I first came across Christoph Weber’s versatile writing a year ago in our critique group. I was delighted to learn he’d won a Writer of the Future 2015 award with the first sci-fi story he’d written—and was even more delighted when I realized that it wasn’t even his best story (in my humble opinion). But you don’t have to take my word for it: you can read some of his work, see what he has to say, and decide for yourself.
Here’s what I just had to ask him, and what he said:
You’re an arborist, have been a fire-fighter with the US Forest Service, and an interpreter/student in China…that’s a lot of inspiration for a universe of stories and genres! Besides speculative fiction, do you explore other genres, or do you let your stories dictate genre to you?
As certain people like to remind me, if I’d just stuck with one career I might actually be good at something by now. I like to try new things, and that’s part of what I love about writing. If I want to know what it’s like to be a pilot, I talk to a pilot and write a story. A doctor? Same thing. A photosynthetic psychopath with wings? Well, it was hard to find one for an interview, but I wrote that story, too.
My stories usually start with a seed of inspiration, generally an image or an idea. Those seeds tend to grow into near-future science fiction stories, but if they want to be literary fiction, fantasy, horror, or even a poem, I don’t force them. I’m a hands-off story gardener.
I have to ask: everyone who’s been to China for an extended period has an amazing episode to relate. Mine was probably appearing on local TV with needles twitching all over my face. How about letting us in on one of yours 🙂
Well I was never turned into Hellraiser (you should gift us all by posting that video), but any moment in China can become an adventure, as I’m sure you know. My Chinese friends thought it was hilarious to coax or trick me into eating outrageous things. Scorpion, dog, donkey, various insect larvae, the eyes, genitalia, and other less normally-consumed parts of more normally-eaten animals…tried them all.
Another memorable experience was fighting a professional MMA fighter. I usually run for exercise (and sanity), but running in Beijing’s air felt about as productive as swimming in acid, so I got into martial arts. In my first submission grappling tournament there I won my first three fights and then found myself facing Wu Hao Tian, who’s a pretty well-known mixed martial artist in China. He beat me, of course, but going toe-to-toe with a professional fighter intent on choking me unconscious is something I’ll not soon forget.
Congratulations on your short story, Möbius, which won third place in The Writers of the Future 3rd Quarter 2015, this after your previous entry for the 2nd Quarter made the finalists. Did you enter the same story revised, or were these two separate stories? What was the most important thing you’ve learned in your ascent into the winners circle?
They were two separate stories. The 2nd quarter entry was my very first entry to WotF, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find out it made finalist. Imagine my delight when my second entry won! Especially considering that I almost didn’t submit Möbius, the winning story, because I didn’t think it was good enough. It was the first short story I’d ever written.
I guess the lesson is not to discount your early work. It might need a lot of polishing from critiquers (the draft that won was revised twice from its original form), but if the idea behind it was strong enough to inspire your early writing, it might resonate with others, too.
I have to ask: As part of your prize you got to attend workshops, an awards dinner and hobnob with the likes of Orson Scott Card. What one question did you wish you’d asked these masters of sci-fi and didn’t (wouldn’t) dare?
I would have liked to ask Scott Card about his views on gay rights. I’ve had a hard time understanding how the mind behind The Ender’s Game series, such a beautiful story of empathy and acceptance, could want to deny rights to a group of people. He did briefly touch on the issue, mostly to say that his words have been taken out of context. Maybe there’s truth to that—I just wish I’d asked him to elaborate.
He’s certainly opinionated, but he’s an intelligent, approachable, and fantastic storyteller who generously donates his time to help aspiring writers. Even if I don’t see eye to eye with him on some things, I still recommend his books. And, as evidenced here, will still ask for a total fanboy photo with him.
I was first introduced to your writing in a story about a fireman and his relationship with fire. I was struck by the imagery and the balancing of…darkness and light; both physically and emotionally/spiritually, that the character has to find. I’ve noticed this in your other stories too. Is that balance something which occurs naturally in the story, or is it something that you consciously strive to bring to the reader?
I don’t consciously strive for that theme, but it does seem to make its way into a lot of my writing. I suppose because darkness is part of being human. Whether it’s the complete absence of light in depression, milder forms of emotional turmoil, or issues with anger, addiction, etc.
I think everyone has their demons, and the refusal to be conquered by darkness is a beautiful, noble, and human thing worthy of stories.
I love your sense of humor, especially when you’re critiquing others and in your general correspondence. It’s not always apparent in most of your stories though, as it is in Hunting El Chupacabra. Do you find yourself editing out your jokes, or do you zone into a let’s-be-absolutely-serious-writer mode when writing most stories.
