Chris East? I can’t say enough positive things about a guy who likes comics and Spy Fy. Oh, he’s also a pretty good writer, and he’s lived in Iowa City. He’s pretty spiffy.
Tamago: Why do you write?
Chris: Ha, the answer to that question is a moving target! I’m pretty sure I started writing because I preferred fiction to reality. It gave me an escape, a chance to visit another world where I could bend reality to my whims. But now I write because I find it a healthy way to confront reality — argue with it, cope with it, put it into perspective. I guess the short answer is: for my mental health. Which is ironic, because writing is inherently crazy. But I’ve tried not writing, and it just doesn’t work for me.
Tamago: What is your favorite genre to write in?
Chris: I’ve always had kind of a “big tent” approach to speculative fiction: SF, fantasy, all the various subgenres. But I think all along, without quite realizing it, I’ve primarily been a writer of spy fiction — even before I truly knew it as a genre. So I guess you could say I’m a writer of speculative spy fiction.
Tamago: I know you have a great deal of knowledge about comics and film. How does this knowledge affect your writing, if at all?
Chris: I think those interests — and I would definitely throw in TV as well — have always bubbled along underneath the surface of my stuff. But until recently, they’ve only wielded a limited influence on my writing process. For a long time I compartmentalized fiction-writing as this separate, artistic pursuit — in other words, I made the mistake of taking myself seriously. I’m trying to get the hell away from that now! Once I started thinking of my writing the same way I think about the media that entertains me, I started having a lot more fun. That attitude shift has been liberating, a real breath of fresh air.
Tamago: What kind of advice would you give to a writer looking to go to a workshop like Clarion or Taos?
Chris: Thicken your skin and follow your heart! Seriously, no single piece of advice can adequately prepare you — I’d recommend gathering several opinions on the subject. But for my bit…well, workshops like Clarion and Taos can be transformative, so be ready for that. For me they were very positive and energizing, but I’ve seen it go the other way for others. I do think if you’re committed to writing SF, and willing to learn, and if you go into it with an open mind, Clarion and Taos can be hugely rewarding. If you’re willing to listen, it will probably improve your writing. But it will also improve your critiquing, really turn on your internal editor — which can be humbling and shut you down creatively. So it can be a make-or-break situation for some people. If you think you’re ready for that, I say go for it. But be ready for anything!
Tamago: What are you working on right now?
Chris: Speculative spy fiction! My current project is an urban fantasy set in Los Angeles involving ghosts, spies, conspiracies, and music. I’m approaching it like it’s the first season of a TV series I’d love to watch, and filling it with things I love and characters I’d like to meet. I’m hoping it’ll be brisk, clever, funny and intriguing, and that people will get into it. But if not, at least I’m having fun writing it!
Tamago: What would you consider your dream project?
Chris: I would love to be the all-powerful showrunner for an original TV show — but only if that turned out to be as awesome as it sounds, and not as awful as I’m sure it actually is. (Is it bad that my gut reaction to that question is: be careful what you wish for?)
Tamago: Who are your creative influences?
Chris: The easier-to-answer question is, who isn’t? I consider my hatred of McDonald’s advertising to be a creative influence. But if I had to come up with a shortlist, I’d probably go with the cyberpunks, Philip K. Dick, John LeCarre, Joss Whedon, and Frank Zappa. But I could probably add a thousand things to this list and it still wouldn’t be complete.
Tamago: I remember you suggesting that you might be more of a novelist. What is it about your work that suggests that to you?
Chris: My iffy track record as a short storyist? Seriously, the main thing is that ever since I switched my focus from short fiction to novels, my writing process has felt more natural, more satisfying, and more fun. I also seem to be getting better reactions from the people who read my stuff. And it all jives with comments I’ve gotten over the years on my short stories: that they hint at something more, feel like the beginning of something longer. So right now, novels sure feel like the correct path for me. Of course, the jury is still out.
Tamago: Where do you hope to be in ten years as a writer?
Chris: I hope that I’m a better writer than I am today. Don’t get me wrong, getting a novel or two…or five…into print would be great! But right now I’m taking things one sentence at a time.
Tamago: Where can writers find more of your work?
Chris: My website is loaded with reviews, music, and links to the short stories of mine that have appeared online. Thanks for the questions!
Thank you, Chris!