My Cats Never Learned to Read: An Interview with Christopher Moore
Max Booth III: First, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I heard you recently got married—congratulations!
Christopher Moore: Thanks. We’ve been together for 18 years, so it’s not going to represent a monumental change for me. But thanks.
MB: Starting with Fool and now with your latest novel, The Serpent of Venice, you have taken premises from Shakespeare plays and twisted them until they were sick enough to match the household Christopher Moore name. Have you always wanted to write these types of books, and can we expect to see more of them in the future?
CM: I don’t think I always wanted to write this kind of book because I really wasn’t sure I could write books like that until I finished Fool. I’ve enjoyed Shakespeare since I was first introduced to him about grade nine, and even then the language was fascinating, but even up through the time I was writing Fool I wasn’t sure I could pull off a comic rewrite of a Shakespeare piece and make it accessible to modern readers. Once I’d done it, however, and people liked it, I did indeed think about doing it again, and I quite like writing Pocket, my fool, so certainly, it could happen again.
MB: You recently posted a link to an old blog post you wrote about your stance on reading out loud: simply put, you don’t read. When an editor or event organizer asks you to read your writing, you refuse. How do some people react when you refuse to read? From your blog post, it seems like some may treat it as a big deal and might get upset. I also would like to know if you’ve ever successfully taught your cats to read, as you mentioned you planned on doing in the blog post.
CM: Well, I try not to be a jerk about it. I have read my work, I’d just rather not, mainly because I’m not good at it. When it’s been a “big deal”, like at ABA, or if it’s a short passage for NPR, for instance, then I’ll read something, but I don’t remember anyone getting too bent out of shape about it. Unless I’ve written the piece to be read aloud, I don’t like reading my stuff because I read too fast, I start rewriting on the fly, the verbs tend to end up at the end of the sentences and everything sounds like a bad translation from the German. And no, my cats never learned to read. Or, if they did, they hid it from me. You know how sneaky they are.
MB: You just did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. I’ve noticed a lot of celebrities trying this marketing tactic lately, and I wondered if this was your idea, or something suggested by someone else. How was your experience with being able to chat with thousands of your fans at one time?
CM: As are most of my endeavors in social networking, I did it because a lot of readers asked me to do it. I didn’t feel a sense of mass communication, I felt more of a panic to try to get to as many questions as I could. I had no sense of how fast they were coming in, or who was asking them, and I didn’t realize that I should have been screening duplicates and ended up answering a bunch of the same questions over and over again. I said I was going to stop at three hours, but ended up answering questions for five hours, until I was more or less exhausted. I had no sense of whether anyone saw the answers.
MB: I also noticed a comment you wrote during the AMA that particularly stuck out to me. You mentioned while writing Practical Demonkeeping, you kept reminding yourself that this was your one shot, and you couldn’t give the reader a single moment to become disinterested. I feel that this is excellent advice for any writer, especially in this day and age where it takes two seconds to close an eBook and open up another one. How have you, as a writer, adapted to the popularity of the Internet? Do you enjoy being able to interact with your fans so much, or do you feel it is too much of a distraction from actual writing?
CM: The internet is a double-edged sword for a writer. When e-mail started to become popular in the mid 90s, my publisher wasn’t touring me nationally, so I had them put my e-mail address on my third novel, Bloodsucking Fiends, which came out in 1995, I believe. I think I was the first novelist to put an e-mail address on his books, and I did it so I could have some contact with my readers that I wasn’t getting by touring. Time passed, I went through developing a web site, a bulletin board, a blog, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. (I’ve tried others, too, Tumblr, Instagram, Linked-In, but couldn’t keep up.) Each has demanded a little more time, and each has taken a little more time from writing.
That said, I’m a click away from contact with hundreds of thousands of readers. That part is good, trying to come up with entertaining content is tough. I remember back in the MySpace days, writing a blog, something I thought worth writing, either because it was entertaining or because it had some idea I wanted to explore, and when I’d finish, my mind would tell me, “Your work is done for the day.” Well it wasn’t.
As far as doing the thing I get paid for, and that readers look for from me, I hadn’t even started. I’ve never been the kind of guy to write about what I had for lunch, or my day to day life unless I can make it funny or interesting. I can’t imagine, for instance, why anyone would give a shit whether I just went for a run, or found a great coffee place, or took my dog for a walk. It seems so wildly self-important that I’m sort of repulsed by the idea of doing it, but that’s the way some people do it, and quite successfully. I try to make up goofy stuff, and that takes time. So, at this point, I think the internet and social networking is a necessary distraction, but it is and does hurt my writing.
