A former engineer working in oil exploration in the Libyan desert and the Canadian Arctic, Christopher Hoare is now an author of several speculative novels such as Arrival, Deadly Enterprise, and The Wildcat's Victory. In this interview, Hoare talks about his books, writing habits, critique groups, and finding the right publisher.
Thanks for being here today. Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
The first three novels of my Iskander series are my current releases, with the third due out in July. They feature a small group of modern people stranded in an alternate 17th century Earth, called Gaia. The three are Arrival, Deadly Enterprise, and The Wildcat’s Victory.
Several interests and intentions fuel the series: the unapologetic desire to write a strong female protagonist who blends femininity with fearless action being the first. I wanted to show that a man could do it. Secondly, I wanted to explore the interactions between modern and earlier cultures, exercising a somewhat sociological imagination in that the moderns launch a technological revolution into the earlier world. Then there was the opportunity to explore some historical what-ifs in the scenario, such as the tactical effect of having instant communication in a world that operated at the speed of a fast horse.
What type of writer are you — the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
I like this question because both answers are true. While I always expected to employ my thirty years' experience in oil exploration in my writing – in the Libyan Desert as well as the Canadian Arctic and Rockies – I find I’m not yet ready to use those experiences in fiction. Consequently I’m writing mostly speculative novels. On the other hand, I do use personal experience in my fiction, like the use of communication devices in borderline areas, as well as my early service in the Royal Artillery in the gunfire sequences in The Wildcat’s Victory.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
Again, both are true. My earlier works were all outright explorations of the characters’ responses in developing situations. I wrote the first drafts with almost no backtracking to beef up perceived weak portions. Now I’m working on the fourth novel in the Iskander series I find myself editing the plot as I write and going back repeatedly to either foreshadow developments or to strengthen plot elements that the novel structure calls for — even adding entire chapters.
Not sure if that can be called the result of writing maturity or insecurity that I’m not creating as freely as I once felt confident with. I have scrapped several entire novels that grew from the seat of the pants approach — and did not work. So perhaps I’m hedging my bets now.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I know that I would never have matured enough as a writer to be able to write publishable novels without my seven years participation in NovelPro. Of course that group is not for novice writers and everyone there is tough enough to take criticism that completely crushes a novel. I junked one when it finally penetrate my thick skull that there was no way to resuscitate it. I have one more in a coma, waiting for my fiction craft to arrive at a level at which I can produce a draft that works.
I’d suggest that every writer should join a critique group — a gentler one if they really are writing virgins. I belong to another one that I value for the insights of some of the members but would never submit anything there for criticism. I previously belonged to one that had members who delighted in stomping on any perceived weaknesses. You must learn to evaluate criticism, not succumb to it.
Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most with when writing? How do you tackle it?
I continually struggle with my long out of fashion English education and reading habits. I have come to believe that formerly I only ever read books written in passive voice. If I slacken my vigilance I immediately revert to flocks of passives and land myself an hour or two of unneeded work to excise them.
I also fight bitterly against the ugly corruption of the English language that has been inspired by Webster spelling, and business and educators’ jargon. Kidnaped – sliping – I ask you! Just the other day I caught a really excellent writer with a short sentence of crass American newspaper jargon in an ethnic novel set in an Eastern country – no doubt spam from her day job.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
Unless you have been advised by an established writer to approach an agent or publisher of their acquaintance, with at least a good word if not an outright recommendation, don’t waste your time. There are hundreds of small presses out there who publish the bulk of the books put out each year and they will treat your work with far more consideration than will any New York house or agent. New York really has no time or patience to deal with a writer who has no track record. Perhaps a cheque for $5000 tucked in the cover letter might do it, but they are all slaves to commercial rather than artistic or entertainment values.
My two publishers are both small presses that publish both e-books and POD paperbacks. When I have a track record with half a dozen novels, an agent might deign to read my query letter about a new work to the end.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
I have a website but it’s always out of date. It does have sample chapters of some novels and maps for the Iskander stories to download. Rather than use up writing time I elected to hire my computer fixing guy to set it up. It turned out to be more trouble for him than he expected – we still can’t get it to host with my ISP. And now I think he’s gone out coal mining again and I won’t get my last changes done until the snow flies.
I use my latest blog as my promotion and update site. I started it with my Virtual Book Tour for the release of that novel. It has a report on the book tour as well as much background material about the Iskander scenario that never fits in the novels.
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
My pure fantasy, Rast, will be published by Zumaya next January. It features a young couple combating the intrusion of a mechanistic invader into the magical kingdom of Rast. It’s rather an anti-technology/anti-imperialism piece. In order to combat his enemies the young prince must open himself to the magic whose power will eventually destroy him.
Then there are two works in progress: the fourth in the Iskander series, The Wildcat’s Burden, that follows from The Wildcat’s Victory, as well as a modern setting speculative fiction with a protagonist who is a retired professor of cybernetics and abbott of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. I’ve long been following the concordance between modern physics theories and 2500 year old Buddhist insights. The tone is light and often humorous when Crumthorne strives to protect a NASA convention from outside forces who use mind power for their interstellar meddling.