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JUST ASKING

Jim Chriss, who grew up in North Tonawanda walking through snowdrifts to serve 6 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa, was a towering success in the business world. Vice president for corporate marketing for Levi Strauss & Co., he was included among the Top 100 marketers by Advertising Age. He's worked in London, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Sydney, Australia, and currently maintains a consulting practice to corporate managers out of Tiburon, Calif.

Now he's trying to become a successful author.

Chriss' pot-boiler "Guardian Angel: What is Your President Doing Tonight?," published by Creative Arts Book Company, is the story of Mike Kostanski, a Secret Service agent charged with guarding a president, who is an "inveterate sex hound."

Fiction follows truth when Kostanski is called to testify before the grand jury about the female visitors who come through on his watch as the "afternoon man" at the Oval Office. In the book's opening line, Kostanski asks himself: "I would die for him, but should I lie for him."

Though this president is described as being a likable rogue with a full head of silvery gray hair, the youngest governor of Alabama and married to a woman who lusts for power, Chriss denies that the book is about the Clintons.

Then what is it about?

It's about an idealistic young man, somebody who really felt like he was doing the right thing. We've all been idealistic, and then you actually find yourself in the real world and things hit you in the face. I think that's what happened to Mike.

What instigated the book?

I was thinking about what an ethical dilemma it would be to have to testify in a situation like that. It's a question of personal ethics vs. loyalty to a cause. A question of when it's the right time to assert yourself, whether it's in politics, in business, in big-time sports.

Is this historical fiction? A Harlequin romance?

It' a suspense thriller with political overtones, but in a way it's a mystery. How is this regular person going to fight an entrenched political machine? It's one man against impossible odds.

So, we'll see Bruce Willis playing Mike Kostanski?

No, I think he's too old. I was thinking more of that guy who is marrying J.Lo.

There's a lot going on in the story - how did you keep it all straight?

The style is iterative. I didn't know when I started how it would end. Once I got to one place I looked for the next. What I'd do was to come up with ideas and expand on them in a chapter and say, "now when would this happen." I knew, for example, that somebdy had to figure out the crooked corporation and that's where the Frankie guy, the IRS agent from Kenmore, came in.

What have you learned with your venture into writing?

At first, I tried to sell the book, but a good friend said I'd better start selling "Jim Chriss" because everybody writes books. The expectation might have been that I'd write a book on business. But not everybody involved with a $7 billion corporation writes this kind of book.

What's next on the agenda?

Well, I might stick with Mike, my goofy hero, and see what happens as he goes on. If not him, it will be a regular person against the system. I won't flog any point of view, but it will be someone coping with a major crisis. I've done a short piece on someone who is against the death penalty and how they'd feel if something happened to someone close to them, when it really hits home.

I'm also considering doing a book on how to promote books.

Chriss will be in town to do readings at Talking Leaves, 951 Elmwood Ave., at 7 p.m. Friday; Barnes & Noble, 1565 Niagara Falls Blvd., at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 and the Book Corner, 1801 Main St., Niagara Falls, at 1 p.m. Nov. 30.

e-mail: pvoell@buffnews.com

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