Steve Rossiter interviewed by Kerry Brown as part of the Post-Launch Blog Tour for The Life and Times of Chester Lewis. Kerry is a children’s book author from the Gold Coast with 3 books published and also has a story in The Life and Times of Chester Lewis.
As publisher, editor and a contributing author for The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, you have successfully created a novel-length short story collection using contributions from eleven different authors. How difficult was it for you, as the creator of this concept, to allow the story to take its own creative path?
While I created the book concept, as an integrated short story collection charting the approximately 100 year lifespan of the main character, I decided to let the authors take the story in their own directions with minimal requirements from me. So the story very much took its own creative path with each authors addition to the story. I selected authors throughout the writing process who I believed would do a good job of writing the next story.
Typically, I would approach an author while the story before theirs was being written. They then read all the stories except the one before theirs, plus a brief note about the likely story direction from the author currently writing the latest story. Once the next author read the latest story, the sent me a brief note about the likely story direction and started writing their story.
I was there to make sure the story kept progressing well and to work with each author to amend their story if necessary. Thankfully, the contributing authors did a great job and no major amendments were needed.
How much information was given to each of the authors involved in the writing of this book? Were there any specific guidelines given to them? If so, what were they?
The guidelines for the first story were minimal. I asked Michael White, who I knew had a lot of knowledge and interest in areas of history and science as well as being the author of thirty something novels and non-fiction books, to write a story of around 5000 words leading up to the birth of the main character, whose approximately 100 year life story would be told in the other stories. With that mission, Michael created the first story about Chester’s British parents in Shanghai in 1931, bookended by a scene of Chester in Perth just before his 100th birthday. This story foreshadowed some details about the course of Chester’s life and served as a great source of inspiration for the authors to follow. With each story, the authors picked up on details from the preceding stories and built on them to fill in Chester’s life from the 1930s to the 2030s.
Seeing the book develop one chapter at a time, without knowing what direction each chapter was going to take must have been an exciting process to watch. How long did the process take from initial idea to completion? How did you remain patient?
From conceiving the book idea and first contacting Michael White until the release of the book took 2 years. Each author had about 4-6 weeks to write their story. There were some authors who had to pull out and that extended the overall time period to produce the book, time was spent editing and formatting the book, etc.
How did you come up with the title/main character, Chester Lewis? Is this a character name that has personal meaning to you or was it a result of Michael White ‘giving birth’ to the character through the writing of the first chapter?
The name Chester Lewis came from Michael White’s story. The name worked for me, so Chester Lewis is what we went with. As for the character of Chester Lewis, he was introduced in Michael’s story but built up collaboratively as the story progressed.
I’m not sure if the name Chester Lewis has any special significance for Michael.
In conjunction with the release of The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, you have implemented a fan fiction competition. This competition is for short stories of 2000 – 4000 words and is open to writers worldwide. Can you tell us a little more about this competition and what opportunities it provides for emerging authors?
The fan fiction competition runs until August 31st 2013. It gives 10 writers official recognition as Top 10 Finalists, helps 3 writers find readers through having their story featured in full on ChesterLewis.net as Top 3 Finalists and 1 writer $2000 and the title of Winner.
The fan fiction competition is not just about the top ten stories. There is a private Facebook group for entrants. People can join the Chester Lewis Fan Fiction Group upon signing up ($10 until March 31st, $15 between April 1st and August 31st) and have until August 31st to submit their story. The group is a place where entrants can meet one another, discuss story ideas and their writing, and receive fiction writing tips. Contributing authors from the book and some of their publishing industry friends will also drop by from time to time to leave comments or interact with writers.
Your current work as founder and editor of The Australian Literature Review, Writing Teen Novels (expanding January 1st), Writing Historical Novels (coming January 1st), Writing Novels in Australia (relaunching January 1st with a new line-up of novelists), as well as the fan fiction competitions for The Life and Times of Chester Lewis and Possessing Freedom obviously keeps you very busy. Does your exposure to differing authors and writing styles through these projects impact on your own writing voice?
Exposure to many authors and many writing styles helps develop an understanding of various ways stories are told and allows me to decide on things I like and things I don’t like so much.
However, much of my writing style depends on the story I’m telling and the narrator I’m using to tell the story.
If you were able to place your ten most favourite authors from around the world (dead or alive) into a pot and mix them together to create another novel-length short story collection who would you choose?
Off the top of my head, here are ten authors who might feature on the list:
Robert Louis Stevenson
Where do you see Australian literature in ten years time? What are your hopes and aspirations for your own writing in this time frame?
Lots of things could happen in ten years. Also, I like to focus on individual writers rather than generalising about a category of writers, Australian writers interact with people outside Australia, people move from one country to another, and many major publishers are multi-national.
The majority of people I have met outside the context of The Australian Literature Review who I have asked about their favourite Australian novels have responded that they don’t read many or don’t like many Australian novels they have read, but will typically discuss some of their favourite novels from the US, the UK or somewhere else in depth and with enthusiasm. On a national level, what I’d like to see happen is for great new novelists to emerge whose work will appeal to Australians who don’t currently read many, or any, Australian novels. However, I prefer to think in terms of writers and readers regardless of the nationality of each.
I am currently writing a novel set in 1939 Poland, featuring a teenage main character, with the intention of publishing in 2014. It would be good to follow this up with six more novels, each corresponding to a year of WW2, which would mean a novel released each year from 2014 to 2020. I’d also like to do something with a contemporary setting, maybe with intelligent characters and a scientific and philosophical edge to the subject matter.