Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Award (x3?)

So, October was rough. My grandfather passed away, Hurricane Sandy rocked the region, and I only barely kept up the Bathroom Monologues’s daily streak. But while I did keep it up, I was granted the same award by three different people and never had the opportunity to accept it. This is a little embarrassing.

The blogging award? THE NEXT BIG THING. Unfortunately, this doesn’t turn me into Brock Lesnar. It means these three writers have faith in the novel I’m writing, and want me to answer a few questions about it. I’m very flattered to have been granted it by Richard Bon, Cathy Webster, and Virginia Moffatt

So, those questions?

1. What is the working title of your book?
The House That Nobody Built. There was a toss-up between that and the shorter “Nobody’s House,” but it turns out the latter was also the title of a children’s television show. I don’t want the confusion. My book is not for kids, except particularly smart kids.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
In Kung Fu Hustle, there’s a scene where the bad guys dig the worst assassin out of the dingiest dungeon in the darkest prison in their madcap world, and he just looked like some old fisherman. It was a striking moment. After the movie, I went for a walk and ruminated on who else would be in that cell block. That expanded to making an entire prison for that kind of prisoner, or even less usual prisoners, like carnivorous plants that won’t stop growing, or succubae that can phase through normal walls. After a few hundred yards, the setting was born. It’s since been brought to my attention that places like Arkham Asylum and Azkaban had me beat by years, which was humiliating. Humiliation is good for you, though. I do it to my protagonist a lot.

3. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A riot at a supernatural prison sees hundreds of monsters form an army unlike the world’s ever known, to defend themselves against the army that locked them up.

4. What genre does your book fall under?
It’s Fantasy. Perhaps Epic Fantasy, except it’s not about a journey. It’s about fortifying this prison.

5. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Let me think… Min-sik Choi, most famous as Oldboy and the serial killer in I Saw the Devil, would probably a great as this one character: Merlet, a one-armed revolutionary who never let go of his war. I loved Ahney Her in Gran Turino, and would be excited for her to screen-test as a certain witch.

But I didn’t envision actors in any of the roles as I wrote it, so it’s a little hard to cast out. All our human players are people of color, and I’d furious if they were whitewashed. Meanwhile, most of the cast are non-human characters, including non-humanoid types – there’s a sentient ball of horny snakes that friends joke should be voiced by H. Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob's Burgers), and I’d enjoy that.

There’s a giant cyclops who I sometimes read to myself in the voice of Kathy Bates. I’d be tickled for that. I actually have a longstanding invitation that Kathy Bates and Gene Wilder can play any and all characters I ever write. Come to think of it, Gene Wilder would make a bang-up Nobody, the insane elemental who none of the other monsters remember seeing before the riot. Though if he did that, I'd cajole the director to have Wilder parody Sarcastic Wonka.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have queries out to a few agents that I deeply respect. There are a limited number of highly talented agents I’d like to work with, and to connect me with some particularly attractive houses. I mean, if you can get me into Tor, then let’s shake hands. But if the house doesn’t help the book significantly, then it’s not worth the commission on an agent, let alone splitting profits with the house they find. And I have friends with agents who have waited years (and two who are still waiting) for a sale. So it’s all a matter of finding someone reliable.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Five months, from January to May of 2011. That included more than a month’s worth of absolutely laughable delays. I actually collected what I did on every day of the composition here.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Most often the book has been compared to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, allegedly because I handle these enormous casts of conflicted beings, bring them to a personal level, and relish in their humility. There’s no good way to say, “I’m funny.” Let someone else say it. But I do seem to enjoy running from extremely absurd to extremely serious, which is a little too rare in Fantasy. Scott Lynch, author of Lies of Locke Lamora, is incredible at that, but we don’t write alike. His world is full of scoundrels and backstabbers, but I don’t think they’d do any business with my crew.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
J.R.R. Tolkien for making the Ring Wraiths so much cooler than the hobbits. Peter S. Beagle for giving the Red Bull majesty, and Michael Crichton for making the t-rex and raptors the stars. Stephen King for making Leland Gaunt and Randall Flagg so much cooler than anyone they preyed upon. Grendel. Circe. Skeletor. Thanos. Pretty much an entire life of finding the villains more appealing set me up to eventually write about a desperate army of them.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
At no point in this book am I afraid of subjects, and the classically underrepresented have a habit of showing up. That one-armed revolutionary is an amputee, which is a minority group that has astoundingly low representation in Fantasy fiction. Just think about the time periods Fantasy tends to ape, then ask yourself why every other person you run into isn’t missing a limb.

