Hi, Chris. Welcome to The Gal. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I can't say writing came to me easily, but my first story, "A Girl Named Sam" earned me an "A" in grade school. Since I didn't come from a family of readers, and most of my grades were good, nothing much was made of that story. Later, after having a family, I made a career in commercial art. Advertising was big in those days. In the 1980s I got the writing bus again. Convinced that I could never conceive the intricate plots of mystery and science fiction that I enjoyed reading, I wrote a few children's books - never published, but I now had the bug. I couldn't stop writing. Still swayed by instructors who said "write what you know," and since I'd never killed anybody or solved a murder mystery or visited another planet, I tried my hand next at writing romances. My first novel, Race Against Dreams received a beautiful rejection letter, but now I was in love with writing and dedicated to honing my skill. Before hitting upon the Dixie Flannigan series, which sold to Bantam, I had written four novels, a couple of screenplays, and a few short stories. My first big break came in 1995, when I won third place in the Mystery Writers of America 50th Anniversary Short Story Competition and was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Just before my birthday in October 1996, my agent sold my first published book, "Bitch Factor." So you might say my creative writing journey spanned some 40 years from the first story in grade school.
What are 5 things about you that most people don't know?
1. I've been a Star Trek fan (though not quite a Trekkie) since the first series was aired in 1966.
2) and a fan of Harlan Ellison, who wrote the most popular episode, "City On the Edge Of Forever" (1967), even though I didn't know at the time that he was a screenwriter. He wrote
3) one of my favorite stories (despite my feminist disposition), "A Boy and His Dog."
4) I started my family early in life and now have 8 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren.
5) In recent years, I took up art again and now my paintings are on most of my book covers.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Maple Sugar for Windy Foot by Frances Frost. I practically grew up in the library.
What made you decide to begin writing?
Computers. I'd been a graphic designer for about 12 years, creating brochures, ads, even entire magazines the old-fashioned way, by cutting and pasting on "layout" boards. Enter the CAD system, and I could see my profession changing drastically. I had two choices, learn this new electronic tool or find a new profession. I decided it was time for a big change.
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
I spend a few minutes with music and games to clear my mind before starting the day's work. When beginning a new short story or a scene for a novel, I create a mind-map, with colored pens on paper. This visual guides me as I write.
Do you have a special place you like to write?
Today, I write wherever I am on whatever I have at hand, mostly my PC. But when I started, I creates a special place, a closet actually, where I put my books on the closet shelves, squeezed in a small writing desk with a swivel chair, and all my colored pens and lined tablets. I wrote everything by hand before committing it to computer. I still believe the motion of hand on paper, the position of looking down at the page (kinesthetic position) as opposed to looking straight ahead (auditory position) helps me write with more emotional involvement.
Is there something about writing you find most challenging?
Consistency. I love exploring new ideas with each book. Readers enjoy latching onto a particular set of characters and following them through a series of adventures - each adventure being more or less the same as the last, though different enough to hold interest. My fans fell in love with bounty hunter Dixie Flannigan in the first book, Bitch Factor, which was a straightforward murder mystery - find the bad guy. Some of my fans were a little put off by the more graphic violence in Rage Factor, which was about revenge. In that book, I wanted to show that it was possible to empathize with villains while knowing they needed to be caught. I learned with that series that while I enjoy reading about my favorite series characters, writing about the same characters over and over is limiting. That's why Emissary has already been confined to a trilogy.
What do you think makes a good story?
As a reader, I have to be caught up in the writer's voice. How a story is told is as important to me as the story. An author who can use words to weave a mesmerizing tale from beginning to end has me hooked. After all, plots are reinvented and reused over and over, but a writer's style is individual. The next important thing is Character. Male or female, good or bad, the focal character has to be remarkable in some way. Ian Fleming's James Bond is remarkable because he's debonair while being adept at just about everything. Quoyle, from The Shipping News by E. Annie Proux, is remarkable because he's clumsy and ugly and manages to be a hero despite his shortcomings.
What book(s) have most influenced you?
While very young, I read Robert Heinlein's The Red Planet (1949), which is about Jim Marlowe and his volleyball-sized pet, Willis the Bouncer, at a boys boarding school on Mars. I was entranced. Science fiction continued to be a large part of my reading choices, and I believe it has encouraged me to stretch my imagination. In my teens, I discovered the Perry Mason mysteries written by Erle Stanley Gardner, and I decided I wanted to be Perry's secretary, Della Street. It never occurred to me that I might actually write mysteries, only that I wanted to be a legal secretary - which never happened. Mysteries and science fiction continued to be my "go-to" preferences, even after I discovered the darker influences of Stephen King and Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon. Exploring the unknown - physically, emotionally, mentally - is a big part of what keeps me writing.
What inspires you the most?
Life and Driving. I draw my stories from random thoughts that occur to me as I go through my daily life and from random words I hear from friends or tv characters. For example, I was watching a program around Halloween, and hear someone use the word "monster," not uncommon for that holiday, but the word "everyday" also came at me from somewhere, and it became an idea for a short story about "Everyday Monsters," the ones we encounter at school or in our daily lives. I will probably write that story. And because I live in the country, 2-3 hours from Houston, Dallas or Austin, much of my time is spent driving. Sometimes I listen to recorded books, but more often I listen to music, which leaves a lot of brain cells with nothing to do. They conspire and create ideas that come to me. It was on a driving trip to Wyoming that I first developed the idea for Emissary. The sun was filling my windshield, and I felt slightly guilty for damning it, after all, it's not Sol's fault that my visor won't block the glare, and a few miles down the highway, I wondered what we would do on learning that our sun would soon go supernova. I mean, we're not nearly space-ready enough to evacuate Earth. And where would we go? I imagined the politicians arguing all sorts of solutions. Then I wondered what we would do if an alien race in that same situation came to Earth - not to overtake us but to bargain for our hospitality. The idea grabbed onto me and wouldn't let go. As a mystery writer, I couldn't quite fit the idea into Dixie Flannigan's world. So I developed it slightly and pitched it to my agent (at the time). He said, "Can you do it without the alien?" So I shelved Emissary to work on the next mystery for Dixie to solve, but Emissary continued to develop in my mind.
Where do the ideas for your book come from?
You definitely did :) Thanks. Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?
Gosh, that's a tough question. The easy answer is none of them and all of them. It's human nature, I think, to attribute certain characters, especially the hero, to the writer, but I've never been a bounty hunter or an assistant district attorney or a cop, and I certainly have never been POTUS. But each character I create, including Emissary Ruell and Kirk Longshadow and President Addison Hale, carries some small part of me. Similarly, I don't base any of my characters on people I know, but I do steal pieces of their personalities to include in my characters.
What have you learned creating this book?
Expanded consciousness. Typically, I live a simple life, uninvolved in world politics, religious dilemmas, or crime of any sort. As a mystery writer, I've always been attuned to the criminal and legal aspects of our society, but with Emissary, I had to expand my thinking to a larger world picture. When facing imminent death, an individual generally resorts to instinctively doing whatever it takes to stay alive - even killing another person. What does a world do when facing imminent death? Our world is so fractured by differences and hatreds, could we ever pull together for the good of all? What would it take? How would we decide who gets to leave and seek a life elsewhere and who must stay behind? Granted, I don't have answers to these questions, but for Ruell's world I created those answers.
What do you think your readers will take away from this book?
That life is bigger than the one each of us is living. That the seeds we plant now - our ideals, our children, our stories - will outlive us and, let's hope, be better than us. That even the greatest differences can be overcome by caring. (Wow, what big thoughts for a simple story).
What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?
War and Everyday Life. Most stories of alien encounters involve one race or the other wanting control. Thus war. I hate war. Most political thrillers are about someone wanting control, while most cop stories are navy on police procedure and legalities. Emissary contains all of that, but at its heart, its a relationship book.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Two more in the Emissary trilogy, of course, but with my love for exploring new ideas, I have a "cozy" mystery coming out next year that takes place in a community similar to where I live. I'm also working on a supernatural story about an immortal pirate who now runs his schooner as a cruise ship in the Caribbean. This one I also hope to publish next year. And my yearly Halloween anthology, Death Edge Tales, will continue.
Where can we find you?
On chrisrogers.com I have a blog, "Unboggle Your Mind," plus Facebook, Goodreads and Linked-In. I'm woefully inept at social media, but I'm out there if you look.
About the author:
Chris Rogers was born in Texas and raised in the days of EC Comics and B horror flicks that could chill you down to your funny bones. She resides in a small community within commute of the four major Texas metropolises, where she ghostwrites between business books and memoirs while turning out her own novels and short stories. Chris has taught mystery writing at the Rice University School of Continuing Studies, the University of Houston and in private master classes. Her students have received numerous awards and acknowledgements for their works. After a career in graphic design, Chris became a writer the easy way: She read voraciously and filled blank pages with drivel until her fingers cramped and her brain defected. Eventually, she learned to craft a decipherable sentence. Author of the Dixie Flannigan series, Bitch Factor, Rage Factor, Chill Factor, and Slice of Life, Chris has published stories and essays in, among others, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Writer's Digest.