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Exclusive Interview: Author Christa Faust Discusses ‘Fringe-The Zodiac Paradox’ & Weighs in On Amazon’s New Kindle Worlds Program

Viva la Fringe!  The show is over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are no adventures left for our intrepid heroes.  Well, yes it does in that we won’t be seeing Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble as Peter, Olivia, and Walter again.  However, Titan Books has attained the rights to publish a series of prequel novels to the show, and  commissioned award-winning crime and media tie-in novelist Christa Faust (Money Shot, Snakes on a Plane) to let us in on the early parts of Peter, Olivia, and Walter’s lives we actually know nothing about.

The first novel, Fringe – The Zodiac Paradox, was recently released (you can read the full first chapter here), and details Walter Bishop and William Bell’s efforts in 1970s San Franciso to track down and stop the [very light spoiler warning] Zodiac Killer.  In my review, which you can read in full elsewhere on the site, I concluded, “This is an incredibly fun and surprisingly fast read.  [The author] Christa Faust has taken on the show’s most popular character [Walter Bishop] in her first novel set in the Fringe universe, and proved herself up to the challenge.”

In our exclusive interview with Ms. Faust, which was facilitated via email by Titan Books, she shares her thoughts on Amazon’s recent offer to pay for fan fiction for select licensed properties, how she came to the Fringe novels and what her relationship to the show was at that time, and what fans can look forward to her in her second Fringe novel The Burning Man. This was all done over email, but if it makes for a more compelling read imagine us as randomly hitting our hands on the table, dramatically demanding answers from Ms. Faust, to which she responds with complete professionalism by ignoring our antics and calmly answering the questions:

christa-cyber
Christa Faust posing with a Doctor Who Cyberman. We like Doctor Who; Christa Faust apparently does as well. Ergo, we like Christa Faust.

WeMinoredInFilm (WMIF): This information is available through your official website, christafaust.net, and, to a lesser degree, Wikipedia.org, but for the benefit of our readers please tell us about your background – where you grew up and how you became a writer.

Christa Faust (CF): I’m primarily a crime fiction writer with a hardboiled pulp sensibility, but I got my start in horror back in the early 90s. I’ve published a dozen novels, both original and tied into a variety of television shows and movies, including the award winning novelization of Snakes on a Plane. I love my job. To tell the truth, I’m really not fit to do anything else.

WMIF: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

CF: I love classic mid century pulp novels and read mostly crime fiction. Richard Prather’s two-fisted private eye series is a personal favorite and as far as modern stuff I’m a big fan of Ray Banks and Megan Abbott. As I stated above I’m also a Film Noir fan. Night and the City staring Richard Widmark is my favorite movie of all time.

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Faust: “Night and the City staring Richard Widmark is my favorite movie of all time.”

WMIF: Can you describe your writing process – how long does it normally take to finish a novel, and how much outlining is involved?

CF: Research is actually my favorite part of my job, getting lost in archives and reading up on a wide range of oddball subjects that I may never have thought about on my own. For this series I found myself reading up on all kinds of topics ranging from San Francisco history to virology. Uterine deformities to Grape Nehi. Not to mention all the paranormal and “fringe” science.

WMIF: How did you first become involved with the film novelization/media tie-in book business?

CF: I started working for Black Flame back in 2004, and got the gig because a fellow author turned them down and recommended me instead. I did a good job and nailed the tight deadline, so they gave me more. It was really just a lucky break. I always tell aspiring writers that you may not be able to control when your lucky break might come along, but you can make sure that when it does, your chops are sharp and you’re ready to rumble.

One of Ms. Faust's film novelizations from her time with Black Flame.
Faust: “I’ve published a dozen novels, both original and tied into a variety of television shows and movies, including the award winning novelization of Snakes on a Plane.”

WMIF: As an established author of stories which continue the adventures of characters created in another medium, how do you feel about Amazon’s recent announcement relating to paying for fan fiction? What kind of effect do you think it might have on the film novelization/media tie-in business? 

CF: I think it’s still too early to predict how this will effect the biz, but it’s certainly an interesting development. As of now, the number of properties licensing rights through that program is limited but more may follow and at that point your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen to professional tie ins. Will studios still want to bother paying an advance to an established pro author when they can just cherry pick preexisting work out of a monetized slush pile? Do readers really not care about skill or quality and is enthusiasm and quantity all that matters? I guess we’re going to find out.

There are a lot of doomcriers out there in publishing right now, wringing their hands over a whole variety of different issues and changes that have cropped up in the past few years. Me, I try to stay Zen and flexible. Roll with the punches and stay open to new ideas. If all you can do is rail against change and scream at the young kids to get off your virtual lawn, then you’re already irrelevant. If I have to sheath my pen and go Ronin, wandering across the ePub wasteland, I figure I can always find some new way to get by on my storytelling chops. At least I hope so, because I’m really not fit to do anything else.

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Faust: “If I have to sheath my pen and go Ronin, wandering across the ePub wasteland, I figure I can always find some new way to get by on my storytelling chops.”

