Carleton Chinner is an Australian born writer who spent his childhood in apartheid South Africa and left with a wealth of stories to tell. He has survived a gun fight, discovered dead bodies and dived with sharks.
When he’s not slaving over a rip-roaring science fiction story, he works as a project manager on large corporate programs.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I write in my spare time, mostly on my commute to work, so writer’s block is a serious blow to my productivity. I normally get stuck when a character has landed in an impossible position. My first approach is to actively avoid the problem by writing something else. An approach I like to call productive procrastination. Freeing my mind from actively focusing on a problematic scene often leads me to the idea I need to write that scene. The pleasant side effect is that I get to work on some other piece.
If that fails I put together a mind map of all the possible ways I can write the scene. It doesn’t matter how crazy the idea may be. As the incredible Chuck Wendig says “Give yourself permission to suck.” I’ve had some of my best ideas by just letting go of my inner critic and scribbling down any and every scrap of inspiration that comes.
What are your current/future projects?
I tend to have more projects on the go than I can ever realistically expect to complete. At the moment, Plato Crater, the sequel to The Hills of Mare Imbrium is slowly taking shape.
I’m also exploring a very different world that came to me after a recent trip through the Kalahari. We encountered the nests of communal weavers. Grass structures so massive they can take over an entire tree. These tiny birds share the same nest for generations, and the nest can be up to a century old.
I was driving a four-wheel drive vehicle down a sand track, past one of these nests, when it struck me that it would be fun to explore a completely alien communal society based on this.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
I find ideas are like a school of tiny silver fish that dart through your fingers if you don’t grasp them quickly enough. These days, I almost always have a phone within easy reach and use the Evernote app to take down ideas. I use one note in the app with headings for Character, Location, Objects, Plot, Theme, and Dialogue snippets.
I transcribe ideas I capture on the phone to my handwritten ideas journal. This is the only writing I do by hand because the process gives me time to absorb the concept. There is a tangible feeling to ink appearing on paper that I don’t get from typing at a keyboard.
What makes a good story, why?
I feel that any story that draws the reader and holds them is a good story.
I spent a part of my childhood on a farm in Africa, where the old women would tell stories around an open fire. I joined the local village children to listen to hair-raising tales of clay-clad women who returned form the dead and knee high monsters that lived under the bed. Part oral history, part myth, and always entertaining, there was a rhythm and structure to those stories that has always stayed with me
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
It would be a stretch to consider any of my characters to be based on real life. I sometime start with an idea from real life, and then invert or twist the elements of that character into someone entirely new. I have the unfortunate habit of eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations on the train and thinking “What if?”
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
Writing satisfies a deep creative need inside me. I would love to write full-time, but as with any number of other writers, have to support my writing obsession with a day job.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
I used to believe that I would write across subjects and genres, but found out the hard way that some subjects are difficult to write well. I came to realise this after writing a short story that explored the theme of masturbation addiction and the entire nofap sub-culture that serves as a self-help industry to this problem. My research led me into the porn-saturated world of, predominantly, young men who have grown up in the internet age; much more prevalent than I thought, and definitely NSFW.
I wrote a funny story that I felt was sensitive to people with this problem. However, it failed to go anywhere. I shelved the story after it was knocked back by several publishers. At the time, I thought the material was too risqué, but have since seen works that managed to address the issue. So, it must be possible.
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
I prefer to look for outside help. I’m graphically challenged at the best of times, and I know just enough about layout to know how truly bad my own efforts are.
For the cover of The Hills of Mare Imbrium, I ran a competition on 99Designs, a website that allows you to produce a brief for competing artists. As with most of these freelancing sites, it’s up to you to get the best artists you can. This comes down to paying a lot more for premium artists, or, as I did, using my writing abilities to write a compelling brief that attracts the right kind of artist.
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