You had us hooked with the notion of a 'Skunknado'. but the heroes of the tale really made the story. What inspired you to create them?
When I was brainstorming for Strangely Funny VI, a coworker saw a skunk in the parking lot and thought it was a cat. When we got closer, we realized it wasn’t a cat, and we all laughed. I decided then that there is just something innately funny about skunks, because when they attack, you aren’t really injured, you just stink (which is somehow worse than being bitten), and that there needed to be at least one skunk in my next Strangely Funny submission. I’d watched a few disaster movies over the preceding month or so, including classics like Twister, and I liked the idea of writing a parody of disaster films. But with skunks.
I’d never seen any of the Sharknado films, but I felt that they were now the industry standard for disaster movie parodies. I watched one, it was bad. Really bad. Really, really, gloriously bad. I wanted to write a parody of a parody, so it had to ratchet up the insanity exponentially. If Sharknado stretched the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, my story would have to tear straight through it. Disaster movies have their own tropes, and their own highly specialized characters who are uniquely capable of coping with the extreme situations they find themselves in. For instance, in Twister you have Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt’s characters, seasoned storm chasers who work at the fringe of acceptable science. At least one character in a disaster movie has to be the lone-wolf outsider who correctly predicted the disaster was coming, but was ignored, or worse, mocked. Think of Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park (which is both a disaster movie and a horror movie!) when he says “ ...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should” (which I quote in "Skunknado"). Then, of course, you need a group of otherwise capable characters to be put in a situation from which they need to be saved. One of the defining characteristics of a disaster film is that somebody, usually several somebodies, must be saved by the hero. It is this heroic salvation that drives the drama in the story.
So, I needed a disaster. I took the insanity of Sharknado, and made it yet more insane by replacing the sharks with skunks. But that wasn’t bad enough, so I made the tornado the biggest one ever, sort of like the final tornado in Twister. Now, I needed someone to put into danger. I settled on a team of storm-chasing scientists who had a new laser-based technology that were studying tornadoes. I looked at the tropes and settled on the elderly academic who lets his mind wander, a uniquely rebellious graduate student who is fiercely intelligent, but has poor people skills, and an overweight guy who has memory lapses that require the other characters to explain what’s going on at inopportune moments. I threw them in a van, hurled a Skunknado at them and voila! You have a recipe for disaster.
Now, for the hero. Think of disaster movie heroes and you come up with a stereotype pretty quickly. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in San Andreas (or Rampage, Skyscraper, etc.), Bruce Willis in Armageddon, Thomas Jane in The Mist, and any film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, all hyper-masculine and all hyper-capable heroes that few olympians could hope to match. I briefly considered making the hero of the story a female, but since "Skunknado" is a parody of the genre, I felt I needed a man to really sell the complete ridiculousness of the story.
Enter Jack Dammett. Jack is a ruggedly handsome man, with four PhDs and a nice car. He’s the kind of guy that has theme music playing when he walks down the street, and has serious opinions about meteorology and the quality of his tan. I conceived of Jack as a kind of genetic hybrid of every action movie hero, combined with the brains of Steve Jobs and the laid back attitude of Matthew McConaughey. Everything he does is essentially effortless, yet undeniably cool. He got his name because I wanted to include the line, “Dammit, Dammett!”
I really like the character, and I think Jack Dammett will return.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
I like to write in the evenings, or in the very early morning (a couple hours before the sun rises). I brew a pot of tea, usually a Darjeeling blend, and fire up some music. It needs to reflect the genre I’m writing. For instance, when I wrote my detective novel, Bigshots & Bulletholes, which is set in the 1940s, I listened to musicians like The Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby, while some of my horror stories had Marilyn Manson or Skindred as the soundtrack. Honestly though, the playlist I use most is Bach’s Inventions, which I can listen to while writing almost anything.
My stories are plot-driven, so at the start I decide the broad themes I want to explore, and then decide on a few must-have elements that must happen in the story, then I start to write. I don’t do any detailed plotting in advance of starting the story (which I’m told makes me a pantser), I prefer to let the story progress organically. Some writers consider this approach suboptimal because the plot can meander a bit if you’re not careful, but from what I’ve seen of the real world, meandering is an unavoidable consequence of living. I find great satisfaction when a plot unfolds in a story without my needing to bludgeon it to fit within a preconceived plot framework. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s narrative magic.
If you could ask your readers one question, what would it be?
What specific type of novel is an automatic “must buy” for you?
Is there a new author or book out there that you think we should be reading and why?
I just discovered Jo Nesbø not long ago, and I’m working my way through his backlist now. He’s not necessarily a “new” writer, but his work is new to me. Last year I did the same thing with Henning Mankell’s work. The specific genre that both authors fall into is Scandinavian noir, which is again, not new, but new to me. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
What is your current project?
I’m writing another 1940s detective novel, a sequel to Bigshots & Bulletholes, featuring my female private eye, Kissy Lisbon. My progress has been slow for a couple of months because I’m still trying to adapt to my new work schedule at my day job (I work for Uncle Sam, but not in a bad way). I’ve spent the last fifteen years happily working third shift, but now I’m working seconds, and I’m having trouble sleeping during the night. Insomnia is not conducive to writing. I just wrote a script for the PLB Comics Halloween Special due out later this year. It’s an anthology title, my story will be one of several. My brother is doing the sequential art for my part of the book. I also have several short stories in various states of completeness, ranging from barebones ideas, to final polishing.
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