You’ve probably already talked about this, but what inspired you to write Gil’s All Fright Diner? Do you live in a rural area? Are you a big Monstervision fan? Your heroes and villains in that are so distinct. Were they at all inspired by people you know?
Yes, I’ve talked about this frequently. Gil’s All Fright Diner is my first novel. (Well, first published novel, but let’s not get bogged down in technicalities since it really isn’t even that if we get down to semantics.) It’s also still one of my most popular. If I could point you to an older entry in the blog, I’d do so, but since rebooting, that’s lost to history. So why not talk about it again?
It’s not always easy to trace the origins and inspirations of a particular novel because it’s rarely as simple as X inspired me to write a book. Gil’s has more than one influence, but fortunately, I can pinpoint most of them this time.
The first bit came from an unlikely place: A direct-to-video movie called Night Hunter, starring the legendary Don “The Dragon” Wilson. If you’re unfamiliar with Wilson’s body of work, I can only say that they’re prime direct-to-video action flicks that have a certain charm. He’s since faded into obscurity a bit, but I still think they’re worth checking out. Incidentally, that’s why Wilson gets a line in the dedication of Gil’s. Break that fact out at your next A. Lee Martinez Action Force meeting, and you’ll be sure to impress somebody.
In the movie, there’s a character called “The Prince of Vampires”. Might be The King. I’m not recalling clearly now, but regardless, I remember saying, “And that guy over there is the Earl of Vampires. Well, he’s really just a vampire named Earl.”
From such humble beginnings…
The idea of a vampire named Earl stuck with me. That wasn’t quite the inspiration though because I’m about to share a secret that isn’t really that secret.
Most of my inspiration comes from being irritated by some trope that I’ve seen too often. The idea of the glamorous, sexy vampire is what happened here. Also, the haunted vampire, who is tortured and romantic in his tortured existence. So I thought what if there’s a vampire who is none of these things?
I’m not the first to do it, but the idea still intrigued me. So I started the book by putting Earl in a pickup on a dusty road, and since a character by themselves is boring, I added a werewolf named Duke. And there we go.
I currently don’t live in a rural area and haven’t for quite some time. But I grew up in an unincorporated township in New Mexico which wasn’t much different than Rockwood, aside from the lack of chupacabras and zombies. Rockwood is set in an unnamed state, but most people think it’s in Texas because I live in Texas now. I deliberately am vague about it, but I’ve always thought of Rockwood as being located in Arizona. Not officially. Officially, it exists wherever I need it to exist.
As for the Monstervision question, I would think it’s painfully obvious at this moment that I love monsters and non-humans. They populate my stories by the dozens. Often even taking on the role of protagonists. I’d love to give a complex motivation for that, but basically, I never grew out of loving monsters and creatures.
And for the final bit of this question, I have to say that very few of my characters in any story are based on people I know. There are elements, here and there. In my novel, Too Many Curses, Nessy the kobold housekeeper is very much like my own mother, responsible to a fault. And at the time of writing, I had a lot in common with Never Dead Ned from In the Company of Ogres, though that was a bit unintentional.
Some of my characters are based on other characters. Lewis and Martin, the two-headed ogre twin in Ogres is based on Mac and Tosh, the very polite gophers from those classic Warner Bros. cartoon shorts. Emperor Mollusk is based quite a bit on Fantastic Four nemesis Doctor Doom. And Mack Megaton is equal parts Sam Spade and Ben Grimm. So there’s some more Action Force trivia for you to trade with friends and enemies.
Collect ‘em all.
How much backstory did you imagine for Emperor Mollusk vs. The Sinister Brain versus the amount that’s in the book?
Backstory is a weird thing. I know plenty of writers who obsess over it as part of their process. And if it helps them tell a story, then I say more power to them, but I am not one of those writers.
I generally keep my backstory broad, even in my own head. I think almost every story is about what’s happening to the character now, not what happened to them in the past. Characters will be influenced by their past, but for the most part, I think putting energy into backstory is energy better served by making the story interesting now.
