I’ve said a million times and I’ll preach it over and over again, when we’re young our taste-buds have the sophistication of narcotized amoebas wallowing in a sea of barbiturates. I’ve long gone all fire and brimstone at our childish enthusiasm for things that would later haunt us in life. The critical musical gusto of garden gnomes. The piquancy of pygmy poultry for po-po provisions. The fashion flash of, well, let’s do away with the poetry and simply lay it out on the line… The fashion sense of a blind radioactive pet rock.
That same lack of judgment, that will undoubtedly end up giving us frack as we get older, some way or another reaches out in tentacle fashion into our literary appreciation. In some cases, because God simply can’t keep on giving Darwin Awards like Tic-Tacs, it shrugs off our shoulders and dies like a gutter rat in the highway of maturity. In other cases, it stays latched onto our hindquarters, drilling straight into the creamy center of our brain pan and boot kicks logic, acumen, and good grace into the Margarita blender – taking over the driving seat and steering our jalopy towards the “50 Shades of Grey” area of our bookstore.
When I was but a sapling, struggling to stay fastened like the goiter of existence to that flimsy rim known as the Academic Edge – where malcontents, knaves and Ralph from “The Simpsons” eternally find themselves at – my canon for bookish excellence was based on line drawings and the cup measurer of heroines. I actually believed, and here I will do nothing but stick my head on the wooden block, that “Venom: The Lethal Protector” was a masterpiece of that graphic realm known as comics.
As you can imagine, Shakespeare was simply a pompous namby-pamby pushover whose verse might as well be written in Klingon. Now, as the years weigh in, and common sense has gone all “Clockwork Orange” on my adolescence libido, I’m ashamed of such vile remarks. Part of the Bard’s fun is understanding and taking heed of his words, of finding in each of their poetic grace that measure of commitment and ultimate understanding that they warrant. Still, looking back on those dark, dark, dark days, I can’t help but wonder how my life would have turned out had a bloke like Christopher Moore existed, or more to the point, his rascally creation: Pocket.
“Dude.” In one corner of a parking lot I’m bogarting the cancer stick and hiding the Victoria’s Secret catalog. I turn, completely gobsmacked, rethinking the music of the sphere and all that rubbish. “Have you read this?”
Up goes a copy of ‘Fool’. “It has boobies! It’s riddled with violence, and as an added bonus, more expletives than a Martin Scorsese film. We might have mis-read Shakespeare.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, lend me your ears (eyes?). Bacteria, atoms and particles of wayward bits of information slowly plotting the downfall of humanity, we at the Guy Society, proudly present, as a one time showstopper, the one, the only, the New York Time’s Bestselling Author, the twister of words, the scribbler of tales, the main Cheese himself….
Mister Christopher Moore.
If we had the budget for a band, this would be the point where the drummer would go all Animal on his trap set.
First of all, Mister Moore, thank you for taking a few minutes of your time and gifting this lowly fool with the right material to snake out a raise from my tight-fisted boss..
Max Longstone: We wanted Jimi Page or Richards… If you think this is odd you should have seen them. Your last book was Secondhand Souls, a sequel to Dirty Job. Is it just me or is this book a turning point in your San Francisco Bay anthology? You flipped a lot of different ideas and cemented characters on their head by the end of the novel. You shifted the Death Merchant’s trade, revealed Mint Fresh’s nature (an off comment/slash secret from Coyote Blue), and scratched Cavuto out of existence. Was all of this planned, part of the BIG PICTURE, or did it simply come to pass as you wrote the book?
Christopher Moore: There are a couple of pitfalls an author can fall into when writing a sequel or a series, one is to write the same book twice (or three times) and another is to ration out events so they will last for the entire series, so nothing tends to happen. I wanted to have a lot of stuff happen, and I wanted to have a lot of new ideas and new concepts in Secondhand Souls so the reader would have the joy of discovery. Now, I did fall into one of the pitfalls, that one tends to plummet into in a series or sequel if one doesn’t plan on doing it in the first place, and that is the magical resurrection of characters that you thought you’d quite killed off in the first story. I did with the Morrigan, the shadowy raven women from A Dirty Job, mainly because I found them so cool and entertaining that I thought readers would miss them if they didn’t show up. So, in short, I planned out the whole thing, and I wanted it to feel like it had a real ending, but I suppose another story could come out of it. Who knows?
Max Longstone: You have a lot of crossover characters. One of the amazing things about your books is that they feel as though any page now, you might get a cameo appearance by a personal favorite from another novel. Is there one character in particularly that you somehow feel especially attached to?
