Saturday, October 13, 2012

Author Spotlight: David Wong

At the risk of dating myself, I’ll admit Cracked was one of my favorite magazines when I was a kid. Sadly, 2007 marked the end of that august publication’s five decade print run, but lingering despair was uncalled for as the Cracked team migrated online with great success. Now is the most popular humor site on the Internet. It tallies more than 300 millions views, and over seven million unique users, every month. Those numbers leave comparable statistics for web renown humor sites The Onion, CollegeHumor, and Funny or Die, in its dust.

One of the reasons enjoys robust success is because of its merger a few years ago with another humor site called Pointless Waste of Time, which today’s Spotlight Author, David Wong, originally created in 1999. In addition to his work at PWoT and as an editor at, Wong toiled for years on a dark horror-humor webserial that he eventually published in paperback 2007 as a novel, titled John Dies at the End. The novel sold well enough that it was republished with additional material as a hardcover in 2009. A big(ish)-budget movie version of the book, directed by Don Coscarelli and starring Paul Giamatti and a host of other thespian luminaries, is slated for release under the same title in early 2013.

But meanwhile, Wong has not rested on his meaty laurels. Just a few days ago, he released the sequel to John Dies at the End. Its title is a mouthful, but a tasty one: This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It. Critics are loving the novel like ravenous zombies adore noshing on juicy ripe brains. In a glowing review, no less an authority than The Washington Post recommends that to fully grasp Wong’s new effort, "Imagine a mentally ill narrator describing the zombie apocalypse while drunk…" Surely no endorsement can ring louder from the good people who broke President Richard Nixon’s balls.

Gazalapalooza is happy to shove David Wong under the Author Spotlight’s merciless glare. Ignore the zombies and the spiders, and the violence drenched in equal parts soy sauce and the supernatural. Settle back and enjoy while Wong wrenches himself free from his freaky, funny menagerie just long enough to spill some insights about the literary arts.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and why you choose them.

Wong:    I hate the type of people who always reply to this with something smartass like, "I'd take a nonfiction book on how to construct a raft, and a fiction book that is printed on edible paper!" because that is clearly not the point of the hypothetical. However, I can't ignore the fact that if stranded on a desert island I will have accidentally killed myself somehow within 72 hours, so the books I pick had better be short.

For fiction I'll go with The Great Divorce, by CS Lewis, in which the author travels to Hell and finds the inhabitants are actually free to leave at any time, but don't because they get addicted to the things that make them miserable. Impossible to read without stopping five times to say, "Wait, he's talking about me!"

For non-fiction I'll go with The Abolition of Man, also by CS Lewis, in which he starts off with a boring complaint about grammar school text books, and from there explains why everything we thought about the universe is utterly impossible.

Gazala:    Your latest novel is an epically excellent and excellently epic "horrortacular" titled, This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about This Book Is Full of Spiders, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Wong:    Well for one thing, don't trust what I say. Jesus, I profit from each book sold. I'll say anything to make you buy it. I've got gambling debts. No, they should do what everyone does when shopping online: Go to Amazon, or wherever, and read user reviews. And don't just read whether or not they liked it, read why. Remember that many people on the Internet are crazy.

Gazala:    What are books for?

Wong:    Every other entertainment medium is meant to be consumed in one sitting -- a two-hour movie, a one-hour episode of a TV drama, a three-minute song. That puts massive constraints on the storyteller, because stories intended to be told in one sitting have extremely specific rules about structure. (For instance, grab any DVD off your shelf and pause it 60 minutes in -- you will have freeze-framed either the movie's second-biggest action sequence, or its second-biggest plot twist).

Novels are the one popular format that lets the storyteller break out of that. There is infinitely more freedom in a novel, and that will let the storyteller take you places you've never been. We will always need that format to be available to us, where an author can decide his story needs 1,300 pages, footnotes, and a 250-page appendix at the end, and that's perfectly okay.

Don't get me wrong, I love movies, and I know part of the reason that blockbusters are satisfying to watch is specifically because you knew where they were going the moment you sat down in the theater. But too much of that is bad for your brain. Storytelling is supposed to take you on a journey, to change the way you think. Nothing can do it like a novel.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Wong:    I agree, I've never read a "X Rules for Writing the Perfect Novel" article from an author that didn't make me want to punch them in the face. All they're doing is listing their own arbitrary rules and pet peeves. ("Never use more than three adjectives per page! Never describe what the main character is wearing!")

So there's my one rule for writing -- don't let writing turn you into a bitter old guy who spends his time demanding everyone else write books under the same rules as him. Just try different things and see what works.

Gazala:    I've got to work on my alibi. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Wong:    Q: David, how much of the events of John Dies at the End and its sequel, This Book Is Full of Spiders, are based on people and events from your own life? A: That's a deeply personal question, and you quite frankly have no business asking it. This interview is over.

Need we say more? Respect the poor man’s privacy, and go snag your copy of This Book Is Full of Spiders from by clicking here. Quickly, before the spiders get angrier.


  1. All right, running off to buy the book and read it. And I'm not a dude, and I'm not afraid of spiders either!

  2. Flawless... David Wong is truly a talented voice for this generation, and it's such a rare joy to devour a sequel that's as good, if not better, than the original. I think he's my new personal hero.