Friday, March 9, 2012

Some Questions for Author Eric Garcia

I'm a big fan of Eric Garcia's books. He's written three "dino-mafia-crime" books which take place in a world where not all dinosaurs went extinct, they merely evolved into smaller dinos, and now--with the help of adhesives, straps, and latex human suits, walk among the unwitting human population. 

His other three books contain no dinosaurs, but definitely contain Garcia's sense of humor, satire, and wit. Matchstick Men was made into a movie staring Nicholas Cage and Sam Rockwell. Cassandra French's Finishing School for Boys is a "hard-core chick-lit satire" about a woman fed up with the seemingly endless shortcomings of the men she dates and decides to enroll them in a "finishing school" in her basement against their will. And most recently The Repossession Mambo, a sci-fi story about men who repossess transplanted organs from recipients who fall behind in their payments which was made into the movie Repo Men with Jude Law and Forest Whitaker.

Mr. Garcia was kind enough to let me ask him some questions about writing and his books. Here's what he had to say--

The first books of yours I read were the "Rex" books. Something about their titles attracted me to them.

First question out of the gate, and already I've got to assign credit for this to someone else. My editor at Random House, Jon Karp, was the one who originally suggested the title ANONYMOUS REX. The title I had before that was, well, awful, and we knew we'd need a new one, but I wasn't having any luck coming up with it. One day I got a fax (this was back in '98, mind you, when faxes were still all the rage) with just two words on it: Anonymous Rex. Immediately I popped to it, and the title was born. I'll take credit for Casual Rex and Hot & Sweaty Rex, but to be fair I was just riffing off Jon's idea. For a while, at signings, I'd take suggestions for other book titles and hand out candy to the winners; I've got quite the raunchy list now, should I write any more. In any case, glad they drew you to the books -- I've picked up many a book solely because of its title. 

They were a lot of fun to read and I would have loved for the TV series based on them to have been successful.

Sigh -- me, too, obviously. I think there was a bit of an object lesson in it for me, in that I was still quite young, new to the business, and allowed the TV show to die a death of a thousand cuts. Compromise happens in almost invisible increments out here -- if you're not looking for them, you'll never see them coming. Now that I've been in the Hollywood side of things for a while, I'm starting to understand when to fight, how to fight, and what fights I may or may not win. I figure sometime in the next 30-40 years or so I may actually have it all figured out.

Do you have any plans for more books with Vincent Rubio and the dinosaur mafia?

I've always got some Rubio books in the back of my mind, but right now there's nothing that's pressing hard to get out. At one point I had an idea to go far back and detail the early-1900s immigrant experience via Vincent's ancestors (imagine Godfather II or Once Upon A Time In America, via the dinos), but for now it's just a bunch of pages on my hard drive.

That said, the ease and immediacy of the e-publishing business has me intrigued, to the point where I've had some conversations about doing a series of linked Vincent Rubio-type stories in serialized fashion, something we could never do via traditional publishing (unless I were Stephen King, which, well, no.) We'll see -- I'm a little swamped these days, and I wouldn't want to give it short shrift. But I do have a lasting fondness for Vincent, I can't deny that.

If I hadn't read your other books first, I probably never would have considered reading CFFSFB, but I'm very glad I did. I have to admit the only people I've recommended it to are all women because of what Owen gets subjected to. What was the feedback you got from men versus women with that book?

I do tend to get the strongest feedback from women, which is unsurprising. Some of the feedback is perhaps a bit too strong -- this is a novel, not an instruction manual -- but I'm gratified that people took Cassandra's frustrations, if not her methods, to heart. There are men who enjoy it, as well, but it's got a much stronger following among the ladies.

We're making a TV pilot based on the book right now for MTV, and this time I'm the executive producer (alongside Krysten Ritter, who most people know as an actress, but she's also great at development), and I've done the adaptation myself -- point being, I'm trying to learn from the Anonymous Rex TV situation and retain a certain amount of control. I certainly don't claim to know everything -- or even much of anything -- when it comes to what makes TV hit or not -- but I do know what I think is funny, and I'd like to make sure that comes across. The great thing is that MTV is completely behind it, in a startlingly clear and frank way. They love the brazen attitude and when I try to hold back, they push me to go even further -- it's been great so far.

