This interview never appeared because the readers' website I did it for folded.
What can you tell us about “A Man Walks into a Bar?”
“A Man Walks Into a Bar...” is unique in that it is a jokebook written by a professional writer.
Most jokebooks are written by bartenders or taxicab drivers or comedians: dudes who just know a ton of jokes. But it’s different being funny in person. Look at Bill Murray or Eddie Griffin or Rodney Carrington or Daniel Tosh or the great Kathy Griffin. These guys are funny. They’d make you laugh watching them brush their teeth.
There is an expansiveness to being funny in person—you can gesticulate and moan and roll your eyes. You can drool and gesture. All of that is missing when it translates to the page. In print you have to be terse and tight and not tip off the punchline. Go read another jokebook, the jokes will start: “One hot day in June Paul and Saul are walking down the street. Paul says, ‘I’m thirsty; let’s stop in here for a drink.’ ‘That’s a fine idea,’ says Saul. So they entered the bar and ordered a beer...
My jokes start:
“Troubles at home?” asks the bartender.
“Yes. I think my wife is dead.”
“You think your wife is dead?”
“Yeah, the sex is the same but the dishes are piling up.”
Not to overstate the process but writing “A Man Walks Into a Bar...” (140,000 words, 700 pages) was an iteration of tightening and narrowing and shortening. It’s more like writing poetry than prose. Of course you have to love jokes. And many of my favorite jokes didn’t (couldn’t) make the book because the payoff (punchline) was a shrug or a smirk or a choking sound—as in:
What did Cinderella do when she got to the ball?
(Put your hand on the back of your head and go, “GARRFFF”. The BALL, get it?)
Other jokes, favorites of mine, just aren’t as funny in print. For example:
A teenager goes in for her first gynecological examination. While propped up in the stirrups she asks, “Will this hurt?”
“Not if I numb it first.”
“Okay. Why don’t you numb it.”
The doctor ducks down between her thighs and starts licking, “Num, num, num, num, num.”
In person—because of the slurpy “num num num”—freaking hilarious: you don’t have to say licking: You ARE licking.
In print, not so funny. Weird stuff. Jokes.
How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
They grow. I love ensemble casts. I put them on stage and they morph. The problem is keeping them true to themselves. The characters in Tantric Zoo had as much to do with the plot development as I did as a writer because there are things that Bud and Apple and Altair and Debra and Devon and Gayle and Blake and Missy and Helena and Damon and Dana (I told you I liked ensemble casts) simply would and would not do. The characters defined the plot and the plot defined the characters.
Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
Smart, well-read, discerning.
I write for the person who reads 50 books a year. Not for the person who picks up a Dan Brown or a Harry Potter because it’s all the rage.
What was your journey as a writer?
Truly, the most difficult part of my journey as a writer is reconciling myself to the fact that I have to wait tables for a living. Every day that I have to work in a restaurant I consider myself an abject failure as a writer.
The writing and reading and editing and rewriting is an absolute joy. I love it.
What is your writing process?
It has changed; and just recently. The internal structure of Tantric Zoo made me outline extensively. (This is because there is a 20 year gap between the murder and the solving of the murder and I had to keep people—eye color, accent, favorite food—in order.) I used to say I didn’t outline; I just wrote High Steaks; Norman Babbit, Scientist; T.A.P.F.O.S as long first drafts—which were—in truth the world’s longest and most disorganized and rambling outlines. My latest novel Beautiful Lies I’m writing from a 70 page outline. I think I’ve hit on a plan and a process that works for my diffuse and complicated narrative structure.
This is not the result of a MUSE visiting me. It ain’t inspiration; it’s perspiration and tweaking and improving the method isn’t part of the process. It is the process.
What authors most inspire you?
Ross Thomas and Geoffrey Chaucer.
That is not a flippant answer.
When I turned 50 (six years ago) I made an effort to re-read writers who inspired me. Donald Westlake and Paul Bowles (as much as I loved them in my 30s) didn’t measure up. Chaucer and Emily Dickenson did. Jane Austen (as fashionable as it is to adore her) didn’t. James Joyce’s Dubliners did but Ulysses was like watching someone masturbate.
Orson Scott Card still worked but it seemed like re-reading him was watching someone do magic tricks that you’d been told the secret to.
William Trevor is a treasure. But I could never write in that old narrative style. So Ross Thomas is my inspiration and my mentor.
What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block. I didn’t include him in the answer above because I knew this question was coming. A close second is the charming and delightful My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Close third, Briarpatch by Ross Thomas.
How have you marketed and promoted your work?
I have recently admitted I was wrong and have totally readapted my marketing strategy. The Internet is the future and it’s here now. I’ve queried Indie book bloggers and reviewers and dumped free copies of everything I’ve written in their laps. I always thought I could pay strict attention to the writing and I’d somehow be discovered and promoted, but that was a naive and romantic notion. So, without losing sight of the fact that the most important hours I spend are the ones honing the perverts and drug addicts and whores and murderers that people my books the second most important hours are the ones where I spend honestly engaging the gaggle of Indie reviewers and true book lovers who people the Internet.
Why publish on Kindle?
It’s the future.
Plain and simple.
Anyone who can’t see that is delusional. I’m so excited to have an actual stake in the ultimate success of my books. The e-book market is a Godsend.
What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite
I’m so glad I’m not starting out in this world of instant electronic publishing. It takes so much effort to write a book that it feels as if every book you finish deserves to be published.
This isn’t true.
I would tell rookie writers to resist self-publishing/Indie publishing that first (or even second or third) novel. Write, write, write. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then put the book away for two months and re-read it divorced from the emotion of creation. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then decide. Some ideas aren’t strong enough to be a novel. Sometimes a strong idea simply isn’t written well enough. Take your time. Practice and write, write, write. That’s how you get good. Take classes. If you really want to learn teach classes.
I said I’m glad I’m not starting out in this brave new world because I know that I would ignore all this (my own) advice and publish book after book filled with half-assed ideas and stillborn prose.
Rob Loughran began his life as a small child.
Now he’s a writer and like most writers you’ve never heard of he has a fulltime job and a family. But nothing matters to him quite as much as writing.
Rob has written and published two collections of short stories; mystery, young adult, and science fiction novels; three books on writing; 11 jokebooks; 200+ articles, and several screenplays. When asked about how to become a writer he always quotes William Goldman, “There are no rules to writing, but if there were, caring would be right up there. Or, as we intellectuals are fond of saying, you had better give a shit.”