A 100-year-old ex-seminarian and a demon set off together on a psychotic road trip...
Christ's wisecracking childhood pal is brought back from the dead to chronicle the Messiah's "missing years"...
A mild-mannered thrift shop owner takes a job harvesting souls for the Grim Reaper...
Whence come these wonderfully weird scenarios? From the fertile imagination of Christopher Moore, a cheerfully demented writer whose absurdist fiction has earned him comparisons to master satirists like Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams.
Ever since his ingenious debut, 1992's Practical Demonkeeping, Moore has attracted an avid cult following. But, over the years, as his stories have become more multi-dimensional and his characters more morally complex, his fan base has expanded to include legions of enthusiastic general readers and appreciative critics.
Asked where his colorful characters come from, Moore points to his checkered job resume. Before becoming a writer, he worked at various times as a grocery clerk, an insurance broker, a waiter, a roofer, a photographer, and a DJ -- experiences he has mined for a veritable rogue's gallery of unforgettable fictional creations. Moreover, to the delight of hardcore fans, characters from one novel often resurface in another. For example, the lovesick teen vampires introduced in 1995's Bloodsucking Fiends are revived (literally) for the 2007 sequel You Suck -- which also incorporates plot points from 2006's A Dirty Job.
For a writer of satirical fantasy, Moore is a surprisingly scrupulous researcher. In pursuit of realistic details to ground his fiction, he has been known to immerse himself in marine biology, death rituals, Biblical scholarship, and Goth culture. He has been dubbed "the thinking man's Dave Barry" by none other than The Onion, a publication with a particular appreciation of smart humor.
As for story ideas, Moore elaborates on his website: "Usually [they come] from something I read. It could be a single sentence in a magazine article that kicks off a whole book. Ideas are cheap and easy. Telling a good story once you get an idea is hard." Perhaps. But, to judge from his continued presence on the bestseller lists, Chris Moore appears to have mastered the art.
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In researching his wild tales, Moore has done everything from taking excursions to the South Pacific to diving with whales. So what is left for the author to tackle? He says he'd like to try riding an elephant.
One of the most memorably weird moments in Moore's body of work is no fictional invention. The scene in Bloodsucking Fiendswhere the late-night crew of a grocery store bowls with frozen turkeys is based on Moore's own experiences bowling with frozen turkeys while working the late shift at a grocery store.
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In the winter of 2006, Christopher Moore took some time out to talk with us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. In Cannery Row, Steinbeck writes about very flawed people, but with great affection, and by doing so, shows us that it is our flaws that make us human, and that is what we share, that is our humanity. A friend of mine used to say, "He writes with the voice of a benevolent God." In the process, the book is also very funny. I think I saw that as a model, as a guide. I'd always written humor that was fairly edgy, but here was a guy writing with great power and gentle humor. I was moved and inspired.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Cannery Row by John Steinbeck -- It's that amazing, benevolent, powerful, forgiving voice.
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck -- Steinbeck again, great humanity and great humor.
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck --This one has a great sense of the romance of the common man. The heroic potential we can realize by our acts, not necessarily our upbringing.
A Bell for Adano by John Hersey -- This, too, has a great voice, a gentle ironic tone, and it shows the interconnectedness of a small town, something that use in my books again and again.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams -- This book was just outright, laugh-out-loud funny. Wildly so. It did something I hadn't seen done before successfully: it made science fiction funny by recognizing the conventions and turning them on their ears. I tried to do the same thing for horror in my first book, Practical Demonkeeping. Whether I was successful or not, is another thing, but I was definitely inspired by Adams.
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut -- I like all of Vonnegut's books, but I think this one showed how a single theme -- "our brains got too big" -- can be worked through a story for comic effect, and even to reveal the characters. I'm also a big fan of Bluebeard, because of how it discusses abstract expressionist painting, and comments on the impermanence and inherent irony in making art. Also, Vonnegut writes it in short pieces, which he says can be placed in any order and read and the book will still work. It's brilliant that way.
