Interview with Adam Palmer

Welcome to another interview brought to you by

Please Welcome…Adam Palmer

(*Originally posted May 2011)


This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Adam Palmer!

This is what Adam has to say about himself:

I’m just a guy who lucked into being able to write for a living. I love Jesus and I try to represent him well in everything I do. I’ve written a few books; some of them have sold well, some of them have not, all of them have been honest.

That’s just Adam being humble, though. In actuality he is the author of six books, two of which are novels (Knuckle Sandwich: Sometimes Rock ‘n’ Roll Hits Back and Mooch: Get the money. Get the girl. Get it all for free.) and two of which are co-written devotionals based on movies (Taming a Liger: Unexpected Spiritual Lessons from “Napoleon Dynamite” and The Soul of Spider-Man: Unexpected Spiritual Insights from the Legendary Superhero.)

[Editor’s Note: He is also the longstanding winner of the coveted “Longest Book Title” award.]

In addition, Adam has edited or ghostwritten nearly two dozen books of every flavor. His latest endeavor is the experimental book, Space Available for Marcher Lord Press, which is being written entirely on Twitter.

Adam is married and has five children. He makes his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And now, the interview…

WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?

Adam Palmer: I have been working on some ghostwriting projects, which is my day job. I’d like to believe that since speculative fiction encompasses supernatural thrillers and chillers that ghostwriting would fall into that field, but I’m afraid that’s stretching the intent of the language past its snapping point.

I’ve also been working on my latest novel, a humorous sci-fi adventure that I’m composing entirely on Twitter. More on that later.

WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?

Adam Palmer: Without a doubt it’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. If we’re talking overarching stories, then we’d have to include The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter books, but for one-off speculative novels, it’s tough to get much richer and more rewarding than what Susanna Clarke accomplished in Jonathan Strange.

For sheer lunacy, though, it’s tough to sway me from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though that one runs off the rails toward the end.

WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?

Adam Palmer: If you define Christian fiction as fiction written from a Christian worldview, then I didn’t make a conscious decision to it. I simply am a Christian; that will be the lens through which I view all of my writing, whether it’s fiction, a blog post, a marketing blurb, a ghostwriting project, or what-have-you.

WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?

Adam Palmer: Space Available is the first speculative novel I’ve written, and the only people who knew what it would be about were my editor at Marcher Lord Press (i.e. you) and my wife. When I mentioned it, both said, “Go for it!”

WhereTheMapEnds: So what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.

Adam Palmer: I guess my favorite to read would be alternate history: some of my favorite books from the last few years fall in that genre, especially Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. As far as writing, I’m still in the middle of my first speculative book, so I can’t really speak to a favorite genre to write. I’ll let you know after I’m finished.

WhereTheMapEnds: As I write this, your story has taken a time travel twist, which makes me wonder if you’re going to explore your alternate history bent here too. (See, even I don’t know where he’s going with it! I’m enjoying the ride along with everyone else.) What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

Adam Palmer: It’s never been easier to have your work seen by a lot of people. Used to be you had to write in a vacuum, then cross your fingers and hope that a publisher decided to take a chance on you. Self-publishing was expensive and second-rate, and there was no such thing as an Internet or an e-book reader to get your work out there without a publisher.

That’s all changed, and now good work can be seen, whether it’s through self-promotion online or linking arms with the smaller, more nimble publishers that have developed a specific brand (like Marcher Lord Press, for example) and have associated themselves with quality material. Throw a dart on the Internet today and you’ll hit a hundred books that wouldn’t have been published ten years ago, and a handful of them will be top-notch.

Of course, all this availability also means there’s more bad work to sift through, but the Hive Mind of the Internet turns out to be pretty good at weeding through that and recommending the stuff worth reading. (It isn’t an exact science, but on the whole you can find things you like with relatively little digging.) Good writers can be found.

WhereTheMapEnds:  Recently I saw someone refer to our current age of niche publishing, micropublishing, and self-publishing as revenge of the writers. It’s so true. For so long, writers have been squelched by publishers. Many times, that was a good thing. But many times, not so much. Now there are almost no restrictions on who or what can be published. Which is also not always good, but often is.
I still maintain that a novel will always benefit from having a professional edit, even by a freelancer, and a terrific cover design (as opposed to something you whipped up yourself on Word). It just so happens that I offer both services, so look me up if you’re thinking of self-publishing.

So, Adam, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?

Adam Palmer: Hopefully it will become more and more democratized and higher quality stuff will rise to the surface. I’d love it if current trends continue.

WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction??

Adam Palmer: Make the art your main goal. Don’t write thinking about whether it will sell; don’t make calculated marketing decisions as you go. Just make your art.

Write the story you want to read. Then the rest of us will want to read it, too.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you will make them—that’s part of the human experience and is integral to our growth process.

There’s no such thing as a formula for success, so don’t slavishly stick to what the experts say to do. Yes, there are recommendations to be made, and there’s a reason the three-act structure exists, but don’t feel like you have to stick to what’s been done. David Mamet said (and I’m paraphrasing) that there’s no surefire way to succeed in drama; if there was, there would be no flops. Trust your gut and take some risks. Experiment. Yes, some things will blow up in your face, but you never know—you may discover plutonium while you’re at it.

