During a July 2000 book-signing tour of New York by George C. Chesbro,
Schenectady's The Daily Gazette ran an article by Marianne
Comfort about Chesbro and the Mongo series. The article was largely
based on an e-mail interview. Mr. Chesbro thought you might be
interested in seeing the original e-mail questions and answers, as
well as the published article in its final form.
I'm sorry we've been missing each other. Anyway, I would
like to get some comments from you about your background,
your books and the upcoming book signings. So, if we don't
hook up via phone, I'd appreciate your written responses to
(1) I know you grew up in Delmar and graduated from
Bethlehem High School. Were you writing at that point? Did
anything about those growing-up years in the Capital
District inspire you on any of the themes in the Mongo
series? Or are the books more inspired by life experiences
and interests since moving out of the area?
(2) Your stories are certainly inventive and weave in a lot
of elements, from international politics to religion and the
mystical. Do you have any special background or interest in
politics and international affairs? Or in religion? A lot of
your villains are religious fanatics of some sort, whether
that's wizards or a televangelist. Do you consider yourself
a religious person, or someone very skeptical of religion?
(3) How did you come up with the main character, Dr. Robert
"Mongo" Frederickson? He certainly is different from your
typical sleuth, and tackles different types of crimes.
(3) How do you characterize your books? I've seen them
described as a mixture of mystery, suspense and science
fiction, but I'd be interested in what category you'd put
them in. Or do you feel you've invented a whole new
(3) The release I received noted that the books have been
re-issued, and the website notes that they're now back in
print. Does that mean they've had another recent printing?
Have they been released newly in paperback? I'm not clear on
(4) By my count, there are 14 Mongo books. Is that correct?
(4) Will you be reading from any of your works at these book
signings? Or just signing autographs? What's it like to be
returning to your home territory to promote your books?
(5) And, finally, where are you living now? The phone number
tells me somewhere in the Hudson Valley, but I'm not clear
I'm sorry to have to conduct interview this way. The
questions seem so cold just written out like this. But I am
on a tight deadline now and it seems we're having trouble
hooking up via phone, so I'd appreciate any responses you
can send off on any or all of above questions.
ANSWERS BY GEORGE C. CHESBRO
Good Morning, Marianne!
I, too, am sorry we've kept missing each other on the
telephone. However, I will try to be as candid and
responsive as possible in response to your very clever
inquiries (you are well informed about my work!), and I hope
that will suffice.
So now ve shall begin . . .
(1) Re. Delmar's effects on my writing; this will take
No, I did not begin writing while at BCHS, but the seeds
were planted there. Despite excruciatingly mediocre grades
(I was a steady C to C- student), I suppose I was a pretty
successful high schooler. A reasonably good jock, I was
the first Freshman to make a varsity team (swimming), and
was captain in my Jr. and Sr. years. Well-liked, I was also
a skilled politician; Student Council every year, President
of Student Council in my Senior year, President of my HS
fraternity (Phi Delta Phi) in my Jr. and Sr. Years, King of
the Sr. Prom, elected Permanent Class President. Yahoo.
As it turns out, looking back, in retrospect it seems I
must have been very depressed. I remember being very
impressed by the fact that Eva Marie Sainte was
(reportedly) a graduate of BCHS, and I found that most
remarkable; I could not imagine how anyone from Delmar/BCHS
could ever really "be someone".
In college (Syracuse University) I hit a wall and
shattered, and it would take me many years to find and pick
up my pieces. I worked very hard, but still could not get
better than barely passing grades. I still desperately
wanted to be somebody, to achieve excellence, but it seemed
I had absolutely no talents or skills to be exploited (I
would never be a good student at anything, and my athletic
skills were puny compared to the cast of scholarship All
Americans on SU teams. Now I most certainly became
profoundly depressed, and I imploded into myself. Although
my political skills remained intact (elected President of
my 500-man Freshman dormitory, rushed by virtually every
fraternity on campus) this no longer meant anything to me. I
declined membership in a fraternity, left the dormitory to
live in a rickety old building off campus. I hurt
terribly, and was terribly needy. I felt empty, and to
fill that emptiness I fell into an atrocious relationship
that I feared I would never escape from. It was in my
junior year in college, totally mired and suffocating in
this predicament, that I began writing as an escape from my
life. Writing was the way I healed myself.
