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A Conversation With Eric Garcia
An interview with David Soyka
March 2001

© Christopher Bierlein/Villard
Eric Garcia
Eric Garcia
Eric Garcia was born in 1972 and lives in Miami. He attended Cornell University and the University of Southern California, where he majored in film and creative writing. He lives outside Los Angeles with his wife, Sabrina, and his dachshund, Oliver. Other than the Rex series (Anonymous Rex, Casual Rex, and the forthcoming Hot and Sweaty Rex), he has written a con-man novel entitled Matchstick Men. The film rights were purchased by Warner Brothers; it should see the publishing light of day some time after Hot And Sweaty Rex is released. As well, he is producing and writing the teleplay for the Anonymous Rex TV series.

Anonymous Rex Website
Casual Rex Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Anonymous Rex
SF Site Review: Anonymous Rex

Anonymous Rex
Anonymous Rex

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Just when you thought Jonathan Lethem gets the last word in getting new wrinkles out of the Dashiel Hammett school of the noir detective novel, along comes Eric Garcia with the idea of crossing Humphrey Bogart with Jurassic Park. Only in this case there's no need to recover extinct dinosaur DNA as it turns out the cold-blooded creatures never got hit by a comet. We humans don't know this because the dinos, upon realizing the human potential for wiping out entire species, went into hiding out of self-preservation. Today, considerably smaller than their ancestors, the dinos live among us, cleverly disguised in latex suits, recognizable to one another by smells humans can't detect. It's enough to have given famous paranoids like J. Edgar Hoover nightmares, if he weren't a guised dino himself.

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?

It's true -- what's E.T. got that a T-Rex doesn't? Big eyes and a gangly neck. Big freaking deal.

With two books about PI Vincent Rubio, dinosaur in disguise, on the shelves, a third on the way, and a TV series under development for the SciFi Channel, do you run the artistic risk of being a "one-trick" pony? (Ian Fleming, for example, out of boredom at one point tried unsuccessfully to kill James Bond off, only to churn out further, some would say inferior, volumes.) Or is that just fine with you? (Ian Fleming didn't have it so bad now, did he?) Any thoughts, plans or desire to write a non-dino detective novel? Maybe a romance novel about cockroaches?
I think I would run a serious risk of becoming a one-trick pony if I were solely interested in the Rex series. Now, this is not to say that I'm not interested in furthering the career of Vincent Rubio and the other folks in human drag; clearly, I've got a vested interest, both financially and artistically, to continue with the series, and, of course, the television show for the SciFi Channel. And whereas Ian Fleming certainly didn't have it so bad from a marketing/financial success point of view, I can understand 100% where that boredom might come in. I think there's a natural life to a character, the same way we've all got a legitimate span capping our time here on earth, and when it's time to go, it's time to go. Vincent wouldn't want any heroic efforts on my part; he's got a "Do Not Resuscitate" order all set up and ready to go.

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.

Where did you come up with the idea of crossing a secret society of dinosaurs with classic detective novel conventions?
Oh, man. I give so many answers for this one, it's hard to keep it all straight. The truth is that I have no idea how I came up with it. In the summer of 1995, I wanted to go to Vegas with my wife (then fiancée) and some friends, and my wife (then fiancée) told me if I didn't write 15 pages that day, I wasn't allowed to go. I'd already told her to crack the whip on me, and she wouldn't let up. So I sat down and wrote what were the first 15 pages to the first draft of Anonymous Rex. I showed my wife, she let me go to Vegas, and I lost a hundred bucks or so.

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!

If dinosaurs are still around today, they were never wiped out by a comet or whatever was supposed to have happened to them, and the dinos faked the fossil record just to make it seem to us humans as if there was a mass extinction, then where do the fossil fuels that Vincent fill up his beloved Lincoln with come from?
Well, some dinosaurs died out. Just not all of them. Yeah, that's it. Good question, actually. I'll have to think of a better answer.

You straddle the genres of detective novel and fantasy, not to mention paleontology, though the tropes are firmly in the noir vein. Do you know what section of the book store you most likely get shelved?
After the book has made its way from the new release table up front, in most places I wind up in the mystery section.

Do you care where you wind up?
Yes and no. Yes I care in the sense that to me, it's not exactly a mystery novel. If you were to force me to put it into a genre, I would say, first and foremost, that it's a comedy. But of course, most bookstores don't have a comedy section; they have a humour section, and it's mostly filled with Calvin and Hobbes collections. But my next choice would be to call it science fiction/fantasy, because the central conceit is clearly one that is not of this world/time. Then I'd go for mystery after that. So I care only because I think that in some sense, it's mis-shelved in mystery.

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.

Does it matter?
Not really. Not in the long run. If the book can stand on its own, it will. Readers interested in all genres will either flock to it or they won't, and the genre won't particularly matter.

In a better world, would there just be a fiction shelf (as my local independent bookseller does it) and not all these subdivisions? Or are the subdivisions useful? (e.g., I don't want any damn lit major reading my pulp novel, it's just for fun, it's not War and Peace for crying out loud and who the hell do you know who has actually read War and Peace, anyway? I want my books to sell, not be studied.)
Folks are free to study my book if they really want to -- in fact, I know there's a university class in Michigan right now that's using my book as part of their study on post-modern noir. But that's not really the heart of this question, is it?

