Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Chris Sarantopoulos

Meghan: Hi, Chris! Welcome welcome. I’m glad to have you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chris Sarantopoulos: I was born in Greece back in the late seventies and was fortunate enough to have grown in an environment that used English as much as my native language all the time. That’s one of the reasons why I find it easy to communicate in English. After finishing school I went to study abroad, in Scotland, and that’s why I sometimes say aye instead of yes. It’s also why I use UK spelling when I write.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Chris Sarantopoulos:

  • I’m bilingual, fluent in Greek and English.
  • I can’t stand heat and summer. You want to make me feel miserable? That’s your best bet. Which is weird because I’m from Greece and it’s almost always sunny, and half the eyar if not more, feel like summer. Go figure.
  • I’m also a self-taught, part time digital designer.
  • As a kid and teen, I absolutely hated reading books. Shocking, I know. Nowadays, not a day goes by without me reading for a couple of hours.
  • My favourite colours are black and grey.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Like I said, as a kid I made sure to stay away from all sorts of books. The reason was that teachers or relatives used to bring me books that had no appeal to me. They were the wrong genres, even though back then I had no idea of the concept of genre.

I made a 180-degree-turn when at university, a Faroese friend and flatmate bought for me as a gift the first Dragonlance book. It blew my mind! I had at long last found a book that was exactly what I wanted. It was a genre (high fantasy) that I had no idea it existed. That’s the book that opened a door for me that eventually led me, several years later, to becoming a writer. For those unfamiliar with the Dragonlance universe, the first book of the core set is called Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Chris Sarantopoulos: I tend to primarily (but not exclusively) read books that are somewhat related to the genre of a given work-in-progress. So for the time being my reading list is almost exclusively Sci-Fi related. The book I just finished was Freedom (™) by Daniel Suarez, and I’m about to start reading Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Dragonlance. I’ve talked to a lot of people who read fantasy and a great deal of them were surprised that these books were so influential to me.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Chris Sarantopoulos: I started writing poems when I was a first-year student in Scotland. Then for some reason a year or two later, I stopped. Not only that, but I had completely forgotten I had ever tried it (yes, my brain is rather weird and behaves in mysterious ways even to me). That was back in 1999, I think.

Over the years since then, I often felt the need to write something; anything. But I always came up with reasons why I shouldn’t. “What could you possibly write, Chris? You sucked at essay writing at school.” “ Why would you want to do that, Chris? You can’t write a book in one go.” Yes, back then I was under the impression that writers finish books in one sitting… How ignorant I was!

Then, on March 25, 2013 (I remember it because it’s a very important national holiday for us Greeks), while I was talking about books with a friend, he suggested I should give writing a go. What did I have to lose, after all? And I did. Just like that. I came home and wrote the worst four pages of a story the world has ever seen. And I loved it!

It felt as though my life up to that moment was a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces were placed in the wrong place, and someone came along and knocked the whole thing in the air, and then the pieces landed precisely where they should have been in the first place. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. Best moment of my life.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Not really, no. I can write wherever, as long as the place is quiet and there’s internet access (for research purposes of course, not wasting or anything like that).

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Chris Sarantopoulos: The only process or ritual I have is that I write every day of the week with the exception of Sundays. I write either until I hit my daily word limit (1500-2000 words or more if I’m up to it) or until it’s time to stop. This has put me in the habit of writing daily. I have also noticed that I can’t write in the afternoon or at night, so once it’s time to stop, whatever part of my brain takes control of me and allows me to write, simply switches off and that’s it.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Chris Sarantopoulos: The way I see it, fiction writers are, in essence, people who create emotional truths through lies. Based on that, the main challenge is to connect emotionally with the reader. And that’s very difficult because not one person is like any other. So what resonates with me, based on my perception of the world around me will differ greatly from what resonates to someone else. It’s up to writers to figure out where the common ground between each person’s likes and dislikes is and create something based on it.