I’ve had others tell me my humor is really strange, so I’m quite glad to hear you appreciate it! I was just thinking about this recently, while doing the final edits for Möbius the story that won in WotF. That story is basically humorless.
Now my most recent project, The Descent of Man, makes me laugh constantly (which I guess makes me the guy who laughs at his own jokes). I’m seeing a progression toward more and more humor in my writing, and I think it’s probably because the more I write, the easier it becomes, and when I’m in that magic state where everything just flows, I’m happy, and that light feeling leaks onto the page in the form of humor.
The Neanderthal protagonist of The Descent of Man is a complete smartass, and for the most part, I let him do his thing. Though I’m sure when I put the novel up for critique I’ll get some comments like, “Umm, not sure why you thought this was funny—you should murder this joke and never revive it.”
Also, going back to your last question, while I think it’s easier to write humor from a happy state, humor is more essential when things are dark.
A laugh is a luminescent middle finger to the darkness, a statement that no matter how hard it tries to close in, it will never drown you.
I saw this with paramedics and ER personnel when I was doing my EMT training. They are some of the funniest people I’ve encountered, even when they’re in the midst of pretty awful, potentially depressing stuff.
It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out that you’re bent on saving trees, one way or the other, and that you love working close to nature. Would you ever consider giving up your tree mission for a full-time chained-to-the-metaphorical-desk-and-deadlines life of a full-time writer—the successfully-earning-a-billion-each-year type all us writers dream of?
In a second! I love being around trees, but tree work can get pretty tedious and grueling, and from time to time I question how much good I’m really doing. Most people want to hire me to cut trees down, not to treat them or to plant. Sometimes I worry that hell is administered by Ents who push greedy arborists through wood chippers and turn prolific writers into leather-bound books.
If I ever make significant money by selling bound, dead tree flakes, I’ll need to atone for my sins. With a billion dollars a year, I could purchase huge swaths of forest and turn them into preserves! Then maybe the Ents of Judgement would have mercy on me.
I have to ask: Would you ever leave Earth for Mars or a space exploration ship bound for a new system?
Not if it was a one-way ticket, like Mars One has offered. To quote a line from Birches by Robert Frost, “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” One of things I love most about this planet is the diversity of life we share it with. If there’s life on Mars, it’s probably not anything more complex than microbes. I mean, rocks and microbes are cool, but complex plants and animals and fungi are so much more interesting, to my mind. I’d have gotten on a ship during the age of exploration, but I’ll leave space exploration up to others. I eagerly await the discoveries they make, though.
Your short story, Descent of Man introduces us to a number of complex questions, including what may well be an ugly theory as to what it may mean to be human. Fortunately for us skinnies, you’ve decided to explore this theme further with the main character, March. Why March? What makes him more appealing to you than your other characters in other works?
I love him partly because he’s so complicated — he has boundless love for the people close to him, but that love is in constant tension with an almost bloodthirsty hatred for the skinnies who’ve oppressed him. Also, he’s a complete smartass, and I appreciate that he regularly makes me laugh. This quality didn’t come out much in the short story I wrote for Nature, but it’s become an important part of his character in the novel.
I have to ask: short stories or novels – which can we expect more of from you in the near future?
Whether I’m reading or writing, it often takes me ten thousand words or more to become attached to a character. Most short stories conclude before I’m emotionally invested, so I tend to prefer novels.
That being said, I will keep reading and writing short stories. I started out writing novels, but didn’t find my voice until I’d written about a dozen short stories. They’re a better form for testing out new ideas and styles. In the time it takes to write a novel in a single narrative mode, I can write more than a dozen short stories, in first, third, even second person, and can create characters that are young and old, male and female, etc., to see what I’m best at and what readers enjoy most.
About Christoph Weber:
Christoph Weber is an author and certified climbing arborist. Previously, he was a fire-fighter on US federal hotshot crews, and before that, an interpreter in China.
A 2016 Writers of the Future winner, Christoph has published in Nature, Poetry Quarterly, and other venues. He’s now finishing The Descent of Man, his novel about a bee-less future in which de-extincted Neanderthals are enslaved to grow food for modern humans. Though this arrangement may be reversed, if one clever Neanderthal has his way…
Stay tuned at www.christophweber.com
or find him on Facebook
Writers of the Future, Vol. 32 contains my story Möbius along with excellent stories from my fellow winners. It is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers, with purchase links all available through http://wotf32.com/
My thanks to Christoph Weber for taking the time during a very busy period to answer these questions. And now it’s over to you. No links, please just comments. Thanks 😀
Not sure where to start? Try here: It takes Weber ten thousand words or so to get emotionally invested in a story. When reading, how long does it take you?
What throws you out of the story?