We met author Chris Grabenstein at Book Culture in Manhattan recently. His latest novel, “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics” (Random House), is just the best!
Who was your inspiration to become an author?
I guess James Patterson because I always wanted to become a writer since like fifth grade, but I thought I would write skits and fun shows and stuff. So when I first moved to New York City I wrote for “The Muppets,” and I wrote for a made-for-TV movie called “Christmas Gift” and I spent 20 years writing advertising commercials like for Dr Pepper, 7-Up and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then I said, “This isn’t fun anymore.” And guess who my first boss in advertising was? James Patterson, who has gone on to become the biggest best-selling author in the history of best-selling authors. So I said, you know a pretty good second career, maybe I should do what he did. He was my inspiration to become an author. My fifth-grade teacher was my inspiration to become a writer.
In your books you define a lot of different characters and numerous different types of personalities. Which character would you say resembles you and why?
There’s always a little bit of me in every book. So have you read “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”? Mr. Lemoncello’s a wacky guy — that’s me. A kid once said, “How did you come up with Mr. Lemoncello?” and I said, “I looked in the mirror and there he was.”
How did you develop your love for dogs?
I’ve always had a dog. You guys met Fred earlier? I guess we had a dog when I was growing up in Tennessee. We had a dog, we’d go running out in the woods. But then I had a dog before Fred named Buster. I got Buster in 1990 and you know what I learned? I found out when I was in advertising, I got all my ideas when I was out walking Buster. So I had Buster for 15 years and we had a lot of fun. We’d go on walks together and I’d come up with ideas. He passed away and I said, “Well it’s a lot of work having a dog in New York City. I’m not going to have another one.” And I lasted two months. I couldn’t write without a dog. So Fred is my No. 1 writing partner and he’s had a book dedicated to him.
Do you find joy out of writing books?
Yes, I find a great deal of joy. I’m having the most fun in my life and it’s a great thing if you can find something that you like doing. It’s great and if someone will pay you to do it, it’s even better. I started out writing mysteries for adults and there’s 12, 13 of those. And I think with kids books, we’re up to like 24 books now, I think.
When did you start writing?
When I was in junior high school, like in the seventh grade. I was working on the school newspaper and we had deadlines. If you didn’t get your story done, it didn’t get printed and then in high school I worked on the school newspaper and we had deadlines. And in college I worked on the school newspaper and that came out every day. I had to turn stories in by 4 o’clock or they wouldn’t come out.