Today's guest is J.W. Wargo, author of Avoiding Mortimer.
How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?
Happenstance, really. I've been writing stories since I learned how to read and write. I moved to Portland, Oregon after dropping out of college and kept writing, but not too many people were into the weirdness I was creating. While searching the Portland library for absurd literature, I came across a Carlton Mellick III book, Fishy-Fleshed, and started reading it. I was hooked instantly and began gobbling up as much Bizarro as I could get my hands on. When I realized that the majority of the writers and publishers were based in Portland, I started communicating with them online and eventually met Mellick at a reading. I attended the Bizarro Convention that year and have been a part of the community since.
What's the inspiration behind Avoiding Mortimer?
The idea for the book first came to me in the summer of 2010 while I was hitchhiking Europe. The previous year I had been in an accident involving my overly-intoxicated face coming into close contact with the floor of an NYC bar bathroom, leaving a bloody gash across my eyebrow. I received medical treatment at NY Presbyterian, and as soon as they discovered I had no insurance, no money, no job, and no home, they had me fill out paperwork to apply for emergency medicaid and I was rejected because Social Security had told them, "According to our records Joseph Wargo is deceased". I had to go through a bunch of redtape with the government to get that one fixed. Dead as I was, I still applied for and got a passport and left the country. They eventually fixed the clerical error, or so I assume. And that was where it started: "What if a guy dies due to a processing error in the afterlife?"
How much of you is there in Mortimer?
Mortimer's personality was partly based on previous social anxieties I had. Besides us both having inquisitive natures, not much else about us is similar. While Mortimer goes to great lengths to avoid things, I pushed myself to face the world with an unusual approach to it. In 2009 I became permanently semi-nomadic and wandering storyteller. I chose hitchhiking as my main method of travel, and it forced me to interact with a wide variety of people from all over. I got past any public speaking fears by reciting my short fiction and poetry on street corners for change. I made enough money to survive and I've always kept moving. 4 years later I've gone from Portland to NYC to Florida to California to Europe to Albuquerque to Canada to Hawaii to Mexico and back to Hawaii. All points I've hit in between adds up to over 75,000 miles traveled and so many experiences I could never write them all.
Are there any crazy books about the afterlife that you would recommend?
Punk Land by Carlton Mellick III and Suicide Girls in the Afterlife by Gina Ranalli. Good Omens by collaborators Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, while not exactly a book about the afterlife, is a great one, too. Also, not a book but I have described Avoiding Mortimer as being "like the film Wristcutters: A Love Story without the love story".
Every watch Pushing Daisies? Jim Dale's voice was in my head while I was reading Avoiding Mortimer.
I have not. After reading a bit about it though, I am quite intrigued by the premise. I shall have to hunt this down for later viewing.
What is your favorite B-movie?
1954's Them! The first big bug movie and probably one of the catalysts for my childhood obsession with ants. I was very happy to be able to include ants as an important plot point in Avoiding Mortimer. I suspect I endeavor to sneak ants into subsequent books,
Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Though I had started writing stories at age six, I didn't start thinking about writing as anything more than a fun hobby until I was fourteen and watched the film Memento by Christopher Nolan. I watched the movie several times and then found the screenplay online and read it. I thought that this is exactly what I want to do. Write stories as good as this one. I later took screenwriting classes to learn the craft, and the knowledge gained I applied to fiction writing and have since been working to better my skills and create a style wholly my own.
Who would you say your influences are?
As a kid, I was heavily influenced by the satire of Douglas Adams, the philosophy of Bill Watterson, the outlandishness of Shel Silverstein, the technical language of Michael Crichton, and the imaginative worlds created inside Choose Your Own Adventure Books. More recently, I've studied Nietzsche, Jung, and theoretical physics, but possible the most influential person I've ever read has been Robert Anton Wilson. Both his fiction and nonfiction have taught me more effective forms of communication and helped me see the world in so many new and exciting ways.
What's your favorite book?
During my travels I have always carried a copy of the aforementioned Wilson's book, Prometheus Rising, with me. It attempts to explain consciousness, the brain, and how we communicate and interpret information using an amalgamation Every time I open it up and read a little bit of it I always gain something different from it.
Who's your favorite author?
Kevin L. Donihe
What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
A very difficult question. I have read three in the past six months that were all quite excellent reads. Of Thimble and Threat by Alan Clark, We Live Inside You by Jeremy Robert Johnson, and The Deadheart Shelters by Brandon Armstrong.
I am currently reading Fuckness by Andersen Prunty and it has surprised me thus far. I'm only halfway through it and I already want to write the film adaptation for this book.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Whatever you write, when you feel it is the best that you can write it, take it and read it aloud, whether to yourself or to someone else. When you hear the words coming out of your mouth, rather than from within your head, they will change and you will see how you can make it even better.
What's next for J.W. Wargo?
I'm currently doing a series of travelogues over at Imperial Youth Review about some of the more interesting experiences I've had on the road. You can follow my exploits with this handy link: http://imperialyouthreview.wordpress.com/tag/jwwargo/
I also started a monthly series on Bizarro Central highlighted strange music and musicians. Working on a few short stories for magazine publication, and plan to write my next book later this year. As for travels, look for me doing some more storytelling on the streets of Japan and Australia next year!