Interview with Christopher Hoare

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am interviewing Christopher Hoare, whose books can be found with my publisher Double Dragon. Chris was born in London, England in 1939, immigrated to Canada in 1967, and became a Canadian Citizen in 1974 but we won’t hold that against him. He led an interesting life, studying around the world, serving in the Royal Artillery and then worked in oil exploration in Libya among other things. He now writes full time, living in Alberta at the eastern edge of the Rockies with his wife of almost 40 years, Shirley, and two shelter dogs.

Chris, there are so many new authors out there. What do you say to readers to get them to check out your books?

CHRISTOPHER HOARE: Gisel Matah, the protagonist of my Iskander series, is a woman who excels in a man’s world of action and danger, driving stories that women may find a refreshing change from being treated as sidekicks or helpless targets. She becomes the top security agent for her people when the small group of moderns are stranded in a 17th century world.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide to make the main protagonist a female?

HOARE: I picked my strong and reckless female protagonist to oppose the relegating of women into accidental and amateur roles in action adventure fiction. I felt that women readers would enjoy one of their own who could stand with all the James Bonds and Rambos out there. I have heard skepticism about parts of the early stories where the young Gisel becomes the only person in the situation with the skills to take the lead, but partly because of her age. They query her action because they relate it to our society, that keeps the young in immaturity far longer than earlier societies did. I write such scenes with the age justification for her position carefully buttressed. For example, at 16 in ARRIVAL, she is picked to be Colonel M’Tov’s assistant in training a small group of parachutists because of her gymnastic experience; she then becomes the only person with the technical understanding to lead them on the operational jump when M’Tov breaks an ankle in a training exercise.

My next release is due to come out very shortly. THE WILDCAT’S BURDEN is a plunge into a dangerous writing minefield – I have Gisel both pregnant and moderately active as the governor of a rebellious city. The mothers in my writing group felt I’d mostly succeeded in depicting her in the conflicting roles, but also added their expert advice into the states of mind she should experience. The final crisis naturally takes place during her confinement and so the novel ends with attacks on her and on the city, while the plans she has prepared for the situation must unfold unattended. Another writer admitted she had a character in a fantasy give birth on a battlefield, but wouldn’t risk it again. We’ll see if readers accept this story.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on next?

HOARE: The novel I should be writing now instead of these answers. I have long wanted to write SF where the power of the mind is more important than the gadgetry. I think Lucas, in “Star Wars”, approaches this with the abilities of the Jedi, and I believe the ’50’s classics did as well in such stories as Alfred Bester’s jaunting in STARS MY DESTINATION (Tiger Tiger) and Asimov’s telepathic “Mule” in SECOND FOUNDATION.

The protagonist I introduce in MINDSTREAM is a retired professor of systems theory who has become abbot of a quasi-Buddhist monastery. He is able to access other beings – on this world, in deep space, and on other worlds – and, mentally, participate in or direct the action there. I blend a lot of the fascinating Tibetan Buddhist esotericism with String Theory in the background scenario. In the novel, Crumthorne and his assistant attend a NASA spaceflight convention to protect it against similar alien intrusion from adepts on other worlds, but it turns out that one of the Earth ‘attendees’ becomes a greater threat to all of them.

VENTRELLA: What’s the hardest part about writing?

HOARE: That’s easy – getting one’s work noticed among the cacophony of other media out there.

VENTRELLA: Have you had any formal writing training? Do you think that is necessary?

HOARE: You should have competence in the language you write in as a prerequisite. I’m appalled at the number of people who write although they have little knowledge of grammar and cannot spell; and even more appalled at those who self publish their writing without rectifying these inadequacies.

As to formal writing programs, I’m always skeptical about over-academicism because it can lead to rigidity and a failure to accept ideas that do not lend themselves to clever analysis. However, I attended a couple of university extensions that contributed greatly to my early development. A writers’ conference at NAU at Flagstaff in the late ’60s had an invited writer whose depth of analysis of fiction really opened my eyes.

VENTRELLA: How did you end up with your current publisher?

HOARE: I’m lucky to have landed with Double Dragon. Deron is supportive of ideas I sometimes spring on him, even when they turn out to be of less value than his own; he allows a writer to amass a growing body of available work without the fear of losing earlier writing to the deadly ‘shelf life’ demon of mainstream publication. Of course, that is also a function of e-publishing, where one is safe from being destroyed by the dreaded ‘returns’ policy.

