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Mymcbooks Interview Author Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein is the Agatha and Anthony Award-winning author of the Haunted Mysteries series, including The Crossroads, The Hanging Hill, and The Smoky Corridor. He’s also the author of such adult titles as Tilt a Whirl, Mad Mouse, and Whack A Mole. Chris lives in New York City with his wife, JJ, three cats, and a dog named Fred, who starred on Broadway in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. To read more about the author click link

Interview with Chris Grabenstein author of Riley Mack and the Other Know Troublemakers.

I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog


What is the last book you read? The Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles Series #1) by John Flanagan. A seafaring page turner. Action, adventure, vikings!

What were your earliest memories of writing? My four brothers and I used to write skits that we would perform in the basement for our parents. We charged them a nickel. Then I started writing comic books called Super Dooper Man. My mom saved a copy.

What was your favorite children’s book? Mad’s Don Martin Drops 13 Stories. When I was in fifth and sixth grade and then middle school (what we called Junior High, back in the day) I discovered Mad Magazine. I think it and The Bullwinkle cartoon show permanently warped my mind. I would save up my money all year to buy Mad books when we went on vacation in August.

Were you encouraged to write or was it something that came natural? I think being funny came from my dad. Learning how to translate that sense of humor into words on paper took work. Thankfully, I had some very encouraging teachers in high school who showed me that writing (and acting) were as cool as being a jock.

Are you working on a new book? Yes, two or three! I am working on the sequel to Riley Mack called RILEY MACK STIRS UP MORE TROUBLE. The gang has to figure out who is polluting their favorite swimming pool with fish-killing toxic chemicals. I’m also working on a book called ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. And, in my spare time, I am playing around with turning SUPER DOOPER MAN into a “real” book, not just a cartoon I did for my mom when I was in second grade.

What inspired you to write Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers and how did you come up with each character? Walking down the sidewalks of New York City one afternoon, I saw three middle school buddies, their backpacks bulging with the weight of books or cinderblocks. I said to myself, “What if…instead of books, they’re carrying spy gear for a Mission Impossible style mission.” Mission Impossible — a show I watched on TV every weekend when I was a kid — became my template. Riley is the foxy ringleader. Jake is the brains and techno wizard. Mongo is the muscle. Briana is the actress who can impersonate anybody’s voice and play whatever parts the caper requires. Jamal is the new kid. He was actually inspired by a youngster I rode uptown with on a bus one Monday. Very funny. Very verbose. The young guy had been memorizing words like “symmetrical” in the dictionary and quizzing his friends about the meaning. Jamal does the same thing.

What do you hope that readers will take away from your book? I hope kids will be encouraged to stand up for what is right and use their talents to do good in the world. And realize that bullies are basically cowards who need to be reminded of that fact from time to time.

I was a big fan of the Muppet Monsters; tell us how it felt for you writing for Jim Henson’s Little Muppet Monsters show on CBS? It was amazing! I remember a meeting with Mr. Henson where he asked, “What lesson is this script teaching?” We had written a silly story about a Muppet Monster who wanted to be a penguin for a day. But, there had to be a good take away for kids…and there was! I think he instilled in me (and everyone else who wrote for him) that writing for kids carries a huge responsibility to be aware of what you’re actually communicating to such impressionable minds.

What is the most difficult part of writing? I guess the “selling” of ones own work. I’m not a very good salesman. I love the writing and visiting schools and meeting my deadlines. Having to “self-promote” is the hardest part of the job.

Do you write full time or do you still have a day job? I am fortunate that I can afford to write full time. So, it is my day job. I show up every morning at 9 and don’t punch out until I have written at least 2,000 new words.

How do you react to a bad review and have you ever suffered from writer’s block? The bad reviews are soul crushers. When my first book, TILT A WHIRL, was published it won awards, appeared on all sorts of “Best Mysteries Of The Year” lists, got great reviews in major newspapers. But all I remember is the snarky guy who wrote a review on an obscure web site trashing it.

I never suffer from writer’s block because I worked in advertising for nearly 20 years. In advertising, there is no writer’s block, only unemployment. You can’t go to your boss and say, “Sorry, the muse just wasn’t there on Rolaids today.”