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.

Your publicity photo depicts you sitting on the right front side of a cab -- were you a taxi driver in London or something? Sounds like good preparation for a writer.
Damn, that would have been good prep, huh? Can we just lie and say I was a cabbie and leave it at that? No, huh?

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.

Speaking of writer preparation, one of your college professors was T.C. Boyle, author, most recently, of A Friend of the Earth.
And he is The Man.

To what extent did that shape your particular writing bent?
I'm not entirely sure. I do know that when I entered Tom's classes, my basic writing style, at the core, was very similar to what it is now. Everything I did was always tinged with humour; everything was always twisted just a tad. I used an astonishing amount of semicolons; I still do.

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.

Do you think the academic M.F.A. type experience in general is good for developing writers, or is it better that they drive a cab a few years to get some real ideas?
There comes the cab thing again. Christ, I should've taken off a few years and done that. Now I'll be kicking myself all through the night.

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...

A subplot in your latest book, Casual Rex, involves tracking down a "Mussolini," which is, ahem, an impressive appendage a guised dino uses to satisfy a bizarre cross-species relationship. Was the fascist dictator known to be prodigious in this area?
Actually, it was Mussolini's half-brother, Alfredo, who designed the famous "appendages," as you so gently put it. Only seventeen left in the world, four in America. As for whether or not Benito was any good in the sack, you'll have to do some digging on your own. I hate to pry into the bedrooms of fascists; it never turns out well in the end.

Casual Rex is a prequel to Anonymous Rex (with the last chapter providing a bittersweet set-up to what was your first published novel). Did you have the idea for Casual Rex afterwards, or did you think the "down and out hardboiled private dick" premise of Anonymous Rex was more attractive to interest a publisher for a first sale?
When I first wrote Anonymous Rex, I wasn't even thinking Publisher. I know that sounds odd -- especially for me. I'm the first to announce that I love the business of writing, the process of publication, the marketing, the promotion -- I get a kick out of knowing that folks out there know who I am and what I'm doing.

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.

You're working on a third book, Hot and Sweaty Rex. Do you have any fixed number of books in mind for this series, or do you intend to keep going until you can't think of any more titles with puns about sex?
Oh, we can always think of more titles with puns about sex. In fact, that's a part of my book tour now; I give people the chance to come up with more titles, and they get prizes for every one they can think of that I haven't already got on my list.

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...

I understand you're planning a different sort of book tour to support your next novel. What can we look forward to?
I'd really wanted to do the big tour this time around, but the time constraints of this TV gig kept it so that I had to scale back my plans. So for the next tour, you'll all be privy to the Hot And Sweaty Rex Travelling Roadshow Spectacular! Yes, it's forty-five minutes of singing, dancing, lights, sounds, mayhem, and madness as Eric dons costumes, accents, and plays up to two (!) musical instruments. Maybe three, if I decide to get really saucy.

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.

How did the deal to develop Anonymous Rex as a television series come about? Was it something as an aspiring screenwriter you always had in the back of your mind? Or did you originally envision it as a screenplay?
It's funny -- you try for something and try for something and try for something, and it never comes together, and just when you turn around to go home -- WHAM! -- it knocks you in the back of the noggin.

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.

What is your role in developing the series?
I've written the two-hour opener for the series -- based directly on Anonymous Rex, a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, with some plot streamlining for continuity and certain extras thrown in for fun. And I'll be a very hands-on Co-Executive Producer for the entire series, episode-to-episode, writing some of the scripts myself, but overseeing everything from a creative point of view. That was another great thing about the deal with SciFi -- they didn't just accept having me as part of the show; they actively wanted me to participate. It's pretty clear from all the deals they've put together recently (Dune, the Spielberg miniseries, the Clive Barker thing) that they're really gearing up to become a very important force in cable programming.

Given the premise, presumably it wouldn't have been possible without today's sophisticated computer-generated special effects technology.
It's certainly going to make our lives a heck of a lot easier. The show is being produced via Alliance/Atlantis, the huge Canadian entertainment company, and they've got an in-house team of special effects guys who are just salivating to get their hands dirty with Rex. It's a challenge, I'm sure, but one they'll be able to pull off. I have no idea how I'll feel when I first see Vincent up on screen, guise half-ripped away, claws bursting from the tips of his fingers. That's goose bump country, man.

Although a cheesy sort of Dr. Who-type version with a guy obviously dressed up in purple dinosaur suit might have it's appeal, though I think that's already been done.
Oh, dear Lord, don't get me started on Barney. I have a 10-month-old daughter, and I'm doing everything in my power to banish all things Barney from a 50-foot radius around her.

Any fears about extinction, either as a person or a novelist?
Both. These days, I've got to be afraid about extinction as a novelist; tastes change quickly, and if you screw up a few books, folks stop buying hardcover. A few more, they stop buying the paperbacks, too. I gave up on Stephen King when he ventured into Rose Madder territory, and only just started buying his hardcovers again. Not that Steve has to worry about losing revenue, but you get the idea.

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.

Copyright © 2001 David Soyka

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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