Welcome to the second half of a conversation between Rob Kroese, author of Mercury Falls and Mark A. Rayner, the scribbler behind Marvellous Hairy. You can find the first half of the conversation at Rob’s blog, Mattress Police. Check it out and then return her for the rest of our electronic chat.
Rob Kroese: I assume you’re a bit more scholarly in your efforts. I believe I read that you’re a university lecturer, in fact. What do you lecture on? And how is lecturing different from teaching or professing? Is your lecturing related to your writing, or is your writing an escape from lecturing?
Mark Rayner: Actually, Marvellous Hairy was delightfully research free, unless you count watching movies and going to whiskey tastings as research. (Though I had studied A Midsummer Night’s Dream in university, and I’ve seen the play a number of times, so I didn’t have to do much there to draw on the structure, themes and characters in the play.)
I teach in the Faculty of Media and Information (or FIMS, at The University of Western Ontario), and I’m a lecturer, not a professor, because I don’t have a PhD. This sometimes makes me feel like I’m the retarded cousin of the family, but I seem to be hold up my end of the conversation with my fully PhuddeD colleagues. And my students seem to enjoy the courses I teach on website design, digital imaging and information architecture despite my lack of a doctorate. I find the intellectual opportunities at FIMS appealing, and teaching is a lovely escape from the solitary insanity of my writing life.
On the topic of whiskey and drinking alone, do you use any kind of stimulant/ depressant/hallucinogen while writing, and if so, can you hook me up? Seriously, though, what’s your writing process?
RK: I believe that fiction should be a reflection of real life, and frankly I can’t get through either without some chemical augmentation. My writing process probably doesn’t even qualify as a process. It’s like the zyphoid process. I could explain it to you, but afterwards you’d be like, “Wait, how is that a process?”
I just write. I start at the beginning. Or the middle. And then I write some more. Then, when I get bored, I make something expode. Then I try to explain to the reader why something just exploded. I throw in some references to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Occam’s Razor or linoleum. Once I have about fifty pages, I realize that thirty pages of it is unusable dreck and delete it. Then I write 30 more pages, which are probably also dreck. This continues until I have a novel.
How about you? Marvellous Hairy feels a little more organized than Mercury Falls, like maybe you kind of knew where you were going when you started writing. Do you use an outline? Also, you seem like such a normal, level-headed guy. What drives you to write bizarre novels about people turning into monkeys?
MR: Really, I seem like a normal level-headed guy? I must be a better actor than I thought.
Marvellous Hairy started out as one of those three-day novel contest manuscripts. You’re allowed to write an outline before you start, so I did a plan for a complete novel, including the subplot and so on. Then I got into day two of the contest, and I ended up under my desk, hugging my knees to my
chest and sobbing. (Somewhere in there a lot of scotch was consumed.) And most of the outline got ejected. The manuscript had many good scenes in it, but that’s all they were. Luckily, I had that original outline to go back to, so I could flesh out the first draft. And I definitely knew how the story was going to end before I started. The book I’m working on now started without an outline, and it is just scary not having one. However, I’ve since gone back and figured out everything but the end. I’ll probably just have some guy in a God suit come in tell them all they’re going to Hawaii, where one of them will wipe out on a surf board and nearly die. (It’s because of the cursed linoleum tiki doll.)
Given your process, how many drafts for MF? I like CCR by the way, so those references didn’t go over my head. What’s the deal with linoleum?
RK: It’s funny how few readers realize that linoleum is an archetypal element of storytelling that goes all the way back to Homer. I think it was Homer, anyway. It might have been the dad from Family Guy.
I’m actually reading Angela’s Ashes right now, and there’s a big linoleum component in that book, but did everybody give Frank McCourt shit for that? No, he won the freaking Pulitzer. Page 179: “Declan tells me sit in front of him and if there’s any blaguarding he’ll break my feckin’ neck for he’ll be watching me as long as he’s prefect and no little shit like me is going to keep him from a life in linoleum.” See, linoleum, right there. That’s what that whole book is about. If you don’t believe me, look it up.
As for how many drafts of Mercury Falls I went through. I was actually doing some cleanup on my computer the other day, and I found something like forty different version of Mercury Falls, from various stages in the process. It’s a ridiculously inefficient way to work, but I don’t know how else to do it. I just don’t think I could write from an outline, because my characters would deviate from it at the first opportunity just to spite me.
Incidentally, the very first version was about the planet Mercury falling out of its orbit and destroying civilization on Earth, but then somebody told me they already did that on Thundarr the Barbarian.
So what’s the new book about?
MR: I’m actually working on two right now. The first project I’ll get finished is another fabulist satire. (I DO love that my publisher came up with that term, because now I can describe what I write in one easy phrase — who
cares if it is made up? I mean, science fiction was made up. The term “novel” was made up . Did you know that originally novels were called romances until Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein? And someone said, “you know this isn’t really very romantic. Especially the part where Victor strangles the Mother Superior with her own entrails. We should really come up with another term for this kind of thing.” The Church wanted to call them Satanic Verses, but the publishing industry favoured something a little less likely to force them into hiding for the rest of their lives, and more reflective of the fact that they didn’t rhyme, and the meter sucked. Yes that was a “u” in favoured. Deal with it.)
So anyway, the first project is about the coming toaster uprising.
The second project is a little out of my usual comfort zone. It is a historical memoir. Not a memoir of my own life — that’s far too dull to serve as a topic, so I’m writing the memoir of Emily Chesley, a long overlooked Victorian speculative fiction writer who lived in my home town of London, Ontario. I am the “acting” secretary of The Emily Chesley Reading Circle, and we have been meaning to edit her papers into a coherent narrative for some time, and I have volunteered to do it. The Circle’s activities can be followed at their website: emilychesley.com, if anyone is interested.
How about you, what’s up next for, Diesel? Or are you going to go by Rob Kroese now that you’re a famous author of Satanic Verses (or Demonic Drivel,
as some of your critics have bleated)?
RK: Sadly, I think I’m going to have to give up the name “Diesel,” because as much as I like it, it was important to me that I have my real name on the
book, so that when my idiot junior high teachers go to Wal-Mart, they’ll see that name glaring at them from the end cap and think, “Wow, I guess he DID live up to his potential. Meanwhile, I’m an idiot and I should shoot myself.”
Wait, what was the question? Oh, what am I going to do next? Well, I’ve been thinking about writing a personal memoir. I was thinking of calling it “Not Living Up to My Potential.”
MR: Excellent title, though I wouldn’t lose sleep about it. If you think about all the billions of people who lived throughout human history, how many could honestly say they lived up to their potential? Buddha? Jesus? I bet if you talked to Christ’s junior high teachers they’d say something like: “sure, he’s famous and I have to give him credit for the whole turning-water-into-wine thing, but let’s face it, he was kind of a non-conformist. I mean you don’t get crucified if you play well with others.” Obviously, Buddha didn’t have junior high teachers. That’s just silly. He dropped out of school to explore the “meditation potential” of certain smoke-able herbs.
Not that I advocate that kind of thing. I definitely think all you kids should stay in school. That said, once you’re out, I think it’s fair to start evaluating success on your own terms. Such as, did I find a good way to end this interview?
Yes I did. And here it is:
[audio:http://markarayner.com/mp3s/movealong.mp3] Here’s the sound effect (MP3), if embedded player doesn’t work.
Actually, we WOULD like you to move along to buying a copy of our books. Go to Mercury Falls to see where you can get a copy of the angelic odyssey and check out Marvellous Hairy for the monkey apocalypse.