I have been able to investigate the sales and distribution of POD vs e-books in my own way and learn from my mistakes (the only way I ever learn anything).

VENTRELLA: Do you have other long term goals to grab a more “mainstream” publisher?

HOARE: I would like to have a more mainstream publisher at some point, but I doubt I would find working with them (and they with me) completely successful. Really, the only thing they have that I covet is the greater exposure.”

VENTRELLA: Your short stories have also appeared in various collections, including TWISTED TALES. Do you find short story writing easier?

HOARE: Actually, I don’t like writing short fiction. The two stories accepted in TWISTED TALES II and III are the first short stories I produced since my early writing days. I doubt I will write more as I feel I was not able to get across the intentions I had in writing the stories. Possibly a fault of my lack of experience with the medium, but I really detest the literary genre that most short story writers write in.

VENTRELLA: Do you advise starting writers to concentrate first on short stories?

HOARE: Conventional wisdom when I started writing seriously said that one should always attempt to develop one’s idea first as a poem, then as a short story, and only later consider turning it into a novel. What rot. I do advise a developing writer that the shorter medium is a necessary foil when one is learning the essences of the craft of theme, tone, and plot. In a first novel one can easily lose all control over what one is writing – it certainly happened to my early attempts.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

HOARE: Would you recommend taking your first transatlantic flight in the captain’s seat rather than the passenger cabin? It requires an inordinate amount of hard work and luck for one’s self pub not to ditch in the ocean.

I do know a few good self published novels (other than Tolstoy’s and Dickens’) but they are exceptions. The writers were not first-time novelists and had some experience and craft knowledge to back their efforts. For a year or two I tried my hand at reviewing fiction and tried to give equal time to self-published works, but after receiving more than one that was actually painful to read I gave up on the exercise.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to rely on outlines first or do you just plow right in?

HOARE: I much prefer to start with the characters and the opening question and write a first draft as an exploration. By the time the novel reaches the halfway point the ending should have made itself inevitable if one remains true to what has gone before.

There are times, when I’m not sure what should happen in a necessary scene or what comes next, that I will explore ahead with an outline or even an unorganized scattering of issues to determine the logical order which develops the story. I have never sat down and written a detailed outline of a story before starting to write as I feel that would destroy all the life – the illusion of real life happenings – that make the story flow.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about NovelPro.

HOARE: I learned almost all I know about writing during the five or six years I belonged. The partnership with some really brilliant authors and the hard work of extended whole novel critiques was more valuable than a conventional MFA. Not just my opinion, as I saw it expressed by other members who had MFAs.

If you can get in, I’d advise any writer to shelve their own writing ego long enough to submit to the group for awhile. Not everyone can do it. Some quit even before completing their very first novel crit – the be all, end all, of the NPro system – while others get kicked out because they become obstructive. I was cautioned a couple of times, and my posts put on ‘review’. I’m still in contact with some members and past members and have accepted that there will come a time when the writer has to accept that their own needs and the group’s no longer coincide. I still wish them all well, and wait for the time when a work from the group becomes a bigger success than THE DaVINCI CODE – as well as better written.”

In line with others in the NovelPro group I spent an inordinate length of time trying to perfect the query letter and the bit by bit perfection of the opening attention grabber to gain a top NY agent. Then I slowly began to realize that my writer profile ruled me out of their consideration. I’m a grouchy and opinionated senior who lives as far away from New York, and the New York mentality, as it’s possible to get without traveling through space. I tried to bend in the appropriate ways – I became a Toastmaster to hone my public speaking skills for those career building moments on camera, but by the time I became a CTM I realized I hated making speeches. I tried to convince myself that I could turn myself into a saleable ‘brand’ under the tutelage of a wise old literary agent, before I realized that I’m too much of a loner to fit the profile. I’ll go on writing my way and being me – and if that doesn’t fit with the NY concept – to Hell with them.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any specific advice you would give a writer trying to make it in the publishing business that they may not have heard before?

HOARE: I hope a few of the answers I’ve given above have pointed others to useful insights of their own. If there is anything I believe that I’d like to prove true it’s that in order to be a lasting writer – one who produces something that lasts – one has to be a contrarian. Not pretend to be one but to actually feel offended when life tries to squeeze you into a conventional slot.

My old physics prof at engineering college used to say, “If you want to have a brainwave, you have to have a brain, and you have to wave it.” I have absolutely no proof that these qualities will allow you to ‘make it’ in the conventional publishing business, but I assure you they will lead you to a more worthwhile life.

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