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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

#61 Tony McMillen

20 Questions with Mourning Goats

Tony McMillen

What can I say about Tony? He's one of the nicest, most driven, creative people I've ever had the pleasure. His new book was a KickStarter success and he's killing it over at DigBoston where he writes articles and reviews. Check out the interview and then go pick up your copy of his book, Nefarious Twit on Amazon!

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
I just picture like a college rock ‘90s album cover with the band logo “Mourning Goats” written in a smudgy, off orange sort of color that’s plastered across a black and white saturated photograph of something mundane that now looks divine thanks to the logo. I get a real R.E.M./Smiths vibe off it. Then I change my mind and it becomes a brutal, barbwire diaper black metal album cover and “Mourning Goats” is written in Hammer Horror movie style blood that looks like day old spaghetti sauce.

2. Your new novel, Nefarious Twit, was funded through Kickstarter; how did it go, why did you do it, and would you do it again? 
We raised 3,668 dollars, it went well. I chose Kickstarter because I wanted total control over my project and at the time, with the few smaller press alternative options that I had, they didn’t really offer me much that I couldn’t already do or learn to do myself. Like formatting, publicity etc. So instead of slicing off another piece of what was already going to be a slim pie I decided to keep as much of the revenue as I could and just start my own publishing company called Branch Hands. That being said, I’m not opposed to working with another press for Twit or another project in the future but at the time when I was getting my ducks in a row nothing was really blowing my skirt up. And yeah, I would consider doing Kickstarter or another crowdfunded project again, sure.

3. What advice would you give someone who's considering doing a Kickstarter? 
Don’t assume anyone you know will contribute. Most of your friends are just as broke as you are, don’t get upset when they don’t or can’t contribute. Also look up all the horror stories online about people who have failed at Kickstarter or worse, who have succeeded but forgot to do their math and ended up owing tons more money than they raised. All because they didn’t calculate stuff like the cost of shipping and/or how much the extra rewards will cost them to produce. Last thing and this is important: Find a way to reach beyond the audience you already have. Do an interview on a website or on the radio, get blogs to mention it, the alt weekly newspaper in your town. Find a way to turn people on to your project who don’t know you at all.

4. Sell your book in one sentence, and go! 
A bent, psychedelic odyssey of vengeance and family that reads like Shel Silverstein by way of William S. Burroughs.

5. I also saw that you have illustrations in it? 
Yep. There are 14 full-page illustrations credited to the character Nefarious Twit himself but I’m going to dismantle this whole Chris Gaines bullshit before it even gets started and just admit that I did all the drawing. Because I’m a whore for credit. But yeah, the idea is I don’t usually like illustrations that depict the characters themselves in prose books. Weirdly enough, I do love comic books, but with prose I’d rather just imagine the character’s face myself. So for Twit what I did was make all the illustrations actually pictures that are taken from the children’s books of Nefarious Twit. The pictures used in my novel usually have some sort of parallel with actions of the actual characters of the novel. This way I don’t push a certain look on any of the characters or any of the novel’s scenes but I do get to enhance the novel’s look and more importantly enhance the world I’m building within the novel. Plus I get to reinforce the symbolism from Twit’s children stories and how that ties into the journey his son Rick is taking. Besides, sometimes you’re like, fuck words, I just wanna see some doodles.

6. You sat down and chatted with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost about their new movie, The World's End; how did that come about?
First off, just so you know, Simon Pegg is easily 3 times more handsome in person than he is on screen. But anyways, that thing was a total blast. I write a pop culture humor column called “Touch the Wonder” for DigBoston, we’re an alt weekly obviously operating out of Albuquerque, New Mexico; anyways DigBoston asked me if I wanted to interview those three gentlemen. And I was like, “Psssh, no thanks, I’m good.” And DigBoston was like, “Listen here, Charlie Bucket, we’re throwing you a golden ticket minus the chocolate bar so stop trying to be cool and go geek the fuck out and meet these guys. And I did. And it was everything a fan of theirs could have hoped it to be.

They were very warm, very smart and tremendously funny. They came across as genuine friends who happen to be collaborators and it was a pleasure to meet them and sit down for forty minutes and talk to them about their new film and a host of other topics. They made me laugh, I made them laugh. I turned them into chatty schoolboys by bringing up British Wrestling and I ended up playing back the recording of the conversation many times so my girlfriend could enjoy the sound of Simon Pegg’s accented, low and mellifluous voice.

Also I met them at a nice hotel here in Boston that used to be a prison. Because someone had a sense of humor the former detention center is now called The Liberty Hotel.

