NEAL CONAN, host:
Christopher Moore writes what he calls big books. In "Fool," his most recent, he rewrote King Lear to add lots more sex and comedy. And what he describes his little books, and his latest is just out, "Bite Me: A Love Story," which is the third and maybe last part of a series on vampires and supermarket clerks in San Francisco.
And he's hard at work on another big book, a forthcoming tale that focuses on the French impressionist. We don't know exactly what it's about yet, though I'm willing to bet that sex and comedy figure in. We do know the working title, "Sacre Bleu."
He usually joins us from his home in Hawaii. He happens to be in Washington today, so he joins us in Studio 3A. If you'd like to talk with him about his work or about the fiction business, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Christopher Moore, it's great to meet you in person.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER MOORE (Author, "Bite Me: A Love Story"): It's amazing to be here in person. It's my brush with fame, Neal.
CONAN: And it's a very Hawaii-like day for you here.
Mr. MOORE: Mm-hmm.
CONAN: So what's the difference between a big book and a little book?
Mr. MOORE: Most of the time it's research. When I do a book like "Lamb" or "Fool," it may take me as much as two and a half years to put the research together to craft the book, where these books that are - the vampire books that are set in San Francisco, I live now fulltime in San Francisco, but part of the time Hawaii before. And I've known it for years. I've known the characters for years. So they take a lot less time to write, basically. That's the difference. But in - and also ambition.
You know, a vampire book is not a book to be the vehicle for big themes and stuff, where sometimes when you're dealing with art or the life of Christ or the oeuvre of Shakespeare, you know, it's a little more ambitious.
CONAN: I was going to say "Lamb." We're all familiar with the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Biff.
Mr. MOORE: Right. Exactly.
CONAN: And so, that took a lot. Did you have to go to the Holy Land to do your research?
Mr. MOORE: I did. I spent about a month in Palestine and wandered around looking at old stuff, and wrecked temples, and pretty much what they have over there. And strangely enough, even though it was 2,000 years later, it really helped inform the text of the book. But that sort of thing, you know, it takes a lot of work compared to, okay, here's a bunch of funny people, you know, doing a vampire script, which is what the littler books are, as they were.
CONAN: Littler. And it's not like they trip off the page easily.
Mr. MOORE: No. It's still - you have to craft the comedy. And I have another -I took on crafting and other specialized diction for my teenage Goth girl who narrates part of this book. And strange as it may seem, the voice of a 16-year-old Goth girl doesn't come that naturally to me, so.
CONAN: A middle-age white guy, yeah.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. So I had to actually find her diction, you know, and create it the same way I had to for my "Fool" in the Shakespeare book.
CONAN: Because he had to speak Elizabethan.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. An Elizabethan that was comprehensible to a normal American, you know? So this one was just looking at a lot of Web pages and trying to figure out how this kid would talk, sort of this eccentric, mopey(ph), perky Goth.
CONAN: And it's important to get that voice right.
Mr. MOORE: Well, it's a big vehicle for the funny stuff, you know? And so - and as I said, I have nothing to base it on, so it was just, you know, sort of being creepy and lurking around teenage...
CONAN: Web sites.
Mr. MOORE: ...Goth sites, yeah.
CONAN: So, yeah. You're the one they'd expect to knock on the door. Yes, exactly.
MR. MOORE: Yeah. My girlfriends would look at the screen and go, the FBI is going to bust through the door any minute, aren't they? And I go, oh, no. I'm not. I'm just lurking. I'm not interacting, you know? I'm just being a creepy perv watching what everybody is saying to each other.
CONAN: It is important in the novel business, if you're a book writer, your publishers want product.
Mr. MOORE: They do. And they - and generally, a sort of the conventional wisdom, I think, for people who write, I guess what I do is pop fiction, is to get a book every year. And I can't write a book like "Lamb" or "Fool" every year. It just takes too much research and craft. So what I proposed several years ago, was to do these books that are a little bit less ambitious and a little bit faster to write, not necessarily less crafted, and then disperse them with this big research project that I'm not sure I can do at all. I think the first time we talked, I just written a Christmas book.
Mr. MOORE: And that was basically the first of the littler books.
CONAN: The littler books, yeah.
Mr. MOORE: And they're physically littler, too. There's - you know, there's like two inches less paper, you know?
CONAN: And it is - I read a quote from somebody who did an interview with you, and said, we forget about this aspect that it's a business. And that a lot of the times, we look at this book and we tend to revere a writer's affliction and hold them up as, you know, as great artists - and many of them are - I'd like to think that there's one here in this room.
