What gave you the idea to write this novel? Was it one article too many on animal testing or had the idea been mulling about in your head for a while and you decided it was time to put pen to paper?
I have a friend who completely falls apart when he hears a reference to talking monkeys. It’s actually a little frightening. But this started me thinking that there hadn’t really been a talking monkey book in almost fifty years, and the last one wasn’t all that funny.
So you wrote a book that you hoped would deliberately horrify your friend? (That's very funny to me, if so.) Did you give him a copy?
Oops! I meant he fell apart laughing. But I like the other version.
How did you come up with your main characters? Are there pieces of your personality in Ed, Chekchek, or Dr. Cogitomni? And where did you come up with your characters names?
The scientists and the militant chimp started out as stock movie characters—you just have to have them in a story like this, or people are distracted waiting for them to show up—but in writing they evolved (pardon the expression) into full personalities. I’m not sure where Ed came from—I sort of learned about him as I wrote him down. The funny part is people keep thinking Chekchek is based on a real person, but nobody ever agrees on who that person is. The names Ed and Chekchek just came to me, and I’m terrible at names generally, so I just accepted them gratefully. Cogitomni is very bad Latin for “Mr. Know-it-all,” which demonstrates just how bad I am at names.
To me, some of the funniest parts of your novel were the scenes where you describe how the reader can make their own monster ape at home, and then what to do once s/he has grown to large, escapes, and runs rampant without any control. Did you have a favorite part?
Thanks. I like the monster name guide, and the walk to town in the section on Wreckage.
What kind—if any—research did you do before writing Monkey See? Is there a monster-ape-hybrid in your basement?
There is. I left my cat alone in the basement for a week with some mice, paint thinner fumes, and a strange glowing mold, and the results were ugly. Though we’re no longer bothered by mice.
Your bio says that you write novels, plays, and articles; which of the three do you enjoy writing more?
The ones that get published.
Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
Names. Also, plot. I usually start with some characters, some scenes, and a point, but the slow part is figuring out how to tie them all together. Once I do have a plot mapped out, it’s like a lighthouse leading my story across the darkness. Although you never want to steer towards a lighthouse or you would crash on rocks, so that’s a bad metaphor. Maybe it’s like a clothesline that gives me a place to string everything together.
What are your goals for the future? Do you have other ideas for novels or plays that you'd like to write or do you plan to focus more on your articles? (Personally, I hope you're writing another novel.)
I am starting on another novel, now you mention it. It’s monkey-free, but I hope to work in some equally bad career advice as I go.
Your website mentions some future titles that you might be writing, including: Letting Go: A memoir of getting far enough up Everest and A Good Walk Spoiled: How America’s love of dogs led us off our ruined sidewalks onto the Federal Highway System. Have you climbed Mt. Everest? Do you have a dog that regularly takes you for walks on the side of the highway?
I once climbed a steep hill in the hot April sun of a Greek day. It took me four hours, and when I reached the top I discovered the tram that ran up the other side every fifteen minutes to drop people off at the hilltop café. I don’t have a dog, but I used to dog-sit a lab that had a talent for peeing on drunken Mummers in spots I would have not expected to find Mummers during the Philadelphia Mummers Parade.
You mention on your website that you’re happy to explain yourself at a juggling festival; do you juggle?
I am completely uncoordinated and have twice dropped this computer while reaching for the mouse. But I know some jugglers, and I like taking bets on when they’ll hurt themselves.
As a reader, what do you enjoy reading? Any favorite authors?
I think I enjoy clever dialog, provided it’s not tied to a contrived story that’s trying very hard to pretend it’s not contrived. Lots of favorite authors: Tom Stoppard, Lorrie Moore, James Thurber, Peter Benchley, P.G. Wodehouse, Michael Chabon, Annie Proulx, Alexie Sherman, and whoever wrote “Rapunzel,” a story that makes less and less sense every time you read it. And yet it keeps popping up.
Do you read your reviews, and if so, what's the oddest one you've ever received?
I do read reviews. I haven’t seen many odd ones yet, though I do notice a temptation by the writers to reminisce about their own favorite talking-monkey memories. I hope Monkey See ends up as another one.