Lucky for you boils and ghouls, he’s here to discuss B-movies, cocktails, and all the wild and woolly stuff that inspires him to write like a madman!
Here we go!
1. Will, in your last novel A MERMAID DROWNS IN THE MIDNIGHT LOUNGE, you’ve managed to combine zombies, tiki bars, bikers, mobsters and more into an amazingly cohesive, raunchy humanist noir. So… How do you seemlessly blend all of these genres?
WV: Mermaid is, frighteningly enough, pretty much reflective of the world(s) inside my head. It’s a very organized kind of chaos in there, ask my wife or anybody that really knows me. I originally began Mermaid about 14 years ago, soon after the Parkway Theater in Oakland opened, where I was doing a show every Saturday called “The Midnight Lounge”, which eventually became the prime time “cult movie cabaret” now semi-famous as Thrillville. That’s when I met the beautiful woman who is now my muse and wife, Monica “Tiki Goddess” Cortes. Suddenly I was too busy as full time Parkway programmer/publicist, and too happily married, to write introspective fiction, which requires a lot of concentration, dedication and solitude. And more pointedly, after spending almost two decades following that dream and getting nowhere, I decided to abandon this folly in favor of promoting Thrillville, steadily gaining in popularity and which, ironically, I was asked to create in order to publicize the publication of my detective novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, published by the same folks who opened the Parkway. After the Parkway took off, they pretty much let their small press sink into oblivion, and the book sort of languished till it was magically discovered then optioned by Christian Slater. The movie has yet to be made, though. Once the Parkway and its sister theater the Cerrito folded in 2009, I took my Thrillville gig on the road, but lost steam along the way, and finally, creatively frustrated, returned to my first love: writing. I decided to go back and finish Mermaid, picking up right where I’d left off, but you can see how warped my brain had become during the lengthy literary hiatus. It’s like the damn broke and my creative juices just came flowing out, resulting in a book that starts out rather mundanely but then takes a hard left turn into hardcore psychotronia and then continues zigzagging through bizarre, horrific, erotic terrain for the remainder of the book. I just threw it all in there, every exploitation element I could think of, without censoring myself, since there was no need to, as I was answering only to myself. That’s why I call Mermaid the ultimate B movie in literary form. I should also mention that the illness of one of my beloved cats, Bubba, put me in tune with an inner sadness that enabled me to reanimate certain emotions and ambitions I thought were long dead. He passed away after Mermaid was published, but he lives on as the cat “Buddy” in the book. It’s my tribute to his memory, and in fact the “pool dream” really happened to me. It’s literally recreated in the book in his honor.
2. As the Mayor of Thrillville, you’re one of the reigning kings of the B-Movie revival. What is it about these wonderful old schlock fests that you love?
Everyone loves stuff they can relate to, or aspire to. For me, my life has been much more like a B movie than a sitcom or reality show or big Hollywood movie: low budget, full of colorful characters and neurotic sexual situations, amazing events that go nowhere but are fun to relate, and me in the middle of it, constantly struggling yet determined to succeed, with strange settings and bizarre backdrops. I write to make sense of my own life, even though the world makes no sense. This is why I love B movies. They’re cheap, they’re exploitative, they’re sensuous yet senseless, but their spirit to survive against all odds inspires me. In short, they appeal to the underdog in me. Plus I love looking at women’s naked breasts, and most A-list movies are too pretentious to admit that most people have sex on the brain pretty much most of the time. B movies have no shame, and neither do I.
3. Your writing certainly has a cinematic flair. When you write, do you draw a lot of inspiration from beloved films? If so, what in particular inspired you to write A MERMAID DROWNS IN THE MIDNIGHT LOUNGE?
David Lynch was a huge influence on this book, particularly his films Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, which are essentially parallel planes in the same dark, demented universe. In fact, a friend of mine, Jim Robbins, who is engaged to Jennifer Lynch, secretly got his future father-in-law to send me an autographed copy of his great inspirational book, Catching the Big Fish, essential reading for any creative person, and that really spurred me on to finish it. Mermaid takes place over several parallel dimensions, so it goes from being a sort of neo-noir pulp novel into an erotic odyssey into a monster movie into a first-person Hollywood satire and back again, crisscrossing planes and genres like a series of interlocking dreams and nightmares. I wear my filmic influences on my sleeve, from film noir to zombie flicks.
My very first novel, and my sentimental favorite, Chumpy Walnut, about a guy only a foot tall, takes places in a nostalgic 1940s world of gangsters and showgirls and is very consciously inspired by Damon Runyon and Guys and Dolls, as well as the movies of Abbott & Costello and the Bowery Boys, and Warner Bros. gangster classics. My comedic crime novel Down A Dark Alley is rather Tarantino-esque, though I wrote that before I saw any of his movies; we were already in psychic sync, think. My movie tastes are pretty varied, which partly explains why my novels are all different and fairly eclectic in both style and content. For the record, my all-time favorite movie is Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
4. Do you listen to music when you write? What musicians inspire and influence your work?
WV: Actually I am far more inspired in my writing by both music and movies than by literary works. I think that accounts for the cinematic rhythm and flow of my stuff, in the same way Jack Kerouac tried to mimic improvisational jazz in his free-form prose style. I merely transcribe what is in my mind’s eye – or ear. In a lot of my books, the music the characters are listening to is exactly what I’m listening to as I write them. This is especially true in Mermaid, which is composed like an epic musical piece, including a Coda. Every song mentioned in that book, and there are many, inspired my imagination and directly complement, as well as comment on, the action. This includes everything from classic jazz to tiki exotica to Elvis to Sinatra to contemporary pop music. Nina Simone was particularly crucial to the sad, sexy ambiance I was going for in Mermaid. I listened to her version of “Wild Is The Wind” every time I sat down to write, to get me in the proper headspace of the characters and the very specific mood of this world, or worlds. And as you know, my man Actual Rafiq later wrote and recorded four original instrumental tracks for a companion CD called “Music For A Drowning Mermaid” – the first time, as far as I know, that a book has come with its own soundtrack! Without having read any of it, given only suggested titles, Rafiq came up with these incredibly atmospheric, Angelo Badalamenti-type mood pieces that perfectly match the material. In fact, I posted on Facebook I was thinking of writing a sequel to Mermaid called One-Way Ticket to Thrillville (a title I instead used in the book), and Rafiq immediately responded saying he just wrote a piece of music for me with that same exact title, to use as I choose! It was eerie kismet, man. That tune is now on the soundtrack.
