An Interview by a Guy Named Seth

Christopher Moore

(I did this some time in the middle of 2002. I don’t remember anything else about this interview or where it appeared. If you know, drop me a note. –CM)

SETH: Name, Occupation, and Favorite Saint

CHRIS: Christopher Moore, Writer, St. Christopher, because he was decannonized. It sounds so much like he was shot out of a cannon that he has to be my fave. Unless, of course, there’s a patron Saint for people who are shot out of cannons, in which case, he or she would be my fave.

SETH: In all probability, what would you be doing right now if Practical

hadn’t given you your big break?

CHRIS: I’m pretty sure I’d still be writing books. While the monetary gain I got from Demonkeeping allowed me to write full time almost immediately, I was prepared to continue to write whether I got paid for it or not (working a second job if necessary). I think I would probably have stayed closer to home in my subject matter, perhaps, as it was the financial freedom that allowed me to travel for research, but even then, I’m not sure that my California books would have been that much different.

SETH: Lamb covers some potentially religiously controversial material. Have

you received any angry letters, threats of eternal perdition, or marriage proposals as a result of its publication?

CHRIS: None of the above. Not even one angry letter. Pretty strange, I know, but that’s the truth. Even the reviews that have taken the book to task have done it because the reviewers felt that I wasn’t critical enough of Jesus. That and they didn’t like my sense of humor, which is fine. Irritating, but fine.

SETH: Big Sur is a tiny little cow town in California. What made you decide to live there as opposed to say, a New York or a Los Angeles? I mean, aside from the fact that it has inspired the setting of two of your books.

CHRIS: I originally moved to this area from Santa Barbara because it was, at the time, inexpensive enough for me to work part time and still have time to write. I needed to do work that wasn’t mentally demanding so I could but that energy into my writing. It took a while after I got here before I actually finished a book, but that had more to do with discipline that anything else. Since I’ve published it’s really become a choice, I stay here because it’s beautiful, it’s an easy place to live, and I’m not tempted to do much but write because there’s very little to do, as far as events that don’t involve the ocean, anyway. Los Angeles was a consideration for a short time, when I was getting offers to work in the movie business, and I don’t mind Los Angeles except for the driving, which is sort of like liking the ocean except for the damp parts, but I decided I wanted to be a novelist, not a screenwriter. Not that I wouldn’t write movies, but that I didn’t want to do the meetings and pitch parts if I didn’t have to. New York was never even on the radar. I’ve only been there a few times and although the city is exciting, there are a lot of pissed off people there. It would almost certainly have helped my career to live in New York, but I don’t think I’d have ever gotten over feeling like an outsider. San Francisco, however, has always been a place where I’d like to live, and that may happen some day. When I need a city fix, Frisco is my city. (I’m snickering thinking of the San Franciscans cringing at my use of the name "Frisco".)

SETH: What kinds of music do you enjoy? Are there certain types you listen to while you write?

CHRIS: I don’t often listen to music when I write, and I never listen to music with words when I write, simple because they tend to confuse me as I type. I’ll find a few lyrics infused with my own prose. I like to listen to acid jazz or trip-hop music when I write because it sort of disappears. I’ll find myself bobbing in the chair to the beat, but completely oblivious to anything else. I have a whole set of compilation Discs called Om Lounge which are great tripped-out backbeat music. (If I’d been born twenty-years later I’d probably be all blissed out and sweaty at a rave, or at least I like to think so.) When I’m not writing I enjoy singer songwriters like John Hiatt, Sheryl Crow, Rikki Lee Jones or Tom Waits. People who put the words and the music together in clever ways. Then again, sometimes I just like sort of wailing like Stone Temple Pilots or Pearl Jam or, and I feel like a fossil admitting it, the first Pretenders album cranked up so loud in the car that my ears bleed.

SETH: Do you hold yourself to a schedule or a set page goal when you’re writing, or do you work more organically, writing as it comes?

CHRIS: I have to have a schedule, although I don’t usually have a page goal unless I’m really up against a deadline. In a perfect world I work about four hours first thing in the morning when I get up, whether that’s 6:00 or 9:00 or noon. Last couple of books, however, I’ve gotten behind and had to write to a page schedule, writing a couple of pages, getting up and walking around, then going back to the page all day and night until I sleep. I don’t like working that way, and I don’t recommend it to anyone who’s starting out, but that has just of happened to me out of circumstances. I’m really hoping to get back to the four hours a day thing.

SETH: Do you ever find yourself unable to write ANYTHING? What do you do when that happens to get back into your writing rhythm?

CHRIS: The only way to get back to it is to keep sitting down and trying to write. You really have to force your way through those times. In the past I’ve gotten in the car and started to drive down the coast, stopping at every coffee shop and trying to write into a notebook, trying to come up with some idea between the caffeine, the writing, and the driving. Usually by the time I get forty or fifty miles from home I’ve usually come up with something. With Lamb I got stuck for months, but it wasn’t anything mystical or malevolent, it was just that the material was really hard, the history, philosophy, and religion that had to be worked into it, and I had to stop to learn that stuff so I could write with some authority about things that are hard to grasp in the best of times, like Taoism and Buddhism. The worst thing you can do is give writers block a name. It gives it power. I might get stuck, but I never get blocked. If you’re a pro, you can’t afford to acknowledge the existence of writer’s block.

SETH: What kind of environment do you find most conducive to writing? Noisy

café? Quiet home office? Impenetrable island stronghold?