7. You stripped at a reading (at least once), please tell us about it. 
I find a lot of readings quite boring, despite them being done by authors whose work I love so I try and make it a point to give a little something extra to my audience when I do a reading. Operative word being “little.”

So my striptease was at an interactive "Choose Your Own Adventure" story event I hosted and wrote called “You Are A Suicide Sex Bomb." The idea was I'd ask the crowd to raise hands and vote on the next decision our characters would make at certain points in the story and each time they chose I'd discard a piece of my own clothing. Yes, there were children in the bookstore. Yes, I'm not sorry.

Also, after my reading/performance I noticed an older lady in the crowd who seemed to be staring at me. She walked up to me and then it hit me, "Mrs. Jacobs?" She was my old high school sweetheart's mother. She was nice and everything but I could see the relief on her face that her daughter and I were no longer together. Which makes sense.

8. Do you think that your location, as an author, is important when you write? I saw that Nefarious Twit was located where you're originally from in Tucson. 
It can be. I believe everything can effect us as writers and locale is something that can soak into your work in ways you might not even be aware of. Nefarious Twit is a road trip story so it goes all over but it begins and its heart is in Tucson. Tucson is unlike anywhere else really. I moved there from Pennsylvania when I was 11 (after finding work, of course) and for the first 10 years the desert did not feel like home. But then that thing happened where the place you’ve been ragging on and talking shit about for a decade becomes your best friend and you realize that it’s your home. Not that it doesn’t suck. But you know how it sucks, you grew up with it sucking, it’s what you know. Currently I’m living in Boston I like to think I’m like Bowie recharging his batteries by moving to Berlin. Mostly because I’m pretentious.

9. Are you an, "every day writer?" 
I write for a living in one way or another so I have to be. But do I write fiction everyday? No. I will write an article or work on some sort of non-fiction piece nearly every day and I will always be thinking of fiction but I won’t sit and down and right until I know I got something to say.

10. You're not only a storyteller and artist, but a comedian too? Do you think they all go hand in hand or are they separate? 
I think about this a lot and I think they’re all related but very different creatures. I write and perform music too, I used to be the lead singer and guitarist for the legendary rock band Bicycle Fight (legendary), and I learn a lot from each thing I do but they’re all so different. It’s like cooking food, cooking a delicious pastrami Ruben will teach you how to use your stove top but it won’t necessarily help you make zesty pasta salad, you know?

11. You've mentioned a lot that you love creating new worlds, what about Nefarious Twit's world is new or different? 
I love getting lost in the details of a fictional world and I really like inventing fake stuff.  Because of that I invented an entire fake ethnic group for this novel. So a lot of the main characters, Twit, Rick Lime, Lou Lime they’re all Dajmainians which is of course not a real thing. But throughout the book  we learn little facts about Darjmainian history and culture and folklore. We even learn there’s a slur word that you should never, ever call a Darjmainian. It’s “woog” by the way, in case you meet a Darjmainian and want to be an insensitive prick.

Beyond that you have the title character Twit himself who is a fictional children’s book author with a complicated fake history, and fake books he’s written and there are fake pictures from his fake books in the pages of this book. There are even excerpts from fake critics about his fake books. There are fake heavy metal bands, fake cult, science fiction shows from the ‘70s, fake cigarette brands and more. And all of it isn’t just there for novelty’s sake, it all serves to enrich the reading and embellish the world the characters live in and each part helps tell their story too.

12. You're a journalist as well as an author, do you find it hard to switch between the two types of writing? 
Sometimes. But I think it might potentially be harder for my audience to switch over between the two, I guess we’ll see. But what I mean is most of my journalism is humorous and my fiction can be too, at times, but it can also be a lot of other things.  I’ve had a few times where people I knew read something serious I wrote and were like, “Tony, where are the fucking gags?” And I was like, “I’m dropping liquid ghost tears on your fucking brain here! I’m trying to make my soul cry on to these filthy pages for you but I’m sorry if I didn’t think to include a joke about werewolf penises (lupeen, the joke would be lupeen, come on) and ‘80s movies.” Then whomever I’m talking to will gently pat my hand and tell me to stop shouting and get over myself. And I’ll agree because my throat hurts.

13. Do you think social media is a necessary evil for an author these days? 
Yes. And what’s really shitty about me is that I have done nothing but gain readers and reach others authors through social media and I still kinda hate it. Maybe not hate but I am, at the best, begrudgingly ambivalent towards it.

