|A Conversation With Eric Garcia|
|An interview with David Soyka|
| March 2001 |
Garcia's debut novel, Anonymous Rex, introduced the human guised Velociraptor Vincent Rubio, a down-on-his-luck private investigator dealing with his partner's death with a haze of cilantro and basil addiction. Turns out his partner's death wasn't an accident, but the result of an investigation into dinos clandestinely experimenting with inter-species (meaning dino and human) reproduction. In tailing the various suspects in this tasteless conspiracy, Rubio wrestles with his own mixed feelings towards a gorgeous human female. And feelings aren't the only thing he gets to wrestle with. Warning: sex scenes may not be suitable to those without a sense of humour.
Garcia latest book, Casual Rex, is a prequel in which Rubio and his partner are on the case of a cult of dino-naturists (in which the clothing-free lifestyle, in this case, means literally letting your tail hang out) whose deprogrammed defectors commit suicide under suspicious circumstances. Along with gratuitous dino sex scenes (the sort of thing the Natural History Museum never covered), there's also a group of cross-dressers (male dinos who wear human female forms) and the theft of a prosthetic penis (don't ask -- just read the book).
And there's going to be more, not only in Garcia's next novel, Hot and Sweaty Rex, but a new television series under development for the SciFi Channel, tentatively slated to premiere in January 2002. To try to figure out what kind of strange mind Eric Garcia has, we asked him some equally strange questions. The evolving conversation went as follows.
A disturbed-looking fan comes to one of your book signings and says, "Well I'm a Brontosaurus accountant who just wants to thank you for finally giving us the right artistic treatment, unlike that Spielberg guy who thinks we're a bunch of raving monsters. I mean, beings from outer space are cute, but a co-native species is made out to be a bunch of havoc wreaking morons, give me a break." How do you respond?
To that end, I've made sure that my life and career is not wholly Rex dominated. My fourth book, Matchstick Men, will come out after Hot & Sweaty Rex, and is completely non-Rex, non-dino -- even non-SF/Fantasy. It's a straight con-man story. Well, okay, it's a con-man story with a twist, but perhaps I've already said too much... It's not a detective novel, but I have a feeling it would be placed either with mainstream fiction or with mystery/thrillers, much in the way that Elmore Leonard is often thought of as a mystery writer, even though his books aren't particularly mysterious. Similar genre, in any case. Warner Brothers has purchased the film rights to the book, and are working their little butts off making it into a film; it should be quite interesting, to say the least.
Also, there's a book that I wrote a while ago called The Repossession Mambo, which is more along the lines of Rex, in that it's a Sci-Fi/Comedy, but a shade or two darker than the Rex series. I'm still working on getting the structure down right; due to the way the book is set up, it's currently a tad more confusing for the reader than I want it to be. This may become my fifth published book; it may not. It all depends on how much work I get done between now and my next publishing deadline.
A few months later -- mid-November -- I was looking through old files on my computer and came across this odd document. I pulled it up, read it, thought, "hmm, that was interesting," took a shower, and poof! As the water ran down my head, the whole thing came to me, soup to nuts. I got out of the shower, threw on a robe, sat down at my computer, and started typing; a month later, Anonymous Rex was done.
So to the question of where'd the idea come from, the answer is: The Los Angeles water supply. Mmm-mmm good!
On the other hand, a lot of my fans are mystery fans, and I have to say that the mystery bookstores around America have been great in pushing the Rex series to their customers; they've really helped me build up a loyal following. So I'm not complaining at all that it's thought of as a mystery; it's just that to me, it's, well... a bit of a mystery.
Despite my initial reluctance to shy away from genre -- most everything I do has multiple genres involved -- I can see the basic benefit of having those tags. There are far too many books out there for people to try and sift through to get to the stuff they like, and I'm not of the mind where we should force the reading public to try new things. Here, try this Proust -- I swear, you'll like it, just a bite. So if separating the genres at stores makes it easier for people to locate the things they're interested in, all the better.
Truth is, the shot was taken by the Random House photographer on our way to the Natural History Museum uptown. My wife, mother, and the photographer were in the back of the cab; I was in the front. He called my name to get me to turn around, I did, he snapped the photo, and out of the 300 prints that were made from that day's shoot, the cab one ended up being the most compelling! Go figure.
But I'd really like to go with the London cabbie thing, if you don't mind.
But Tom really helped me to pare things down a bit. His classes showed me how self-reflexive writing is not necessarily interesting to anyone other than the writer. The workshops gave me a forum to experiment and see what worked and what did not, and Tom guided me through it all; he was a great professor, and the time I spent with him at USC is truly invaluable. I sound like a brochure, don't I? But it's true, and I wouldn't trade my time there for anything.
Okay, maybe I'd trade it for an Aston Martin DB-7. But that's it.
