Inter-review Sunday: David Wong & JDatE
Originally posted in 2008.
When Apex Digest asked me if I wanted to review John Dies at the End, by David Wong, I took it. It sounded interesting and when I looked it up, the cover was intriguing.
Permuted Press (the original print publisher) sent the book out, and I dived in. Half-way through the first reading, I emailed Apex to see what he thought of an interview possibility. At the end of the first reading, and part way into the second, I emailed David – also really a Jason… the Jasons are taking over, I think – and asked if he’d be interested.
Here it is, with me three-quarters of the way into my third reading of the book. I swear I find new bits each time. When I grow up, I want to go help John and David fight inter-dimensional evil.
(As of this posting, it is several years later and I’ve read John Dies at the End another four times, my children have read it several times and we have a rat named ‘Soy Sauce.’)
Jodi Lee: John Dies at the End is a complete mind-twist from start to finish, and it all starts with a meat monster. Was it an attack of the munchies, or just another shot at a dick joke that created the walking bologna?
David Wong: Do you remember that scene in Terminator where Arnold Schwarzenegger emerges nude from the time portal, and he encounters that biker? And that biker looks down at Arnold’s dong and cracks some dismissive joke? JDatE is hopefully like that. It’s easy to just look at it and see nothing but penis, penis, penis.
But, just as there’s like 40 gigs of RAM in that Terminator penis, hopefully there’s an actual theme running through the silliness of JDatE. Though I guess when we see the terminator’s metal endoskeleton later there’s no dong there, so maybe the dong part on Arnold was just dong through and through. So maybe that’s a bad example.
What were we talking about? Oh, right, the monster made of meat. In our culture almost everybody believes in the soul, but most will still roll their eyes behind your back if you claim to have seen a ghost. But if they’re right about the soul, then we’ve all seen ghosts. We see them every day, only they have meat wrapped around them and we call them “people.” When they say the eyes are the window to the soul, they’re really saying the eyes are two twitching orbs a ghost uses to peer into the physical world from within the wet, warm machine it drives around.
So the idea was that, in confronting an entity made of pre-wrapped meat products, David first began to grasp the nature of the human soul, realizing through that ridiculous scenario that he, and us, live in a world of possessed meat.
And that ultimately is what the book is about, from the riddle on the first page, to the meat monster, to the bizarre fate that befalls David at the end. It’s all about exploring what a terrifyingly weird-ass idea dualism is.
JL: Since we’re on the inspiration topic, whatever gave you the idea for “Soy Sauce”, and why name it “Soy Sauce”?
DW: We have this habit of giving bland, ordinary nicknames to unimaginable things (for instance, you’ll hear at-risk people referring to AIDS as “the bug”) so when people came across this black drug that would basically let you slip into other dimensions, it seemed right that somebody would give it an innocuous name like Soy Sauce.
Also, it looks like soy sauce in the syringe, so there’s that.
JL: I’ve read Douglas Adams is an inspiration in your work. Is this why JDatE is a dimensional journey for David and John, similar to that of the space travel adventure of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect?
DW: Exactly, particularly in the sense that they get to step into these new worlds where everything is ridiculous from A to Z. It really is a blank check for insanity.
Also, in David you see a lot of Arthur Dent’s reluctance. While monstrosities are pouring into the night, David would really prefer to go back home and watch Ultimate Fighting.
JL: Who came first: David Wong, writer’s pseudonym, or David Wong, intrepid battler of evil?
DW: I started writing as David Wong when I created my first website (pointlesswasteoftime.com) back in 1999. It’s just part of internet culture that you don’t write as yourself. My friend Mack Leighty would write under the username John Cheese. Both of us would write in the first person, but always as these fictional people, so we wound up creating these characters on the fly. Two years later when I started JDatE (for that website is where it first appeared), it made sense for it to star David and John because that’s who the fans knew.
JL: What is up with Molly the dog? I have my theories… why is she so intelligent, and how does she come back?
DW: Molly’s exact origins is one of the mysteries of the book and it’s one that David, as the narrator, doesn’t happen to have the answer to. But the reader should be able to put it together. When reading JDatE it’s important to note that you are probably smarter than David, and that just because David hasn’t figured something out, doesn’t mean the answer isn’t there.
As for Molly, I’ll bring up two of my favorite fan theories, without saying which one is closest to being true:
1. Molly is actually the hero of the story. She, in her own dogly way, is carrying on her own struggle against these mindless dark beings and John and Dave mostly just get in her way. Thus, if the boys had just stayed home, Molly would have taken care of the whole thing on her own and everything would have turned out fine.
2. Molly doesn’t exist in the actual JDatE universe, but David simply adds her when putting the story to paper, to explain things he otherwise didn’t want to explain. We find out elsewhere that David isn’t the most reliable narrator, so perhaps when he hits a part of the tale that, for his own reasons, he doesn’t want the reader to know about, he essentially just says, “the dog did it.”
JL: By now, most people know that JDatE was a serial novel posted online via a blog. Given your success at marketing and selling a previously free piece of work, do you suggest this as a stepping stone for other writers?
DW: YES, if you’re a new writer. A thousand times yes. But not for the reasons you may think.
JDatE was my first novel. The reason the vast majority of first novels wind up unfinished in a drawer somewhere is because people can’t sustain three years of tedious writing with no reward, and they don’t have anyone looking over their shoulder pushing them to finish. So, it fizzles out.
