Interview Dies At The End:
Words with Jason Pargin aka David Wong
Fanboy Planet Magic Mailbox delivers many intriguing things,
one of which last month was an advanced copy of a novel
called John Dies At The End. The title rang a bell, and
I remembered high school students trying to convince me
to read this website a few years ago -- which I, being older
and wiser than they, politely declined.
you've seen him,
you have seven days to live.
the novel which sprung from the blog of "David Wong",
I realize I could have been in early on a horror comedy
that's exactly up my alley. If Stephen King and Douglas
Adams had had a baby -- well, that might turn out to be
a plot point in a later sequel, so I'll back away from that
thought. Instead, know that this novel is funny, scary,
occasionally mind-blowing in its twists and turns, and yet
not afraid to occasionally stop for the titular John to
find clever ways to brag about his Sir Henry Wagstaff. It's
no wonder that filmmaker Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba
Ho Tep) jumped on the movie rights.
he originally blogged under the name of David Wong -- the
unwilling supernatural detective who faces down meat demons
and apocalypses when he'd rather be playing xBox -- writer
Jason Pargin managed to parlay his internet infamy into
becoming editor of Cracked.com,
so again, I call myself maroon. I've been reading and enjoying
his work for years.
following is our conversation conducted via e-mail this
McCaw: Now that I've read the book, what
proof can you offer that I'm not just a projection of your
be on your bookshelf. Whether you put it there or
Pargin: I was just asking myself that very question.
As long as we're at a safe distance I suppose it doesn't
matter. Since in JDatE the projections tended to attack
David, I'm sure you understand that if we ever meet face
to face, I'll be shouting the answers to your questions
over the sound of the running chainsaw I'm wielding menacingly.
It's nothing personal.
Derek McCaw: This all started
years ago with you just blogging - at what point did you
realize you were turning this into something bigger, and
what triggered that realization?
Pargin: I first posted it online as a short, scary
"campfire" story on Halloween, in 2001. That was
the tale that became the opening scene of the novel you
read. I got a ton of fan mail and it was popular demand
that made me do a part two the following year (also
on Halloween) and I decided to make it a holiday tradition
Over the next few years I went all-out in developing the
whole universe and back-story of this town and the ecosystem
of creatures and spirits wandering around it. I knew I had
to see it through to some kind of conclusion, or else you
wind up just stretching out the story needlessly, like the
last few seasons of The X-Files.
It would take five years before I would write "The
Derek McCaw: What kept you
Pargin: The readers, and only the readers.
is the magic if the internet: you get immediate feedback.
You post something online and within minutes your comments
section and inbox light up with reader reactions. So many
struggling novelists will toil through a manuscript for
years, doubting themselves, making changes, falling out
of love with the stuff they wrote a year before and eventually
quit because they never get that kind of reinforcement.
get me wrong, there were plenty of kids telling me to stop
writing, or posting ASCII penises as their only comment.
But you learn to separate useful feedback from the rest
in a hurry.
McCaw: Did the appreciation of a filmmaker
like Don Coscarelli influence your storytelling?
limited edition paperback.
Pargin: My Mom took me to go see Phantasm
at a midnight Halloween showing back
in 1985 or so, when I would have been just 10 years old.
Either she didn't know how scary the movie was, or she thought
it would make me a man (which may be why every time the
spheres sucked the blood out of someone's brain, she would
turn to me and scream, "PAY ATTENTION - ONE DAY YOU
WILL GET A JOB AND THAT IS WHAT IT WILL FEEL LIKE").
insane, totally off-the-rails rhythm of that movie stuck
with me. I never saw another horror film duplicate it. But
you can see me trying to imitate that "anything can
happen at any time" feeling in JDatE.
McCaw: Why publish under the pseudonym,
when you've made somewhat of a name for yourself now as
the editor of Cracked.com?
Pargin: I was writing on the internet as "David
Wong" and had a small following a good two years before
writing John Dies at the End. So when it came time
to write my scary Halloween story that first year, it was
going to be written as David Wong, no question.
I also knew I wanted to tell it as a "campfire"
story and of course what makes a campfire story unique is
you tell it as if it's true or, even better, as something
that happened to the storyteller ("You know, being
out here in the woods reminds me of something that happened
to a friend of mine a few years back, while we were driving
down a deserted road...")
forward a few years, with the internet stuff and the book
stuff both having grown, there's no reason to introduce
confusion by putting a second name out there. Besides, if
I sign somebody's book with "Jason Pargin" I think
that actually lowers the resale value to below the cost
of a new copy.
McCaw: What's your personal mandate for
Cracked? Do you feel the weight of
Reaper by several years, but on the Cracked.com
many readers think that cast should reunite for
carrying on an illustrious tradition of informed stupidity?
Pargin: I think every good writer or creative person
starts from a place of wanting to fulfill some need in the
culture that's not getting filled. I don't mean as some
grand business plan, the good writers don't think that way.
I just mean you are continually frustrated that the kind
of stuff you want to read isn't being written. So you do
Cracked, much of what we are doing is a reaction to a culture
of internet comedy that always seemed extremely cruel and
bitter and lowbrow. Lots of videos of guys falling off skateboards
and bloggers doing rant-style, angry comedy bashing women
and gays and everything else.
We wanted to go the other direction. Cracked is analytical,
not angry. Some would say it's a "geek" style,
all about obscure knowledge and deconstructing pop culture,
with boner jokes thrown in. But we're finding that what
we used to call "geek" is now the mainstream of
the culture (hell, we even have a geek president). The huge
response the site has gotten really demonstrates that.
McCaw: If you have any input on casting,
now that Brad Pitt's really too old, who should play you
in the movie?
Pargin: Too old? Have you seen Benjamin Button?
And it would guarantee Goodson would see the movie...
the technology is there. We can digitally add some definition
to his pecs, too, to make him look more like I imagine David.
If we can't get Brad, there's no reason we can't us the
same technology to superimpose Brad's body on whoever they
McCaw: Looking back over the work, are
there revisions you wish you'd made if you'd known you were
creating a full-fledged novel and not just episodes in the
life of David Wong?
Pargin: There were, and I did make them. That's
the other awesome thing about the internet; if you see something
you want to change, hey, just go change it! Click "publish"
and your changes are now live. If somebody calls you on
it, just say their memory is faulty.
when the book went into its first print run, I actually
spent a solid six months revising it for that medium, fleshing
it out and expanding in places I didn't think the internet
would have patience for. Trust me, the story you have is
much, much more well-rounded and cohesive than the episodic
adventure that ran on the web. And the book doesn't have
flashing banner ads.
McCaw: How huge a franchise do you plan
on this being?
Pargin: Well, the original plan was, "have
50 or 60 strangers on the internet read the story and forget
about their troubles for an hour" and to be honest,
I've never had a chance to revise the plan beyond that.
I am writing a sequel and hopefully the people at St. Martins
will want to publish it.
the movie... I just saw a fantastic, low-budget horror comedy
open with $25 million this weekend. I know nothing about
the business, but I can't help but think that the people
who had a great time watching Zombieland would
love a JDatE movie. And we already know a cgi Brad
Pitt can sell tickets, so...
hopefully we'll have more to report on THAT one, as well
as an interview with the man determined to make it happen,