Welcome to the alternate Lancaster of Samuel C Spallucci, created by locally-based author A.S. Chambers, who will be signing copies of a collection of stories, The Casebook Of Sam Spallucci, at Lancaster Library on Saturday 28th September. John Freeman caught up with Austin recently to discuss his character and career...
Austin S.Chambers is a writer of urban fantasy and the creator of the long-suffering investigator of the paranormal, Samuel C Spallucci. Austin grew up in Northamptonshire (the place where they used to make shoes) but now lives in Lancaster (the place that should be the county town of Lancashire, but isn’t).
He thinks he is somewhere in his 40’s but, to be honest, he lost count back in the year 2001 when he realised that there had not been a nuclear apocalypse which would leave him with special powers and that hover cars were still a very long way off in the future.
His first published book, The Casebook Of Sam Spallucci is available for sale on Amazon and he thinks that you will enjoy its fusion of Film Noir, urban fantasy and humour. However, he does feel that your gran would not like it for a Christmas present as there is a slightly rude scene that might make her blush somewhat involving a college chaplain, a young male student and a jar of mayonnaise.
(Having said that, she probably won’t send you another pair of those hideous socks again which might be beneficial in the longer term).
Austin: I am actually a native of Northamptonshire. I studied Religious Studies at Lancaster University, specialising in Mythology, Christianity and ancient religions. During my time there, I fell under the curse of the Pendle Witches and never left this wonderful city.
John: What was the inspiration for the lead character?
Austin: When I was a teenager I wrote a novella entitled "Behold The Wolf" which was about a private eye tracking down a bloodthirsty lycanthrope. A school-friend read the first draft and said it sounded like "Sam Spade meets The Wolfman". I liked that analogy and sort of went with the idea. Hence, Sam Spallucci was born. If you want to know how he got his surname then you'll have to read Sam Spallucci: Ghosts From The Past due out next year. ;-)
John: How long have you been writing the stories? I'm assuming the tales in this collection have been published over time?
Austin: I've been writing urban-fantasy since I was a teenager. Sam and his escapades have evolved over the years until I finally sat down about 18 months ago and made the conscious effort to put fingers to keyboard. Casebook is the first in a series of books I am in process of constantly writing. They are about Sam and other characters who I will gradually introduce and explore in parallel books which will take place centrally over a period of about seven months (in their universe) leading to an event cryptically referred to as The Divergence where we see the rise of the "big bad", Kanor.
John: Setting a story in a real town is always a challenge – have you used real places in Lancaster, or have names been changed to protect the potentially maligned/ compared to the spawn of the devil?
Austin: Yes, this is an area where I have to be very, very careful. At the end of the day, all my stories are fiction. I actually have an afterword in Casebook explaining this.
Obviously, Sam lives in Lancaster, but it is a parallel version of the our city. There are places that the reader will recognise: Dalton Square, Williamson Park, Penny Street etc. However, there are big differences such as Luneside University which is based down in the old Williamson works by the Lune.
Also, the characters take their influences from many sources. They are very much a fusion of people who I have met over the years and, indeed, certain aspects of my character which I look at and play with. In the forthcoming Ghost From The Past, Sam's nemesis is his old college mate Malcolm Wallace and here I sort of play with my own outlooks on life in the two opposing characters: one hopeful, one cynical.
John: What kind of novels do you like to read? Any favourite authors?
Austin: I will read just about anything. When I was a kid it was all Stephen King and Anne Rice, but as I got older I broadened out a lot more drawing in classics and other contemporary authors such as Douglas Adams (whose humour is a big influence on my writing style). Like Sam, I am a complete sci-fi nerd and I have bookshelves lined with Doctor Who novels and books from the Star Wars expanded universe. If Abrams messes with the timeline I will set an army of constructs on him! I am also being drawn into the growing world of Steampunk. I adore the fashions and the richness of the whole movement although I don't think I could ever manage to write in that style.
John: Given that the collection is independently published, did you edit the book as well as write it – or have you had input from others?
Austin: The work is entirely self-edited, so if you find glaring errors or typos feel free to let me know via my website (www.aschambers.co.uk) and I will sort them for the reprint which should coincide with the publication of Ghosts.
I am very self-critical and went through the book about five times before I was satisfied. I found the most useful stage was reading it aloud to friends from a printed manuscript because clunky phrasing and spelling errors stood out so much easier than just reading from a laptop.
John: Do you think more local authors are publishing their own titles these days, rather than seek a publisher?
Austin: Ah, I have very strong, and probably controversial, views on this matter. When I was a kid, publishers were quite happy for you to send them your work. They'd read the covering letter and, if they liked your spin, they would then read your manuscript. However, J.K.Rowling inadvertently ruined all this. Since she succeeded in getting the Harry Potter books published, a lot more potential authors have felt that they are the next big thing. They quickly scribble something down, badger their friends to give them five star reviews on Goodreads and they think their piece of work is perfect.
Unfortunately, it normally isn't and the publishers have gotten sick of being sent piles and piles of half-worked manuscripts. As a result they will now only look at someone with a track record. This means that the newbie to the scene has to self-publish and get a proven track record before a publisher will even look at them which can be terribly laborious and very time-consuming. I have actually had night-terrors about Kindle formatting!
Having said that, self-publishing is actually quite liberating. It gives the author a space to experiment and try out all sorts of ideas whilst evolving themselves into a product that the big boys think they can sell successfully.
Austin: You've seen the beer mats? Excellent! Wait until you see the t-shirts, badges and the shopping bags :-). The marketing has certainly raised my profile. My "likes" on Facebook have started to rise and I have also seen sales on Amazon increase.
I hope this will turn into friendly faces at Lancaster Library's book-signing on the 28th September, or I will spend the 29th with a terrible hangover!
Publishing a book is equal parts researching, writing and marketing. You have to balance these or it just won't sell. I love Casebook. It still makes me chuckle and I know other people will enjoy it too; I just have to keep up with that marketing to encourage people to read it and enter into the humorous and shadowy world of Sam.
John: If the collection is a success, what's next for Samuel C Spallucci? Are you already working on new stories? Has anyone picked up the TV rights yet?
Austin: Casebook is actually the second novel-sized book that I have completed. A couple of years ago I penned Fallen Angel, which I consider to be my magnus opus. It was about this angel who gets booted out of Heaven for a crime he did not commit and his trials and tribulations on Earth as a mortal leading up to armageddon and then, consequentially, The Divergence. Sam actually featured as a side character in this.
However, after writing the book, it soon became apparent that I could not use it to launch my publishing career; it was too complex and referenced things that would happen in other books which I had not yet written. Hence it has been put away until I've worked through my Sam books and those which run parallel to them.
Like I mentioned earlier, Sam Spallucci: Ghosts From The Past is due out next year as a direct continuation on from Casebook and there are also short stories of mine out there. You can either download them for free as PDFs from my website or buy them in Kindle form from Amazon.
As for a TV serialisation... well, that would be rather nice!
John: What one piece of advice would you offer aspiring authors seeking an opening in today's publishing world?
Austin: Enjoy it. If it's stressful, then it isn't for you. Getting published by the big boys is not the be all and end all, just a nice added extra.
• Austin will be signing copies of his books at Lancaster Library on Saturday 28th September from 10.00am until 3.00pm. More details on the virtual-lancaster.net calendar
• Visit A.S. Chambers website at www.aschambers.co.uk or follow him on Facebook (A.S.Chambers) or stalk him on Twitter (@ASChambersUK) where you can find various bits and bobs regarding books, films TV series and whatever drops into his lap!