Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, C.K. Page – Christopher wrangled a Creative Writing degree from an unsuspecting Californian university and authored & published numerous speculative fiction stories and a few novels, among other shenanigans.
Thanks so much, C.K., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
CKP: People have said that I’m quirky, often “gritty,” and irreverent, “in a good way.” They’re probably not wrong. I know that as I write I’m happiest when I’m writing right to the familiar edge and as one reader put it, “He’s at his best when he’s at his weirdest, at least in fabulism or literary styled Speculative fiction. My post-apoc/sciFi stuff, I prefer a working class angle and grit, “Put your grown-up pants,” one reviewer wrote—I think that’s both hysterical and kinda true. I know that I’m still trying to nail the longest grammatically correct run-on sentence.
I’ll be honest, for better or worse, I don’t write books for rich people. Most of my antagonists are owning-class people, the Establishment. My narratives and my characters can cuss to make a longshoreman blush. My heroes are mountain hicks, mostly “leftnecks” forged in the class of people who bear the brunt of the consequences of the rule makers. If someone wants to read about rich privileged “clean” people, my books are not for them—frankly the bulk of fiction is of by and for that class of people, so I opt-out. I’ve lived my life under The Man’s thumb and my books are havin’ none of it.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
CKP: “Infusion” a short story about, and not about, “tea.” It was published in a university literary journal with prominent authors who were profs and other literary hitters. I was pretty surprised I got a story in it, so was my advisor—who thought I wrote “weird and strange,” and, that as a father of young children not suited to a writing career where “publishing is an absolute crap shoot.” I went to the reading and was so nervous I had to suck water the whole time just to be able to read aloud. I figured if there’s a next time, I’m just memorizing the damned thing. I remember being so self-conscious because the other authors were well-suited to literary fiction; smart, academically accepted, already arrived and here I was this stay-at-home-dad, an escaped mountain hick. But the reviewers said my story was “socio-politically loaded yet endearing,” “provocative and intimate,” and the one that really threw me was the literary-wonkish statement, “the author plays with focalization and focalizer with exciting agility.” I’d heard that bit in a workshop with the story but my opinion at the time was, man, I’m so messing this up… everyone’s going to think it’s bad writing because I’m a nobody and, wow, how am I getting away with this? It was a lesson in learning to let go and just do what I’m generating, and being self-aware without self-conscious.
Of course all of that went to hell when I started trying to write genre fiction and readers absolutely hated my “experimentation.” I tend to appeal to people who are closer readers and pick up on the quirk, I guess. That and people who enjoy a gritty working class hero.
JSC: How long have you been writing?
For publishing, technically since 2006. I’ve been writing informally and “privishing” (writing with no intent to publish) since age 6. I first independently published work in 2010 and 2012. But I had a five or six year hiatus due to my niece’s unexpected suicide and aftermath, and struggles with my own child and attempted suicide that continued until late 2017, early 2018. I think had I known I could do this in my twenties, my career would certainly be different. It’s hard to manage some of the “noob” greenhorn errors at my age, but I’m in the company of quality authors happy to help keep me grow as I build my list.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
Oh, characters. I have to work so hard on plot. My best guess is that’s a result from my literary/trade fiction writing background that tends to be character driven (I have a BA in Creative Writing, primarily literary Speculative Fiction/fabulism/21st century novel). I’m a character guy to a fault. What can I do to this person, how will they survive, or not? For me stories are less about what happens and more how people move through their lives and respond to what happens, or doesn’t: “people and problems.” Character driven stories are the BIG FUN.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
As an entry point into the Costeros Saga, I wanted to write something structurally different from a typical first novel in a series format. Costera: Pacific’s Daughter is the origin story of one of the Saga’s main characters; where she comes from and how she becomes the legendary figure among her people. The hardest part was deciding how to tell her back-story and show her impact on her culture: what made her who she becomes. The structural solution emerged thanks to one of the background characters who appears throughout most of the saga stories. That scientist-turned-archivist had an essential hand in her existence needs to right a wrong he’d committed against her. Once I realized he needed to curate some stories to atone for that: problem solved.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
I grew up white water kayaking and lake sailing lil Sunfish. A decade back, a friend got me into watching open-ocean sail races, in particular, the Volvo Ocean Race (now “The Ocean Race”). These crews sail cutting edge vessels in every kind of weather, pushing the envelope of what’s possible. And yet, basic seamanship is the core skill set of these elite athlete-mariners. During an interview with a “aged” navigator while they were ripping through the Southern Ocean, he talked about this notion that the ideal navigator everyone among these elite crews wants and would do anything to have on their crew is the mariner who can “sail cloud to cloud.” That skill exploits technology to enhance their rare, natural gift understanding storms and low and high-pressure systems to continuously allow their vessel to tap the hardest winds. With that crews can achieve the highest speeds and most direct routes port to port. Even with the best tech it’s a challenge for good navigators to accomplish. My brain instantly went to: what if a human could do this without tech, to feel their bodies as part of the greater whole so moving cloud to cloud is as intuitive to them as a white water paddler playing in a river, something I’m familiar with?