I did escape, and I did keep writing because I had
discovered that I needed to write in order to feel whole and
centered. It was 7 years before I ever published anything
(a poem, for $1.00), but I kept on because I could not feel
healthy without my writing. As the years went by and I
became moderately successful, indeed launched a career as a
full-time writer, I found I hated to go back to Delmar.
After a day or so, just one night sleepover, I would find
the "myself" I had worked so hard to create just draining
out of me, and I would feel, once again, as empty as I had
felt in HS (unconsciously) and in college (consciously).
Why? Who knows? Undoubtedly it was because Delmar, with its
homogeneity, reminded me with who I was then.
My feelings toward Delmar (and, of course, this is not
the fault of Delmar, a neat little whitebread town if ever
there was one!) is best expressed by the Simon & Garfunkel
song, "My Little Town", and is best expressed in my work in
Book One of The Beasts of Valhalla when Mongo must go back
to his home town in Nebraska (read desolate), a prospect he
Aside from this theme in Beasts, most everything else
comes from life experiences and interests developed after
Is that candid enough for you?
2. Re. the stories, thank you for your compliment about
inventiveness. I have no idea where the plots come from
(although I do try to have one totally insane idea every
day, whether I need it or not). I have no special
background in politics and international affairs, but I am
intensely interested in such matters, and I read a lot. I'm
also easily outraged.
Many of my villains are religious fanatics (a) because
they're easy, and (b) because I despise them for the
boundless human suffering and spiritual starvation they
cause. I am not only not religious, but I am totally baffled
by how such superstitious, destructive nonsense could
possibly have survived to the present day. The only answer
I can come up with is that it must have something to do
with genetics, and I'm missing the superstition gene. I
believe that an addiction to magical thinking, i.e.
religious thought, can destroy us all.
For an expanded version of these remarks, I suggest you
go to the web site (now dangerousdwarf.com) and check out
my article, Trusting In Wizards At The Dawn Of The
Now is that candid enough?
How'm I doing?
3. Where did Mongo come from? One answer might be, "I drink
a lot". Another might be, "I really don't know". In the
70's, when I was publishing short stories but had not had a
novel published, I was searching for a series character,
something different. A dwarf private detective was my
insane idea for one of those days. Knowing that such a
notion was not only preposterous but a waste of time, I
tried to dismiss it and get on with serious business. Mongo
would not be dismissed, and I will be eternally grateful; to
him for his (characteristic) perseverance in invading my
mind and refusing to leave.
4. I don't characterize my books, don't categorize them,
and don't presume I've "invented" anything. I just write
'em, and I write about what interests me.
5. All of the books (and the ones to come) were originally
published first in hardcover, then in paperback. Then they
went out of print for many years. New Print-On-Demand
technology has made it financially feasible for Apache
Beach Publications to re-issue them now in a trade paperback
format. It might interest you to know that a pristine 1st
edition hardcover of Beasts goes for as much as $400.
6. 14 Mongo novels seems about right. In The House Of
Secret Enemies, not yet reissued, is a collection of the 10
novellas that originally appeared in various mystery
magazines before his debut in a novel. I have published 24
novels, upwards of 100 short stories, articles, poetry, etc.
7. I won't be doing any readings, just signing books for
any fans who might show up wanting to buy a book. I have
done many such book signings over the years, and coming
back to my "home territory" doesn't disturb me the way it
8 I live with my wife Robin in Nyack, NY (a really cool
town), on the Hudson River, where we have a canoe in the
boathouse and a catamaran on the beach. We don't have a lot
of money, but we consider ourselves fabulously wealthy.
I understand you and my "official" bio failed to
connect, so I will be sending that on in a follow-up e
Thank you very much for your interest, Marianne, and I
hope you will find these written remarks helpful. With you
permission, after any article appears, I would like to put
your questions and my written responses up on the Dangerous
Dwarf web site. You and your paper would, of course, be
credited. I would also appreciate your sending me a couple
of tearsheets of any article that might appear. Finally, I
would appreciate your letting me know (phone or e-mail)
that you received this and the bio that will follow.
