Interview with Chris Mooney

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What everyday situation drives you mad?
It’s a tossup between people who drive under the speed limit and people shouting into their cell phones in, say, the supermarket or the train or some other enclosed space.  The cell phone thing is probably the worst.  I was in line at a store the other day and the woman in front of me was asking her husband about the results of his prostate exam, and I wanted to say, “Can’t you wait until you’re either in the car or at home to discuss this?”  

Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
My musical tastes are all over the place.  I listen to a certain iTunes playlist when I’m writing, and the songs range from rap to modern pop to rock.  Everyone I know has at least one embarrassing song on their playlist that they don’t want anyone to know about, and I have two – “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and “Freedom” by George Michael.  
I’m a huge U2 fan, and the best concert I’ve been to would be when they were touring for their Achtung, Baby! album.  I saw them in Worcester, Massachusetts, and was blown away.  That was my first U2 concert.  

Colours you’d never wear?
Probably white, oatmeal, etc.  I’m a big, tall Irish-looking guy, so when I wear white I feel like I look like the Staypuft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.  Pink would probably be a close second. Nobody wants to see a six-foot-five-inch man in pink.   

Name three contents currently in your fridge!
Almond milk, sweet potato casserole, and Knob Creek bourbon.  I try to eat Paleo – lean meats, no processed food, starches or dairy – but obviously I have a weakness for fine bourbon.

Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
Stephen King’s The Shining was the one that made me want to become an author. That cemented it for me – it was like a light bulb going off in my head, what Oprah likes to call an “ah-ha” moment.  Then I read Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs and was blown away at how great it was. That book and Red Dragon made me want to write thrillers. I’m also heavily influenced and constantly amazed by James Lee Burke, Gregg Hurwitz, and John Connolly.

It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
Here’s a random sample: The Silence of the Lambs, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight, and Casino Royale.  I also love Clint Eastwood, especially the westerns like High Plains Drifter. I find myself more and more drawn to TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Shield, and The Sopranos. I’ve watched them dozens of times because the writing and storytelling is amazing.

Your idea of a perfect holiday?
I love London.  I could walk through London forever. Paris, too. I love exploring historic cities.

Favourite literary or movie villain?
It’s a tie between Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader.  But if you had to press me on one, I’d say Dr. Lecter.  He’s the best fictional villain ever created – an absolute brilliant masterpiece.  I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve read Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs.

Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
Psycho.  It scared the shit out of me when I saw it.  I must’ve been ten or so.  I’ll also admit that Hitchcock is an embarrassingly blank spot in my film/thriller viewing.  I haven’t seen Rear Window or North by Northwest or any of the other classics.  But you want to know a movie that disturbed the hell out of me? The Vanishing – the Dutch version, not the US remake.  

Fear the Dark features a lot of unusual stuff that even I had not heard of, like the rare disease of TMAU and that there are actually forums where knot fetishists share their passion for, well, knots! Do you read about things like that in ‘Knot Fetishists Monthly’ and ‘Rare Diseases for Dummies’ or where do you pick up stuff like that?
These things just occur to me as I’m writing, and then I go off at the end of the day and research them.  It’s hard to explain how it happens, but usually the story just hops along and then I get to a point where a voice inside my head says, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if this guy had a knot fetish?” or “What kind of weird thing could happen here to give the reader a clue as to what the killer is doing?” It’s a particular way of thinking, and I don’t know if I can explain it accurately. But suffice to say, it just “happens.”

When you are writing about those Spyware programmes and how cheap they are and how easy to get and install – on a scale of one to ten, how paranoid are you in real life yet?
I learned early on that anything – anything – you do on a computer is being tracked or logged in some way.  The research stuff I’ve done for my books, I’m sure I’m on some sort of FBI or CIA watch list. The technology keeps changing at an alarming rate.  The only way we can completely be safe is to stay off the internet or to not use a smartphone.

Is your research mostly internet based? Where do you get all the information about FBI procedurals and methods like the very technically advanced recovery of fingerprints and DNA? Do you have any experts at hand that you can ask or do you get a lot of information through literature and/or the internet?
I do a lot of internet research first, then I find I usually hit a wall because the things I’m looking for require an expert.  I enjoy talking to experts more than I do researching online.  Talking to some on the phone or, even better, face-to-face, is much better than trying to do research on the Internet.  I’m always surprised when I create a particular scenario for a book and hear an expert in the field say, “Yeah, that could totally happen.”  For the new Darby book I’m working on, I had several dinners with a guy who worked for both Homeland Security and as a bomb tech.  Every single idea I threw at him he said, “Yeah, I worked on a case – or heard about a case – where the thing you’re describing happened.”  It’s both reassuring and frightening.

