ended up writing an article and getting a publishing gig at a local newspaper as a result. That was really the beginning for me.
I took it seriously after that — started writing columns in my college newspaper, was a finalist in a creative writing contest, had one of my papers presented at a conference, almost got a English degree (got Sociology and Urban Studies instead).
Q3. Wow. That's pretty intense. With that background, how did you end up writing in your novel's genre?
CS: Good question.
Even though I write fiction, I can't turn off the honesty filter — I'm a fairly transparent writer, I think. I sincerely believe that that the best writing is the honest stuff, the real stuff. The stuff you have to say just to live with yourself. I don't believe in writer's block: I think writer's block is really the writer fighting against saying what really should be said. As soon as you give in to it, the block generally goes away.
Anyway, I initially wrote The Road to Hell in a particularly dark time in my life. I was going through a divorce and had lost my faith along the way. The book was a way of addressing questions I'd always had, it was freeing and it was fun. I was writing about Lucifer — I could say and do anything, right? Every character in that novel is either some facet of me or someone close to me. I was incredibly honest, bared my soul and, in the process, found my faith again. Some of the things you read in the book, some of the things the Father says, are conclusions I came to at the end of the process.
Q4. Ah! Sounds familiar! I often find that writing is extremely therapeutic. A burden that won't go away until exorcized at the keyboard. Unfortunately, I don't think non-writers understand that aspect of the craft, even the ones we're closest to. What about you? Do your family and friends "get" you and support your writing? Do they appreciate the need to write?
CS: I think I'm fortunate in this area: my immediate family (wife and kids) get it — kinda. I met my wife while I was writing so she's gotten used to me getting out of bed or staying up late to write something. It's almost like kryptonite: it's the only thing she absolutely gives me complete latitude to do.
My kids are a different story. They definitely don't understand the writing process but I work from home so they've learned that if I'm in my office, I'm usually busy so they leave me alone. They've seen diagrams on white boards or heard me muttering to myself but, until I had my book in hand and they could touch it, they thought I was just crazy.
Q5. That's great. Maybe you can have your wife talk to mine and straighten her out? So where did the story for The Road to Hell come from? What inspired it? I know you said your past experiences fueled the story and its topics, but was there any influence as far as genre goes? Any authors or other books help fan the flames of creativity?
CS: I was afraid you were gonna ask that: it's an old story. You can thank my high school social studies teacher, Mr. Robb, for starting it. He asked a question about the origin of evil and everyone got to the Devil as the start of evil on Earth. It didn't sit well with me — seemed like a copout. But I left it alone. For years.
But I had questions. If the Devil is the origin of evil and God made the Devil, isn't God actually the origin of evil? And if you know that someone is going to bring it all down, why make them at all? But the question that bothered me the most was the whole 1/3 thing. What kind of argument can you make that makes a third of the angels say, "You know, you're right!" and rebel against God? It made me think maybe Heaven wasn't so perfect.
Then I turned 30. The story honestly would bother me: it would wake me up, I would hear characters talking in my head, I would say their words out loud. I finally committed to writing it just so it would leave me alone.
As far as genre that influenced, I'm more of a product of movies than I am books. I saw this story as a movie and initially wrote it that way. It seemed cool and the idea of angels fighting in air, of their bodies turning into silver metal, of their weapons sprouting out of their hands. So you see images that were borne from the old Silverhawks cartoon or Venom from Spiderman comics or even the T-1000 from Terminator 2.
While I'm a big fan of Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, and Stephen King, I took an M. Night Shymalan approach to my writing: I wanted to take a literary approach to traditionally non-literary material. I'm also pretty competitive and one of the biggest influencers to writing The Road to Hell was reading the novels by others who had tackled similar subject matter. I read Wendy Alec's The Fall of Lucifer, To Reign in Hell by Stephen Brust, The Exile of Lucifer by Brian Schaefer, Tosca Lee's Demon: A Memoir. They're all respectable novels in their own right but I felt like I could shed light on the personal struggle Lucifer faced with his fall.
Q6. Ah, yes... I'm familiar with that debate... And your book is the first thing I ever read that tries to examine how 1/3 of heaven could come to such a place of rebellion. Have you come to a personal solution through your writing that you may not plant your flag on but that at least lets you sleep at night? Progeny did that for me. I wouldn't be dogmatic about the gap theory, but it answered a lot of questions that I otherwise had no answers for, thus allowing me some peace.
CS: I did get some peace with the idea. I think that's why I kept reading so many of my contemporaries and ultimately wrote the story: no one addressed the "how" in a way that made sense. You wrote in your review that my novel wasn't a theological treatise —you're right. The goal was to present Lucifer's road to Hell in a way that was plausible.
I've wondered if people would mistake my book for something more than what it is: I see it as a pretty good story that offers a different look into an old legend. I often wonder if readers would take exception to its semi-sympathetic portrayal of Lucifer. It's made me a little hesitant to market to traditional Christian groups and bookstores. I question the best way to position it.
Q7. Who would you say your ideal reader is? Who would you say the book was written for?
CS: This is supposed to be the easy question, right?
Because I write in the gray — my antagonists are never wholly evil and my protagonists are never wholly good — I think the ideal reader is someone who has some preconceived notions about what happened in Heaven but has questions. Someone who's open to questions and is willing to imagine. I've wondered how to best present this to a more "traditional" Christian population. The Road to Hell certainly doesn't follow a doctrine and isn't a feel-good novel. I hope that it encourages people to ask questions and pursue their own answers.
Q8. So do you plan on making a series out of Road to Hell? If so, do you have a general idea of how it will end yet?
