Even though Chris Grabenstein is guilty of writing television commercials (you know, those things we love to hate?) – we can ignore that part of his shady past. After all – anyone who can rescue a wonderful guy like Fred (the one without the shades) – he can’t be all bad. And there is a lot to like about Chris. Yes, there is. He gives great smile. A recovering stand-up improv comedian, Chris saw the light – and turned his magical way with words to mystery – and we’re all richer for that decision. And the attendees at Bouchercon last month felt the same and awarded him the Anthony for Best First Novel for TILT A WHIRL. In the meantime, Chris has been busy (as you can see from the book covers) – MAD MOUSE is awaiting your pleasure and now Chris wants us to have ‘a scary little Christmas’ with SLAY RIDE. Oh, and get ready for Summer/2007 – for WHACK A MOLE. Yes, the man has been busy – but it’s all Fred’s fault. Fred is an unforgiving muse – he won’t even let Chris have time off to hit the rides. Fred knows the pressures of the fame biz – he was a star on Broadway in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – and he knows that to stay on top – one must give up much for one’s craft.
Reluctantly, Fred let Chris off for a bit to join us here today – so we’ll get right on with our chat.
EE: I’m told, Chris, that the real reason you set TILT A WHIRL at an amusement park is because you’re addicted to Ferris Wheels and needed to find a write-off to justify your habit. This is a serious rumor – and it needs clarification.
CG: Well, ever since I read Devil in the White City and realized that there was a Mr. Ferris who invented his wheel for the Chicago World’s Fair, or, more accurately, the Colombian Exposition of 1892, which didn’t open until 1893, to rival the Eiffel Tower, an erector set project thrown together for the Paris world fair…
I’m sorry…what was the question?
Oh, yes. I have been known to spend hours on my summer vacation, I mean research trip, to the Jersey Shore hanging out on the Boardwalk in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, riding all the rides, fighting to keep the funnel cakes down. This summer, I took a spin on a TILT A WHIRL, a MAD MOUSE and tried to play WHACK A MOLE, but could only find this game where you baned a frog into plastic lilly pads (The Frog Bog). I also rode the Gravitron to experience all those Gs and Centrifugal Force and have the floor drop out from under me in anticipation of Ceepak #4 HELLHOLE.
Oh, how brave of you! Well, I’d say that certainly is living your work and writing what you know. Research is sooo important. NOTE TO ANY IRS PEOPLE OUT THERE: It is a mandate to write what you know, okay? So, lay off the guy. He’s doing his homework.
EE: Well, now that we got that straight – we’ll proceed. Isn’t it true – that now – due to the success of your series – amusement parks all over the country are besieging you to use their venues in your next books in hopes a few murders here and there might enhance their image and up their attendance?
CG: Not yet, but I’m working on a deal with Six Flags. I think they want to bump off Bugs Bunny and that bald guy in the Paul Schaefer glasses who dances too much.
Bugs Bunny? They want to off Bugs?? Any PETA folks out there? Get ready to march on Six Flags! I’ll get with you all. We’ll talk.
EE: Not that you would, but if you decided to cheat on your spouse/partner – who would that be? This is, of course, all in fun. But still? I mean, you can tell us.
CG: Not yet. You see how clever we mystery writers can be? You asked me "if I decided to cheat on my spouse/partner -who would that be." That would be my wife. And, I’d never cheat on her. She’d still win. She reads everything I write first. It’s not nice to annoy your editor.
But, yes – one must never annoy one’s editor. It could be hazardous to one’s health.
EE: Rumors are rampant that Bruce Willis – your former comedy troupe member – is hankering to become a mystery writer, but you’re not returning his calls. What’s up with that?
CG: Yes, he’s ready to moonlight again. But every time he calls, it sounds like he’s trapped in a building without any shoes hiding from German terrorists with semi-automatic weapons. I remember when Bruce did his first movie, back when we were both still doing improv comedy for ten dollars a show down in the east village in a basement theater just off the Bowery and he had to shave his head (something he seems to do on a regular basis these days) to play a bald guy riding the Roosevelt Island tram.
Gosh, I like the way you skirted that question too. But hey, who needs another mystery writer, huh? I mean, we can live without Bruce in the bookstores.
EE: What best selling book do you wish you’d written?
CG: Any of them! Wouldn’t that be incredible, to have that many people read ones book? But, if I had to pick somebody else’s best-seller, I’d pick something by Stephen King. He’s my all time fave. Maybe BAG OF BONES. A great story about re-energizing a lost and weary soul. Or PET CEMETARY because it was so spooky and I miss Buster, who passed away in February. Or, did he???
