Saturday, October 18, 2008

Author Snapshot: Sean Chercover

He comes from many places, varied walks. Is that the texture that reaches into his work? Perhaps. Raised in Georgia and Toronto. Once a PI in New Orleans and Chicago. He’s written documentaries for children. Been a film editor. A director. A waiter. Truck driver. Nightclub magician. And perhaps others he is less interested, these days, in talking about.

Whatever else he is, in this moment, Sean Chercover is a bestselling author. Two rich and compelling novels of crime have earned him a growing audience and a list of glowing reviews that he always seems less interested in talking about. What does interest him: the stories he’s telling and the heart that goes into their telling. Because, whatever else is true about Chercover, it’s clear that he likes what he’s doing right now. “Writing is the only job I’ve had where I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”

Both Chercover’s debut novel, Big City, Bad Blood, and the newly released Trigger City (both from Morrow) are PI novels featuring Chicago detective Ray Dudgeon. Since both Chercover and his fictional character have private investigation backgrounds, a lot of people feel that the author’s writing must be autobiographical. The author reports that they are not. “It’s fiction after all. A pack of lies. I use some small details from my life, but I’m not saying which ones.”

Chercover, his wife and young son share their time between homes in Chicago and Toronto.

A Snapshot of Sean Chercover...
Most recent book: Trigger City
Born: Toronto
Reside: Chicago and Toronto
Birthday: December 29, 1966
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
To live: Chicago. To visit: New York.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
You arrange to stay longer.

It’s folly to try and cram too much into a short visit. You hear people say, “We spent a day in Rome and we saw Michelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican and the Catacombs and the Coliseum and Trevi Fountain and we had espresso and gelato at an outdoor café in some square with marble fountains carved by a guy who’s name starts with ‘B’ and…”

Of course they never stopped moving long enough to get the feel of the place.

So if you really only have six hours, pick one destination that gels with your personal interests and stop long enough to hang out in the surrounding neighborhood. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, each vibrant and distinct. Pick one.

If you love art, go to the Art Institute, one of the best galleries in the world. Within walking distance you can visit Millennium Park and see The Bean and the cool fountains and the Frank Gehry walking bridge and band shell. A great place to take in the Michigan Avenue skyline. You can walk to the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College. You’re a short walk from the Printer’s Row neighborhood, a good place to go if you dig architecture. And stop in at Buddy Guy’s for some live blues.

But frankly, if you’re an art lover, you’ll probably spend all six hours at the Art Institute. It’s a hard place to leave.

If you’re a baseball fan, head to Wrigley Field (or as I call it, Mecca). Then walk down Clark Street and into Lakeview, for great restaurants and bars. Jake’s Pub is my home away from home, so stop by and have a pint with me, and maybe toss some darts. Across from Jake’s is the Duke of Perth, with an awesome selection of single malt scotches and one of the top-ten burgers in town.

What food do you love?
What food don’t I love? Well, I’m not crazy about Chicago’s deep-dish pizza. New York rules the pizza universe. And Pittsburgh makes great pizza. Chicago, not so much, for my taste.

Anyway. I love pizza, obviously (as long as it ain’t deep-dish). And an expertly prepared burger is a thing of beauty (as long as it ain’t overcooked). I love Cajun, Caribbean, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Ethiopian, Chinese. Hell, I just love good food. I even love haggis.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

Deep-fried Mars bars.

What’s on your nightstand?
A reading lamp. An alarm clock. A radio. A glass of water. Books. Many, many books. Mostly children’s books, to read to my son. And right next to the nightstand is a bookshelf, crammed and overflowing...

What inspires you?
The people I love. My dog. The ocean. Good books. Music. Nicotine.

What are you working on now?
This interview. Oh, and I’m finishing a couple of short stories for anthologies.

Tell us about your process.
You mean there’s a process? Damn, maybe that’s my problem.

I am, by nature, a nocturnal writer. In recent years, I’ve been trying to convert myself into a morning writer, with mixed results. I write mostly on a computer, but I do a lot of brainstorming with fountain pen and notebook. I often listen to music as I write. I’m not much of an outliner -- I need to know the ending and some major scenes along the way, and I need to have the main characters worked out, but I don’t get very detailed with the outline.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
My computer screen, perched on top of an old Royal typewriter case. Behind it, a window, through which I can see some brick wall, a few trees and a lot of blue sky. An Ernie Banks bobblehead stands on the windowsill. Left of the window, a photograph of my maternal grandfather sitting on a horse, a pipe in his mouth, a shotgun in one hand and a dead turkey in the other. Beside it, a photo of his brother, in his WWI RAF uniform. To the right of the window, a bookshelf full of reference works. A pipe rack full of pipes and jars full of tobacco.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Sometime around the fifth grade. But it took a long time for me to get up the gumption to do it.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
I might just chuck it all, move down-island and work as a SCUBA instructor.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
When my 2-year-old son held up the ARC of Trigger City and said, “Trigga Ciddy! Da-da book!”

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
Writing is the only job I’ve had where I don’t feel like I should be doing something else. Hard as it is, it just feels right. And that’s a great feeling.

What’s the most difficult?
Trying to get the critical voices in my head to shut the hell up.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Because I used to work as a PI, people always ask how much of my writing is autobiographical. The answer is: very little. It’s fiction after all. A pack of lies. I use some small details from my life, but I’m not saying which ones.

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
Is it OK if we give you a million dollars for your next book contract?

What question would like never to be asked again?
“I’ve got this great idea for a novel, but I just don’t have the time to write it. How about I tell you my idea, you write it, and we split the money?”

Sure thing, jerkass. How about I tell you my idea, you write it, and we split the money?

Please tell us about your most recent book.
Trigger City is the sequel to Big City, Bad Blood. A grieving father hires Chicago PI Ray Dudgeon to learn the truth about the daughter he never really knew. The killer left a signed confession on her body and immediately committed suicide. An open-and-shut case. But as Ray delves into the details of her life, he discovers connections to a private military contractor that is the subject of a congressional investigation.

What begins as a routine case soon becomes anything but, and Ray runs afoul of both the contractor and of certain powers within the US intelligence community. He’s in way over his head, and knows he should walk away. But to do so would be to abandon a young widow and her daughter -- two innocent witnesses whose lives are in danger.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I can’t listen to “Kentucky Avenue” by Tom Waits without crying.

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