Mr. MOORE: Oh, thank you.
CONAN: I haven't written any fiction. And the - nevertheless, it's a business. You have to get a product out.
Mr. MOORE: Well, you know, I think that that maybe I'm sort of revealing what's going on backstage by saying that, because, you know, you're not supposed to talk about it much. But the fact is, as when you're trying to break in as a fiction writer, I mean, my goal always was, I'd like to make a living at this.
Mr. MOORE: And then once, you know, someone buys one of your books, you think, oh, well, I have to keep writing books and keep - continue to be paid for them. And publishers, as soon as they think that you're a viable commodity, are going to say, yes, and you need to do them on a schedule. So there's a - there's just...
CONAN: And we want books very much like your last book, because that sold.
Mr. MOORE: Right, exactly. And it's tough, because I don't want to write the same book over and over and over again. So a lot of times, it's - I have to ask - and my publishers have been very good about this - I have to ask them, okay, it's a leap of faith. I'm going to write a funny book about French impressionists. And trust me, I can do it. And then I go, oh, my God, I can't -I don't know if I can do this.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Sunday in the park with Chris?
Mr. MOORE: Mm-hmm. Yeah, something like that.
CONAN: Something like that. Why French impressionists?
Mr. MOORE: You know, on book tour - another, you know, another inside baseball kind of question. When you're on book tour, you know, you maybe have two hours in a city.
Mr. MOORE: And I've been touring nationally for maybe 10 years. And I - you get really tired of talking about yourself and listening to yourself. And you can go to a museum in Chicago or Los Angeles or New York or here in D.C. and look at great art, and it's so not about you. And you just get in this great headspace of sort of being beyond yourself, and everything sort of takes on the aesthetic, for me, of looking like art for a few hours. And it's a great place to me, and it's a great break. And I had done this for 10 years.
And then my Midwestern Calvinist upbringing manifested itself and says, well, you have to do something with this. It's functional. I thought, well, I'll write a book about that. And so I proposed it to my publisher, and then I thought, as I just said, I have no idea if I can do this. And I still don't, even though I'm working on it already.
CONAN: Do you - is there some aspect to this that every once in a while, you look at - you can think of it as, you know, I'm faking it and they're going to catch me?
Mr. MOORE: Absolutely, and virtually, every single day. But what makes me feel good, when I was writing my first book, I was reading the journal called "Working Days" by John Steinbeck...
Mr. MOORE: ...which he was writing when he was writing "Grapes of Wrath." And at the time he's writing "Grapes of Wrath," his magnum opus, and "Of Mice and Men" is getting rave views on Broadway and "The Long Valley" is coming out and it's going to be a best-seller, and he's saying, I am a complete phony. I have no idea with what I'm doing, and one day, they're going to - everybody's going to find me out. And I thought, that's exactly what my journal says.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: And so I can be a successful writer, too.
CONAN: We're talking with Christopher Moore. His most recent book is called "Bite Me: A Love Story." 800-989-8255. Email is email@example.com.
Julie's on the line from San Jose.
Mr. MOORE: Hi, Julie.
JULIE (Caller): Hi, Christopher. I just - a quick compliment, and then a question. I really, really love "Lamb." It was really just profound and opened my eyes to religion. As someone who's very skeptical of religion, it really made me appreciate why people would find that of value and then go towards a faith. So I really thank you for that. It was just a wonderful book. And so funny and just delightful to read, and I learned a lot.
Mr. MOORE: Thank you.
JULIE: And I'm just curious what inspired you to write a book like that. It was so different than anything I'd ever ready before.
Mr. MOORE: You know, I had seen a special on PBS called "From Jesus to Christ." And all these archeologists and theologians had been interviewed, and sort of the thesis of what they said is that 30 years of Christ's life hadn't been told in the gospels. And I thought, well, you know, somebody ought to write that. And I don't know anything about theology or history. I should be that somebody. And that was really how I went about doing it.
Mr. MOORE: And I write comedy, so it was going to be a comedy.
CONAN: It's Jesus: the early years.
Mr. MOORE: Mm-hmm. It's basically what it is.
JULIE: Oh, yeah. Well, it was just great. So I...
Mr. MOORE: Well, thank you so much, yeah.
JULIE: Keep it up. Thanks.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Julie. Here's an email from Ray in St. Paul: When will we hear more from Catch? I find him to be one of your most interesting characters, and I miss him dearly.
Mr. MOORE: Catch was a demon in my first novel. He reappeared in "Lamb" some years later. I never know when the character's going to come back. Very often, it's by request. I'll get, you know, a thousand emails, saying, you know, we really want to see Roberto the fruit bat.
