I’m honoured to have Chris Angus with us again, as he shares a little about his life and being an author. His specialty is “suspense thrillers/mysteries within a historical context, with subject matter ranging from mysteries surrounding the Titanic, World War II, new DNA discoveries, the threat of mutating pandemics and the debate between the world views of creationism and basic science.” Did that just wow you like it did me?
Chris is also the award-winning author of several works of non-fiction, including Oswegatchie: A North Country River (North Country Books–2006), The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty: Wilderness Guide, Pilot and Conservationist (Syracuse University Press—2002), Images of America: St. Lawrence County (Arcadia Press—2001), and Reflections From Canoe Country (Syracuse University Press—1997).
Earlier this year, Chris released his first fiction novel, The Last Titanic Story, also available from Iguana Books, followed by his second thriller, Flypaper, from Cool Well Press. London Underground is Chris’ third novel for 2012.
“Beneath the streets of London lie many secrets. Subterranean rivers carve channels through darkened caverns. Hidden laboratories and government offices from WW II offer a maze of corridors and abandoned medical experiments. Lost also in the depths are the contents of a looted Spanish galleon from the days of Henry VIII. And deep within lies a Nazi V-2 rocket that contains the most horrible secret of all.Carmen Kingsley, in charge of London projects for the British Museum, and Scotland Yard Inspector Sherwood Peets race to unravel the mysteries before the great city succumbs to a frightening disease from the age of the Henrys called the English Sweat.Unknown to them, their partners in tracing the disease began their own efforts more than sixty years earlier during WW II. A top-secret British mission is sent to the far northern regions of Norway to stop the Nazis from developing a biological weapon that will be air-mailed to London via the V-2 rocket.It all comes to a climax beneath London with the discovery of a horrifying species of genetically altered “super rats” that threaten to invade London and the British Isles in a manner more horrifying than anything ever envisioned by the Germans.”
NT: What was it like growing up in a literary family?
CA: Most of us assume our family life is normal, because it’s all we know when we are growing up. Books and writing and talking about books and writing were simply part of everyday life. When I came home from school, I often found both my parents and my older sister in their separate rooms banging away on the typewriter. I’ve always been surprised at how much these sorts of things run in families. Mathematics and music always seemed to go together in certain families I knew. We all know the stories of famous acting families. Writing has a pretty long history in my own family. My great-grandfather lived in Siberia and was part of an intellectual community that included Maxim Gorky, one of the great figures in Russian literature. My grandfather was a dentist in Manhattan who spent all his free time translating Russian poetry. Seven members of my extended family have been writers including my parents, sister, cousins and an aunt. And my own child is a very good writer.
Probably one of the best life skills I ever learned was how to touch type. I got a book about it and taught myself while on summer vacation when I was fifteen. My mother never learned this, though it didn’t seem to slow her down. She was the fastest two-fingered typist I ever saw, her fingers literally a blur.
NT: I have to agree with you about the touch typing. And no wonder writing is in your genes. What a rich background! What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?
CA: It’s always a bit of serendipity when one finds a book at the right moment. This has happened a few times in my life. When I was eight years old and living in Mexico, I discovered a leather-bound set of the Tarzan books in a small library at the end of our street. I devoured them over many months. When I was thirteen and living in Istanbul, I discovered The Lord of the Rings in my school library. Again, I was completely enthralled. In college, my favorite book was Hemingway’s A Movable Feast. Years later, I tried it again and couldn’t imagine why I had liked it so much the first time. I also read Tolstoy’s War and Peace three times by the time I graduated from high school. I was so moved by the grandeur and sweep of that incredible story and the lives affected by war. I think it may well be the basis for why I now incorporate so much history into my novels.
NT: Fascinating reading material. Now I understand the inspiration behind your particular genre, which is just as grand – “suspense thrillers/mysteries within a historical context, with subject matter ranging from mysteries surrounding the Titanic, World War II, new DNA discoveries, the threat of mutating pandemics and the debate between the world views of creationism and basic science.” Wow! How did you get interested in writing in this area?
CA: I suspect my early good timing in reading the adventure series mentioned earlier were a big influence. I’ve often thought if there was one thing I’d like to leave behind it would be a stirring young adult novel like the ones that so captivated me. It would be nice to think of my own life experiences being filtered through the creative lens and passed down to young readers who might be inspired as I once was.
I was influenced greatly by my mother, who wrote a series of murder mysteries. Though she was a university professor of English, she had an incredibly curious mind and was fascinated by the sciences. Archaeology, anthropology, physics and astronomy all went into the mix and gave her books an added dimension. I adopted that formula with my own books and have never regretted it.
NT: After writing several non-fiction books, what inspired you to transition to penning fiction novels? Will you be writing in both genres from now on?
CA: Actually, I wrote fiction for years before turning to non-fiction. That’s the period when I was writing mysteries in my mother’s series, and also when I was writing young adult adventure novels, essentially thrillers for young people. Publishing fiction was always a tougher nut to crack, which is why I began to write non-fiction. I had some success with that, publishing several books, and that success gave me the courage to return to my first love, fiction. I am quite focused now on fiction, but I would never say never about going back if a particular project appealed to me. I really enjoyed writing “The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty: Wilderness Guide, Pilot and Conservationist.” If anything were to pull me back to non-fiction it would probably be another biography.
NT: What kind of research do you do for your books?
CA: A great deal of research goes into my books, since they are so full of history and science. I read constantly about the latest advances in the sciences. I ask people who are knowledgeable in certain areas to read my books for accuracy. I also read a lot of history and biography, which give me ideas about times and places to set my novels.
NT: What’s a typical writing day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing target?
CA: There are many days that are not writing days at all but days devoted to research and discussion and just plain thinking about what I am doing. If I’m going well once the writing begins, I will often write for three hours in the morning, maybe a couple more in the afternoon and sometimes even a couple more in the evening. But there is no set schedule or word target. I always write in the same place, in my study at home. I like the familiarity of being there and I don’t care to work on a laptop.
NT: What’s the best thing about being an author?
CA: I had to think about this, because mostly writers talk about the frustrations of the profession. It can be draining, and the pace of decisions from publishers and agents is glacial, so there is a lot to complain about. But the best thing has to be taking the seed of an idea and seeing it develop into a book. I once wrote an entire novel after the title just popped into my head. Everything followed from that. I also kind of like not having to commute to work.
NT: Ah, you nailed it with the seed concept. What has been the greatest lesson that you have learned from marketing and publishing your books?
CA: Don’t quit your day job. It took me thirty-four years, thirteen novels and three agents before I published my first novel. This is not an easy business.
NT: Very good advice. And what advice would you give to budding writers?
CA: If you are really committed to this, the best thing is to write and then write some more. Write anything you can or want to. I started by writing a newspaper column, which later became the basis for my first book. I wrote book reviews, essays, encyclopedia entries, a photo book, young adult novels, a biography, mysteries and thrillers. When you finish a book, send it out and forget about it, except to answer responses. Get on with the next one.
NT: Excellent! If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
CA: Get On With It.
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