Interview with author Chris Culver - Nine Years Gone
I love interviewing and learning about new to me authors and while I was visiting a fellow blogger one day I happened upon her post about an eire new mystery, when I read further on I learned that this novel would definitely fit my reading tastes and to my surprise realized that this New York Times bestselling author lived in my hometown. So I knew I had to get him on the forum. I hope you enjoy our chat! I'm pleased to introduce Chris Culver!!
Nine years ago, Steve Hale saved the love of his life from her abusive and very powerful stepfather by helping her disappear and framing him for her murder. Today, that stepfather is dead, executed by the state of Missouri for a crime he didn’t commit, and Steve has a loving wife, a little girl who depends on him, a home, a career – everything he ever wanted and believed he could never have. He also has a new voice mail from a woman the rest of the world believes is dead.
Chris welcome to The
I was visiting a
favorite book blog and happened upon a post about your novel Nine Years Gone
and was fascinated by the premise. Tell my readers about the book.
Nine Years Gone is a stand-alone psychological
thriller about a man who helped his former girlfriend disappear and then framed
her abusive stepfather for her murder. Nine years later, the state of Missouri
executes the stepfather, and the girl shows up in our hero’s hometown to upend
his seemingly perfect life.
The book really came out of my obsession with
mystery novels from the early to mid-twentieth century. The books in that time
period didn’t have the byzantine plot twists you might find in a more modern
thriller, but they had unforgettable characters. I still get chills when I
think of Phyllis Nirdlinger in James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. I wanted to write that kind of a book; I
wanted a relatively straightforward plot, but I wanted to populate it with characters—especially
a villian—that stayed in my readers’s minds.
Chris you have both
stand alone novels and your Ash Rashid series.
What genre shelf would we find your books on?
Broadly speaking, all of my books are mysteries
/ thrillers. My Ash Rashid titles are police procedurals with a lot of thriller
elements, while my standalones tend to be thrillers of one variety or
another. I tend to write the sort of
things I want to read.
Chris you did a bit
of “heavy” reading in elementary
school, your bio says in the fifth grade you did a book report on Michael
Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. Wow while I was reading Nancy Drew you were
shooting the big guns. What made you choose reads like this?
I read a lot when I was a kid. That’s one
commonality I find among men and women who end up becoming writers. I loved
stories—telling them, hearing them, and reading them. I read my fair share of
age-appropriate books, but I read through everything my library had pretty
quickly. I never read Nancy Drew, but I loved the Hardy Boys and I really liked
The Boxcar Children. The problem is that by about third or fourth grade, I had
already read through everything I wanted to read in the Children’s Library.
Back then, literature for young adults was much
more juvenile than it is today. The stories were amusing, but they didn’t have
the depth you find in Harry Potter or the Hunger Games series. Even twenty-five
years ago, YA literature didn’t seem to grapple with the range of issues contemporary
YA literature does—or at least not with the same seriousness.
So when I got bored, I asked my dad for
suggestions. He introduced me to Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. I loved those books. From there, I moved onto
science fiction and somehow stumbled on Michael Crichton.
What sort of reader
are you today?
I’m an eclectic reader, although I lean heavily
on thrillers. Right now, I’m reading The Amateurs by Marcus Sakay. It’s pretty
good, but I think I like Sakay’s Good People more. Next in line is Sharp
Objects by Gillian Flynn—I love her other books, so I’m really looking forward
to this one. After that, I’m thinking of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert
Einstein. My dad highly recommends that.
Chris you wrote your
first Ash Rashid novel while you were teaching college.
(this surprises me a bit reading your bio about your elementary school years).
You credit your college students for making you the writer you are today.
That’s a great question. I write full-time now,
but I previously taught philosophy. My first teaching position was as a
graduate assistant at Purdue University. I did part of my undergraduate work at
Purdue, and I did all of my graduate work at Purdue, so I knew the school and
its students fairly well. It was really pretty easy to teach them. The students
and I, by and large, had similar backgrounds, which meant we had many of the
same assumptions about the world and our place in the world.
A coupe of years later, my wife and I moved to
Arkadelphia, Arkansas. This was a big change for us. My wife had a tenure-track
faculty position at a university there, and I had a part-time teaching position
until I finished my doctorate. My students in Arkansas came from a very
different world than I did. Many had grown up impoverished, and many came from
very rough neighborhoods in Memphis or Little Rock. In my first year teaching,
I had several students who witnessed quite serious crimes on trips home, and I
had a few who had been accused of quite serious crimes. I even had a student
who, along with her boyfriend’s entire family, was murdered.