Tell the story first. That is your primary responsibility. Sell it after it’s finished.

WhereTheMapEnds: Love it. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?

Adam Palmer: I’m not a fan of his work overall, but On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is the best writing book I’ve ever read, hands down and is the only one I ever recommend. A secondary recommendation is No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, who created National Novel Writing Month. Lots of good advice in that one, too.

Once you’ve knocked out your first draft and come to the dreaded task of revising and editing, it doesn’t get any better than Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?

Adam Palmer: I just wrapped one ghostwriting project, am continuing with another one, editing a series of historical fiction books, and writing my novel on Twitter.

WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, let’s talk about that Twitter novel. Writing that way is a crazy but fascinating idea. How did you come up with it and what were you thinking?

Adam Palmer: I was fascinated by Twitter in general, the way it lends permanence to the inane thoughts we cough into it. For some reason, Twitter has taken off as the new court reporter of history as it’s happening, the immediate record of the world around us.

Twitter runs the gamut of people who tweet their dinner to people who tweet their country’s revolution. I signed up more out of peer pressure than anything else, but then just had the thought one night that individual tweets are really just short stories. Even if it’s something as benign as “Steak for dinner!” That’s a glimpse of a story, if you will.

So I started to think about using Twitter as a means of telling a long-form story. And the idea snowballed from there.

WhereTheMapEnds: So now that it has begun, how do you like writing a novel on Twitter? What are the pros and cons?

Adam Palmer: It’s an experiment, for sure, and one I’m still not entirely certain will work out. As of this writing I’m about a quarter of the way into it, and on the whole I like how the story’s shaping up so far, but it is a very different form of writing. I set some rules up beforehand to make it more interesting and now, in the midst of the battle of actually writing the thing, I’m wishing I could take some of those rules back.

One of the big ones is that I have to write it using only the Twitter interface. I’m not allowed to write it down ahead of time, make sure it looks good, and then use Twitter to transmit the book—no, I have to write it only in Twitter. So that means every 140 characters or so, I’m sending out my book live to the world.

No editing, no revising, no rewrites…it’s all out there, as it goes. No backspaces, no deleting entire paragraphs or bits of dialogue that don’t work. Nope. What you see is, literally, what you get.

Lately this has led to a bout of paralysis, because I’m afraid of painting myself into a corner or screwing up the story beyond any reasonable way of getting out. But I’m starting to work through that and am realizing that I must follow my own advice: experiment and take risks and live with the consequences. It’s just that my Twitter followers get to be a part of the experiment and see me flame out, should that occur.

But if I succeed? Then everyone gets to be a part of that, too. So that’s both the pro and the con of writing this novel live on Twitter.

One of the big pros, though, is the immediate feedback. I did a bit where I revealed that the protagonist had traveled back in time, and the time machine just happened to be a car. Within a few minutes, I had a response about pulling a “Back to the Future.” That is such an unusual part of writing a novel; my other novels were written in such a vacuum, where I spent months creating it and wondering how certain lines or scenes would be received. Now I know right away.

WhereTheMapEnds: The other thing that can get you out of a corner, should you paint yourself into one, is that you’ve made it a time travel story. So all you have to do is hop into the time machine and undo whatever it was that got you stuck. Voila! What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?

Adam Palmer: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World blew my mind with its total awesomeness. I’m referring here to the film; I’ve not read the graphic novels upon which it is based.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers made a few character and storytelling decisions I didn’t agree with, so I can’t recommend the film wholeheartedly, but it is definitely brimming with the type of risk-taking bravado I encourage in others (and in myself). They went out on several limbs with that film, with only a very few breaks. I still can’t believe it was made.

WhereTheMapEnds: The first time I watched Scott Pilgrim and the fantasy broke into the real world (through the first evil ex), I was just giggling like a fool. I loved the instant change from reality to fantasy, and then back again. You’re right, it’s not a film to watch with your Bible study group. But it is amazing speculative storytelling.

So, Adam, what else would you like to say to the readers of

Adam Palmer: My eleven-year-old daughter went to a summer art camp last year, where one of the (many) projects was to create an ornamental mask out of an old milk carton. She used that carton, some papier-mâché, some paint, and created a very artistic representation of the head of a giraffe.

At the end of the summer, a few of the camp participants’ art pieces are selected to be in a big art show; my daughter’s giraffe mask was one of those pieces, and someone who came to the art show liked it so much she offered to buy it from my daughter. To pay cold hard cash for her art. Not bad for an eleven-year-old.

My daughter thought about it for a few days and then decided… not to sell. Yes, she could use the money, but she decided in the end that it wasn’t worth it to her to turn that piece of art into a commodity. She wanted to keep it.

That giraffe mask hangs on the wall in our living room (with two other masks made by my other two kids who went to that same art camp), and when I look at it, I see a reminder to make art simply for the joy of making art. For the seemingly wasted expression of creation. What a marvelous way to interact with our Creator.

That’s All for This Time

Awesome thought, that. And another spectacular interview here at WhereTheMapEnds. Thanks again to Adam Palmer for stopping by. Be sure to visit him online.

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