Author interview: Chris Knopf

I met Chris Chris Knopf & CharlieKnopf at the CrimeConn conference recently, and was intrigued to find that not only is he a writer of several crime series, but is also Connecticut liaison of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and is one of the publishers at The Permanent Press, which publishes award-winning crime novels. The main protagonist of Cop Job, the sixth novel in Chris’ Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mysteries series, is an intelligent, well-read man who is a master cabinet-maker as well as an amateur sleuth. Sam has a nice way with women, and a sense of humor, too. The novel is somewhere between a crime novel and a thriller, with a little grown-up romance thrown in for good measure, and so well-paced that I found it a pleasure to read.

GC: I don’t read many “thrillers” or gritty crime novels, but I loved your book, Cop Job. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t fit neatly into any category. There’s mystery, suspense, romance and a limited amount of violence. How did you come to write this kind of book, rather than something easier to categorize?

CK: Thanks for that.  I like not being pigeon-holed in any particular genre, though most people who are heavily into mysteries would categorized the Sam books as hard-boiled, amateur sleuth.  Many years ago my creative director at the ad agency was approached by a Hollywood producer looking for movie concepts.  My boss thought it would be fun to get a roomful of copywriters together to brainstorm ideas.  Out of this I came up with Sam Acquillo, an ex-corporate burnout who discovered the body of an old lady who’d lived next door.  The setting was the Little Peconic Bay in the Hamptons, and included a potential love interest named Amanda.  That was all I had, and the partially-written script went nowhere, but about ten years later I turned it into a novel and things went from there.Cover

GC: Your main character, Sam Acquillo, reminds me a little of Spenser (from the novels by the late Robert B. Parker) or Travis McGee (John D MacDonald). They too, were resourceful private eyes with integrity and intelligence who live slightly outside the mainstream. Were these writers/characters favorites of yours?

CK: Yup.  Along with Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer.  Of those five influences, I always loved Ross MacDonald’s prose and Parker’s dialogue.   I also liked Paul Newman’s characters in The Verdict and Nobody’s Fool. Put it all together and stir in my father’s sense of humor and engineering talents, my grandfather’s toughness (a champion boxer) and, of course, my own take on things, and you get Sam Acquillo.

GC: There’s a sense of humor that infuses the book. Is that something you have to think about, or does it come naturally to you when you’re writing? Do you laugh at your own writing?

CK: It comes naturally as I’m writing, though as noted above, my father had a very sardonic wit.  I channel some of that.  And yes, I often chuckle at Sam’s humor, though usually long after I’ve written the lines when I’m getting the manuscript ready to go to the copy editor.

GC: I know you’ve written two other series, one of which uses Jackie Swaitkowski, who features in the Acquillo books, as the main protagonist.  If you had to pick one character to stick with long-term, which would it be?

CK: Sam for sure will always be with me.  Jackie, of course, as a key sidekick, will also live on though she could easily turn up again in her own book.  I’m probably going to keep Arthur Cathcart’s series as a trilogy.  But one should never say never.

GC: You’re very active in Mystery Writers of America. What are the benefits of joining an organization like that?

CK: It’s very important for mystery writers to be part of our rather robust sub-culture.  There are lots of conferences, publications, Facebook pages, etc., where we communicate.  By we, I mean other writers, commentators, fans, bloggers, etc.  It’s a great crowd, and we support each other through thick and thin.  I highly recommend joining MWA, but also International Thriller Writers (if you write thrillers), Sisters in Crime (for men and women, though the skew is obviously female) and the International Association of Crime Writers.

You can connect with Chris and his books on his website, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter

In Istanbul with Joseph Kanon: Author interview

I first came across Joseph Kanon when I read his novel The Good German. It’s a literary thriller, with a lot to think about in addition to following the page-turner of a plot. So I was delighted when he came to talk at the Fairfield Public Library in Connecticut a week or so ago. (In case you missed that, he’s appearing again at R.J. Julia in Madison CT on July 18th at 7pm.) He talked about how he wrote his novel (longhand on yellow legal pads in the New York Public Library) and how his latest book, Istanbul Passage came to be. He was kind enough to agree to answering some additional questions.

