Wednesday 11 May 2011

Eric Christopherson interview: Crack-Up

Crack-Up by Eric Christopherson

Argus Ward is a former U.S. Secret Service agent who runs a protection agency catering to the rich and famous. His best-kept secret--which he shares with lawyers and doctors and even psychiatrists--is his status as a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic. One day, with little warning, he turns psychotic for the first time in twenty years. He lands in a secure psychiatric facility, charged with the murder of his most famous client, high tech industry billionaire John Helms, the wealthiest man in America.

Argus has no memory of the killing. A blood test suggests to him that some unknown enemy had switched his anti-psychotic medication with identical-looking dummy pills to purposely drive him insane.

A sign of lingering paranoia? His doctor thinks so. Even his wife.

Yet Argus escapes incarceration to prove his theory. With the law on his trail and a ticking time bomb in his head--due to a lack of medication--he discovers that his disease had been "weaponized" by a powerful group to secretly assassinate John Helms as part of a multiple assassination conspiracy of world-wide significance.

Or has Argus simply lost his mind again? What in the end is "real" and what is only imagination in his story?

And what is justice for the criminally insane?

Eric, what was your motivation for writing Crack-Up?

The serious answer is: There is a real disconnect between criminal justice and mental illness I wished to highlight in a vivid manner.

The artistic answer is: I thought a main character with paranoid schizophrenia offered a unique challenge to readers, who would have to guess throughout the story at what's “real” and what's not.

How much difference does an editor make?

Crack-Up was edited by my literary agent at the time, Joe Veltre, who had run a pair of crime/mystery imprints at St. Martin's Press prior to becoming an agent, and he made several excellent suggestions for improvement. For example, I'd really wanted to call the novel, “The Naked Flight Attendant” (the opening chapter is a hint as to why), but he pushed me hard not to, saying the title sounded like Chick lit and would confuse readers. I knew this to be true, but still I'd needed someone to save me from myself. A good editor is invaluable in that way and many others.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

“A story is compelling only to the extent that it raises questions and delays answers.” The person who related this to me was author Susan Taylor Chehak. She was quoting someone, though I forget who.

Ever tried your hand at poetry?

Only once, when I was twelve years old, and I thought at the time that my lone work was of such profound excellence that I could never possibly top it, hence quit the field. FYI, here's the poem in its entirety:

It's a pity time keeps going
Too bad it couldn't stay
But at least we had the joy
Of being here today.

Originally, I had “fun” instead of “joy.” Much more 12 year-old-ish sounding, no? Luckily, Mom was my editor.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

I think it's terrific and a boon for readers in particular. Economic theory tells us that as supply goes up price comes down, so books will be purchased cheaper. And with the ability of anyone but anyone to publish, with the application of “long tail” economics, in other words, readers will have a far greater variety of offerings from which to choose. The only question is how to find the best of the best, given professional curators no longer stand between authors and readers, at least not in the ebook world.

But I think with time this problem will be solved. Consider as an analogy the many millions of websites now in existence, and yet we web surfers have little trouble in locating that handful of websites we each find interesting.

Two years from now I expect there to be a suitable infrastructure in place, consisting of reader rating systems, amateur book reviewers and book bloggers, more sites such as this one, improved predictive analytics from Amazon and other ebook sites, and perhaps other mechanisms not yet envisioned. The internet abhors a vacuum too.

Which author should be much better known?

Besides Moi you mean? Martin Cruz Smith is very well known, of course, but why he isn't even better known eludes me. The man has no weaknesses as a suspense writer (which is quite rare IMO). He's the Willie Mays of thrillerdom, can run, throw, hit, hit with power, and field.

How do you feel about reviews?

I feel differently since Crack-Up received a five-star review on Amazon from a woman who'd given Cormac McCarthy's The Road a one-star review. Now I've read The Road as well as other McCarthy works, and suffice it to say I consider him to be America's greatest living novelist. Skilz-wise, I am not in his zip code. So I had a good laugh at this reviewer, loud enough to summon the wife, and then I realized, upon more  reflection, that the reviewer had been right on both accounts, right for herself, not right in any objective, absolute way. There is no wrong review (that's honest).

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I'm currently working on my first historical novel, Fortress of Ephemera, a Gothic thriller set in 1919 New York City. The story takes place all in one night, inside the mansion of a rich hoarder. It should be completed by year's end.


Eric Christopherson is a former police officer and federal government consultant with degrees from the University of Texas and Duke University. He lives in semi-rural Ohio with his wife, Seiko, and a boy fetus (due imminently).

Crack-Up by Eric Christopherson


  1. Eric- Excellent job with thw Q's. That along with the premise and price, has filled in the 5th spot on the novels I am downloading with my $5.00 Amazon gift card. It does not get any better than that. 5 novels I want to read for $5.00 doesn't get any better that that!