What makes Fandemonium a unique novel?
It’s unique because I was so clueless and naïve about publishing when I wrote it that it never even occurred to me to try and write in a commercial genre or imitate a best-seller. I just tried to write something good.
Why did you choose the colorful world of comics to feature in Fandemonium?
I was a comics fan and collector for many years, and they say to write what you know. But I sincerely think the book could have been about any business; it didn’t have to be comics.
Still, a comics convention is a particularly apt microcosm of American society, because superhero comics are far more American than apple pie. Apple pie was invented in England; superhero comics were invented in New York City.
Who and what inspired you to write Fandemonium?
One inspiration was the so-called death of Superman in 1992. In Fandemonium much of the plot revolves around a similar stunt, the planned death of a popular fictional superhero called Skylord.
The book was also inspired by a real-life incident in New York City in 1995. But I’m not going to describe the incident, because it would give away too much of what happens, and I want you to read the book.
What makes your characters different?
Whatever it is that makes me different. Because the characters, the major ones anyway, are all pieces of me.
Who are your favorite character/s and why?
That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child. The antihero at the center of the book is a comic book writer named Ray Sirico, and I can tell you that Ray is certainly his own favorite character. Ray thinks he’s my favorite character too, and makes an interesting argument that he is in my blog here.
Ray Sirico is a larger than life character. How long did it take to bring this character to life?
Not very long, actually. He is larger than life, and he just sort of took over. It was creating all the people and places he interacts with that took time.
Why do you feel that Ray is an anti-hero?
Ray is the spirit of anarchy in all of us, the part of you that fantasizes about telling your bosses what you really think of them, that longs to dance naked on a table or jump in a car and run away from your responsibilities. The trouble is, that sort of behavior is poor long-term strategy for living in the real world. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. And people do get hurt by Ray, which makes him an antihero.
Why is Ray’s story so important?
As a cautionary tale, I suppose. Ray has so much to offer the world, but he keeps getting his own way. Yet I find most readers sympathize with him, at least in part. As I said, maybe there’s a little of Ray in all of us.
What makes Harmony Storm’s character important in this story?
I hadn’t really thought of it this way before, but Harmony is a female equivalent of Ray in certain ways. They’re both talented artists waylaid by their own intemperance. Which makes it logical they would be attracted to each other.
The second literary agent to represent Fandemonium was a woman who disliked Harmony and didn’t think she was any sort of real woman. That troubled me. I worried that I had written a sexist, misogynist story, as opposed to a story about a particularly male-dominated industry and culture that still contends with sexism and misogyny today, let alone in 1993, when Fandemoniumis set.
Yet I do think there are women like Harmony in the real world. I like to think an argument can be made that Harmony is a feminist heroine who steers her own destiny, however intemperately she does it. But perhaps that’s self-serving.
Tad Carlyle is a wonderful artist. Why is his character so important?
Tad is a closeted gay man in 1993, when the attitude toward the LGBT community was a lot less progressive than it is today – and it’s still not very progressive today in many places. And he happens to be from one of those places, South Dakota, and to have had a fundamentalist religious upbringing. Like many other characters in the book he’s an outsider.
When we meet Fred D’Auria he is a fanboy fleeing adolescent traumas. Tell us a little about this character?
Fred is shaped by the fact that he’s a victim of bullying. Just today I saw a news story about a bullied 8-year-old girl who loves Star Wars, but stopped carrying her R2-D2 backpack because mean girls in her new school told her Star Wars was only for boys. Fortunately, she got support. But if something like that can happen today, when there is widespread awareness of bullying and the damage it does, imagine how much more difficult it is for a nerdy kid like Fred in 1993. (I touched upon these issues in this blog post.)
Fred is at a crossroads; his life could go in either of two very different directions depending on what happens at Fandemonium. And the odds are against him. He could use some support.
Do you feel that when Fred meets his hero Tad that there is a special message in the book?
Wait, how do you know for sure whether that actually happens? Spoiler alert!
I’ll just say this: I may be unsure about my favorite character in the book, but I know my favorite scene.
What inspired the comic-con storyline?
Don’t tell anyone, but although I had been to some comic-cons, during much of the writing of Fandemonium I was involved with the cable-TV business and was going to a lot of cable trade shows. Much of the landscape of the novel is based on those shows. I think conventions and trade shows are microcosms for society; they are crossroads of diverse subcultures and constituencies.
There are a number of fantasy characters contained within Fandemonium. Who is your favorite? Why?
