Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Q & A with Christopher G. Moore

Q: What makes Vincent Calvino different from other PIs?
The cultural and political dimensions of the Calvino series. Vincent Calvino is an investigator living in Thailand. He’s an outsider. And through his eyes the day-to-day realities of a non-Western legal system unfolds. It is one thing to take a holiday to an exotic place; it is another to investigate murder and other crimes in a foreign land and in a foreign language. You might think you understand the crime, but you need to find the local language to express the consequences of what follows, how the players are exposed, caught, tried (or not), and what that means emotionally for those caught up in the system. The series has been published since 1992 and in the nine novels to date, the reader finds a chronicle of fairness, justice, and transparency in Southeast Asia.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
“Psycho” and “sidekicks” are clich├ęs. Any novel peppered with stand in characters that are “types” or “categories” should come with illustrations. Hopefully we haven’t passed beyond the minimal expectation that a novel contains an attempt at originality of character, story and plot.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I only need open a local newspaper, walk out the door, and I live in Bangkok, a city of 12 million people. I need a wall around me to keep from being buried in research. It helps if an author is receptive, then the inspiration and information, like water, finds a way to seep through. Call it research; call it paying attention to what is closely observed. The contemporary ambiance is tapped out in many places or is so derivative, a recycling of other similar locations so the story becomes indistinguishable from any other book. The most essential research is finding a country and city rich in history, intrigue, and culture that has not served as a platform for a private eye series. Years ago, an agent in New York came to me with a suggestion for Spirit House. Why not change Bangkok to Boston, a publisher had suggested. And I wrote back (pre-Internet days) and leave everything else the same?

How did you get published?
An agent submitted my first novel His Lordship’s Arsenal to a New York publisher on a Friday in 1985. On Monday, he phoned to say it had been sold. Nothing since has ever been that easy or straightforward since.

Q: What’s next for you and Vincent?
The 10th novel titled Paying Back Jack in the Vincent Calvino series comes out next year. My publisher Atlantic Monthly Press (US) and Atlantic books (UK) will have it out in Autumn 2009. Meanwhile, there is a film option on the Calvino series. Keanu Reeves is slated to star as Vincent Calvino. The schedule calls for the shooting to begin in 2009. Whether the complicated structure that organically must first come together actually occurs is another question altogether.

Q: How do you promote your books?
The last promotion was a deal between Grove/Atlantic and Amazon. Spirit House was offered as a free download for two weeks. Thanks to the Internet, living in Thailand, is not longer a problem. Between email and Skype giving an interview the distance is no longer relevant. Critics and reviewers are never more than a few strokes on the keyboard away. I also occasionally blog:

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?A few books that I like might fit the bill: Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Paul Theroux’s Saint Jack, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, Paco Ignacio Taibo’s The Shadow of The Shadow, Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, and Georges Simenon’s Dirty Snow.

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?
A jazz musician might be influenced by Charlie Parker or Miles Davies. But ultimately when he climbs on stage, the audience wants to hear him play. Not Bird or Miles Davies. The same idea applies to novels and novelists and their relationship with readers. Readers want to hear your voice as the writer, otherwise they’d buy and read Hammett, Chandler and the others. Writers, as a group, are more likely to be influenced by drugs or alcohol than other writers. And basically such influences are never good for a long career in music or literature. A writer’s must discover his/her own voice. That’s the instrument, and until it’s found no amount of other influences will be sufficient to fill the void.

Q: Tony Black came up with the following question: 'Does film influence your work?'
I watch films to understand the structure. I like noir such as In Bruges (a brilliant film) and more mainstream movies as the Crash, Babel, The Mexican, 28 Days, 12 Monkeys, and The Cooler. So far I’ve resisted using a number in the title of my books.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
(‘When does an author of PI series decide to bring the series to a final end?) The Calvino series will end when I feel I no longer have anything original to contribute to the ongoing debate about the direction (and speed) of change in the political, cultural and social institutions found in South East Asia. So far it is a bumpy, unpaved road. One day, like everywhere else, it will be a modern expressway. Meanwhile, Calvino continues to take cases from those falling into the uncovered manholes.


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