Chris A. Bolton


Today Chris A. Bolton, writer of Smash: Trial by Fire, joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an author! If the book’s title sounds familiar, it’s because yesterday we spent six minutes with the illustrator of the book, Kyle Bolton. Chris has written short fiction, stage plays, sketch comedy, and screenplays. He wrote and directed a web-series called Wage Slaves and had his first professional short story published in Portland Noir (Akashic Press, 2009). He recently finished his first novel.

Smash has received several awards and nominations including:

Junior Library Guild selection, 2014 Children’s Choices Book Award winner, 2013 Oregon Spirit Book Award winner, 2014 Black-Eyed Susan Award nominee,  and 2014 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens nominee.

How did you get started writing?

When I was very young, I wanted to be a comic book artist. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the pictures on paper to match the images in my head. That frustration only got worse over time.

Around the age of eight, I gave up on drawing and tried my hand at writing. Almost magically, the words in my head seemed to come across correctly on paper and line up very closely with what I'd hoped to say. That felt like the right connection, and it has stuck with me ever since.

Who influenced you?

My earliest influences were the writers of Spider-Man comics -- not just Stan Lee, but '70s-era writers like Marv Wolfman and Gerry Conway, then '80s writers like Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco. They taught me many elements of storytelling -- specifically, that drama has more impact when sprinkled with humor, and that the hero has to lose at least some of the time for his victories to really matter.

I also loved European comics like Asterix (by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo) and The Smurfs (by Peyo) that had a community of fun, memorable characters who embark together on wild adventures. I've always loved stories like that, especially in comics.

Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

So many. Too many. But one favorite book springs to mind: whenever I start a project that I hope will be funny and action-packed, I reread Bone Book 2: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith. It's an absolutely pitch-perfect example of how to build a traffic jam of overlapping characters and events that pays off with big laughs and even bigger thrills. I've never written anything that comes close to it, but that doesn't stop me from trying. (See #4 below.)

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?

Accept your failures and try again. That's all writing is: trying something, not getting it quite right, then trying again and again until you hit it. In order to find what works, you have to first figure out what doesn't. As Thomas Edison said when asked about his many attempts to perfect the light bulb: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Where is your favorite place to write?

I love to write by hand with my favorite pen (Uniball Vision Elite with a fine tip, if you're curious) in Moleskine notebooks and journals, usually outside. My favorite writing spot is my front porch on a sunny but cool autumn morning with brightly colored leaves scattered across the lawn.

What else would you like to tell us?

Many of the projects I've most enjoyed writing have been for kids and younger readers. I try to write the kinds of stories and characters that I would have loved as a kid, and hope those will connect with today's readers in the same way.

In particular, Smash is a love letter to my 10-year-old self -- the kind of comic I always dreamed of reading and never quite found. When parents send us pictures of their child enthralled by our graphic novel -- often reading it for the third or fourth or tenth time -- I can hear my 10-year-old self cheering in approval.

Chris, thank you for spending six minutes with LitPick!