Remember my review of Mercury Falls? Yeah? Well, I'm happy to say, author Rob Kroese, a.k.a. Diesel, didn't take it too badly. He's been kind enough to grant me an interview, in the usual Blogosphere way - via an exchange of emails. Even though I didn't get to talk with him in person, I can honestly say that, in our few brief exchanges, he made me laugh when I really needed it. So I trust you'll enjoy this delicately edited chat with one of the sharpest wits in the postmodern apocalyptic satire genre. Thanks, Diesel!
RF: What comfort can you give to those of us who are bummed about the decline of your hilarious blog Mattress Police? Are you planning a comeback? Is it true that you're going to turn your best posts into a book?
RK: Not only am I working on a book of my best posts; I’m actually working on three books of my best posts (in addition to MERCURY RISES, the sequel to Mercury Falls). The first collection is going to be called THE FORCE IS MIDDLING IN THIS ONE, and it should be available by May of this year.
A comeback of MP is unlikely. I’m kind of an obsessive person, and my phase of being obsessed with MP is over. MP was critical to my development as a writer, but I’m such a perfectionist that I prefer writing books that I can spend months working on rather than grinding out a couple of posts a week.
RF: The funny pages have Dilbert. TV has The Office. The web has Mattress Police. Are you picking up my hint as to which posts I think should go into your next book?
RK: I get the sense that you enjoy the anecdotes from my work life. That bad news (for you) is that my next book (THE FORCE IS MIDDLING IN THIS ONE) is going to be a random compilation of my best posts, leaving out most of the work-related ones. The good news is that after FORCE, I’m going to be doing a more autobiographical book that focuses on my experiences as a misfit in school and at the various companies where I’ve worked. The book is going to be called NOT LIVING UP TO MY POTENTIAL, and it will include all my Punta Gorda posts and a bunch of the work-related ones, such as “Human Inertia” and the ones about His Excellency Lord Monkeyhands.
RF: Rounded to the nearest .44%, what percentage of MERCURY FALLS is based on your work experience, only with angel wings airbrushed into the picture?
RK: Not that much, actually. The sad thing is that real life organizations are far worse than the way I painted Heaven and Hell in MERCURY FALLS. If I’d have used my work experience as a model, I think readers would just have been confused and frustrated.
It is true, though, that the “bureaucratic inertia paradox” that appears in the book was based on an actual experience of mine that I wrote about in my Human Inertia post. The company I was working for had proposed a policy where every project that I worked on would have to get approval from my boss, whom I called “Human Inertia.” At first I was appalled, because I knew that if my projects had to be approved by Human Inertia, I would never be able to get anything done. But then I realized that this new process would itself have to be approved by Human Inertia – and that would also never happen, because Human Inertia never did anything. Human Inertia was unable to fulfill his purpose of preventing any work from being done, because doing so would have required him to do some work himself.
RF: What happened to Humor-Blogs.com?
RK: I recently pulled the plug on that site. It kept getting hacked and it was just too much work to maintain.
RF: Was it my imagination, or does the teen warlock fandom depicted in your book a spoof on the Harry Potter phenomenon? What other influences went into it?
RK: It wasn’t your imagination, although it really was more of a spoof of teen fantasy books in general. Katie Midford was modeled after J.K. Rowling to some degree, but only superficially. For the record, I think Rowling is a good writer (although the Harry Potter movies are largely dreck). She’s certainly head and shoulders above Christopher Paolini and Stephanie Meyer. By the way, the true significance of the Charlie Nyx books will become evident in the sequel, MERCURY RISES.
RF: The early chapters of your book aim some pretty heavy guns at the whole side of American Christianity that's always following signs and prophecies of the imminent end. How much research went into this? How much of your personal, spiritual background is reflected in this material?
