Chris: Well, one of the most exciting nights was the time when Robin Williams was in town filming Moscow on the Hudson and dropped by to do our show with us. What was fascinating was how shy he was off stage. Much like me! In fact, people often expect performers to be as wild and crazy off stage as they are on. They seldom are!
Chris: I work a spirit of improv into my daily writing. The secret to doing comedy improvisation is a willingness to say "yes, and..." You always strive to work forward, never negate what the other performers have already established. I write without a detailed outline, just a series of mile markers I'm aiming for. So, just like on stage, I'm making it up as I go along.
I don't really appear in comedy clubs any more. Every now and then, some pals from back in the day and I will get together to raise money for charity. However, if you ever see me on a convention panel or doing the Bouchercon Auction, you will see that I still enjoy getting a chance to act like an idiot in public.
Q: You also worked, quite successfully, in advertising. What motivated you to leave your advertising career behind?
Chris: My first wife died at a very young age (everybody: quit smoking, please!). About a year later, my ad agency was swallowed up by the same conglomerate that swallowed up my first agency back when I was a junior copywriter making two cents a week. I knew what would be coming next: downsizing, layoffs, misery. Realizing life is, indeed, short, I turned in my fancy business cards, gave up my Executive Vice President and Group Creative Director titles to stay home and sit in a spare bedroom typing out my own stories instead of ones for Dr. Pepper and Crystal Light.
Q: Writing has obviously been a big part of your career, regardless of what job you've had. Did you always have aspirations to write novels?
Chris: It's true - I have made my living as a writer since 1984. However, I never thought I could write a WHOLE novel. Don't forget - I'd spent seventeen years writing TV commercials. Thirty second ditties. About 70 words long. I thought I might write more screenplays, which are, basically, longer versions of the scripts I had been writing for TV spots. However, it was Stephen King's book ON WRITING that convinced me I might actually be able to write a story nearing 70 thousand words instead of the 70 I was use to.
Q: Was John Ceepak modeled after anyone you know?
Chris: Ceepak is modeled on several people. My nephew who fought in the first gulf war. And FDNY captain who is a close friend of mine. Some former MPs I met at a wedding. I wanted to create the polar opposite of the bitter, divorced, cynical, I-have-my-own-code sleuth since the world already seemed to have enough of those.
Q: Did the idea of Sea Haven or Ceepak come first?
Chris: I had Ceepak first. I thought Sea Haven, a tacky tourist town where everything is more or less a lie or fake would be a great place to plop a character who will not lie, cheat, steal nor tolerate those who do.
Q: How about Christopher Miller? Where did the idea for his series come from?
Chris: He is actually based on a character named Christopher Morgan, an FBI agent who shows up in the first Ceepak book TILT-A-WHIRL. I just really liked the character. I had turned 50 when I first started writing SLAY RIDE so I made him into a better version of me: a guy who thinks his best days are over who soon learns the world still needs him!
Q: Were John's initials intentional or did that turn out to be a coincidence?
Chris: Total coincidence. In fact, I didn't realize he was a JC until, I think, the third book.
Q: I know you use the WWCD slogan on your souvenirs and on the link for the Visitation Hospital Foundation...
Chris: Several of our friends started asking themselves What Would Ceepak Do? when faced with small moral dilemmas. In fact, I think we made our fire captain friend a WWCD? T-shirt of his own before we did them on Cafe Press to promote the books.
Q: Do you still type your work on the Smith-Corona typewriter or have you transitioned to a computer? Do you have any kind of process for your writing?
Chris: I sometimes wish I still had a typewriter. Especially an IBM Selectric! There was a good feeling to those machines. I now work with Microsoft Word on a Mac computer. I can't write by hand anymore. I have been typing (it's how I supported myself in my acting days - as a temp secretary at a bank) for so long, I think faster than my hand will move the pen. I write every day with a target of creating two thousand new words. I think while I walk my dog and jog around Central Park and keep note cards and Sharpies in every pocket of every jacket and coat that I own.
Q: You write the Ceepak novels in the present tense, which is unusual. Although I have to admit that when I started reading Tilt-A-Whirl, I was so caught up in the book and characters I didn't notice it at all. What I did notice in Mad Mouse, though, was how much I felt like an actual part of the car chase scene. And these books are also written in first person. The Christopher Miller Thriller novels differ, though. Do you prefer one style over the other? What are the aspects you like about each style?