CS: It's intended to be a series: The Road to Hell is the first in the Heaven Falls. I've planned four books, each covering a different section of the Bible and God's relationship with man. Each one is told primarily from the perspective of one of the angels — Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
The next one, Hell and Highwater, covers Genesis 1:1 to the Great Flood. It's Raphael's story and, believe it or not, it's a love story.
I do have an idea of how things will end for the series but when dealing with angels as unpredictable as Lucifer and temperamental as Michael, anything can happen.
Q9. Do you see yourself writing in another genre some day? Any specific setting or theme that intrigues you enough to write about?
CS: Absolutely! I'm working on a horror/thriller now called (tentatively) Rabid. My plan as an author is to write in every genre I can. I have thoughts and projects on the literary side, YA, historical fiction, more supernatural fiction, graphic novels…I have plenty.
I do like ancient civilizations — particularly during the age of empires with the Romans, the Greeks and Macedonians. My historical fiction is set in the time of Alexander the Great.
I'm open to themes and settings, I guess. I'm a lazy researcher so I generally stick to those settings that are familiar or give me latitude to make things up.
Q10. Nice. I'd look forward to reading those. What is your ideal setting for long writing binges?
CS: I like to write at night after everyone has gone to bed or early in the morning while they're still sleeping. A little jazz and I'm good... Most creative... I'm not sure I've ever had my ideal setting. I love the idea of remote places to go: a cabin in the woods, the Overlook Hotel. I want to take a train ride across country and just write - I think that would be the most ideal setting of all.
Q11. Yeah, that sounds great. I've always wanted to take a long cruise while writing a story that takes place on one... What are some of your favorite books/authors?
CS: I'm a huge Toni Morrison fan - I've read all of her stuff, though I struggled with the last one, A Mercy. I like James Baldwin too. Both of these authors have such a lyrical style, such a way with weaving histories of people, of generations into the work at hand. At the same time, Michael Crichton is my hero — he owns the techno-thriller and I'm a fan of anyone who can make such a mark. But Stephen King is the only author to ever make me jump while reading.
Then there are simple books, pure ones like The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss, Beezus and Ramona or Shel Silverstein — books so potent they never, ever leave you. I should be so lucky, so blessed to write like any of them.
Q12. How about movies or TV shows? What are some of your favorites?
CS: I call myself child of the 80s because that decade got me from the 2nd grade through high school. I think this time was one of the most creative and prolific times for TV and movies. So does Seth MacFarlane. I feel like I watched everything: He-Man, Dukes of Hazzard, Thundercats, Hill Street Blues (let's be safe out there), The Incredible Hulk. But I was born in 1973, so at a very young age I was exposed to TV shows that addressed and highlighted racial, political, and economic issues: The Jeffersons, Good Times, All in the Family, MASH. You can't even get those shows on TV now.
More than anything, these shows, this time, made me feel like, artistically, you could do anything and the audience would respond. Have faith in them, in their intelligence and comfort and willingness to take a leap with you. The audience will reward you. I think TV was smarter then; I think it thought we were smarter. I often challenge my kids to find one show they watch that does not include a really dumb character. They can't. And don't get me started on SpongeBob. Hate that show.
Q13. Guess you weren't a big Saved By The Bell fan, huh? Ok, here's a question. If God handed you a blank book and charged you with filling it, telling you that this would be your life's work, what you would go down in history for, what would you write on? Oh, and the catch is that, fiction or non, it has to touch on an important issue that would impact countless readers and provoke some kind of change in the world, whether social, spiritual, cultural... Is there an issue that, given the power and ability, you would write about in order to change the world in some way?
CS: I watched Saved ByThe Bell — I wasn't a fan (but I knew that Mario Lopez would be the break out star…)- my sister would watch it on Saturday mornings. Along with Small Wonder.
I'm glad you started saving the easy questions for later in the interview…
When I was in college, I read Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. Changed my life. His book was about the haves and have nots really told from the perspective of these kids just trying to get a decent education. I think I'd have to write something like that — something about the economic disparities in this world. We pay farmers in the country not to grow food but there are millions of people starving. We have the technology to convert salt water into fresh water but we let entire nations suffer through droughts. And it's all behind an arbitrary concept called money. Because there's nothing in it for us for helping other people. I'm just as guilty. But I think I'd have to write a book, more fiction than non, about the things that unite us as human beings. That focus on the worth of all people, not just the wealthy or opportunistic or the lucky. Being the type of writer I am, I'd probably have to present it as a "the alternative is worse" type of story, you know? Play on the horrible things that would happen if we didn't address our own humanity.
Q14. That would be a very interesting thing to read put forth in a story. So I guess I have to ask this, seems it's the one universal question authors get asked. When you write, do you outline and plot out the whole story, or do you just let the keyboard take you on a ride?
CS: Neither actually. I started out writing thinking I was writing movies. So I got Vicki King's How To Write A Movie In 21 Days. I like the pace movies flow in and dialogue has always been my weakest area so writing a rough draft as a screenplay works for me. It makes the entire process very clean, makes my plot very straightforward. When I write the first draft from the screenplay, I can weave in all the subplots, mannerisms, milieu without missing major plot points.
Plus screenplays are easier to change...
Q15. Okay, so now that we know a little more about you, how can people get in touch with you and buy your book?
CS: Let's see, folks can catch me at my blog: christophercstarr.net, on Facebook at Facebook.com/christophercstarr, or follow me on Twitter at @SuperStarr73.
The Road to Hell is available on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/061544203X...) and Barnes and Noble (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Roa...).
Ebooks now 99 cents!
Thanks, Christopher! And best of luck!