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins -- I think that in this book, all of Robbins's talents coalesced. He always turns a great phrase, but here the great phrases add up to a great story, with great characters, and a great theme, spanning time and distance, theologies and philosophies, and celebrating the sensual with great joy, in the language and in the whole spirit of the book. I think it may be the most directed exercise in whimsy, or apparent whimsy that anyone has ever done. Definitely an inspiration for me, in that Robbins pulled off something that most people would never attempt. For me, that's where the joy and torture of being a writer comes to bear -- when you take on something and you have no idea whether you can pull it off or not. I don't know if Robbins felt that way about this book, but I think a lot of other people might have.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury -- I discovered Ray Bradbury when I was 11 or 12, and I was already interested in telling stories -- or making stuff up, as I thought about it -- but reading Ray's short stories, I was aware for the first time that there was a craftsman behind the story. That I was being led toward an effect and that there was a craft that could probably be learned. It's very cool, I think, that Ray and I have the same editor now.
Shogun by James Clavell -- This book may have had more impact on me because of the circumstances I was in when I read it. I was 19 and I had just moved to California from Ohio, all my belongings in the trunk of my car, and I didn't know a soul. For the first couple of weeks there, I escaped into medieval Japan, into Blackthorne's stranger in a strange land environment. I don't know how much this book influenced my writing, other than to say that it made me realize that a book can really transport you, shelter you. I walked samurai for weeks, if that makes any sense. When I finally took on a historical setting in Lamb, I tried to have patience with my characters, let them wander around in the book, realizing that if I did it right, the reader would be right there with them.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger -- This is where you learn what satire is, where you learn about voice, where you learn about point of view. Holden Caufield is so confused, yet sees his world so clearly. His voice is so distinct. I think that any American who thinks about writing satire has to think about The Catcher in the Rye, and Huckleberry Finn too. Both books are distinctly American, and both establish characters that are essential members of American literature's pantheon. Holden and Huckleberry are in your blood if you're an American writer.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway -- I had to think about this one, because I think that Hemingway has ruined more young writers than any other writer, but it wasn't his style or his "awesome presence" that impressed me about this book, it's the economy of passion. It's the struggle, the conflict, all of it happening in a tiny boat, with a normal, working man. It's complete, and does everything a good story should do.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- This movie, for me, may be just perfect. It's funny, the scenes are all beautifully timed, and the friendship between Butch and Sundance ties all the events together. Whenever I go past it, running on the classic movie channel, I stop, and think, "Okay, I'll watch it until the bicycle scene, or the cliff scene, or the knife fight scene," and before I know it, I've watched the whole thing, because every scene has something great about it. I'm chagrined that they are thinking about remaking this movie. When I wrote Lamb, I was thinking about the relationship between my main two characters in terms of Butch and Sundance, a rascal and an angel -– like Huck and Tom Sawyer. The friendship is archetypical.
Harvey -- I can watch Harvey a thousand times, listen to Jimmy Stewart talk about how nobody brings anything small into a bar, and I love it every time. It's about the truth and magic of lunatics, and it's so sweet, and again, so well timed. It's archetypical in my cultural literacy, as is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's a go-to reference for me: "How did they do it in Harvey?"
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like rock 'n' roll, the Stones, Springsteen, U2, Foo Fighters, as well as singer-songwriters like Sheryl Crow, Aimee Mann, and John Hiatt, but I don't listen to any of those when I'm writing. When I'm writing I listen to acid jazz or ambient groove or chill music, stuff with a steady, jazzy beat, but no words. Bands like Baby Mammoth, Fila Brasilia, and Afterlife -- usually on Groove Salad, an Internet radio station. Sometimes I'll put on Gershwin or Bach if the mood strikes: I like Rhapsody in Blue and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Seems like stuff should be happening when those songs are playing.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Sailing Around the Room Alone by Billy Collins. It's a collection of poetry, spare and elegant and very, very funny. He catches the spirit of a moment as well as any Japanese haiku poet, yet he has a great sense of silliness and irony. Someone nearly forced me to read this book, putting it in my hand, physically, again and again, and I'm forever grateful. When I needed to think about Death and the importance of the moments of our lives and how to express them, Billy Collins inspires me.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like getting art and photography books as gifts, because I normally wouldn't buy them for myself. I also like it when someone gives me a hardcover of a book I really love. Something to keep. It doesn't have to be a first edition or anything, just something I can read over and over again. On some occasions, I've been given books I completely didn't want, like Billy Collins, or Steve Kluger's The Last Days of Summer, only to be completely surprised and delighted.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
Everything, including my feet. Really. Right now I'm sitting in the middle of a nest of chaos. I have a big, L-shaped desk, and there's not a free inch of it. It would take two pages to list all the crap on my desk. (I know -- I've tried it.) Consistently, there's always a cup a coffee and a bottle of water there.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I've been writing professionally for about 15 years now, and I make a pretty good living, which is, I suppose, what you're going for when you start this journey. When I was 16 I decided I wanted to write for a living, but since I didn't really believe I could make enough to live on, I went to college for photography. I got sidetracked for a few years, and then when I was 25 or so, I went to a writer's conference where people said that I was pretty good, that I ought to give it a whirl.
