In Character: A conversation with Chris Gutierrez

Well, howdy! How are you all? So glad to hear it!

All rightie, as some of you know, I write mysteries. Currently, I’m writing what’s called The New Mexico series. But I do it a little differently than other writers might. Odd-numbered books star one character and even-numbered books star her best friend. That is, books 1 and 3 (Land of Entrapment and The Ties that Bind) star sociologist and academic K.C. Fontero. Book 2 (State of Denial) stars K.C.’s best friend, Albuquerque police detective Chris Gutierrez. Book 4, which is in progress as we speak, will also star Chris. But the whole NM posse makes appearances in all the books, so don’t worry!

That said, as some of you also know, my characters stop by every now and again to get all caught up and chit chat. K.C. has visited, as has Sage Crandall, K.C.’s love interest. And I’m totally stoked that Chris could make it for a little convo, given her schedule at work.

A little background, for those not in the know. Chris and K.C. go way back. They’ve been friends over a decade, and they met at a party. They’ve forged a tight and unique friendship. If you read Land of Entrapment, you’ll see what I mean. Because of K.C.’s research expertise, she’s helped Chris on some of her investigations and because of Chris’s police background, she’s helped K.C., as well. They work well together not only as friends, but also as professional colleagues.

Chris is a New Mexico native. That is, she was born and raised in Albuquerque, and her father’s family can trace its roots to the original Spanish settlers who arrived in what is now New Mexico in the early 18th century. Her mother’s mother — the woman you know as “Abuelita” (little grandmother, literally translated) immigrated to Albuquerque with her husband (he died when Chris was a child) from Mexico during WWII. Chris still has family in Chihuahua, and she does go and visit every now and again. Because of Abuelita, Chris is bilingual, something that has proven helpful in some of her investigations. Chris has three brothers, which “toughened her up” in some ways. She was a high school jock, but harbored an artistic and bookish side. She’s generally easy-going outside of work, but she’s driven and detail-oriented on the job. Which is a good thing, since she’s a cop. Yes, she does have a current love interest, who you’ll meet in State of Denial, if you choose to read it.

Hmmm. Chris is running late. That’s not like her. Oh, hold on. There’s the door…


ANDI: Hey! Come on in! [holds the door open]

CHRIS: Thanks. Sorry about that, esa. Cop stuff at work. [Chris grins down at me — she stands about 5′ 8″, which I’m sure helps her on the job. She gives me a bear hug and I practically can’t breathe. She’s wearing khakis, a light blue button-down shirt, and plain black Doc Martens, a quirk of hers.]

ANDI: No worries, girlfriend. Have a seat. Are you working tomorrow?

CHRIS: Yeah. [pretends to pout]

ANDI: Okay. No beer. Diet Coke?

CHRIS: That would be excellent. Thanks. [she sits and I go to the kitchen, where I get her a can of DC out of the fridge and a glass from the cabinet]

ANDI: Here. [hands Chris the can and glass and flops down in a chair across from her]

CHRIS: Gracias. I’d prefer a beer, but you know how it goes. Gotta be sharp. [she pours the can into the glass and sets the can on the coffee table]

ANDI: Well, yeah. Albuquerque’s finest and all. So how’ve you been? I know I’ve been a bad writer and it took me a while to get comfortable with the new book. Sorry about that.

CHRIS: It’s all good. Not like I haven’t had anything else to do. [she grins and takes a drink]

ANDI: True. What with certain parties keeping you busy and all…

CHRIS: [grins again] She’s out of town for a couple of days. She sends her love, by the way.

ANDI: Sweet! Not only do I get Dayna love, but I get you all to myself for a while? That could be truly scary!

CHRIS: It could. And how is it that you get all these women sending you their love? What’s that about?

ANDI: Oh, please. It’s sidekick love.

CHRIS: [stares] Sidekick?

ANDI: Yeah. Like the funny, kind of endearing friend everybody always has — the “safe” friend.

CHRIS: I’m not even going to go there.

ANDI: Good. Back to the matter at hand. I get you all to myself!

CHRIS: [laughs] Like you don’t already. You know, it’s weird, but I feel like you and I don’t have the same kind of relationship that you and Kase [Andi Note: that’s a nickname for K.C.] do. You spend a lot of time in my head, too, when you’re writing our books, but it feels to me like there’s a different level of interaction between us, character and writer.

ANDI: Well, I hope so. After all, you and K.C. are very different people. She and I have a different kind of rapport than you and I do. Plus, I think writing 3rd-person POV with you sort of ensures a different layer of interaction than with K.C., who I write as 1st-person.