Publishing online, in serial form, protected me from that. I got instant fan feedback via email and our message board each time I posted. I got immediate compliments and gratification, and had constant nagging from people demanding to know what happened next and complaining loudly when the next chapter was uploaded late. The readers themselves were there to re-light the fuse every time it sputtered.
Also, that feedback served as a sort of on-the-job-training. I could see within hours of publication which parts people liked, or didn’t understand, or were bored by (for my server stats told me exactly on what page the readers were quitting on). Readers gleefully pointed out plot holes and continuity errors, told me which scenes they loved and which they hated. All of this shaped the story as time went on.
Now, don’t get the impression that I was writing it according to popular opinion, like letting them vote on what character died next or anything like that. I wasn’t. A story could not be written that way. But there are all of these non-obvious things in the technique and the language that I would never have learned if not for that instant reader feedback. It basically served as my novel writing school.
But is this the best way to get started as a novelist? I don’t know. Understand that I didn’t put the book online for free as part of a grand marketing scheme. I put it online for free because most of my fans are poor and I knew they would never read it otherwise.
JL: Are you hoping to market the sequel in a similar manner, since the story is ongoing, online? By the way, I’ve read about half of the posted material, and it’s just as mind-boggling as JDatE. I do hope to see it in hardcopy someday.
DW: Sure, right now the first half of the sequel is online, for free as before. I’ll write the rest of it some day – and put it online – as soon as I can clear the other writing projects off my desk. They’re starting to pile up.
JL: What does David Wong (or should I call you Jason, Mr. Pargin, Supreme Ruler or Sir?) do when he’s not writing some truly messed up adventures?
DW: I work as the Assistant Editor for the humor site Cracked.com. I was hired last fall, and it was the first full-time writing job I’ve ever had. Before that I worked at an insurance office 40 hours a week and spent another 30 hours writing and editing pointlesswasteoftime.com and did other miscellaneous writing jobs for pay where I could squeeze them in. I didn’t sleep a whole lot.
JL: How far are you going to take the boys… is the current project the last one, or do you have a tiny tube of the Sauce in your sleeve?
DW: I would love to keep writing the stories, as long as I have ideas. What I don’t want is a situation where it turns into a series, like where I contractually have to write one every year whether I want to or not. That would quickly turn into a bland assembly line of episodes where I just keep inventing monsters for them to fight, stretching it out like the last seasons of the X-Files. I don’t want it to get like that, where there are more episodes purely because more are required. I only want to come back to it as long as I actually have something to different to say each time. Life’s too short.
JL: I heard a rumor… ok, not a rumor, but I’m gonna ask: is print the end for JDatE, or will there be… more?
DW: The ink is barely dry on the contract, but… I have in fact just sold the film rights to JDatE, to Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep, the Phantasm series). He contacted me late last year after he got ahold of a copy of the paperback. And I think anybody who’s seen Bubba Ho-Tep can tell you JDatE is in good hands.
Addendum: It’s been several years since I did this interview, and I have to say that JDatE has exploded beyond anything I would have imagined. I knew it was freakishly crazy good, and the author is an extremely talented (and possibly disturbed, but in a good way) young man. JDatE is no longer available in the issue I have, and it’s no longer available for free online.
Check the website for the big news, movie news, general continuing hilarity from fans and from the man himself.
(Addendum: apparently Coscarelli is a sneaky bugger, and has been filming on the quiet, featuring Paul Giamatti as a reporter following the story, Clancy Brown as an expert on the supernatural, and relative newcomers Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes as the lead characters. Could we see a splat of the sauce hit the screen in 2011? Oh bloody hell, I hope so!
Source – Dread Central, AICN)
Title: John Dies at the End
Author: David Wong
Publisher: St. Martin’s/Griffin (Permuted Press, 2007)
Copyright/Release Date: Sept. 2010 (2007)
Pages: 480 (362)
“It’s a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can’t.”
John Dies at the End – or JDatE as it has come to be known – is one of the few humorously horrific stories I’ve ever read. I’ve seen a lot of books classed as humor or horror that aren’t, not really; JDatE is not one of these. I don’t think I went a single page without a good laugh. And I know I didn’t go a single chapter without feeling monumentally uncomfortable with the situations David and John find themselves in. To my mind, you can’t have horror if you aren’t uncomfortable.
This winner of Best Novel ’07 in the P&E Awards has lived up to the word of mouth generated over the years as an online serial, and the months past as a print novel from Permuted Press. I wasn’t expecting much, if I’m to be honest with you; the small press has burned me before and I wasn’t going to hold my breath.
I nod to the folks at Permuted for having the sense to publish good work. Why should you go out and buy the novel when it was and is available online? You should, because you need to take JDatE with you, wherever you go. Long bus rides, lunch hours at the office. Just hold it lovingly in your hands and turn the pages.
It’s worth it.
You’ll be hooked right from the meat monster in the basement, all the way through to a dark and deeply disturbed alternate universe. You’ll ponder the existence of ghosts, demons, and dogs. And I don’t care who you are, you’re going to like the jokes. Maybe David and John can’t stop the horror, but they can give it their best… well, their hardest… no, that’s not right either. Oh hell, someone’s got to do it. My only beef with the story was that it seemed to lack the pop about two-thirds of the way in. The last bit of the book seemed rushed, but even in its hurry, it’s still much better than most.
PS: Mr. Sauce (the ASF rat) is just as humorously horrifying as the book is… and he seems to disappear occasionally as well. o_O