Interviews

Chris Carter – The Crucifix Killer

March 1st, 2010 by Anthony CW Morgan

Born in Brasilia, Brazil, Chris Carter spent his childhood and teenage years in his native country. Once he graduated from high school, Carter moved to the United States to study psychology with a specialization in criminal behaviour at the University of Michigan. While at university, the Brazilian held a variety of jobs, whether it be cooking burgers or being part of an all male exotic dancing group. Carter became a member of the Michigan State District Attorney’s Criminal Psychology team, interviewing and studying many criminals, including serial and multiple homicide offenders serving life imprisonment convictions. Moving to Los Angeles during the early nineties, Carter spent a decade playing guitar for numerous bands, playing and traveling the world with artists like Michael Bolton, Ricky Martin, Shania Twain, Björk, Tom Jones and Julio Iglesias. Now a resident of London, England, Carter writes full-time.

Released through Simon & Schuster UK during August 2009 and March 2010 in hardback and paperback format respectively, The Crucifix Killer was written while Chris Carter was in full time employment with a computer software company. On the recommendation of his agent Darley Anderson, Carter revised the novel’s ending so that its protagonist, Detective Robert Hunter, could become a series character. Hunter will feature in the author’s second novel, The Executioner, scheduled for hardback issue in July 2010, as well as his third novel, currently being written under the working title Stitched. To discuss The Crucifix Killer‘s paperback issue, Chris Carter was interviewed via email.

In an interview, you said The Crucifix Killer‘s plot was inspired by the fact that the girlfriend of a friend of yours was kidnapped when you were younger and still living in Brazil. Could you elaborate on that story and how it affected you as a young man, and also whether any other life experiences helped you in forming the book’s plot?

Brazil is a developing country, but still a very poor country. Unfortunately that contributes to its high level of crime. When I lived in Brazil, what we called “flash kidnapping” was a constant problem for the police. Flash kidnapping was when the perpetrators would wait for you to get to your car, open the door and disarm the alarm before putting a gun to your head, forcing you into the backseat or into the trunk and taking you along for a long ride. They’d stop at ATM machines and force you to withdraw as much money as possible. Sometimes they’d go on a mugging spree and drag you along. If a woman was the victim, chances were she’d be raped as well. Some victims got released, some got shot – it was a lottery, but it was the reality of Brazil.

Sadly the girlfriend of a friend of mine became a flash kidnapping victim. She was put in the trunk of her car and kept there for three hours before, by some bizarre chance, a police unit caught up with them and found her in the trunk. She was terribly shaken up, bruised and scratched, but thankfully that had been the worst of it. One of her scratches was a deep, cross looking gash to the back of her hand. I remember thinking: “What if that was actually done on purpose by the kidnappers as a way of marking their victims?”

Obviously I was distressed by what had happened to my friend’s girlfriend. She could’ve died for no reason at all, but unfortunately, things like that just happened in Brazil. Most people I knew back then had been threatened in one way or another at least once. I myself had been at the end of a gun barrel twice, had a knife put to my throat a few times, been mugged by a gang carrying weapons three times and was shot at once. And all that by the age of sixteen.

That was the only real life experience I can say I drew something of for The Crucifix Killer. The rest of the plot just came out of my head.

The Crucifix Killer‘s March 2010 paperback issue launch will be supported in the United Kingdom by Tesco and Asda, two of the country’s biggest supermarket chains. In light of the decline of dedicated bookstores, do you feel the support of supermarkets is becoming more and more important for authors like yourself? If you’re lucky enough to have that support, obviously?

Support of any nature is always very welcome, and I’m very grateful for the incredible support so many people have been giving The Crucifix Killer. In light of everything that’s been happening in the country – the downturn, the economical struggle and more, life has been made very difficult for a lot of people, authors included. I am very lucky and thankful that the fantastic team behind me at Simon & Schuster UK has managed to enlist such phenomenal support from giants like Tesco, Asda, WH Smith, Waterstones and Amazon.

Anyone in the book publishing business knows that big supermarket chains now control a huge piece of the book seller’s market. I’d say that today, their support is paramount.