WMIF: How did you come to your current project of writing a trio of prequels to the TV show Fringe, and how familiar were you with Fringe prior to your deal to write this trio of prequels?

CF: I was approached by the editor and asked if I wanted the job, which is how all my tie-in projects have come about. You never get to pick the properties you’ll be asked to work on. I was just a casual viewer before I was hired for this project, but then had to delve much deeper into the complex Fringe universe in order to write these three books.

WMIF: Not to give too much away about The Zodiac Paradox, but where did you get the idea to include the infamous Zodiac killer as a central character in the plot?  Were you already familiar with the case prior to this novel?  Anyone who knows the Zodiac case will delight in your various nods to the known facts of the case.

CF: I’ve been obsessed with the Zodiac case for years, and it just seemed like such a perfect fit for the time period I wanted to use for Walter’s book. There’s something deeply compelling about unsolved cases and it was fun to posit a Fringe science explanation for why the killer was never caught or identified.

Photo credit: filmmisery.com
Faust: “I’ve been obsessed with the Zodiac case for years, and it just seemed like such a perfect fit for the time period I wanted to use for Walter’s book.”

WMIF: A lot of writing style on display in The Zodiac Paradox reads similar to a hardboiled, pulp novel told from the alternate points of view of the Zodiac killer and Walter Bishop.  Was this style of writing intentional or just where the story took you?

CF: A little of both, maybe. I’m a hardboiled pulp writer first and foremost and so I’m sure some of my own voice and style probably comes through no matter what property or genre I’m assigned to work on. As far as alternating the POV, it did just seem like a natural way to tell that particular story.

WMIF: The character of William Bell, both on the show and in your novel, remains a largely enigmatic presence.  Do you think he works best as a character kept just out of arm’s reach, or do you plan to further develop him in either of the follow-up prequels?

CF: He makes another appearance in the third book, but I do feel that his character works best as more of a cipher, pulling strings from behind the scenes. It almost seems like his defining characteristic. Although I did feel like I was able to give him a just a little bit more depth and humanity in the first book than he had on the show.

You enigmatic bastard.
Faust: “I do feel that his character works best as more of a cipher, pulling strings from behind the scenes. It almost seems like his defining characteristic.”

WMIF: The jam band musicians ended up playing a critical role in the novel’s unfolding plot. Where did you come up with the idea for them as characters?

CF: Again, the time period was just perfect to include them. I had been thinking a lot about Altamont, about the death of the peaceful psycadellic 60s and the birth of the grittier, more hedonistic 70s and felt like the alternate Zodiac’s intrusion into this world kind of personified that shift in a lot of ways. It also reflects that loss of innocence in Walter. I thought it would be interesting to show the formerly successful Violet Sedan Chair, who had been such a strong influence on young Walter, struggling to stay relevant in the new era of bikers, speed and disco. Playing around with little details like that is one of my favorite parts of this job.

WMIF: You’ve now written both stories involving worlds of your own creation and worlds created in a different medium?  How do you juggle the two?

CF: I guess it’s kind of like cooking. If you’re a good cook, you use the same skill set to cook up an intimate dinner for your lover that you would use if you were hired to cater someone’s wedding. You don’t get to choose the menu for the wedding, but you can still bring your talent and style to the dishes that the picky bride wants you to make. After all, she hired you in the first place because she likes the way you cook and knows you are reliable and will have those dishes on the table right on time.

You’d be miserable if you were never allowed to cook a creative, original meal once in while and you’d be broke if you weren’t able to get paid for catering weddings, but in the end it’s all about finding that balance. It helps that I love my job. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than making up stories.

WMIF: Can you give us any teaser for the upcoming installment – The Burning Man, centered on Olivia – in this series of Fringe prequels?

CF: It chronicles Olivia’s time in boarding school as a teenager and her dark history with her abusive step-father. As you can probably tell from the title, fire and pyrokenisis are key elements as well as the unpredictable and occasionally dangerous effects of puberty on the cortexiphan-positive female brain and body. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I think it will be fun for fans to see some of the early formative events that shaped Olivia and made her the woman who we meet in the first episode of the first season.

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Faust: “I think it will be fun for fans to see some of the early formative events that shaped Olivia and made her the woman who we meet in the first episode of the first season.”

——End if Interview——

The questions posed to Christa Faust were jointly devised and agreed upon by WMIF co-writer Julianne Ramsey and I.

Thank you to Titan Books and Christa Faust.  If you want to read more about Ms. Faust, check out her official website (christafaust.net) or check out her livejournal page (faustfatale.livejournal.com).  You can also check out her interview promoting The Zodiac Paradox at DreadCentral.com, where there is a fair bit of overlap with our interview but she shares some fascinating insight about having to run all of her ideas past Bad Robot (the production studio which produced Fringe) and how she had access to the show’s scientific advisors.

The Zodiac Paradox is available at Amazon, among various other retailers, or directly from the publisher at Titan Books.  

The follow-up to The Zodiac Paradox is entitled The Burning Man, and will focus upon Olivia as a teenager.  It is due out on July 16, 2013.  You can pre-order it at Amazon, among various other retailers, or directly from the publisher at Titan Books.

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