Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Interview with Russ Colchamiro

Russ Colchamiro is the author of the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the hilarious sci-fi backpacking comedy series, Finders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor of the new anthology, Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.
Russ lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and crazy dog, Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself. Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the Crimson Keep, Pangaea, and Altered States of the Union, and TV Gods 2. He is now at work on a top-secret project, and a Finders Keepers spin-off.
As a matter of full disclosure, readers should not be surprised if Russ spontaneously teleports in a blast of white light followed by screaming fluorescent color and the feeling of being sucked through a tornado. It’s just how he gets around — windier than the bus, for sure, but much quicker.

I reviewed Love, Murder & Mayhem a little while ago,  and now he's kindly agreed to a quick interview about both the anthology and Finders Keepers, the first in the comedy series.

Hi, Russ, thanks for joining us! I've enjoyed what I've read of your work so far in both short story and long form, so here goes.

Q: These are very confident books! How long have you been a writer? Is there one incident or accident that made you realise you were a writer?
A: I’ve spoken on various panels over the years, and this question tends to come up a lot. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer, but to be a writer, you have to actually write. Besides fiction, I was a journalist for a long while, and now I’m a media specialist, so I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years. I can’t recall the specific moment where I said confidently that “I’m a writer,” but I did struggle with that identity during my 20s. I was ‘getting there,’ saying it out loud—“I’m a writer”—and then cringing, hoping that nobody was listening or going to uncover how much I wasn’t a writer, because I hadn’t quite owned that identity yet. I hadn’t committed to my path. But that seems like such a long time ago. Writing isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.

Q: I think many of us know that feeling. Is writing then a full time job for you, or is there something else you do, too?
A: Yes to full-time, but if you mean fiction, then, no, not full-time yet, but I’m working on it. As I noted, I used to be a journalist, and now I do media consulting for real estate companies. I represented One World Trade Center for many years, so that was quite a trip.

Q: I'm sure. And speaking of trips, backpacking is a real rite of passage, and I’m guessing you’ve done the journeys your characters do. Do you have a stand-out memory from your travels that you haven’t used in your books?

A: Ha! Indeed I do. But some stories are just for me. J

Q: Shame! Love, Murder & Mayhem is a really well-balanced short story collection. How did the idea come about? Was editing it easier or harder than writing your own books? Writers have the reputation of being as easy to herd as cats!

A: While writing Genius de Milo, the second book in my Finders Keepers scifi backpacking comedy series, I very briefly introduced the character of Angela Hardwicke. Though her portion takes place in the fictional setting of Eternity, she’s a private eye in that classic Sam Spade tradition. I gave her a much more substantial role in the third and final book, Astropalooza, and knew that I wanted to write a spin-off series for her, which I’m actually working on now. But before that I felt the need to write a short story with her in the lead, to get a better sense of who she was, her rhythms, and the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.

So I started the Love, Murder & Mayhem anthology through my publishing group—Crazy 8 Press. Including the other six (now seven!) core Crazy 8 members, I reached out to other writer friends to contribute, with every story containing at least one act of love or romance, at least one murder, and lots of mayhem. I initially thought I’d get nothing but private stories—I did a get a few—but the anthology contains superhero and supervillain stories, off-world and space cruiser stories, as well as A.I., private eyes, sleep surrogates, time travel, an aliens/monsters mash-up and … one DuckBob!

As for herding the cats … Since I’ve worked as an editor and project manager of sorts since the 1990s, I had a pretty good idea going in what to expect from the writers. I stayed on top of everyone pretty well. There’s a fine line between persistence and annoyance. Did I cross that line? Not sure. Depends on who you ask! But everybody delivered to me what they promised, on time. Except for one hold out. I won’t say who it was, but we were pushing the envelope in terms of schedule. I was prepared to cut that author from the anthology—and nearly did—but thankfully it didn’t come to that. But it was close!

Q: Well, it worked in the end! It's a really good collection. 
When it comes to Finders Keepers, did you set out to write a series? Do you plan your writing, or go with the flow?
A: With the Finders Keepers trilogy, the first book was originally just a one-off, as I had a specific story I wanted to tell and to tell it in a specific way. I did, but I left it open-ended, as I strongly suspected I’d want to revisit those characters. About a year later, while I was writing my stand-alone intergalactic mystery Crossline, the idea for Genius de Milo popped into my head, and about half-way through, I could see where I wanted to take all of the characters and their arcs through a third Finders Keepers book, which became Astropalooza.

Q: You cite Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett in your book description – what other authors, sci-fi/fantasy or otherwise, have influenced you?
A: When it comes to the tone of my Finders Keepers trilogy, I usually say that if you like Third Rock from the Sun, Groundhog Day, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, you might like what I’ve done. And with Crossline, which is a space opera/intergalactic mystery, I usually say that if you like Firefly, Flash Gordon, Interstellar, Stargate, and Escape from New York, Crossline might be for you.

