Christopher Fried (1985-) currently lives in Richmond, VA. He is an alumnus of the College of William and Mary. Over the years, he has contributed poetry and non-fiction articles to print and online journals. As a promoter of 1980s nostalgia and synthwave culture, he has recently contributed reviews to NewRetroWave and he’s serving as an advisor for the upcoming 1980s sci-fi cinema documentary In Search of Tomorrow.
Hi Christopher, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! Tell us a bit about your novel, Whole Lot of Hullabaloo: A Twenty-First Century Campus Phantasmagoria.
It’s Fall 2011, and Troy Thomas, a sophomore at Central Ohio University, is living a normal college life with his friend Ian Mueller, a top lacrosse player. However, one night, Ian arrives at an off-campus costume party dressed as a Miami Vice character in blackface. Ian receives an e-mail from the university administration, revealing that unbeknownst to Ian and Troy, a fellow student became greatly offended, and is threatening to take the incident to the local media. A whole slew of shenanigans ensue as Troy tries to make sense of not only his friend’s actions, but that of the reactions and behavior of the college community and other local residents in the Columbus, OH area. Soon, Troy, along with the university administration and students, is dealing with militants, a popular preacher from the east side of Columbus, and a recently hired professor, among other characters with their own agendas. During this chaos, Troy tries to discover who he is in a community gripped by social unrest, and finds out whether friendship will wither amid such division. It’s a dark satire tempered by 1980s pop cultural influences such as John Hughes and Steven Spielberg, and a journey through the wasteland of contemporary academia.
What was your inspiration behind the storyline?
When I was a college student, the Duke lacrosse scandal story broke. Though it wasn’t the first, it seemed like a beginning pattern of behavior that I’ve noticed over the years, where college administrations and media uninformed by the facts inflame mob mentality around provocative topics or incidents. That was around the infancy of social media too. It hasn’t helped that I believe that people have become too sensitive and take themselves too seriously. A good principle that I like is found at Proverbs 12:16: “A fool immediately shows his annoyance, / But the shrewd man overlooks an insult.” However, I’m not trying to lecture anyone. I just wanted to tell a humorous story that might have people think a bit.
When did you start writing and what drew you to write satirical fiction?
I’ve been writing since high school. However, professionally, I started writing and submitting poetry and non-fiction right after college. During college and afterwards, I became drawn to comedic novelists such as Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, and Anthony Powell. I decided that I would like to take their stylings and transpose it to a 21st century American scene. I also came across George Schuyler’s novella Black No More.
Tell us a bit about your protagonist, Troy Thomas. What motivates him?
Troy is a college sophomore with regular young adult interests. He likes having a good time, though he’s restrained by reason more so than his friend Ian is. He’s loyal, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the common fear of going against the crowd. Though he hates confrontation, he eventually realizes that sometimes it’s necessary.
How did you develop your characters?
My characters started as archetypes, perhaps even stereotypes with some of the ancillary characters. I am writing a satire, of course. However, I like to add at least a thing or two that makes them stand out as different. The more important the character, the more I added to their background using preliminary notes. Even if a character is “good,” there should be faulty or bad traits that they overcome or struggle with. The same is with characters whom I find wrong-headed or just plain wrong. There should be some aspects that could be viewed as positives, even if the character is ultimately judged as foolish or unadmirable.
Who was your favorite character to develop (and why)?
Ian Mueller. He is the catalyst for all the chaos that goes down. It’s interesting to have a character do a foolish thing, perhaps be a bit obnoxious, and still have them come across as a sympathetic person, at least in comparison to his antagonists.
What kind of research was involved in preparing to write Whole Lot of Hullabaloo?
There are some foreign language words and phrases throughout, so I wanted to make sure they’re correct. Similarly, with the pop culture and literary references, I wanted to check these melded with the story. Since the story is set in Ohio in 2011-2012, I wanted to make sure certain actual events occurred when I wrote they occurred, or that certain institutions actually existed unless I clearly made them up such as the fictional university the students attend.
How long did it take you to write Whole Lot of Hullabaloo?
This was an interesting journey. I began in April 2014, and I was finished by fall. I initially tried shopping the manuscript out to agents until early 2015 without much success. During this period, I was irregularly employed. However, I got a full-time job in Spring 2015, and I set the novel aside. When Covid came around in Spring 2020, since I couldn’t travel, I took some time to clean up the manuscript some more, get it professionally edited, and then self-publish.
