Tuesday, June 27, 2006

MANDATORY READ: The (New) Will Clarke Interview

I didn't mean to suggest that there is a new Will Clarke. No, it's the same Will Clarke that smoked your gouda with LORD VISHNU'S LOVE HANDLES. Only now, he's pulled out the industrial smoker with his latest and greatest book, THE WORTHY, a snazzy little novel about a murdered frat boy who gets sweet revenge from the other side.

Dig it:

Girl: First off: Oooh, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell? (New rule: All interviews must have at least one reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd.)

Will: It’s the formaldehyde from the embalming fluid—one of the hazards of meeting in a funeral home I suppose. Did you know that in smaller doses formaldehyde is what creates the beloved new car smell? Funeral home smell and new car smell are the same thing. And ironically, the smell can kill you. Causes cancer. The powers that be are taking action to remove new car smell from new cars. But I digress.

Girl: No problem. I suffer from acute indigression. But speaking of death, poor Conrad Avery Sutton III, affluent frat boy dead at the sinister hands of his fraternity brother. What an unlikely narrator for your book. I’ll bet dollars to pancakes this ain’t THE LOVELY BONES. Give us the lowdown on the guts of this story.

Will: I completed THE WORTHY in 1998 and by early 2000 it had been rejected by every publisher in North America. So when Alice Sebold’s THE LOVELY BONES exploded onto the scene in 2002, I was both stoked and a little worried. After all, here was this amazing bestseller with a ghost narrator, and here I was with a rejected manuscript with the same device. In fact, I have lots of saved rejections letters from editors who passed on THE WORTHY because it had a ghost narrator which they said caused this book to slip between genres—a big no-no pre-LOVELY BONES.

But as the years went by, Alice Sebold’s book actually opened things up for me. It gave folks a point of reference that allowed my book to live outside the horror genre. In fact, now when people talk about THE WORTHY they often describe it as THE LOVELY BONES meets ANIMAL HOUSE. Which is fine by me. It’s a very fast way to position the book with readers and that’s always a good thing.

But the real guts of my book has to do with being a 19 year-old frat boy and being hormonally challenged. It’s all about the brainless carnality of that age—all the beer-funneling, random hooking-up and incessant smoking out—and then having all these bodily excesses taken away in one neck-snapping moment. It’s also about revenge, redemption, and what can happen when oaths are sworn and actions become anonymous.

Girl: I wish I had your imagination. How did you come up with this idea for a story? Which came first, VISHNU or THE WORTHY?

Will: THE WORTHY started as a short story that I couldn’t finish. I was taking a fiction writing class at SMU and the assignment was to put a character in conflict with his or her environment. So I came up with a dead frat boy haunting the frat house where he was murdered. Originally, I thought the story would be kind of a retelling of the Tantalus myth, but when Conrad showed up on the page, I really like him so I stepped out of the way, and let him tell me his story. 300 pages later, I had THE WORTHY.

I did indeed write THE WORTHY first. It landed me a kick-ass agent who ultimately wasn’t able to kick ass on behalf of the book. So I wrote LORD VISHNU’S LOVE HANDLES to keep my agent interested, but she couldn’t sell that one either. So I had two “dead books” on my hands and we parted ways. That’s when I put out my MiddleFingerPress shingle.

Girl: Man, remember when you were a PODer yourself? Must seem like a million lifetimes ago. Ever imagine (that is, an engaging nightmare) of going back?

Will: To be honest, I loved being a PODer. It was very artistically satisfying for me. It also taught me some very important lessons. I got to walk a mile in everyone’s moccasins—editor, copy editor, jacket designer, publicist, publisher, and sales rep. The whole process made me appreciate my foray into traditional publishing that much more. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for anyone who has made the creation and distribution of books their life’s work.

As for going back to POD, it depends on what the book wants. To me, my books are like people, like infantes—baby kings riding on the backs of elephants. And I’m the guide who’s been appointed to take them where they demand to go. If that means self-publishing, if that is where the book wants to go, then that is where I will take him. I have no shame in this. So long as what I am doing is in service to the work, then it’s always worth it, and it’s always valid. A book goes where it wants to go—it makes friends and creates its own enemies. It’s an entity on to itself. As the writer I’m really just the sherpa who’s job it is to help the book on its way, be it traditional publishing or through POD.

