Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Ira. For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet had a chance to give Welcome to the Multiverse* a read, please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m just this ordinary guy who leads a very dull, very unexciting life – seriously, if you saw me on the subway, you wouldn’t give me a second glance! – who just happens to have a rich and bizarre inner life which I share through my writing.
Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?
I decided to devote my life to writing humour when I was eight years old. I started right away by writing parodies of the Sherlock Holmes stories I was then reading. Throughout my youth, I did what I could when I had the time (I remember doing a series of cartoons by cutting and pasting images from newspapers and magazines and adding a punchline to the bottom – I sure could have used a graphics programme back then! I did a second series of cartoons drawing the images with a Spirograph – remember Spirographs? anybody? ANYBODY? – and adding punchlines.) When I was 14, a friend and I wrote The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, a parody of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar which replaced his characters with characters from the Watergate scandal. I’ve been writing prose and scripts steadily since 1984.
I always get a thrill the first time I hold a published work in my hand. The ebook version of Welcome to the Multiverse* was published three months before the print version, but it didn’t seem real to me – I mean, really real – until I received my first print copy.
Q: For what it's worth, I remember Spirographs . . . somebody introduced me to the mathematical basis a while back, and I lost all interest.
While genre fiction and humour so often seem to go together, writing a genre novel that’s centered around humour is often a daunting task. What made you decide that’s the kind of stories you want to tell, and have you ever found it tough to balance the humour and the story?
As I mentioned, my life’s ambition has always been to write funny things. I have done my best to explore the widest range of media (everything from film and radio to fake news and Web comics), and varieties of humour (from romantic comedies and sitcoms to surrealism and political and social satire). I find that humour is a meta-genre that blends well with a variety of other genres. I have written a lot of humourous speculative fiction in the past decade because I find that SF gives me a lot of room in which to play with funny ideas. If I find that I have exhausted the possibilities, I will likely move on to another genre, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. :-)
Despite being a digressive sort, I don’t think I have a problem balancing humour and story, but I do occasionally get the criticism that my humour sometimes gets in the way of the plot. The assumption, I believe, is that story and character are what people read narratives for, and, therefore, should be more important than any other aspect of a piece of writing. (In fact, comic characters are usually more fixated on one thing than dramatic characters – because fixation is funny, especially when thwarted – and varying degrees of ratio of plot to humour – from thin to ornate – have led to successful works.)
I have a different approach. I believe that once a writer has established that his work is supposed to be funny, the reader will expect it to be consistently funny throughout. The writer might be able to get away with a paragraph or two of exposition (although I have “exposition = death” tattooed behind my eyelids, and always try to present necessary exposition in a humourous way), but if the reader is left not laughing for too long, s/he may come to the conclusion that the writer is not very good. As long as my readers are laughing all the way through my books, I feel like I have done my job.
Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?
The easiest thing for me is developing ideas – I already have more than I could possibly write in this lifetime, and I get more every day! I was very conscious of this while writing the follow-up to Welcome to the Multiverse*; I would go to sleep at night thinking about the scene I would like to write the next day, and, most often, it was there for me when I woke up! (This is not a matter of luck, by the way: over the years, I have trained myself to see the world as brimming with comic potential. Add to this all of the reading I do, and my subconscious is primed for creativity.) Because of this, I usually have the title and most of the major plot points, from beginning to end, before I actually sit down to write a story. As you can imagine, this gives me the confidence to do it.
If one aspect of writing comes less easily to me, I would say that it has been professional promotional writing: cover blurbs, press releases, bios, etc. I realized a few years ago, though, that if you approach these things the same way you approach your fiction writing (in my case, by applying humour), they are not only much more fun (and, thereby, easier) to do, but the results are much, much better.