On a personal level, my challenge is that English is not my native language. I may have been using it for four decades now, but I will never be as fluent as a native English speaker. Every so often I stumble on something I want to express, something I know has to have a very specific word associated with it that I’m unfamiliar with, and I end up spending hours (if not days) trying to find that one word that describes exactly what I have in mind.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Without a doubt, it has to be my debut novel, The Darkening. Years of trying to finish it and bring it to a point where I was happy enough to allow people to read it. Though I had been published in the past by a few literary magazines and I had published a few short stories on Amazon and other retailers, finishing my first novel was the epitome of everything I had been trying to accomplish since I started writing. And the satisfaction increased tenfold when I held the print copy in my hands. It was a magical moment I will never forget.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Stephen King has without a doubt a writing style that I always have in my mind. I remember the first ever book of his that I bought called A Bag of Bones. I remember I bought it as an audio book and wanted to give the whole thing a go. I never liked audiobooks, but to this day, I still remember his voice, the melody in his words, and how much they resonated with me. For me, Stephen King has a mystical or magical ability that somehow turns written words to music in my head.

As for other books or authors, there are several of them. Like I said, reading Dragonlance for the first time was a revelation for me. Of great influence, in terms of the way he builds sci-fi worlds, is Richard K. Morgan, particularly his book, Altered Carbon. I love his way of building a cyberpunk world, and Altered Carbon is a book I’ve read more than once.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Chris Sarantopoulos: It’s quite subjective, to be honest. Some people like strong and fully developed characters, others prefer non-stop action. Others want the character to delve deep into his or her thoughts. Others put a lot of emphasis on world building and descriptions. I’m a big fan of revelations; things that happen in a story (usually near the end) that tie almost all loose ends. The things that when you read them you go, “a-ha!”

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Chris Sarantopoulos: The character’s voice and the extent of “the baggage,” the flaws if you like, he carries. I want to see the world filtered through the character’s perception and, consequently, his voice. Is the character a gloomy, depressive character, who hates everything that’s happening around him? I want him to make me understand his reasoning, then make me see the world the way he sees it. I want to see his flaws so I can try to understand them. It’s something I try to utilize when I create characters for my own stories. I don’t think I have ever created a character without some kind of flaw that skews the way he or she perceives the world.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Chris Sarantopoulos: That’s really hard to answer. The reason for this is that when we create a character, regardless if it’s a support character or the main one, we often sprinkle a little bit (or a great deal) of ourselves over that character. But I think that I would behave more or less the same way as the main character of my latest novel, Through Stranger Eyes. Assuming of course I would be unlucky enough to have to deal with what he suffers throughout the story. Also, the way he sees the world (even that futuristic cyberpunk world) is not that far off from the way I see things today. In that book, Rick Stenslandt (that’s the name of my main character) appears as someone who opposes the fusion of man and machine. In fact some of the people around him think that he opposes the whole idea of technology, that he is a Luddite, but in reality what he is against is seeing humanity give up their individuality, the things that make us stand out from a crowd, the things that allow us to think for ourselves, in favour of following trends that can prove dangerous, if not outright lethal. I can’t say more without spoiling the book and to a certain extent the whole series Through Stranger Eyes is part of.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Chris Sarantopoulos: They say that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but a bad cover has the power to make me stay away from it and never go near such a book. Sad but true. It conveys the wrong message to the potential reader. For self published authors, it’s up to us to make the right choice for our covers and some of us are better at this than others.

