Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Conversation with Chris Grabenstein

Omnimystery News: Author Interview

We are delighted to welcome Chris Grabenstein to Omnimystery News today.

Chris is the author of the "John Ceepak, Jersey Shore" mysteries for adults, the "Haunted Mystery" series for middle grade readers, and several other non-series books for readers of all ages.

His most recently published book, Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers (HarperCollins, April 2012 print and ebook editions) introduces a new series character for kids. We recently had a chance to talk to Chris about the character and the book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little bit about your new middle grade book series.

Chris Grabenstein: With Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers, I set out to create an "Ocean's Eleven" for 11-year-olds. A new "Mission: Impossible" team made up of extremely talented 7th graders. I think with this series, unlike my adult John Ceepak mysteries, the characters will be relatively unchanged from book to book. Some of the relationships, however, may grow. And the 7th graders might stop thinking of 5th grader Jamal as an annoying little gnat.

Chris Grabenstein
Photo provided courtesy of
Chris Grabenstein; Photo credit Tess Steinkolk.

OMN: It sounds like a setup that would appeal to readers who enjoy exciting action-adventure books. Is that how do you describe it?

CG: I would categorize it as a comic crime caper series for kids. But in the middle grades market, I don't think genres and sub-genres matter that much. Kids love a good book.

OMN: Are any of your own real-life experiences as a middle grade student fictionalized for the book?

CG: Interestingly, I think the character of the cool, charismatic, and clever Riley Mack is one who I wish I could've been when I was in middle school. Whereas shy, imaginative Zack from my "Haunted Mystery" series is probably closer to who I really was at that age. Of course the good thing about writing what you know is that you can know just about anything if you do your homework. For instance, before creating the character of Jamal Wilson in the Riley Mack books I did not know how to "pick" a combination lock by feel. Now I do.

OMN: How do you go about developing a storyline?

CG: I establish four major tent poles to hold the story up: The act one "turn," the second act midpoint, the third act turn, the final climax. Once I know my four major destinations, I tell myself a story to get there. I usually write character biographies after I have written the book. A lot of this comes from being an actor in my youth. I think I use the same technique of character discovery in my writing process.

OMN: How do you fact-check your books? Internet research? Consulting with experts? First-hand experience?

CG: All of the above. One of my favorite things about being a writer is learning new things. For Riley Mack, I had to consult with an electrician to make sure my way of dealing with Grandma Brown would knock her out but not kill her.

OMN: Where is Fairview, the setting of the Riley Mack books? Is it a real place, or one from your imagination?

CG: I based my town on several of the commuter suburban towns along the Hudson River just north of New York City. I've visited a lot of schools and libraries in those towns and have used their feel for Fairview — especially the pizza parlors on Main Street where kids hang out after school.

OMN: What is your involvement with marketing your books?

CG: I do a little bit of everything except ads. I have fun doing book trailers since I used to do TV commercials. [OMN aside: We've embedded a trailer for Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers below.] I'm pretty regular on Facebook, sporadic on Twitter. My best "marketing tools" are my author visits where I get to meet and talk with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of students and their teachers and librarians. I teach about writing, they laugh, some buy books. It's terrific.

OMN: Suppose someone wants to adapt Riley Mack for the screen. Any thoughts on who, or what type of actor, would play him?

CG: That's so hard to say with a middle grades book where the main character is 12. Given Hollywood production schedules and the length of time it takes for movies to get to the screen, I'd say Riley would be played by a completely (as of now) unknown kid with red hair. This is, however, my first book where the main character is depicted on the cover. It took about 4 back and forths to get him looking right.

OMN: What interests do you have outside of writing? Might they include your pictured companion?

CG: That's Fred. I run and walk with him. These activities aren't in the books but help me write the books. I carry Sharpie pens and note cards and jot down ideas while I'm jogging.

OMN: Are there any authors whose books you rush out to buy as soon as they are published?

CG: I always check out what Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Patterson are up to. I find that I'm reading more and more YA and middle grades books. And, for fun, I like biographies and non-fiction.

OMN: Thanks, Chris, so very much for introducing us to your new character and series. For more information about Chris and his books, visit his website at

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Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers by Chris Grabenstein

About Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers:

What do you get when you add up

• 1 middle-school bully …
• 2 bank robbers …
• 57 dogs in peril …
• 4,000 missing dollars … and
• 5 daring troublemakers led by the one and only
Riley Mack?

1 crazy caper! Print and/or Kindle Edition Barnes&Noble Print Edition and/or Nook Book Apple iTunes iBookstore Indie Bound: Independent Bookstores


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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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