Christopher Moore: I’m fairly attached to Alphonse Rivera, the cop who has been in and out of my California-set books since the beginning. I even tried to get him to retire and run a book store in Secondhand Souls, give him a nice rest, but before the book was finished he was back on the job. My favorite to write is Pocket, my Shakespearean fool, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of some terrific smart ass thing for him to say, even if I’m not working on a book with him in it.
Max Longstone: Tell us a bit about your writing process. Some scribblers go about their work jotting down ideas and flying by the seat of their pants, the Stream of consciousness practice. Others plan out a book as though they’re about to storm a castle and every decision they make might win or cost them the venture. What’s your take on the whole fandango?
Christopher Moore: I used to start with a fairly loose outline, really just a beginning and an end planned, with not a whole lot of direction for how to get there. Almost, always, a scene will come to me fully drawn, dialog and whatnot, and I’ll jot it down in a notebook, not knowing where it will fit in later, but those scenes act as sign posts somewhere later in the book. As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve worked under deadlines, I tend to outline more because I don’t have the luxury of being stuck for a month or two while I figure out where the story is going. I don’t adhere strictly to the outline, though, and in fact, the whole thing can change with something a character says while I’m writing a scene, but knowing where I’m going helps me figure out how to draw the characters, so they won’t seem so pushed around by me — it lets them act more naturally on their own. As for the discipline of it, when I’m working on a book, I try to sit down and write every day around the same time, work as long as I feel I’m effective, and not take days off unless I have to. Inevitably I will get stuck, but I have to keep going back to the page until I get unstuck.
Max Longstone: You seem to switch between a heavy, full of descriptive text and highly researched book, to a slightly more silly escapade on a yearly basis, more or less. Is it safe to say you next book might be more along the lines of Sacré Bleu?
Christopher Moore: I love doing the big, heavily researched books like Sacre Bleu, but they take a lot more time, and as a popular fiction author, there are expectations for how fast you deliver books. Sacré Bleu, which covers the entire Impressionist art movement in France, as well as bits from all of art history, took me four years to research and write. In fact, I had to write Bite Me, a shorter vampire novel, while I was researching Sacre Bleu, just so I didn’t completely blow-off all my contract deadlines. I don’t take a book like that on unless I can take the time to do it. Particularly books that require me to travel to places where the book is set, in addition to academic research. The Shakespeare-based books like Fool and The Serpent of Venice tend to involve research that is just digging into the plays and the texts, and while I did travel to Venice and historical sites in England and France for those, much of the study can be done while I’m writing — it doesn’t have to be done before I start, so they take a little less time. I don’t know that one really has to do research for a novel, though. I have friends who have written dozens of books and have never done any significant research, so maybe I’m just some sort of a dumb-ass who doesn’t know anything. Either way, the research makes life richer for me, gives travel more meaning, and I hope enriches the books for the reader. That said, the next one is set in my neighborhood in San Francisco in 1947 — a tough guy Noir mystery, so we’ll see where it falls on the research scale. So far I’ve just been reading a lot of detective novels.
Max Longstone: Same thing happens to me, whenever I’m researching a book. I get caught up in this maelstrom of information. In this vortex of tidbits that seizes me and instantly wants a paragraph or two on the manuscript. The Gremlins in the attic have a field day. I read once, don’t remember where, that Tommy’s Safeway colleagues were inspired by real life friends of yours? Is that true? And if so, could you give us a quick guide on the rules and charters of gentlemanly conduct concerning that Olympic sport known as Turkey Bowling?
Christopher Moore: Like any kid game, you sort of make up the rules as you go along. There’s an incident in one of the books where a guy skids a frozen turkey into a meat case, which breaks a bunch of wiring and blows some circuits, so they call, “game over”. That really happened with my crew, but there’s no rule. That was a great job. We were all young guys, making more money than we really deserved, with about half the work we really needed to do, and no adult supervision. It was insanely fun and except for vampire hunting, we did all the crazy shit that I put in the books and much, much worse (or better, depending on your point of view).
Max Longstone: Your character The Emperor, was based on Emperor Norton of San Francisco, right? My question is, since I am fairly certain you don’t have a time machine, are any of your fictitious Emperor’s traits based on anybody else?
