Sunday, July 29, 2018

Here's the Deal: An Interview with Chris Bauer


I met author Chris Bauer at a Noir at a Bar event in Oxford, Pennsylvania, where both of us were reading from our work. (I can tell you from personal experience that Chris is a good guy to share a beer with!) Chris' new novel, Jane’s Baby, has just been published by Intrigue Publishing, LLC.

--> The title Jane’s Baby refers to the landmark 1971 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, first argued in 1971 and decided in 1973, which legalized abortion in the United States. This thriller takes place in the current day, when sinister forces conspire to tilt the U.S. Supreme Court towards overturning that case. The characters include a bounty hunter, a newspaper reporter, and a newly-appointed Supreme Court justice – targeted by an assassin bent on killing anyone who gets in her way!

1)  Let me start a little differently than usual. The recent death of short story writer and screenwriter Harlan Ellison brought this to mind.

Many of us were inspired to become a writer by someone. It might have been another writer, or a teacher, or even a parent. For me, it was discovering the work of Harlan Ellison as a teenager. I wanted to do what he did!

Was there one person in your life who inspired you to become a writer?

Answer: No one person, but one author did give me so much pleasure with his wonderful but little-known novel about baseball: Steve Shilstone. His novel Chance, about the greatest (fictional) baseball shortstop to ever play the game, helped me identify and take command of my voice. The unreliable narrator in Chance remains nameless, calls himself “an old weird guy poet.” Here’s the novel’s opening paragraph:

Okay, here’s the deal. This is a book about a baseball player. Do you care? If you don’t care, read it anyway. There’s some other stuff in it too. Chance Caine. Recognize the name? Well, he wants me, an old weird guy poet, to write his story. Why? I’ll tell you why. He has made rhythmic marks on paper himself. Some of his efforts aren’t even dreck. You can judge for yourself in a minute. He took a class. I gave him an A. So one day he comes to me with a load of scrapbooks, diaries, videos. He says, “Here’s my life. How would you like to write my book?” I say, “The thing I make will be the thing I make.” I talk like that on purpose sometimes.…

And I was hooked. The cadence, the tight sentences, the confidence, it’s all there. I stole that last bit of dialogue (“The thing I make, etc.”), paraphrased it, and often use it to lead my writing bio. Mr. Shilstone now writes fantasy. I think Chance (Breakaway Books) was his only published non-fantasy effort. I’ve read the novel multiple times. I’m paging through it right now. Damn, now you’re in trouble. When did you say you wanted this interview back?

2)  Your new novel, Jane’s Baby, is published by Intrigue Publishing. How did you come to work with them?

Answer: Because they were one of only two publishers willing to take a chance, on me, as under-published as I am, and on a controversial topic like women’s reproductive rights. The characters have biases on both sides of the argument, but the novel does not try to solution it. It’s a crime thriller with plenty of action (explosives, flamethrowers, and something called a “smart rifle,” a real-life firearm that makes nearly everyone a sharpshooter from long distances), and it uses abortion rights and its politics as a backbone, rather than having it be a heady abortion rights treatise with a crime story as chaser. But let’s be honest about this process. I have an agent. She saw this novel as having great potential, something she felt the Big 5 traditional publishers and the major independents should have jumped on, except they didn’t. I dunno; there’s humor in the novel, the two main characters playing off each other, a kind of love/hate buddy friendship that grew out of their respective dislike of each other’s pro football teams. Maybe the humor and the gunplay around such gravitas was something these larger publishers struggled with. Maybe I was too cavalier about it. Or maybe I flew too close to the sun, using too serious a topic for perceived reader demographics. Or maybe none of them had the balls to take a chance on an unknown author, even though the premise was a good one, i.e., what happened to the Jane Roe baby, the subject of the controversial Supreme Court decision. Thank goodness for small presses. If they see something they like, they take chances and go for it.

3)  The action in Jane’s Baby ranges over half the United States, from Texas to Washington, D.C. You also give very complete descriptions of those locations. Did you actually travel to these sites to research them?

Answer: To Texas or the locations between Texas and Virginia, no. Google Earth, Google Maps, websites like Planned Parenthood provided enough detail to get it done. I’ve been to Falls Church, Virginia and DC enough because my daughter and her family live near there, but no visits were made there specifically for research. Gotta love the Internet. For research, it’s the writer’s best friend.

4)  Your book features characters of diverse backgrounds. While your protagonist is a white male, about half your characters are female, and you have African-American and Native American characters. Did you have any concerns about writing characters of different races and genders?

