Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Louisville, Kentucky; raised in Evansville, Indiana, and Bridgeport, West Virginia; and went to college in Bloomington, Indiana. I’m guessing you’ve heard — maybe — of one of those towns. Which would be Bridgeport, of course, home of the internationally renowned Bridgeport Indians high school football team. Well, maybe they’re more nationally renowned. Or regionally, more like. I think they’re known throughout central West Virginia, anyway. Or at least the greater Bridgeport area.
At 12, I wanted to be a writer. At 18, I wanted to be a writer. At 30, I wanted to be 18. By then I was a writer, so I didn’t have to wish for it anymore. Although I guess I still wished I could be more successful. So, to recap, given my druthers at 30, I would have been a successful 18-year-old writer. With clear skin.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought everyone was having sex but me. Man, what a bummer that was. Now I know the truth: None of us are having sex. Where babies come from, I still don’t know.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
When I was a kid, the film Little Big Man was always popping up on TV, and I ended up watching it four or five times. I was probably the only 16-year-old in Bridgeport, West Virginia, who could do a killer impersonation of Dustin Hoffman impersonating a 110-year-old man. The voice Hoffman used to narrate the film really stuck in my head, and to this day I sometimes hear it when I’m writing. It’s a reminder to pay attention to the rhythm of words. Eventually, I got around to reading the Thomas Berger novel the film’s based on, and there it is. You can hear that voice as you read the book. I also really responded to the way both the film and the book blend comedy and tragedy, which is something they have in common with the other things that really shaped me creatively: Catch-22, the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the music of Madness. Yes, Madness. The “Our House”/“House of Fun” guys. I don’t have time to explain why I’d include them. I’ve already gone waaaaaaaay over my allotted number of influences.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
(A) I didn’t want to move to L.A. and try to write for Hollywood. Too many schmucks, too much schmuckery. (B) I have no musical talent whatsoever. I know this for a fact because before I got serious about fiction, I tried to get serious about music. And I sucked at it. (C) I read a lame novel that had been released by a major New York publisher and said to myself, “Geez, I could do better than that.” And I like to think I have.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Dreadfully Ever After is the sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and brings the PPZ saga to a close. Would Elizabeth Bennet really find true, lasting happiness as Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy? Will the zombie plague besieging England ever be ended? Are people totally fed up with zombie novels and Jane Austen spin-offs? All these questions will be answered when Dreadfully Ever After makes its way into stores this month.
(BBGuru: the publisher says… Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, were both New York Times best sellers, with a combined 1.3 million copies in print. Now the PPZ trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After.
The story opens with our newly married protagonists, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, defending their village from an army of flesh-eating “unmentionables.” But the honeymoon has barely begun when poor Mr. Darcy is nipped by a rampaging dreadful. Elizabeth knows the proper course of action is to promptly behead her husband (and then burn the corpse, just to be safe). But when she learns of a miracle antidote under development in London, she realizes there may be one last chance to save her true love—and for everyone to live happily ever after.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
The fervent desire to run out and buy all my other books. Ba-da-BING! To go “Ba-da-BING!”-less for a moment, I also hope my readers feel that they’ve connected with me. Yes, first and foremost I’m trying to tell entertaining stories. But I’m in there, too. My outlook, my sensibilities, my sense of humor. I want people to feel as though they’ve met me, in a way. Because then they’re a lot more likely to run out and buy all my other books.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
My biggest heroes from the past would be Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. Both were funny even when struggling with despair, and both were fearless in the face of outrageous hypocrisy and mendacity — much of it quite popular in their lifetimes. It’s hard to think of anyone alive today who stands quite so tall. David Sedaris sure is a stitch, though, and I appreciate that a guy as celebrated as Michael Chabon sticks up for genre fiction from time to time.
Don’t be boring. Which doesn’t mean put an explosion on every page. To me, it means be unique. My Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novels aren’t pastiches. I’m not trying to ape Jane Austen. That really seems to irritate some people, but it’s just how I roll. I can pay homage to what someone else did without trying to copy it. Whatever I write — even if it’s in a well-worn genre — should, hopefully, be something that only I could (or would) dream up.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
My standard advice sounds dismissive and flippant, but it’s not. Here it is: Keep writing bad stuff until you’re writing good stuff. That’s how I did it. I don’t have a drawer full of old rejections because I didn’t have connections when I started out. I got all those rejections because my writing wasn’t good enough. Eventually, through much trial and error, I fixed the “not good enough” problem. And that fixed the “not selling anything” problem. So write, I say. Write. WRITE!!!
Steve, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.