Christopher Moore: No, basically I just make them up. I created my version of the Emperor after visiting San Francisco and seeing how shitty tourists were to the homeless people. I wanted to create a character who retained his dignity and compassion despite his dire economic circumstances. Later, when I was researching Lamb, I would find out that the Emperor basically adheres to the principals of Diogenes, but I can’t pretend I knew that when first wrote him, perhaps seven or eight years before that.
Max Longstone: What writers are you reading right now?
Christopher Moore: Damon Runyon, James M. Cain, Dashiel Hammett, and somewhat to my embarrassment, Micky Spillane.
Max Longstone: You’ve said on numerous occasions that your Bloodsucking Fiends Trilogy is done for. Finity. Closed chapter. Already in the bag. Will likely not pick them up, at least in novel form. Does that go for its characters too? When I told everybody you had actually acquiesced to an interview 3 out of 5 demands were: “Get him to fess up on Abby! I love that chick’… Need more Diary entries!”
Christopher Moore: Abby, is very hard to write. Like my Fool, Pocket, everything she says has to be clever, so it has to be crafted. I created Abby’s dialect around 2004, for You Suck, when MySpace was all the rage and the main means of expression was the blog. I found all these Goth sites with very clever, very articulate Goth kids who were posting blogs, and I built Abby’s whole vocabulary from their posts, as well as a little eavesdropping on buses and in coffee shops around the city, which is where Abby gets her very high speed, caffeine-fueled way of talking. The problem is, by the time I went back to write Bite me, the blogs were gone. Everyone had moved on to Facebook or texting, so Abby’s vocabulary was stuck in time. When we see her, briefly, in Secondhand Souls, she’s grown up a little, She’s in her twenties, working at Banana Republic or something, and she’s come to terms, along with her friend Lily, that not only is it tough to be Goth, it’s tough to stay Goth. I think she’s a character that is “of a time,” like the kids in Grease or West Side Story. It’s not that she couldn’t have more adventures, I’m just not sure there’s anywhere for me to go with her. I’d love to have some talented show-runner and writers pick up the vampire books and run with them, but that’s unlikely, I think. People keep optioning them, then chickening out.
Max Longstone: Then, after everyone went hog wild after I told them of the interview, there was a round of “Fuck Socks!” Will we get more book related merchandise?
Christopher Moore: Fuck Socks were just something I did by request for readers. I really wasn’t interested in being in the merchandise business so all the profits have always gone to MS Research (my share, anyway). I think there are a few still around, but I’m in merch limbo, since my t-shirt guy went AWOL a couple of years ago.
Max Longstone: Aside from Shakespeare, and Kurt Vonnegut (who I’m fairly certain had a driving hand in your craft), which other writer do you consider who has been fundamental in acquiring your distinctive voice?
Christopher Moore: John Steinbeck. His comic novels have such a sweet, forgiving tone toward his characters that I think he’s influenced my voice more than anyone else. When I started out, I could always write humor, but often it was too harsh, too mean, and I think reading Steinbeck taught me to be more bemused than biting.
Max Longstone: I read once that you’re a fan of Carl Hiaasen, here in The Guy Society we’re also going to interview a fella’ that’s right up Carl’s alley, Tim Dorsey. Have you read his Serge Storms’ series? Don’t worry, I’m also going to drill him a bit and ask him if he’s gone goo-goo eyes for your insanity.
Christopher Moore: I haven’t read all of Tim’s stuff, but I’ve read a few of them and like them. He’s doing really fun stuff. I haven’t met Tim, but we’ve had a fairly long phone conversation and few e-mail exchanges about the “business”, as we have the same publisher and there have been some shake ups in the last few years. He seems like a great guy and he has certainly carved out his own niche in the South Florida craziness, which seems sort of unlimited.
Max Longstone: Over the years, it has become a sort of running gag that all your books have been optioned for film, but “none of them are in any danger of being made into a movie.” Has the situation changed or are we safe in the knowledge that no one will defile them and do an “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” fiasco?
Christopher Moore: I kind of liked Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but I didn’t read the book, so maybe they ruined it. I don’t know. I thought it was kind of cool. Anyway, right now Universal Cable is working on a series of A Dirty Job. We’ll see how it goes. The others are in various degrees of development hell or I’ve gotten them back.
Max Longstone: Your audiobooks are highly praised, even scoring a minor celebrity narrator, do you have any pull on the matter as far as their productions are concerned? Or do you simply get a finished copied and cross your fingers that they haven’t fudged it up?