Lots of film and television watching, then! Thanks so much to Russ for the interview.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

July's literary house

Finn Family Moomintroll (Moomins Fiction) by [Jansson, Tove]

Nothing better for summer than a little Moominsummer Madness, and this story is madder than most. It’s from Finn Family Moomintroll. The family have found a Hobgoblin’s Hat, and discovered that using it as a wastepaper basket has its risks. Nothing stays the same for long in there: eggshells turn to clouds, and the words in the Dictionary of Outlandish Words become little rune-like animals. However, the most spectacular transformation happens when the children are out one afternoon …

‘Moominmamma had gone upstairs for a snooze, but before doing so she had dropped the ball of poisonous pink perennials into the Hobgoblin’s Hat in an absent-minded moment. The trouble was she should never have tidied up really, for while the house lay deep in its after-lunch nap the ball of poisonous pink perennials began to grow in a strange and bewitched fashion. It twisted slowly up out of the hat, and crept down on to the floor. Tendrils and shoots groped their way up the walls, clambered round the curtains and blind-cords, and scrambled through the cracks, ventilators, and keyholes. In the damp air flowers came out and fruit began to ripen, and huge leafy shoots blotted out the stairs, pushed their way between the legs of the furniture and hung in festoons from the chandelier.
‘The house was filled with a soft rustling sound: sometimes the pop of an opening bud could be heard, or the thud of ripe fruit falling on the carpet …
Moominmamma woke with a start, and, to her amazement, saw that her room was full of small, white flowers, hanging down from the ceiling in leafy garlands.
‘Oh, how beautiful!’ she said. ‘Moomintroll must have done this as a surprise for me.’ And she carefully drew aside the thin curtain of flowers by her bed and stepped on to the floor… There was a small forest on the staircase, and the drawing-room was a positive jungle …
‘And the shoots grew up through the chimneys and climbed down over the roof covering the whole of Moominhouse with a thick green carpet, while out in the rain Moomintroll stood and stared at the big, green mound where the flowers went on opening their petals and the fruit ripened from green to yellow, from yellow to red. ..
‘As they pushed through the door a remarkable sight met their eyes: the Muskrat was sitting in the fork of a tree eating a pear.’

Well, the cucamelons came close to taking over the kitchen last summer, but it was nothing like this!

In fact, there are paper scraps all over the study floor, but it's only because I'm trying to sort out the plot of the next Hippolyta, temporarily (at least) entitled A Murderous Game. Have to start proper writing next week, but there's a good deal of furniture to shift first - and indeed the plot to sort out!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Houses, gardens, books and wool

Well, it’s been a busy time recently, and none of it was writing, though I did fit in the odd bit of knitting, crochet and reading. I’ve had a work project on which was a bit intense, but is now done, and I’ve been helping a relative move into their new house which has required a fair amount not only of box shifting and unpacking, but also ringing workmen and sorting out estimates and orders and all kinds of work. To be fair, the man we had doing the wet rot work turned out to be something of a project manager and looked after the other tradesmen, which was great as the house was not habitable just then. He was a bit of a treasure! I bet he’s pleased to be shot of us, though.

Now it’s time to do a bit more gardening: the place is hopelessly overgrown and the allotment is rather undergrown, with two of the beds helpfully cleared by the incumbent rabbit population. My plot has been selected for the site of the humane rabbit trap, but fortunately I don’t have to supervise it. When I was last there I did still have courgette plants, potatoes, nibbled onions and broad beans, and very timid mangetout. At home I have tomatoes, peas, more potatoes, and peppers – and aubergines and squash if they ever get to doing anything interesting.

The knitting includes an Aran jersey, size XXL, to be finished by November, a tunic and a Norwegian jersey to be finished whenever, and a guest bed blanket which now only requires sewing on to its backing. There are as usual also gloves and seafarers’ hats around the place for casual knitting moments – the seafarers’ hats (along with socks and gloves) are for the Mission to Seafarers, to be distributed amongst those sailors who set off on a plane from the Philippines to join their ship in Aberdeen dressed in shorts and sandals, and are consequently a little chilly.

Reading has been varied. I’ve just decided to give up on a Stuart McBride – not a Logan Macrae one, and therefore lacking the humour that makes me go on forgiving the darkness. It’s just too noir. Started Post Mortem by Kate London, whom I saw at Granite Noir, and I’m enjoying it so far. TheHerring Seller’s Apprentice was daft and fun, with some dark insights into publishing. A Clash of Spheres was deeply enjoyable as usual, except for a couple of modernisms and a dearth of punctuation (reminds me of that Billy Connolly monologue where someone tells him breathlessly about Bonnie Prince Charlie coming to Dumfries and taking the shoes off the people, and he says ‘Listen, son, for Christmas – ask for a comma.’) She will keep ending on cliff edges, though: good, but I like to feel I’ve finished a book. The Ghosts of Ardenthwaite was better than its predecessor, I thought: more rounded, more satisfying, with a fairly believable plot. Midnight Crossroad was not, I thought at first, my kind of thing – not really interested in Midwest small town America – then I realised why it was a bit weird, and enjoyed it much more. This Crazy Thing ICall My Life was fun and touching in a balanced, well-written way as ever, while Long Spoon was a bit of a departure in some ways for the author but as always a satisfying read.

Now, perhaps, I can get back to work on the standalone I wrote in 2000 and am editing, and on the next Hippolyta Napier, provisionally called ‘A Murderous Game’, and due out in early December (but not yet started, help!). I’m also still thinking about a series set in 1785, and another one set in a very different time period which someone suggested to me but will need some considerable research to make it work. Again it might be a question of writing the first one and seeing how they go – though I tried that with Hippolyta and wrote two to see how they would go! Oh, well.

The mailing list subscribers are reading the novella, A Dark Night at Midsummer (at least, I suppose they are: perhaps they just wanted to use it as some kind of psychoanalysis tool). I need to take a week and do all the mending and sewing that is blocking up the study – and we hope this summer to move some rooms around so that my study is in fact in a different room (not something I’m particularly looking forward to, but maybe it will work!). This will involve – hey, more decorating and fixing and wallpaper ordering, and there we are, full circle!