Saturday, February 16, 2008

Q & A with Chris Knopf

We spoke with Chris Knopf, author of the Sam Acquillo series...

Q: What makes Sam different from other fictional (unofficial) private eyes?
Sam is an engineer. Not a very exciting profession to those who don’t know engineering. But as with any pursuit, there are plenty of very clever and creative engineers, and Sam is one of those. He was a trouble-shooter, then headed up his company’s R&D department, so he’s professionally and temperamentally inclined to question the obvious, brood over anomalies, solve puzzles and never accept the accepted truth if it doesn’t fit with his observations.
He’s also socially conflicted. He grew up in a blue collar, rough and tumble world, but like a lot of guys my age from that time, earned an education, and subsequently, a more sophisticated lifestyle than his roots would suggest. So he has one foot in each emotional paradigm – hard-edged, working class anger and erudite, intellectual curiosity.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
Sam has a few sidekicks, none psycho. I’m familiar with the type, which I think writers invent to provide a surrogate dark side to their principle – a foil that helps with character development and plot. I think most of those sidekicks would be better off being shot before they hurt somebody.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I try to be factually accurate, especially when I mess with poets and philosophers, historical references, technology and science, geography, place names, and matters of the law and police procedure. But everything else I make up, because it’s fiction, which I can write without getting sued.

Q: Has your writing changed a lot over time?
I’ve become much more succinct.

Q: How do you promote your books?
My publisher, Martin Shepard, is very good about getting his books in front of reviewers, mostly by publishing books worthy of review. We also try to stay in front of independent booksellers and the mystery press. Other than that, it’s ad hoc. In the U.S., that means going to Bouchercon, doing what you can in your local market, putting in the time to get your books read by influential readers and never getting discouraged.

Q: What's next for you and Sam?
The third Sam book, Head Wounds, will be released in North America in May, 2008. I hope it does as well as the first two, but you never know. Sam will not stay fixed in time, but rather will grow and change. Not every series takes this approach, but I think it’s a lot more realistic and more interesting to allow your characters to evolve.
We’re going to release Sam four, titled Hard Stop, in May 2009. After that, who knows. What I hope is more people read the books and support the series.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Phillip Marlowe, of course. Though I actually prefer Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer. Some of the best versions have been expressed in the moves, notably Rick Deckard in Blade Runner and Jake Gittes in Chinatown. I like Spenser and Hawk (is he a psycho sidekick?), though I feel that Parker keeps writing the same book (all bestsellers, so what the heck.) I also really like Sarah Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone – daughters of Spade.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
I’m not sure it will be specific writers so much as the change in the way younger people consume culture – notably through digital technology and fragmented media. I think much of the popular forms favored by this generation are very dark – truly noir – which have been heavily influenced by graphic novels (Frank Miller) and music culture, especially the crop of existential, female fatalists beginning with Allison Morrisette.

It’s not a stretch to think there’ll be a swing of the pendulum back to a more intellectual, less violent and nihilistic form in the near future as the next wave of mystery freaks emerge.

Q: David Fulmer came up with the following question: Why did you want to write in this genre?
Like Hammet, Chandler and others of the same ilk – in modern times Dennis Lehane, and for my money, Scot Turow – I think you can write a book of suspense that’s also of a literary character. A lot of classic literature is ponderous and dull. A lot of popular fiction is silly and superficial. What’s wrong with joining the best of both, thus producing something both intelligent and fun?

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Ask them what they do in their spare time. If they don’t say “write”, congratulate them on a far more successful work strategy than I have.

(I’m only half kidding. Writing books is hard, time consuming work. I think you should probe into their writing life. Get them to tell you how they pull it off in the face of all the stuff that works against us. The press and reading public tend to focus on the end result, whereas writers tend to anguish over the process.)

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Anonymous said...

I met with Chris today and you could not find a more likable affable fellow. We talked at length about our interests. I was his driver as he had business to attend to in NY. I had no idea who he was , but was struck how personable and honest and open he was. A marked difference from my usual clientele. A genuine pleasure to be with. I hope I get to see him again, and will devour his books as his descriptions of his experiences were fascinating. One of the nicest clients I ever chauffeured. He made my day. Thank you Chris!

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