***Cross posted at The Literary Mind Blender, you should check out the site, it’s great with a wide range of reviews and books alike!***
As a new book reviewer, I can’t tell you how excited I was to be interviewing an author for the first time, and Anthony Miller was a great first interview. His book What Would Satan Do? is both a funny book but also provides a great satire to today’s society. The following is the interview I had with Anthony over the past couple of days.
1. If you had to pick a theme song for your book what would it be?
Anthony Miller: I’m not sure there’s a song that fits. The main themes of the book are (1) identity, and (2) self determination. (Yes, it’s a silly book, but there are some deeper themes if you’re in to that sort of thing.) Satan realizes he’s nothing more than a pawn created to fill a role in a divine plan, i.e., he’s the mythical equivalent of a straw man, which sucks, so he decides not to play along, leaves Hell, and tries to create a new life as a human. But that leaves him with a problem — which never quite occurs to him, but I hope will be apparent to the reader — that of who he is once he decides to cast off his pre-determined identity. There’s actually a chapter that alludes to a scene in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man — which is my way of highlighting an idea that otherwise takes a back seat to the silliness. I don’t know any songs that quite fit those themes.
There are some songs that come to mind immediately, however — mostly because I listened to them repeatedly while writing the book. These are: (1) West Coast, by Coconut Records (this is just Jason Schwartzman, the actor who played the lead in the movie Rushmore), and (2) most of the songs off of the Silvesun Pickups’ album, Swoon.
2. What is Satan’s favorite movie?
AM:Star Wars — Episodes IV, V, and VI. It’s actually part of the plot. Satan watches the movies, struggles to figure out whether he identifies with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, or the Emperor, and sets out to find George Lucas in an effort to show the man a thing or two about mythic storytelling.
This is a great question, in part because Satan actually likes movies a lot. He writes a blog where, among other things, he reviews movies: http://www.robotsandlava.com
3. When did you start writing, have you been writing since an early age or is this a new found passion?
AM: I first wrote stories when I was a teenager. In fact the idea for the Militant Arm of the American Geriatrics Society relates back to a short story I wrote when I was thirteen. It was about old people who escaped the old-folks home, got some guns, and started kicking ass. A guy named Picklez borrowed that story and never gave it back. Picklez, if you’re out there, and you’re reading this, I’d like my story back.
I didn’t write anything for a long time — except legal briefs (I’m a lawyer during the day) — until I was in a Bible study learning about the Book of Revelations and thought, “Holy crap! Satan really gets the shaft here!” That prompted me to write this story.
4. If you had to pick one character you are most like, which one would it be and why?
AM: That’s easy: Satan. Some of the episodes in the book actually started out as journal entries when I was attempting to cope with an ill-conceived relocation to Washington, DC. Satan encounters the world pretty much exactly as I do, except he’s not bound by normal social mores and has the necessary supernatural abilities to mount adequate responses to the absurdities of daily life. He also likes fast cars and ice cream.
The book I’m working on now is also about Satan, because I don’t think I could — nor do I want to — try to write anything else. They say, “Write what you know,” right? This one has Vikings though, so that’s good. In it, a group of Scandinavians decide that their days of selling flat-pack furniture and making the world’s safest cars are over, and that it’s time to return to the old ways of raping and pillaging. Satan has to save the world — again.
5. What was the hardest scene of the book to write?
AM: There’s a scene that called for some sexuality, and I found that I just couldn’t do that. (No romance-novel sequels starring Satan — sorry!) There may be one other instance, but I think that’s the only place in the book where I break the narrative and address the reader directly to apologize for the lack of turgidity or quivering members in the story.
Other than that, I’d say any chapter that didn’t involve Satan. The Satan chapters almost wrote themselves. For any given situation, I only have to think, “How would I react here if I could say whatever I wanted and also set people’s heads on fire?” Compared to that, writing about normal people is hard.
6. You mentioned an ill-conceived move to DC, which explains the DC setting within the book. But why did you chose Texas as a main location in the book?
AM: I chose DC because of my personal experience — I think of DC as Hell — but also because, if you try to pronounced “DC” phonetically, you get something like “dis,” and “Dis” is the city at the center of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, where Satan lives.
As for Texas, it just made sense as the place where Dick Whitford — who is basically Dick Cheney — might reside, and where you can find plenty of batshit Evangelical preachers and megachurches. I grew up in Houston and used to go to an arena called the Summit to see the Rockets play basketball. Now the Summit is a church where a televangelist by the name of Joel Osteen (I think) practices his special brand of magic.
7. At the beginning of the book, when Satan is just trying to live out his “human” life, he has a normal job just like anyone else. Why did you chose to make Satan a professor at a university?
AM: Georgetown is a Jesuit school. The Jesuits are the semi-militant “Society of Christ” founded by Ignatius Loyola — which is a nice parallel to the Militant Arm of the American Geriatrics Association. Having Satan entertain himself by posing as a professor of religious studies at Georgetown was just too good to pass up. If I recall correctly (it’s been a while), the name he uses (Prof. Astrovalde) means something like “fallen star,” which seemed appropriate.
Perhaps it’s not clear in the book, but Satan works as a professor not because he has too, but because it’s an entertaining way to passing time.
8. If Satan was in a book club what book would he be reading right now?
AM: Maybe Maccoby’s The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity or something about space or quantum physics. I think he’d get a kick out of the idea of scientists pondering the possibility that observation determines the path of a photon or whether a cat is dead or alive. He might also get into some of the good Bernard Cornwall books about Vikings and Alfred the Great.
9. In the book Satan loves setting things on fire, is this an ability you wish you had?
AM:Seems like it would get me into trouble. My willingness to express my feelings verbally to fellow drivers gets my into enough trouble already. Setting folks on fire would only make it worse.
10. Satan is also quite proud of his car, did you pick this car because it was your dream car, or did you have other reason behind the Lamborghini?
AM:The Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera is definitely up there on my list, but the car just seemed like a good fit for the character. Lamborghinis are designed to be outrageous, and to appeal to the most juvenile, visceral desires of guys who like cars (yes, I think men are the target demographic). Plus they just look evil.
Satan, in my story, is trying to shed all of the baggage of millenia of being described as and told he is the baddest of the bad. What if he’s not really evil? What if he’s just a gargantuan ego, both in the “I’m right” sense and the “I want what I want” sense? What car would he drive then? Easy: A Lamborghini. Here’s a pic, so you can judge for yourself: http://www.cars-wallpapers.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/lamborghini-gallardo-lp-560-4.jpg
11. Lastly, is there anything you want a prospective reader to know about the book?
AM: What I want prospective readers to know… probably that it’s written for people who like Douglas Adams, Beavis and Butthead, and Monty Python. And the humor and the story are supposed to work on multiple levels. It has silly, juvenile, irreverent humor, but it also has some deeper stuff going on. Thus far, people seem to like it — even the old ladies who are offended by it can’t seem to help laughing. Mostly I just want folks to know it’s out there.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me. Your questions have been great, and I’ve enjoyed trying to give you good answers. I hope you enjoy the book!