ENORMITY is a bit of a trick title, because the word doesn’t just refer to scale; it also has a negative connotation, which in this case refers to the evil we all do without even meaning to: the enormity of our collective guilt. As a little kid growing up in LA, I was a huge fan of Japanese monster movies, and I remember doing a creative writing assignment in the form of a newspaper interview with Godzilla, who turned out to be not so much an evil monster as a misunderstood victim of circumstance, and who felt terrible because he couldn’t avoid stepping on people.
Having caught the writing bug early, I soon began interviewing actual people for actual newspapers. One of these was Mickey Spillane, whose advice for aspiring authors was curt and to the point: “Don’t!”
Tragically, I didn’t listen to his advice, and struggled for years to sell my deeply sincere attempts at novels, screenplays, short stories, and children’s books. But it wasn’t until after 9/11, when my country blundered around breaking things like a big dumb dinosaur, that I was hit by this thunderbolt:
Why not write a novel based on my old Godzilla idea, only change Godzilla into an unfortunate shmuck who gets turned into a giant? And not just any ordinary giant, but the biggest giant ever! Thus, ENORMITY was born.
With ENORMITY I was aiming for the misanthropic hilarity of Jonathan Swift or Kurt Vonnegut: If ordinary human beings have a destructive effect on the planet and each other, just imagine how much worse it would be if one of us was suddenly the size of a mountain!
The agent I had at the time told me he loved it, but instead of trying to sell my manuscript, I believe he secretly pitched my hapless-giant concept to one of his more proven authors, who wrote his own book about a sad giant monster—and got it published! I won’t name names, because fortunately the other guy’s book tanked, was no fun at all, or I would’ve had to kill somebody. Meanwhile, though, this agent sat on my novel for years without telling me he wasn’t sending it out. Finally I snapped and demanded to know where it had been submitted all that time. Nowhere, it turned out. Wow. Listen to Mickey Spillane, boys and girls.
The thing that really worried me was that the geopolitical situation would change so much that ENORMITY would no longer be relevant. Having lived in Asia for ten years, I felt I had an interesting angle: the tense situation with North and South Korea. You couldn’t ask for a more interesting backdrop, but I expected that standoff to end at any moment, like it did in the divided Germany, which would pretty much kill any hope for my book ever getting published (Curse you, world peace!). But the Cold War in the Koreas just kept dragging on and on, and when ENORMITY finally got sold I couldn’t believe my luck…right up until a few weeks ago, when North Korea’s “Dear Leader” died. Damn. Amazingly, the dictatorship is still going strong; they just put another identical clone in charge, so I’m good.
Hmmm…what was my favorite book of 2011?
I’d love to get all deep and literary here, but if I’m being honest with myself I would have to say APOCALYPSO, which is the demented conclusion of Walter Greatshell’s XOMBIES trilogy, which prefigured the zombie boom and never had much to do with it. In this final installment a group of wandering undead take over a deserted town and try to reenact human civilization according to the gospel of Archie Comics—seriously? Yes. Also, Elvis and Jesus make appearances. But if you’re done with zombies of any spelling, there’s Greatshell’s previous novel, MAD SKILLS, which is sort of a chick-lit version of The Manchurian Candidate, but is actually much more berserk—has there ever been another book in which the heroine performs brain surgery on herself? ‘Nuff said.
That’s all, folks; see you next week!