I think almost every prequel ever written or made backs me up on this. The backstory of characters is almost never interesting. If it were, it would be the actual story. There are exceptions, but not many that spring to mind.
One character who has a more elaborate backstory than I’ve ever bothered fleshing out is Mack Megaton from The Automatic Detective. There’s some secrets behind the scenes that I’m well aware of, but that I’ve never felt the need to share. They really don’t change the story. They do justify certain story choices, but those story choices don’t need a lot of justification at first glance, so secrets they remain.
Back to Emperor Mollusk, it can seem like a story in such an elaborate and complicated universe would require some thought. But the story to me is part of the pulp tradition where writers often made up stuff as they went along, creating elaborate mythologies by accident more than design. It’s one of my favorite elements about traditional superhero comic books: that they’re gonzo and bizarre and meld together all these disparate elements as more and more stories get written.
A great example of exploiting this intentionally is the cult classic, Buckaroo Banzai. The creator of the film deliberately throws us in the middle of Buckaroo’s career. There are references to things in the past, and Buckaroo is already well-established as a hero. It doesn’t matter much (if at all) to the current story, but it reflects the metafictional reality that if Buckaroo Banzai were an ongoing character with dozens of books behind him, he’d have a really weird history.
A big inspiration for Emperor Mollusk is the John Carter stories. Those stories are about a man from Earth who goes to another world and becomes the most badass dude there. Emperor Mollusk changes the formula by taking an invertebrate from Neptune and making him the baddest dude on Earth. Where Carter uses his physical might, Emperor uses his vast intellect. And Mollusk’s version of Terra (or Earth in our universe) is like Carter’s Mars, a fanastical place full of strangeness and adventure.
Like those novels, I didn’t worry much about consistency or believability. I wanted to create a universe where everything and anything was possible. The backstory of Emperor Mollusk the character and the universe he lives in is painted in broad strokes, and I prefer it that way. It makes my job easier, and it simulates the entire metafictional conceit.
(Can I use metafictional twice in one post? Sure, why not?)
This same logic applies to the Constance Verity trilogy. If you read the story trying to create a timeline for everything that happened in the past, you’d fail. If you think you found a contradiction, you very well might have. But it’s not important. That sort of confusion and continuity mess is just part of the charm for me (and hopefully, the reader).
I will say I knew from the beginning that all of the planets in the solar system would be populated with intelligent life and that I knew the form each of those creatures and civilizations would take. It is relevant for the Neptunons, Venusians, and Saturnites, which play an important part in the story.
One last fun fact: The Saturnites are made of stone in homage to the stone men of Saturn, who were the antagonists in The Mighty Thor’s first appearance.
Have you ever considered writing a bridge of all your favored characters from different stories converging and meeting in the apartment building from Chasing the Moon?
Short answer: No. It’s not a bad idea. It would take something like a cross-dimensional jumble to get all the characters together, and Chasing the Moon is a great place for that kind of weirdness.
I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of some larger mega-crossover with all my characters. Of course, the more stories I write, the more complicated the idea becomes. But as an old school superhero fan, I have to admit it can be a heck of a lot of fun when different characters run across one another.
My initial concept was called The Weird War of the Space Vampires, which involves multidimensional invaders spreading through the various universes. And only a massive team up of previous protagonists and supporting characters can stop a threat this dire.
I still think about it now and then, and honestly, a lot of it writes itself. Except not really. Because no story writes itself. If they did, I’d be a lot better about hitting my deadlines.
The thing about this idea though is that it would most probably have to be self-published, and my experiences with self-pub, while not terrible, makes me dread the work involved in a project of this size. I’m not saying I won’t do it someday. I’m just saying that day is a long way away.
If you have a question or comment, maybe one you’d like me to address on this very blog, you can reach me at Hipstercthulhu@hotmail.com.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT, WRITING THE GOOD WRITE,