Friday, January 8, 2010

Guest Blogger - Chris Grabenstein




What a coinkydink.

Just when Terri and Pamela asked me to be a guest blogger on the topic “the magic of being an author,” I’ was wrapping up the first draft of a holiday story for middle grades readers that involves the magic of Christmas and a few peashooter blasts of magical pixie dust.

And I didn’t know the novella (I think that’s what you call a book that’s bigger than a breadbasket but under 40 thousand words) PLEASE DON’T CALL ME CHRISTINA KRINGLE would involve pixie dust when I first sat down to rework “The Elves And The Shoemaker” as a modern day Christmas tale.

It just happened. Magically. Mysteriously.

That’s one of the big magic tricks of being an author that I still marvel at: Not knowing exactly where I’m going when I sit down to write the first page of something new. Yes, I have a general idea of where I might end up, just no idea of the detours and interesting sights along the way. For those, I trust in magic (pling!).
(At this juncture, you might want to hum a verse of “Do You Believe In Magic?” by The Lovin Spoonful, my first writing instructors.)

I have been writing professionally since 1984 (when I started writing advertising copy for James Patterson at J. Walter Thompson, New York and made Burger King Whoppers sound magically delicious) and have been counting on ideas magically popping into my head the whole time. I start with a big “What if?” and keep adding on the “And then’s” as I go, delighting myself when I magically discover them. This is why, when I’m out walking the dog or jogging (slogging?) around Central Park, I always make sure I have note cards and a Sharpie pen. The Sharpie is key. The ink doesn’t run when you sweat on it.

I am forever jotting down the next thing to happen and then pinning the note cards to one of several bulletin boards hovering over my writing desk. And the photos on the boards? Faces and places for my characters and settings that magically come alive inside my computer.



When I was writing TILT A WHIRL, winner of the Anthony Award for best first mystery, I had the character of John Ceepak but knew he would make an annoying narrator. It took a dog walk and (pling!) magic for me to come up with Danny Boyle, the wise guy summer cop who tells the stories.

On one of my daily runs around Central Park, I was woolgathering about roller coasters and all those warnings about not riding the ride if you’re pregnant or have a heart condition when the idea for Ceepak Mystery #6 magically popped into my head. ROLLING THUNDER, coming out May 2010, starts with a bang: a heart attack on a roller coaster!


Magic helped me discover a whole cast of ghosts I didn’t know would be haunting THE HANGING HILL until I “built” the summer stock theatre where the story takes place and these terrific characters just started popping up in the wings.


I liked some of these folks so much, I’m bringing them back for Haunted Places Mystery #3 THE SMOKY CORRIDOR, which Random House will publish in August, 2010.
When I saw three teenagers sneaking cigarettes outside a school a few blocks from my apartment, I magically had a whole short story in my head by the time I got home. “The Demon In The Dunes” will appear in DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION, an anthology of paranormal tales edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner that will also come out in August 2010.

The magic that guides so many authors is probably the subconscious bubbling up when we least expect it. I often think of my writing day as dreaming while being awake and sitting up. That’s when the magic takes place. It takes about twenty minutes of fingers dancing on keyboard for me to slip into The Zone, where the world outside my window magically disappears and all that exists are the characters and the scene in the story.
My wife now knows that if she tells me something while I’m in the zone I will not remember it when I return to the real world after writing my two thousand new words for the day.
I’m not really in the room when I’m writing.
I’ve been transported to a haunted theatre, or the Jersey Shore, or a middle school with voodoo zombies prowling around in the basement.
How’d I get to these places?
Magic.



Magic helped me discover a whole cast of ghosts I didn’t know would be haunting THE HANGING HILL until I “built” the summer stock theatre where the story takes place and these terrific characters just started popping up in the wings.


I liked some of these folks so much, I’m bringing them back for Haunted Places Mystery #3 THE SMOKY CORRIDOR, which Random House will publish in August, 2010.
When I saw three teenagers sneaking cigarettes outside a school a few blocks from my apartment, I magically had a whole short story in my head by the time I got home. “The Demon In The Dunes” will appear in DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION, an anthology of paranormal tales edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner that will also come out in August 2010.

The magic that guides so many authors is probably the subconscious bubbling up when we least expect it. I often think of my writing day as dreaming while being awake and sitting up. That’s when the magic takes place. It takes about twenty minutes of fingers dancing on keyboard for me to slip into The Zone, where the world outside my window magically disappears and all that exists are the characters and the scene in the story.

My wife now knows that if she tells me something while I’m in the zone I will not remember it when I return to the real world after writing my two thousand new words for the day.

I’m not really in the room when I’m writing.

I’ve been transported to a haunted theatre, or the Jersey Shore, or a middle school with voodoo zombies prowling around in the basement.

How’d I get to these places?

Magic.

---------------------------------

And for those who don't know Chris:

Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein did improvisational comedy in New York City with Bruce Willis before James Patterson hired him to write advertising copy.
His John Ceepak mystery TILT A WHIRL, published in 2005, won the Anthony Award for Best First Mystery and mad several Best Mysteries of the Year Lists. It was followed by MAD MOUSE, WHACK A MOLE, HELL HOLE, MIND SCRAMBLER, and, in May 2010, ROLLING THUNDER. A John Ceepak short story “Ring Toss” will also appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in June 2010.
Chris is also the critically acclaimed author of the holiday thrillers SLAY RIDE and HELL FOR THE HOLIDAYS and his short story THE DEMON OF THE DUNES will appear in Charlaine Harris’s “Death’s Excellent Vacation” Anthology in August 2010.
His first book for middle grades readers, THE CROSSROADS won both the Agatha and Anthony awards for best Children’s/YA Mystery and has been optioned to be made into a movie. The sequel, THE HANGING HILL just came out from Random House and will be followed in 2010 by THE SMOKY CORRIDOR.
Chris also wrote a children's play CURIOSITY CAT, "the play within the book" from THE HANGING HILL, which will have its world premiere at the Children's Theatre of Knoxville in April 2010.
Chris’s dog Fred has even better credits: Fred starred on Broadway in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

2 comments:

  1. What a great career you've had and don't be shy stop in often.
    Thank you for blogging with us today and I am certainly going to be adding your books to my tbr pile this year.

    Pamela

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm extremely jealous. I would love to write. I have tons and tons of ideas that come rushing at me but I can't seem to flesh it out on paper. I just stare and stare and... that's about it. I guess the magic only goes so far when it comes to me! hehe.

    ReplyDelete

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