Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Ira. It’s been a while since you stopped by to talk about Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience), so for those who are meeting you for the first time, please tell us a little about yourself.
A: Sure. I’ve been writing humour since I was eight years old – it really is all I have ever wanted to do with my life (getting a PhD in Communications was something of a hobby, really…) .
In addition to the political and social satire that can be found on Les Pages aux Folles, I have been combining my humour with speculative fiction over the last few years. This has resulted in three major projects to date.
1. The Alternate Reality News Service, which sends reporters into other dimensions and has them write news articles about what they find there. It has been described by a couple of readers as “a science fiction version of The Onion.” There are currently five books in the series, the two most recent of which are The Street Finds its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies (general) and The Alternate Reality News Service’s Guide to Love, Sex and Robots (advice columns). I encourage readers to submit questions to the advice columns; they can find previously collected examples as well as new columns every week to get a feel for the sorts of things I’m looking for.
2. The Transdimensional Authority, the organization which monitors and polices travel between universes. This offshoot of the Alternate Reality News Service has been featured in two novels, Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) and my latest book, You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head). Although my ambition has never been to be a novelist, all being well these books will be the beginning of a long series.
3. I also have a series of short stories that take place after all matter in the universe at all levels of organization (from the smallest sub-atomic particles to stars, galaxies and the universe itself) is conscious. The main recurring character is an object psychologist named Antonio Van der Whall. When I have enough of the stories, and they have all been published in magazines or anthologies, I hope to publish them in their own collection. So far, seven of the stories have been published, and a few are currently outstanding.
I have also just finished a stand-alone novel and have written a small number of stand-alone short stories.
I am proflicli – prilfolic – prophilacti – I write a lot.
Q: LOL. You’ve called your latest, You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head), a sideways sequel – what can you tell us about that, and about how the story came about?
Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience). I had a story in mind, but whenever I tried to work on it, nothing came. Eventually, I had to shelve it and work on other things.
Unexpectedly, my book club came to the rescue. I belong to a group that meets monthly to discuss a speculative fiction book. One month, the list said that we were going to read Michael Swanwick’s The Dragons of Bagel. And, I thought, “What an awesome title! I’m really looking forward to reading that!” Fans of Swanwick’s work will know that it was a typo, that his book is actually called The Dragons of Babel. However, the title stuck with me, and inspired the writing of a novelette.
One other factor that came into play was that I was starting to feel a little bad about referring to all of the Transdimensional Authority investigators as “fire hydrants with limbs and dark glasses.” That was unfair – I realized that they could be interesting characters if I put some thought into individuating them.
As I started writing what would come to be known as “The Dragon of the Bagel,” I conceived a story that would be told in five segments, each featuring a different team of Transdimensional Authority investigators, with a final chapter that would bring all of the different stories – and characters – together. So, that’s the novel I wrote.
I consider it a sideways sequel because it isn’t the follow-up that I had intended to write. The good news is that, having just completed a third novel that stands alone, I am finally ready to write the novel that I had planned as the sequel to Welcome to the Multiverse. The working title is Random Dingoes.
Q: I know you talked a little bit about balancing humour and story last time you were here, but how difficult was it to maintain that balance in a sequel? Did knowing the world and the characters make it easier, or did that add to the challenge?
A: I have found that writing about alternate realities requires new world building with each new work. To be sure, the Transdimensional Authority, the characters and the means of traveling between universes are common to each story (although I find more detail with each new telling), but the places the characters go to are always different. Each of the five segments of You Can’t Kill the Multiverse, for instance, takes place in a different reality, none of which appeared in the first book. (In fact, they parody different kinds of speculative fiction stories, but I’ll let readers discover which ones for themselves.) Yes, having common characters and institutions does help somewhat, but owing to the nature of what I write, I can’t get too comfortable with them.
I should also say that I try to develop characters and their relationships with each new work. So, for example, you’ll learn some interesting new things about Doctor Alhambra in You Can’t Kill the Multiverse. In addition, Noomi and Crash appear in one of the chapters, and there is a new wrinkle in their relationship. (They will be the central characters in Random Dingoes, and this wrinkle will be expanded, as well as more background on both characters, especially Crash.) So, there’s always something new for me to explore, and hopefully readers to enjoy.
As for the balance of humour and story…I’m a humourist first and foremost. I try to have humour working on every level of a work, from the overall arc of the story to individual lines. (And, sometimes, more than one bit of humour per line – one of the most fascinating criticisms of Welcome to the Multiverse was that my sentences were too long!) Some readers may find my attitude towards story too…leisurely for their taste. Fair enough – I’ll be the first to allow that my writing isn’t for everybody. But, those who like it do seem to like it an awful lot.
Q: 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 this second volume that surprised you, or does it live and breathe because of challenges to your plans in the first book?
A: TRUE STORY: I was talking to an actor/producer friend of mine about how we approach writing. He said he started with characters, threw them into a situation and then saw what they did. I said I started with story, theme and other ideas and developed characters who did what I needed them to do within the parameters set by those elements. He asked me what I did if the character I created didn’t want to do what the story I wanted to tell demanded. He shrieked, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” But, of course, I can.
Whatever gets you to the end of the work works. Readers don’t know (and, let’s be honest, most don’t care) about the process by which you wrote something. All they care about is whether or not they enjoy it.
Q: You shared a great story with us last time around about a fan encounter at the Ad Astra convention – have there been any strange or surprising reactions to your work since then?
