Friday, October 24, 2008

The One...The Only...

CHRIS GRABENSTEIN!!! Oh come on now, you can't possibly be surprised that I pursued him to do a blog interview, are you? After all the raving I did over Tilt-A-Whirl and Mad Mouse? You had to know it was coming - or at least that I'd TRY to get it! And I'm so excited that he agreed. And not only did Chris agree, but he answered EVERY question I sent him. Now ordinarily, this wouldn't be a big deal - I tend to send about 10 questions to an author. But I started jotting down my questions and they just kept coming! He's such an intriguing guy that I couldn't help myself. So, when I sent the questions I told him he didn't have to answer every one, but he did. How wonderful of him to take the time out for us!

O.k., so let me first tell you that Chris released Hell Hole this year, which is the fourth book in the John Ceepak series. Tilt-A-Whirl, Mad Mouse and Whack-A-Mole are the first three. He also released a book for young(er) readers called The Crossroads this year. The target audience is middle grade children. AND he has another series featuring Christopher Miller; the two in that series are Slay Ride and Hell for the Holidays.

I usually share with you how I got started reading each of my interviewees, so I will tell you that I won Hell for the Holidays over at Lesa's Book Critiques. She has weekly giveaways and when Chris was at Poison Pen in Arizona, she had him sign a copy for her to giveaway; I was the lucky winner. THEN I won a copy of Hell Hole from Chris himself on a giveaway he did through the DorothyL list serve. Hopefully, they aren't trying to tell me something...ANYWAY, you know me by now (if you read regularly); I'm obsessive about starting series books at the beginning of the series, so off I went to get my copy of Tilt-A-Whirl. Yep, Chris had his marketing cap on when he (or rather Fred) pulled my name for Hell Hole. I bought all three books leading up to Hell Hole. And incidentally, I bought Slay Ride, too, because I can't read Hell for the Holidays before Slay Ride!

I know at this point you're all saying, "Jen, enough with the yakkin'; we want to hear what Chris has to say." And I will be most happy to oblige ... Friends, here is Anthony-Award winning author, Chris Grabenstein:

Q. You worked for awhile with a comedy troupe. That comedic talent definitely comes through in your writing. And some other famous people (Bruce Willis/Robin Williams) had the honor of working with you. Can you share an especially memorable experience from that time?

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!
Q: Did you have any experiences with the comedy troupe that influenced your writing? Do you ever do any "guest appearances" in the comedy clubs now?
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!


Corey Wilde October 24, 2008 at 8:52 AM  

Jen, another great interview! Per your strong recommendation I have the first two Ceepak stories on the nightstand. Separate from the TBR books so that I don't lose track of them.

beauvallet October 24, 2008 at 9:02 PM  

Jen, congratulations! The books sound like something I would like, and you didn't steer me wrong with Craig Johnson.

beauvallet October 24, 2008 at 9:04 PM  

Doh! I meant congratulations on getting the interview of course, not on persuading me to read the books. I don't have that much ego!

Jen October 24, 2008 at 9:11 PM  

hahahahaha! I got your meaning, Naomi! I was so hooked by these books. I just love John Ceepak. He's great...pretty unique, too, at least as far as my reading experiences have gone. I'll be excited to find out how both of you like the books.

And I'm so tickled that Chris took time out for us! He's great, too! Naomi, put him on our list of authors to be on the lookout for events! I'm hoping he comes back in this area next year...or else we'll catch him at B'Con!

Lesa October 24, 2008 at 9:53 PM  

Terrific interview, Jen! Isn't Chris terrific? And, I loved The Crossroads. I'm really pleased it might be optioned for a movie.

Looking forward to everything else Chris writes!

Jen October 24, 2008 at 10:04 PM  

Thanks Lesa! And yes, he is wonderful. I'm so glad I won your contest to get my butt in gear reading his work. I didn't realize how much I was missing! :)

Beth F October 25, 2008 at 5:08 AM  

Thanks for the great interview. I'm a huge fan of Ceepak and the other books. A new fantasy? Oh my, Chris will keep me books for a long time.

For those who like audiobooks: the audios of the Ceepak books are absolutely terrific. They are among the best I've listened to in almost any genre.

Joy October 25, 2008 at 7:50 AM  

Thanks so much for sharing this interview with Chris! I won Tilt-A-Whirl from Lesa's Book Critiques and haven't been able to get to it yet. I can't wait!

I watched the Kerrytown video clip and really enjoyed it. I live nearby and would have loved to have been there.

Jen October 25, 2008 at 9:19 AM  

Beth, I have heard great things about the Ceepak books on audio. They may be some of the ones I'm willing to buy because I'll listen to them over and over.

Joy, you are SO going to love Tilt-A-Whirl. My copy is presently on loan to my sister. Then it will probably go to my dad. The books are so great I want to share them with everyone!

Thanks so much for stoppin' by everyone. Glad you could make it and enjoy some time with Chris!

darbyscloset October 25, 2008 at 9:16 PM  

When you first spoke up about these books on your blog, I ordered the first two (btw, I am exactly like you with not being able to read #2 w/o reading #1 first!)from amazon and I now have them....the timing for this interview is perfect!
Thank you,
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

le0pard13 October 26, 2008 at 3:13 PM  

Another great job. And because of the interview, I'm going to give Mr. Ceepak a-whirl, so do speak. And Audible has published the Ceepak series. Thanks, Jen.

Debbie October 27, 2008 at 8:12 PM  

I just wrote that I wanted a good mystery to read.
These sound great! And you do great interviews.

Kitchen Benchtops January 23, 2012 at 3:45 PM  

Mad Mouse builds upon the strong foundation of the first book. This is a book that just cannot be put down!

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