I should also say that, although not really encompassed by your question, the hardest thing for me as a professional has been self-promotion. I go to a lot of science fiction conventions, for instance, to sell my books; as a recovering shy person, they were, at first, very difficult for me. Even now, with some experience, I don’t always have the energy for that kind of direct salesmanship. I am also on social media (I have a Twitter account as well as a personal and a fan/author/whatever page on Facebook), but I have no idea if what I am doing there is helping me. This is my main frustration as a write: I know that a lot of people would really enjoy my writing, but I don’t know how to make them aware that it’s there for them.
Q: Definitely a challenge, getting your name and work out there in front of people, but hopefully a few wandering souls will stumble by and decide to pick up a copy today.
*hint, hint* that goes for all you readers! :)
Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Were there any twists or turns in Welcome to the Multiverse* that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?
As I previously mentioned, I plan in a lot of detail before I start writing (I had over 10 pages of single spaced notes before I typed word one of the novel), so I am rarely surprised by the direction a story goes in. Because I like to keep my writing plum full to burstin’ with comic invention, though, I am always open to incorporating ideas right up to the point I finish a manuscript, and once in a while I will come up with an idea that gives unexpected (to me) depth to what I am writing. An example of that actually happened with Welcome to the Multiverse*.
The main character in the novel is a new recruit to the Transdimensional Authority (the organization that monitors and polices traffic between dimensions) named Noomi Rapier. I knew I wanted to have her meet four different versions of herself in different realities over the course of the novel, and had planned their similarities and differences in some detail. However, it wasn’t until I sat down to write the chapter where she encounters the first alternate version of herself that I decided to write it from the point of view of the other version of Noomi. So, we see the alternate Noomis living their lives before the main Noomi shows up, we see their reactions to her after she leaves and we see the interactions between the characters from their point of view. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I have come to believe that this gives those characters a reality that they wouldn’t have had if we saw them through the main Noomi’s eyes, and this in turn strengthens the main theme of the novel (that choice and chance determine who we become at any moment in our lives).
Q: Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?
I usually have music going on in the background while I’m doing just about anything. When I listen to the radio, I divide my time between oldies and new rock stations. When I listen to music on CDs or the Internet, it runs the gamut – I like just about everything except country and gangster rap (political rap, on the other hand, is awesome). Sometimes, I will stop what I am doing and listen to a favourite song. Most often, though, it helps me concentrate on what I want to say, and, when the words are not coming, gives my conscious mind something to process while my unconscious mind works on the creative problem at hand.
Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to date?
Being, as I am, a recovering shy person, I am not effusively humorous in public, and, when I do make jokes, they are often so dry that people cannot tell if they are meant to be funny or not. When I first started distributing my writing among my friends, a common reaction was, “Wow, this was a lot funnier than I was expecting it to be!”
I don’t get that reaction any more. Much.
I haven’t had that many reactions to the novel, to be honest with you. Reviews of my books have been almost uniformly positive. I’ve been at enough cons that people who have bought previous books and enjoyed them seek me out to buy my latest books. At the latest Ad Astra con, where I launched the print version of Welcome to the Multiverse* in Canada, a woman bought a copy on Saturday; the next day, she came up to my table and said, “I started reading your book and am enjoying it so much that I want to buy everything else you’ve written because I don’t know if I’ll eve get another chance.” And, son of a gun if she didn’t buy a copy of my three self-published Alternate Reality News Service books on the spot! I’m still relatively new and sufficiently unjaded to still be touched by such sentiments.
Q: I think the day you become jaded to those kinds of sentiments is the day you stop being an author and start becoming a celebrity.
To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?
My two other earliest influences were Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Marx Brothers. At first, this may seem like an unlikely combination, but they both taught me two lessons that affect my work to this day: 1) maintain a high volume of comic elements, and; 2) use all of the comic devices at your disposal. The first point is important because the reader soon learns that if he doesn’t get a specific bit of humour, another will be along soon; as long as the reader gets most of the jokes, he won’t begrudge me some of the more topical or obscure or flat out strange. The second point is important because writers who use only one or two comic devices can become predictable, and surprise is one of the main characteristics of humour.
