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An Interview with Chris Bauer, author of Zero Island: Blessid Trauma Crime Scene Cleaners #2

Author’s Bio: “The thing I write will be the thing I write.” Chris wouldn’t trade his northeast Philly upbringing of street sports played on blacktop and concrete, fistfights, brick and stone row houses, and twelve years of well-intentioned Catholic school discipline for a Philadelphia minute (think New York minute but more fickle and less forgiving). Chris has had some lengthy stops as an adult in Michigan and Connecticut, and he thinks Pittsburgh is a great city even though some of his fictional characters do not. 

He still does most of his own stunts, and he once passed for Chip Douglas of My Three Sons TV fame on a Wildwood, NJ boardwalk. He’s a member of International Thriller Writers, and his work has been recognized by the National Writers Association, the Writers Room of Bucks County (PA), and the Maryland Writers’ Association. He likes the pie more than the turkey. 

Deliah Lawrence: What inspired you to write your book?

Chris Bauer: Zero Island is a crime thriller. I rarely remember how or where the idea for a plot materializes. I can say it most often is something that pops into my head when I’ve seen or heard a real news story that feels unusually unique in one way or another. The most convenient answer regarding Zero Island is that I have a supporting character in the first book in the series, Hiding Among the Dead, who is a blunt-force trauma victim with Hawaiian origins, but he has little recollection of them. 

My hero protagonist promised him a Hawaiian vacation in the series’ first novel so the two of them can search for his past. I chose the smallest of the Hawaiian islands, Niihau, which has an incredibly rich and appropriately colorful background for the story, but I’ve renamed it and its native inhabitants because in doing so I gave myself more freedom in telling the story I wanted to tell. There’s also the prospect of not wanting to appropriate the island’s storied background in its entirety plus protect the innocent, and to protect me from the innocents should they, uh, not like the fictional occurrences I’ve assigned to the island. 

DL: Describe your writing process?

CB:  I’ve evolved. I was once a “plantzer.” I knew where I wanted to go with the story—plotted the whole thing—then I’d start the narrative by writing scene after scene from the seat of my pants, writing toward the ending, but I’d let the story take me wherever it wanted. Recently I’ve changed camps; I now outline. I still know where I’m headed with the story (the hero’s journey, the climax, the wow aspects, the twists, the message if any) but I now go for completing a thumbnail of each chapter before I begin writing the novel itself. For me this means I will not have “writer’s block” while doing the narrative; I’ll hit that wall ahead of time when writing the chapter-by-chapter summaries. (The middle of a novel is always a bitch and needs to be avoided at all costs but hey, it can’t work that way, right?) 

I write every day. In the morning I “create,” meaning I usually write new material following a quick re-read and revision to the prior day’s work. Then comes the afternoon when I’m my most severe critic, and in the later p.m. hours I will often un-create and purge, which could mean scrapping a lot of the morning material. Ugh. So because I know this about myself, I’ve often used the p.m. hours, when I’m my most ruthless, to critique the work of peer authors from my writers’ groups, rather than go after my own material. Yes, I’m a wimp that way. Do not judge me. 

DL: What were some of the challenges when writing this book?

CB: It’s set in Hawaii. A great place to visit or live, I’m sure, but a trip wasn’t in the budget. Google maps and Google Earth to the rescue, as always. They are so powerful when it comes to doing research. And nowadays with the pandemic so many people have been homebound and are bit-chomping when it comes to wanting to get out of the house and visit exotic locales in person. So order up some Zero Island and other books that take can you to exotic places, put on some shorts and an Hawaiian shirt, and dig in for some vacation-by-book. 

DL: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

CB: I’ve mentioned one book many times when I’m asked this question. I read a short baseball novel by a fantasy author and poet fifteen or more years ago, Chance, by Steve Shilstone. I found the voice so engaging that I am sure, to this day, I channel Shilstone’s narrator storyteller into some of my narrative, a “weird old guy poet” that the novelist uses to convey his message. 

Here’s a short review of it. “Wondering whether Nabokov might have left any unpublished manuscripts behind and if so, did they have baseball themes? If anyone reading this knows the answer, please check the files to see if there’s a manuscript for a novel named Chance… It’s a very good one, full of wit, good humor, and baseball. And if you don't care about the latter, take the advice the book offers in its first paragraph and ‘Read it anyway. There's other stuff in it, too.’” -- Allen Barra, The Palm Beach Post. 

