The T. M. Goeglein interview

I met today's interviewee a few weeks ago when he read at Tuesday Funk, presenting a fast-moving and funny story about a couple of youngsters who rob a strip club. I wished I didn't have to follow him. He is the author of the Young Adult Cold Fury series from G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin. Cold Fury was published in July '12. In it, sixteen year old Sara Jane Rispoli comes home from a high school dance to discover not only that her family has been kidnapped, but that they're embedded in the Chicago Outfit. The final book in the series, Embers & Ash, was published just a few weeks ago. Goeglein began his career as a writer of print and television ads for a host of advertising and media companies. As a screenwriter, he produced original film and television scripts and worked as a script doctor for several production companies. You can learn a lot more about him here.

What do you find are the most mysterious, intriguing spots in Chicago?
There are some former industrial areas on the south side, near Bubbly Creek, where you can look out over the oily waterscape and almost feel the last agonized thoughts of the poor bastards who were dumped there by the Outfit. Yeah, that was an Outfit move--occasionally dumping people while they were still alive. It was done for maximum effect; they would spread the word after the fact how their victims cried, prayed, and pled like cowards. Really though, the most intriguing spots in the city are the bland, unnoticeable places--faceless motels, dim taverns and old diners, hiding in plain sight. You just know weird things are happening in the back room.

Who are your favorite female protagonists besides your own?
Any woman invented by Lorrie Moore. She's a genius. Her male characters are amazing but her female protagonists are living, breathing creatures. Ill, cynical, hilarious Zoë Hendricks in Moore's short story You're Ugly, Too--I  know her, in bits in pieces, in so many women.

If the banana is the lousiest fruit, what is the lousiest vegetable?
Eggplant. Just say the name. Eggplant. It's squatting there on a cutting board and you think, "What am I supposed to do with this thing?" And then you remember it's actually a fruit and that's even more pathetic because now it's just a vegetable wannabe.

What were your favorite and least favorite ad campaigns you worked on?
My favorite was back in the day when I worked on a Cubs campaign, which required taping voice-overs of Harry Caray saying, "Holy Cow" and other inanities. We taped him in his apartment while he wore a shorty robe, so it was horrifying but worth it. My least favorite was anything pharmaceutical related to penis performance. It's impossible to create acceptable imagery around a product like that, so there's always a melancholy guy in a canoe or a rocket blasting off.

I've always been curious about what script doctoring consists of: how do you get a typical assignment, and what would be the deliverables and turnaround time?
It all begins by writing a script that someone buys but no one makes into a movie. Afterward, the person who bought but did not make your film asks you to take a look at another script he or she purchased and to provide ideas that would make it funnier/faster/sadder/more dramatic/more of a (fill in name of a star who plays the same role over and over again in every movie)-type movie. And while you're doing that, quickly, so are three to ten other writers (few of whom will receive a screen credit but most of whom will make a boatload of money) and then all of those ideas are parsed by a director (sometimes) head writer (all of the time) and that nameless star (if he or she has the juice) until, not unlike a Frankenstein monster, a script is sewn together from disparate parts. Which is why I started writing books.

How did you come up with last name Rispoli?
I wanted something that sounded as if it could be an Italian pastry--"I'll have a chocolate Rispoli, please!"--because Sara Jane's family runs a bakery on Taylor Street as a front business. Also, I enjoyed how it sounds as a surname connected to other characters in the books, especially her uncle, Buddy Rispoli. It helped me see him.

What is the process like for selling a trilogy as opposed to one long book?
For me it was a matter of writing the first book, Cold Fury--getting it to a very finished stage--and then providing six page outlines for the other two. I think the key to selling a trilogy lies in the second book; it has to be much more than a stopover on the way to the last book. In fact, it has to be different enough from book one that it not only sustains the reader's interest, but renews her love and anxiety for the protagonist.

Did you have a particular method of celebrating the finishing or release of each book?
Did you ever read Misery by Stephen King? Like his protagonist, the author Paul Sheldon, I smoked a single cigarette. That was in addition to all of the other cigarettes I smoked while writing the book, but still.

I read that you had alternate ideas for how the covers of your books should look: what did you have in mind?
I disliked the original cover for Cold Fury; Sara Jane was depicted in a leather bustier with hair flowing like a supermodel, which seemed very bait-and-switch to me. Also, there was zero indication that it took place in Chicago, and the city itself is a main character. I voiced my complaints, going so far as to suggest detailed alternatives and somehow, when the book was issued in paperback, the redesigned cover and subsequent covers reflected those suggestions. I'm still not sure how that happened.

I read in another interview that when you were young, you struggled with the structure and stricture of school. What did you teach your kids, then, about school when it was time for them to join the system?
Not to be like daddy. Seriously, my school years were torturous, partly because of the subpar, inattentive, stupidly regimented school system in which I was placed, and partly because all that I cared about were books and baseball. Fortunately, my wife seems to have bred the idiot out of my children.

Why are you "T.M." and not "Ted" (or something else?)
Because someone in the book world advised me that female readers would not buy a book about a sixteen-year-old women if a man's name was on the cover. I wish I was kidding about that but I'm not. Look, I fell for it, okay? It will never, ever happen again.

Where are your favorite places to get coffee in Chicago?
My family owned Greek diners and restaurants, so I have a sick fondness for that brownish, tepid beverage served in Buffalo China coffee cups ala Lou Mitchell's. But, caffeine being a writer's best friend, I'm a morning regular at Starbucks in Andersonville where they know my order when I walk in the door. I drink black coffee, by the way. As soon as someone whips out a whipped cream canister, I get tense.

How does it feel to be the 392nd person interviewed for
Like John Green plus 391. Also, honored--this is a smart site you have here, Claire. It's anti-knucklehead. Thank you for that.