Man of Mystery: George C. Chesbro

In the noblest of fashions, George C. Chesbro has continued to provide readers with extraordinary and intriguing stories, mysterious and in-depth characters, and one of the most read detective series: Mongo. Chesbro ranks with the top mystery writers of all time, such as Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

From back in 1976 with his “King’s Gambit” through to 2004 with his short-story collection “Strange Prey,” he has taken the fiction market by storm. His unique story lines offer a thrilling crossover mixture of mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi.

Prior to his success as an author, George worked at a variety of jobs, including 17 years as a Special Ed teacher for mentally challenged children. He also worked during the lean, start-up writing times, as a night security guard and as a teacher of severely disturbed, very dangerous children.

A Syracuse University grad that barely made it through his school years due to deep depression and self-doubt, he turned to writing as a form of escapism. He is now author of over 25 novels and over 100 short stories and articles within a span of 27 years. Quite the accomplishment! With over a quarter of a century of written entertainment, George continues to thrill millions of readers with his distinct style of writing.

Today George is still at the top of his form studiously working on new ideas for his fans. He has graciously taken some time to answer our questions and sharing his personal insights on writing.

IN: Why do you have works written under the name David Cross as well as George Chesbro? Is there a clear difference in the books under each name?

GC: The Chant Sinclair books were targeted at a mass market paperback audience. I created the character, but the publisher wanted the option to continue the series indefinitely with other writers who would produce the books under contract. David Cross was the agreed upon “house name” that all of the books, and hopefully there would be dozens, would be published under. Obviously, things did not work out, since there were only three books. The publisher deemed them too “cerebral” for the intended audience, and this was probably a correct judgment. When they were reissued by Apache Beach, I used my own name.

The David Cross series began life with the character Veil Kendry, with the novels “Veil” and “Jungle of Steel and Stone,” but these were judged by the publisher to be way too cerebral, and were rejected. Since I was rather pleased with “Veil” and “Jungle” the way they were, I decided to start from scratch rather than try to rewrite those. The result was the Chant Sinclair series. The two Veil novels eventually found another publisher. Discerning readers will note many similarities between Veil and Chant.

IN: In your experience, how has the publishing industry changed over the past 30 years?

GC: The mid-list author is an endangered species, and the shrinkage of markets for short stories has made it even more difficult for new, unagented writers to break in. On the bright side, on-demand publishing has enabled authors to keep books that would otherwise be out of print available to the public.

IN: How did you get started as a writer? What were some of your first projects, and how long was it between beginning your first piece of fiction and its publication?

GC: I began writing at the age of 20, while I was in college. Seven years and several hundred thousand words later, I published my first piece, a poem, for which I received $1.00. My first published short story followed soon after.

IN: You’re writing has been categorized as “Tech-Noir.” What does that mean specifically to you? How do you describe or categorize your writing?

GC: I don’t categorize my work, although I’m aware of the fact that my disregard for certain genre conventions is disquieting to many readers and critics of traditional mystery fiction. The label Tech-Noir was first applied to my novels by a college professor, and I’m not sure what it means. It probably has something to do with the fact that science plays a large part in many of my novels, especially in “The Beasts of Valhalla,” which represented a huge turning point in my approach to writing so-called detective novels.

IN: It strikes me that you write because you have to. Is that accurate, and if so, what do you personally get out of writing? Why must you write?

GC: I write because it makes me feel whole. Creating anything is about alleviating pain and/or anxiety. Writing fills a lot of painful cavities. Writers of fiction are never models of mental health. Happy people don’t write fiction; it’s too hard, and there are far too many more pleasant things to do with one’s time.

IN: In your article “The More Things Change” from February 2000, you write, “It’s the problematic talent thing that makes the successful writing of publishable fiction the darkest and most difficult of the arts.” What do you mean exactly and, now seven years on, do you still believe this to be true?

GC: It will always be true. Talent in all the other arts manifests itself at an early age; in grammar school, everyone knows who can sing, dance, or draw and who can’t. Talented youngsters may be encouraged by teachers or other mentors, and then go on to train for a career in the arts. As they mature they may join communities of like-minded souls who further encourage and console.

There is constant feedback from childhood on to indicate whether or not an individual may have a talent to nurture and peddle in the marketplace. None of this is true for the fiction writer. Talent for fiction writing cannot be taught. There are no writing prodigies, and joining a group of fellow non-published writers is likely to be more damaging than fruitful. The only critic whose opinion counts is an editor who’ll buy your work, and most feedback a beginner gets is rejection. Writing is an “alone” profession; like mushrooms, fiction grows best in the dark.

With no early feedback other than rejection, it is impossible for a struggling fiction writer to know if he/she actually has talent. Therefore, it is an unquenchable desire to write that must be trusted; if you want to do it bad enough, and keep at it, you probably have talent. Combine talent with discipline, perverse perseverance, and, if you have your neuroses lined up right, you probably have a good shot at publishing something.

IN: How do you approach the creation of a new story? Are you strategic and methodical, random and adventurous, or a little of both?

GC: Writing fiction is a blue collar profession; you go to work every day and do your job. I get lots of ideas from the newspapers, and I keep lots of clippings to pore over when I’m searching for “inspiration.” If, how, and when such an idea may grow into an actual novel is a mystery, in a manner of speaking; it either grows or it doesn’t, but your job is to show up every day to water and otherwise tend to these seeds of ideas and see what happens.