14. Looking through your articles, it looks like you're very on top of pop-culture in general, do you think a lot of this transfers over into your fiction writing or do you try to keep the two separate? 
I try to keep it separate in the respect that I try not to do a bunch of references to or jokes about pop culture in my fiction. I’m not trying to be Kevin Smith or Tarantino here with having characters who just regurgitate or make mention of some old band, old TV show or old movie every five seconds. Not that I don’t like that but it’s not really my bag in fiction. However I do love inventing fake pop culture in my stories and I suspect that has a lot to do with my affection for Mother Pop Culture. I’ve always loved the stories behind stories and stuff. I like reading up on the authors of books or the directors of movies and stuff like that. I think this why Nefarious Twit is full of fake pop culture like a fake children’s book author, a fake metal band, a fake cult sci-fi show, etc. That stuff is just fun to me. I just think it’s usually more creative to make an analogue or a composite of a famous aspect of pop culture than to just use the actual thing.

15. Do you have a marketing plan for your book? Can you tell us anything about plans on how to get it into the public's hands? 
Payola, passive online threats, dangling Vanilla Ice by his bootstraps over the sides of buildings. Basically just Suge Knighting this literary shit like every single everyday. But besides reviews and the usual stuff, one thing I’m doing that a lot of smaller authors and indie authors aren’t trying is I’m getting my book in some record stores and comic book shops and other places that aren’t the conventional place to buy books.  This helps me target readers who might not usually pick up novels but who like cool shit regardless of the medium its presented in. I think Nefarious Twit appeals to both a well-read crowd as well as to people who might not be into books so much but who love other stuff like comics, music and movies. Nefarious Twit can be a gateway drug type of book for a people who don’t fancy themselves big readers.  So starting with some stores here in Boston, including comic shops like Comicazi, and some stores in my old hometown Tucson, Arizona including Fantasy Comics and a few record stores I’m working out consignment with right now, Twit will be available in places where all of its audience can stumble on it.

16. What's the best piece of advice you've received on writing, or life? 
We can give ourselves such terrible sentences. —That’s actually from Nefarious Twit  but shit, it works, right?

17. You review a lot of books/movies/etc., anything currently knocking your socks off? 
Books: A Greater Monster by David David Katzman (Most experimental and enjoyable experimental book I’ve read in years) Basal Ganglia by Matthew Revert, Gripped by Jason Donnelly, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe, I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman.

Comics: Saga, Batman: Year Zero, Prophet, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Savage Dragon (always), and The Wake. Oh, andBurn the Orphanage.

Movies: World’s End and Room 237 (Gonzo documentary about The Shining)

Music: Queens of the Stone Age’s last record …Like Clockwork, album of the year.

18. Can you tell us anything about the new/old novel, Higher Climbs the Fire? 
Oooooh. Somebody did their research. Basically, if I can pull off what I want to achieve with Higher Climbs the Fire it’ll be the best thing I’ve ever done. If I fuck it up, it’ll at least be a noble, ambitious failure. It’s a rock and roll, science fiction, end of the world epic and the main character is a cross between Osama Bin Laden and Bob Dylan. It takes place sometime in the future and he’s fighting the Federal World Church and their genetically engineered manmade messiah and he’s doing so using folk music. Folk music is now outlawed and since everything digital is on the grid and the World Church controls the grid, these folk terrorists use vinyl records as the means of their messages of rebellion. But that’s just the start of the book, there’s even more going into it. I’ve had a few false starts with the thing but if I can make it happen I think it’ll be a total sockdolager.

19. What kind of readings do you plan to do for your new book? 
I want to do a “Dress Up like Your favorite Children’s Book Character Party” for the actual release party but I’m still looking for the right venture for that. But so far I have a radio interview appearance on The Good American, which is on DigRadio December 20th. I have a reading/lecture/ signing at Trident Booksellers in Boston on January 16th and I’m just putting together a reading/signing at Comicazi in Davis Square for sometime in early January.
20. What's next for Tony McMillen? 
This is the good part of the Bill Murray movie for me. This is when he gives a speech and tells Dan Aykroyd, “Call it fate, call it karma,” and then takes a swig off his flask and decides to bust some ghosts. So I’m going to get Nefarious Twit into the hands of every man, woman, child and book savvy small animal I can this year. After that I think the next thing will be a collection of my non-fiction, I’ll probably title it simply “Touch the Wonder.”  While I compile that I’ll start fresh on my novel Higher Climbs the Fire or I might start on another novel that’s been pushing to the surface in my head for a while lately. I also got this comic strip idea I’ve been kicking around that the newspaper I write for, DigBoston, says they might be into publishing. So I got plenty of ghosts to bust. And bustin’ makes me feel good.

Thank you!  

Pick up Chewing the Page: The Mourning Goats Interviews here and Tony's book, Nefarious Twit, here! 

Also, don't forget to "like" the Mourning Goats Facebook Page! 

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