Monday, May 9, 2022

Chris Holm

Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, the Michael Hendricks thrillers, and thirty-odd short stories in a variety of genres. His work has been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories, named a New York Times Editors' Choice, appeared on more than fifty year's best lists, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Holm's new standalone biological thriller is Child Zero.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

This book went through several titles before my agent, editor, and I settled on Child Zero. First it was Survival (too bland). Then, for a long while, it was Endtimes (too biblical). Once we scrapped that one, it was a free-for-all of terrible suggestions until we hit upon Child Zero.

I’d like to think that Child Zero, in addition to being short and punchy, is also something of a tease. Who is this kid? What is he “child zero” of? Are we looking at some kind of “patient zero” situation?

What's in a name?

I sweat the heck out of my characters’ names, because a good one helps create an air of verisimilitude, while a bad one can be jarring enough to knock a reader clear out of the book.

Names are products of one’s region, heritage, and socioeconomic status. Because given names are subject to trends, they can evoke specific eras, and tell you whether the people they belong to were raised by traditionalists or iconoclasts. In fiction, they’re often winking or referential. That’s an awful lot of weight for a few short words to carry.

Child Zero’s protagonist, Jacob “Jake” Gibson, is so named because a) J names are disproportionately represented among popular action heroes—think James Bond, John Rambo, Jason Bourne, John McClain, Jack Reacher, Jack Bauer, and John Wick, b) Child Zero is an attempt at near-future prognostication, not unlike many works of William Gibson’s, and c) I named my previous protagonist, Michael Hendricks, after a gin, so it struck me as funny to name this one after a gin cocktail.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

He’d be shocked to discover I make my living as an author, because the very notion was beyond his wildest dreams. He’d probably adore Child Zero, because it’s exactly the sort of book he gravitated toward. And he would lose his freaking mind if you told him it was recommended by none other than Stephen King.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Though I’m not an outliner, I never begin a book without knowing how it begins and ends. As a result, both tend to stick pretty close to what I envisioned. It’s all those pesky scenes between that trip me up.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Whether intentionally or not, every character I write is bound to be some version of myself, but I try my best not to lean into it—because, as a writer, I live for the moments in which they surprise me.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For years, scientists and medical professionals have been sounding the alarm about the impending collapse of the antibiotic era, but their warnings have largely gone unheeded, probably because the public fails to comprehend the enormity of the threat.

It’s not their fault. Widespread antibiotic resistance is a thorny concept, the full ramifications of which are tough for laypeople to wrap their heads around. That’s where I come in.

Before I became a fulltime author, I made my living as a molecular biologist. My background makes me uniquely suited to render, in vivid detail, the terrifying reality of a post-antibiotic world—and, by doing so, educate readers about this looming crisis before it’s too late to avert.

That was the impetus behind Child Zero, and the reason I spent six years working hard to get it right.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killing Kind.

The Page 69 Test: Red Right Hand.

The Page 69 Test: Child Zero.

--Marshal Zeringue