We’re proud to present our conversation with LitStack Featured Author for August, Spencer Quinn. Quinn writes the Chet and Bernie mystery series, the first of which, DOG ON IT, reached #7 on the New York Times bestseller list. The second Chet and Bernie book, THEREBY HANGS A TAIL, came out in January 2010, and was also a New York Times bestseller, as was the third, TO FETCH A THIEF (September 2010).
How did you come up with the concept of a mystery series featuring a man and dog detective duo?
One day my wife said, “You should do something with dogs.” The basic elements of the stories – detective agency, canine narrator, not cutesy – took shape in my mind in the next few minutes. That happens sometimes!
Why did you decide to make Chet the narrator of the series?
It wasn’t really a decision. The idea took me by storm. But I’ve always like working with unreliable POV’s, and Chet is a wonderfully unreliable narrator. That combines in a challenging way with the mystery novel, which is built on following a logical chain of clues – something Chet can’t do.
How long have you been able to speak “dog?” Who taught you?
I didn’t know I could do this until I sat down and started writing Dog On It. Chet is not a talking dog or one of those dogs in fiction who are really humans in dog suits. But he is a narrating dog. I’ve had lots of dogs in my life, and I know they have a narrative of what’s going on always unspooling in their heads. That’s what I tried to get on the page.
Your books contain a great deal of humor. Which humorous mystery writers do you like to read?
Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake. Two funny non-mystery writers I really like are P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. My favorite mystery writer, Ross Macdonald, is never funny.
THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, the fourth in the series, is being published less than 3 years after the first, DOG ON IT. How long does it take you to write a Chet and Bernie mystery?
Four or five months.
As Peter Abrahams, you write thrillers and young adult mysteries, and as Spencer Quinn you write the much lighter and amusing Chet and Bernie series. How difficult is it to switch gears and write in such a different tone?
I don’t see it as a difficulty. It’s refreshing. I love doing new things in my work. My mother, from whom I learned a lot about writing, always said a change is as good as a rest. Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood St., first in a new middle-grade series, comes out in January. It’s about a 12-year-old female Robin Hood in present-day Brooklyn and has a bit of paranormal in it. I’d never touched paranormal before and really enjoyed it. It has certain parallels with surrealism, which I have dipped into in the past.
Of the three genres that you’ve been published in, which is your favorite?
I like them all.
Which came first: the idea that these would be books narrated by a dog, or the idea that they would be a series of mystery novels?
First that they would be narrated by a dog, second that they would be classic P.I. novels narrated by the detective’s sidekick, a la Holmes and Watson. (Although who ended up being the sidekick is debatable.) But as I mentioned, both ideas came within a minute or so of each other.
What’s your professional background, and do you draw on any of those past experiences when creating your plots/side characters?
I have no professional background that I can think of.
What’s the wildest adventure you’ve ever gone on with your dog?
Every time we go swimming, my dog Audrey, a Bernese/golden retriever mix, tries to herd me back to shore. She’s very powerful, so sometimes she crosses the line between herding me and drowning me. I actually did drown once, long before Audrey, back in my spearfishing days in the Bahamas – perhaps a story for another time.