Monday, August 11, 2014

A Death in Vegas by Christopher Meeks: Interview with Excerpt

 




 
INTERVIEW

Does travel play in the writing of your books?

Travel plays a big role, mainly because stories are about “turns,” which means going from one emotion to another. Turns advance a story—facts don’t. In other words, to describe a character or a setting, which can be important, still does not move the story forward. Action and revelations do. What drives readers is “What happens next?” not “Did she play ‘Stratego’ as a kid?”

We read for emotion. When characters go through change, we experience feelings. To move from one spot to a new one, such as from outside of Hogwarts to inside Hogwarts for the first time, can transform emotions, so “travel” can be significant. Also, usually going to another place is required to get something that the protagonist needs.

For a character to travel to a new city or country can be eye-opening because it can throw the person. For example, in my novel Love at Absolute Zero, my protagonist physicist Gunnar Gunderson, who has rarely traveled outside of Wisconsin, goes to a foreign country for the first time. It’s Denmark. He is crushed at first by all the change. What a character does when in a strange new place reveals a lot.

Tell us about your current release.

After my first two short story collections and my first two novels books essentially used up my biggest, most influential experiences in life, I had to look outside myself. Crime novels interested me. After all, they reveal both the good and the bad of what people do under pressure. The new book, A Death in Vegas, and my previous one, Blood Drama, are crime novels—but far from the usual kind. My protagonists are ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

A Death in Vegas brings us to Patton Burch whose company sells beneficial bugs for organic gardening. At a trade show in Las Vegas, the model he hired to be a lady bug for his booth turns up naked and dead in his hotel suite. He didn’t kill her. The police think he did. Who framed him? Why does the FBI get involved? What does his wife think? These and other questions unspool. I’ve designed it as a page-turner.

What does your wife and family think of your writing career?

Very supportive—starting with my late mother, who was a voracious reader, and loved when I started writing. If I could get her to laugh, I knew I was on the right track. My wife is a librarian—and I’ve made her collection. She usually reads the last draft before it goes off to be published.

I’ve also come to teach creative writing in college, which was a huge leap for me because I’d panic if I had to speak in front of people. Still, I’ve learned a lot as a writer, and I’ve wanted to save others time and pass it on, so I’ve overcome stage fright. In fact, I enjoy teaching. It’s the perfect balance. I can’t be locked up all the time writing. Teaching helps keep me connected to people. It also keeps me in tune with our culture. I learn a lot from my students that way.

How do you describe your writing style?

I love dramatic writing, yet long ago, I learned the absurd and the humorous creep into my stories. It’s just the way I see the world.

What are you passionate about these days?

I’m passionate about a lot because passion must infuse one’s writing. People like reading characters who feel things. No one wants to read a monotone book. I try to live my life similarly—and I’m not saying with crazed emotions or seeking problems. I get caught up in photography is one thing. After being a yearbook and school newspaper photographer in high school, I’ve kept it up. The way the sun catches my wife’s hair, or the way our teenager can scowl or laugh—these are the things I see through my lens. I love traveling, reading, and diving into politics at times. 

How do you react to a bad review of your book?

Early in my career, I’d been a book reviewer for a few newspapers and a theatre critic for nine years with Daily Variety. It was a way to immerse myself in literature and drama—to see and contemplate the good and the bad. I admire and revere good reviewers because I know how hard it is to write a comprehensive review. Customer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are important, but those are not intended to be comprehensive. They’re more about what a person expected and got.

As a professional reviewer, I found very few books or plays were stinkers, and also few were completely magical. I analyzed deeply to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and why. I learned a lot from reviewing, and so what I write, I can picture someone reviewing. I hope to surprise reviewers and all readers, get them involved.

I also know what a subjective field I’m in. It’s not math but about emotions. You can’t please everyone. All I hope for in reviews is the same care I put in writing my book. Reviews with grammar problems or problems in structure or specificity come with the territory. I try not to dwell on less-than-enthusiastic reviews but more revel in things that explain a story well. I’ve learned from top reviewers.  

