Today we hear from the second German writer at VP XIII, Christian Walter.
Tamago: How long have you wanted to be a writer?
Christian: That depends. Do you mean the concept, the idea of being a writer or the cold, reality of it? Regarding the former, for a long time, though I don’t know how far back it extends. I remember writing a story in 5th grade I then had to read to my classmates. For some reason the other kids came up to me afterwards and congratulated me on a story well done. One even drew a picture. But wanting to be a real writer is a fairly recent development. Maybe ten years ago. I say recent in regard to that number because there were pretty big spaces between the first real attempts.
Tamago: Which genre do you most enjoy working in? Why?
Christian: I cannot really answer that question. When I came to VP I was thinking about S&SF. Strangely I have written a few horror pieces since, though that is by far the genre I read the least of. I think, I see myself in service of the story and don’t want to be constrained by genre. Those question most come into play when I consciously want to challenge myself: Have I tried this before? What are the rules? How can I make it work, things like that. There is still much left to experiment with and I’m not sure if I will settle on anything in the long run.
Tamago:How does your writing practice in English differ from your writing practice in German? When do you decide which language to use?
Christian: As a non-native English speaker, I went with English for my fiction because the majority of my reading was in English. Though there is a great German literary tradition I was at the time under the impression that most of it is not contemporary. So I started out in English because that was where I wanted to go. These were the people that inspired me. In the meantime I have discovered a lot more good contemporary German fiction but I’m strangely hooked to the anglophone areas of writing.
Regarding the second part of your question: For the most part I write fiction in English. Somehow that is set for now. I write quite a lot in German as well but that follows a more journalistic bend. I think the two things feed each other. They force me to think about what makes a story worthwile, about raising and keeping the reader’s interest. There are many paralells in both languages. The rest, well, you just have to find ways to work around the incompatibilities.
Tamago: Who are your creative influences?
Christian: I draw from many sources – writing, painting, music. As long as it resonates. In the end every artist is telling a story. On the writing side I like to see Friedrich Dürrenmatt and George Orwell as two of my main influences. Also, there is William Gibson. The German version of Neuromancer was the first book I ever ordered in a bookstore.
Tamago: Has becoming a new parent affected your writing?
Christian: Oh yes. Though it has been a great experience so far it cut into my writing time. I’m still trying to work out a new model that will give me regular writing time. Right now I work in bursts. My notebook with story ideas keeps expanding though. I see that as a good sign.
Tamago: What are you working on right now?
Christian: Right now I’m finishing a bunch of short stories. Some of them old, some of them new. After going to VP, I went to Taos Toolbox the next summer. It took me a while to decompress from those two workshops. As a result I basically threw everything I had written prior to those workshops in the trash. But I still liked the ideas in some of those old stories. They were just lacking on a technical level. Redoing some of those was a challenge.
Especially since I wasn’t able to use most of the stuff from the workshops until recently. That slowed me down a lot. It remains to be seen if my pace picks up again. I feel a lot better about my writing these days as a consequence of these workshops though. I see that in the newer stuff as well. At least, I imagine that I do.
The other important thing about the workshops was the networking effect. Previously I didn’t know any other writers. Now I have found some friends and we even got an online critique group which has been enormously helpful.
The last effect was that being accepted to two consecutive workshops pretty much alleviated my fears regarding the language barrier.
Tamago: Talk about your Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox experiences. Would you recommend them to writers? What did you gain from studying at these two workshops?
Christian: Both were great and I feel sad that I can’t repeat them. Hanging out with likeminded people, working on something you truly love, that in itself is a gift. Being invited to those workshops also alleviated many of my doubts about writing in a foreign language. Prior to that, I was asking myself more than once whether this was a clever idea.
I can definitely recommend both workshops. You learn from pros, even if you feel kicked around a bit at times. They mean well or you wouldn’t be there.
Tamago: Talk to me about something else that’s on your mind besides writing.
Christian: The impeding, continuing financial meltdown. I find it funny that we are all trying desperately to save a system we know doesn’t work. I can’t say I have a solution but my mind reels at the thought that nobody is even trying to think of a different approach. The most frightening thing here is people’s general unwillingness to question their mental models. Instead people fight proxy battles in order to get back to some perceived, once upon a time, state of grace. “Get the banks lending again.” “The worker used to count for something.”
There is this joke that exemplifies the situation a bit: “A Muslim, an illegal immigrant, and a Communist walk into a bar. The barkeeper says: Hello Mr. President.”
Not that I like the guy. He’s just another politician. But that people talk to another on that level in times like this. Should our species survive, I wonder how we will be seen by posterity.
Tamago: What would be your dream writing project?
Christian: I don’t have just one. It’s a bunch of different goals. Getting one of my shorts published is obviously step one. To the end, I think I would like to have something with my name on it that meets my own criteria of quality and is seen as such by some of my peers.
Tamago: What advice would you give someone who wants to start writing?
Christian: Get cracking.