Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interview with Curtis C. Chen, author of Waypoint Kangaroo

Please welcome Curtis C. Chen to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Waypoint Kangaroo is published on June 21st by Thomas Dunne Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Curtis a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

CC:  Thanks—it’s great to be here! The first stories I remember trying to write were in grade school, because I was already an avid reader at that age and wanted to try my hand at creating these magical things called “books” that I enjoyed so much. Those first attempts weren’t very good, or original—hashtag low stakes plagiarism—but I kept at it over the years, and I got better.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

CC:  I’m a pantser who’s working on becoming more of a plotter. My current process involves pantsing a first draft—usually during NaNoWriMo—and then figuring out in rewrites what works and what doesn’t. (I talk more about this process in “The Page as Performance.”) I would definitely like to get better at being able to see the big picture ahead of time. I’m able to do this for short stories, but a novel is so much longer and more complex, I haven’t yet figured out a good way to keep it all in my head.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

CC:  Not getting distracted by related tasks that are part of the job, but not the actual work. It’s become more of a challenge this year, with my attention split between promoting Kangaroo book one and revising book two on deadline. In general, the two big things that help me the most are (1) blocking out a solid chunk of a few hours at a time for writing; and (2) getting out of the house and away from screaming cats who demand attention at inopportune times.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

CC:  Pretty much everything in my life, honestly, to some degree. A lot of different inputs go into my brain, and once all that stuff is in there, the subconscious stew can simmer for years or decades before something boils over into a coherent idea. But I do, at that point, have a choice of what to pursue as far as turning it into an actual story. If I’m not writing something in response to or in conversation with another piece, I’ll often try something new and different to challenge myself. I always want to be learning and growing as an artist.

TQYou're a former software engineer. How does this influence or not your fiction writing?

CC:  Well, there are at least three computer-related inside jokes in the book; I may run a contest later to see if anyone can identify all of them. :) But the main crossover from engineering to fiction writing was thinking of plot in terms of debugging—you can see a problem, but you’re not sure what’s causing it, and figuring that out and fixing it can be a pain in the neck. In Waypoint Kangaroo, the bad guys are basically cracking their way into a secure system, and the good guys are troubleshooting to find and contain those breaches. (And for the record, I wasn’t not influenced by 1995’s Hackers, the greatest movie ever made for certain values of “great.”)

TQDescribe Waypoint Kangaroo in 140 characters or less.

CC:  I literally did this for one of Dan Koboldt’s #SFFpit Twitter pitching contests! And I remain highly amused by my pitch:
“Where’s agent Kangaroo?”
“On vacation.”
“Yup. Space cruise to Mars.”
“That ship’s been hijacked!”
“Well, crap.”
@curtiscchen, 11 Jun 2014

TQTell us something about Waypoint Kangaroo that is not found in the book description.

CC:  The acknowledgements section is at the back of the book instead of the front. Did I just BLOW YOUR MIND? No? Okay. Moving on.

TQWhat inspired you to write Waypoint Kangaroo? What appealed to you about writing what your publisher calls an "...outer space thriller"?

CC:  I’ve always been interested in space adventures. Two of the first television shows I can remember watching—as an infant, from my crib—were Star Trek (TOS) and Space: 1999. (The third was Bewitched, which also influenced me very deeply.) I got into mysteries and thrillers later, mostly from reading novels by Ian Fleming, John le Carré, and Tom Clancy in high school, but also through seeing a student production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Each of those authors taught me something different about tension and suspense, and if I’m doing it right, it’s probably because they showed me how.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Waypoint Kangaroo?

CC:  Honestly, not very much. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations for spaceflight distances and times, and very cursory web research on radiation poisoning, but I made up a lot of stuff. Like, a lot a lot. I’m a pretty lazy writer, and basically all I want to do is convince the reader that the fundamentals of a situation are plausible before I go and screw everything up to cause problems for my protagonists. Sorry not sorry!

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

CC:  In some ways, Kangaroo was the easiest to write; the entire novel is in first person from his point of view, so I had a lot of practice using his voice and being in his head. The hardest to write were the villains, because at first I didn’t want to engage with their motivations—I conceived of them as offscreen evildoers who didn’t deserve to argue their position to the reader. It took me a long time to get over this; for more on that, go read my guest post on John Wiswell’s The Bathroom Monologues.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Waypoint Kangaroo? 

CC:  I didn’t really highlight any specific social issues in WK (other than “murder is bad” I suppose—I hope that’s not a controversial stance), but I did make an effort to show that the people in this future setting are diverse in many ways, and everyone’s okay with it. I wanted this world to be actually post-racial, and for gender identity to be a non-issue. People are who they are. Everyone can love whoever they want. Love is love is love is love.

TQWhich question about Waypoint Kangaroo do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: How tall is Kangaroo?
A: How tall are you? Yeah, about that height, sure, why not.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Waypoint Kangaroo.

CC:  It may only be funny to me, but this is by far my favorite dialogue from WK:
“Thank you . . . Xiao?” I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that name.
“Xiao,” he says.
“Xiao,” I do my best to repeat.
“Close enough, sir.” His expression tells me I should just drop it. “How may I help you?”
For more on why I think this is downright hilarious, see my guest post for Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit.

TQWhat's next?

CC:  I’m currently working with my editor on revisions to Kangaroo book two, and looking forward to getting back to writing some new short fiction later this year. I also help organize Puzzled Pint, a volunteer-driven monthly event that now happens in 34 locations around the world, and we’re working on a Star Trek themed set of puzzles for August to celebrate Trek’s 50th anniversary!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

CC:  Thank you very much for the invitation!

Waypoint Kangaroo
Kangaroo 1
Thomas Dunne Books, June 21, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he's pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

With Waypoint Kangaroo, Chen makes his debut with this outer space thriller. Chen has an extensive network of connections to prominent science fiction authors, and has studied under John Scalzi, James Patrick Kelly, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

About Curtis

Photo by Folly Blaine
Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.

Curtis' short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER'S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers' workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of every month. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com.

Facebook  ~  Twitter @curtiscchen  ~  Waypoint Kangaroo Site


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