Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author Roger Danchik about his writing and his recently released book, Viila and the Doomsday Affair, a rollicking ride into the unknown as an unlikely group of allies set out to save the universe. (Read the review here.)
Roger Danchik is a playwright who graduated from Brandeis Graduate School. Learn more online at:
From the moment we read the back cover synopsis for Viila and the Doomsday Afffair, we know we’re in for a ride with a “very unusual group–a rabbi and his clueless son, a beautiful vampire, a sex obsessed teraphim, Barnabas the demon, Queen Pharaoh the original cat and Jasper the belly crawler“. How did you come up with this motley crew? Did they all exist as separate characters in your head and come together by chance, or did you develop each character specifically to foil others?
I am exactly the kind of author that should never teach a creative writing class. I don’t plan very much and I think the writing process is a journey of discovery. I knew the outlines of the plot but the characters sort of appear and interact as they develop their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. For example, if one of your characters is a sex obsessed teraphim with an extraordinary tongue and the other is the most beautiful woman in the world with large breasts, and you put them together, certain things are going to happen.
I would like to be the kind of writer that can plan everything, outline everything and know exactly where the story is going, but you have to work with the brain you’re given.
Are any of your characters based on real people you know?
No, unfortunately, they are all amalgams of various people I have met, good and bad. I think many of my characters are more positive than real people. I could be wrong about that, and I’m sure at some point someone will point it out.
Viila and the Doomsday Affair is full of these literal laugh-out-loud moments and sometimes even absurd humor. Do you find that you gravitate toward writing or reading humorous stories? Does writing humor come naturally to you?
Humor does come naturally to me, whether I want it or not, and has often gotten me into trouble. I don’t usually read humorous stories, and I don’t usually like comedies, because very often they’re not very funny to me, which I don’t mean in an insulting way. I would like to see everybody laughing even if it’s just for minute or two while they read something funny in my book. It is a gift I have been given—at least I think it’s a gift—and I feel compelled to use it. Can you make the world a better place one giggle at a time? I hope so.
I tried doing stand-up thinking with my sense of humor it would be easy. But two things got in the way. The first is that I couldn’t remember my lines even though I’d written them, sometimes as little as 5 minutes before. The second is that when you’re starting out you spend a lot of time in bars, which is not a natural habitat of mine, and I just got tired of waiting for my 5 minutes.
I can imagine there were a lot of fun moments for you while writing Viila and the Doomsday Affair. On the flip side, what was the most difficult thing about writing this novel?
The worst thing about writing is that the first draft is not absolutely perfect, although I always think it is and should be. I have this tendency to finish something, a page or a couple paragraphs, and immediately send it out to friends because it’s the greatest thing ever. Then I get responses like—What is happening here? Are you OK? Did you take your pills?
I’ve heard of writers who spend all this time thinking about each word that they type so they never have to rewrite anything. I have to rewrite everything, endlessly, and then rewrite it again because it messed up something 20 chapters ahead or I forgot that I killed the character 7 chapters ago.
Do you have any favorite authors, tv shows, movies, or maybe even comedians that helped inspire the story and the writing of this book?
I’m a science fiction and fantasy nerd and some years back, one scientist/writer said that the most imaginative stuff is what’s happening in science, not in science fiction. So, now I read more history and science than anything else and even though I can barely remember how to do a lowest common denominator, I like to read about quantum effects. Reading Einstein is really difficult.
I like George Carlin a lot and I remember watching him do his routine and then get arrested for it. How the world has changed. I like Steven Wright and there’s an English improv group called Whose Line is it Anyway? that has a couple of geniuses. I tried to do improv and discovered that I need about three weeks to think of a funny line.
Viila and the Doomsday Affair has been compared to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comparison I also wouldn’t hesitate to make (in the most complimentary way, of course!). Was Hitchhiker’s Guide an inspiration for you, or did the similarities appear to you later?
The comparison to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came from one of my first readers and his true quote was “this is just like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy except with foreskins.” He was reading it because he had a friend in publishing and he wanted to make sure it was suitable. Of course, his friend in publishing never even gave it a look, but I got a great quote out of it.
It never occurred to me that my book could be compared to such a great series of books as Hitchhiker. It was so flattering I kept saying it to myself as I took walks grinning like an idiot.
You have worked in many entertainment media, including filmmaking and playwriting. What have you learned from writing for other media that you carry with you into your novel/prose writing?
I don’t want to be depressing but it is almost impossible to get a film produced, and I was a reader for a company that produced films, so I could give my work a great review. I was also a reader for a couple of theater companies around Boston, too many years ago. The plays were often terrific but were unsuitable for the theater. For instance, I read a great play called Miss Evers’ Boys for a theater that could never have produced it.
So, to get to your play or movie produced, you have to find the theater company that not only is excited about your project but has the ability to produce it. Then you just send it in and who knows who the reader is, it could be some bozo like me. I did however try and read the whole play or movie, as opposed to the first three pages as some readers do.
I just noticed that the first two paragraphs did not answer your question. If you write for more than one media especially plays or movies as well as novels, then you will find your novel being more theatrical. People on a stage or in a movie don’t just stand there and spout. You have to write stage directions because you can’t leave the movement completely up to the director. They might be the producer’s nephew or main squeeze.
Why did you choose this medium (a novel) to tell the story of Viila and the Doomsday Affair, as opposed to something like a play, a movie, or even a podcast?
Ironically I have a podcast I’m very excited about. I even got together a group of people to record a reading. But at the moment it’s somewhere in somebody’s computer in the Midwest while he pursues his singing career. Maybe we’ll even finish it someday but being ADD certainly doesn’t help anything.
I think the novel would make a good movie, however by writing a novel I could have more fun with descriptions and diversions. I don’t know how you could describe what happens to the rabbi’s beard, which is almost a separate character, in a play or movie without using way too many stage directions.
What’s next for you?
Well, all my writings have to have interesting characters who manage to make people laugh with their behavior, while usually being perfectly serious themselves. So, I’m working on a thing where a character like the old rabbi has to solve other problems. I’m still really in love with the characters in this novel and how easily I can make them talk to each other and have fun. But I am finally starting to hear other characters in my head and who knows, maybe I’ll defeat the ADHD again and put fingers to keypad.
I did decide that Aristotle, yeah the old Greek guy, had written an obscene comedy because it is very common for critics to try and produce a creative project. Because it isn’t extant, I wrote it for him, and because it’s Greek comedy, it is probably the dirtiest play ever written.
Categories: BookView Review Interview
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