Four on the Floor with Autumn Christian
Four on the Floor with Autumn Christian
“It rushed through us in huge milking waves, like the predatory gasp of the ocean.”
“I knew he was a barely contained scream wearing a human suit.”
Even out of context, those lines, from Autumn Christian’s latest novel, Girl Like a Bomb, give you an idea of how adept the author is at peppering her narrative with set-your-synapses-afire prose. I’m thrilled to have her insights in this latest Four on the Floor interview, and I hope you enjoy it.
Bio: Autumn Christian is a fiction writer from Texas who currently lives in California. She is the author of the books The Crooked God Machine, We Are Wormwood, Ecstatic Inferno, and Girl Like a Bomb, and she has written for several video games, including Battle Nations and State of Decay 2. When not writing, she is usually practicing her side kicks and running with dogs, or posting strange and existential Instagram selfies.
James Gallagher: What joys and challenges have you experienced writing fiction versus writing for video games?
Autumn Christian: Writing fiction is like working with the golden ratio. Everything expands out from a singular point — an idea — and you are in charge of the resultant universe that follows. It is powerful, exhilarating, and lonely to have all that responsibility.
You spend a lot of time with your own thoughts, and it can drive you a little crazy. You get no real immediate feedback and can spend years wondering if you’re wasting your time. But when you finally get published and others read your work, you feel that the weight of that was all worth it. It’s still lonely throughout the entire process, though.
Writing for video games is not about finding your own voice, but adapting your writing and finding the voice of the game. It’s about plugging into the world. You are rarely the sole writer on a project, and the writer rarely guides the direction of major events.
Your job is important, but you are not God, and when working as a team on a game, nobody is. It is a joint effort. It is not as rewarding as writing fiction, but being part of a community is nice. It feels rewarding to write a little part of something that becomes an enormous whole. And since more people play games than read books, more people get to enjoy your work.
James: Who are your major influences, and are there places you see these voices in your work?
Autumn: My major writing influences are Poppy Z. Brite, Philip K. Dick, Tom Piccirilli, and Ray Bradbury. I have often tried to write in the way that music sounds — so KatieJane Garside and dubstep are also huge sources of inspiration.
You can see the influence of Philip K. Dick in a lot of my science fiction stories, and although I have toned down stylistically over the years, the influence of Bradbury and Brite still lingers in my style. Piccirilli is where I got a lot of my southern gothic leanings, and his influence shows up a lot in some of my earlier work.
Influence is a lot of things, from a lot of directions — memories, events, history, and science. I try to read as widely as possible, which is how I ended up reading a book about the history of bananas last year. I read a lot more nonfiction than I used to, as I feel it’s the primary source of finding fresh material and expanding my own style.
James: What role does editing play in your creative process, particularly as set against that wild burst of bringing something fresh into the world and getting it onto the page?
Autumn: Every story is different, but I typically go through five or six drafts of a novel. A short story is maybe two drafts, but I do a lot of recursive editing. I experiment with my drafts and editing style constantly, because I oftentimes feel like I learned how to write like learning how to punch incorrectly. The punch still packs a wallop, but it’s not the most efficient method per se, and correcting that can be hard.
I don’t think one should settle upon the first creative process or editing style that works, because there may be something that works better with your particular personality.
I’m learning it’s important to unfilter myself when I am writing something in completely new territory — it’s not even a first draft, but like a proto-draft. I need to learn where the story is going before I pay attention to the particulars of style and structure. Once it begins to unspool on the page, I can then go back, slot the appropriate pieces, and start constructing something readable.
James: What books, movies, or TV series have thrilled or inspired you lately?
Autumn: I’m a horror baby, but lately I’ve found inspiration outside of the horror genre. I’m interested lately in writing character-driven fiction with a sci-fi bent, but with literary leanings. I’ve been doing my best to expand my literary database:
Lindsay Lerman’s I’m From Nowhere
Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Tiffany Riesz’s Original Sinners series
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia