I have a new interview for you today–and writers, especially, you’re not going to want to miss this one, because the amount of wisdom dropped here is just mind blowing. I am so happy to welcome the amazing and inspiring author Christopher Husberg to the blog today! You may know him from his incredible Chaos Queen quintet, published by Titan Books. You know, Duskfall, Dark Immolation, Blood Requiem and Fear the Stars, which came out YESTERDAY here in the US!?
If you aren’t familiar with these books, then I most highly, highly, highly recommend you right this grievous error. Because this shit is gold, friends.
But, enough of my rambles. Let’s dive in.
First off, thanks for stopping by my corner of the internet and giving me some time, Chris! Warmest of welcomes to you!
I’m happy to be here! Or, at least, I’m happy for my words to be here? You get the gist–thanks for hosting me!
As you know, I am a serious fan of your work, but the way you write, specifically. So, this interview might be a little on the writing-question-heavy side—at least to start. So, let’s kick it off: can you tell us when you first knew you wanted to be a writer? Or what that first story idea was?
A huge thank you, first of all, for reading and talking about my work! And I don’t mind writing questions at all, so let’s get into it.
I’m one of the weirdos that has kind of always wanted to be a writer. Some of my favorite early memories (like, when I was 6 and 7 or so) are of my dad and me making up stories together. He’d help me draw The Hobbit-style maps to go along with the stories–printed on continuous form paper of course (the printing paper with the perforated holy strips on the sides). I’d draw rudimentary character sketches. It was a whole thing, and it was a lot of fun. Both my parents (mostly my mom) also read to me frequently from a very young age, and that really got me into stories.
As for my first story idea, well, it was Redwall fanfiction :-D. I was obsessed with the Redwall series by Brian Jacques as a kid, and it was probably around 11 or 12 that I decided to try writing my own story in that world.
*refuses to mention how she actually hasn’t read the Redwall series*
Hey, I’m one of those weirdos, too, so no judgment. 😉
What’s a dream writing day (and environment) for you? What’s your typical writing day like? If they don’t completely overlap (and I’m guessing that they won’t) how do you continue writing and making progress even when you aren’t in your ideal setting?
I’m fortunate in that I live out a version of my dream writing day on a regular basis. I attend a yearly retreat where all the writers get up, write all day long, eat dinner together, and then play board games (or write more) late into the night, and start the process over again the next day, keeping that up for about a week’s time. I get SO much done at these retreats; the positive peer pressure of other writers getting stuff done in the same room or house as me works wonders, and I’ll write about 7-10k words a day that way.
That said, I wouldn’t say no to a day of solo writing in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives, you know? That sounds pretty perfect to me.
As far as typical writing days go, here’s the general idea: I usually aim to get up pretty early, around 5 or 5:30 (I’ve found I’m most productive either late at night or early in the morning, and mornings have just been easier lately). My goal is to get in a solid chunk of writing, minimum 1000 words, ideally closer to 2000, before 7:30ish. Then I have breakfast with my family and hang out with my girls for a while, which is a nice break and helps me recharge a bit. Then I go back to work until I hit my daily minimum of 2k. If it’s going really well, I’ll push for more, but if it’s not, I’ll usually end up taking another break or two during the day for a walk, a video game, or something else that helps me mentally recharge for a bit. Afternoons are more often than not for emails and social media stuff, errands, reading, or devoting time to future projects.
While my daily schedule maybe isn’t my “dream” schedule, it’s perfect for me in other ways. My dream schedule of writing doesn’t actually allow for much else besides writing, and thus isn’t sustainable for extended periods of time (like, more than a week). Getting exercise, playing video games, reading, interacting with others, and especially spending time with my family are actually all important parts of my process, too. They keep me recharged, grounded, and sane.
I’m truly salivating at your schedule right now (is that weird to say?). That sounds incredible. But I also like how you mentioned that living life is also integral to the writing process. I don’t think we talk about that enough.
What’s it like to write on a deadline, after becoming agented and then getting your series picked up? Any advice on how to navigate that?
Deadlines are…great? I don’t know, the truth is I wish I could say I work more efficiently when I have a deadline, but I’m not sure that’s true. I was the type of person that wrote essays and term papers the night before they were due without fail all through college, and while I usually got them in on time, and got decent grades on them, they were rarely actually good, you know? Deadlines didn’t help me in college in that sense, and I think it’s accurate to say they don’t help me as a writer in that sense, either. I mean, if nothing else, yes, I’ll usually get the book turned in on time, but I’m much more concerned with writing stuff of quality than I was in college, and that means I need to be a bit more disciplined and in a lot of ways push the deadline out of my mind and just let myself work through my process. It’s a balancing act between working hard and writing every day, as well as taking breaks and letting stories and characters and plot points marinate and unravel (forgive my mixed metaphor, but both ways of looking at it are accurate). Controlled procrastination is my friend, believe it or not.
Interesting. Honestly, I’d be pretty curious to see if writers in general tend to have a similar approach to you or how they differ. I’m so curious how published writers handle deadlines
not because she’s already nervous trying to meet her own that don’t even exist yet *laughs until she cries*.
Last I read in your blog, you were recently putting the finishing touches on Fear the Stars, book four in your Chaos Queen quintet, while also drafting the first round of Dawnrise, the final installment. Yet you also hinted at starting to work on a new series (!!). I would love to know how you balance so many projects at once, but particularly how you write in two completely different series “at the same time,” so to speak.
While it may seem like I’m working on a bunch of projects simultaneously, the truth is I do still keep them pretty compartmentalized. To clarify my timeline: from around November of 2018 until February of 2019, I was working on a new project, and got about 40,000 words into the first novel of that trilogy. I did some outlining and story breaking for Dawnrise after that until I got revision notes from my editor for Fear the Stars, and then spent a couple weeks editing that book and getting it ready for publication. Now, since the beginning of April, I’ve been working pretty exclusively on Dawnrise.
So, in short, I find working on multiple projects to be both helpful and enjoyable. Brandon Sanderson has mentioned multiple times how he will often work on different projects to “take a break” from one of his other projects, and I’ve found the same applies for me. Instead of taking a month off of writing, if I just switch to a different project–especially if it’s a different part of the process in that project–it has more or less the same effect as taking a break.
I do still generally work on one project at a time for at least a couple weeks at a time, if that makes sense. I’m not currently in a position, nor do I think it would be helpful, to try to work on multiple things per day. My brain has enough trouble focusing as it is, and giving it more options (look at all the shiny new things!) won’t help that.
I did mention above that sometimes afternoons are reserved for “other projects,” but that pretty exclusively refers to either research or light worldbuilding, not actual drafting.
I think I need to try that “take a break on a different project approach.” It sounds appealing.
Speaking of a new series, can you share anything about it or is it still too early to tease your readers with that sort of knowledge?
Well…to which new series would you be referring? I’ve got a couple things on the docket. Not sure what, if anything, will come of them, but I’m excited about them all ;-)!
But you’re probably referring specifically to my artificial intelligence trilogy, as that’s the one I’ve been vocal about. And, my apologies, but I can’t tell you much at the moment. I’ll leave it at this, for now: it’s a post-apocalyptic epic fantasy superhero trilogy with magic, monsters, nanotech, artificial intelligence, and some really weird narrative stuff that I think is fun but may or may not make it in to the final drafts, haha. We’ll see. Personally, I think it’s awesome, but hopefully you won’t have to take my word for it for much longer.
*stutters at the tease at the beginning of that answer and already starts clearing off her bookshelf for more Husberg novels*
Um, yeah, I’d totally read the hell out of that.
What’s the biggest writing roadblock you’ve encountered and how to do you combat it?
Hum. There are a lot of ways I could respond to this. Depression? Life circumstances? Laziness? Children? Grocery shopping? My brain will allow itself to be distracted by anything from the very serious to the excruciatingly mundane. I used to get frustrated by this and hope for the day when “all my distractions would be gone” or something? But I’ve since accepted that there will always be distractions, so I might as well just always be writing through them, and willing to change and adapt my schedule, rituals, and routines accordingly. That attitude helps a lot, honestly.
And, while I try to write every (week)day, I do miss days on occasion. That used to upset me, too, but I think those days can be just as important for me as a day where I write 10,000 words. It isn’t just that my brain needs a break sometimes, although that’s part of it. Sometimes my brain actually needs time to work something out without writing through it for a day or two, and once I do figure it out, I’m much more productive.
Gosh, I relate to this a lot. Thanks for sharing that!
You wrote a really awesome blog series about your journey to become published, wanting to pay it forward to other inspiring authors (like me, who really loved that series). What inspired that pay-it-forward mentality?
Hey! I remember writing those. I still intend to finish that series one day, haha. I think I only got through, like, a third of the journey I intended to write!
One of the things I truly love about the writing community is the sense of fellowship and good will. You’ll always find a few curmudgeon’s out there (and, on rare occasion, worse), but for the most part I am so grateful for how kind and generous writer-folk can be. I am where I am because people helped me get here; in a world where literally anyone can publish a novel, that kind of help is more important than ever to help good books make it to the forefront.
A specific example: taking Brandon’s class in college was immensely helpful. Brandon still teaches that class, for what I’m sure is the equivalent of chump change for him, but he does it to help young writers.
While I don’t have nearly the platform that Brandon has, I try to do the same in my own spheres. I want to help all kinds of voices with important stories to tell to find an audience. People helped me, and I want to help others.
Thanks for inspiring me with all of your writing knowledge—and reminding me how much I want to take that class . *pauses from taking copious amounts of notes*
Now, let’s focus on your books for a second. The fourth novel, Fear the Stars, comes out June 4th (UK) and June 18th (US) this year. What are you most excited about?
SO MANY THINGS. This book contains a number of scenes and sequences that have been lurking in my brain since the Chaos Queen Quintet’s genesis. I’ve been working towards these scenes for four books, now, and it was really gratifying to finally put them on the page.
Also, I won’t go into specifics, but book 4 is the end of the road for a character or three. I really love/hated writing those parts.
All that said, I’m still super pumped for book 5. Some of the sequences in book 4 might be my favorite of the series, but I’m very excited about the ending and everything that leads up to it, too. Basically, I have a lot of fun and invest a lot of emotion and mental energy while writing this series–which I think is usually a good sign from a writer.
Shit, I am so nervous, now! Especially for a certain child vampire and lovable broken man…
Was the Chaos Queen series always planned to be a quintet? What influenced that ultimate decision?
It wasn’t always a quintet. After I wrote the first draft of Duskfall, the novel clearly required sequels, and my general ideas for the series made me think it would probably take more than three books. I didn’t settle on five until after I signed with my agent and we started shopping Duskfall around to publishers. He asked me to come up with a general series outline and to decide how many books we should pitch in the series, and five seemed as good a number as any, honestly. I knew it would take more than three, and I figured I didn’t want to start out with a HUGE series, so five seemed a happy medium.
Now that I’m writing book 5–which will definitely be the last book in the actual series, by the way (there’s room for standalone novels in the Chaos Queen universe, but this will be the end of this major apocalyptic arc)–I’m very happy with that number. I think it’s exactly the space I needed to give the series an awesome, satisfying ending.
That’s awesome. I’m so glad you were able to have the room you needed to tell this story!
You mentioned in another blog post how you’ve felt a lot of growth in your writing, as you’ve worked on this series. Was it simply the act of writing more words that helped you improve or did you actively seek out specific areas you knew you wanted to focus on?
The act of writing more words certainly had a lot to do with it. That said, when I was writing book 2 in the Quintet, I realized one of my major weaknesses as a writer was structure. I understood a lot of core structure principles intuitively, because I’d read a lot of books and consumed a lot of stories, but intuition wasn’t enough as I dove into a five-book epic fantasy series. So over the past few years I’ve spent significant time studying various concepts of outlining, structure, and general story form. That’s helped me understand the reasoning behind my intuition, and use those tools more effectively and purposefully when I’m telling a story. That’s all particularly come in handy as I’m wrapping up the series. Also, it’s been fun to play around and experiment with structure while writing the series. (Tiny easter egg: if you pay attention to each of the section titles in each of the five books, for example, you might notice one of the structural patterns I’ve been working with in the CQQ.)
Anyway, I think I need to be doing a number of things to improve as a writer:
- Writing, first and foremost, obviously. Purposeful practice.
- Reading, both in my genre and outside of it (whether that’s romance novels, research, celebrity autobiographies, or something else altogether).
- Being conscious of story consumption in general. I love movies, for example, and I see as many films as I can (RIP MoviePass). I don’t always consciously analyze a film I’ve just seen, but I’ve noticed my mind looks for aspects of storytelling automatically, now, and just being conscious of that helps me work through problems in my own stories sometimes.
- Working on specific aspects of the craft. Structure has been a big one for me over the past few years, but I’ve also spent smaller amounts of time working on things like fight/action scenes, magic systems, and dialog. Interestingly, I’ve started focusing more on voice and unique character portrayal recently, which incidentally were things I considered to be some of my strengths as a writer when I wrote Duskfall. So I’ve come full circle in a way, and am back to working on something I once thought I was pretty decent at. That seems appropriate, though, and pretty normal in the process of improving.
*pulls out a new piece of paper, to take more notes*
In connection to that, as you see yourself grow as a writer, how do you still remain proud of past published books, even after you look back and can recognize areas you might want to improve?
Interesting question. I just…do?
Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
I mean, in one sense I try not to think about it, haha. There are parts of Duskfall I love, but as I’ve been rereading and preparing to write Dawnrise, there are other parts that, quite honestly, make me cringe a little. Not that they’re bad, necessarily, but that I just know better, now, or I can see better ways to deal with certain story problems. I guess the most important thing here is for me to be pretty forgiving of my past self. I was just learning, after all. Five years from now I’ll (hopefully) still be learning, and will likely look back at Dawnrise with the same mixed emotions. As I mentioned above, that seems pretty normal and appropriate in the learning process, so I need to give myself that leeway and be proud of what I’ve done while simultaneously looking forward to the greater things I can do next. And maybe that’s the key–instead of worrying about what I’ve already published, I try to look forward toward future projects.
Here’s hoping every creative manages to do that, because that’s not a small feat to accomplish.
What’s a question you’ve always wanted to be asked during an interview, yet never had the chance to answer? Please answer it here!
A crossbow, an tactical shotgun, a katana, and, I don’t know, probably Captain Marvel, if you’ll allow it.
(You only asked me to answer the question, so…)
(And I will allow it.)
Anything else you’d like to share with fans or want readers to know?
I mean, if you’re a fan or a reader of my books, you’re awesome! THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Finally, how can readers best support you?
Well, to quote Sam Sykes: BuY mY bOoK!
(Or bookS, in this case.)
That said, there are a lot of other things you can do to help me, or any writer of your preference. Leaving reviews, on Amazon and Goodreads, can be huge. Telling a friend about books you love is awesome, too, as is talking about them in general–in person, or recommending a book on Facebook or Reddit, or however it comes up. Word of mouth gets things done in this business!
Also, if you happen to know any film or TV producers, send them my way!
But really, there are a LOT of worthy books out there. If you happen to pick up mine, I’m very grateful. <3
Thanks so much for stopping by, Chris!
Chris currently lives in Provo, Utah, where he spends his time writing, reading, writing, hiking, writing, playing video games, and hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. When the writing gets tough, he considers resorting to another master’s degree, or heaven forbid a PhD, at whatever university will let him concentrate on gender and pop-culture studies in the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer…but then he remembers how much he loves what he does, and writes some more.