IN: How did you decide to create the character Mongo, giving him the distinction of being a dwarf?

GC: When I began succeeding in publishing mystery short stories, I started searching for a continuing character, a private investigator, I could use in a series. Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, et al, had all been done to perfection, and I didn’t want to be imitative. The notion of having a dwarf as my main character was just a random idea that popped into my mind as a kind of joke, and it seemed outlandishly bizarre. (I mean, who was going to come in off the street and hire a dwarf private detective? Where were his cases going to come from? What editor in his right mind was going to buy a story featuring a dwarf private detective?) Figuring that trying to water this idea was a waste of time, I tried to dismiss it from my mind. It wouldn’t go. So I started a story “The Drop.” I planned to make a satire of detective fiction. Halfway into it, I was no longer amused. The character, Mongo, had touched me. Like everyone else, his was a struggle for dignity and to be taken seriously in a world that could often seem overwhelming. I decided that I would take him seriously, even if nobody else did. For this small courtesy, Mongo has generously repaid me many times over.

IN: There is a gap in publishing of your books between 1979 and 1985. What happened for you over those five years? Also, you switched publishers in 1985. Was this related?

GC: The bottom had fallen out of the publishing industry, and many writers were in trouble. I had given up my career in Special Education and went to work as a night security guard in a rock-and-roll motel to pay the bills. I wrote my way out of there with “Veil.” I didn’t so much switch publishers as I did find another publisher.

IN: Your latest book has not yet been picked up by a U.S. publisher, but it has been published in French by Rivages. Why does this happen?

GC: “Lord of Ice and Loneliness,” like “The Beasts of Valhalla,” is not your average detective novel and, like “Beasts” and “Shadow of a Broken Man,” it probably strays over a lot of genre boundaries. I was fortunate to already have a French publisher who thought the book was just dandy. In our political and cultural climate, in a rabidly religious nation where at least as many if not more people believe in virgin births as in evolution, publishers may have thought it would be a bit problematic to publish a detective novel that posits the apocalyptic consequences of the simultaneous discovery of a long-extinct sentient reptile species with the appearance of an apparent godhead who not only performs miracles and answers prayers but does it on his own television show. A “Born Again” novel it is not.

All of the Mongo novels have been optioned for film and an adaptation of “An Affair of Sorcerers,” starring Peter Dinklage, is in the works. If this project comes to fruition, you may see “Lord” published in the United States.

IN: Would you advise an author who is not getting picked up nationally to look for a foreign publisher? If so, how do you find and solicit these publishers?

GC: Foreign sales are usually executed by agents and foreign rights divisions of American publishers, virtually never by writers acting on their own.

IN: When did you launch your website and how important has it been to the advancement of your career?

GC: The site is solely the work of Hunter Goatley, a loyal fan and bosom buddy of Mongo, who started and maintains it. I contribute when asked or where I can. The site has been of immeasurable value to my career, and I will always be grateful to Hunter for his labor of love.

IN: Do you ever read the Message Board postings, and if so, do they influence your work and how?

GC: I do read all the Message Board postings and I occasionally respond if I think it’s appropriate. They don’t influence my work, but they certainly do (usually) give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I have very loyal and kind fans.

IN: What writing projects are on your horizon?

GC: I’m going to work, planting seeds, watering, seeing what may sprout.

IN: Do you have any specific advice for our readers?

GC: Nothing any good is ever written; it’s rewritten.

Bibliography as of June 2007:
Mongo Novels
“Shadow of a Broken Man” – Simon & Schuster, 1977
“City of Whispering Stone” – Simon & Schuster, 1978
“An Affair of Sorcerers” – Simon & Schuster, 1979
“The Beasts of Valhalla” – Antheneum, 1985
“Two Songs this Archangel Sings” – Antheneum, 1987
“The Cold Smell of Sacred Stone” – Antheneum, 1988
“Second Horseman Out of Eden” – Antheneum, 1989
“The Languages of Cannibals” – Mysterious Press, 1990
“In the House of Secret Enemies” – Mysterious Press, 1990
“The Fear in Yesterday’s Rings” – Mysterious Press, 1991
“Dark Chant in a Crimson Key” – Mysterious Press, 1992
“An Incident at Bloodtide” – Mysterious Press, 1993
“Bleeding in the Eye of a Brainstorm” – Simon & Schuster, 1995
“Dream of a Falling Eagle” – Simon & Schuster, 1996

Chant Novels
“Chant” – Jove, 1986
“Chant: Silent Killer” – Jove, 1987
“Chant: Code of Blood” – Jove, 1987

Veil Kendry Novels
“Veil” – Mysterious Press, 1986
“Jungle of Steel and Stone” – Mysterious Press, 1988

Other Novels
“Bone” – Mysterious Press, 1989
“The Golden Child” – Pocket, 1986
“Turn Loose the Dragons” – Ballantine, 1982
“Crying Freeman” – Rivages, 1999
“The King’s Gambit” – New English Library, 1976
“The Keeper” – Apache Books Publications, 2001
“Prism: A Memoir as Fiction” – Apache Books Publications, 2001

Short-Story Collections
“Strange Prey” – Apache Beach Publications, 2004
“Lone Wolves” – Apache Beach Publications, 2003

First published by Inkwell Newswatch (IN)

© Julie Pierce and Julie’s Writing Portfolio, 2005-2011.

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