New York or LA? Why?

I live in L.A. and love it for its weather and its people. My wife and I find New York fun, a Disneyland for adults. I wouldn’t want to live there for its weather, but it’s a great place to visit.

Is the rest of America just “fly over?” I’ve lived in Minnesota, Colorado, and Alabama. Those places had friendly people. When I lived in Alabama, my California plates gave me away, and people would see them and shout “California,” giving a thumbs up. Sometimes I wondered if they missed the beauty of where they lived.

You asked about travel earlier, and places outside of LA and NY interest me.

Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.

It’s about discovery.

What one word best describes you?

Optimistic.

Use no more than two sentences. Why should we read your book?

The surprise and joy in a good story is unlike anything else—perhaps the closest thing to feeling our lives have meaning. Come find the unique qualities, the entertainment and truths, in my stories.

 








Book Details:


Genre: Mystery

Published by: White Whisker Books

Publication Date: August 15, 2014

Number of Pages: 176

ISBN: 978-0-9836329-9-3

Purchase Links:



Synopsis:

In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. He flees to find the answers.




PRAISE FOR A DEATH IN VEGAS:


“With his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Christopher Meeks spins a charming and surprisingly sexy tale of murder, betrayal, and the importance of beneficial insects.”

Mark Haskell Smith, author of Baked and Raw: A Love Story

“I've never, ever wanted to go to Vegas. I don't care if what happens there, stays there. But Christopher Meeks makes me want to go so I can find out who done it. A fun, exciting read, with Chris's usual wonderful writing and great sense of humor.“

Jessica Barksdale Inclan, author of Her Daughter's Eyes and How to Bake a Man.

“Christopher Meeks had me at page three. I couldn’t wait to find out how Patton Burch was going to explain the naked body he woke up to in his Las Vegas hotel room – first to the cops and then to his wife.”
Sam Sattler, Book Chase





Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Under the hotel’s sheets, hands on his chest the way the dearly departed lay, Patton Burch blinked into the void of the ceiling, staring past it to the night before. He smiled. After drinking too much the previous evening, he had still remained the gentleman—except in his dreams where he’d made love to Chatterley. Should he feel guilty? Probably.

He turned. The other side of the bed was now empty. He’d slept so well, best in months, that he hadn’t heard her get up. The sound of the hotel’s shower, gentle as a rain, swept into the room. Chatterley’s clothes, which she’d slept in, lay as if hastily discarded on the floor. What if she was feeling better, amorous, even? He pictured her showering, comfortable in her body that men craned their necks for. The truth of the situation was that he was now sober, and she was young, vulnerable. The last thing she needed was an older guy taking advantage of her.

Patton lifted the sheets and saw his boxers were on. He didn’t remember getting out of his clothes. He did remember how Chatterley had trouble breathing last night, and between the drinking and another shot from her inhaler—a bronchial dilator, she called it—she’d been feeling sick again. She’d thought that strange. “I sometimes get shaky after using it,” she said. “It’s like having too much coffee, but I’ve never felt nauseous like this.” She wanted to close her eyes for a few minutes, so he’d offered his bed. “Thank you,” she said. “I just need to relax and catch my breath.”

That led to her falling deeply asleep on his bed. He let her be. He’d mixed himself another gin gimlet and watched a Star Trek rerun. Captain Picard was on a planet where he had a wife and family. He wasn’t a starship captain anymore but worked as an iron weaver, and no one believed him that there was a space vessel called the Enterprise. He came to love and accept his new family and let go of his past life.

After that, Patton had been too tired and dizzy to stay up. He remembered checking on Chatterley in the bedroom, hearing her breathe steadily and easily. He’d thought he’d just lie on the bed in his clothes, but here he was under the covers. He wasn’t used to drinking, but it was Vegas. Ah, the fantasy of it all: a woman like her in bed with him. But he had to let her go. He loved his wife—and he wasn’t like his father.

