Cary Christopher took the extremely long route to writing his first novel. Born and raised in small towns all over Florida, he grew up around the circus/sideshow of the tourist traps that dotted the state in the 1970’s. Places like Gatorland, Silver Springs, McKee Jungle Gardens, and of course, Disney World, captured his imagination with their promise of the surreal and fantastic but they always fell apart upon closer inspection. After high school, Cary spent the next decade traveling the world, first as a journalist and broadcaster for the U.S. Navy and later on his own. He began writing short fiction while living in Iwakuni, Japan in the late 1980’s and transitioned from that into songwriting after moving to Los Angeles in 1993. Even after years of writing and dozens of ideas and outlines, Cary actively and purposely avoided writing a novel. Instead he dropped out of the music scene and spent another ten years writing about pop culture and (of all things) scuba diving. He continued to write short fiction, mostly focusing on the supernatural and horror genres. Among his short fiction, “The Postmortem,” appears in Murder, Mystery, & Mayhem.
THE WASH, his first novel, was published October 2017.
For this cool winter breakfast, I’m having porridge with blueberries, pecans, and banana, and hot green tea. Cary, what are you having?
Well, you eat WAY healthier than I do, so I apologize if what I’m about to say grosses you out. Even though I live in California, I’m still a southern boy at heart. My breakfast is pretty simple. Cheese grits and black coffee. As with all scrumptious southern cooking, the trick is to take something inherently healthy and make it as bad for you as humanly possible. In most cases that means a ton of butter, but for my grits the culprit is cheese and the unit of measure is color, not cups. Basically, I add sharp cheddar to the grits until they become the color of a tangerine. Then I add just a little salt, and enough cayenne pepper to wake a dead body up.
Interesting side note, eating grits is one of the best ways to learn the fine art of patience. It’s my experience that grits hold in heat better than any substance known to man. They’re kind of like the crust around the magma pool of an active volcano. Just when you think it’s safe, you poke a hole through the top and a million degrees of heat smacks you in the mouth. My point is, I’ll be pausing to blow on my food a lot during this interview. I’m not intentionally blowing in your ear. Please don’t take it the wrong way.
Checking my cholesterol. Yep, it’s up fifty points just reading about cheesy grits. So tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
I’m a pantser at heart and a plotter only by necessity. Generally, when I get an idea I just start writing until I reach a place where the scope of the story becomes apparent. At that point, I’ll do a very vague outline. When I say vague, I mean I’m really only drafting out a conclusion and marking down a few checkpoints I need to tick on my way there. Then, I keep writing until I get to my third act. Only at that point, do I plot out the rest. This allows me to tie up loose strings. To be honest, it’s not a very efficient way to write but I’ve found it’s the only way to trick my brain into finishing that first draft. If I plot any more than that, I lose interest and won’t finish.
However, I absolutely love the revision process. In my opinion, revision is where the art of long form writing lives. I like to think of it like sculpture. You start with a block of stone and you chip away until the basic shape comes into view. That’s the first draft and sure, it looks like 85,000 words but it’s really only the rough shape of a book. Figuring out the pieces to cut, finding the veins of gold you missed and still need to explore, fine tuning the plot so it hums along like it should; those have become my favorite parts of the writing process.
Tell us about THE WASH. Why did you fight writing novel length stories?
The Wash is a supernatural horror novel about a small town in rural Utah that becomes ground zero for the unraveling of reality. I wrote a long post about some of its origins on my blog (www.carychristopher.com), but the short version is that I’d been reading a ton of books on mythology from different cultures and particularly parallel mythologies (stories from different cultures that are similar). I sat down one Saturday to write what I thought was going to be another short story pulling from some of those myths. Ten thousand words later, I realized I was writing the middle part of a book and I immediately stopped cold.
For most of my life, I’ve been almost addicted to writing in the short form. I would write one or two articles a week and they’d be in print or online within days. Right away I could interact with my audience for better or worse. Back in the 1990’s, when I was playing music onstage regularly, the part I enjoyed the most was the instant feedback. Love it or hate it, an audience was going to let you know what they thought and it’s that interaction that I’ve always craved. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t looking for adoration. I was looking for a conversation and short fiction or feature articles (especially published online) allowed me the opportunity to engage in that. So the idea of sitting down to create something that was going to take me forever to write and then ages for people to read wasn’t so much daunting, as it was unappealing.
More black coffee, Cary? What made THE WASH different?
Honestly, a lot of it had to do with where I stopped writing. I’d stranded a character next to a dead body on the side of a road at night in the freezing cold. I couldn’t just leave him there. I had to figure out what happened to him. So I decided to compromise and started continuing the story one day each week, usually locking myself in my office on Sundays to work solely on The Wash. After a year of this, I realized at that pace I’d be 70 before I finished writing it. It was my wife who actually told me to suck it up and finish. Three weeks later, I was through the first draft.
And was it rewarding?
Yes, but in a different way. As I mentioned above, I’m a big fan of the revision process now and that discovery has been the rewarding part for me. Currently, I’m going back to pick up some of the twenty or so novel sketches I’ve done over the years. My new “addiction” (to continue the theme), is in getting those completed.
What was the most difficult thing about writing THE WASH?
Getting the “creep factor” correct, or at least as close to correct as I could. I am a lifelong lover of horror novels and movies. My favorites are ones that develop an atmosphere of dread as opposed to spilling a ton of blood, so my goal was to make the reader uneasy as much as I could but never gross them out. Unfortunately, my tolerance is incredibly high for this stuff, so what I think is slightly gory is something other people may find over the top or disgusting.
In the revision process I wrestled with a few scenes that I felt went too far and in one case I left out a chapter that I still feel could have been one of the best parts of the book. I just felt it tipped the scales too much and there really would have been no way to write it effectively without some graphic bloodshed. While I still believe the book is probably better without it, I kick myself for not having followed that particular thread a little further.
Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.
Well, as I mentioned above, I actually have a lot in the pipeline. I’ve set an ambitious goal for 2018. By summer, I hope to release my first Resurrection Phil novel, The Spook Bridge. That’s in revision now. It’s a supernatural mystery that has a lot more humor than The Wash. I also have another novel tentatively titled American Ghost Story that I hope will be ready to release by the end of the year. In between, I may release a few short fiction pieces but I’m really trying to maintain my focus on getting these novels out.
Great talking with you, Cary!
Thanks for asking me to be a part of this, Michelle. It’s been a lot of fun! Hey! My grits are probably okay to eat now. Damn! Burned my tongue.
Dear reader, I hope you check out THE WASH. Let me pour us another virtual black coffee (he likes his coffee bitter like his women) before you rush off to Amazon to buy THE WASH. I did! As did a bunch of my friends.
Follow Cary Christopher at: