E. Stephen Burnett: Kirk Outerbridge — author of cyberthrillers Eternity Falls and The Tenth Crusader (both from ye olde Marcher Lord Press) is our guest author today.
Some weeks ago I finished Eternity Falls myself, and I’d like to point out I bought it before it won a Carol Award at last month’s ACFW conference. Now I wish I’d been able to stay for the banquet and watch your publisher’s face when he learned one of those “weird” novels on which he’d taken a chance had captured a second high-profile fiction award.
ESB: My first question is about that award: how’d you find out you won it?
Kirk Outerbridge: I found out in the middle of a hurricane! Hurricane Igor to be exact. My day job as a facilities manager at our island’s waste to energy plant requires that I stay on site during a storm. We were at the height of Igor’s passing when I decided to check my email on my blackberry. I saw an email from my fellow Marcher Lord Press author Kerry Nietz congratulating me on winning the Carol! I was a double finalist in both speculative and debut novel so I didn’t know which I had won. I was stunned for a few minutes and then I started typing away at my blackberry furiously to find out which category. I got onto the ACFW website and saw I had won the speculative category. I was overjoyed! Especially considering I was weathering a hurricane at the time. 🙂 It was a great moment indeed.
ESB: What is a “cyberthriller” (a story type I hadn’t read before) and your take on the subgenre?
KO: A cyberthriller is my combination of a techno-thriller and cyberpunk. I love all aspects of the classic techno-thriller, but I like my tech to be a bit more futuristic. I also love Cyberpunk, but I like the cyber more than the punk—true dystopia is not my thing. Anyway that’s how I came up with the name, hopefully it will catch on!
ESB: You’re a Bermudan, and engineer, and a husband and father. What got you into writing, and specifically discovering the character and storylines of cyber-detective Rick Macey?
KO: I always loved wiring from an early age. Well I should say storytelling. Medium wise, I landed on writing because I couldn’t draw well enough else I’d probably be drawing comics right now. (my best friend does that by the way www.contractcomic.com)
My inspiration I think stemmed from many years of playing role playing games with my aforementioned best friend. I was usually the GM and so had to come up with a plot, interesting non player characters, witty dialog. In short, all the tools you need to write a novel. I think that’s where my storytelling ability came from, but learning the craft of writing is something different entirely. That came through lots and lots of practice, critiquing and thick skin combined with a commitment to always do better. My venture into writing as a craft started in my early twenties in college so I guess I’ve been at this for 15 years now. Sounds scary when you add it all up but I guess that’s how long it took me to get to a level people would consider worthy of publishing.
ESB: After my wife finished Eternity Falls, I casually asked her to describe its story, and without spoilers. “Iron Man gets saved,” was her response. (That to me increased the book’s appeal.) I’m wondering how other stories have influenced you — favorite ones or otherwise — and how in your words Rick Macey is unique and different from other heroes.
KO: Comic books and superheroes were definitely a big influence. I’m a sucker for the classic good guy and you’ll probably notice a lot of superhero-ness in Eternity Falls. My passion for a cyborg hero came from one of my all time favorite anime/manga titles: Ghost in the Shell. This combined with my role playing history was probably my biggest influence for creating a character like Macey. What I think makes Macey different is that with other popular heroes stories they skirt around religion and faith, or make caricature out of it. I however wanted to dig right in there and make faith the center of the story and have the cybertech and superhero-nature on the outskirts. Hopefully it worked out. 🙂
ESB: Your site says you’ve enjoyed learning what does and doesn’t make a story work — such as?
KO: One of the basic concepts I learned about making a good story is that without conflict a story is boring. No one likes conflict in real life, but a story needs its, else…well…there’s probably no story.
ESB: I also noticed another aspect to Eternity Falls’ back-cover bio: it says you’re also a Church of Christ member. That may be the first mention I’ve seen of a Christian author’s denomination on the back cover of his book! How does your faith affect your storytelling and writing?
KO: It impacts it quite a bit. My particular faith is strong on doctrine and asking tough question about faith and how it relates to everyday life. In that light, my stories are less about making metaphors about Christ and more about taking a controversial subject and testing it by biblical fire through the lives of ordinary (well okay maybe not so ordinary) people.
ESB: Many novels seem to have Christian characters who all take the same side regarding a moral issue. Eternity seemed unique because of its frequent ambiguity: two characters sincerely believe differently about how to deal with artificially induced eternal life. For a while, I myself wasn’t sure which view was closer to Biblical truth.
KO: This is exactly the type of response I wish to hear from my readers. I believe thematically a story needs to be an argument. You need to show all sides and let the reader make their own opinion before you reveal my own as an author. I take this approach because I think real life is like this and the same goes for faith. It would be easy to write a story where it’s taken for granted that God exists. But for me that’s a bit too Deus ex machine (pardon the pun). Real life isn’t like that. I want non believers to read my work and ponder it too, and without that realism I doubt a non believer would.
ESB: Last month brought your sequel to cyber-shelves: The Tenth Crusader. I’m curious how this story is different from your first novel, both in themes, setting and your own writing.
KO: I’m a lot more pleased with the quality of writing in my second novel. I feel I grew a lot between the two books. The cast is the same, but I dig into some very meaty subject matter, both thematically and plot wise. The story takes place in the Philippines too so that a big switch and it also involves a few plot twists and turns. I’m hoping people will enjoy it.
ESB: What have you been hearing from readers who’ve enjoyed this different sort of story? I’m also curious what types of people have been enjoying it — perhaps leading to your thoughts on the current Christian-speculative scene, its market and its future.
KO: Most of the time, I hear people say that its something they’ve never read before. And a lot of my fans seem to be women in their 30’s and up. It was a big surprise for me since I write basically superhero stories disguised as thrillers. 🙂 But I guess that proves that women are willing to read and even like something other than prairie romances.
ESB: What’s next for you: more in this series, or genre, or are you considering other explorations?
KO: I’m working on a third Rick Macey adventure right now and may do a fourth. From there… well, we’ll just have to see where the Lord leads.
ESB: What’s on your bookshelf or wish list — other authors, novels you enjoy?
KO: Three must read books all from my fellow Marcher Lord Press authors. Stuart Vaughan Stockton’s Starfire, A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz and Konig’s Fire by Marc Schooley. Three very ground breaking books in my opinion.
ESB: And finally, ask yourself a question and answer it.
KO: Cat or dog person?
Cats all the way. 🙂