As a boy, I read voraciously, almost anything I could get my hands on, but I enjoyed adventure stories the most. I wasn’t one of those unhappy kids who loses himself in books. I was a pretty happy kid who did it. We had a summer cottage in Quebec. My grandmother would come up on weekends, bringing me a kind of popcorn I liked and a stack of books. There would be famous ones, like Treasure Island, and not-so-famous ones, like Red Pete the Ruthless. I can still recall the last scene of that one – Red Pete, buried up to the neck between the high and low tide lines, surrounded by his stolen gold, waves lapping closer. Can’t you just hear the hiss of the bubbles?
I was also interested in words themselves. Probably like you, I hated to stop reading if I thought I’d pretty much understood a new word from the context, but some persnickety thing in me usually insisted I look it up. (“Persnickety,” for example, seems to derive from the Scots dialect. Nice to find out I’ve got some Scot in me, probably a surprise to my family.)
I began by writing stand-alones, meaning non-series novels – such as Lights Out, The Fan (filmed by Tony Scott, with a cast including Robert De Niro), Oblivion, and End of Story. It was during this period that Stephen King – uh-oh! I just came close to quoting from my own reviews. Wasn’t I brought up better than that?
(Psst! I’m the webmaster – brought up with no standards at all – interrupting for a moment to tell you that Mr. King called him “my favorite American suspense novelist.”)
A little later, I also started writing for younger readers, beginning with the Echo Falls series, centered around thirteen-year old Ingrid Levin-Hill. I took advantage of having four kids of my own – all that raw material! – plus the fact that, yes, I’d once been thirteen myself. Speaking of family – the most important thing in my life – my wife and children are the only people who read my books while they’re being written. I put each new chapter on the kitchen table, and any family member so inclined can read, comment, and even revise. No one holds back! The holding back gene didn’t catch on here.
Tom Nolan, reviewing Oblivion in the L.A. Times, was the first to comment on the dogs that often appeared in my novels.
(Hi! Webmaster again. Mr. Nolan wrote: “His funny and stout-hearted dogs [like Buster, who becomes Petrov’s assistant for a few hours] are unmatched by anyone’s, including Dashiel Hammett’s and Robert B. Parker’s.”)
That got me thinking, but it wasn’t until my wife said, “You should do something with dogs,” that I finally stumbled on the idea of writing detective novels from the POV of the gumshoe’s dog. And that was the birth of my alter ego, Spencer Quinn.
Chet, the narrator of the Chet and Bernie series, is not a talking dog! He’s as canine as I can make him, meaning for one thing, that he’s a supremely unreliable narrator. It’s a lot of fun to let someone like that loose in the strict plot confines of detective fiction. The Chet and Bernie books (Bernie is the detective) are for adults, although a lot of teens seem to be reading them. For middle-schoolers, I wrote the Bowser and Birdie series, and am now doing the Queenie and Arthur series. Arthur’s a dog narrator, yes – and Queenie’s a … cat. And now, a confession: sometimes when I’m writing Queenie and Arthur I laugh out loud. That’s a terrible thing for a writer to say. Don’t tell anyone.
I live on Cape Cod with my wife – all the kids up and grown now – and dogs Audrey and Pearl. Dogs are a big part of our life and there’s no way I could have written Chet and Bernie without them. Audrey and Pearl are the kind of researchers writers dream of, showing up every day and working for treats.
People often ask: Will you be writing any more novels of the kind you used to, before the birth of Spencer Quinn? Answer: Yes. Not only do I plan to, but I already have. The Right Side – although with Spence’s name on it – is a pure Peter Abrahams book. Re the name on the cover: Since a dog plays a supporting (but non-narrating role), the publisher thought … publisher-type thoughts.
What else? Did I leave anything out?
(Well – webmaster here – Is it okay to mention all the New York Times bestsellers, winning an Edgar Allen Poe award for Reality Check, best young adult mystery, 2010, and an Agatha for Down the Rabbit Hole, best young adult mystery, 2006?)
I’d prefer you didn’t.
(No worries, pal – it won’t be in the final draft. You can bet the ranch.)