The case of Nicky Hubbard in Fear The Dark, was that one completely made up or inspired by a true event?
I made that up.  But I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if something like that had happened in real life.

I might be mistaken but could it be that your heroine Darby McCormick once used to look like Kate Beckinsale in your early books and then in more recent books you described her as an Angeline Jolie lookalike?
No, you’re correct. I kept throwing in references to well-know actresses to give the reader a sense of who she is, what she looks like. I’ve shied away from that in the later books because I want the reader to come up with his or her own version of Darby.

You’ve created one of the coolest female protagonists years ago with Darby even before all the feminists started crying out for stronger female leads. I really love Darby, as she is such a badass character. Do you have more female or male readers or is it quite well balanced?
If I had to guess, I’d skew slightly stronger to a female readership.  But I know there are a lot of male fans that think she’s a “hot badass”, which they like.  I’ve always been drawn to strong female characters – in fiction and in real life.  The thing I like about Darby is that she can hold her own with her male counterparts, both intellectually and, more importantly, I think, physically.  Darby is not one to shy away from physical confrontations.  Her male counterparts don’t know what quite to make of her, which I like.  She’s full of surprises, especially for the reader.  

Darby is the perfect role model for modern women. She is working in a mostly male dominated job and isn’t intimidated by anything or anyone. Did you ever meet anyone in real life who inspired that character?
I haven’t met anyone quite like Darby, but I can tell you she is loosely based on my wife and some of her friends.  Like I said in the above question, I love and am drawn to strong women.  I really believe they can do anything a man can.  And I like watching Darby interact in law enforcement, which is considered a male-dominated profession.  

You stated Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon as two of your favourite books that made you want to become a writer. Would you say those two books by Thomas Harris planted the seed of fascination for serial killers and the work of the FBI in you?
They did. Harris created the whole serial-killer fiction category.  He didn’t plan the seed, necessarily – as a kid I was fascinated by Ted Bundy, that whole notion of a normal-looking guy who is hiding a monster. But Harris showed me the importance in creating memorable villains when he created Dr. Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde, and Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb. Those two books are the most perfect thrillers ever written. Harris did everything right. The rest of us are riding on his coattails.

Do you sometimes use real serial killer cases as inspiration for the devious killers in your books or do you enjoy sitting at home and plotting the most gruesome and inventive murders of your despicable antagonists in detail all by yourself?
I try not to base anything on real cases, believe it or not. I try to create original characters, with original and different motives than what you see in real life.  My imagination is very dark – I know, big surprise – so I kind of let it take control and see where it leads me.

Speaking about devious, your books are laced with death and graphic violence. Have you sometimes experienced criticism from readers and/or editors for not backing off from gory details?
Great question. Readers are turned off by graphic violence. What I’ve learned through editors is to show the after-effects of violence – something that you see in both Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Whatever the reader conjures in his or her head is infinitely more terrifying than what I can put on a page, so what I try to do is hit the sweet spot of psychological terror. That has a more lasting impact than any showing a blow-by-blow of someone being killed, which doesn’t interest me.  I did make some mistakes with that early on, especially with Deviant Ways and World Without End and, more recently, The Killing House.

Malcolm Fletcher, the former FBI agent, is also one of your creations and one of the coolest characters ever! Can you tell the readers when he’ll be back again after The Killing House?
I’m currently working on – and, fingers crossed, about to finish – a new Fletcher book tentatively titled Zero. This book is sort of a reboot – the way Christopher Nolan rebooted the whole Batman franchise.  In this book we get to see Fletcher’s origin story – how and why he became the nation’s most wanted fugitive.  

Jack Casey, who was introduced in Deviant Ways and who was abducted with his daughter at the end of The Soul Collectors. Will his story be continued in the future too?
I wanted to do a sequel to that book, but my editor at the time didn’t have any interest.  But we did discuss me doing a novella or something that I could make available on my website that would address what happened to Jack Casey.  When I wrote that book, I had no idea that readers would respond so passionately to the ending, which I won’t give away here.  But I learned, without giving too much away, that the majority of readers prefer a certain amount of closure – and I don’t blame them.  I was trying to end the book on a terrifying note, and while I think I succeeded, a lot of readers wanted more –which is, in its own way, is a positive sign that they were invested in the story and the characters, which means I did my job.

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