Thanks again, and be well. If you have a chance, please
stop by at one of the signings and say hello to Robin and
me. A "familiar face" is always welcome at these things
(which can be atrocious), even if its a face I've never
George C. Chesbro
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Delmar native Chesbro turned 'insane idea' into hit book series
THE DAILY GAZETTE
By MARIANNE COMFORT
For The Daily Gazette
George C. Chesbro can't tell you how he comes up with plots
that blend mystery, international intrigue, science fiction
and a touch of the supernatural. But he admits that trying
to "have one totally insane idea every day" certainly
The author of the 14-book "Mongo" series says it was just
one of those thoughts that, introduced him to his main
character, a dwarf private detective, back in the 1970s.
"Knowing that such a notion was not only preposterous but a
waste of time, I tried to dismiss it and get on with
serious business," he says. "Mongo would not be dismissed,
and I will be eternally grateful."
Dr. Robert "Mongo" Frederickson and his brother, Garth,
mostly do battle against sorcerers and other "religious
fanatics" in crimes that often involve international
terrorism, ritual murders and psychological manipulation.
While based in New York City, where he is a university
criminology professor, Mongo also has tangled with the KGB,
the security forces of the Shah of Iran and CIA agents in
The adventures were published in hardcover between 1977 and
1996 by, at various times, publishing houses Simon &
Schuster, Atheneum and Mysterious Press. The novels found a
cult following in the United States, but were more widely
popular in Europe, according to publicist materials. Now
Chesbro's own publishing company, Apache Beach
Publications, run by his wife, Robin Gass, has re-issued
the books in trade paperback form.
Chesbro, a Delmar native and graduate of Bethlehem Central
High School, will be returning to the Capital Region from
his home in Nyack for a series of book signings over the
Chesbro, 60, says that in high school he was mostly wrapped
up in sports and student governance. His interest in
writing grew while attending Syracuse University, when he
was struggling with depression. He says that he needed to
write "to feel whole and centered."
It was seven years before any of his work was published - a
poem for $1 - "but I kept on because I could not feel
healthy without my writing."
After graduating from Syracuse University with. a degree in
special education, Chesbro taught developmentally disabled
children until 1979, when he began writing full time. He
has published 24 novels and dozens of short stories in
Mongo, an ex-circus headliner and martial arts expert,
became his most well-known character, first appearing in
novel form in 1977 in "Shadow of a Broken Man," which sent
the detective on an adventure that involved ESP and
international intrigue. Subsequent books had the
criminologist tangling with a variety of religious
fanatics, from sorcerers involved in ritual murders to a
dangerous televangelist whose path was traced through clues
in a letter to Santa.
"I have no idea where the plots come from, although I do try
to have one totally insane idea every day, whether I need
it or not," Chesbro says. "I have no special background in
politics and international affairs, but I am intensely
interested in such matters, and I read a lot. I'm also
"Many of my villains are religious fanatics (a) because
they're easy, and (b) because I despise them for the
boundless human suffering and spiritual starvation they
cause," he continues. "I am not only not religious, but I'm
totally baffled by how such superstitious, destructive
nonsense could possibly have survived to the present day."
Chesbro says most of his themes come from experiences and
interests developed since moving away from Delmar. But he
says the dread he used to feel when returning to his native
area is summed up in Book One of The Beasts of Valhalla,
when Mongo must go back to his home town in Nebraska, a
prospect the character abhors.
Chesbro, who says he no longer becomes disturbed upon
contemplating visits to his home town, will be signing his
books at several venues over the next week: from 2 to 3:30
p.m. Saturday at Waldenbooks in Colonie Center; at 7 p.m.
Saturday at Flights of Fantasy Bookstore in Albany; at 7
p.m. next Thursday at Waldenbooks in Rotterdam Square mall;
and at 7p.m. Friday, July, 7 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore