The book tower of mirth, or Christopher Moore interviewed

Those decent folk over at Orbit are currently republishing the entire ouevre of Christopher Moore with A Dirty Job and Lamb. Moore is great at looking at the lighter side of life but some serious thought goes in under the farce. What can I say? I spent the weekend laughing my socks off with these books…
Who, or what, are your influences?

Early on I was influenced by the stories of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, with no small contribution by Mad magazine. Later I was more inspired than influenced by Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, and Tom Robbins. On into my career, my main influence remains John Steinbeck. (I know, who would have thought it? But he did write some seriously funny stuff.)

Dirty Job has just appeared in this country and Lamb is about to come out. What can you tell us about the books?

Well, I tend to occillate between a theme-driven book and a plot-driven book. Lamb and Dirty Job both happen to be theme-driven books. Lamb is the story of the untold years of the life of Jesus, as told by his best friend Biff, who was written out of the Gospels because he was a smartass. It’s my exploration of the different religions of the time, as well as story of friendship. A Dirty Job more or less is the story of a hypochondriac who gets the job of being Death. I was the primary caretaker for my mother when she was dying from cancer a few years ago, and soon after than I was secondary caretaker for my girlfriend’s mother, who also died of cancer. I felt that I had something to say about death and dying, and how we never really seem to address it in Western culture, despite it’s ubiquity and inevitability.

Both Lamb and Dirty Job combine the quirky with some fairly deep issues. What made you change from the entirely madcap to that combination?

Well, it wasn’t as abrupt a change as it seems in the UK. I’ve explored issues of identity (In Coyote Blue, my second book.) as well as taken on complex ideas like evolutionary biology (Fluke), but since the books are coming out here all at once, it seems as if I’ve just woken up. As I said, I’ve always tried to do a theme-driven book followed by a plot-driven book. As my career goes along, I try to address subjects that I haven’t really explored before, to keep challenging myself. Each time I start a theme-driven book I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull it off. Consequently, I do some of my best work, I think, in those. When I go on to write a plot-driven book, like Stupidest Angel, which will come out later this year in the UK, I feel as if I’m “in shape”.

What interested you about religion as it plays a part in Dirty Job, Lamb and Fluke? How easy is it to find the quirky in it without being absurd?

I’m not really worried about descending into the absurd. There are some things that are patently absurd about religion and death without me pointing them out. I just go for what I think is funny and hope that my readers share my sense of humor. So far it seems to be working.

What struck me was how you focus on the ordinary. How easy is it to focus on that whilst looking for the humorous side and to keep control of it?

Again, I don’t see it as keeping control. It’s just a matter of observing those salient details of life that give a reader a sense of reality, of verisimilitude, to use a pretentious term. Beyond that I just need you to hang on for the ride.

What interests you about San Francisco and its environs where quite a few of your books are set?

It’s just a great city. It’s a city of light and dark, of contrast, it can be breathtakingly beautiful or ominous, depending on the weather and neighborhood. And for an American city, it gives you a great sense of history, from the Chinese, to pirates, to robber barons, to gold-diggers (both literal and figerative), there’s just a lot of color in San Francisco. It’s also where I choose to live, so it’s convenient for research.

Your earlier work reads like some B-movies. Are you into creature features and the associated culture?

Absolutely. I love B-movies and campy horror and sci-fi flicks. I’ve had some real fun with the conventions of the horror genre, both film and literature, and I suppose I’ll keep dipping in that inkwell as long as I find it fun. I think we all have a fascination with monster flicks when we are kids, I just never grew out of that phase.

Do you think that there is a beast as American fantasy, and if so, what might its characteristics be?

No idea. I don’t read most of what’s considered fantasy. Unicorns and dragons just don’t do it for me, and I’m bored to tears with wizards. What’s more interesting is the question, “Is there an American mythos from which fantasy can emerge? I think there is, indeed. There’s a sense of possibility that transcends the class system of many European countries. There’s an underlying hopefulness that transcends our current political reality (which, admittedly, seems hopelessly mired in stupidity and greed), as well as a willingness to absorb the stories and cultures of other. The very homogeneous nature of America seems like a good base for fantasy, if only because it can act as a canvas for the color and myths of other cultures. I typically explore the myths of American sub-cultures in my own work, and I never seem to be at a loss for material. In other words, the key to American fantasy is assimilation. Resistance is futile…

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a comedy set in medieval England with “Shakespearian overtones”. I’m finding the English idiom challenging, and that’s receiving more attention than it probably should, but the Brits have such a great tradition of literary comedy that I have to try to work in that arena. We’ll see how it goes…

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