To this day, I have designed and created all my book covers. The most demanding one I ever had to do was for my debut novel, The Darkening. It took me several weeks to bring it to a state where I’d be comfortable watching it from various angles and sizes. For Through Stranger Eyes, if I remember correctly, I must have designed, completed, and eventually discarded five more covers before I came up with the one you see before you. Nearly all previous ones were far more complex than the one that I ended up using, but instead I decided to go for the simplest one. The reason for that was that up to that point I was designing the covers as a writer instead of as a publisher. Since Through Stranger Eyes is part of a series of books, I had to come up with a design that would have transferable elements throughout the series, while at the same time be unique and tell something about the story each time.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Chris Sarantopoulos: The list is quite long actually, but the most important things I learned are those that now define me as a person. Perseverance is the first one that comes to mind. Patience is another. One can’t be an author without these two as his or her closest allies. The other thing that trying to get published teaches you is how to develop a tough skin. That’s an extremely important thing in our line of work. I was fortunate enough to learn about this when the first rejection emails started coming in while I was trying to get published in various literary magazines. That doesn’t mean that nowadays rejections don’t hurt. They do. It just means that it’s easier to handle, to identify the problem, and move on with as few scars as possible.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Chris Sarantopoulos: It will have to be for my latest novel, Through Stranger Eyes. When I started outlining and later drafting the book, I had no ending. I did not know how the book should end. I had all the other scenes ready, all the dialogues and everything else, but the last scenes that would tie everything up were a blur for me. At that time, I had no intention of making Through Stranger Eyes part of a series, so I had no clear path to follow. Then a few days later, I thought I could expand on the world (the series is more about how the world evolves and how the key players behind the scenes influence it, rather than how a group or characters fare through a given problem). Boom! That was it. All of the sudden I had an ending, and one that (I think) comes with an unexpected twist.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Chris Sarantopoulos: The list is quite long actually, but the most important things I learned are those that now define me as a person. Perseverance is the first one that comes to mind. Patience is another. One can’t be an author without these two as his or her closest allies. The other thing that trying to get published teaches you is how to develop a tough skin. That’s an extremely important thing in our line of work. I was fortunate enough to learn about this when the first rejection emails started coming in while I was trying to get published in various literary magazines. That doesn’t mean that nowadays rejections don’t hurt. They do. It just means that it’s easier to handle, to identify the problem, and move on with as few scars as possible.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Chris Sarantopoulos: It has its importance, but I don’t think it’s something that can destroy a book. Assuming of course it’s relevant to the book’s genre. Unfortunately, I’m one of those writers who are not that good when it’s time to come up with a title. I usually write down as many as I can come up with that are somewhat relevant to the story or the series, and if nothing stands out I turn to friends and readers for help. For Through Stranger Eyes, my latest cyberpunk novel, the title came to me in the early stages of planning and outlining the novel. That’s long before I had decided that the story would be a sci-fi one, and before it took the shape it currently has. The story is about a top biotechnology surgeon who after an accident loses his sight, and is forced to undergo an ocular operation and have cybernetic eyes. The problem is that after the operation, he starts remembering things he has never done and people he has never met. So the title for this book came rather easily.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Definitely a novel. A novel’s length allows for characters to grow and things to happen in such a way so that the writer’s vision can take shape. Not to mention that writing a book earns you bragging rights 😉

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Chris Sarantopoulos: My debut novel, The Darkening, came out last year and it’s a post apocalyptic horror story. It’s the story of a survivor of an apocalyptic event that turned nearly all forms of light lethal for humans. He comes across a glowing girl (more like a halo around her) and together they try not only to survive a band of highly trained and well-armed soldiers who are after them, but to also piece together the protagonist’s past and uncover the truth of what has happened. The Darkening will appeal to fans of post apocalypse and horror, but also to those who seek a new take on the genre. Through Stranger Eyes on the other hand is a cyberpunk thriller about a specialist in cybernetic augmentations who must uncover the truth regarding the gruesome murders he has recently started remembering, before the police and the megacorporations after him capture him. This story should appeal to fans of futuristic urban settings and in particular to those who love Blade Runner and thrillers. In both cases, and without spoiling too much of the stories, the theme behind them is how much can human hubris affect us not only on a personal level, but on a global scale.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Chris Sarantopoulos: While writing Through Stranger Eyes I had to maintain a very delicate balance between what was happening to the main character (the things he remembered and how they affected him), those who were after him, his deteriorating mental and social status, but also how all that affected his family. When I was drafting it I had included a few more scenes that showed how the main character’s predicament and choices affected his wife and his two kids. Before I sent the manuscript to my editor, and after I had revised it for the 20th time (yes, I revise and edit extensively) and with the input from a group of early readers, I decided that I had to cut back on those scenes for two reasons. The first was that Rick’s daughter (Rick is my main character’s name) appeared as a self-centred brat and that was not how I wanted her to be. The second was that the novel dragged and got boring during these parts. For a thriller at least. So I removed three fifths of these scenes and I rewrote the ones that remained, while trying to have them pull extra weight in order to show how his family life was affected by everything that was happening.

