December 5, 2007
Christopher Moore writes incredibly funny novels with the imagination most of us associate with the imbibing of too much absinthe. His first manuscript – Practical Demonkeeping – was bought by Disney before it was ever published as a book. As a matter of fact, all of his books have now been optioned or sold to producers, but as he likes to say, “none of them are in any danger of being made into a movie.”
I first read Moore four years ago, long after then-AAR reviewer Mary Novak gave Bloodsucking Fiends Desert Isle Keeper status in 2001 (why I waited so long, I haven’t a clue). When I saw that a sequel had been published in hardcover last year, I tried to hold out for a paperback release, and in order to stave off my impatience, picked up A Dirty Job at the end of this summer. Not only did it earn DIK status from me, I ran out right after turning the last page and paid hardcover price for that sequel, You Suck: A Love Story, set at approximately the same time as A Dirty Job (and weaves in and out some of the same characters). Before I’d even finished You Suck, I’d contacted the author about an interview. Over a period of about a week, he graciously answered all my questions, some of which were admittedly oddball.
My biggest quandry right now is which of Moore’s other seven books to read next…will it be Practical Demonkeeping, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, or perhaps even The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove?
Interspersed with my questions are part of the Proust Questionnaire.
–Laurie Likes Books
What struck me when I read Bloodsucking Fiends was how well you captured Jody. Because the romance genre is mainly written by women, it’s always a joy to read a hero who actually seems to be a “guy”, and vice versa, when I read other fiction written by male writers, it’s always great to read a woman who seems like a woman. Can you talk about writing women…and does it help to be a Beta male?
Writing women isn’t really any different from writing men characters, except that women tend to be more complicated. In real life, I mean. When a woman asks her man, “What are you thinking about?” and he says “Nothing,” she assumes he’s holding something back. Nope. That’s how men are. Okay, maybe he was thinking about chips or breasts or chrome wheels, but essentially he wasn’t having a complex inner dialogue about them, he was thinking, “would be nice.” Women on the other hand, really do examine issues, and not always with the idea toward finding a course of action.
Of course, in fiction, you really don’t have the luxury of going on with complex examination of all the aspects of people’s feelings about an issue unless that’s what your story is about, but you have to pay attention to that. In my second book, I wrote about a California new age blond who was gorgeous and a bit of an air head, and I was taken apart by critics for it. The funny thing was, that character was very closely based on a women I’d lived with for two years. To the point where I actually talked to her about what it was like to be beautiful and have it be a given that men would want her and she could get what she wanted just by looking good. She gave me some perspective on that, and much of what she said was a bit of a surprise. (Like “You just have to ignore all the wanting or it will drive you crazy,” she said.) The point is, she was one of the most real characters I’ve written, but women hated her and I was accused of being a misogynist for portraying this air head blond. As if there’s no such animal.
Since that book, I’ve tried to write women who were much more self-determined, even if they had some weaknesses. I think being a Beta Male helps simply because I define the imagination as the “big teeth” of the Beta Male, and imagination is what allows me to get into the head of these characters.
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I found myself laughing hysterically at the Yiddish that peppered A Dirty Job. Frankly, I found myself laughing hysterically through most of A Dirty Job. Please share the genesis of that book. I read somewhere that you had taken care of your mother while she was dying, and helped a girlfriend do the same. How do you get from such sadness to such laughter? I know that black humor is often what carries us through (we laughed like maniacs while picking out my dad’s coffin, of all things).
Well, I tend to write books on an every other basis. That is, every other one is theme-driven or plot-driven. I was ready to do a theme driven book, and I had been thinking for some time about the idea of a guy who was a hypochondriac getting the job of Death. Irony is a big stepping-off point for a lot of my stories.
Certainly caring for my mother and my girlfriend’s mother while they were dying had a huge influence on what I wrote. I was able to see what worked and what didn’t work when dealing with death and dying. One of the things that was evident right up to the end with both dying women, was that I could make them laugh, and I could make the family laugh, and it was like everyone got a two second vacation from carrying the weight of the world. When people are dying, you don’t really talk about the future, and reminiscing can often lead to regrets, so as a survival mechanism you try to stay right there in the moment. You try to be present. In the moment. And laughter allows you to share a moment of joy with the dying and the grieving within the context of those moments. That’s what I learned from going through the process, so putting that into the book was very natural.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? I have a pretty good imagination. I don’t want to go there To what faults do you feel most indulgent? All of them…caffeine addiction Who are your favorite characters of fiction? Suzie in Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, Huck Finn, and Biff in my book Lamb Who are your favorite characters in history? Ben Franklin, Benjamin Disraeli, and Leonardo Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in real life? Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel Who is your favorite musician? Bruce Springsteen What is the quality you like most in a man…a woman? Kindness…humor What is your most marked characteristic? My sense of humor
All romance readers are familiar with Alpha and Beta Heroes; we even have a special list at our site just for readers looking for Beta Heroes. A Dirty Job places an ordinary man in extraordinary situations, and the everyman becomes a hero because he must. He kind of reminds me of Bob Newhart in his Colonial Inn where everybody around him was nuts and he was relatively sane (albeit neurotic), reacting to the craziness around him. Charlie is certainly a more neurotic character than Dick Loudon, but he does spend most of his time reacting to the utter insanity occurring all around him. Is that how you wander around the world, or do you think it’s simply funnier to write that way?
Essentially, yes. It’s funny to watch someone else freak out (in book form.) And Charlie became this comic voice, commenting on the action. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by smart-asses in the supporting cast. His sister Jane, Lily – the clerk in his store – and even the guy who teaches him to be Death, Minty Fresh, all are very sarcastic and have a lot of fun at his expense.
Your books zip by, whiz-bang, action-packed and filled with clever dialogue and situations. The only female writer I can think of who writes similarly is MaryJanice Davidson, who became famous for a series of Chick Lit/Vampire novels a few years ago (she also writes a mean werewolf). The biggest complaint about her books is that they lack substance; they’re all mile-a-minute and filled with clever dialogue. Personally, since her voice works for me, I’ve never minded. Are you ever criticized for being too funny at the detriment of substance, and, do you get into trouble for being blasphemous?
No, I don’t get criticized for being too funny. I think people get what I do, and I take on some huge themes in some of my books (Death, Life of Christ, Faith). Writing funny stuff is what sets me apart from a hundred other novelists, so if I take criticism for it, I just have to own it. It’s really the only reason I’m making a living at this. If people want something heavy, there’s certainly no shortage of books that will bum you out.
You had several different types of job before being published. How did Practical Demonkeeping come to have been sold to the movies prior to its being published as a book?