Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guest Post: Funny Thing by Curtis Chen

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from debut novelist Curtis Chen. Coming out June 21 from Thomas Dunne Books, it's a SciFi spy romp aboard an intergalactic cruiser, starring an agent with a pocket dimension... in his pocket. But writing about foiling terrorism emerged from events that shaped so many of us, including 9/11. Curtis now shares with us how tragedy gave him inspiration to brighten our world. Over to Curtis!
SPOILER ALERT: If you’d rather know absolutely nothing about my debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo before reading it, STOP and save this blog post for later!

September 11, 2001, was an awful day for me, as I imagine it was for most Americans. It took me a long time to deal with it. I didn’t cry until two days later. I didn’t write about it until the week after, and I stand by what I said then: Murder defies reason.

The good news: 9/11 directly inspired the plot of
Waypoint Kangaroo, wherein hijackers attempt to crash an interplanetary cruise spaceship into Mars to start a war. (In my future history, the Martian colonies very recently won their independence from Earth after a brutal conflict, and there’s still plenty of bad blood between the two worlds.)

The bad news: That particular inspiration also made much of the first draft very dark and depressing—i.e., at odds with the protagonist’s trademark snarky humor—and I struggled to balance those two elements over many subsequent rewrites. I wanted Kangaroo to not take himself too seriously, but I wanted the stakes to be real matters of life and death.

The other thing I didn’t do in the first draft was delve into any of the villains’ motivations. At the time—only five years after the towers fell—I still didn’t want to give the bad guys a voice. This was before Obama, before Snowden, before
Zero Dark Thirty, and I hadn’t yet processed my own feelings about the state of the world. Besides, it was much more fun for me to imagine the activities that might be offered aboard an interplanetary pleasure cruise than to conceive of how mass murderers would carry out their plans.

But, as I like to say,
writing is cheaper than therapy. Revising my manuscript and getting feedback from others made me more willing to engage with my own feelings and explore why people do the things they do, both in fiction and in real life. We’re all capable of extraordinary good and unspeakable evil. We all get to choose, every single day, whether we push toward the darkness or the light—and how we behave while doing it.

Examining why my villains would do such awful things also helped illuminate why my heroes would want to stop them. It’s not just about maintaining the status quo--in fact, it’s the bad guys here who are trying to undo recent social progress. (That’s not relevant to current American politics at all, nope nope nope.)

In the end, I learned that it’s possible to be funny in just about any circumstance. Of course, hitting the right tone for a given scene is like walking a tightrope, and the balancing act never gets any easier—hence the old showbiz adage “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” I won’t claim I mixed humor and drama as well as, say, the movie
Dead Man Walking (capital punishment + nuns = LAFF RIOT j/k), but I do hope readers enjoy spending time with Kangaroo. Even if he is suffering the worst vacation ever.


Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.

Curtis' short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER'S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers' workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of every month. Visit him online at:


  1. Congratulations Curtis.
    I am a firm believer that laughter (unless it is at people) helps almost everything.

  2. Exorcising the demons of 9/11 sounds like a great idea, as does the premise for your book. Good luck with your book release!


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