Please welcome Chris Sharp to The Qwillery as part of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Cold Counsel was published on February 21st by Tor.com.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Chris: I have always thought of myself as a writer/story teller, even long before I did any actual writing. As far back as grade school—homemade role-playing games, stop motion movies, and elaborate imagined worlds with my friends were a constant.
I didn’t start writing prose in earnest until 2002, when a long brewing monster of a first novel started to spill out. That one took seven years, and was around 270,000 words of pent up, messy, story potential.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Chris: Definitely more of a pantser. I tend to have a general sense of what I want to do, and then sit down and start writing from the beginning until I get to the end before I go back to look at what I’ve actually done. It doesn’t always work out in my favor—but I’m still fond of the romanticized notion of being the conduit for my higher storytelling self.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Chris: After that first draft is done, I have historically struggled with going back and making the changes that are necessary to make it any good. So often, beta readers will offer notes that amount to “something not working” without insight as to what that something is. They are of course right, but I can become a petulant man-baby and argue the point in absence of clear direction.
I’m getting much better with this.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a TV director influence or not your novel writing?
Chris: I was never a TV director, but did some extended time as an independent film/commercial/industrial-video producer. I was closely bound for much of my youth, and twenty years post college, to a crew of very fine filmmakers/writers who have continued on to establish themselves in that industry.
Screenwriting and filmmaking are as much of a drive for me as long-form novelization. I tend to think and write in cinematic terms – a little light on description, and long on plot movement and dialogue as a driver of action. I feel like it keeps the story moving and adds entertainment value, but may sometimes undercut a message, morale, or key insight that I want to bring out organically in my novel writing. I’m a slow build, sprinkled insight world builder, and get very turned off by what feels like forced data dumps in exposition and descriptions.
More generally, everything I read, watch, and listen to has and does influence my writing. I steal from everyone and everything.
TQ: Describe Cold Counsel in 140 characters or less.
Chris: A coming of age yarn about a boy, his aunt, and his ax against the backdrop of fading mythology and ancient anger in a post-Ragnarok world.
TQ: Tell us something about Cold Counsel that is not found in the book description.
Chris: My editor, the brilliant Jen Gunnels, described it as “Conan the Barbarian as written by Tolkien while on a cocaine and petroleum bender,” which may give a keener insight into the tone then what you’ll get on the cover.
The boy is the last troll to survive the genocide of his race, his aunt is the masked reincarnation of an ancient goddess consumed by anger, and the ax is a possessed relic from the storied age of giants.
There are no humans or easy heroes to hold to, but I hope you’ll find yourself rooting for a loveable band of bloodthirsty killers, and wishing for more at the story’s close.
It’s fast, furious fun for the whole family, if the family isn’t afraid of harsh language, brutal violence, and reveling in the fodder of nightmares.
TQ: What inspired you to write Cold Counsel? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Chris: The protagonist, the troll, SLUD, was first summoned up through the rolling of dice for the Palladium Fantasy RPG in the seventh grade. I used to doodle his picture in my notebooks and write epic verse in his honor. I’d always thought to write his origin story some day, and started it on a whim with the notion to write a little, and sell it as a serialized novel… No takers.
But I was in an angry place at the time, and this angry story kept coming. I’d been disheartened by the underwhelming sales of my first published book, depressed by the direction some of my life choices had taken me, and penned inside by the brutal New England winter of 2014. SLUD’s story was the most fun I’d ever had writing. It was started as an exercise in speed and brevity, but metastasized into the book it is today.
For so many, I think fantasy/sci-fi is seen as less than real, and thereby frivolous. For me, rehashed stories about family dramas, or struggling with our own individual identities in the harsh face of adulthood is often tedious, boring, and overly simple.
Fantasy can and does deal with all of those same real struggles, but does so in a construct that takes us outside of our own microcosmic vantage—allowing us to better see and recognize the inherent truths of our mutual existence. Fantasy is not less than real, it’s hyper-real. At its best, there is more truth, for me, in a story about talking rabbits or space-exploring dolphins than another brilliantly insightful retelling of unresolved childhoods at a family dinner. I don’t need to read about that, I can live that for myself every Thanksgiving. Give me the fucking space dolphins and let me learn something new!
TQ: Cold Counsel is your adult debut novel. How different is it writing for an adult rather than YA audience?
Chris: Not much. I was perhaps a bit overly conscious of the “audience” in the writing of my first YA novel—about climate change, coming of age, and dragons. It’s geared toward older teens, but I tried to limit the bad language and some of the harder edges. But in reality, teens often have filthier mouths and harder edges than anybody. I’m finishing the sequel to that YA novel now, and I’ve let go of some of that initial pretense by design—and I think I have a stronger narrative/voice for it.
Cold Counsel is also a YA novel of sorts, in that SLUD, the troll, is a young adult trying to find his footing in an unknown world. All of the harsh language and carnage that surrounds him just happens to define the world he exists in, and if I did my job, his trollishness should not diminish his “human” thoughts, dreams, and disappointments along the way.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Cold Counsel?