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.? I am a virgo. I am extremely disciplined. I have a chart on one of my boards reminding me where I need to be on a project by a certain day. I have been known to “work double shifts” to catch up if I ever fall behind while working on two or three projects at a time.

Who are some of your favorite authors you would love to dine with? Stephen King for sure. Charles Dickens, if he could come back to life. Dr. Seuss, too!

What author inspires you the most and why? Probably Elmore Leonard. His ten rules for writing are spot on. I keep a copy pinned to my board next to that work schedule. Also, James Patterson is a big influence. He was my first boss in advertising and nobody knows how to keep readers burning through the pages better than him.

What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read? It might be fun to pick a book you can read together. And don’t make them read books that are “good” for them. Let them find a book they love and then find others that work the same magic. The nicest email I received from a mom said, “My child has decided he DOES like to read if it’s a book by Chris Grabenstein.”

What advice you would give to new writers? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Find a book you love and tear it apart. Analyze the mechanics driving it forward. Read the same book two or three times until you understand how the writer constructed it.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? I hope they have as much fun reading RILEY MACK as I had writing it. It was one of those books that just flew from my fingers.


April 3, 2012 - Posted by | Meet the Author | , , , ,


  1. Just the picture alone made me want to read the interview. You can really tell he loves what he does. I will check out his books. I like a good laugh and I like to share it with my children.

    Comment by Cherese Vines | April 3, 2012 | Reply

  2. Your growing up experience of writing skits and performing them for your parents sounds exactly like a scene out of our home when we were raising our 5 children. Parents that sit for the performance of their budding writers and actors or musicians deserve a trophy – and sometime that trophy is a child who grows up to write published material, an actor who performs in the public arena, or an accomplished musician.

    Your description of how you came to write the stories (“Walking down the sidewalks of New York City one afternoon, I saw three middle school buddies, their backpacks bulging with the weight of books or cinderblocks. I said to myself, “What if…instead of books, they’re carrying spy gear for a Mission Impossible style mission.” Mission Impossible…”) makes me just want to sit down and let you tell me “your” story and some of the stories you wrote.

    godleyv at yahoo [dot] com

    Comment by Vera | April 3, 2012 | Reply

  3. I like the ‘amusement park’ theme behind the titles of your adult books.
    It was interesting to read about your background in advertsiing (and James Patterson’s!)
    I’m looking forward to reading Eiley Mack with my grandkids.

    Comment by tmy56 | April 3, 2012 | Reply

  4. I like the message the book seeks to bring out – standing up to bullies and doing the right thing and using one’s talent to do good in the world. The diverse talents of the Gnat-Pack will make the story more interesting.

    Comment by lubnafromindia | April 4, 2012 | Reply

  5. Hi Chris, your background is so impressive. Writing for Jim Henson must have been an incredible experience. I love your message behind the book. Thanks for the interview.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Comment by carol L | April 4, 2012 | Reply

  6. I loved what he said about preforming with his brothers! That is a great start right there for sure! Starting out young like that is so good for the imagination!

    Comment by lisa | April 4, 2012 | Reply

  7. I have loved reading this interview and love reading reviews of your books. The dog is so cute too! My daughter would love reading all about Riley Mack, thanks!

    Comment by furygirl3132 | April 4, 2012 | Reply

  8. Thank you everybody for your comments. I’m really excited about Riley Mack. Can’t believe that this time next week it will actually be on bookshelves. Of course my mother already has her copy!

    Comment by Chris Grabenstein | April 4, 2012 | Reply

  9. Chris is a wonderful writer and a great person, he is so kind, and he really cares about his readers. This is what makes my family promote a writer like crazy, kindness, as well as great writing goes a long, long way with us. Thank you Chris!

    Comment by Dawnna Hale | April 4, 2012 | Reply

  10. Chris and Fred look adorable together. The advice Chris gives for new writers is very helpful and encouraging.

    Comment by likwan | April 15, 2012 | Reply

  11. Again, I am intrigued by your method or manner of creating a story and drawing from what if’s in every day scenarios. These 7th grade adventures sound like sure-fire winners for the kids.

    Comment by Vera | April 15, 2012 | Reply

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