Over the years, I learned about how to structure satire from such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove) and Paddy Chayefsky (Network and The Hospital), as well as authors such as Joseph Heller (Catch 22) and, of course, the incomparable Alexander Pope (“A Modest Proposal”). I learned that it was okay to work ideas into your humour from writers like Woody Allen and Douglas Adams. And, I was drawn to the surreal (for example, the plays of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco and the art of Rene Magritte and Salvadore Dali), and, as a result, have a fondness for non-sequiturs.
From most of these individuals and groups I learned comic timing and how to write rich, effective comic dialogue.
I could go on (how could I have not mentioned Thomas Pynchon?!), but that’s probably something better handled by a PhD candidate.
Q: It’s a tough question, especially if you’re wary of putting faces before your readers, but if Welcome to the Multiverse* (or any of your other titles) were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?
As somebody who has written a lot of scripts over the years (and who has not only written but produced the pilot for a radio series based on Alternate Reality News Service stories), I do think about adapting works in other media. And, yes, as part of this, I do think of casting (although, honestly, in many cases it is with local actors whom I have had the pleasure of working with in the past but who may not be well known outside of Canada). However, as you rightly point out, naming them would interfere with readers forming their own images of the characters in their minds, so I’m, going to keep those thoughts to myself.
Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?
A: I have mentioned the Alternate Reality News Service: it sends reporters into other universes and has them write articles about what they find there. A couple of readers have described it as “a science fiction version of The Onion.” I have two new collections ready to go: The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies (a general collection of articles), and; The Alternate Reality News Service’s Guide to Love, Sex and Robots (a collection of advice columns – a kind of sci fi Ann Landers). They should be available in ebook and print formats in August or September (to coincide with the 11th anniversary of my Web site, Les Pages aux Folles, which happens the first week in September).
I have also just completed the first draft of a follow-up novel called You Can’t Kill the Multiverse** and sent it off to my publisher. All being well, it will be published in January, 2014.
Of course, these are complete, which means I’ve already been living with them for at least a couple of years. The projects I’m most excited about are the ones I am still developing ideas for and may soon write. But, alas, I can’t really talk about them…
* Sorry for the Inconvenience
** But You Can Mess With its Head
About the Book
This hilarious science-fiction comedy novel follows the first case for Noomi Rapier, rookie investigator with The Transdimensional Authority – the organisation that regulates travel between dimensions. When a dead body is found slumped over a modified transdimensional machine, Noomi and her more experienced partner, Crash Chumley, must find the dead man’s accomplices and discover what they were doing with the technology. Their investigation leads them to a variety of realities where Noomi comes face-to-face with four very different incarnations of herself, forcing her to consider how the choices she makes and the circumstances into which she is born determine who she is.
Ira Nayman’s new novel is both an hilarious romp through multiple dimensions in a variety of alternate realities, and a gentle satire on fate, ambition and expectation. Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) will appeal to comedy fans who have been bereft of much good science-fiction fare these last eleven years. Ira’s style is at times surreal, even off-the-wall, with the humour flying at you from unexpected angles; he describes it as fractal humour. Anyone who has read his Alternate Reality News Service stories will know how funny Ira is. The characters we meet from around the multiverse deserve to become firm favourites with all fans of science fiction comedy.
About the Author
Ira Nayman's dream when he was growing up was to be Francois Truffaut. Unfortunately, the position was taken. So, he grew up to be a comedy writer instead, something he has been combining with speculative fiction for almost a decade. His first novel, Welcome to the Multiverse* was recently published by Elsewhen Press. The fourth and fifth books in the Alternate Reality News Service series (The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies and The Alternate Reality News Service's Guide to Love, Sex and Robots) will be self-published by September. Ira updates his Web site, Les Pages aux Folles weekly and contributes irregularly to the Facebook author/fan/whatever page "Ira Nayman's Thrishty Friednishes." In 2010, Ira won the Jonathan Swift Satire Writing Competition. Beat that, pretentious French filmmaker!