Christopher Moore: I get some say in who they pick to read them, and I’ve been very lucky with Fisher Stevens and Euan Morton, who have done most of the male POV books, and Susan Bennett, who did the vampire books. I don’t have any input in production or direction, and again, I’ve mostly been lucky, but there are a few interpretations I’d change. I have to listen to the vampire books sped up, particularly Bite Me and You Suck, because Abby Normal just speaks very, very rapidly in my head and that’s not how Bennett was directed to read them. This also has a lot to do with how well I know the material, so I’m impatient. A noob to my work might not notice this. I wasn’t pleased with how the Chorus came off in Serpent, either, but it was the directors call and it was already out by the time I heard it. Euan Morton is brilliant as Pocket.
Max Longstone: Since we have yet to get an inkling of what your books might look like up on the silver screen, could you give us a rapid-fire, fantasy dream team, casting job for some of them?
Christopher Moore: My first book was bought for a film 26 years ago, and I started casting it in my head some eight or so years before that, when I first had the idea for the it, so, for example, I originally thought that Travis, who is 19 in Practical Demonkeeping, would be great played by Robin Williams. Yes, Robin Williams. Which is a way of saying, I have watched people age out of the parts I’d like them for, and I’ve watched styles of filming become dated and obsolete, so I think I just don’t do it anymore. I know it’s a fun game to play, and I don’t discourage anyone from doing it -although I’m kind of amazed that people don’t know of any African American actor other than Sam Jackson -but that sort of feels like a waste of time to me. Sorry.
Max Longstone: Minty Fresh- Denzel Washington. Rivera- Robert De Niro. You’ve been writing since God knows when, and you’re first book hit the shelves in 1992. Since you went stellar and acquired a rather large fan base, what’s the oddest bit of human wackiness you’ve had to deal with during your many years as a successful writer? Give us an anecdote that had you questioning whether someone had spiked you drinking water.
Christopher Moore: There are a lot fewer “bizarre” moments for a writer than you’d think. Yes, there’s the occasional “sign my boobs” or “sign my baby” moments, but not many, and your fans, because they are readers, tend to be smarter. They tend to “get it” as to what is appropriate behavior. I think I was most taken aback when I appeared at the Mantua Literature festival in Italy. It’s a Medieval town, and they had authors from all over the world, which was cool, but when I went to check in to get my badge, I was accosted by a bunch of paparazzi. I didn’t know what to do. I’d been traveling all day, and it was hot as hell, and these guys were calling dibs, and dragging me all over the village, shooting me against ancient walls, posing with statues, it went on for like an hour, and I kept telling them, “You guys know I’m an author, right? I’m not really anybody famous.” At one point I was introduced to a guy who is a huge rock star in Italy (I was told) and we did a shoot together for Italian Vogue on the steps of some sort of palace, me still in my sweaty travel clothes, looking like a bag of mashed assholes. It was so strange, and afterward, I completely went off on the PR person from my Italian publisher for letting me get ambushed that way, and the poor woman had no idea what I was upset about. “That is how we treat authors in Italy,” she said. “I thought you would know.” So I apologized and signed her boobs. (Not really.)
Max Longstone: What do you believe has been your key to success? You’re lucky rabbit’s foot or deep mantra of meditation. That traumatical component or everyday practice you consider was paramount to shoving you to where you’re standing at now?
Christopher Moore: Not quitting. I just kept doing what I do and I wouldn’t go away, so people started paying attention to me. There’s no secret. I just keep trying to do better and I keep going.
Max Longstone: Any advice for aspiring writers. Some piece of wisdom? Of sagely knowledge?
Christopher Moore: Think about your reader. Not why you want to write a story, that doesn’t matter. Ask yourself why a reader should want to spend his time reading it, and give him (or her) a reason.
Max Longstone: Pocket, your key character in both Fool and Venice, despite his diminutive stature, seems to have a “je ne sais quoi” with the ladies. Could we get some Spanish fly magic trick or pick-up line from the motley fella’?
Christopher Moore: I think we’ve all been told for years that women like a funny guy and they like a guy with confidence. Well, Pocket has wagon-loads of those things. He speaks truth to power and basically, everything he says is funny and could get him hanged, so he’s the most outrageous of cheeky monkeys. Bitches love them some cheeky monkeys.
Max Longstone: Thank you, Mister Moore. Once more I’m incredibly flabbergasted by this opportunity. In the tone of Samuel L. Jackson, I only have one thing to left to impart: “You da’ man!” Jimi, drag Sinatra out so he can sing our guest into the night.
Christopher Moore: You’re welcome.