Archive for February, 2012

My friend, the inimitable, awesome A. Lee Martinez, has a book coming out March 5th! In honor of Emperor Mollusk Vs. The Sinister Brain, I’m hosting an interview (you gotta check out what he has to say about humor and universal themes, guys.) and an EPIC FOUR BOOK PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY!

Um, did I mention that each of the books is autographed and each one has a different, original sketch with the signature?! So cool.

All you gotta do to enter is read and leave a comment/additional question. Enter by midnight,  Thursday, March 1st.  Coolest comment/question wins. 

Interview:

1. I’m always glad to get a sneak peek of your pages at DFW Writers’ Workshop. For everyone else, can you share a little bit about your latest, Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain?

 It’s a story of a great supervillain (who happens to be a squid from Neptune) and what happens after he decides he’s not so happy being a bad guy anymore.  He’s not exactly seeking redemption, but he’s not interested in doing the villain thing either.  The only problem is that he’s basically too amazing to not be in the center of some sort of grand adventure, and since he lives in a universe where adventure is found in every corner, that means retirement isn’t easy.

Ultimately, it’s a novel in the tradition of pulp sci fi / fantasy.  Emperor lives in a reality where every planet in our solar system is inhabited, where lost civilizations are a dime a dozen, and where everything he does is important.  He’s Doc Savage, John Carter, or any number of larger-than-life protagonists who rule their stories through virtue of being incredible and absurd ideals.  In Mollusk’s case, he’s smarter than you, and he knows it.  If Lex Luthor came from Neptune and had no Superman to stand in his way, he’d be Emperor Mollusk.

So on one level, the story is about mutant dinosaurs and giant robot fights.  And on the other, it’s about the struggle that we all have to deal with, about figuring out our place in this universe, learning to live with our mistakes, and hopefully, not repeating them.  Except Emperor’s mistakes can blow up planets, so there’s extra pressure right from the get go.

2. It’s no secret that I’ve nicknamed you ‘Existential Loki’ because you write books with heft, heart and wit. You’ve mentioned before that humor is underrated in storytelling. Care to elaborate?

Maybe not humor specifically, but just fun in general.  There’s this tendency, probably as old as time, to assume that if a story isn’t Serious Business, then it’s just silly and slight.  We have always seen humor as an escape mechanism, something it often is, but we also tend to think of it as unimportant or easy.  It’s absurd.  I think drama is great, but it doesn’t have to equal melodrama.  A story can make you smile, have weird elements, and still have some emotional heft.

To put it one way:  If a story is about a protagonist’s personal growth as he becomes a better person, that’s generally considered light.  If a story is about a protagonist’s personal growth, but then he gets run over by a car, that’s generally considered deep.  And I’ve just never gotten that.  I don’t need characters to die or tragedy to be invested in something.  It’s an artificial paradigm that I reject.  Of course, I write books about robot detectives and space squids, so my opinion probably doesn’t count.

3. In your books, you explore universal themes in new, thought provoking ways. What core ideas spark your imagination, time and again?

First of all, thanks for that.

I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but most of my stories revolve around an outsider who is trying to live his or her life the best way they can.  I think that is something we can all relate to.  We all feel like outsiders now and then, strangers in a strange world.  My characters vary, but with rare exception, they are usually good people who end up in odd situations where the rules as they know them no longer apply.  And then they swim upstream, hoping to make sense of it.  If they’re lucky, they sometimes even find a place in the world.  But regardless, it’s all about living our lives without screwing up too badly and hopefully, helping each other along the way.

It’s not a new theme, but I’d like to think I can bring something new to the table now and then.

 4. What inspired you to become a writer and how did you get started?

 I was inspired by my lack of desire to do anything else.  I wasn’t “driven” to write stories like most people who start writing seem to claim.  I wasn’t certain what else to do with my life, and it seemed like a cool job to pursue.  I did consider art, and as technology has made being an artist easier, I might have even gone into that instead.  But at the time, I felt I was a better writer than artist.  I still think that’s true, but then again, who knows how I might have progressed as an artist if I’d put my energy into it?