I started getting serious right about then, and I quit my job as an insurance broker and moved to a town where it was cheaper to live and I could do work that didn't take much of my mental energy. I waited tables and such. It was eight years before I sold my first book. I didn't really go through a huge gauntlet of rejections. The challenge for me was developing the discipline to actually finish a book. After I finished my first book, it took about eleven months to sell it, but it didn't feel as if I was struggling. The writing was the hard part.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Do the work and keep doing the work. Send it out and keep sending it out. If you're writing stories that interest you and challenge you, then they will probably interest and challenge someone else, and the bottom line is, you'll get some satisfaction out of doing the work as well as getting the rewards for it. I don't think I had any success at writing until I gave up worry about being a success and just tried to write stories that I'd like to read.
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Moore also had this to share with his readers:
Getting a Life
When you write books for a living, it doesn't take long to realize that if you don't do something, you're going to spend the bulk of your life in a room, alone, making clicky noises on a keyboard. I think I realized that early on, so I try to pick the subjects of my books so every other one gets me out there doing something. For Island of the Sequined Love Nun, I went to a small island in Micronesia and lived with the natives. (Way overrated, by the way, that "life on a tropical island." Chairs and hot showers are your friends.)
My next book, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, would be set in the town I was living in, but I got to do research on psycho-pharmaceuticals, and since most of my friends were on anti-depressants, I got to go out to lunch with them a lot and ask them personal questions. The next book would be Lamb, which took me to Israel, and the first century, but most of the research was academic, so the next project was Fluke, where I lived around and worked with marine mammal biologists for two seasons in Maui. That was an amazing experience that actually culminated in being able to get in the water with singing humpbacks.
So life kind of oscillates for me, from my office to the outside world, and the great thing is, now my readers write me and offer glimpses into their lives. Sometimes I take them up on it. When I needed to know how to steal a 747 for Island of the Sequined Love Nun, I contacted an airline pilot who loved my books. (It wasn't as sensitive back then as it is now.) There's always some cool thing to learn coming around the corner.
More Advice for Aspiring Writers
It's funny how new writers will always ask you how to get an agent, but they hardly ever ask anything about the craft. I've written ten books, I know a lot about the craft. I've only ever gotten an agent once, and that was fifteen years ago, by a complete luck. I don't know anything about getting an agent. I don't think people realize that getting published is sort of like being born -- if you get it right, you only have to do it once.
I pretty much believe that irony is the strongest force in the universe, and I think that someday, some scholar is going to be able to take all of my books and be able to prove that, by the clever application of mathematics, computer science, and advanced weaselocity.
I like to scuba dive and ocean kayak. I'm not particularly good at those things, but they put me in touch with the ocean and my own mortality pretty quickly (particularly because I'm not very good at them). That's always an inspiration, because after I survive getting slammed against some rocks by a ten-foot wave, or hurling through my regulator underwater and watching colorful tropical fish eating my lunch chunks, I really appreciate getting back to my desk. I'm thankful that people will pay to read stuff I make up and I don't have to actually do anything to make a living.
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|Christopher Moore Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Christopher Moore|
|Practical Demonkeeping, 1992|
|Coyote Blue, 1993|
|Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, 1995|
|Island of the Sequined Love Nun, 1997|
|The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, 1999|
|Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, 2002|
|The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, Version 2.0, 2004|
|A Dirty Job, 2006|
|You Suck: A Love Story, 2007|