Girl: Rumor or fact: Not only have you sold the film rights to LORD VISHNU’S LOVE HANDLES, but you recently sold the film rights to THE WORTHY as well. And if this is true, do you mind if I refer to you as Miserable Bastard from this point forward?

Will: The rumors are true. Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher at Red Wagon just set up THE WORTHY at Columbia Pictures and Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (40 Year-Old Virgin) have been tapped to write it. So yes, you may refer to me as El Capitan Miserable Bastard.

Girl: Dude, why are you so in demand?

Miserable Bastard: Statistical anomaly? A glitch in the matrix? I honestly don’t know why I’m having so much luck. If I did know, I would have made all this happen for me a long time ago. But while I do have Fortune shining on me, I plan to make hay.

Girl: Early reviews of THE WORTHY seem to be quite favorable, which is amazing considering it’s almost impossible to get a decent review anymore unless your last name is Roth. Not to mention it's a BookSense Notable Book for July 2006. What other attention has THE WORTHY been getting?

Miserable Bastard:
The early reviews have been very kind. Again, I think Fortune has been taking her Prozac, and decided to give me a break. But I know it’s coming. I know the rug will be pulled at some point and I will get a bad review in a major pub, and I will take to my sick bed, drinking too much Mad Dog and crying into my pillow.

Girl: I think she takes Lithium, actually. How often do you write? What is your pace like?

Will/MB: I write everyday. I am swift and prolific. Only problem is that most of it sucks. So I have to wade through tons of oyster flesh to find a pearl.

Girl: Tell me about the tour. And what are you handing out in lieu of finger puppets? Little wooden paddles? Stuffed animals? Pledge pins?

Will/MB: Maybe instead of finger puppets, I’ll give out little new car smell air fresheners— to play off the whole embalming fluid/death theme. So far, I have been delivering lemon pies to book sellers in my hometown since the book features the magical use of the dessert and most booksellers I have found seem to like to eat lemon pies.

For this tour, I’m going to 9 cities in July. Here’s the run down:

7/10, Dallas: B&N (Northwest Highway) @ 7:30 PM
7/11, Washington DC: Books-A-Million (McLean, VA) @ 7:00 PM
7/12, Chicago: Border's (N. Clark Street) @ 7:30 PM
7/14, Los Angeles: Book Soup @ 7:00 PM
7/18, Memphis: Davis-Kidd @ 6:00 PM
7/19, Baton Rouge: Barnes & Noble (CitiPlace Court) @ 7:00 PM
7/20, New Orleans: Garden District Bookshop @ 5:00 PM
7/23, Shreveport: Books-A-Million (Bossier Corners) @ 3:00 PM
7/26, Austin: BookPeople, Texas Monthly Author Series event; July 2006 featured author @ 7:00 PM

Girl: I've always believed there needs to be more pie action at literary events. So, what’s coming next from the mind of Will Clarke?

Will/MB: I have a third novel knocking around, but I’ve put it away for a while to marinate. When I’m promoting and touring, I find it hard to work on longer projects. I like to work on shorter, less emotionally draining things like screenplays and short stories.

In fact, I just wrote a short autobiographical piece called “How To Kill A Boy That Nobody Likes” for a Simon & Schuster anthology edited by the great John McNally which should be out in 2007.

I am also totally fascinated by the “Buddha Boy” in Nepal. Last fall, he sat under a tree in the jungle for six months, meditating without food or water and then disappeared. I want to go find him.

Girl: I saw that guy. He's over at McDonalds, stuffing his face by the PlayPlace. Anyway, thanks for dropping by, Will. And thanks for sharing, as they say in my various 12-step meetings.

For more info on the esteemed Clarke-meister, check out his blog.

But above all, buy his book, released today by Simon & Schuster, and have a beach read that will tan your hide from the inside out.