With “inspirations” like ahead-of-schedule sea level rise and climate change of larger magnitude, I really wanted to set something in a future that was closer to present day, something extreme that tapped emerging reality against optimistic projections and in the context of a post-tipping point warmed world: “Plus 2˚C.”
Looking at political violence and the looming threat of fascism in American culture and it’s recent alarming arrival in US politics, and interpersonal violence on it’s own, I’ve been writing a lot of sketches for post-apoc stories that explore this. The well-armed lone wolf is a trope that often gives short shrift to the gritty truths about violence and survival. Since 9-11 I’ve been studying war as a cultural ethic as well as soldiering vs warriors.
Toss in a late night drinking with my best friend and musing what would happen if this bottle of Highland Scotch were the last bottle in North American and oh! The Arctic sea ice is going to be melted out year round before the 22nd century, we could totally just sail over the top of the world to Scotland and get more.
The Costeros Saga came out of all those things. The story of the Milar-Kane legendary family backtrailed into the Milars, how Kaila becomes who she does (yes, there’s the world’s longest booze-run coming to a bookseller near you) it occurred to me, what if the “hero” was afflicted with the exact opposite we want our heroes to have. The gift as a curse unless she figures it out.
The challenges were taking a ginormous and super rich world-build complete with its own language and culture and placing a person within it, without letting the build consume her—this is the first world build I’ve ever done of this size; I’m a minimalist at heart. That, and how to explore violence that’s as shocking as it is familiar, and do that in a structure of curated short stories rather than a traditional novel format.
The end goal demanded I spin all of that stuff effectively, while staying true to the big idea: that story, a created narrative, can protect one deliberately constructed new culture against an older that maintains a competing narrative of domination and conquest.
And the ongoing question as a creative person: can I pull that off, can I deliver on that promise? Hell, I hope I have.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CKP: A professional musician, always. I also saw myself as an old man teaching “stories” at a lil community college somewhere on the Pacific Coast. I foolishly bailed on the former and the economy destroyed the prospects of the latter. And being a GenXer, this is probably my last real gig.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
Absolutely. I learned to read when I was four. My parents raised me on the daily papers at breakfast, and had me read to them from books at bedtime. I was a three novel a week reader from early grade school. My parents tried to refuse me batteries for my flashlight because I wouldn’t sleep. I mean, sleep?! There were books to read, man! I was bullied a lot for it in school—I grew up in northern Appalachia. I remember fearing for the safety of my books while bullies shoved me into lockers and gave me a beating. Do whatever you want to me, just don’t hurt my books, man.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
CKP: I’m getting back into photography as better and less expensive tech is getting around. I probably won’t be doing the mountaineering and backcountry photography I’d hoped to return to someday. I’ve been picking up my bass from time to time… I can see trying to find a performing old-dude band in the next few years. I miss performing: the rush of the groove and energy in the crowd slamming back and forth between band and them. I can see myself hand-binding books. I’ve started collecting gear…
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
CKP: Kill. “Tesla,” the mad scientist in Love, Death, & The After. The level of self-loathing and pathological arrogance—no respect for that. Fuck. Oh, that’s brutal: a tie between MacKenzie Tanner in “This’n Apocalypse Or Not,” and Lacey Morrison in Penumbra. Hands down, those two are just the hottest dang women on earth. Grit, self-possession, power, a fearless commitment to be their most authentic selves no matter the consequences… Marry. Tessa in Penumbra. Maybe a cliché since she’s the female main character but… ya know, I wrote her from somewhere, right?
And now for C.K.’s forthcoming book (available 4/15 for preorder on Amazon): Costera:
A war is coming…
Only Kaila, known to her people as Pacific’s Daughter, has the power to stop it… if she chooses.
Earth is in ruins, the last of the human survivors scattered into warring factions. On the waters and wild shores of the Pacific Ocean one faction creates a new tech-savvy culture—the Costeros People. Bio-engineered Kaila, the first costera of a new generation, must choose to use her genetic gift for better or worse, and resist those with plans to exploit her.
The survival of her people depends on Kaila rising to her destiny as leader of a mythic warrior cult to stop the inlander factions who want to steal the Costeros’ technology and wealth.
But first she must throw down those who stand in her way before she can face her greatest opponent: herself.
Christopher “CK” Page wrangled a Creative Writing degree from an unsuspecting Californian university and authored & published numerous speculative fiction stories and a few novels, among other shenanigans. Christopher writes from overpopulated, under-watered California with a brilliant Mate and some Beasts (all knuckleheads of felus domesticus)—there are some grown-up Offspring somewhere—“Call yer father!” Sexy as hell, he stays fit in retirement from a career as a referee with US Soccer, CIF/NFHS, and US Lacrosse.
For more books and updates: www.pageturn.com.