Michael Logan is the author of APOCALYPSE COW (winner of the Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize), and his new book, WANNABES, just came out! He kindly answered a few of my questions about the new book, what comes next, and more!
You just released Wannabes a few months ago! Will you tell us about it?
Wannabes is a genre mash-up: horror, fantasy and thriller stitched together with satire. There are three interwoven stories: that of Jackie Thunder, a washed-up pop star who does something incredibly dumb in an attempt to regain fame; Gareth Jones, a talentless drifter who is killing celebrities and taping their tattoos to his body because he thinks he can thereby gain their power, and thus stop himself turning completely invisible; and Murmur, a demon working to destroy great music with the intention of eroding humanity’s creativity, and therefore its ascension to a more divine state. Satan also has a part to play and I portray him as a depressed bureaucrat, struggling with his workload, bitter at his break from God and obsessed with humanity for reasons that become clear later in the book.
Why do you think readers will root for Jackie Thunder?
Jackie is, as one of my friends put it, ‘a self-obsessed twit’, but he is fundamentally a good man who has lost his way, and there is always the sense that he will come good. A key theme of the book is artistic integrity: doing what is right for your art rather than working for fame or commercial success. Jackie forgets this, trying to recapture the fame he once had by producing music he thinks the market wants, and forgetting that when he started out all that mattered was the process of creating and losing himself in the music. 20 years after his career started to go tits-up, he will do whatever it takes to regain fame. Through his attempts to get attention (he deliberately sets out to make himself seem one of Gareth’s potential victims), he gets sucked into Murmur’s shenanigans. Jackie is then faced with the choice of truly selling out or re-finding his mojo and opposing the demonic plot.
I found myself facing a similar decision with this work, as I had an agent who wanted me to completely rewrite the end of the book to increase its marketability. I at first complied, but realized it was a mistake and totally changed the feel and message. I went back to the original ending, because it was the right thing to do. I feel much better for doing so. If this book only sells a few dozen copies, I won’t care. I’ve made the right decision for the work and for my principles, and I am convinced it’s the best thing I’ve written.
Wannabes has a heavy music component. What would be your playlist for the book?
Yes, indeed. It is in many ways a clarion call for people to take up arms (or guitars and keyboards) against the prefab music that dominates these days, and start backing those artists who are creating genuinely original and powerful work.
In the closing stages of the book, I was listening heavily to Impersonator, by Majical Cloudz and Silence Yourself, by Savages. In particular, “Bugs Don’t Buzz”, from Impersonator, has a searing beauty.
Many other bands and albums are brought into this book: The National (Boxer in particular), Fugazi, Jimi Hendrix (“Little Wing” is in my top-ten songs of all time), Sly and the Family Stone, Freelance Whales, and on and on. Jeff Buckley plays a key role. “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” (again, in my top-ten songs of all time) brings about something of a revelation for a certain character.
You can listen to all of these while reading if you like, but they may distract you. I never listen to music when I’m reading. It’s mixing two art forms, each of which requires your full attention.
What did you enjoy most about writing Wannabes?
Oh, so much. I enjoyed taking characters that should be unsympathetic and making their motivations understood so the reader can root for them. In a way, there are no real antagonists in this book. I wanted everybody to come out of it well.
I particularly enjoyed rewriting history to have Murmur bump off a lot of the musicians who died young down the years as part of his campaign against music.
I loved writing Gareth, in that he is not one of these genius fictional serial killers who revels in murder. I felt the most sympathy for him, as he is a bit dim, kind of sweet, and feels incredibly guilty about killing people.
And finally, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to name-check all of the bands and musicians I have grown to love down the years.
Humor and satire are a big part of your writing. What’s something that never fails to make you laugh?
Yes, they are, which can be problem when trying to build a readership. A sense of humour is a very specific thing, and something that sails over one reader’s head will have another rolling around. I think it is, in many ways, easier to write serious fiction, as you don’t have this challenge. I don’t feel humour is the primary element in my work. I want to tell a story that has wider themes of relevance to our lives, but I also feel that works that do this are often too serious. Life is not monotone: grief, joy and laughter all mix together, sometimes in just one day, and I try to reflect this.
Anyway, on to the question!