MB: I am a big fan of the books set in Pine Cove. Can readers expect future works set in this town?
CM: Very probably not. I wrote those books while I lived there, in a small town on the coast of California, and when I needed a “go to” setting, I went there, because I knew the dynamics and I didn’t have to travel or take time to research the setting. Now I live in San Francisco, so more likely than not, if I need a “go to” setting, it will be the city.
MB: Was Practical Demonkeeping your first attempt at a novel, and if not, what were previous writings like?
CM: It’s the first novel where I got past chapter three. I’d started a couple of others and spent so much time rewriting the first and second chapters that I never really got any further. I hadn’t really reconciled myself to writing funny books at that time – I sort of fancied myself a dark and mysterious writer of macabre tales. My first efforts were moody and sharp, but with a lot of action – more appropriate, I think, for a graphic novel than a novel. Either way, they were never finished. A few years later I discovered that what I really did best was mix suspense and humor, so I went with that and I didn’t rewrite a word until I had a complete first draft.
MB: I’ve read that you started out wanting to write horror stories, but people kept finding too much humor in your attempts to scare. Have you ever given thought to trying straight horror again?
CM: Not really. I don’t think I have the ability. When I started sharing stories at the start, just the way I turned a phrase tended to crack people up, so I think if I went for straight horror, my work would still have an ironic edge to it. It’s how I think.
MB: You worked quite a few jobs before making it as a writer. I really enjoyed your take on hotel night auditors in Practical Demonkeeping, mostly because I am also a hotel night auditor. I was amazed by how accurate you got the cross-dressing bit. What was your favorite and your least favorite occupation?
CM: Probably my least favorite job was working clean-up for construction crews who were doing tear-downs. I did it a couple of different times when I was younger (age 16 and again about age 27), and both times it was hard, hot, work that didn’t pay much and left you wiped out at the end of the day. Although night auditor was pretty horrible, too, in retrospect. I took the job because I thought I’d get some writing done in the down time. I didn’t. And when everyone else was living their lives, I was sleeping. I didn’t mind working nights in a grocery store, with a crew my own age, when I was in college and really trying to keep balls to the wall for getting stuff done. (Full course load and 40 hours a week at the grocery store, working out 2 hours a day, six days a week.) When I got older and had a girlfriend I was trying to share my life with, and of course, my other activity, writing, which no one but me gave a damn about ever being done, well, it wasn’t a pleasant job.
MB: I read that you took, three years to research Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend. Were those three years for research only, or did you write the book during that time as well? You mentioned in the Reddit AMA that you had once considered doing a similar book about Buddha—would you travel to India for the same kind of research? How likely is it that this hypothetical book will come to fruition? The idea has gotten me all excited just thinking about it.
CM: During the time I was researching Lamb I was also taking care of my mother, who was dying of cancer. That was five months as a full time caretaker, and I didn’t get a word of writing done. I also did the edit and PR work for The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. When I’m researching, I’m always writing, but it’s not disciplined, nor does most of what I write end up in the final book. Research is the time when you’re mining for ideas, and if an idea for a scene comes to me, while walking around the Sea of Galilee, for instance, I’ll write enough of it down so I can plug it into the book when I get to that point. The “rough draft of the Sermon on the Mount” scene in Lamb was written first, and fully three years before I sat down to begin actually writing the book. Research is writing, but it’s often hard to quantify. A lot of the time researching you’re just working ideas against new information you’ve learned. My imagination is stimulated by new information, so the research is less like something you’d do for a term paper, and more like a free-form tour of the world you use to fire the imagination.
As for the Buddha book, I’ve thought about it, and I've done some readying toward that end, but I'm not sure it will ever happen. I think Hesse did what I would be doing in Siddhartha. I know, his book isn't funny, but it's remarkable compact, efficient. It's brilliantly done. There's a lot of fun to be had with Buddhism, and I won't rule out the idea of writing a life of the Buddha book, but I'm not actively searching for an idea to make it happen. (Of course, as a Buddhist, you wouldn't search, or the idea would never come.See how that works?)
MB: Lastly, you’re currently working on a sequel to A Dirty Job. Is there anything you can tell us about the novel yet?
CM: Not really. I’m finding it challenging because I don’t want to write the same book again, but people have characters and elements of the first book that they absolutely want to see again. This book, like any sequel I’ve done, is basically by request. So, all I can really say is it will have stuff people liked and some new stuff, too.
MB: Thank you once again for stopping by. We promise we will never ask you to read this interview aloud to an audience.
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