I don’t rub it in, even as much as I’ve done answering this question, but it’s there. Things are there. There’s a trans love interest, a sexually confused main character, and robotic bigots who think living is irresponsible. And for everyone who knows how much I hate children – kids show up. You’ll see a little bit of how I look at kids. I’ve made some beta readers cry.

Oh, and it’s not generic Medieval Fantasy. It’s post-post-post-post-apocalyptic – the world has ended so many times that people have just learned to deal with it and fear other things, you know, like each other.


  1. BRAVO! I loved reading your answers, John, really loved it. And your book sounds phenomenal. What an outstanding idea and, knowing you, it'll be a brilliant read. Can't wait to get my mitts on it!

    1. I've done my best to make the most of the idea. I've never worked as hard on a piece of fiction as this novel - I hope it holds up once it finally gets into your hands. Thanks, Cathy!

  2. I am so terribly excited to read this book. Books written from the villains' point of view (and are they really villains after all) have always been compelling. Additionally, I am profoundly joyful that you have taken such care to include a cast of complex, intriguing characters who represent folks who so rarely make it into popular fiction. I can't wait to buy my first copy, read it, and get copies for everyone I know.

    1. I'm tickled by your excitement, Jamie! Thank you very much. The POV is not quite so fearsome, though he's trying his best to fit in.

  3. This has the makings of a cult classic. The people who truly "get it" will love it, have long discussions about it, even write papers about it. Everybody else will be either "huh?" or "what's so great about THAT?" The upside is, people will still be talking about it a century after you're no longer around to hear them. The downside is, you won't hear any of it. :-P

    1. Those sound like conclusions most people would come to from execution rather than premise. What made the above seem so polarizing to you that many people would think there was a big deal they didn't get? And which side do you fall on?

    2. Quoting, "My book is not for kids, except particularly smart kids." Judging from excerpts, it feels to me like it will appeal to smarter people overall. The premise seems very unique to me, and that's another factor. We (as others point out) don't see many books where the heroes are all villains. Fortunately, testing my theory will be easy, since you're querying it. If the agents say things like "it won't appeal to a broad enough audience," that's a sign.

      Personally, I'm looking forward to reading it.

    3. Oh, I see! I would be very surprised to find the people who primarily or exclusively consume innocent-end YA glomming onto this, though if they did, I'd be fascinated to converse with them.

      In the early phases, I expected to get the "limited appeal" brand from some people in the industry. My exposure to agents and critics so far has been surprisingly open and enthusiastic. If that turns around and I nosedive, I'd be almost eager to share what happens.

  4. Oh, your book sounds amazing! I would absolutely love to read it. I think it'll bring something fresh in the Fantasy genre. You've got me hooked just by outlining some of the stuff you've put into the mixture.

    Best of luck John!

    P.S. I'm liking the working title.

    1. Thanks Cindy! With good luck, it'll be in your hands in the next couple years. Maybe a lot sooner if I completely fumble the agent-end of things.

  5. I'm with Cathy of the Oliffe-Websters. Want, want, want. And want shall be your master, as my mother infuriated my by saying, until it is published. And yes, your award suprises no-one who reads you regularly. You are a star. Certainly in another galaxy, but a star nonetheless.

  6. Sounds fun. I loved your one sentence synopsis

  7. John, I love you for being the person who had to write this book. (And I do belive you HAD to write this book.) Supervillians in a super prison riot after the end-end-end-end of the world? It fits you to a tee and I have no doubt that you are in every sentence of it. Can't wait to read it!

  8. I'm not a big reader of fantasy, but your book sounds awesome! You know I love your writing style and wit, so I'll look forward to reading this book when it's published. Also, fyi I just added a link to this post on the post where I invited you to play the game, thanks for doing it!


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