Bill Hicks never failed to make me laugh, and in fact this book grew out of a skit he did, in which MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice go down on Satan in exchange for their success. I actually start the book with a quote from Bill Hicks, “I want my children to listen to people who fucking rocked. I don’t care if they died in puddles of their own vomit. I want someone who plays from his fucking heart.”
I’m generally not a fan of using quotes to start books and chapters, but the quote sums up this particular theme of the book, and it was wonderful to talk to the family of Bill Hicks and get permission to use his words.
That aside, I love the films Spinal Tap and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both bigged up in the book), for their humour and musical focus. I could also watch The League of Gentlemen, Flight of the Conchords and The Mighty Boosh time and again.
In the book world, I find Christopher Moore to be consistently hilarious. I also very much enjoyed reading Me Cheeta (the fictional autobiography of the famous chimp) by James Lever, and I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan, by Alan Partridge, the fictional alter-ego of Steve Coogan.
It’s been a while since we caught up! Have you read any good books recently?
I’ve read loads of good books recently. I’ve been on a Graeme Greene marathon, reading Brighton Rock, The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana in quick succession. The opening of Brighton Rock, in particular, is a virtuoso performance. When I read something so awe-inspiring, it makes me wonder why I bother.
I also read Hell’s Gate, the second in a series of books about a Maasai detective in Kenya, by Richard Crompton (the first was The Honey Guide, or Hour of the Red God in the US). I’m friends with Richard, which makes me very glad his books are so excellent. There’s nothing worse than trying to avoid talking about a friend’s novel because you didn’t like it.
I finally got round to reading The Thief of Always. Clive Barker has always been an author I loved, but I didn’t pick up this book because it was for kids. I read it in a few hours, and it was a wonderful fable with simple, yet exquisite, prose.
Probably the best contemporary book I’ve read this year is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. There was a lot of talk about Jonathan Franzen defining contemporary American culture, but in my view Fountain comes far closer with this book about the day in the life of marines on a tour of the States after Fox News captured their battle with insurgents in Iraq – not least because he has more ethnic diversity than Franzen could muster. It’s not a fast-paced book, or a book that has much of a plot, but Ben Fountain’s splendid writing, character studies and skewering of the chest-thumping proponents of war make it a powerful read.
I am also particularly looking forward to The Bone Clocks. It’s neck-and-neck between David Mitchell and Louis de Bernieres as to who is my favourite author.
What’s next for you?
World War Moo, the sequel to Apocalypse Cow, is coming out from St. Martin’s Press in June next year, so I expect I’ll be spending some time on the editorial process over the next few months.
I am writing some short stories that I’ve been meaning to finish for a while, with no particular goal in mind other than I feel like it, and working on a kids’ book with my wife, who is an artist and illustrator.
On the novel front, I have finally narrowed my list of ideas down to two projects with the help of my editor.
One of them is the story of professional henchman, who faces a moral conundrum when he begins working for a competent villain after years of serving under crap evil geniuses whose plans were doomed to failure. The idea behind this book is to explore the difference between the individual and corporate soul: essentially, how so many good people seem to end up working for bad companies.
The other is about a hard-boiled detective, in the style of Philip Marlowe, who has spent 50 years in Hell (the idea came from the thought of a detective being literally tortured by demons instead of that tired old trope of the investigator struggling with alcohol, divorce, body odour or whatever), but now has a chance at escape. All he has to do is employ his considerable skills to find out who has been murdering some important demons up to no good on Earth, and Satan will reincarnate him. Of course, complications ensue.
From the winner of the inaugural Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize comes a new satire.
Celebrities are mobbing London’s laser clinics as a deranged wannabe bumps off A-listers, believing he can absorb their powers and become famous by taping their tattoos to his body.
Washed-up pop star Jackie Thunder isn’t joining the stampede. Jackie figures that if he can get on the killer’s hit list, without the inconvenience of actually being murdered, he’ll gain the publicity needed to reignite his career.
But there’s more at stake than Jackie can possibly imagine. Guiding the killer is Murmur, a minor demon with his own agenda to make a name for himself, and Jackie becomes an unwitting pawn in a decades-old plot to destroy great music through murder, mayhem and manipulation.
With humanity’s collective soul at stake, how far will Jackie go to reach the top?