Seeing what my students went through for their
education changed my prospective on a lot of things. In a lot of ways, they
broadened my definition of a hero. Growing up and reading the sorts of books I
did and seeing the sorts of TV shows I did, I had this notion that a hero is
someone who saves the world, who swoops in at the last minute when things
become bleak and puts things right. That’s not right, though. In my mind, a
hero is someone who does the right thing even when that comes at great personal
expense. It’s a very broad definition, but I think it, partly at least,
captures something important, something many of my students grasped.
I wrote my first Ash Rashid novel while
teaching. In a lot of ways, he’s my idea of a hero, one I wish the world had
more of. I couldn’t have created him without my students.
And have you the
novelist changed from when you first started writing?
The biggest change is that I’m much more
confident now. When I started, I felt like I had a tiny English teacher in my
head questioning every word I wrote. That’s not such a bad thing when
proofreading a book, but it can really get in the way of things when writing.
Good writing, I’ve found, isn’t necessarily “correct” writing. Over the years,
I’ve learned to tone that tiny teacher down and allow my actual voice to show.
I think it makes things more fun.
Are you still
expanding the minds of students or do you write full time now?
I write full-time now, but I do miss teaching.
At its best, teaching was incredibly fulfilling and a lot of fun. Not all days
were great, but enough of them were that I do think about stepping in the
classroom again. Instead of finishing my
long-abandoned doctorate, I’d probably pursue an MFA in creative writing and
try that out.
Chris your bio is not
only educational but also very entertaining. I in fact love your humor. Will I
find this same humor in your novels?
I’m glad you like the bio! I had a lot of fun
writing it. I have a sardonic, dry sense of humor, and it does come out in the
beginning of all of my books. As the story progresses, though, and things
become a little more serious, my characters stop joking. My last police
procedural involved human trafficking, and there’s just not a lot to laugh
about there. That’s not to say my books lack light moments to balance the more
gritty scenery—they certainly have them, most often when my characters visit
their families—but they’re not always funny moments.
I live in the St.
Louis Metro area (St. Charles) and I love the fact that we have a rich and
diverse writing community. I also discovered on my friend’s blog that you are a
local author. Do you belong to a local critique group or hang with some of the
other local authors?
I’m not a member of a local writer’s group,
although I have heard nice things about the writer’s groups in St. Louis. Right
now, most of my free time is spent working on my antique house or with my
Is support from your
peers an important part of being a writer for you?
Mystery / thriller writers are amongst the most
supportive professional people I’ve ever met, and I’m very lucky to have
received encouragement from a lot of well-known writers early on in my career. I
received wonderful blurbs on one of my early novels from CJ Box and Jeff
Abbott—both of whom write really awesome books—and I couldn’t be more grateful.
I’ve got friends I never would have met had I not started writing and I’ve met
more interesting people at mystery writer / thriller writer conferences than
anyone has any business knowing. So,
long story short, yes. The support and friendship of my peers is pretty
important to me.
Chris I love hearing
authors tell their “I sold my first book” call. Can you relive it for us
My story is actually a little bit different
than most. In 2010, I finished writing a book about a detective from
Indianapolis that I thought would finally break through for me. I sent it out
to ten literary agents who I thought would love it enough to help me sell it. Five
of them sent me form letters telling me they had no interest, two ignored me
completely, and three sent very nice letters back telling me they enjoyed my
book but didn’t think they could sell it.
That was incredibly disappointing, but it
didn’t change my opinion of the book. So, I ended up self-publishing it in
February of 2011. By some miracle, the book took off and started selling well.
This attracted a lot of attention, and I signed with a terrific literary agent
[not one I had originally queried] from a major agency in New York. I was
pretty excited at that point.
About two days after I signed and returned the
paperwork to Robert, he called me back. I assumed he was going to tell me he
had received the contracts I had sent him, but that wasn’t it. Instead he said
that he received an advanced listing of that week’s New York Times Bestsellers
list, and my book had hit number seven. It was one of those weird and
overwhelming moments in life that I’ll never forget. In one moment, I had a
real dream in life come true. Even years later, it still feels surreal. My
books are available all over Europe, and I’ve sold the subsequent books in the
series to a major publisher in the US, but that phone call was probably the
most exciting of my professional career.
Chris thank you so
much for taking the time to let us get to know you a little better. Good luck
with the new novel. Will there be any events/signings for fans to meet you in
My next event will be a conference called Magna
cum Murder in Indianapolis from October 24 – 26. I’ve never been to this conference,
but it looks like a lot of fun.
Chris Culver is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Ash Rashid series of mysteries. After graduate school, Chris taught courses in ethics and comparative religion at a small liberal arts university in the south. Between classes, he wrote The Abbey, which spent sixteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He and his family live near St. Louis, Missouri, where Chris is working on his next novel.