Without revealing too much of the novel’s plot, what is the significance of the crucifix as a symbol in the novel to the characters involved? And also, do you feel the symbol being used might’ve possibly been a factor in Simon & Schuster’s North American arm opting not to publish The Crucifix Killer?

The main significance of the symbol used in The Crucifix Killer is directly related to the killer in the story. I guess that’s all I can reveal without giving it away.

I can’t really comment on why Simon & Schuster USA opted for not taking the novel to America, I don’t know the real reasons. The only comment I heard was that the American editor who read it first deemed it too violent for the American market.

Having interviewed and studied serial and multiple homicide offenders with life imprisonment convictions, in what ways has this helped you lend authenticity to your characters in general?

All the characters in The Crucifix Killer are one hundred percent fictitious, but my experience with criminal behavior psychology helped me lend authenticity to the killer’s thought process. I found out that in real life, no matter how many interviews you do, no matter how much you study, there are certain criminal minds you’ll never understand. The reasons behind their actions are too complex and buried underneath too many traumas for anyone, even themselves to fully comprehend them. In crime fiction, on the other hand, everything has to make sense at the end. Readers hate loose ends. I did my best to create believable characters with believable motives.

Having spent ten years as a guitarist for numerous bands, what prompted you to leave this behind in favour of writing stories full time?

Probably age. I was getting way too old to be a struggling rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. The truth is that I never planned to write a book. I wasn’t planning on a career in writing and I wasn’t thinking of stories I wanted to write down. The idea to write a novel came out of the blue. I always loved reading, so I thought that writing could probably be just as much fun. It’s actually more.

Being a Brazilian born writer whose native tongue is Portuguese, what difficulties and challenges does this present you as a writer?

I’ve been speaking English from a very young age. Though I was born in Brasilia and lived there through the first third of my life, I only studied in American schools. I’ve also lived outside Brazil for too many years now, and I’d say that my English is without doubt my strongest language. I’m sure I’d struggle much more if I had to write anything in Portuguese.

You’ve been particularly complimentary of Frederick Forsyth’s writing in interviews. What about his writing do you particularly admire, and are there any elements you’ve perhaps incorporated into your own writing?

I think that certain writers just have the gift, while others have to work hard at it. To me, Frederick Forsyth is one of those who simply have it. He could write about something as mundane as shopping for groceries and make it sound so interesting you couldn’t put the book down. You’d have to turn the page to find out if the character had decided to buy apples or pears. Just like Mr. Forsyth, one of the things I really try to do is keep the reader entertained and hold their interest from the first to the last page.

As you’ve said, you base your stories in Los Angeles. Have you ruled out Robert Hunter possibly assisting foreign police forces in future stories, or do you feel the benefits of basing stories in Los Angeles are too great?

I use LA for several reasons. One – I know the city. Two – I’m much more familiar with American police procedures, laws and law enforcement agencies than I am with the procedures, laws and agencies of any other country. Three – LA is a great city than can offer you a fantastic scope of scenarios for crime thriller stories. There are neighborhoods ruled by gangs, poverty on a scale that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d crossed the border to some of the most underprivileged countries in Africa, and riches like you can only see in Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a marvelous and ostentatious city and yet poor and very violent.

I never rule out anything when it comes to writing novels. Yes, Hunter could very well lend his expertise to other law enforcement agencies in the USA and probably abroad – watch this space.

In July 2010, Simon & Schuster will issue your second novel, entitled The Executioner. By further developing Detective Robert Hunter as a character and gaining experience as well as perhaps learning valuable lessons in writing your first novel, in what new territories does The Executioner venture in for you as a writer?

As any writer will tell you, an author’s second novel is considered his toughest novel to write. There are several reasons for this. When you’re writing your first novel, there’s no real pressure on you or on your writing. Without a deadline, you can take as long as you like. It’s not uncommon for you to hear stories of first novels that have been five, seven, even ten years in the making. Well, all that disappears once you’ve signed a publishing deal. For the first time you’re given a deadline, and coming to terms with that can be quite daunting at times. The other thought that plays a big part in an author’s mind is that everyone has taken a gamble on you – your agent, your editor and your publisher. They gamble on the fact that your first novel wasn’t a fluke. So all eyes are on you to produce a second novel that will prove them write. That’s the main reason people call any author’s second novel his or hers big white elephant.

