From photographs, I’ve seen the immense beauty of Alaska’s Glacier Bay, where mountain walls of ice meet water. From this comes the image I have of giving and being interviewed. There’s something both amazing and dangerous about a good interview. It’s hard to explain.
I happen to be on a blog tour for my new book, a thriller called Blood Drama, and I’ve done a number of interviews lately—certainly nothing like Leonardo Dicaprio when he’s promoting a new film, but it’s enough to give me a taste of what celebrities go through, particularly in answering the same questions often.
Blood Drama is the story of Ian Nash. He has lost his girlfriend, has just been thrown out of a graduate program in theatre, and is taken hostage in a bank robbery gone awry. He must fight for his life. He’s determined to exact revenge, with or without the FBI’s help.
While it’s my third novel, it’s my first thriller, and I know Blood Drama is an unusual one as the ratio of interesting character depth to bullets fired is skewed toward the former--yet reviewers are saying it's a fast and exciting read.
What makes this experience of being interviewed different for me is that I’d spent years as an interviewer, first in writing profiles of authors for magazines and newspapers, then as the editor of an arts quarterly at CalArts, the art school in Valencia, California. I worked hard researching my subjects before interviewing them.
Most of the time, people were happy to answer questions, particularly if I showed I knew their work. Two of the most challenging interviews were with film director Alexander Mackendrick, best known for the films Sweet Smell of Success and The Man in the White Suit, and with artist and writer Catherine Lord. In both cases, their answers were after long pauses as if we were in a court of law. Their answers were often short. They didn't want to be interviewed but were doing so because of, perhaps, a greater good.
However, the most exciting interviews I conducted were with people energized by their subject and with talking to me about it. I have many favorite interviews, including those with film director Werner Herzog, theatre director Travis Preston, and Pulitzer-prize winning composer Mel Powell. Those interviews swept me up in ideas as we danced with meaning and purpose.
Thus, in being interviewed, I aimed to be as open and interesting as those who gave me great interviews. Now that some of the interviews are out there, the arts editor in me came up with the idea of taking the best questions from recent interviews and putting them in one spot: here. Click on the interviewer’s name if you want to read their whole interview.
We start with Mindy Wall at Books, Books, and More Books:
Mindy: Please tell us about yourself and your writing.
CM: I went off to college at the University of Denver to be a filmmaker, but my first elective in poetry writing had me revel in word imagery. The great thing about college is that when you follow your bliss, no one is there to tell you that can’t take chemistry, poetry, music appreciation, psychology, and golf all at once. I couldn’t get enough. I wasn’t in college to make the dean’s list but to try subjects out. The fact I landed good grades was a by-product of my interests.
It was with that same sense of brio that I moved to Los Angeles—that’s where the films were being made. There’s something great about naiveté. It gets you to do things that if you fully researched it, you might not do otherwise. My parents were worried at how I’d manage a big city, but I was sure that I’d get a job screenwriting not in two weeks, but maybe two months, and soon I’d be directing quality films. I told them I’d get a job in a camera store or something until I connected with Hollywood.
And that’s what I did. I worked at the Pan Pacific Camera Center, which was used by big-time photographers. I saved up money and one weekend rented 35mm film equipment to shoot a black-and-white eight-minute film that I thought worthy of an Academy-Award short. When the fire department shut me down for not having a film permit at my own apartment, I decided then and there to forget about directing and just write because I didn’t need no stinking permit to do that.
I went to a graduate writing program at USC to explore more, and I wrote a novel, a screenplay, and a stage play. I secretly wanted to be a novelist, but until I could get good enough, I thought the great thing about movies and plays were their collaborative nature. If dialogue didn’t work, then actors or directors might suggest something better.
After USC, I had three plays produced, and I also made headway into screenwriting. Long story short: in between my plays and screenplays, I wrote short stories for myself, pushing to get better in fiction. When those started getting published, I moved into fiction exclusively. I have two collections of short fiction published and now three novels. I also started teaching in 1994, and I find a wonderful balance between teaching, writing and having a family of my own.
The next comes from Krystal Milton at DWED:
Krystal: What kind of messages do you try to instill in your writing?
CM: I’m not a didactic writer. I’m not Ayn Rand, for instance, carving my narratives to fit a philosophy. However, theme is always important, and I hope people see in my protagonists that while they have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, they are mostly optimistic people. Some might call them slightly clueless. Yet they have drive and the belief that good things can happen.
In her review of The Brightest Moon of the Century, critic Meghan Burton wrote, “Christopher Meeks captures life's unpredictability while retaining a message of the hope that inspires us all.” I like that idea. It also fits in a tweet.
Darlene at Darlene’s Book Nook asked this:
Darlene: Do you have a specific writing style?
CM: I take what I write seriously, even if humor sneaks in. My style is to make each sentence clear. It takes a lot of work to make it seem easy.