Meghan: What’s in your “trunk”?

Chris Sarantopoulos: It’s the story I can’t yet talk about. Not much anyway. It’s a fantasy story that will most likely span more than three books, it deals with different planes of existence merging together and nightmares. It’s the story I started writing way back in 2013, and about 100k words in I hit a roadblock. So I sat back and thought to myself, “Chris, you can either delete it and forget you ever wrote 100k words for it, or you can learn how to write properly and get back to it at a later time.” I chose the second option, obviously and conceded to the point that I had a great story to tell, but that I had used some extremely poor writing skills to convey it. I intend to start writing it at some point, but not yet. Not before I finish some other stories I want to tell first.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Chris Sarantopoulous: I have already finished drafting the sequel to Through Stranger Eyes and I’m trying to outline the third book in the trilogy. Which is easier said than done, because although I know how the story will end, and although I have written five outline versions, none of them seems to satisfy me enough. So for the time being, I’ll keep working on the Matriarchs – Silicon Gods world (that’s the name of the book series). Once that’s done, and assuming nothing changes in the meanwhile, I’ll probably start working on a space opera book series. We’ll see what happens after I finish that.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Chris Sarantopoulos: Though I’m not a big fan of social media and I spend as little time there as possible, I do my best to answer all emails and messages people send me. Readers can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, my blog, and of course via email. I have an Instagram account but I hardly ever use it. Readers can also sign up for my monthly newsletter and gain access to free stories, news, and offers.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Chris Sarantopoulos: For fellow writers who might be reading these lines, keep dreaming your dreams. The world needs you.

For readers, don’t forget to support your favourite writers. You have no idea how much it means to get an email that says you read and enjoyed one of our stories. Review those works. We need it to keep going.

Chris Sarantopoulos is a Greek writer who learned to communicate in English almost at the same time he started using his native language. He studied Geology in Scotland (you may hear him say aye a couple of times), then decided to diversify and completed a Master’s degree in Service Management. He almost started a PhD, but that didn’t work out. He enjoys writing science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic fiction and cyberpunk, but also dystopia, fantasy, high fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror (not the splatter type though). Currently, he lives in Greece, and if you happen to spend time there, contact him. He may be able to arrange a meeting.

His work has appeared on Beyond Imagination, Voluted Tales, and Eternal Haunted Summer among other literary magazines.

Keep track of Chris’ newest published work by subscribing to his mailing list.

If you would like to know more about him, please visit his web page or follow him on Amazon, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

The Darkening

Don’t fear the dark. Fear the light. 

The end came when light changed. It decimated humanity, leaving scattered bands of survivors stumbling in the dark.

Faced with saving himself or his family during the apocalypse, John Piscus made the wrong choice, and has been living with the guilt ever since.

When a glowing girl shows up at John’s shelter begging for help, his instincts tell him to kill her. After all, light kills. 

But when masked troopers tasked with capturing survivors come after them, it’s up to John to protect himself and the girl. Not only may she hold the key to reversing the lethal effects of light, she could also be the one who can save his soul.

If you love dark settings and characters faced with tough choices that result in horrific and sinister outcomes, don’t miss this post-apocalyptic horror read.

Discover the dangers in the world of The Darkening today.

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