In this week’s Spotlight, Charles Soule talks about debut novel The Oracle Year.
What do Matt Murdock, Wolverine, Poe Dameron, She-Hulk, a wizard called Wizord, and a twentysomething New Yorker with predictive powers all have in common?
The answer, of course, is Charles Soule.
If the aforementioned names aren’t enough of an indication as to how prolific he is, the list goes on. There’s also Lando, Obi-wan and Anakin, Green Lantern, Darth Vader, The Uncanny Inhumans and Strongman to name just a few others.
What I’m coming around to is this: Charles Soule is very obviously a force to be reckoned with. Whether he’s been making sacrifices to some sort of eldritch writing god or it’s sheer willpower and talent (I like to imagine it’s the former), he’s found a way to balance characters from all walks of life and corners of the galaxy. And now, on top of all that, Charle Soule has written a novel.
A brief synopsis: The Oracle Year begins at a bar, as many great stories often do, and it’s in that bar that readers first meet Will Dando. At a glance, Will is your average, unassuming New Yorker, and he probably would be too if it weren’t for the 108 predictions about the future kicking around in his head. Soon, Will and his friend Hamza have set up a website (aptly called The Site) establishing Will as the titular Oracle in order to carefully and anonymously announce these revelations to the public. But, like every good nerd knows, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And enemies. Lots and lots of enemies.
One of the many perks of being a bookseller by trade is that we’re lucky enough to have access to hotly anticipated titles months in advance of their publication. Being the Star Wars nut that I am, I’ve been keeping up with Poe Dameron since the very beginning. I was very excited when an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of The Oracle Year found its way into my hands. I also knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to pick Charles Soule’s brain. And he very kindly agreed to let me. So read on, Nerds, to find out more about The Oracle Year, Charles’ creative process, what color Will Dando’s lightsaber would be, and much, much more.
The Nerd League: I’d like to start by pulling back the curtain a bit. With so many projects in rotation, as well as a career outside of comic books, what does a day in the life of Charles Soule look like?
Charles Soule: Busy! As I type this, I’m working on six ongoing monthly comics titles between work for Marvel Comics and my own creator-owned books like Curse Words for Image—and “monthly” at Marvel can sometimes mean more than just one script per month when you factor in accelerated shipping and annuals and what have you. Beyond that, there’s work on the PR side (which includes fun things like this interview), legal work (I’ve been an attorney for a while and still practice a bit), music, family, travel and developing new stuff—I’m a good way into my next novel, for example. Every day is a bit of a sprint shuffling all of that.
TNL: Was writing a novel always on the table or is it a more recent aspiration?
CS: I wrote my first “novel” when I was in fourth grade—a picture book about a unicorn. So, it’s not new—but I did set it aside for a while. I started writing my first novel just after graduating from law school, and the timing is no coincidence. I finished that, got an agent, but it didn’t sell, so it’s currently in a drawer. We’ll see. In the meantime, while that process was going on, I started working on possibly breaking into comics. That took a long time—depending on how I measure it, probably about nine years—but I’ve been in ever since. The book I have coming out in April, The Oracle Year, was something I worked on primarily once I felt I had enough of a platform to maybe get an audience for it—we’ll see how that works out!
TNL: How does the process of pitching a comic book differ from pitching a 300+ page novel to a publishing company?
CS: The main thing is that the comic doesn’t have to be done. You can pitch with around five pages of finished art plus a cover and a detailed synopsis. Pitching a novel, at least your first one, usually requires a completed, professional-level manuscript. So, you tend to know more quickly whether something will work out. It also differs massively depending on where you are in your career. It’s easier now for me than it used to be—thank goodness.
Every once in a while you get it right on the first try.
TNL: Hemingway once said that “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” About how long did it take for you to write The Oracle Year? How different is the final product to its original iteration?
CS: There’s definitely material on the cutting room floor. I want to say it was a few years, because there was the generation of the manuscript, but then also the process of deciding what the book could and should be. The first chapter wasn’t always that first chapter, the ending wasn’t always the ending, and so on. It’s just part of the process. That said, there are also sentences, maybe even whole paragraphs that survived that whole time. Every once in a while you get it right on the first try.
TNL: What are some of the biggest drawbacks you faced while working on this project?