This question brings up a thing that happened in my Introduction to Literature class yesterday at Santa Monica College, which relates to voice and style. I had the class read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” I like assigning this short story because it’s so different—about a dishevelled old man who’s rescued, and he has wings. (If you’ve never read it, click on the above link.) Rather than lecture about what magic realism is, I had them experience it.
I happen to find many parts of the story funny, such as the woman who counted her heartbeats until she ran out of numbers or the man who couldn’t sleep because of the noise of the stars. You have to admit, people can be weird.
When the students had a hard time talking about the story, I put them in small groups and let them answer questions about it. What was great was many of the students, now being asked questions, looked at the story in a new way and even asked their own questions. A few students on their own found parallels to Jesus, and one brought up the Joan Osborne song, “If God was One of Us.” They overcame their first assumptions and found a lot to admire in the short story. What I’m getting to is that I like stories that have multiple levels, and that’s what I aim for in my own stories.
My style is not Marquez’s. Like Marquez, however, I write for a reason. I hope to disarm.
Author Marc Schuster has a great site called Small Press Reviews, and his interview with me is entitled "Things Most People Zoom Past: An Interview with Christopher Meeks." Here’s an excerpt:
Marc: You've published two excellent short story collections--Months and Seasons and The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea--a literary novel titled The Brightest Moon of the Century, and a cerebral romantic comedy titled Love at Absolute Zero. Now you're experimenting with the thriller genre. What accounts for this latest move?
CM: Most of my short stories and the first two novels were connected to events that have happened to me. I had no more major events to draw on, so at first I was stumped. What now? In the meantime, I’d been correcting my students’ papers in a Starbucks in the lobby of a bank. It was a gorgeous setting with a lot of marble, a fireplace, and comfortable chairs. I was there often, until one day I realized I could be a witness to a bank robbery if I didn’t watch out. I pictured being taken hostage after a lot of gunfire—and that was the start of a story idea.
Over the years, if ever I wanted something fun to read, I’d choose a crime story, such as novels by Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, or Raymond Chandler. I asked myself, why not write in a genre?
Once I learned that bank robberies are a federal crime that involve the FBI, I wanted someone nearly the opposite of Ian, an extremely driven woman, Aleece Medina. She’s making her mark as a special agent focused on bank robbery. Where Ian was taking his time finding his niche in theatre, she was focused on her goals. However, once Ian is kidnapped, his life changes so dramatically, he too is driven, and he and Medina often lock horns.
Because I was new to this world, I did a lot of research, including interviewing two FBI special agents. I wanted the details right.
The huge website Omnimystery News specializes in mysteries and thrillers, and Lance Wright asked this:
Lance: Why did you choose to write the book as a stand-alone as opposed to the first of series?
CM: It's hard enough writing a single novel. However, toward the end of it, it occurred to me that I should not completely ignore this becoming a series. I didn't conceive it as a much larger story as J.K. Rowling conceived Harry Potter as seven books or my friend E. Van Lowe thought of four books in what has become a popular paranormal romance series. Even so, I really got to like Ian and Aleece, so I kept open the possibility for more. Connelly didn't conceive of twenty years of Harry Bosch. He's made stand-alone stories with the same character.
Three reviewers for Blood Drama hope to see more of Ian and Aleece. I suppose it depends on if readers find this book.
Last comes Rebecca Graf at A Book Lover's Library:
Rebecca: For fun, describe the room you are in now as though it was a part of Blood Drama.
CM: As I write on the laptop on the bed, still in my robe, my wife’s side of the bed is rumpled. She just dashed to work, only having time for coffee for breakfast. I’m hungry, too.
I glance out the window to the hillside and know the rose bushes yearn to be trimmed. They are losing their plasma red petals. Will I have time today?
I see the plum tree has so much fruit growing, it could be Octomom, laden with fertility. The plums are yellow now, not the dark purple they’ll be soon, ready for the fridge, ready for breakfast, ready to be so sweet, so cold. They’ll be the color of the bruise now on my shin. The sore spot came from ramming into the bed at midnight after letting in a cat scratching at the door.
An emergency message flashes on my Macbook. “You are on reserve battery. Save what you are doing.” I only have a little bit of time. I must write quickly.
The black cat at the end of the bed looks up and stares at me. What’re you lookin’ at? You looking at me? I’ve got something for you.
Marvin licks each of his two paws as if sharpening knives. The other cat, Jac, also part-Siamese, peers over from the chair. I’m reminded of the blood I found on the floor this morning, big dime-sized drops that led in a line to the couch where Jac had lay. It’s as if he’s reminding me, That was my blood, and I don’t mind losing more. I’m a fighter.
And my cursor is flashing. Yet I must eat.
A number of other interviews are upcoming, but this gives you a taste.
Thank you to all the interviewers and to readers of my books. I’m grateful to have a community. This is an interesting time in publishing with the ability of a small press like White Whisker Books (my publishing imprint) to find an audience of readers. See my earlier blogs on aspects of this and a piece in Kirkus Reviews on “How I Did It.”
Causes Christopher Meeks Supports
Associated Writing Programs