5. When most people think of the fez, they think of Shriners. Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of the fez? What does it mean? When is it appropriate? Could I wear a black one to a funeral? And where can I get a Thrillville Fez?
WV: Yea, shriners, or Muslims, and I’m neither. Fezzes, like tiki statues, smoking jackets and martini glasses, became emblems of the Lounge Revolution of the 1990s, representing mid-century hipster hedonism that was rather shamelessly combined with this white-washed pseudo-multi-cultural set of random accoutrements, all associated with stylistic indulgence in socially taboo vices or just plain good-time sinfulness. I’m not sure how the fez got tossed into this mix, other than the fact that they were worn, at least on this side of the pond, by lusty men freed from their domestic shackles and ready to party with strippers at the company cocktail party, or just brotherly bond at the local men’s club. It’s retro-ritualistic, but in a completely irreverent, tongue-in-check sort of way. The official Thrillville fez is made by www.fez-o-rama.com, I believe you can still order them there. They are the online resource for All Things Fez.
6. This is for all the swinging bachelors out there: You’ve got a hep chick coming over and she expects a little class out of you. What cocktail do you recommend mixing up for your lady?
WV: You can’t go wrong with the classic martini, either Dean Martini style – gin so dry you just wave the Vermouth bottle over the glass – or the James Bond variation, with vodka, though of course if you really want your date to get so smashed she just passes out on your sofa and you have to carry her to your bed so she can “sleep it off,” mix that one part vodka with three parts gin, and a half measure of Lillet Blanc (instead of Kina Lillet, which is OOP.). Basically, that’s the original 007 martini as devised by Ian Fleming in the first Bond book, Casino Royale, and recreated in the 2006 flick with Daniel Craig, in the casino scene, named for his love interest. But again, that’s when you’re going in for the kill. If you just want to loosen her up, stick with an ultra-dry martini, with olives, or if you prefer, add onions and make it a Gibson.
7. Can you tell us anything about your latest published novel LAVENDER BLONDE? It’s a bit experimental, isn’t it?
WV: Lavender Blonde was originally written in 1987 while I was living in Berkeley, in response to some wild experiences in Los Angeles, where I was befriended by the actor Mickey Rourke, and my unrequited love for a B movie actress who will go unnamed. I was also inspired, as I often was, by certain childhood traumas I won’t go into, but in a nutshell, it was an autobiographical self-therapy session, made up exclusively of conversations between a depressed jazz saxophonist and a mysterious “social worker” who is not quite what she seems. The book is composed entirely of dialogue and “sound effects,” as if the reader were just eavesdropping on this intense, graphic conversation. As with Mermaid, when I revisited it – 24 years after the first draft, and I was 24 when I wrote it, so literally a lifetime later – I changed much of the storyline and characterizations, retaining, I trust, its original themes, mood and structural integrity, as well as much of the dialogue. I re-arranged parts of it while excising others, retaining the basic format and series of events, along with the ultimate outcome, but rather drastically changing certain episodes and relationships that make it far more creatively satisfying for me, while offering the reader a more cohesive, compelling slice of literary pulp. The cover by Mister Lobo and Dixie Dellamorto (of “Cinema Insomnia” fame) is fantastically sensual, which is appropriate since the book is pretty erotic, like a lot of my stuff.
At the moment I’m preparing to publish the next two sequels, under one cover, to Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me. It’s out of print but rather than waiting for Christian to actually make the movie, I’m going ahead with putting the rest of the Vic Valentine, Private Eye series out there, since they’ve already been written and I’m not getting any younger. This will be a “Vic Valentine Double Feature” featuring the second and third books, written in the mid-90s, called Fate Is My Pimp and Romance Takes a Rain Check, to be followed by two other completed books in the series, I Lost My Heart in Hollywood and Diary of A Dick, as a subsequent “double feature.” I have a sixth unfinished Vic book called Hard-Boiled Heart I may complete and publish some day, updating the character’s adventures from the 1990s to present day. That would be interesting, figuring out how Vic has changed and grown after all these years, if at all. Right now he’s stuck as a fin de siecle gumshoe, an anachronism from a bygone era, lost in time – as I used to feel, though I don’t anymore. I’m comfortable in my own sharkskin, even if it’s a new suit. True style is timeless.
8. For anyone new to the crime/noir/pulp genre of literature, what authors would you recommend? Who inspires you?
WV: My favorite authors, and greatest literary influences, are J.D. Salinger, Damon Runyon, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, and Charles Willeford. Growing up I loved the classical fantasy/sci-fi guys like Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as the pulp adventures of Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Spider, which became popular in paperback reprints. Other writers whose work I not only admire but offers me inspiration include Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Hunter S. Thompson, David Goodis, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Matheson, and Paul Auster, along with modern crime authors James Lee Burke, James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Walter Mosley, Barry Gifford, Robert B. Parker, and Kinky Friedman, to name a few.
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