Talk about your writing process. Do you have a routine?
My writing process was regular but flexible for the novel. I would usually head over to the library in the early evening 3-4 days during the week for sustained concentration. I would generally have a page goal or would stop for the evening as closing time approached, but I didn’t beat myself up if I missed a day.
Did you let Troy dictate the story or did you map things out first?
The end was somewhat mapped out. I knew that Troy had to take a stand somehow. How that stand would actually be, was dictated by the journey: the interactions with other characters and the events he was exposed to.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
The necessity of having an editor as a second pair of eyes. It isn’t surprising that a work needs to be edited. It’s surprising how many errors are usually of a minor variety. If you’re going to self-publish your book, you have to be particularly careful, or you’re going to have to keep going back to make corrections or be disappointed in what is finalized.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
That rejection of a work isn’t usually rejection of a person. An agent or publishing house usually has their own tastes, for right or wrong. Nowadays, it’s up to a writer to create their own audience, now that aspect of the process has primarily shifted to the writer, so you’ll have to work harder. However, it may be of lasting benefit as you’ll have more control over your work.
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
In terms of genre, I’m not too picky. If you could look at my bookshelves, you would see classics, genre and literary fiction, poetry, drama, biography, history, etc. As mentioned before, with fiction writing I’ve been influenced by Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, and Anthony Powell. I also found affinity with Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, especially since it’s set in the 80s, which I believe one of the most important decades in the modern era. With poetry, I came under the influence of T.S. Eliot, as well as the following generation of Modernists, such as Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate. I liked the ideas of mixing the contemporary with the literary tradition, as well as creating beautiful and striking images in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Being an author can be a full-time job these days. What do you enjoy most about the process? And the least?
The enjoyable part is molding ideas and technique into a piece of art. You can see this whether during the planning stage or during actual process of writing down lines for a story or a poem. The least enjoyable is coming to an end of a project and realizing that no matter what you do, things just won’t come together. This could mean that the lines individually composing a poem are decent, but as a whole, it just doesn’t work. This is often after even editing, and it makes you feel like you wasted your time when you could’ve been working on something else.
Describe how you felt when you first held a copy of your novel in your hands.
It was wonderful. After spending time revising, then sending it off to be professionally edited and reviewed, then deciding on a cover, it was nice to see it all come together.
What has the general response been to Whole Lot of Hullabaloo?
I believe it’s been positive overall. In terms of reviews, it was a bit of a slow start. However, what’s come in so far has been pleasing.
How does your family (and/or friends) support your writing? Were they surprised when you told them you were writing a book? (Or did you keep it a secret until it was finished)?
My family have always supported me in my creative endeavors. At the time I was writing in 2014, they knew I was working on a novel and had finished it. However, they didn’t know that in 2020 that I had finally decided to make arrangements to get this published until it was in the final stages
What do you like to do outside of writing? What are some of your other passions?
Most of my time is taken up serving my local Jehovah’s Witness congregation as an elder and engaging in the ministry/relief efforts, especially during this time of Covid. I also enjoy my secular work as an import coordinator for an ocean carrier. It exercises the analytical part of my brain. Since 2019, I’ve been involved as an advisor for an upcoming documentary on 1980s sci-fi films called In Search of Tomorrow. This has been fun because it combines my love of the eighties with fan appreciation of movies that sometimes don’t get praise from critics but mean a lot to the general public.
Where do you go from here? Do you have any other writing projects you’re working on that you’d like to share? What can your readers expect to see next?
I do have germs of ideas for the next novel or two. There’s nothing concrete, so I don’t really have anything to divulge. At this time, you’ll most likely see the non-fiction articles that I’ve been writing, usually focusing on 1980s pop culture and synthwave culture.
Considering your own journey, what advice can you give to aspiring authors?
There needs to be a balance of trusting one’s judgement and listening to criticism. If your idea or story is good, put it out there. However, listen to outside parties about what works and what doesn’t. In some cases, it could be a matter of taste. In other cases, it could be issues of structuring, logic, etc. You don’t want to put something out that you’ll later regret.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Whether you’re a reader or a writer, read both widely and deeply, even in topics or genres you might not have an initial interest in.
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