CHRIS: True. The other thing I appreciate about your process is that even though you don’t have a career background in police work, you’ve still acquired a working knowledge through your forensic anthropology and the crime investigation seminars you’ve taken. I like, too, that you talk to cops and lawyers all the time, so you know a bit about how the system works. [takes another drink] Obviously, for fiction, you have to stretch the truth a little — in terms of, say, certain tests in certain situations — but I think you try to honor the process. And that’s pretty much my deep thought for the night. [she smiles again and toasts me with her glass]

ANDI: No it’s not. More deepness! So how would you classify our relationship, when we’re working on a scene?

CHRIS: Depends on the situation. If you’re writing K.C., in one of her books and I’m in the scene, you’re seeing me through her eyes, and there’s a history that she and I have that you as the writer have to keep separate from you and your authorly interaction with her. When I’m working on my police reports, I think about that, because a police report requires that sort of detached engagement. I can’t make a judgment call in a report in some respects. For example, if a woman comes running out of a house bleeding from her lip followed by a man with blood on his knuckles, you as a fiction writer would encourage the reader to assume that the man had hit the woman. But as a police officer, I have to report without making assumptions. So I might write something like “Woman ran from house, with what appeared to be blood on her lower lip and chin.” Then I’d write, “Man came out of house, also running, same direction as woman, with what appeared to be blood on knuckles of his right hand.” I can’t make assumptions until I have the facts. And if I’ve just arrived on the scene, then I have to record what I’m seeing first, then flesh out the story with more details as I secure the scene and begin questioning people.

ANDI: Damn, Chris. I like it when you get all geeky deep like this. Sexy!

CHRIS: [laughs] Sorry, esa. Got carried away. So back to the other thing. If you’re writing through me, it feels a lot more professional-colleague-ish on some levels than the sort of relaxed angsty goofiness you write with K.C. And she is so going to kill me for calling her angsty. [Chris has a really endearing sheepish grin; she gives me one]

ANDI: Um…I think that’s your phone buzzing.

CHRIS: Uh-oh. [chuckles] Text from Kase. She says, and I quote, “Angsty? Who are you calling angsty?” [she texts back]

ANDI: Tell her you’ll buy her a beer.

CHRIS: Oh, I did. [puts her phone back in her pocket] So when do I get to go on vacation with Dayna?

ANDI: You’re as bad as K.C. and Sage. How about I write you onto an island somewhere and you get to be Magnum, P.I. for a while?

CHRIS: Not really my style. Not that I don’t like beaches. I just don’t think I’d look that great in Hawaiian shirts. K.C. is much better in those than I am.

ANDI: [my phone buzzes with a text message. I read it.] Dayna begs to differ.

CHRIS: Great. I’ll never hear the end of it from the guys if I start wearing Hawaiian shirts to work!

ANDI: She says you can be “Gucchi, P.I.” Not sure I’m feelin’ that, but you’d look good no matter what you rocked over there.

CHRIS: Aww! Muchas gracias. Eres muy amable.

ANDI: Sneaky, testing mi español! Thank you for saying I’m kind.

CHRIS: Damn right I have to test you. Don’t get lazy on me.

ANDI: I’m interested, actually, in the angle this convo has taken. In some ways, K.C. is an amalgam of some of my best friends from grad school, and she and I haven’t really grown up on some levels — Kase, before you text, let me finish. [Chris laughs] K.C. and I are similar in that regard, I think. I’m pretty easy-going about a lot of things, but on some levels, I don’t really feel like I’ve grown up. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

CHRIS: I think I agree. You and Kase both have a youthful energy. Not sure how you manage that, given what you both research, but yes, the two of you are similar in that regard. I like that about K.C., especially, because I know I’m going to get not only an infusion of that youthful energy, but there’s a certain wisdom she carries, and I like her perspectives on things. Keeps me thinking. And she did learn a lot in The Ties that Bind. [gives me a wicked smile]

ANDI: You, on the other hand, are a grown-up. K.C. and I are goofy in a lot of ways, but that’s not really something that works for you. You have a great sense of humor —

CHRIS: Yes. I do. [winks]

ANDI: [smiles] Anyway. Great sense of humor, and a really nice bookish — that’s the word I used earlier — side. You also have an artsy side, but I won’t reveal too much there, since State of Denial takes care of that. You’re driven in your work, but there’s a deep fierceness about you. You don’t do anything halfway. Your friendship with and loyalty to K.C. is locked in. Your loyalty to your family is unquestionable. And you’ve accepted Sage into your circle. I wouldn’t call you aloof, but you can be a little distant and, like every cop, you tend to observe and gauge moreso than actually engage. It’s hard, I think, for truly good cops to disengage from that alert mode and just go with the flow. I think you’re able to do that better than most, but I know it’s a tough balance sometimes.

CHRIS: Family and friends keep me grounded.

ANDI: But you’re also open to possibility. I think Sage sees that in you, and I think Dayna does, too. One of the things that I’m working on understanding with you is your difficulty with certain types of intimacy. I think you’ve got some control issues you’re working through. [grins and wags a finger at her]

CHRIS: [groans, but smiles] I’m sure you’re right. K.C.’s told me that. I’m not really sure where it comes from, but I’d agree. I’m not sure if becoming a cop created that, or if it was already in me and the cop stuff just brought it out.