GC: You said you were a person who writes their novels without plotting them out. Have you ever taken a writing class or workshop? And if yes, did you find it helpful in actually writing your books? I ask, because so many classes want you to plot out the book from start to finish.

JK: No, I have never taken a workshop, though I was a guest teacher once or twice.  I think the question of outline is simply a matter of temperament– some writers prefer them, some don’t– and there are no particular advantages to either side (it really depends on the writer). I’ve never used a proper outline but of course at a certain point in the narrative you have to have at least an over-arching sense of where it’s going and how it ends (though not necessarily the particulars).  Working from a detailed outline would take much of the pleasurable surprise out of the process for me, but someone else may well feel at sea without one.

GC: I think you said that you’d visited Istanbul 5 times. Were all those visits related to the book?

JK: The first time I went to Istanbul I was simply a tourist (in fact, my wife and I were celebrating our anniversary) but all subsequent trips, however delightful, all had to do with researching the book.  The most recent, last February, well after the book was finished, was to film the author video (see link on my website, Amazon, et al.). (GC: This is well worth seeing if you want to see the background for the book.)  

 GC: When you get an idea for a book, clearly the location is one of the most important ‘characters’ (rather like Alexandria and Laurence Durrell). Have any of your books been inspired by a place first, before the characters and plot?

JK: All of the books have more or less been inspired by place, but especially Los Alamos. The Good German really began with an interest in the postwar Allied Occupation, so another setting might well have occurred to me but, happily, I was fascinated by Berlin, whose stories seem inexhaustible.  In fact, I’m planning to set my next book there again, this time with more focus on East Berlin and the rise of the GDR.

GC: What made you choose the time period immediately following WW2 as your preferred period? Does it have something to do with the murkiness of the loyalties/situations/duty that existed at that time? (Versus the more absolute moral certainties – right or wrong – that one uses to make decisions during wartime.)

JK: Yes, very much.  To use a movie metaphor, the war begins with the black and white moral clarity of Casablanca, but it ends with the gray, murky, more compromised world of The Third Man.  I think this is the world we inherited, more complicated and nuanced than what came before (or so it seems to us).  But from a writer’s point of view, the immediate postwar period also has the advantage (to my mind) of being inherently dramatic– everything that happens then, in the aftermath of the war, takes on real importance. Decisions made then will reverberate for decades.  So who made them and why?  This seemed/seems to me an irresistible subject.  (Of course, it also now has the pragmatic advantage for me of having already done so much research in the period…)

GC: I’ve just finished the novel, by the way, and love the way JK gives one several ‘what would I do?’ conundrums, but also makes his characters real, so that as the tension builds to a white-knuckle ending, you really care what happens to them. Highly recommended if you like thoughtful thrillers, romance and adventure.

Murder 203 – a Connecticut Mystery Festival

Connecticut has a mysterious secret. It’s the fourth annual Mystery Festival hosted by the Easton Library. If you read or write mysteries you won’t want to miss this fun weekend where you can meet authors and find out how to hone your craft. Even if you write in a different genre, you might find the plot structuring techniques of mystery writers helpful.

This year’s festival is to be held on Saturday April 14th and Sunday April 15th at the Trumbull Marriott Hotel. The guest of honor will be best-selling author, Michael Palmer http://www.michaelpalmerbooks.com/ whose latest novel Oath of Office is to be published by St. Martin’s Press on February 14th.

The authors currently planning to attend include Cara Black http://www.carablack.com/ who writes the Aimee Leduc mysteries, thriller writer Andrew Gross http://www.andrewgrossbooks.com/ Cleo Coyle, http://www.coffeehousemystery.com/ author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, Rosemary Harris http://www.rosemaryharris.com/index.html, Daniel Palmer http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com/ , Hilary Davidson http://www.hilarydavidson.com/Crime_Novels.html , and Edward Conlon, http://edwardconlon.com/ former cop and now crime writer.

All this for just $65 if you book before March 1. If you think you’d like to attend, you can find all the latest updates and the registration form at www.murder203.com.