An Interview with Curtis C. Chen

If you have been following my blog for awhile now, you have probably figured out that I am a huge fan of Curtis C. Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo and Kangaroo, Too. I had the chance to speak with Curtis a little about his reading and writing life.

Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, Curtis C. Chen now writes fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo (a 2017 Locus Awards and Endeavour Award Finalist) is a science fiction thriller about a superpowered spy facing his toughest mission yet: vacation. The sequel, Kangaroo Too, lands our hero on the Moon to confront long-buried secrets.

Good morning, Curtis! Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me! I actually read Kangaroo Too about a year ago and loved the way it rolls sci-fi and action and mystery and comedy all into one. I have just recently finished Waypoint Kangaroo, and I already have a small list of friends who have asked to borrow it from me once my husband is finished with it.

I think the thing that I loved the most about the Kangaroo books was the strong voice that permeates the text. Does that voice come to you naturally, or was it constructed for Kangaroo specifically?

Thanks for interviewing me! I’m glad you enjoyed K2 enough to pick up the first book.

Kangaroo’s voice does draw quite a bit from my own personality, but the character changed significantly between the first draft and the final, published novel. (That development also represented nearly ten years of elapsed time, so my overall writing style also evolved.) Originally he came off as a lot more bitter, but at some point I realized that the comedic moments were playing much better against the spy thriller plot and then looked for more opportunities to highlight that dichotomy.

Since I didn’t have to worry about continuity for Waypoint Kangaroo, many of the rewrites over those ten years changed character or plot details to improve the overall story. Then, for Kangaroo Too, I had a solid foundation for the characters, on top of which I could play with plot elements to get the most interesting result. I’d also like to mention that I love the audiobook narrations by P. J. Ochlan, who does a great job of interpreting Kangaroo’s voice in what are essentially 10-hour-long monologues!

Ten years – that’s quite the time span for edits! I bet there were some big changes during that time. Was there anything you cut during that time that you really wished you could have made work in the final draft? 

There were many big changes, both plot- and character-wise. Here’s the story of one fun subplot that I had to cut because it just didn’t contribute enough to the overall story:

My Murdered Darling: The Crazy Flirty Lady 

I’m still largely a “pantser” (writing every first draft by the seat of my pants), so I often try out ideas that don’t work in the final story that emerges. But all that “discovery writing” allows me to explore different aspects of the story, and actually seeing how they play on the page helps me shape the final work.

Laura Ann sounds like it could have been fun thread! It sounds like it ultimately was a good cut, though. I have so much admiration for pantsers! I am an over-planner, so I keep starting drafts, thinking that I’ll just wing it, but I can only do a couple of chapters that way before I finally break down and write out a full outline, detailing each chapter and scene. It gets a little out of hand sometimes!

So when you were envisioning Kangaroo’s world, what were some of your goals with world development and tech? 

My world-building for Waypoint Kangaroo was a bit haphazard at first–I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of space tourism, and I knew I definitely wanted to play those fun aspects against the more serious spy stuff. But I did end up back-filling or “reverse-explaining” some of the future tech in order to make certain plot points work.

Overall, I did want it to be a more optimistic view of the future. I don’t think technology is going to solve all our problems, but I think it can help a lot more than it hurts. And story-wise, I’m often interested in how new tech can magnify or amplify existing human issues.

Well, I definitely think that interest came through in Waypoint Kangaroo. There is some very cool tech, and I love the way you can really see the way it impacts characters’ lives.

So I’m curious, when you pick out a new book to read, what do your reading priorities usually look like? 

My reading priorities have changed quite a bit over the last few years. Becoming a published novelist means I now do significantly more “work” reading than purely for pleasure. The good news is that I get lots of specific recommendations from publishing professionals, and those recommendations are usually right on the money.

I do enjoy audiobooks while driving, and am currently re-reading (listening to) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve also become a big fan of listening to memoirs narrated by the authors, especially when those authors are comedians or performers; Mindy Kaling, Judy Greer, and Kevin Hart all tell great stories.

I’m sure it has changed! I can only imagine you must look at literature differently now. Is there any one book or author that you think everyone should read? 

Ann Leckie and N.K. Jemisin are absolutely killing it right now (see: ANCILLARY JUSTICE and THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, respectively). But the one book I think everyone should read is GRASS by Sheri S. Tepper.

Great recommendations! Well, Curtis, I really appreciate you taking time to speak with me. I have just one more question for you: what do you have planned for the future? Do you anticipate more Kangaroo novels, or are you planning on switching gears for awhile? 

My two current projects are a standalone novel in a new world (no publication date yet), and being part of the writing team for a not-yet-announced Serial Box series created by Malka Older (forthcoming in early 2019). I am working on a third Kangaroo novel (wait for it), but meanwhile, I also wrote a Kangaroo-themed set of puzzles for the next Puzzled Pint event, which will run on July 10th in multiple cities around the world–anyone who’s interested can see the location puzzle at Puzzled Pint on July 6th!

3 thoughts on “An Interview with Curtis C. Chen

  1. Another excellent interview. I definitely agree with the recommendation to read Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It’s not just the best sci-fi novel I’ve read in years, it’s one of my all time favourite books, ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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