CS: I don’t know if I’d call it a drawback, but mostly just time. I keep a very busy schedule, and finding moments to work on The Oracle Year in and around everything else wasn’t easy. But I was always, always writing, which is what I’ve always wanted to do—so it’s hard to complain.
TNL: What were some of your favorite moments from working on The Oracle Year?
CS: I got the news that I had the book deal while I was on a trip to China. Because I was talking to people both in New York and Los Angeles while I was 13-16 hours ahead in Shanghai, it meant I had to take most of those calls in the middle of the night. So, I was always in sort of a haze, just wandering around half-exhausted—but it was for the best possible reason.
TNL: Some writers who work well while listening to music. Others need to work in complete silence. Where does your creative process fall? Are you making playlists for your characters or building yourself a sensory deprivation tank?
CS: I love listening to music while I work, but it usually needs to either be jazz or something I’m really familiar with, so it’s more like a sonic wall between me and the rest of the world as opposed to something that distracts me because I want to listen to the music more than I want to work. It lets me get into a place where I’m in the book’s reality instead of this one.
TNL: Speaking of music—the protagonist of The Oracle Year, Will Dando, is a musician. Your author bio indicates that you’re musically inclined as well. How much of your life and experiences bled into Will’s world as you were writing?
CS: I’ve been playing music since I was three. First, violin, then guitar in high school and now many things at varying levels of proficiency. Tons of bands, too, in all different genres. So, I know the New York City music scene very well. I’ve played most of the smaller clubs, and a few of the medium ones. I’m not a bassist, but I do play bass. So, that part of Will’s backstory was easy to make feel real. I just drew on my own experiences. There’s definitely part of me that would be very happy if my career had sent me into music more fully, but again, can’t really complain.
I had a long period of time when I wasn’t sure where my future would go, but I could feel that what I was doing at the time was wrong. I was working toward other goals but didn’t know if I’d ever get there, and I’d have given quite a bit for a glimpse of my future.
TNL: Can you tell us a little more (without spoilers, obviously) about Will Dando? Where did the inspiration for his character come from?
CS: Well, you know the music part—I just talked about it. The rest, the idea of someone who has no idea what their life will be but really wants to find something with meaning… that’s all me. I had a long period of time when I wasn’t sure where my future would go, but I could feel that what I was doing at the time was wrong. I was working toward other goals but didn’t know if I’d ever get there, and I’d have given quite a bit for a glimpse of my future. I just decided to write a book about a guy who gets that opportunity, and what he decides to do with it.
TNL: While Will is the focus of The Oracle Year, the story itself is told from multiple points of view. Characters like Leigh and Hamza have whole chapters to themselves. What made you want to write The Oracle Year in this way? Was it ever difficult to keep track of each character’s voice?
CS: It’s always tricky to use multiple POVs, but I think it’s a fantastic challenge. I also just find it more interesting to develop a number of characters instead of just one. More than that, though, it seemed important to look at this event through the eyes of many people affected by it, as opposed to just the Oracle himself. The book’s plot moves the world, and I thought the expression of the story should reflect that.
TNL: If Leigh and Will had lightsabers, what color would they be?
CS: Leigh’s blue, and Will is green. No Sith in that bunch. Maybe the Coach.
TNL: What writers (of comics or otherwise) have inspired you?
CS: So, so many. I’m a pretty voracious reader. I’d say the big ones are Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, Jhumpa Lahiri, China Mieville and Michael Chabon, but there are certainly more.
TNL: Is there anything you’re reading/bingeing for fun that fans should know about?
CS: I loved The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the most recent novel in the Expanse series, a super cool book about the history of color called Bright Earth, the Black Monday Murders comic by Jonathan Hickman, the Zelda Breath of the Wild expansion that just dropped and much more. The American Gods show has been a recent binge-delight, too. Lots of awesome things to watch, read and play these days.
TNL: What advice would you impart to aspiring writers?
CS: Read and write and write and read, constantly.
TNL: Lastly, what’s next for Charles Soule?
CS: Read and write, write and read.
Charles Soule can be found on twitter @CharlesSoule. The Oracle Year will be available for purchase online and at a bookstore near you on April 3rd. Want to pre-order your copy today? You can do so through Amazon, Indie Bound, Audible, and Barnes & Noble.