 I started by writing novels and sending them out.  In the beginning, I had a very specific schedule.  I’d write for two to three hours a day, finish a novel in six to eight months, and submit with wild abandon.  I was fortunate enough to have Mom as a beta reader (and great source of moral and financial support to boot), and it helped me to figure a lot of things out.  And then I found the DFW Writer’s Workshop (completely by accident since the internet was mostly a rumor at that point) and got even more guidance.  It took a long time, but with a lot of help, I managed to get my break.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 5. I know you read a lot of non-fiction. Can you recommend something you’ve read lately?

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonical is a great book about video games versus reality and how reality could learn a few things from video games.  I love games of all sorts, so it has a great appeal to me.

I’m also enjoying That is All by John Hodgman, though I’m not sure that qualifies as non-fiction.  Still, a very funny book.

6. Who is your favorite fictional hero? Why? 

If I have to pick one, I’d probably go with Tarzan.  There is something about him.  He’s an outsider who is always viewing the world from a different perspective, and he’s also intelligent and formidable.  He fights lions and dinosaurs and LOVES to read, which is something that gets overlooked a lot in most media.

 7. Last Question. Finish this sentence: “I wish more people…”

…would buy my books.

 (Ha, I knew you would lead off with that, A. Lee.)

Just kidding.  Actually, no I’m not.  I do wish that.

But if I have to create a non-selfish wish, I’d have to say I wish more people would try harder to accept each other.  I don’t mean “understand” each other.  I mean just relax and stop hassling the other guy.  We don’t need to understand each other.  We just need to accept that people are going to be different, and that’s cool.  I don’t know why anyone wears dresses or watches reality TV.  But I don’t have to get it to respect their rights to do so.  We waste a lot of energy trying to convince people who don’t like us that we are worth liking, and for the most part, it falls on deaf ears.  It’s also exhausting.

 We do love to fight over our weird choices and strange habits, even while wondering why no one gets our own choices and habits.  Just imagine how much we could accomplish if we dropped all that busy work.

We’d have more time to read books about evil geniuses from Neptune, for one.

Shoot me a comment or question to win this AUTOGRAPHED PILE OF GREATNESS! You’ll get a whole library of A. Lee’s books!

 

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Last year, I had the chance to read and review The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander, and boy it took me by surprise. I expected a few laughs, but it ended up having pretty much everything I like in a good book–a good storyline, great characters, plus a surprising plot with action. Let’s not mention, the bad guys I loved to hate.

So you can imagine how excited I was to get my hands on an early copy of The Fourth Stall Part II. For newbies, the series is about a boy in middle school named Mack who solves the kind of problems you can’t go running to your momma about. Dealing with bullies? Need test answers, favors, or advice on playground espionage? Mack’s the fixer, and he rules the school from his clandestine office in the fourth bathroom stall.

Sometimes, sequels are a letdown, and Mack’s first book ended so well. I was worried this one wouldn’t measure up. Turns out I had nothing to fear–part two is terrific. The bad guy is even bigger, and the stakes get even higher for Mack. An evil, standardized test loving vice principal wants to put Mack out of business. Permanently. Good thing Mack has a few tricks up his sleeves, and also the help of his right hand man Vince and his minions Joe and Fred. It takes the whole crew to stop the testing madness and uncover all sorts of sinister secrets in the school. (Like that line? My mom calls that alliteration.)

Trust me, you wanna read it. It’s too funny and fast-paced to miss. A solid read for wise guys like me.

And lucky for you, Walden Pond Press wants to give one blog reader a copy of The Fourth Stall part one AND Part Two! All you gotta do is give this eleven year old reviewer a comment below. I’ll pick a random winner–the contest is open until midnight, Monday, February 13th!