Joe Kurmaski (The Metal Cowboy, fun bicycle touring books, like Charles Kuralt on a bike) will be putting these questions in the Oregonian in a very different form some time next week, but in the mean time, thought I’d share them with you guys.
1. Q: Do you always start with an idea for a story or do you work the story line out of a specific character? How did it work this time – with Stupidest Angel?
I usually start with a concept, something like: “What would happen if an angel came to earth to grant a Christmas wish, but really screwed it up?” Then I fill in with characters, creating each one so that I have someone to carry the story. Often I’ll create characters who have specific problems to overcome, because generally I think that we all do and readers relate to people who aren’t perfect. With this book, I’d already created the characters for other books, so I just sort of put them in a new play in the same setting I’d used in two of my previous books, Pine Cove, California.
2. Why a Christmas theme? beyond your agent suggesting it.
Actually it was suggested by a sales rep from my publisher, but when I started thinking about it, I thought it would be a lot of fun, and if I used a familiar setting that didn’t require research, it would be something that I could write pretty quickly and so get a new book into the hands of my readers who are always dogging me to write faster.
How’d you decide what part of the Christmas story to take on – the miracle angle works, did you start with it or get inspired along the way?
I started with the miracle and the angel, but along the way I wanted to brush with other classic Christmas themes: wish fulfillment, the coming together of a small town, the Gift of the Magi, the misunderstood Scrooge — basically I had everything but a freezing little match girl, and I would have done that if I’d remembered it. Then, once I had all the themes, I decided to twist them in a funny way.
3. How did you decide which characters to encore from previous books?
The angel from Lamb was in immediately because he gave me the whole “It’s a Wonderful Life” aspect, and most of the other characters were from my other Pine Cove books and had their own built-in idiosyncrasies, but the decision to include the pilot Tucker Case and his pet fruit bat Roberto came exclusively from readers, who continually asked me to bring Roberto back in another book. Over all, though, I wanted the book to work for you if you’d never read anything else I’d ever written, and from what people tell me, it does. It’s sort of a Whitman sampler of what I do.
4. Is there a warrior babe of the outland outside of your imagination?
Actually, The Warrior Babe is based on the notion of what happens to a cult-B-movie babe when her career is over. I met a couple of actresses who were selling autographed photographs at a science fiction convention a few years ago, and I thought exploring someone who played such an assertive character, but whose career ended right about the time that most personality disorders start to manifest themselves (late twenties, early thirties) would be interesting and possibly very funny. It was sort of my way of exploring the “Where are they Now” of the low budget scream queen. I actually like the idea of a world with warrior babes running around in it.
5. What’s next?
Death. I’m writing a book about death. You know, a comedy. Over the last few years I’ve cared for a couple of dying people and I think I have some stuff to say about it.
6. The pacing in The Stupidest Angel really gives the comedy even more punch and bite than the usually laugh out loud quality of your work – less is moore? Did you take a page out of elmore l’s brevity play book for this project?
I knew from the concept of the project that it would have to be short, and it actually was about fifty pages longer than I would have liked. Strangely enough, one of the reasons was that I wanted it to be affordable for people to give as a gift, and so it was going to be in small format to keep the price down. I don’t think this hurt the story, and I didn’t feel constrained at all, because I knew as I planned the book that it was going to be short — more like a three-act play than a five-act play. It’s actually about the same length as my first book, Practical Demonkeeping, which was also set in Pine Cove.
7. What’s the true meaning of Christmas?
Well, having done a whole bunch of research for a Jesus book that I wrote a few years ago, and therefore knowing that Christmas has nothing whatever to do with the historical birth of Christ, I’d have to say that the best way to honor the “meaning” of Christmas is with a spirit of peace, generosity, and forgiveness, because these are things the man for whom the holiday is named stood for. Of course that was before he became a Republican. Evidently now he just wants to bomb the bejeezus out of Iraq and keep Gay people from getting married.
8. After readers have purchased all of your previous books for the holidays, what other authors would you suggest under the tree?
I think you’re always safe with a book by David Sedaris, Carl Hiaasen, or Dave Barry. No one is going to be unhappy with a book that makes them laugh. If they haven’t read Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegutt, or the comic work of John Steinbeck, then what a fantastic gift you can give them. I envy a person who has never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, or Breakfast of Champions, or Cannery Row, who gets to discover how much fun a book can be over Christmas break. You turn someone on to those books and they’ll never forget you.
9. Are there any smart angels or worldly cherubs roaming around out there – or do they all see us and the world we’ve created in very literal terms?
I just don’t know. Above all, I write stuff that I hope is funny, and a stupid creature who is powerful, beautiful, and divine is just funnier to me than a smart one. I like the angels in Gregory Widen’s Prophecy movies a lot too, and they are far smarter and scarier than any angel I’ve every written about.