One of the things we're keen to do is make sure that, while it's certainly a female-oriented show, it will also capture men (pun only subliminally intended). It's something that's definitely forefront in my mind.

I should mention that I'm also in the middle of turning CFFSFB into a theatrical musical. I'm a total musical theater geek (don't get me started), and I've got a great friend and fantastic composer in Brian Feinstein; we've been writing songs and transforming it for the stage for over a year now. It's taken some time, and will no doubt take some more, as these things do, but I love taking Cassie and her friends and bringing them into all these different forms of expression. Favorite bit about the musical so far: there's a chain-gang number with the boys in the basement. It's so wrong, and yet works so well.

The thing about that book that impressed me the most was that you wrote it from the perspective of a woman who has some pretty significant issues with men, and you did it so well. How much coaching did you get from the women in your life while writing it? And did you worry about giving your wife any ideas that could come back to haunt you?

Ha -- fortunately, my wife and I have been together for so long (married over 16 years, together for over 20), those days are long past. Whatever changes she wanted to make have already been realized, no doubt, and it didn't take a basement and rope.

That does seem to be people's first reaction -- "I can't believe a man wrote this" -- which is certainly gratifying. My goal was to have an honest female voice (doing this incredibly dishonest thing) so as to both laud and satirize the chick-lit genre at the same time, and it seems to have worked.

There were certainly elements of the book which took some research and interviews with women I knew -- my friend Laine, for example, was my fashion go-to guru -- but for the most part I think it's because I tend to surround myself with a lot of women. Most of my closest friends (including my wife) are female, both now and while I was growing up, and I can empathize with the issues. Plus, I've now got two daughters -- and a female dog -- and my mother hangs out here a lot, and I've been told that all of our household fish are females... so I'm pretty much swimming in estrogen day-in, day-out. If it weren't for the NFL Network running 24-7 on my TV, I'm not sure if I'd even grow stubble any more.

So I'd say it's even weirder that the non-Cassandra stuff I write is as violent and masculine as it is. But that's just a function of my inherent boredom and need for mental change -- writing CFFSFB and then switching over to, say, The Repossession Mambo is my way of keeping the cobwebs from piling up.

Matchstick Men is probably my favorite of your books and I would venture to guess your most successful seller based on the success of the movie and the fact that everyone I've recommended it to has really liked it. I'm always curious about books with surprise endings. Did you know exactly how the story would end when you began it?

I did! I think for a book like that you sort of have to, and without giving anything away (in case anyone hasn't read it or seen the film), I can say that the idea for the book started with two characters (Roy and Angela), Roy's illness (OCD), and the ending. From there, I started to put the rest of it together, and the story fleshed out. But the last two chapters were forefront in my mind while I was structuring it, and I knew exactly where I wanted Roy to start out and where I wanted him to end up.

It doesn't always work that way with my books -- sometimes I just have the character and the idea and I see where the world takes it, and it all gets banged around and smoothed out in multiple edits. For Matchstick, though, it was plot-character-plot driving the concept from the very start.

Are you currently working on a book? If so, what can you tell me about it?

I feel like I'm always working on a new book; it's just something I do now as a matter of course. Unfortunately, it's been taking much longer than it ever has in the past due to my commitments on the film and television fronts. That said, my happiest, most productive days are those in which I can sit down for six, seven, eight hours and fall into prose. Time speeds by, the usual banalities of hunger and sleep drift off, and by the time I look up the day is done and I'm one happy camper.

Also unfortunately, I've got one silly little rule that I've stuck with since the very beginning: I don't talk about my books until they're done. I can pitch TV, film, theater, etc., but I keep quiet about the books. Don't know why, but it's worked so far, so I don't fix what isn't broken. Soon as I'm done, I'll let you know. Then you'll probably have a hard time shutting me up about it...

Thanks again, and good luck with the CFFSFB pilot.

Of course -- this was fun! I'll make sure to let you know how things go on the Cassandra front.


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