CHRIS: I wrote my first three books in a cafe, and that worked fine, but the last three I wrote either at home, or in the case of Lamb, in a hotel room. (They were constructing two homes near my house and the hammering and saw screeches were more than I could handle by way of distractions, so I checked into a small, remote motel and wrote the last two hundred pages or so.) I like having a quiet environment, but I admit that sometimes I’m drawn out because I suspect that life is going on without me. (Another reason it’s good for me to live in a small town. I feel as if I’m missing less.)

SETH: What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

CHRIS: Goofing around with my computer until it breaks. I don’t plan it that way, but it happens. "Oh, I need to defrag my hard drive before I write this next scene." Then I break something and have to wait for parts to fix it, or new software, or a complete rebuild of the system. I’m a virtuoso at messing up a computer. The internet and television are deadly to the actual writing process too, while they’re both invaluable to the research process.

SETH: What have you learned from your experiences with the film industry since Practical Demonkeeping ended up in the hands of Hollywood executives?

CHRIS: I’m not really sure. I’ve learned that they’re not going to call, and if I call them it doesn’t get anything done, so I guess I’ve learned to take the money and go back home and write a new book. I’ve also learned that the only sincere expression of enthusiasm is a check. That is, people will jerk you around all day telling you how much they love your stuff, asking you to meet, saying how much they’d love to work with you, but until they send you a check, it’s all a waste of time. It’s a tough business. I have some friends who are screenwriters and I don’t think I could handle jumping through the hoops that they do and putting up with the constant disappointment. With me, I have an idea, I write it, people buy it or they don’t. No one second guesses my work. I think I’d have a hard time with people telling me what to do. And as I said, the meeting and pitch process is infuriating.

SETH: How has your success as a writer changed the way you look at other

writers and their work?

CHRIS: I have nothing but respect for people who write books, whether they write literary fiction, genre fiction, nonfiction, whatever. If you’ve finished a book, even a bad book, then you’ve achieved something that’s akin to finishing basic training, or perhaps running a gauntlet. After a certain level of competence, publishing is luck, and success, especially financial success, is even more luck. There are many writers who are better than I am who are not selling as many books as I am, on the other hand, there are many whom (I think) don’t write as well as I do, who are selling many, many more books than I am. The yardstick you have to go by, in my opinion anyway, is are they doing the work? The more books I write, the more reverence I have for people who write books.

SETH: What is the one question you wish interviewers would ask, so you could

whip out your carefully crafted response on them?

CHRIS (pretending to be SETH): You’ve written about demonology, Buddhism, Taoism, Cargo Cults, Wicca, and finally the life of Christ. What are your own religious beliefs?

SETH: Okay, so of course you know my next question is going to be. You’ve written about demonology, Buddhism, Taoism, Cargo Cults, Wicca, and finally the life of Christ. What are your own religious beliefs?

CHRIS: I’m a Buddhist with Christian tendencies. I like the "feel" of Buddhism, and what mystical, or direct spiritual experience I’ve had in my own life seems best described by Buddism, but the ethics of Buddhism are very hard to stay mindful of because they aren’t easily articulated, and since I tend to be a "word" guy, it’s easier to define my ethics in terms of "Christian tendencies". The heart of Buddhism and the teachings of Christ are not that far from one another.

SETH: Are there any other personal dreams you feel driven to pursue in life, now that you’re a successful writer?

CHRIS: Yes, and when it’s possible, I pursue them. I’d like to get in the water with humpback whales. I’d like to see a whale shark. I’d like to ride an elephant. I’d like to live on an island. I’d like to have a place in San Francisco. I’d like to be part of a major motion picture, either the writer or director or both. I’d like to write a book that really, really touches people. I’d like to write a great, funny book, if that’s possible.

SETH: Do you see the internet as helping or hindering your interaction with fans? Is it too much or not enough? Can it in fact get in the way of actually writing?

CHRIS: Well, I do enjoy the interaction with my readers, but as I said, it does get in the way of writing. A couple of days ago I needed three Greek names for some characters I was writing about. In the old days, three years ago, I might have just thrown in some generic names and gone back later when I figured out what I really wanted. I might even have changed the nationality. As it was, I started checking out the Greek Baby Names sites on the web, and two hours later I found myself reading the report on the last census, something that was totally superfluous to my work, and I hadn’t written a word in the mean time. I did get the Greek names, but I lost two hours of writing time. There you go. I do like hearing from readers, however. So far, it hasn’t been too much, although it can be demanding answering all of my e-mail when I ‘m on book tour.

SETH: Do you have any interest in dabbling in web publishing with your future works?

CHRIS: Yes. I’ve written a screenplay with a buddy of mine about giant flying lizards taking over the world. Turns out, there’s a movie coming out this summer about giant flying lizards taking over the world, so it’s pretty improbable that we’re going to be able to sell the screenplay, so I think I’ll put it up on my web site for my readers to download. It’s not exactly on par with my books, but it might be a fun diversion for people. (See THE GRIFF, on -ed.)

SETH: What can we expect from you next?

CHRIS: My next book is about whale researchers in Hawaii, and yes, it’s funny. Beyond that, I have what I call my Africa book, my Australia book, my Death book, and I’m really interested in doing a sequel to my vampire book, if I can carve out the time between other projects. I’m working on a couple of screenplays with a partner, but I don’t hold much hope that you’ll be "seeing" those very soon, if ever. I’ll probably come up with exactly twice as many ideas as I actually have time to write, but we’ll see.

SETH: Do you have any cats? If so, name and rank?

CHRIS: Nope. I lost custody of my last cat to an ex-girlfriend.