The Executioner took me less time to write than The Crucifix Killer, but it was a lot more laborious. Though I did learn very valuable lessons from my first novel, I still made a hell of a lot of mistakes when writing the second one. But I’m learning. I wrote nothing less than twenty different first chapters for The Executioner. I just couldn’t get a beginning that I thought was powerful enough. In the end, it all came together very nicely. So I’d say The Executioner has pushed me in the new territory of being a full time, professional writer. And trust me, it’s a whole new ball game then being a weekend writer.

Its original title was Brutal. What was the reason behind the name change?

My agent, Darley Anderson, and Simon & Schuster’s publishing director, Suzanne Baboneau, did like the initial title – Brutal, but they were never one hundred percent sure. When Darley read the manuscript, he didn’t feel that the title was as strong as the story. He suggested The Executioner. It was an instant hit with everyone.

A priest is murdered at the beginning of the novel, whose body is later discovered to have the symbol “3” scrawled in blood on its chest, the “3” arguably being a symbol in the vein of the crucifix in The Crucifix Killer. What about symbols fascinates you as a writer, and can you see this fascination continuing in future works?

I wouldn’t say I really have a fascination with symbols. Let me try to explain without getting too technical and boring everyone to sleep. Every sadistic serial killer has a signature. Sometimes that signature is part of the offender’s MO, but not always. It could be something alien to it. It could be a symbol left on the victim or drawn on the wall, a note, a riddle, an object – it could be a number of things. As a criminal psychologist, encountering a signature intentionally left at the crime scene by the perpetrator with the sole purpose of claiming ownership of a brutal murder would automatically send alarm bells ringing. It makes the crime seem more evil, it tells us that the unsub (unknown subject of an investigation) is arrogant enough to purposely tease the detectives, and whether we like it or not, in a somber kind of way, makes the investigation more interesting. The killer in The Crucifix Killer is very different from the one in The Executioner, but they are both sadistic and use the alien type signature I mentioned above. It makes them more interesting, even fascinating if you will, and obviously that makes for a more intriguing and compelling story. For that reason, there’s always a very good chance that I might create another killer who uses the alien signature in future novels.

The Crucifix Killer was written while you were in full time employment with a computer software company, but now you write full time. In terms of your writing skills, has that yielded any benefits? Being able to fully concentrate on writing a given story?

Yes, of course it has. Being able to completely immerse myself in the creative and writing process without having to worry about a day job is fantastic. Basically I have a lot more time to correct all the mistakes I make.

An early February 2010 update on your official website mentioned the fact you were ten thousand words into a third Detective Robert Hunter novel. What can you reveal regarding this third Robert Hunter novel in terms of its plot, and overall tone? Does it have a working title?

The working title of the third novel is Stitched, and that’s exactly what happens to the victims. There isn’t much I can reveal about the story, mainly because I don’t know it yet. I don’t outline my novels, I simply sit down and write them. One chapter leads me to think about the next and so on. I don’t plan much in advance. In The Crucifix Killer, the whole ending of the novel got changed after the manuscript was finished. In The Executioner, I didn’t know who the killer would be until I was eighty thousand words into the novel. It’s just the way it works for me.

Why do you feel that Robert Hunter has enough depth and mileage as a character to be featured in several novels, and thus far, have you seriously contemplated pursuing a story idea that doesn’t feature Hunter?

The Crucifix Killer was originally a one off story. Hunter didn’t come out on top in the end. When I had my first meeting with my agent, Darley Anderson and Camilla Bolton at Darley’s London agency, he told me that they thought Robert Hunter was strong enough to become a series character. They asked me if I had considered that possibility. I was a little dubious at first, but their argument was really strong and made total sense. Darley is without a doubt the most market-wise literary agent in this country, if not in Europe. He simply gets commercial crime fiction, it’s like a gift. It would’ve been very silly of me not to have listened to his advice.

I had to go back and strengthen Hunter throughout the story. I also had to totally rewrite the ending, but Darley was right. When he was finally happy with the manuscript and decided to send it out to publishers, it took only three days for the first offer to come in, and from there it developed into a bidding war.

For more information about Chris Carter, visit his official website.


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