Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Revenge of the Nerd

A significant part of Victor Gischler's appeal lies in his image as a big-ol-dork-just-like-you, who gets off on all the same shit you do, who can't wait for stuff to blow up, for tops to fall off or the beer to flow. He's right there with you waiting, watching, sometimes going - c'mon already, get to the good stuff - which is why he's always such a quick read. He cuts out all the boring bits.

But casual readers probably don't notice how much he packs into those breezy pages and staccato paces. He's a serious craftsman. Ask his students. And he's got like ideas and stuff. Notions about the world and the human condition and, and, and... but don't worry, he cuts out the boring stuff.

After throwing down kick ass hardboiled stylings with the likes of Gun Monkeys and Shotgun Opera, (love that title), he took a huge creative exit stage left and put out my personal favorite of his books, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse - a Wizard of Oz by the way of Mad Max, trip through the post civilization, refracted spectrum of modern America and with the help of Ted Turner, saved the worthy and blew up the rest.

This interview was conducted almost a year ago when The Deputy was slated for a late summer release from Bleak House. Just weeks before its scheduled date, senior editors of Bleak House left to form a new publishing house, Tyrus books. They took Victor and The Deputy with them. (Vampire A-Go-Go was published in the fall 2009).

There is an underlying dread felt by The Deputy's protagonist that he is going to let down his infant son. It felt very confessional. How long ago did you write it?

This was written -- if I recall correctly --going on 2 years ago (more?). I might not go as far as calling it "confessional" but I did very much tap into that feeling I think many parents have. The need to provide and protect your child, it's always there. It never goes away. Once you have a kid, it figures into every major decision to make and many of the minor ones too. A very common but very powerful feeling I think a lot of people can relate to.

What was the genesis of the book?

Well, it started as a short story. It became pretty clear pretty fast that it wasn't going to work as a short story because there was too much I wanted to cover. On the other hand, I wasn't 100% sure at the time it could be a novel. I wanted the whole thing to take place in a single night, and I finally got to the point where I felt comfortable it could be a novel ... but I knew it would be a short one. The idea for the character came one day when I was wondering about that line between being a kid and being an adult. In the beginning of the novel, there are still too many ways protagonist Toby Sawyer still wants to be a kid. Things change by the end of the story.

Why was it important for you to set it entirely in one night?

I really wanted the story to have a modern day HIGH NOON feel. Also, there are a number of personal things in Toby's life that have been bubbling under the surface, as well as the corrupt stuff going on in his town, and I wanted the feeling that this was all coming to a head RIGHT NOW. It's not an "ongoing investigation", but rather a world of shit that's falling on Toby's head at that moment in his life. I wanted ALL the shit to hit the fan in a concentrated period of time.

It's certainly "high and tight" compared to the relatively sprawling and ambitious Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse.

Go-Go was meant to be an epic -- well, a parody of an epic -- so it was necessary to have a big cast of characters and cover a lot of geography. The Deputy was far more a personal story about Toby. I wanted the story itself to feel as cut off from the rest of the world as Toby does in his little home town.

Parody or not, you pulled some real emotion out of Go-Go, most of it revolving around coffee, but still, can we expect the same out of Vampire A-Go-Go?

Both Vampire and Go-Go are blends of satire and parody, but Go-Go leans more toward satire and Vampire more toward parody. Vampire is lighter than Go-Go, yes there's sex and violence, but as I was writing it, I could tell the book wanted to be more like the funny DaVinci Code rather than quite as bitingly satirical as some of my other work. I always try to go with what the work tells me it wants to be. I was speaking with a film director the other day, and he said Vampire A Go-Go had a very Joss Whedon feel to it, and I wouldn't dispute that.

Can you elaborate on "go-go" and "a-go-go” - what the essence is to you or the difference between them?

The difference is that I titled the first book Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse because ... well I think it's pretty obvious why. Vampire A Go-Go is called Vampire A Go-Go because the folks at Touchstone thought it was a catchy title. My original title was BAD ALCHEMY. If the title Vampire A Go-Go catches a lot of people's attention and sells a lot of copies, I'll be first in line to congratulate them on thinking of it. Frankly, my only concern is that readers will somehow connect the two books, think that one is a sequel or something which isn't the case.

After four more or less straight crime novels these sound like a hard left turn. How receptive have publishers been to this brand of Victor Gischler?

Frankly, I get the feeling that marketing departments hate curve balls. My old publisher didn't want to see anything but crime novels, and my new publisher thinks the new direction means that crime novels are out the window. That's why I'm grateful for a place like Bleak House who want to keep me in the crime writing business even while I'm doing other things at the same time. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for all my publishers who publishers who publisher me for whatever reason they think applicable. But there are a lot of stories rumbling around in this little pea-brain of mine and they don't all fit neatly into genre x or category Y.

Are there other mediums you're anxious to work in?

