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Focus on the Author | An Interview with Christopher R. Rice


Full disclosure: Christopher is a friend whom I’ve known for years and has done a lot of great writing and GMing for our gaming campaigns. So this interview, conducted by email correspondence, will be the first installment of this series of posts. I’ll include many other writers in it as well. Enjoy!

So, Chris, tell us about your magazine articles and any books you’re working on or had published.

I’ve written quite a bit of gaming material for Steve Jackson Games (at last count 47 articles, a book, and numerous supplemental material appearing in books I didn’t write). I’m currently proposing another (gaming-related) project, working for a nascent publishing company as an indexer, starting the beginning of a series of urban fantasy fiction novels, and another project I can’t talk about at all.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot of ghost content for various magazines, blogs, and gaming engines. Odd, because I got my start as a poet (I won something like $11,000 dollars from age 10 to age 16 for my poetry in various publications).

What was the turning point that led you to become a writer?

I almost died. No, seriously. In early October 2011, I almost died due to complications of severe septicemia and diabetic ketoacidosis. The first was from a systemic infection in my right leg by MRSA and the second was due to the infection triggering my latent Diabetes (I’m a type 1 and thus dependent on insulin). I only wanted four things while I was languishing in the ICU: 1) to live and get out of there; 2) to get healthy and exercise more; 3) to become a writer; 4) to drink Orange Crush until I peed pumpkin. I did 1, 3, and 4 – still working on 2.

I actually started writing seriously because my family needed the money at the time. Imagine my shock when it kind of became a career. That’s when I started taking it seriously. I started my blog soon after and then began to work on the skills I’d need to continue in my chosen profession.

What were your major influences, and who and what are your top 5 inspirations?

Wow. There is so much. I’m going to break this down to personal inspirations and popular culture inspirations.

1) My other half. Seriously. She’s amazing. I don’t think I could write without her.

2) A man named Donald Johnston – my “foster” dad. I remember asking him what he thought about me being a writer about 7 years before I started doing it seriously (only 2 years later he died). He replied with this gem: “Is it a passion? Does the idea of being a writer fill you with fire? If so, follow the burn.” Simple. But moving. That was him all over.

3) My mother. My mother would have liked for me to be a scientist or something else, but she saw in me a talent for writing and observing the fantastic and urged me to continue writing.

4) My friends. I don’t have many, but they are supportive and never ever let me feel less than up to the challenge. I’m lucky like that.

5) My fans (what few I have) and pretty much for the same reasons. They really keep me going.

What are your thoughts on the writing process, and your favorite things and pet peeves on it?

I’m kind of weird when it comes to writing. I just kind of decide to do something and then it gets done. The “process” is different for each writer and I won’t give any advice on it other than just never give up.

I’m terrible about the editing process. I’m better than I was six years ago, but nowhere I need to be. I continue to try to better myself, but even being an autodidact there is so much to learn about the English language. I have a mentor/teacher/friend (Elizabeth McCoy) who helps me so that’s also a bonus.

My favorite part of writing is taking the thoughts from my head (ephemeral electrical impulses) and putting them into something real, solid, and concrete. Something others can see. That’s just magic to me.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you have been, what pursuit or profession?

When I was a boy I wanted to be a scientist (probably a geologist or chemist, I’ve a penchant for both fields). I’ve got what you might call “guardian” tendencies so I might have ended up in security, law enforcement, etc. No matter what I would have done I would have done it to the fullest extent of my ability. Duty to one’s profession is something of a code I live by.

You like to cook, often yummy Indian food, but without precluding any nationality, what’s your favorite dish to eat, and your favorite to cook?

Hmmm. Favorite food to cook, gosh. That’s hard. I like complex recipes that take time, skill, and effort to prepare because cooking is sort of Zen for me. There’s this list of instructions and following it requires little in the way of brainpower. It lets me think about other things (often stumbling blocks within my work). I’d have to say the most complex thing I’ve cooked to date is beef bourguignon served with a spinach and gruyere cheese soufflé.

What do I like to eat? It’s a toss up between my mother’s homemade fried chicken and my other half’s beef stew. I could eat my weight in both.

What are some of your favorite places, and what would be your dream destination? Why?

I don’t get out much now, but I used to be a fairly avid hiker, rock climber, and outdoor enthusiast. This is something I’d like to change in the coming years if I can. I like being outside. I also like to be in places where I can be fully alone; I tend to prefer being alone sans the company of a few individuals in my life.

