Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jungle Red Writers welcomes Chris Knopf

ROBERTA: Today JRW is happy to introduce Chris Knopf, author of the Sam Acquillo mystery series, most recently Hard Stop. Welcome Chris! For those readers not familiar with your series, please give us a heads-up on Sam Acquillo. And tell us what life is like in the Hamptons...

CHRIS: Sam is a middle-aged corporate burn-out, who has settled into his late parents' cottage on the edge of the Little Peconic Bay in Southampton, Long Island. He was once a professional boxer, in addition to his career as a trouble-shooter for a big engineering company. So he's not only a good problem solver, he's tough, and unafraid to tackle unsolvable crimes. Sam is also sarcastic, mordant, angry and more than slightly alcoholic, but somehow manages to nurture meaningful relationships with various colorful characters on the East End of Long Island. Sam's world, like mine, is more focused on the regular day-to-day life of the Hamptons than on the showy glitterati featured in the media. The world out here is much more complex and nuanced than our press would suggest, and this is where Sam lives and solves his various mysteries. Still, the Hamptons are an exceptional place, filled with interesting people from all social strata, and wildly beautiful, if you take the time to look around.

ROBERTA: Your series is published by a small press. Can you talk some about the pros and cons of that experience?

CHRIS: Marty and Judy Shepard of the Permanent Press have been very kind and supportive of me. Though a small press, they are nationally known as a quality publisher of exceptional literary fiction. The few mystery writers they've published have all won significant awards and gone on to meaningful careers (Reed Farrel Coleman is a good example.) As one of their authors, I've received a lot of attention from reviewers, which has been helpful in getting the series established. We don't have the distribution of a big publisher, but we're well received by the independents, who still sell a lot of books.

Meanwhile, I've been signed up by St. Martin's to do a spin off series starring a popular character in the Sam books, Jackie Swaitkowski. So I'll get to learn what it's like to be with both a big and small publisher.

ROBERTA: Congratulations on the new series! I don't know how you possibly have time to do all this, but your bio says that in addition to writing, you work full time as partner in a PR firm. First of all, how do you juggle all that? And second, have you used lessons learned in your job to promote your own books?

CHRIS: Our company, Mintz & Hoke, is a marketing communications agency, which means we do advertising, PR, design, branding and all manner of digital communications. I love my job as much as I love writing books, so it's not a big conflict for me to do both, though I do get tired sometimes. I've been able to apply some of what I know from my business to marketing my books, though publishing is so weirdly different from other industries that I usually feel like I have to unlearn my experience more than apply it.

That said, I think being an advertising and PR copywriter for all these years is a distinct advantage, since I have the discipline to write every day, a fluidity of discourse and a gift for bullshit useful when writing fiction.

ROBERTA: We're delighted to have you here today--and the floor is open for comments and questions.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hey--welcome to JR--and congratulations on the new book! (And the new series!)

    Is there a good story on how that happened?

    What will you do with this one--that you didn't do in your first? Any big lessons?

  3. Jackie Swaitkowski, the protagonist of the new series, has always been everyone's favorite regular character in the Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series, so I thought I might know her well enough to get into her head and have her deliver her own story in first person. So the series (beginning with SHORT SQUEEZE) was born the day I wrote the first lines: "I don’t know how to dress. It’s easier to just say, 'Oh, you’re right – this skirt and blouse have no business being together on the same body. That’s what I get for dressing in the dark. I feel that way about my life in general. It doesn’t look very good, but I seem to be missing the specific talent to do anything about it.' I knew then that I had her voice and could keep writing. It’s been fun to write from the perspective of a woman, and the women who read and edit my books have warranted its veracity (with some adjustments). It’s also interesting to look at the world of your base series from the perspective of another character. I very curious to see how the fans of the Sam books will react to the whole thing.

  4. Congratulations on BOTH series, Chris! I love the idea of spinning off a new series with a secondary character. It's something I've thought of doing and will be following with interest.

  5. I'm working on a similar spin-off idea right now--switching over to one of the characters from the advice column mysteries, a male detective. It is fun to start off feeling you already know this character. In fact, it's been harder to write the second voice in the book because there's so much I don't know about her.

    Great idea to check your woman out with women readers Chris!

  6. I just met Sam Acquillo for the first time in "The Last Refuge" and am enjoying the book. It'll be interesting to read how your experience with big and small publishing houses compare. Congratulations on the second series. Sounds great.

  7. Hi Chris,
    Congrats on the new book and th new spinoff series! I think we met and hung out a bit and exchanged war stories at Bouchercon, didn't we?
    Welcome to Jungle Red!

  8. Writing series has its own set of challenges, as you all know. I find one of the biggest is preserving the integrity of the world the main character and his or her entourage inhabit so that regular readers can jump back into a familiar place – but also keeping it fresh and fun for new readers. With a whole separate character doing the narration, you automatically get a lot of fresh material, because it’s from a whole new perspective. But on the other hand, Jackie is one of Sam’s best friends, so their feelings toward their environment aren’t extremely dissimilar. That’s my fond hope, anyway. Also, we know what Jackie looks like and the way she appears to the world courtesy of Sam’s description, but now we get to learn the same things about Sam from her point of view. That was a tricky bit.

  9. Hi Jan. It might have been Bouchercon, or maybe Crime Bake, given our New England slat. Both grest conferences.

  10. Jan: I meant to say:

    "Hi Jan. It might have been Bouchercon, or maybe Crime Bake, given our New England slant. Both great conferences."

    My fingers are far faster than my brain.

  11. Sheila:

    I really hope I can pull off having both a small and a big publisher going at the same time. I believe there are advantages to both, if you're in the right houses. Permanent Press is a very highly regarded publisher of literary fiction, and they very aggressively promote their writers. So this is great for reviews and attention from independent book sellers. Plus I really like them as people, so that’s a bonus. I’ve been with Random House Canada as well, and benefitted greatly from their editorial skills and clout in the marketplace up there. And they’re equally great people, so I’m lucky there as well. I’m brand new to Thomas Dunne, which as part of St. Martin’s, and hence Minotaur, is a very big publisher. Peter Joseph, my editor, has also been great to deal with. I think the main differences will emerge more when the books is out and we go through the launch and marketing phase. I’ll let you know how that goes.

  12. Oh--I love Jackie's voice. Can't wait to read it.

    It's one of the most fascinating things..when a line like that just comes out of your head.

    I'm so embarrassed? frustrated? bummed? that I haven't been to the Hamptons. Yet. Maybe I'll just go via your books.