Mr. MOORE: And I happen to be, at the time, writing a Christmas book, and I think, well, sure. I'll put him in a Christmas book. So I'm one of the few novelists that works by request.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So your characters do have a way of reappearing.
Mr. MOORE: They do. And I like the idea that they're wandering around out there on their own without my supervision a lot of times, sort of like puppets without strings. I just like the idea that there's life going on after they're created.
CONAN: Let's talk with James, James with us from Boston.
JAMES (Caller): Hi. Mr. Moore, I'm a really big fan. I just had another question about "Lamb," if that's all right.
Mr. MOORE: That's fine.
JAMES: And I wouldn't self-describe as a particularly religious person, but I remember being really struck by your preface - by your preface kind of explaining to the people who are religious why they shouldn't be offended or why, you know, they should kind of take the book in a light manner.
Mr. MOORE: Mm-hmm.
JAMES: I'm just kind of wondering - I'll take my response off the air. I'm just kind of wondering, what's your response from people who are Christian or just people who are religious in general?
Mr. MOORE: Well, you know, I think we anticipated it. And when I was writing that afterword - it was sort of, I think, 20 pages of just kidding - I thought that there would be...
CONAN: Don't sue.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. I thought - no, it wasn't so much sue. I just thought it would be me and Salman Rushdie in a Holiday Inn somewhere in our boxers so that you couldn't see that we had weapons. But it was - I thought there might be some backlash.
As it turns out - you know, now it's almost 10 years later, I've got 30, 40,000 emails about that book. And almost universally, people got it. They understood it wasn't an attack book. It wasn't a mean-spirited. It was simply trying to tell a story in a humorous way, and understand what it was like, you know, historically for these characters.
And so I think everybody is surprised that there wasn't a backlash. But maybe it was a self-correcting group, that anybody that would be offended by it saw the title and said I probably shouldn't read that.
Mr. MOORE: So for one time, our faith was borne out, and people weren't morons.
CONAN: James, thanks very much. Oh, I think James took his answer off the air.
Mr. MOORE: Right. (unintelligible).
CONAN: So he's gone already. So, anyway, recurring characters, Abby Normal, the Goth girl...
Mr. MOORE: Right.
CONAN: ...who's indeed a recurring character...
Mr. MOORE: Right.
CONAN: ...and she is getting bigger and bigger in this series.
Mr. MOORE: She sort of took off. She was the best friend of a character in my book, "A Dirty Job," which is my comedy about death. And then she sort of narrated part of "You Suck" - which was the second vampire book - as a minion of the vampires. And then this one, she just took over. And it was very much her voice that made it take over. She's just funny. She's hard to write for me, but you guys - you don't need to know that.
CONAN: We don't need to know - in other words, it's a struggle to get her voice right.
Mr. MOORE: It really is. There's a lot of craft to it, because everything she says has to be crafted in that special diction that, as I said, doesn't really come that naturally to me. But it's not - I'm not supposed to show the effort, so forget I said that.
CONAN: Forget it. It was easy. He whipped it out in a week.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah.
CONAN: It's called "Bite Me." Christopher Moore is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go to Chuck, Chuck calling from Kansas City.
CHUCK (Caller): Yes, Christopher. A huge fan of mine - of yours.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: Right back at you.
CHUCK: Yeah. Thanks a lot. And I don't think you'd get away with boxers. I'd probably be more like a clear plastic jumpsuit tapered in the back.
Mr. MOORE: Okay. Okay.
CHUCK: I was wondering if you had background in biology, just from reading "Fluke" and even "Practical Demonkeeping" with the character Gabe and of course "Island of the Sequined Love Nun." All of them seem to have a real strong background in biology, or as a biologist.
Mr. MOORE: Well, you know, I don't. I have that special sort of novelist body of knowledge which is extraordinarily wide and very, very shallow. So I can usually answer the questions on Jeopardy, but never the bonus question. And I happen to - I'm fortunate enough to be friends with biologists. And so - and I sort of cultivated those friendships. When I was researching "Fluke," I spent a couple of seasons with marine mammal biologists in Hawaii, which, you know, is not a bad job, with humpback whales. And a good friend of mine was a field biologist in Central California, which is where the character came from, of the terrestrial biologist that's studying rats and the character Gabe.
So - and I always refer to them as action nerds. And so, any of the biology that pretty much - that comes from a character point of view came from friends of mine that I met, or people I'd become friends with because I was doing research on books. And it's really nice - the compliment is that scientists like my books. They go, that's what it's like to do the work. And you can't get a better compliment than that.