Answer: Yes and no. And you didn’t mention that two of the major characters have significant physical challenges to overcome. My former enlisted Marine character has a mild case of Tourette Syndrome (coprolalia, obscene language; copropraxia, obscene tics). His sportswriter sidekick is an African American male dwarf who carries mental and physical scars from his childhood, but is relatively well adjusted now that he’s in his forties. The Native American characters were appropriate for the novel, considering Norma McCorvey, who died in 2017, the real Jane Roe of Roe v Wade infamy, was part Caddo-Comanche. I had no resources regarding indigenous people, although I did communicate directly with iconic singer-songwriter-social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, born on a Piapot Cree reservation, regarding her Sesame Street appearances in the 1970s, asking for and receiving her feedback on some of my prose. She was most gracious. Hopefully my Native American characters ring true. Regarding writing female characters: I have writer peers in two writers groups, many of them women. I’ve been chided many times for not getting it right. We learn from our mistakes. Hopefully that education takes place before the work gets published. These characters will be seen in two more (hopefully published) novels. One comment I did receive from my request for feedback is that people who are not white, not male, not average-heighted, and not heterosexual do not want to be called/labeled by their differences. They simply want, and should, be called “human beings.”

5)  You have some nicely cinematic scenes in Jane’s Baby, from an abandoned Segway thumping around in a trash dumpster to a bloody grand finale. Did you write this book with a film version in mind?

Answer: I love movies. Always have. I see as many as possible. Tons. In theaters, via Netflix, Roku, even HBO when my provider runs free promotions; too freakin’ much to subscribe to everything available, know what I’m saying? I can’t say I write cinematically on purpose, but I’ve often heard that scenes and plots and topics and characters I choose to write about do seem to grab readers much like a film does. So I’d say it’s more the choice of material that puts me in a cinematic way when developing scenes. I do admit that when I’m writing I’m always of the mindset that I want it all on film. A confession: I’ve tried to no avail to find a way of interesting my namesake the very durable actor Chris Bauer (True Blood, The Wire, The Deuce, 8MM, etc.) in my novels and short stories as properties for sale. Add to that, I’m Facebook buds with an excellent local musician named Chris Bauer. So the way I see it, making movies that would have the name Chris Bauer in the credits multiple times (“Starring Chris Bauer, Directed by Chris Bauer, Novel by Chris Bauer, Music by Chris Bauer”), all different people, would be a hoot. So yes, I want that, a lot. So if you have friends who know actor Chris Bauer, tell ’em I’ve got some stuff I’d like him to look at.

6)  You’ve been doing about one public event per week to publicize Jane’s Baby. Do you feel they’ve been successful? What advice can you give for holding a publicity tour?

Answer: Absolutely they’ve been successful! First, you’re there to sell some books. You never sell as many as you’d like, but it’s all good. I did well enough at two Barnes & Noble signings for each storeowner to a) tell me that I did do well and b) say they’d love for me to come back. It wasn’t a Tony-Conaway-fiction phenomenon kind of well, and it never will be –  you’re a machine, Tony – but it was a respectable start. I have a few more signings and readings set up, and I’m looking to book more, of course, anywhere someone will have me. Second, I hand out a flyer about the novel to interested but shy folks at signings, perhaps getting a sale later. One outlet I’d love to tap is the book club circuit. Book clubs are quite popular, and are overwhelmingly populated with female readers. So if any of your readers have book clubs, I’d love to contact them. Have books, will travel… and will answer questions, listen to feedback, comments, even debate topics. (Case in point: My new WIP is sure to cause controversy because it’s about gun control and the gun lobby.) I want to hang out wherever the book club organizers hang out, to let them know Jane’s Baby the novel is out there, as well as Jane Roe’s real baby might also be out there, now forty-eight years old, with perhaps a personal story that’s even more exciting and thought-provoking than the one I tell in the novel.

7)  One last question: Do you, like your protagonist, prefer Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks? (Personally, I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing and editing in Starbucks. I’ve never managed to work successfully in a Dunkin Donuts.

Answer: Dunkin Donuts coffee forever! Starbucks coffee? Nope, nope, nope. IMO – I know this won’t endear me to some readers – it tastes like motor oil laced with tobacco, and you have to pay more for the agony of that experience. But your question is about DD coffee shops vs. Starbucks coffee shops. There’s no contest. Starbucks as a writing venue is pro level, DD is more like a high school cafeteria. The only problem is that the Starbucks folks frown when I bring my delicious savory cup of DD into the shop. I haven’t been tossed out because of it… yet. But I do live near Philly, and based on a recent, well-documented event in my fair hometown, where some non-paying customers were asked to leave a Starbucks, the environment became a bit less accommodating to non-Starbucks customers. (In fairness Starbucks did address this poor behavior and has attempted to correct it. But I still Like Dunkin Donuts coffee better.)

Thank you for your time, Chris.  You can follow Chris on social media here:

And this Facebook page for Jane’s Baby:

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