Chris: I think first person present tense gives the Ceepak stories a sense of relentless drive. It's also how cops talk, it seems. "This guy comes up the alley, pulls out a pistol..." I like the Miller books because I get to play with multiple points of view, something that, I think thrillers need to do, so the reader actually knows more than the poor protagonist. Third person also works well in my Middle Grades ghost stories. In fact, a lot of the reviews for THE CROSSROADS complimented me on my adept use of POV - with chapters told from the POV of my hero, the villains, even a tree!
Q: You have some double meanings going on in our titles. I especially liked the double meaning in Mad Mouse. Do the titles come easily for you or is that a challenging part of the process?
Chris: The titles for the Ceepak books come easily but, as you noticed, they are extremely important. They become the metaphor I intend to play with for the entire 70 thousand words. The next book will be called MIND SCRAMBLER and has to do with perceptions, reality, and deception!
Q: So, not only do you have the Ceepak novels and the Christopher Miller novels, but you have also written a book for middle grade readers. What motivated the decision to write that book? And what kind of response do you receive from your younger readers when you're on tour?
Chris: I think of myself as someone who writes fast-paced stories - in all sorts of genres. It's why I liked advertising. One day, you'd write a funny spot for a beer or a soft drink, the next day a tear jerker for heart-warming greeting cards or soup. I also wanted to write a book without dirty words so all the kids I knew could read something I wrote.
I am loving writing for a younger audience. They come to readings and signings hugging the book close to their hearts!
Q: You've just wrapped up your book tour for Hell Hole, but have you had time to read anything yourself in the last six months or so that you would recommend to folks who enjoy your work?
Chris: I pick up mystery books from fellow authors at conventions and can definitely recommend Simon Wood, Katherine Miller Haines, Allison Gaylin, Reed Coleman, Craig Johnson, Rosemary Harris, Jane Cleland, and tons of others. If you like Ceepak books, you'll probably enjoy Marshall Karp's mysteries and stuff from the masters like Robert Crais, Lee Child, Janet Evanovich, Robert Parker.
I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially when I'm writing.
Q: Because I'm an animal-lover myself, I have to ask about the four-legged members of your family. Fred is famous, himself -- appeared on Broadway and has a book coming out. Does he rule the roost or do one of the cats? Everyone always asks me, "your cats and dogs get along?" They sure do! Do you get that question a lot? I, like you, have to keep the cats' food in a safe place or the dogs would devour it for sure.
Chris: Yes, Fred is a great dog. Loves people. If you see us on the street and go, "ah, what a cute dog," he will lick your face. I think our smallest cat, Tiger Lilly, is the one who rules the roost. She makes me rub her butt every morning at 4 a.m. And at 7 pounds, she whipped 62-pound Fred into shape with one swift paw to the snout. What's amazing is how much life the four critters add to our life. In a two-bedroom apartment of 800 square feet!!!
Q: O.k., you've mentioned that there is a Ceepak novel in the works for 2009 called Mind Scrambler. Anything in the works beyond that? Anything for Christopher Miller or for your young(er) fans?
Chris: Yes, MIND SCRAMBLER, where Ceepak and Danny go to Atlantic City and end up investigating the murder of a friend we met in an earlier book, will come out from St. Martin's Minotaur in June 2009. The sequel to THE CROSSROADS is called THE HANGING HILL and will be published by Random House in August 2009. We are also very close to signing a movie option deal for THE CROSSROADS with a Hollywood producer. I am working on a new Middle Grades fantasy series that I just turned over to my agent. Right now, there are no plans for another Christopher Miller thriller...but, you never know!
Q: And the last question: There is a book out called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be YOUR six-word memoir?
Chris: Life is good. Full of stories.
See what I mean? He is so interesting! Thank you, Chris, for being so generous with your time!
I'm going to have to add several of those authors he mentioned to my "to read" list. And Mind Scrambler will definitely be on my list of books to buy in 2009!
Before I wrap up the longest post ever, I want to highly recommend checking out Chris's web site. I, again, "borrowed" several of the photos from over there, but he has a video clip up from an appearance he did in Michigan this year on the Hell Hole tour that is extremely fun. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Definitely check that out! You can also sign up for his mailing list here. You'll receive great updates through that, but you can keep your eyes peeled here as well. I'll definitely be reminding you all when Mind Scrambler comes out. I'll be doing that "happy dance" again! And The Crossroads may very well end up under the Christmas tree for my niece. She might still be a little young for it, but she'll grow into it!
Thanks for enjoying this fun interview with me! Happy Reading!