Chris: I have always been fascinated with world mythology. Joseph Campbell and Jung were staples of mine throughout college, and Norse mythology, which this book draws heavily from, is eternally fascinating. I can’t wait to read Neil Gaiman’s new take on the old myths.
But for this one, I was really focused on the vantage of the Vanir in the old Aesir/Vanir war, and of the struggles and death of the giants throughout those tales. I did some research into the mythology and cherry-picked the bits that fed into the narrative I wanted to tell. There are two old weapons that factor heavily into the story, an ax and a sword, and it’s the mythology around those two weapons, who made them, and what they represent that’ll guide where the story will go from here. That, and a deep delve into Gullveig and Angrboda, two/one ancillary figures from Norse mythology that I feel deserve a lot more attention.
TQ: Please tell us about Cold Counsel's cover.
Chris: The cover is by the amazing David Palumbo with the direction of the immensely talented Christine Foltzer. It pretty much speaks for itself: young SLUD with his cold ax against a mountain backdrop.
I think that Tor.com has been putting out some of the most exciting covers of late, and I’m thrilled to be in the mix.
TQ: In Cold Counsel who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Chris: My favorite character to write was Neither-Nor – a very hard to kill, misanthropic goblin from a wiped out clan, whose only reason to keep on living is to kill as many others as possible before his days are done. His ceaselessly negative, vitriolic spew was very cathartic to write, and I loved trying to make him oddly lovable despite it.
SLUD was in some ways the hardest to write, as I wanted him to be somewhat unknowable as he slowly builds toward a self-discovery that doesn’t even fully materialize in this novel. He’s the last of his race, and has led an entirely sheltered existence—equally innocent and calculating. Most of the insights to his character happen from outside perspectives, but I still wanted to make him likeable, and someone that the reader would want to follow along with.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Cold Counsel?
Chris: My YA series is heavy on social commentary and overt social discussion. Cold Counsel was in some ways both more personal and more overtly escapist. I definitively have a social message in Cold Counsel that will become more recognizable in the parts of the story that will follow, but I doubt that many readers would notice what that might be, and I’m okay with that.
TQ: Which question about Cold Counsel do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Chris: Holy crap! This is the book WE never knew WE wanted to read. Is there more to SLUD’s story?
Yes. Coming soon.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Cold Counsel.
Neither-Nor had a glassy look as he chugged the last few gulps of his own jug. He tossed the empty bottle in the snow, a little disappointed that it didn’t break. “Yer fuckin’ mad as a foamin’ weasel, ain’t ya?”
Slud thought about it for a moment and shrugged. “Yeah, may very well be.”
Greatness, legends, and the stories of a lost age were bullshit. Life was about will and luck, and the rare moments when the two coincided—the rest was just suffering, and the fleeting illusion that the suffering abated for a few stolen minutes here and there.
TQ: What's next?
Chris: I’m finishing up a beta-reader editorial round for the sequel to my YA dragon novel, and think it’s the best thing I’ve written yet—excited to get it out and earn a bigger audience for that increasingly epic series.
I’m currently writing a screenplay for an excellent producer/director that weaves contemporary politics with Lovecraftian horror—and I’m loving it.
I hope to be just getting started, and plan to have more SLUD, more dragons, and plenty of other things coming down the pipe as well.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Chris: It was my pleasure. Thank you greatly for putting out such consistently good spec-fic content, and letting me spout off about my particular brand of nerdery.
Tor.com, February 21, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 272 pages
In Chris Sharp's new epic fantasy Cold Counsel, Slud of the Blood Claw Clan, Bringer of Troubles, was born at the heart of the worst storm the mountain had ever seen. Slud’s father, chief of the clan, was changed by his son’s presence. For the first time since the age of the giants, he rallied the remaining trolls under one banner and marched to war taking back the mountain from the goblin clans.
However, the long-lived elves remembered the brutal wars of the last age, and did not welcome the return of these lesser-giants to martial power. Twenty thousand elves marched on the mountain intent on genocide. They eradicated the entire troll species—save two.
Aunt Agnes, an old witch from the Iron Wood, carried Slud away before the elves could find them. Their existence remained hidden for decades, and in that time, Agnes molded Slud to become her instrument of revenge.
CHRIS SHARP grew up in the suburban wonderland of Alexandria, VA, where he cut his nerd teeth playing role-playing games and making gore movies with his friends. He studied English Literature and Anthropology at Brown University, and Mayan Archaeology at the Harvard Field School in Honduras. He then spent sixteen years in Brooklyn, NY, where he worked in film and commercial production by day, and was yet another wannabe novelist by night. Some of the films he made with his childhood friends have gained international distribution and won numerous awards at festivals around the world. His first novel, The Elementalists, is the first in a dark YA series and was called one of the “Overlooked Books of 2014” by Slate Magazine. Chris now lives in Concord, MA, with his wife, daughter and an insufferable cat named Goblin.