We’re huge fans of David Wong’s work. His novel John Dies At The End, and its follow-up This Book Is Full Of Spiders, delivered a truly brilliant combination of disgusting body horror, genuinely creepy chills and massive belly laughs. Now, the author has stepped (briefly) away from the JDATE universe to deliver a sci-fi tale: Futuristic Violence And Fancy Suits.
We took the chance to talk to him about his new novel, how he feels about the John Dies At The End movie, and why Blofeld is the best movie cat.
How would you pitch Futuristic Violence And Fancy Suits?
A young woman from the trailer park and her very smelly cat must wage a war against a horde of cybernetically-enhanced supervillains. Hopefully she’ll take it easy on them.
Was it a conscious decision to move away from John and Dave? The book’s still got a lot of that brilliant weirdness in there but it’s definitely something different.
Well you don’t want to just write the same thing all the time, Ian Fleming for instance had all sorts of other great novels aside from the James Bond series (probably, I didn’t have a chance to check).
Was stepping away from that universe nerve-wracking in any way, or was it just exciting?
It’s all nerve-wracking! I’m writing the next John and Dave book and that’s nerve-wracking, too. If it’s not terrifying because it’s new territory, then it’s terrifying because I’m afraid of ruining a beloved series. This is why every single sentence gets rewritten 36 times before I send it off.
What was the appeal of near future sci-fi? A lot of the tech in the book doesn’t feel too far removed from the present, and of course there’s still “chilli.”
I didn’t want the kind of sci-fi that portrays Future America as an unrecognisable alien planet. For instance, Blade Runner is a masterpiece, but it could just as easily take place in another galaxy – there’s nothing about that world that feels familiar to ours. The whole premise there is that it’s a future so alien, terrifying and off-putting that you can’t look away from it. It’s not just the buildings are shaped different — the people are different, all humour has vanished from the species, everyone just broods in the rain all day.
I didn’t want that — I wanted a setting with technology that’s transformative, but in a world that’s clearly still ours. And the reality is that the world 25 or 30 years from now isn’t going to be Dune, lots of the people who are famous now will still be famous then. Kanye West will still be doing tours, Burger King will still be selling burgers. I mean, a time traveler from 1985 arriving today wouldn’t be running around in terror. It’d take him like three days to get used to the internet and smartphones and then he’d go to McDonalds and order the exact same thing he used to get, only with a much bigger drink. Same here — I want the reader to find this world to be new and interesting but also to feel like a place they could go live if they had to. Aside from the rent being outrageous, I guess.
Could you tell us about the creation of your lead character Zoey? She does have slacker hero elements, but there’s definitely a very strong heart and backbone there.
You know now in the Marvel universe, all of the key players are sexy, superhuman demigods? You’ve got a sexy, glib billionaire, a sexy Norse God, a sexy female karate assassin … everyone is a beautiful genius with extraordinary abilities (even Ant Man is played by the beautiful and witty Paul Rudd). Well, I tried to think of someone who would least fit into that story, and came up with Zoey Ashe — an impoverished, bitter, sarcastic woman who struggles with her weight, loves her stinky cat, and thinks both the supervillains and heroes in this story are a bunch of posturing buffoons.
Were there any inspirations you looked to in creating the insane new metropolis Tabula Ra$a?
That would be Dubai, the crazy megacity in the United Arab Emirates that popped up out of nowhere, masses of skyscrapers and resorts rising from the desert just as fast as they can throw them together. There was an incident in 2007 in which builders were digging out the basement of a new tower right next to a marina — too close, in fact. They’d dug this huge 60-foot deep pit which then cracked and let the water come roaring in as workers scrambled to safety.
That story stuck with me because it seemed to symbolise the whole endeavor, everyone working as fast as possible to build and build and build, the gas pedal just jammed to the floor night and day, nobody stopping to think about what they were doing. The premise of Tabula Ra$a is that a bunch of American billionaires said, “Looks like fun!” built their own version in Utah.
Do you think you’ll return to John and Dave or has this left you wanting to explore more genres and characters?
The next John and Dave book will be out fall of 2017 or thereabouts! I’m writing it now! That’s the final book in this current deal and after that, all bets are off. As for whether there’ll be more books in that series or this one, it depends on whether or not inspiration strikes, I never think too many books ahead because I just start to get confused.
Were you pleased with the Don Coscarelli movie of John Dies At The End?
God, yes. Seeing it at Sundance was incredible (I didn’t see an advance cut – I saw it with the rest of the fans at the premiere there). The casting was perfect. There were all of these little touches to the sets and costumes that I doubt anyone noticed, but Don was just so obsessive about loading it up with as many details as possible, he kept pointing out little things to me. They put so much love and care into it.
How have you found the balance between writing for writing for Cracked and the novels?
I haven’t, the balance comes from the fact that I have no hobbies outside of work, I see my friends about twice a year. All of my vacation time and weekends are devoted to writing novels. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone! It’s like that year that Jeremy Renner was in like six movies because he was afraid that if he said no, they’d stop asking.
Do you remember what, or who, first got you into the genre?
When it comes to horror, it’s Stephen King all the way — that’s who taught me that the monsters aren’t all that important, what matters is the setting and the characters. He’ll masterfully lay out some small New England town and you feel like you’ve lived there, like you’ve known these people for years. It’s all so familiar that you’re terrified for these people regardless of how ridiculous the threat is, whether it’s a vampire, a haunted car, a haunted dog, a haunted clown or a regular clown. As long as you’ve made the characters real and grounded them in a world that feels like home, suddenly the monsters won’t seem ridiculous anymore.
When it comes to science fiction, I have to credit Douglas Adams, who proved to me you can do sci-fi in a way that is really just a light-hearted commentary on our own world. His is a universe in which the technology is advanced by thousands of years but people are still people — there are still frustrating bureaucracies and greedy corporations and petty fools using technological wonders for their own selfish, small-minded purposes.
Finally, given the excellence of Stench Machine, do you have a favourite fictional cat?
I’d have to say Blofeld’s cat from the James Bond movies, because I think if you watch closely you’ll see that the cat is the true evil mastermind and Blofeld is just his puppet.