I’d be at peace in the mountains, by the sea, or forest in the middle of no where – as long as I had access to the internet.

Dream destination would probably be the Maldives, Rocky Mountains, or in general somewhere up north. I like the cold and I like just being by myself so all that fits for me.

Besides gaming, and GMing GURPS campaigns, what hobbies and pastimes do you enjoy when not working on something?

I read. A lot. Usually between 1.5 to 2.5 books per day. I love to carve and whittle, but it’s been a while for both. I also consume a lot of popular culture like TV, movies, etc. mostly because I have issues sleeping. I’d probably have gone mad by now without the advent of On Demand technology. I love to cook as it relaxes me and gives me something to do at the same time. I also enjoy writing poetry on occasion, but it’s mostly for myself. Therapeutic in a way. I tend to get philosophic around 3am (no idea why) and that leads me to questioning, well, everything. I do enjoy thought exercises and I’ve been known to just stare off for hours thinking.

How do you deal with life’s difficulties? What life lessons have you learned from your experiences, or survival tips to pass on to the readers?

I try to take things a day at a time (sometimes an hour at a time if everything is on fire like it seems to be lately). I concentrate on the things I can fix and do my best to be aware of, but ignore everything else.

I’m bi-polar so this is really hard, but I’ve literally spent 13 years using various practices, meditative techniques, and breathing exercises to allow me to keep my emotional state. Combined with my medications I function almost normally (as long as I can get breaks – another perk of being a freelance writer).

TL;DR Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.

What’s your current favorite quotation, and overall favorite quotable person, real or fictional?

There is a series of books by David Wong – the first being “John Dies at the End” – which are quite excellent. Don Coscarelli directed a movie version in 2012 with a quote I rather like about insanity and perception of reality.

“Dave: What do you think it’s like, Father?

Father Shellnut: What’s what like?

Dave: Being crazy, mentally ill.

Father Shellnut: Well, they never know they’re ill, do they? I mean, you can’t diagnose yourself with the same organ that has the disease, just like you can’t see your own eyeball. I suppose you just feel regular, and the rest of the world seems to go crazy around you.”

John Dies at the End (2012)

I remember being a quite bitter and angry youth and asking my foster dad a question which he took the time to answer:

“Nothing I do matters so what’s the point?”

“If nothing you do matters than the only thing that matters is what you do. You have a choice, you can choose to be angry, bitter, and full of hatred and self-loathing and tear down everything around you or you can use your pain to build everything up around you.”

That really stuck with me. I mean really stuck with me. I’m remind of those words every day of my life and I try to live by them.

If you were to strike it filthy rich virtually in a night, verging on being a trillionaire, what would you do with the money?

Too much. It boils down to making sure my countrymen have healthcare, fixing some of our social intuitions, etc. I’d provide for all my friends and loved ones in some many and generally invest in the future of the planet. I know that makes me sound like some hippy-dippy do-gooder, but that’s what I’d do. There’s only so much money you need.

So, I’d like to establish a precedent for these interviews, attributing its origin to Cara Santa Maria of the Talk Nerdy podcast, to wrap up with a double question, so…

…what current trends and events most tempt you toward pessimism of things to be? And…

“A pessimist is an optimist with a sense of history.”

The apathy of man and the general lack of critical thinking and asking the big questions among the populous. I cannot personally stand the willfully ignorant in any capacity and it tends to angry up my blood when I see someone who fits the bill. Ask questions! (Respectfully) defy authority! Hold others accountable! Be personally responsible. The lack of personal responsibility is something that deeply disturbs me.

…on a much lighter note, what gives you the most hope toward what the future holds?

Not much. But I still hold hope. It’s a foolish, optimistic hope. The best kind. I believe that in the end people will do the right thing – and not just for them.

I remember something my grandfather told me once: “A man goes out into the storm and he has a lantern. The rain is pelting him in the face and he’s sheltering the lantern with his body when he comes across another man who stands shivering in the dark and cursing his fortune. He asks the man what’s he’s doing. The man replies ‘I am lost and my lantern has gone out.’ So the man with the lit lantern pulls the candle from it and lights the other man’s candle knowing full well that the rain could extinguish it and leave them both in the dark. But by some miracle the fire is shared and the lost man is helped home. Was the man foolish for risking his own candle? Brave for facing the storm? Something else? To put it another way: Is it better to curse the darkness or to light another’s candle?”