David Wong is author of the humor and horror novel John Dies At The End. He is also the editor of humor site cracked.com, and he has written a second novel, This Book Is Full of Spiders, which will be published later this month. He chatted with our books guy Michael McCaffrey about the new book and how life is treating him in general. Beware, this article contains giggles.
FTN: Firstly, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ve been a fan of Cracked for years, and having just recently got into John Dies at the End and its sequel, I’ll probably bounce between both kinds of fanboy quite quickly, so I’ll apologise in advance..
I’d like to start with a quote, if that’s okay? “You know how sometimes when you’re drifting off to sleep you feel that jolt, like you were falling and caught yourself at the last second? It’s nothing to be concerned about, it’s usually just the parasite adjusting its grip.”
So, based on that, I would love to know why you hate me being able to sleep?
DW: You know those Doritos tacos they have at Taco Bell now? It’s basically their hardshell taco with a quarter inch thick layer of Doritos dust on the outside. I try to write the Doritos Locos Tacos of horror novels: You sort of regret reading them at the time, but deep down you know that you’re going to wake up that night regretting it much, much more. Or as Earnest Hemingway once said: “A great story should follow you after you finish it, and make you worry that a giant parasite is going to eat your brain.”
FTN: Thanks to the publication of your second book, are you prone to running around the Cracked offices shouting “Suck it!” At the writing team?
DW: All those guys have book deals, they’d just be annoyed at me for pushing the market one step closer to saturation.
FTN: Once upon a time you promised us that the sequel to JDatE contained the cure for cancer. Why would you lie to us David? Or is it spiders? It’s spiders, isn’t it..
DW: The cancer-curing effects don’t kick in until a certain number of copies have been sold, it would take a scientist to explain it. It’s just weird to think of how everyone who doesn’t buy a copy is basically murdering millions of innocent people.
FTN: I suppose with editing Cracked and writing, the idea of work/life balance has gone out the window. So how do you handle the Cracked/writing balance?
DW: It’s actually amazing how much you can get done if you absolutely abandon everything else in your life and spend every weekend, holiday and vacation day writing. You sleep about five hours a night and get headaches that last for three weeks at a time and sometimes slump over in your chair in front of your laptop, then snap awake after having a nightmare that you didn’t get enough writing done and were thus forced to go back and work in a cubicle again.
And that’s just writing two books. I don’t know how Stephen King kept up that frantic schedule in his early days. Oh, right. Cocaine.
FTN: You’ve mentioned before that Don Coscarelli is an inspiration of yours, more specifically, the “anything can happen” nature of JDatE. Is there anyone in particular we can thank for the balls out madness that is This Book is Full of Spiders?
DW: I started observing two groups very closely: zombie enthusiasts and right-wing militia/survivalists types.
It started when I found out that if you go into any gun store or shooting range in America, you will find zombie targets – both paper targets and actual plastic zombie mannequins you can shoot to pieces. That’s because a whole generation of hipster zombie fans are buying real assault rifles and shotguns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition, to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. They play it off like a joke, but enough of them are doing it that one manufacturer has started making anti-zombie bullets (look it up – they glow in the dark).
But then I found that these guys have had trouble finding enough bullets on shelves, because there have been ammunition shortages thanks to the other group – the super hard core right-wing survivalist types who have been stockpiling ammo since Obama was elected, for fear that the UN would be along shortly to take their guns and impose the New World Order of the Antichrist.
So it occurred to me that both of these groups are identical — they both long for a post-apocalyptic world where, in the absence of civilization, their lives will finally have meaning. No more cubicles or memos or emails or politicians or political correctness, just a badass war of survival against a purely evil/inhuman enemy. And I thought that this innate destructive desire we have inside us, this subsurface longing to see society fall apart so that we can finally just be savage nomads again, was the scariest monster of all.
That and the brain spiders.
FTN: You discuss the monkeysphere in This Book is Full of Spiders. Did your interest in the phenomenon come from your research for the book? Or was this an idea you researched for the site, that seemed like a story that could be part of This Book is Full of Spiders?
DW: I actually wrote a version of that article way back in 2004, after reading about Dunbar’s Number (for the uninitiated, a scientist named Robin Dunbar found that the human brain only allows us to recognize about 150 other human beings before society simply gets too big and scary for us to comprehend). It has remained a fairly obscure theory — I just occasionally hear it brought up in business seminars and the like, managers deciding that the only conclusion to draw from it is that we should limit the size of a department to fewer than 150 people to maintain team cohesion.
But to me, Dunbar’s Number explained everything — organized religion, mythology, all human culture seemed to be a software workaround that humans wrote to overcome this limitation in our mental hardware. It seemed to me like you could turn on any news broadcast and see this limitation working against us, our physical inability to feel empathy for large groups, and kind of creating these simplistic pictures in our minds to cope with it all. The reason we’re obsessed with the apocalypse, for example, is we so badly want the world to be simple again. We’d rather scavenge through a wasteland with a dozen friends with shotguns than continue to do comfortable work for a corporation that employs 40,000 people.
So I wrote about this on my own website back then, then again at Cracked a few years later, and now in this novel. And I will not stop until everyone finds it as interesting as I do.