ANDI: Not sure. Maybe we’ll never know, but it’s interesting working with it, because K.C.’s control issues and perfectionism are on a level that I understand, given our similar academic backgrounds. You, however — you’re driven in different ways, and your baggage is a little different. The Kevlar’s a little hard to deal with, too.

CHRIS: Huh. Are you perhaps being respectful of my space, then, when you’re in my head?

ANDI: Maybe. I know how you are, after all, about sharing it! [we both laugh]

CHRIS: Then again, State of Denial got pretty intimate in a lot of ways for me. I had to work on some stuff then.

ANDI: And you’re still working on it, which Sage would say is a good thing.

CHRIS: True. She’d say something like “Seeing is the battle. Changing is the war.”

ANDI: Well, hell, Chris. That’s a great line. Can I use that sometime?

CHRIS: I’d say something really sarcastic here about our connection as a writer and character, but I won’t. [she finishes her drink] Yes. Feel free. [smiles] And I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to head out. Abuelita needs me to check her sink again and —

ANDI: [grins] I know. You’ve got to call Dayna. No problem. Tell her “hi”. Really great having you come by. Much appreciated.

CHRIS: Same to you. [we both stand, she gives me another hug] Great talking to you, esa. Give me a call if you need anything.

ANDI: You know I will. Thanks, Chris. [I follow her to the door and wave as she heads down the walk] Later!

CHRIS: For sure. [waves and gets in her car]

There you go! Thanks for hanging out with us and hope your weekend is oh, so fabulous! Happy whatever you do!

16 comments

  1. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Chris. Can we expect book #4 in the near future?

    And hey, next time she stops by could you please get her chile lasagna and chicken mojo recipes? Seriously. I’ve been jonesin *g*

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  2. That was just fabulous! I’ve missed to Posse. I’ll have to go back and renew. Andi, I’ve enjoyed your ‘interviews’ but I think this one really rocked.You did some good ground work with these characters and the Craft. Well done, Esa!

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  3. Hi, Jersey! Hi, Barrett! Thanks for reading. I am working on Book 4. Chris and I hashed some things out behind the scenes and then I had a chat with Dayna, sat everybody down for a reading, and so far, it’s moving along. K.C. would tease me right now, because I get really anal about the NM series. I do a lot of research for each one, and then I have to think about how the story is going to accommodate that information, and vice versa.

    Another aspect of my process is that I don’t really do outlines. I keep tabs on character histories and tabs on the chronologies from book to book, but I generally don’t know where a narrative is going to take me until I actually get there. I call that an “organic” kind of process, in that it’s like watching a movie I’ve never seen, when I write fiction. It’s exciting, because I get to find out, too, what happens. Some writers map every little bit out before they write; some do loose scene outlines; others write scenes on flashcards and then think about them…I just write. Just a reminder, folks, there is no right or wrong writing process. There are certain grammatical and craft rules that we use as guidelines, but the process itself is whatever works for each writer. And my process happens to be a little weird for some. And it could change, the more I write. I may end up doing outlines in the future. Who knows? That’s part of the fun.

    One thing about plot that I do is I will mull whether a character’s actions make sense in a particular scene. For me, that’s key. A plot can only make sense insofar as the characters who carry it. So I’ll ask “is that something character X would really do?” Or “Have I given character X enough information from the previous scenes to say or think that?” I also have to think of the reader as a character. Have I given the reader enough information about back story that he or she doesn’t need to stop and think: “what? What’s this about?” When you’re writing a series, you have to think about things like that. How much back story is enough to give a new reader a sense of things without doing an info dump? How much info is enough to cue the reader without the characters doing the dreaded “as you know, Bob” dialogue? Things like that.

    Blah blah blah! ANYWAY!

    I’m hoping NM 4 will be released this fall. That’s what I’m shooting for, and now that Chris and I have figured out a couple of things about the plot, we’re going to try it out and see if it works. I think it will. Hopefully, the beta readers will, too. 8)

    But I’m always nervous about a new book.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

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  4. […] things. I have conversations with my characters now and again, and I post those. You can find the latest convo, with my character Chris Gutierrez (Albuquerque police detective) over at Women and Words. There are links to 2 other character convos […]

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  5. I always love the character interviews…nice to know I’m not the only one who sees them as real people! Glad to hear the next book will be out this year, I really miss spending time with this bunch…great characters. The way you write, I feel like I actually know them, so I enjoy getting drawn into their world.

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  6. Great interview, Andi! Always nice to get to know your characters a bit better and to see how you and they interact. Looking forward to NM 4. Hope the fall works for the release. Best wishes on the writing!

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  7. You do the best interviews, Andi! And I’m always happy to hear from one of the New Mexico gang.

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