I think the academic experience is a positive one for the craft and business side of writing. You get a chance to hone your style, get it critiqued (both constructively and otherwise), and take a few years to really think about what matters in terms of the written word. You also get to network a bit, and make friends with others who are struggling through the same things you are. But I don't know if either living in an academic environment or driving a cab or doing any of the other jobs I actually had -- selling juggling equipment on the street, re-arranging stereo equipment for the elderly, performing in improv shows for $5 a head -- could help a writer actually come up with ideas. There's some section in our brains reserved for ideas, and while we may be able to add to that area with experience, I believe that most of that well is filled from somewhere else. Obviously, I had no experience with dinosaurs or detectives before I wrote the first Rex book, but the thought popped in from somewhere, and neither my time with T.C. Boyle nor my prior jobs influenced that. At least, as far as I can tell...
But I wrote Anonymous Rex from mid-November 1995 until mid-December, straight through, working every day for eight hours, just to get it all out on paper. It was this big ol' thing suddenly stuck in my brain, and the goal was just to get it out. And once I did, it sat there. And sat there and sat there and sat there. For 2 and a half years. It wasn't until the summer of 1998 that a friend and my wife finally convinced me to find an agent. Not knowing how difficult this was, I promptly went out, found a fantastic agent, who, after a week of book revisions, sold it to Random House over the course of a single weekend. Only later did I find out how nearly impossible all this was; it's a good thing, too, or I might never have tried it in the first place.
So, to answer your question, Anonymous came first. The idea for Casual came afterwards, about four or five months after Random bought the first one.
Right now, I'm just concentrating on finishing Hot & Sweaty Rex. We do have two more potential books lined up after that -- Premarital Rex, and Rex & Violence, but we'll see; I've got sketchy outlines for each of those, but if I get bored with the whole thing (especially if I'm working a lot on the show), I might call it a day. It all depends...
The plan is to drive around with my wife, my daughter, and my mother (who thinks all book publicity is the most wonderful thing since Velveeta) in our car, state to state, town to town, and put on a show to knock 'em off their butts. Regular book signings are boring events, for the most part, and I want to do my part to liven them up.
Actually, on my Casual Rex tour, I do a fair amount of performing. My first show was last night, and clocked in at twenty-five minutes. I sang two original Rex-songs, danced around a bit, and generally had a great time. Everyone was pretty floored -- they were just expecting a basic read-and-sign -- so I can't wait to see what happens when I really turn on the juice. Guess I'm still a performer at heart.
We had a lot of movie interest when the book was first purchased by Random House, and I had quite a few lunch meetings with some pretty big movie folk. But despite everyone's best intentions, the deal never came together the way I or my agents wanted it to, and we kept walking away, waiting for the right place, the right time. In the meantime, I concentrated my efforts elsewhere, and figured that was the end of that. But across the country, somewhere up in New York City, Bonnie Hammer, a head honcho at the SciFi Channel, read a review of Anonymous Rex in People magazine and bought the book; she read it, and immediately called my agents, and soon we were on our way.
It seemed to me to be a perfect fit on a number of levels. One, they loved the book, and I could separate their true affection from other Hollywood bullshit; it was clear they were Rex fans, which is very important to me. A lot of the film folks just saw it as a high-concept big-budget summer film, but didn't care about Vincent or the world. The SciFi folks -- Bonnie and Steve LaRue, to start with -- were really in this for the core of the Rex world.
Two, it gives Vincent a much longer potential shelf life than a film would. Most movies come and go, but a TV show can get cult status -- the way the books have attained a degree of that -- and keep going for a long while.
Three, I could remain intimately involved with the way it is produced, something that I would most likely lose in the translation to a big screen blockbuster. Television is a writer's domain; it's the one entertainment field where we rule. And if I'm going to take Vincent and his cronies into a visual format, I want to keep a handle on where it's going.
And four, the SciFi Channel -- one of the biggest cable channels, as I understand, and just kick-ass in the all-important 18-34 demo (see, I'm talking TV-speak already -- ack!) -- could help bring the book to a market that, as previously discussed, may not have yet found the Rex world. SciFi is a perfect match for Vincent and Rex, and I'm thrilled to be there. Again, I'm sounding like a brochure, but it's true.
And I've got to be afraid about extinction as a person, too, because that's what keeps me writing. Obviously, the money is nice, and it's great to be able to support my family doing something that I love more than any other job out there. But the real reason I write -- the real reason I suspect we all write, deep down -- is to ward off extinction. Keep that final death at bay. The dinosaurs didn't leave anything behind, the silly ninnies, and so they were long forgotten until someone found those fossils, their only legacy, and put 'em on display.
My bones won't last that long. But my books just might. They may be old and musty in some forgotten corner of a library (or, more likely, corrupted digital files on some sort of nano-hard drive), but they will be there, and two hundred years after I'm worm food, someone can wander back there, pick up a book, and laugh or think or cry or shrug; it doesn't matter what they do, because it's me that's making them do that. Rotted away to nothing, gone to wherever we go, but I'm still here. Can't get rid of me. Go ahead and try.
David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.
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