Christopher Moore is the author of 17 novels and various other shorter works in the comic fantasy genre. Among his books are Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Bloodsucking Fiends, and Noir, his most recent novel.
His books are laugh out loud on the train funny, mostly due to the relatively normal characters being thrust into fantastic situations and navigating them in relatable, but still darkly humorous ways. He lives in San Francisco, and has a beard, a mildly unhealthy obsession with waffles, and an active Twitter account.
How young were you when you wrote something you felt was worthy of publication? For example, when you were a motel clerk, did you spend the slower times writing? What was the first moment you realized that this was a viable career choice for you?
The thing is, you don’t know if you’ve written something worthy of publication until someone buys it. I sold my first story when I was about 27, I think. I don’t know that it was any better than anything I’d written before that, but someone accepted it and sent me a check, so that’s when I knew. You are really acting on faith. I did write in the slow times as a hotel clerk, although that job wasn’t as good for writing as you might think. It was socially very limited. (I did night audit.) I spent way too much time alone at night and sleeping in the day when everyone else was living life. I don’t think it was healthy. Waiting tables, where I was using a completely different set of skills, and where movement and social interaction was required was a much better job to complement writing. I wrote my 1st novel, Practical Demonkeeping, while I was waiting tables.
I don’t think writing was a “viable career choice” until I sold my first book for a shit-ton of money to Disney when I was 33. Even then I didn’t know if I’d be able to write and sell another one. Even when you choose an MFA track, writing isn’t a viable career choice. You may be able to teach writing when you’re done, but you don’t know that you’ll be able to make a living selling your work.
What do you feel are the most difficult parts of the job? What do you do to metaphorically refill your tank?
Well, the writing part is tough. Less doing it than making myself do it. I do get stuck at times. Usually, the best way to break through for me is to change scenery. When I lived on the Central Coast I used to grab a notebook and get in the car, drive down the coast to a coffee shop, try to write a little. If nothing came, get in the car, drive a little farther down, try another coffee shop. Until I was maybe an hour or so from home. Usually something would come to me.
As for “refilling my tank”, looking at art and architecture, and nature too, helps a lot. To just be oblivious, I play video games. It’s the most mindless thing I can think of. You remain interested and engaged enough that you can’t worry or plan a story, but when you’re done you don’t necessarily feel as if you’ve accomplished anything. You just burned some time.
I have read that you have first drafts that are basically book ready when they are done. Is your method more like Vonnegut, who polished each page as he went, or is it the preparation, or is there some other reason?
Maybe I just write slowly. It just comes out ready to eat, I guess. I had lunch with Joe Lansdale a month or so ago and he’s the same way. Mind you, we’re both in a place where we don’t have to sweat punctuation and typos, because people will fix that stuff, but I don’t rewrite very much at all. I don’t know there’s a method to it, that’s just how it works out. That said, early on, when was starting out in the 1980s, I might retype an entire draft because of a typo or a spelling error. Much of that is automated now. Also, I’m always completely willing to change something if my editor or an early reader I respect suggests it bothers them or needs clarity. I don’t finish a book and go, “This is my masterpiece and no one shall touch a word of it.” More like, “Oh my god, this is a fucking disaster, I hope I haven’t just ended my career.”
What do you think is a place for improvement or learning in your craft? Is there something you think you could do better?
I’m always trying to do something I haven’t done before, but then, there are certain expectations now from a pretty big bunch of readers, so if I decide to write the story, for instance, of a refugee family struggling with their situation, and it’s not funny, there are going to be some disappointed people. I think about my audience, not just what I want to write.
I always think my stuff could be more lyrical, and funnier, and more poignant, but I don’t have lessons I can apply. I could probably learn some more “tricks” from suspense writers, because at their heart, most of my books are structured as suspense stories (and love stories), but at this point I think I need someone like Grisham to sit me down and go, “look, dummy, you put this scene here and that sets up this thing over here” because I’m not seeing it. But recently I watched the series Mozart in the Jungle, where they sort of reward one of the characters, and the viewer, with a positive note every episode, a little victory, and I hadn’t thought of that before. I think it’s a great device that I’d like to work into my own work.
Does it feel restrictive to plot something at the beginning that may not be possible when the book finally is birthed?
You can’t let it get restrictive. I outline more and more as time goes on, but you have to let the story breathe. It takes me a year to write a book. Hopefully, during a year I’ll have some new ideas that will make the story better. If I’m locked into an outline or a device, I’m limiting where the story can go and how the characters can react.
I don’t really have a favorite. I mean, it changes. I think I’m most proud of Sacre’ Bleu because I’ve never read anything like it.
What are you anxious about in your writing process? One imagines that you must feel somewhat confident in your abilities after 17 novels. Is it about the process, or is it imposter syndrome?
I’m anxious about everything. Most of the time. The only thing I know now I didn’t know 30 years ago is that I can finish a book. Everything else feels like it could go to shit any time. On the imposter syndrome? Absolutely. When someone offers to pay me to speak about writing, my inner voice says, “Are you high? I don’t know anything about writing.” But I’ve learned to not say that out loud.