My condolences. I miss my Max too. We lost him in June. And you know what? I still see him! That darn Stephen King! See what he’s done to us with that book!
EE: One of my NYC spies told me that Fred won’t jog with you in Central Park anymore unless you stop singing ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. Jeeze, Chris, don’t you think poor Fred has heard that song enough?
CG: First, everyone should know that Fred can do a seven minute mile. I can not. And he’s taking it easy on me when he runs at that pace. Actually, the song that drives him crazy is his big number: Toot Sweet. Now, I never saw the show on Broadway, but I think there’s a type of stick candy invented in it that works like a flute. Or a dog whistle. Fred and seven other canine character actors would dash on stage and jump on people. Now Fred confines his jumping to our neighbors on the elevator.
I’m dying to meet Fred! He sure as hell gives lie to ‘unfriendly’ New Yawkers, huh?
EE: Okay, time for your Walter Mitty Dream sequence. Whatcha got for us?
CG: I’m on stage. People are blowing into sticks of candy like flutes. I hear the strands of Toot Sweet. I jump on the bad guy. Okay, it’s Fred’s dream…but I want to have stage credits as good as our dog’s!
Hold that thought – I’ve got Carole Shorenstein Hays on the other line – we’re working something up. Just make sure I have two front row center’s on opening night, okay?
EE: Which sex symbol do you think you most resemble?
CG: Fred Flintstone. Maybe Barney Rubble. Oh, you should have seen me eighty pounds ago…which is how much weight I lost three years ago. Weight Watchers On Line and Book Writing. Perfect together.
Really? You’re not kidding me, are you? You LOST weight writing? And with Weight Watchers? That awful food? Oy.
EE: Who are the seven people you’d invite for dinner? And what would you serve?
CG: Let’s see…Lazarus, from the bible. (He’s the one human who knows what happens next). Edgar A. Poe. William Shakespeare (because he wrote plays to sell tickets!), John Stewart, Houdini (he could do the floor show), Natalie Merchant (she sings for her supper) and Bruce Springsteen.
I think we’d eat Chinese. Cold noodles with sesame sauce. It’s like spaghetti with peanut butter.
Hmmm. I could handle that crowd. And did I tell you that I love cold noodles with sesame sauce?
EE: Who would you love to do a book tour with? Besides Fred.
CG: Stephen King. Not Joe Konrath. I think that car might get a little gamey smelling after book store number 107.
I’m on the floor laughing. I’ll bet Joe isn’t though. But what the hell, he’s probably not around anyway-most likely hitting up another bookstore.
EE: Now that Konrath probably will never speak to you again, Chris – feel free to tell us about your ideal convention panel.
CG: I actually suggested one for ThrillerFest: Bigger, Faster, Shinier Thrillers. A panel featuring all the ex-advertising copy writers who now write mysteries and thrillers. Folks like me, James Patterson, Ted Bell, James Seagal, Stuart Woods, M.J. Rose, the list goes on and on. We’d all tell horror stories about terrible clients and how we could go to fifty-three separate meetings to discuss what color the new Crystal Light Powder should be. (I think Dorothy L. Sayers wrote copy too. At least her MURDER MUST ADVERTISE sure reads like she worked at the same agencies as I did, only about sixty years earlier).
Fifty-three separate meetings over a color?? So that’s where all the advertising bucks go,huh? No wonder stuff costs so damn much!
EE: With all the fascinating writers we all know – which one would you like to have all to yourself in a cozy corner in the bar at the next con? To talk shop, of course.
CG: Laura Lippman. I think she’s one of the classiest, most talented people I have met ‘on the circuit’. She’s also from Baltimore and might have some Old Bay Seafood Seasoning to share.
Wonderful choice. I’m sure your ‘editor’ will approve.
EE: Rumor has it, Chris – that Joan Rivers is worried about her career and since she heard you won a ‘Tony’, she’s bugging you about writing her into your next Broadway hit. I mean, we know the poor darling probably doesn’t read – and hasn’t a clue that the Anthony you won isn’t a ‘Tony’, but, uh, how did she take it when you explained the difference?
CG: Her face became a frozen mask of shock. No, wait. That’s the plastic surgery. I actually made the mistake of calling the Anthony the Tony when I won ‘Best First’ for TILT A WHIRL. People expected me to sing and dance a little. Or, at least, to cry on cue. There. I’m doing it now. Singing and dancing…
Oh? I thought you were singing and dancing because you were so thrilled to be On The Bubble!
My thanks to Chris for being a great guest! Be sure to visit his site and discover so much more about this charming guy – and meet Fred! http://www.chrisgrabenstein.com