He could still smell grapefruit on the sheets. When he was a kid and even skinnier, for breakfast his mother would painstakingly cut each section of grapefruit halves for her family. Each pulpy chunk, cut from its heart wall, could easily be scooped up carousel fashion, one by one, and the sour sweet juice could be slurped. He loved that smell. In his dreams, there was something so pure and innocent about Chatterley’s small tight frame, naked and fruity, that their lovemaking seemed as fun as the first time he’d floated down a freshly snowed hill on a sled. In dreams, we get what we need.

Chatterley was showering now. Maybe he should step out and let her have some privacy. He sat bolt upright. Was his wife due in this morning? No. Maybe tomorrow. He held his chest, feeling the pounding of his heart. Calm down. Nothing had happened. As he thought about the situation more, it wasn’t as if he told Tess everything he did anyway. He’d snuck out to a few afternoon movies over the years and never mentioned them, and she certainly never asked. People could never be completely transparent to their mates.

The shower was completely steady sounding. He sat up, frowning. When someone’s in a shower, movement makes the sound vary. Wasn’t Chatterley in it? Patton turned his head toward the bathroom door. It was open. That’s why the sound was so loud. “Chatterley?” he said. No answer.

He swung his legs over the side and stood. They hadn’t closed the thick curtains against the daylight, so the western light, filtered by rare cloud cover, gave the beachscapes on the walls color. Outside, the gentle clay-colored hills far to the west looked flat. Considering that nothing green grew naturally in this area, Las Vegas was an unnatural place for a Lawn and Garden show, but this show was the biggest.

On her side of the bed on the floor, Chatterley’s purse was upside down with everything in it spread out, including a few coins, her friend Faith’s keychain, and a few panty shields. It was as if she had been desperate for something. Perhaps she’d merely kicked it accidentally. Then he saw her inhaler was in two parts: a small aerosol can and the blue plastic part that the can fit in. He picked up the can. It was empty. She must’ve been looking for another. Why hadn’t she awakened him to help?

He strode into the steamy bathroom. “Chatterley?”

The room had both a large whirlpool bathtub for two and a separate shower with a glass door. She wasn’t in either, though the shower was still on, pouring out steamy water. How could she leave it on? He turned it off, and the silence made her absence that much more profound. Did she step into the living room for a moment? Perhaps she’d put on a hotel robe and zipped to the pool. But without a suit? She could be topless in her panties, and the guests would love it. It was Vegas. She had beautiful breasts.

He could hear the air conditioner, a wide unit wedged into the wall near floor level in the living room, with its fan on high. As he moved toward the room, he was freezing with only his shorts on.

He stepped into the living room and saw her, near the Stratocaster, crouched naked on her knees before the long wide air conditioner. Her hands outstretched like a swimmer scooping the cool air. It looked erotic. “There you are,” he finally said, wondering about her intentions. He really couldn’t act on them. “Are you really that hot? Are you okay?”

She didn’t move. Was she asleep? Her head, between her arms, rested on the thick carpet. “Chatterley?” he said and kneeled down to her level. He touched her to wake her, and his first thought was she shouldn’t have been in front of the air conditioner so long because her skin felt downright cold. He shook her. “Chatterley.” She splayed onto her side. Her eyes were open. She didn’t appear to breathe. She stared skyward as if frozen in surprise.



Author Bio:

Christopher Meeks has four novels and two collections of short fiction published. His most recent novel before this was the acclaimed thriller, "Blood Drama." His novel "The Brightest Moon of the Century" made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Book of 2009. "Love at Absolute Zero" also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.

He has had stories published in several literary journals, and they have been included in the collections "Months and Seasons" and "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea." Mr. Meeks has had three full-length plays mounted in Los Angeles, and one, "Who Lives?" had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize.

Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design. To read more of his books visit his website at: www.chrismeeks.com.

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