Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Christopher Chase Walker on Being Indie

On "Being Indie" is a blog series that introduces us to a wide variety of small press authors and publishers as they discuss what being indie means to them.

Christopher Chase Walker is the author of The Visitor which released on November 25th, 2016 (Cosmic Egg); and Now You Know (Acorn Independent Press 2012)

Christopher was born on a Maryland army base the same day Apollo 12 returned from the moon. 

Since graduating university (College of Wooster) with a BA in English Literature, Christopher has lifted heavy objects at a fine arts auction house, mixed Bloody Marys at a Chicago bar, and for the past nineteen years raised millions for charities in the United Kingdom and United States. 

He lives in Brighton, England, in a narrow house near the sea.

Seven or eight years ago, a good friend, who was working on a novel of her own, asked me, ‘If your writing was music instead of fiction, what band would you be?’ It was a teenager-y question and, perhaps because of that, I thought it great fun. And I knew right away, if not which band, the direction or niche my answer would be: indie.

Mention the word ‘indie’ and music is the first thing that comes to mind. Then film. Then books. It’s not a hierarchy. But it’s music that always fronts the list – and with it, music magazines and music weeklies, pull out posters, good haircuts, brainy poses, bookish quotes, shyness and swagger, singles and snogs and youth.

It makes sense, for, across the arts, indie music came to me first. Importantly, indie music also came into form when I was doing the same and, in early adolescence, beginning to look beyond the 50s and 60s music of my parents’ generation and the meat-and-potatoes rock (sometimes soft and stringy, sometimes hard, sometimes countrified) and disco that dominated Cleveland radio in the late 70s and early 80s.

Initially it was bands like Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order and the Cure. Later it was the Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, and Suede. Friends – know that indieness helped establish conversations, the basis of many substantial friendships – introduced me to Sammy, Guided by Voices, Pavement and The Clientele. The music hit me in the gut: I had no choice.

What is critical about these bands – however popular they might have been or grew to be – is that they weren’t making music for everyone, but for themselves and for a small group of like-minded people whom they knew, or could at least guess, like fabled lands, existed here and there, and could be reached with luck, a hard slog and risk.

And the music labels for many indie bands – Creation, Rough Trade, Big Cat, Nude, etc – could be rough-edged, unconventional, sometimes ramshackle, often run by one or two people and a few mates or contacts who operated on instinct and passion and risk, rather than by an executive board concerned with strategy and scale and financial return for already wealthy investors.

It’s similar with many independent publishers, to a point. Today, indie publishers operate with a higher degree of order than the old indie music labels did, and want to make a success of things. But their interests, at least to me, lie more with wanting to publish something that excites them and they feel needs to be read, rather than something that you’ll see – or at least has a calculated shot at – topping the charts come Christmas, or at any other time of the year. That’s their beauty.

When I’d finished writing The Visitor – and after it had been proofed and edited and then run past three people whose opinions I trust (a musician on indie labels, an indie filmmaker and the same friend, a script-editor, who had asked me the which-band-would-you-be question) – and I thought the novella’s manuscript was clean enough to submit, I drew up a list of publishers. All were indie.

It’s a guess, of course, but I didn’t think any of the major publishers would be keen, if mainly because I thought The Visitor would only appeal to pockets of readers, rather than everyone and their great aunt and uncle. You also don’t see many novellas being published by the big publishing houses; they’re the somewhere in-between a short story and a novel oddball. If they were music, they would be EPs: too long to be a single, too short to be considered a full album.

Equally, it was important to trust my gut: I simply wasn’t interested in major national or international publishers. It was indie from the word go. Which is why, in reply to my friend’s question, I named the Jesus & Mary Chain as the band I’d like to be, if I was writing music instead of fiction.

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