It's typically part of my evening routine to post up in my apartment and totally unplug from reality by delving into a world of drugs, sex, ninjas, vampires and man-eating demons. No, I'm not suggesting that eating psychedelic mushrooms is one of my nightly endeavors, but rather indulging in the imaginative world that authorguy Christopher Moore creates in his bizarre, hilarious and consistently original novels.
Moore is the bestselling author of Lamb and The Stupidest Angel, both of which mark Moore’s signature absurdist humor and his tendency to push the tale of the everyman to new heights. Raised in London, Ohio and now a resident of California, Moore has lived in numerous locations across the country, traveled abroad and published 11 novels, including his latest, Fool, which was released this month.
Despite his highly-regarded cult status, Moore proves himself to be a true friend of the everyman by consistently replying to fan e-mails within 24 hours, always shedding light on his own work and offering worthy advice to aspiring writers. Here’s what he had to say in a recent e-mail interview I conducted about his new book, his writing process and a few other questions that I couldn’t help but ask.
CityBeat: For starters here, briefly tell me about this new book, Fool. What’s it about?
Christopher Moore: Basically it’s Shakespeare’s King Lear as told from the point of view of the fool, but with a lot of shagging and murder thrown in.
CB: Why, of all Shakespeare’s plays to choose from, did you pick King Lear to rewrite?
CM: I wanted to write about a fool, a character who could speak truth to power, and the fool in Lear is the most prominent in that role.
CB: From what I have read of your work, you tend to take the rewrite approach with your signature absurdist spin. The two novels that come to mind first are Coyote Blue and Lamb, and now you retell King Lear from the perspective of the Fool. Why do you choose to take this rewrite approach in your novels?
CM: Well, Coyote isn’t really a rewrite, it was just bringing Coyote into the modern world, but I get your point. I take inspiration where I think there’s a great story. Turns out that the life of Christ and King Lear could gain a dimension of comedy and still be great stories.
CB: What does retelling stories from the perspective of characters like Biff and the Fool enable you to do with the original work?
CM: Strangely enough, it allows you to have a human perspective on very big events. Humor can make a story seem more real because it requires our involvement. It may move us to laughter, but it moves us nonetheless.
CB: You told me once in an e-mail that your experiences through the years with people, jobs, travels, etc.
seep into your novels. Do you often come up with characters based on people you have met and come up with ideas based on experiences you have had, or are your novels primarily derived from imagination? What about in Fool?
CM: Fool is almost wholly made up of imagination primed with the inspiration from Shakespeare, but I have Frankensteined characters together from people I’ve known. By that I mean I may take traits from several people I’ve known and put them into one character. It really depends on what the story requires, or if an experience I had gives some insight. The death of the main character’s mother in A Dirty Job is based almost entirely on my own mother’s death, for instance.
CB: Is Biff based on anyone in particular?
CM: No, not at all. He’s just a brave, loyal, funny guy that I thought could liven up the Gospels a little.
CB: Do you generally begin your work with a framework for a story or just an idea/concept? In essence, where do you generally start with a novel?
CM: Usually a concept. Like, what if you told King Lear from the point of the Fool? Or, what if you took a whole town off its antidepressants all at once (The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove).
CB: Once the ball was rolling with Fool, how long did it take you to write it?
CM: A little over a year. But there was over a year of research as well.
CB: I remember asking you a while back what the writing process for Coyote Blue was like and you told me that you actually lived on a Crow reservation in a trailer while you wrote it. Any cool details like that in regards to the writing of Fool?
CM: Not too much. (By the way, I went to Crow and lived in the trailer for the research. I wrote the book at home in California.) I took a couple of trips to England and France, looking at castles and Medieval towns, and I studied a lot of English history, most of which had to be abandoned because it didn’t fit the story, but then there was learning most of Shakespeare’s cannon, which was kind of a big deal to me, but nothing so exciting as living on a primitive island or learning to fly helicopters, which I’ve done for other books.
CB: Changing gears a bit here, did growing up in Ohio (or the Midwest in general) have an influence on your writing, or do you feel like it didn’t really blossom until after you were long gone?
CM: I think I developed my sense of humor in Ohio. Let’s face it, with the weather in Northern Ohio, you need to develop a sense of humor or you’re going to be pretty miserable. And my father was an Ohio State Highway Patrolman and had a great sense of humor that could get pretty dark, just to deal with what he saw on the job day to day. So that was tied to the Midwest, but I didn’t take off as a writer until I left. It seemed to me, and this may be unique to my experience, that people in Ohio were quick to tell you what you couldn’t do, couldn’t achieve. They pointed out your limitations first, rather than your potential. I didn’t find that attitude on the West Coast.
CB: Out of personal curiosity, under what conditions do you like to write or feel most in the zone (when, where, what music, buzzed/sober, that type of thing)?
CM: I like to be on my second cup of coffee, on a quiet morning, and I seem to write best when it’s raining, but I think that’s because then I’m not being called to go out and do something else. It’s just me, the page, and the long arc of a rainy day ahead.
CB: I understand that Disney bought rights to your first novel, Practical Demonkeeping, which I read on an eight hour flight over the Atlantic this past summer. Great book, but not quite Disney’s style, I’d say, considering I’m yet to see a Disney flick with cokeheads and demons in it (at least that I can recall). What would you think of some director hacking away at your novel to make it Disney appropriate?
CM: Doesn’t matter, really. That was 18 years ago. Obviously you’re right, it’s not their kind of project. Fortunately they paid me a bunch of money before they realized that.
CB: A few more unimportant, yet major questions I want to know: What is you favorite recreational drug?
CB: Where is your favorite place to travel?
CB: Where, in your opinion, would be the ideal place for a fiction writer’s work to flourish?
CM: A small town with some good friends around. A place where you don’t have to hustle full time to make a living, and where there aren’t so many people that you feel insignificant and can’t stoke the ego and self-confidence it takes to write fiction and think someone might pay you for it. That’s where I did it, in a coastal town of five-thousand people where you had to drive forty miles to see a movie or buy a pair of socks, and it was perfect. Well, it worked out that way for me.