Wednesday, November 25, 2009

[Interview] Christian Saunders

Welsh author, Christian Saunders has been published in several magazines and anthologies.

His first book, Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales was published in 2003. Since returning to the horror fiction fold, he has had a story run in Screams of Terror e-zine and another featured in the anthology, Return of the Raven.

His novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story is available through Damnation Books.

In this interview, Christian Saunders talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing back in 1997. Actually I always wrote, for as long as I can remember, but it was around then that I began to try and get my stuff published.

I remember telling my careers adviser in school that I wanted to be a writer and he just laughed at me, said I wasn't bright enough and tried to persuade me to join the army instead (I am from a strictly working class area, and the school I attended didn't exactly encourage creativity!). In a perverse way, I took great inspiration from that, and set about proving him wrong.

My first few short stories were published in the small press, which was at its peak in the late 90's. However, the small press didn't pay, and as I worked in a factory at the time, I needed a second source of income so I moved over to mainstream journalism for a few years where I was a real media whore. I wrote anything, for anyone who would pay me.

My non-fiction has appeared in Fortean Times, Enigma, Bizarre, Record Collector, Big Cheese, Maxim, Nuts, Urban Ink, Chat... Its Fate, and many others.

I also had a book published in 2003 called Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales.

As for how do I do it, the best advice I can give is: identify your market, then submit, submit, submit. Never doubt yourself and never be discouraged by the haters. Over the years I've had literally hundreds of rejection letters, and each one makes me stronger.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

In recent years I have arrived at a stage in my life where I am not so motivated by money so I have been able to return to my first love -- horror fiction (though I am still a regular contributor to the Vital Football website where I write about the ups and downs of Cardiff City FC).

This year I've had several short stories published in different places and my novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story was published on paperback and PDF by Damnation Books on September 1st.

Who is your target audience?

As a freelance writer my target audience changes and is dictated by the readership of the publication I am working for at the time. A smart writer will tailor his writing to suit the market.

When I write fiction I have no specific audience in mind, I write what I want and then try and find a suitable market when I finish. I believe it's the only way to stay true to yourself.

Which authors influenced you most?

I suppose my biggest single influence has been Stephen King. He is a master of the art of mystery and suspense. He doesn't get the respect he deserves in literary circles, but he is one of the all-time greats. I read my first King book when I was barely in my teens, I think it was Christine, and it totally captivated me.

Also, Dean Koontz is a great, prolific writer. With King it's about the story and characterization whereas with Koontz it's more about the words and language he uses.

I also like Joe Hill (Stephen King's son), Conrad Williams, Paul Kane and the late Richard Laymon.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Personal experience influences every writer, whether they are aware of it or not.

When I was in my mid 20's I left the small town in south Wales where I grew up and moved to Southampton to study journalism, living the city life was a huge culture shock at the time. After 5 years there I moved to China to teach English -- first in Beijing then Tianjin, and now Changsha (south China). This will be my third year there. China is a constant source of great material -- food, travel, culture, history, its all so different to the western model. I find it fascinating, this is why my new book is based in China.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns are not being original. I'd hate to ever be boring, and not give someone satisfaction for the time and money they invest in me. It's a great responsibility.

Also, I'd hate to write something that was factually inaccurate. I've been pulled up once or twice in my career for making stupid mistakes, and it's always embarrassing.

The biggest challenges I face are the same ones that every other writer faces I think... struggling to fit everything in -- finding time to research and write, then identify markets, pitch ideas, and if you are lucky enough to have a substantial piece of work accepted anywhere, then you have all your own promo to do.

There is no real way to deal with it, it's just something that comes with the territory. It's also sometimes hard to come up with any good ideas, we all suffer from the dreaded writers block at some point.

Do you write everyday?

Yes I try to write every day, though I don't always write anything useful.

My day starts with reading my emails, then replying to any that require a response. I am constantly pitching various projects to editors and agents so my inbox is always overflowing. I try to have several different projects on the go at any given time because that way if you hit the wall with one you can just move on to something else. There are also other things I do -- I do various pieces of ghostwriting for different clients, maintain a MySpace page (come and say hello!) and keep a professional log (which should really be an online blog, but I haven't got around to that yet) where I write ideas for stories, any developments, and keep a record of what I've submitted and where.

Anything I do has to be structured around my teaching job.

How many books have you written so far?

Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales (published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2003). Four years in the making this is a compendium of various stories I found about wales, mostly with a supernatural slant.

I've written other books but none were picked up by publishers. At the moment I am looking for an agent to represent a Young Adult novel I finished this year, which is a kind of adventure mystery story, and I might do an anthology of some of my short stories at some point in the future.

What is Apartment 14F about?

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story was published by Damnation Books on September 1, 2009. It's about a guy that leaves London to take up a teaching position in Beijing. When he moves into his new apartment he learns of the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, and then things start going bump in the night. Yes, some of it is based on personal experience, though I made up all the ghostly stuff. Thankfully!

How did you find a publisher for the book?

I saw an ad the publisher had placed in a trade magazine, they were a new company and looking for authors to submit work. I had this story that I didn't know what to do with because it was an awkward length -- 10,000 words, so I submitted it and they liked it but told me to re-write it in novella form. So I went away, re-wrote parts of it, added about 5,000 words, and submitted it again.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

At the moment the publisher is doing some very cool promotions. You can get free PDF's just by joining their yahoo group (just search yahoo groups for Damnation Books) and on release day, the first person to buy a copy of mine or another writer's book can get it for just 5 cents. After that the price will increase by 5 cents with every order until it reaches its full price (which is $4.50 for the PDF and $7.50 for the paperback). Its a superb marketing strategy.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I found the editing process tough to deal with. I didn't agree with all the editorial decisions that were made, but I had to conform or else they wouldn't have published the book.

We'll have to wait and see who was right!

What did you enjoy most about the work that went into the novella?

I have always been fascinated by different cultures and I enjoyed using various characters in the book to illustrate the contrast between east and west. It's a far more complex and subtle way of doing it than just sitting there writing a travelogue.

What sets Apartment 14F apart from other things you've written?

It's the most substantial piece of fiction I have ever had published, and I am quite excited by it!

A lot of my work seems to have a recurring theme, whereby someone is searching for answers. Even a lot of my non-fiction work evolved around the great mysteries of the world. I've always had a restless spirit, and been haunted by this feeling that I'm supposed to be looking for something, though I don't know what it is iIm supposed to be looking for. Maybe a lot of people think this way, or maybe I'm the only one, I don't know. I've never really addressed it to be honest. A lot of my work, consciously or otherwise, reflects this.

What will your next book be about?

I'd love to write a zombie story! Just for the fun of it. I'm not sure how I'll do it, or whether it will be a short story, a novella or a full-blown novel -- there is only so much you can do with zombies, but it's a very popular sub-genre within the horror sphere.

I'd also like to write an apocalyptic End of the World-type opus, which might even be a trilogy of books, but I think I'll keep that for when I'm old!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Probably my first book, Into the Dragon's Lair, for a variety of reasons.

It proved a lot of people wrong because not many people believed in me at first, so that was my big "F**k you".

Also, it got me a lot of recognition within the industry and opened all kinds of doors for me. Editors immediately took me more seriously and I won a place at uni purely on the strength of the book as I was a hopeless student at school and left without a single qualification to my name.

Possibly related books:

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Related article:

[Interview] Jeani Rector, author of 'Around A Dark Corner', Conversations with Writers, August 15, 2009

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