DL: What was the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

CB: Read your work aloud. Check to see if the effectiveness you’re going for on the page isn’t lost because the narrative or dialogue inflections aren’t conveyed well enough with the words. That’s why authors are always looking for the best words and phrases to convey the message, just not language that they’re only “pretty sure” conveys it. 

DL: What tips would you give to aspiring writers?

CB: Repeat after me, again: Read your work aloud. Awkward phrasing and dialogue will show itself so much better. When editing, I prefer printing out my material single-spaced so I can get a better feel for what it will look like on the printed page. Participate in writers’ groups, but do not follow all the advice of all your peer writers because not all advice is equal. When a majority of your peer writers agree on certain aspects of your material, there’s a good chance you should listen to that feedback. And unless your friends and family are composed of published authors, I would not rely on their inputs. 

Do your best to gather some writing credits wherever they can be had. Short stories, poetry, etc. There are so many avenues for getting your work out there online: magazines, anthologies, blogs. It is so difficult to get a literary agent these days. Submit to publishers who do not require that an author has agent representation. HOWEVER, should you interest an agent in you and your work, you will have a much better chance of landing contracts with the large traditional and independent publishers. And don’t settle for any agent; make sure he/she reps what it is that you’re selling: specific genres, genre vs. literary, etc. 

DL: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

CB: Brute force novelist. 

DL: Would you like to share an excerpt from ZERO ISLAND?

CB: Sure, here’s Chapter One. 


     The tourist helicopter jerked and made death rattle sounds as it dropped down, down, down, careening sideways, spinning wildly, four thousand feet, three thousand feet, two…

     Islander Kealoha “Ella” Waumami, on horseback, could hear each whup-whup-whup more distinctly as the aircraft spun earthward, five hundred feet, four hundred feet, slicing into the heavy tree canopy that edged the island’s church and school, crashing fifty yards and two livestock pens away from her, her horse rearing up.

     She’d seen and heard all of it. Saw the copter start its descent, listened as it picked up speed, and saw it flip and twist out of control, its blades shearing through the treetops on a diagonal until the canopy fought back, the thick vegetation splintering the aircraft. The flight deck skidded nose down to a stop in the clearing, the blades carving up dirt and scrub and animals in pens, cows, sheep, a wild boar, their bloody carcasses splatting against the island’s one-room schoolhouse and its tiny church, and crashing through a church window, into its interior.

     Most alarming, she’d also seen two people jettison from a high altitude, one dropping straight down like a bullet into the Pacific not far from shore, the other riding the air until a parachute opened, then splashing into the middle of the Hanakawii Channel. A cigarette boat picked him up and spun in an about-face to head toward Kauai Island across the channel.

     Ella galloped her bareback mare out of the clearing and onto the beach, dismounted, then sprinted on short but powerful legs into the water and swam hard. She knew the helicopter pilot well, a close friend. He was the one in the fluorescent yellow jumpsuit who looked lifeless before he hit the whitecaps. 

DL: What new projects are you currently working on?

CB: I’m currently working on a collaboration novel with an espionage/military novelist who has a large following. I’ve been asked to help him continue one of his series but I’m not able to discuss the details yet because these are his characters. He’s got two other series he’s staying abreast with (and they’re kicking ass in the genre) but he’s looking for some help resurrecting this one—it will be the third in this particular series—so I am incredibly gratified I was asked to make it happen. It will release mid-2022. 

I’m also working on 2 Street, the third thriller in the Blessid Trauma Crime Scene Cleaners series. It should be released by Severn River Publishing late 2022. Here’s a short summary: Someone is killing Philadelphia’s beloved Mummers, the city’s storied string band performers, singularly and in bunches. At their social club hangouts, while they practice their routines in empty warehouses, under the raised Interstate 95 superstructures, and in their homes. It might be a manifestation of protagonist Philo Trout’s past life as a U.S. Navy SEAL, a life that is not only coming back to haunt him, it’s coming back to kill him. He’s not a Mummer, but some of his friends are. Or they were, before they were slaughtered. 

DL: Where can readers learn more about you and purchase your book(s)?

CB: They can get more information here:

Book Buy Links:

DL: Thanks so much for being here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.

CB: Thanks for having me!


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