There are a couple of hundred meta-fictional characters, I think. I decided early on that it would be just too easy to set the book around the real-world superheroes I grew up with. No, I had to make more work for myself by building a parallel world where the best-known superhero is named Skylord instead of Superman or Spider-Man, and the preeminent science-fiction franchise is something called Star Station Sigma rather than Star Wars or Star Trek.
Skylord is the most important character in the Fandemonium fantasy universe – after all, it’s his costume Ray Sirico is wearing on the cover of the book. And Skylord is pretty cool. But I also have a soft spot for all the obscure fantasy characters, the ones that make only fleeting appearances in one or two lines of dialogue, or in small entries in the comic-book price-guide parody that appears in the novel.
I love the fantasy characters so much, in fact, that I gave them all their own back stories and published them in an online supplement to the novel here.
Please tell us more about why 1993 was such a special year in featuring this story?
One book blogger who liked the novel wondered about that too. One reason is that the 1992 “death” of Superman was a major real-life comic-book publishing stunt around that time, as I mentioned above, arguably the moment when comic books broke through the boundaries of nerd subculture to become part of mainstream pop culture. Today comic book adaptations are the most successful motion-picture genre, to say nothing of the revenue they generate from toy tie-ins, video games and the like.
But Fandemonium is also about mass media in transition, not just comics. And 1993 was the year everything changed forever in media because that’s when the graphical World Wide Web was introduced.
I’m a print journalist turned Web producer, so I think about these things. Ray Sirico and I have a conversation about these topicsin my blog here.
Why should general fiction readers choose Fandemonium to read?
Comics are a very particular topic, but it’s a paradox of fiction that the more particular it is, the more universal it is. Why do we still relate to the story of a medieval Scottish warlord and his wife, for instance? Because Macbeth explores facets of human character that are as relevant now as when Shakespeare wrote it.
Not that I’m comparing Fandemonium to Macbeth, of course. That would be pretentious and presumptuous. Actually,Fandemonium is more like Henry IV.
Who is your favorite hero in fiction?
Now you’ve got me thinking about Shakespeare. Let’s see, there’s Hamlet, a feckless, hyperverbal procrastinator – yeah, I’ll go with Hamlet. I can relate to that guy.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Thomas Pynchon blew my mind at a formative time. I wrote about that recently in my blog.
What book inspires you?
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest also blew my mind. It altered the boundaries of what the novel can do. Wallace is an immense loss.
Which film do you like and why?
Oh gee, too many. I’m the sort of guy who can go crazy about art films like Malick’s The Tree of Life one minute and Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Godzilla: Final Wars the next. Pretty much anything that’s not commercial. Maybe I’m an obnoxious hipster movie snob. I have never seen Forrest Gump. Does that tell you anything?
Which TV show do you like? Why?
Also too big a subject. You’re talking to a guy who wrote a weekly TV column for a decade, and works for a daily TV show’s website right now. Let me say this: As banal as much of it is, I take television seriously. Like comics, it is a powerful and underrated medium. TV is better than the movies these days.
The most interesting show I’m watching right now is Mr. Robot, a somewhat surreal drama about a young computer hacker in which it’s difficult to tell just what’s going on, but it’s so contemporary and stylish and thoughtful that you just roll with it.
Oh, and the second season of HBO’s True Detective that recently ended was woefully underrated. People who do not appreciate it simply have not seen enough film noir.
What is your favorite film? Why?
Now you’ve got me thinking about film noir. I have too many favorite films to talk about, but the 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly, which is so noir the opening credits run backward, is one of them.
Incidentally, did you know that Antigone Bezzerides, Rachel McAdams’ character in True Detective Season 2, has the same surname as the screenwriter of Kiss Me Deadly? I stumbled across that just the other day. Even Wikipedia doesn’t note it. Antigone Bezzerides is a very good name. It’s the sort of name I would try to come up with for a character.
Which living person do you most admire?
I have the oldest yoga teacher in the world, Guinness World Records-certified. Her name is Tao Porchon-Lynch. She just turned 97. I had class with her just last night. She marched with Gandhi in India, twice. She was in the French Resistance. She had an MGM contract. She was friends with Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. She wins ballroom dancing contests with male partners in their 20s. She embodies creativity, balance, tolerance and love, everything that is positive in life. She is my friend, and it is a privilege.
Which dead person do you most admire?
Now you’ve got me thinking about Gandhi. I’m good with Gandhi.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I think I just did! But there are some biographical details here, along with a photo my wife took that I like.