Interview with Award-Winning Author Chris Grabenstein
Get to know Chris…
Random House publishes his critically acclaimed Haunted Mystery Series for Middle Grades readers:THE CROSSROADS, which won both the Anthony and Agatha awards for best Children’s/YA novel, THE HANGING HILL (which also won the Agatha), THE SMOKY CORRIDOR, and The BLACK HEART CRYPT (the third Agatha winner in the series).
He has also written the e-book exclusive THE EXPLORERS’ GATE, all about the magical happenings in Central Park after dark.
Chris is super excited about his new middle grades book for Random House: ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. Can twelve 12-year-olds find their way out of the most ridiculously brilliant library ever created by only using information they find inside the library? The book pubs in 2013.
Chris has written several books for younger readers with the best-selling author of all time James Patterson: DANIEL X: ARMAGEDDON, I FUNNY, and TREASURE HUNTERS.
He often credits his furry friend FRED for giving him time to dream up story ideas because the dog takes Chris on four contemplative walks a day.
His cats Parker, Tiger Lilly and Phoebe Squeak also help out. Parker enjoys headbutting his computer-mouse hand. Phoebe Squeak purrs when she approves of the prose. Tiger Lilly enjoys traipsing across the keyboard and mmmmeeeoooowwww…
That was Tiger Lilly.
What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever been to?
Well, for food and hoity-toity-ness, that would have to be Le Bernardin here in New York City, which is consistently rated as one of the top spots in the city. However, the absolute best is our neighborhood joint, Spring Natural Kitchen on Columbus Avenue — especially when my wife threw me a surprise party to celebrate I FUNNY becoming number one on the New York Times middle grades best seller list. About eight of our friends were there, all of them wearing Groucho glasses and noses.
What’s your motto in life?
It’s actually a John Wesley quote I recently discovered thanks to K. Karpen, our pastor at St. Paul and St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in New York: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Do you believe in UFOs?
Oh, yes! I used to write advertising for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Unidentifiable Fried Objects definitely exist. Especially in the larger buckets.
What song best describes your work ethic?
Readers familiar with my John Ceepak mysteries for adults know that I am a Bruce Springsteen fanatic. Lately, I have been motivating myself with his song WRECKING BALL. For writers and anyone who deals with rejection on a daily basis, the lyrics can be quite inspirational: “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got. Bring on your wrecking ball.” I guess that’s my work ethic song. Keep on trucking! No, wait. That’s a Grateful Dead song…
What is your earliest childhood memory?
A creepy one. I am in my playpen or crib, so I have to be around one year old. My grandmother, who is Greek and speaks a strange language, gives me a soft clown doll with a very scary face as hard as a dish. To this day, clowns and china freak me out.
What food item would you remove from the market altogether?
Oreos. Then I would stop eating them.
Have you been told you look like someone famous?
I get Rick Moranis a lot. And Fred Armisten, from SNL and Portlandia.
If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be?
A big heart with wings on it and the initials J.J. in the center.
Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?
Wherever I have my earbuds. I write to music. Every time I start a project the first step is to create an iTunes playlist that will be a soundtrack to that book. Once I plug in my earbuds, I can (and have) written anywhere with enough elbow room. For me, my happy creative place is in my head.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Between 2001 and 2004, I was writing full time. No day job. And all I had to show for my efforts were some very kind and encouraging rejection letters. I also came upon a fortune cookie fortune that helped me persevere. I pinned the tiny slip of paper to the cork board over my computer: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
I do what we used to do when I performed in an improvisational comedy troupe in New York City. Put two characters in a scene and see what happens if I say “Yes, and…” and don’t question a single word that tumbles out of my brain through my fingers.
Can you visualize your finished product before you begin it?
I think I can but then I realize it looks very different when I finally reach the end. In fact, for giggles, I keep a file of all the outlines, which I usually revise once a week. It’s hysterical to go back and see where I thought I was headed when I end up at the end of a story.
When did you realize that you had a gift for writing?
When girls in middle school thought what I wrote in the student paper was funny. And the eighth grade teacher who wrote in the margins of one of my essays: “You will make your living as a writer some day.”
Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?
I think the newest title, ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. I am very proud that it became a New York Times best seller and that so many teachers and librarians have enthusiastically embraced it. I am very satisfied by the “internal clockwork” of all the puzzles within the puzzle that make the book tick. And, I am very proud that I was able to hide an extra puzzle inside the book — one that’s not even in the story.
When do you feel the most energized?
Early in the morning, after walking the dog and sipping a very strong cup of Starbucks Sumatra coffee!
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