RK: I wouldn’t call what I did “research,” although I spent a lot of time on Google and Wikipedia. I did lead a study group at my church several years ago on Andrew Kuyvenhoven’s book The Day of Christ’s Return, but honestly the specific timetables of the rapture and the millennial reign and all that stuff never really interested me. The nice thing about that book is that Kuyvenhoven doesn’t really say that millennialists are wrong; he just says that they’re focusing on the wrong thing. A focus on timetables and things that are completely beyond our knowledge and understanding distracts us from what we’re really supposed to be doing with our lives. In MERCURY FALLS, that sort of wrongheaded thinking informs the character of Harry Giddings. Harry is a Christian and basically a decent guy, but in the end his priorities are screwed up, and you see where that gets him.
RF: Some of the same folks who think Harry Potter is satanic may eventually get around to condemning your book as well. How satisfying will that be? How would you respond, in advance, to their claim that MERCURY FALLS attacks their religion? What role do you think God will or won't play in the end of the world?
RK: My own mother-in-law sat me down and told me how disappointed she was that she wouldn’t be able to recommend MERCURY FALLS for the church library. I don’t really know how to start a discussion with someone who uses the church library as the benchmark for quality literature. Generally these arguments are a waste of time. Either you “get” the book or you don’t. My mother-in-law didn’t get it. At least she read it, though, so I have to give her props for that. Without boring you with my own theories on humor and truth, I’ll just say that I don’t think God has anything to fear from MERCURY FALLS. As for the end of the world, well, that’s not really my department. ;)
RF: Are you considering another book about Mercury and/or Christine? What is "Mercury Swings" about?
RK: “Mercury Swings” is a silly little short story that I wrote just to try out the idea of another adventure starring the angel Mercury. You can get it for free at Smashwords. Basically, it’s a prequel to MERCURY FALLS, in which Mercury is assigned to “extract” the Biblical character Enoch from Earth because, well, Enoch knows too much. I’m also about 150 pages into MERCURY RISES, the sequel to MERCURY FALLS. The contents of“Mercury Swings” may or may not be incorporated into MERCURY RISES (I haven’t decided yet).
RF: Apart from providing lots of comic material, how has your work in software development aided your growing career as a writer?
RK: Well, the main thing is that it provides me enough income that I don’t have to worry about the fact that I make basically nothing as a writer.
RF: I loved the caption contests on your blog. What is it that made your photo caption contests funnier than anyone else's?
RK: First, I have a lot of creative, intelligent readers who kept the bar pretty high every week with their captions. Beyond that, there’s the fact that I inserted myself into all the caption contest pictures, and I have no problem with making myself look like a complete idiot as long as it’s in the service of making people laugh.
RF: What books and music are you enjoying these days? Which artists have the most influence on what you do?
RK: A recent reviewer on Amazon said that the style of MERCURY FALLS was “somewhere between that of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams,” which is pretty much the highest possible praise in my mind. The great thing about Adams and Vonnegut is that they write with absolutely no pretense; they just plow ahead and tell the story. If Faulkner is a Cadillac Escalade, Vonnegut is a Porsche Carrera. As a software developer and philosophy student who values terse language that packs a big punch, I have little patience for flowery, evocative language. I just want a writer to take me for a ride. That’s what Vonnegut and Adams do, and that’s what I tried to do with MERCURY FALLS.
As for music, I’m in a weird glam/hair metal stage right now. I’m been listening to a lot of Whitesnake. My wife is concerned.
RF: How is self-publishing working out for you?
RK: Really, really well. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be published by a “real” publisher to be taken seriously as an author. Including Kindle sales, MERCURY FALLS has sold nearly 4,000 copies since it was released in October, and Barnes & Noble is now stocking it. MERCURY FALLS also has (at last count) 109 reviews on Amazon, with an average score of 4.8 out of 5. Traditional publishing is really on the skids.
RF: Where can my readers find your book for sale?
RK: Everywhere. Your local bookstore probably won’t have it, but they can order it. There are links to buy it in all different formats at this site.