I love story. I love a good story told well in any medium. I've dipped my big toe into screenwriting, and we'll see how that goes. I've also done some work for Marvel Comics which has been a lot of fun and I want to keep doing more. I think I'd really love to write a balls out, pulpy over-the-top space opera for the sci-fi channel. (Or is it syfy now or whatever the hell...?) I'd also kill to do something for Adult Swim. I think The Venture Brothers is pure brilliance.

The dark past of Race Bannon?

Yes, as well as the family troubles of Mr. Fantastic ... uh ... I mean, Mr. Impossible.

How rewarding is teaching?

To be blunt, it can be hit and miss, and it really sucks time away from writing. Teaching a class like freshman composition ... well, the kids mostly don't want to be there, so it sort of makes me not want to be there either. But I teach a screenwriting class which is tops. When the students get into it's much more rewarding for the teacher. And yes, I want a rewarding experience too. It's not a one-way street. I feel like I want to start each semester by asking the students, "Okay, how are you going to make this a good experience for ME?" Smart, interested students make all the difference.

Do you have a relationship like that with your reading public too?

Not quite. I've described it like this before. My books are parties to which everyone is invited ... but nobody has to stay. But don't come in and demand we take Johnny Cash of the stereo because you want to listen to Celine Dion. This ain't Burger King. You don't get it your way. But if you like what I'm dishing out, then I'm one grateful son of a bitch. But even the people who don't like my books, hey, I'm still thankful they gave me a try. Win some lose some.

Anybody you're particularly trying to please or show up with your writing?
I think a lot of writers would offer you this answer: I write what I would want to read. Same with me. I'm not sure who I'd show up. Lots of authors have better reviews, better sales, etc. I actually tried to sit down and write a "formulaic thriller" once to see if I could get to that next level or be a bestseller or whatever. It was 100 pages of steaming crap. I bored the hell out of myself. So from now on I'm just going to write the story that seems best to me in the moment.

Do you limit your reading while you write?

Not on purpose, but it sometimes works out that way. Certainly I'll try to steer clear of works that are in the same vein as the one I'm writing. I've found lately that I've really hit a dry spell of reading. I'll start books, and toss them aside after 40 pages because they just aren't doing it for me. So in a way it's kind of a relief to be neck deep in a novel plus comic book scripts plus screenwriting. Saves me the trouble of figuring out what to read. Not that there isn't good stuff out there. There's plenty. But it almost seems like I have to wade through a dozen to find that one gem.

What would people be most surprised to find you love to read?

I never know what will surprise anyone. I love academic novels like Richard Russo's STRAIGHT MAN and LUCKY JIM by Kingsly Amis. Hmmmm, what else? Oh, I've read all the Harry Potter books and really liked them, so maybe that will surprise some people. It was hard as hell to get started on that first one. Tried three times before I got it going, but Young Adult Literature is one of the subjects my wife teaches at the university, so she kept goading me to read them. I ended up enjoying myself.

There was definitely some echo of Russo in Pistol Poets. Do have ideas for YA novels?

I actually have a great idea (I hope) for a novel ... well, a PREMISE actually, and I'm trying to decide the best direction for it. Part of me wants to work in my comfort zone of violence, satire and depravity. But another part of me can see going in a YA direction that might appeal to the TWIGHLIGHT crowd. My agent and I are kicking it around, so I'm keeping the details under wraps until I figure things out. But my default mode is definitely not YA.

There's a pretty respectable tradition of children's authors who write pretty dirty adult novels from Roald Dahl to Nathaniel Handler - you might fit right in.

Ha. Maybe. I never rule anything out. But I want to make the right decision before I start on a project. I don't want to get 50 pages in, writing the thing as YA, and the realize "Wait, this is bullshit." But as soon as the right thing to do "clicks" in my head, I'll get started.

Do you write most projects before they're sold?

Yes. I'd love to say I'm at that level where I can just send in a one-page pitch and have a publisher love it and give me money. But why would a publisher do that when they have so many already completed manuscripts to choose from? So I generally write the book I want to write and cross my fingers.

Getting back to writing your "best seller" then, what were you doing differently trying to write what "they" want?

Exactly. My old agent came back with a list of elements common to most bestsellers that my publisher at the time liked. "Liked" meaning they were selling well. So I churned out a 100 pages. Felt like I was working on an assembly line. I didn't like what I was writing, so why would I think anyone would like reading it. Huge waste of time. I don't blame anyone but myself. I should have known better.

That's amazing, do you recall any items on the list? Any particular character traits or plot twists that sell?

Huh. It's been a while, and I've tried to blot out the whole experience. The only one I remember is "Strong Female Protagonist" ... which in and of itself is not objectionable. Maybe why it's the only one I remember.

(You can check out my notes on The Deputy over at Ransom Notes)


David Cranmer said...

I enjoyed learning a little more about Mr. Gischler. Thanks for the interview. Vampire A-Go-Go is being ordered today.

Unknown said...

Oh, Uncle Victor, how I hope you write a hard-boiled Harry Potter...Excellent interview as always, Jed