I found Rock Manning’s voice to be particularly vivid and bright. How did you come up with Rock’s voice?
This story is an excerpt from a novel that I’ve been working on for a long time. And Rock’s narrative voice sort of evolved over the course of working on the book. I wanted a really energetic, reckless, crazypants persona, so that you could imagine this character being willing to pilot a flaming exercise bike off a tool shed without a second thought. I read different versions of this opening section at different spoken word events over the years, and hearing how audiences reacted was really helpful in figuring out how to make it “sound” right. I also based Rock’s way of talking a little bit on Lynnee Breedlove, spoken word artist, comedian, author, and former lead singer of punk-rock band Tribe8—in fact, years ago we experimented with doing a podcast featuring Lynnee reading the opening section, reprinted here.
Two other excerpts from the novel, which together form a complete story, are going to run in the second and third volumes of the Apocalypse Triptych, if all goes according to plan.
What was the element that started this as a story?
I’ve always been fascinated with different types of humor, and this novel (and especially this chunk of it) came out of thinking about physical comedy and slapstick. I’d done a lot of humor writing that was more verbal, and based on people being quippy or silly, but I hadn’t done a lot of writing that was more based on describing mayhem in a funny way. I wanted to try writing more broad physical comedy.
I was also thinking about the difference between slapstick violence and “real” violence: Someone can get knocked down, and it’s either horrifying or hilarious, depending on your point of view. And as the project developed, I think I got more interested in the mass psychology of laughing at something together versus fascism, and how those two things are similar or different. But hopefully none of that stuff comes through in a “hit you over the head” way, and I hope the story is mostly just a fun, silly read that gets scary as it goes along.
I didn’t anticipate the change in tone, and then found myself swept up in the action. What prompted this narrative choice?
I’m sort of hoping that the story has an element of scary weirdness lurking under the surface from the beginning—there are lots of hints that society is falling apart, even before we meet the red bandanas. I’m always a fan of things where the nastiness sort of sneaks up on you, although that’s hard to pull off. Mostly, I hope if Rock feels like a real (if cartoony) character, then the reader can accept the world changing around him.
Sally’s force of character seemed to really clash with Rock’s laissez-faire attitude, but it really only became fractious when they were asked to do the red bandana gig. Can you comment on the nature of their friendship? Do you think their relationship could’ve recovered, if circumstances permitted?
The Rock/Sally relationship is definitely at the center of this story—that was even clearer when I started carving out a roughly 20,000-word novelette to be published in the three Apocalypse Triptych volumes. I think Sally and Rock really need each other, and neither of them can really create anything without the other.
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