A: Because my novel publisher, Elsewhen Press, is British, I went to Eastercon, a British science fiction convention, for the launch of Welcome to the Multiverse. Although the con wasn’t in London, I stayed over for a couple of extra days to visit the city, something I have wanted to do since I was a young lad. Good times.
The launch was well attended considering I was a relatively unknown writer in that country. The publisher had taken out an ad in the con programme for the books he was launching there. One of the people who bought a copy of the book at the launch told me when he came to the table to get it signed: “I saw the title of the book in the ad the first day of the convention, and I’ve been waiting all weekend to get a copy of the book!” That was nice.
Q: We talked a little bit about Monty Python and Douglas Adams last time out, both of which have found new life – the former with Simon Pegg added to the cast, and the latter through Eoin Colfer’s novel. Since you’ve put out a sequel, what are your thoughts about revisiting your ‘classic’ material, and where do you draw the line?
A: RE: Python: let’s be honest: most of the Pythons did their best work with Python (the exceptions perhaps being John Cleese, whose Fawlty Towers was brilliant, and Terry Gilliam, who has directed some wonderful films). If, as promised, the Python reunion will feature a lot of new material (as opposed to being a nostalgiafest), I think it will be awesome. I am really stoked to see what they come up with.
RE: Eoin Colfer’s Hitchhiker novel: I refused to buy it. It was obviously a cash grab on the part of the publisher, and I refused to give them my money. Yes, there is a good possibility that Colfer’s novel is better than the last Adams novel (or two), although I would argue that he could mimic Adams’ style but never inhabit Adams’ soul; either way, for me that’s not the point. My loyalty is with the author (Douglas Adams), not the creation (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and reading another author’s take on his universe seems like a betrayal.
RE: My own writing: I see the Transdimensional Authority series of books developing in a similar vein as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books: they will be set in the same conceptual space, but they will feature different characters and explore different aspects of the main idea as I am inspired to write them. I don’t like repeating myself, and I hope this approach will keep it fresh for me (which, of course, will help keep it fresh for readers).
Q: Discworld is a hard act to follow, even if it does rest upon the back of a giant turtle. Continuing with the comedy theme for a moment, who or what makes you laugh - either chuckle and smile, or laugh-out-loud with tears running down your face? And which kind of humour do you prefer?
A: I wish I laughed more – I think it’s one of the most wonderful things human beings do. There are some television shows that make me laugh (ie: the first season of New Girl and all but the fourth season of Community), but they are actually rare. I find that most scripted humour is lazily written, relying on insults or stereotypes rather than true wit, and I just don’t find them funny.
I do have a lot of quick-witted friends, and I find I laugh most when I’m with them. This is especially true of my Web Goddess Gisella; on a good night, we can have each other in stitches.
Q: To step away from the page for a moment, when you're not writing (or reading, for that matter), what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you busy?
A: I’m a political junkie, and I read two newspapers a day to keep up with ongoing events. And, like most people, I watch movies and read books to keep myself entertained. I wish I could answer this question with something exotic like naked bungee jumping alligator wrestling, but, as I mentioned in my first interview with you, I lead a pretty boring exterior life.
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: As I mentioned, I have just completed a third novel, Both Sides. NOW! The basic premise is that one day everybody in the world changes sex. If you went to sleep a woman, you wake up a man, and vice versa. While still basically a humourous work (that’s what I do), the novel has a complex structure and is much more character-driven than the Transdimensional Authority novels. When it is eventually published, I think readers will see a different side of my artistic vision.
In addition to my ongoing projects, I do have one or two more things on the go, but they are so iffy that I can’t really talk about them at this time. All I can do is say that if you’re interested in my writing, stay tuned!
Thanks again for joining us, Ira!
You Can't Kill the Multiverse: But You Can Mess with its Head (Transdimensional Authority)
by Ira Nayman
Elsewhen Press (April 19, 2014)
It's just another day in the Transdimensional Authority, with teams of investigators doing what they do best (well, after breakdancing) - investigating. Bob Blunt is en route through a Dimensional Portal(t) to Earth prime 4-7-5-0-0-7 dash iota to investigate cars exhibiting most uncarlike behaviours - ribbit! (Breaking all of the Transdimensional Authority rules - number 127, he is without his partner, 'Breakfront' Balboa, who is on leave after an unfortunate incident with the Vulvar Ambassador to Earth Prime and a staple gun). Beau Beaumont and Biff Buckley have already arrived on Earth Prime 5-9-2-7-7-1 dash theta to find themselves surrounded by machines whose only intention is to serve human masters - even if it kills them!
Recently recruited TA investigator Noomi Rapier, with her partner 'Crash' Chumley, is on Earth Prime 6-4-7-5-0-6 dash theta where all matter at all levels of organisation (from sub-atomic particles to the universe itself) has become conscious. Meanwhile Barack Bowens and Blabber Begbie, taking the Dimensional DeLorean(t) to Earth prime 4-6-3-0-2-9 dash omicron, face multiple apocalypses (already in progress), and Bertrand Blailock and Bao Bai-Leung are having trouble travelling to their intended destination: the home of the digital gods. At first, they all appear to be looking for unauthorised and probably counterfeit Home Universe Generator(t)s, but could what's really happening be more sinister? (Yes. Yes, it could. We wouldn't want to leave you in suspense - )
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!