CONAN: Chuck, thanks very much. And it's interesting, because there's a fair amount of vampire science in the vampire books.
Mr. MOORE: Well, but most of that science is completely made up.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: I got that. But you asked yourself some - it's internally consistent.
Mr. MOORE: Well, you know, for me, I'm a writer. And so a lot of it is about language. And so one of the things that occurred to me is if you had all these jacked up senses, you wouldn't have words for what fog sounds like...
Mr. MOORE: ...because we, as humans, don't perceive that. And so a lot of the book - the science in this book is more about how you can't really function as a creature of heightened senses and still be verbal, because you - there are no words for the, what you're feeling, seeing, hearing and so forth. And so it's a little - it's very much pseudo and theoretical science. But sure, there's enough in there that it sounds like it could be (unintelligible).
CONAN: It sounds like it might have been...
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. It's good to be science-y. Yeah.
CONAN: But there's also - these are predators, and they act like predators.
Mr. MOORE: Right. Right. And they sort of - they take the weak and the sick, and that's their...
CONAN: Cull the herd. Yeah.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. And they have senses...
CONAN: The herb happens to be us, but, you know...
Mr. MOORE: Exactly. And certain - very heightened senses, they can sense people. Like in the first book, it turns out that every one of the victims they find was terminally ill, and that's because that's how they've evolved over the years. So, yeah, it's sort of a little mix of science and magic. I think, probably, Whitley Strieber gets credit for being the first guy to throw the theory of evolution in with vampire fiction. So that's - he's the master of that.
CONAN: Let's go next to Diana, Diana with us from Bakersfield.
DIANA (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. I am actually calling, kind of on behalf of my son, who is in school today. He's 17, and a couple of years ago, I introduced him to you through "Stupidest Angel." He laughed all the way through it. And then he read "Lamb," and I think he's read almost everything else that you've written. And I really appreciated that when he emailed, you responded and had a little bit of chat back and forth. And then he introduced your books to some monk friends of ours. And they still have "Lamb," and they still have "Stupidest Angel" up in Big Sur, California today.
Mr. MOORE: Are they Buddhist monks or Franciscan...
DIANA: They are Catholic monks.
Mr. MOORE: Catholic monks. Interesting.
DIANA: Catholic monks - yeah.
Mr. MOORE: Well, thank you for you call and your comment. I'm as sort of baffled as you might be. I had an event in the Midwest a couple of years ago, and there were three gentlemen at it in different color robes, satin sort of grand robes. And I thought, oh, boy. Here we go. And when they got up to the signing table, they said, we teach at different seminaries, and we've been teaching your book "Lamb" in our seminaries...
Mr. MOORE: ...in either comparative literature or comparative theology courses.
CONAN: That's a scary thought.
Mr. MOORE: I know. And I - you didn't want to take them aside and say, you know, you guys know I didn't know anything about any of these subjects, right?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: Because they were really dressed up. But it's been a great, sort of, nice surprise, as I said. And it's nice when - certainly it isn't an evangelical book. It just sort of says, you know, if you go through all these different disciplines that existed at the time, that you'll come to the conclusion that we probably ought to be kind to one another. Yeah.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. It's sort of the big duh of cosmology.
CONAN: You can't - all the way around to the golden rule.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. Exactly.
CONAN: Wow. Boy, that's profound.
DIANA: No, it's not.
CONAN: Okay. Diana, thanks very much for the phone call.
DIANA: Thank you so much.
CONAN: We just have a few seconds left. What can you tell us about "Sacre Bleu"? Who's going to be the main character?
Mr. MOORE: Well, I'm - the main character will be fictional. But the people that surround him - Toulouse-Lautrec plays a big part. And...
CONAN: Well, not a big part.
Mr. MOORE: Well...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: A short, but large part. And Renoir teaches my main character how to draw, and Pizarro. And it's just sort of - Montmartre, the mesa(ph) in Paris from about 1863 to about 1900. And the rest of it, I can't tell you because I don't know.
CONAN: I hope you'll come on and talk to us about it when you finish it.
Mr. MOORE: Thanks so much for having me, Neal.
CONAN: Christopher Moore's latest book is "Bite Me: A Love Story." You can read Abby's take on the pros and cons of vampire life - where the hours suck and whatnot - in an excerpt on our Web site. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And Christopher Moore joined us today from Studio 3A.
Tomorrow, we'll be talking about the new nuclear posture assessment - the NPR nuclear posture - ah, it's - believe me. I'll get the letters right tomorrow.
Join us for that. I'm Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.