Having served as the former executive editor of Cracked.com as well as writing four beloved and acclaimed novels, DAVID WONG is a writer you’re likely familiar with – and if you aren’t, it’s safe to say that you should be. His first book, JOHN DIES AT THE END, was adapted into a STARBURST-approved feature-film in 2012 and, now, his fifth book, ZOEY PUNCHES THE FUTURE IN THE DICK, comes out on October 13th. David took the time to chat with us, ahead of its release
STARBURST: What’s the “elevator pitch” for Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick?
David Wong: It's the future and the world is somehow even dumber than our present. A young woman from a trailer park has inherited her father's massive criminal empire and now has to work with his old inner circle, a group of ex-PSYOPS agents who use elaborately staged lies to run the city behind the scenes. This leads to a series of increasingly bizarre disasters and also Zoey's cat smells really bad.
A lot of people will know you primarily from your time with Cracked or via the movie-adaptation of John Dies at the End. Is Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick a good entry point for someone who wants to read your books? Or is it necessary to have read the previous Zoey Ashe book, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, first?
Every book I write can serve as a starting point. They're each independent stories, even if they have the same characters. People's time is too valuable to require homework and I never want to write one continuing saga out of fear of dying before I finish it. No book of mine should ever end on a cliffhanger.
Again, you’re a prolific writer of many fantastic, factual articles. To what extent does writing them inform your fiction? Is there any synergy between the two types of writing that you do when it comes to research and inspiration?
Only in the sense that writing hundreds of articles trained me to do research and sift through sources, which is actually a skill that takes a ton of practice. Non-writers don't realise how much research goes into even an objectively ridiculous piece of fiction. If you're writing, say, a novel about a vampire who works at Olive Garden, you need to know how to quickly look up which dishes have garlic in them.
What was it like having your book, John Dies at the End, adapted into a movie?
Well, the experience was a guy working in a cubicle at an insurance company finding out that a Hollywood director wanted to make a movie out of the story he'd uploaded to the internet, then three years later finding himself at Sundance, hanging out with the cast. I'd have to have an utterly deranged sense of perspective to complain about that.
And were you happy with how the finished product turned out?
I thought it was the perfect match of director and source material. If there's ever a chance to do another one from the same crew, I'm fully on board. The movie was the second-best thing that's ever happened in my life - I'll let my friends and family fight over what they think was first.
John Dies at the End is the first book in your John and Dave series. Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick is the second book in your other series following the character of Zoey Ashe. Is there any chance of Zoey also getting the movie or TV treatment in the future?
It's in development as a TV series! I haven't heard anything in a while but that's how it works: source material goes into a machine and maybe it eventually pops out the other end as a show or movie... or maybe it doesn't. If they never make the show, the rights eventually just revert back to me and I get to keep their money, so win-win.
Given the futuristic setting, did you want to use Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick to make any specific comments or points about contemporary society?
It's definitely not like a winking allegory to specific current events; there's no reality show host who becomes president, there's no sci-fi version of Brexit happening. It's really just looking at all of the broad trends in society, trying to project them forward by a few decades and saying, "Wow, we are not ready for how stupid this is about to get." Zoey's is a universe in which virtually everyone is live-streaming their lives. You're always on camera from a dozen different angles, from the moment you step outside. How does that affect a person's behaviour? How does that affect society in general? At that point, the goal is to try to find the humanity in the situation by focusing on an everyday person who suddenly finds herself at the epicentre. If I've done my job right, it should serve as a piece of escapism that has enough reality woven through it to make it feel like it matters.
Among other things, I'd say you've made a real name for yourself as an author who comes up with phenomenal, if unusual, titles for your work. Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick is no exception [as should be clear by the fact that we’ve chosen not to abbreviate it once in this interview]. Do you have a mantra that dictates how you come up with these names?
I'm always just trying to come up with a title that would make you do a double-take if you saw it on the shelf or on the Barnes and Noble website. I'm not famous enough to avoid such cynical marketing tricks.
Have you ever had pushback from a publisher because the title was too strange?
The only time the publisher has rejected one was I wanted the last John and Dave book to be titled, ‘John, Don't Forget to Insert the Title Before This Goes to the Printer’. Apparently, I'm not the first writer to think of that joke - of making the title look like an error - and booksellers don't find it very amusing. I guess that's not unreasonable on their end.
What's next? More Zoey? More John and Dave? Something else entirely?
I'm writing the fourth John and Dave book right now. That's the last one I'm under contract for. After that, who knows? I definitely want to come back to Zoey, but it - at least partially - depends on whether or not anyone buys this one. Even in a perfect world in which money didn't exist, I'd still be thinking in terms of what the audience wants.
ZOEY PUNCHES THE FUTURE IN THE DICK is available for pre-order below, and will be released October 13th. The fourth John & Dave book is scheduled for publication in Autumn 2022. For more information on David Wong's work, visit his official website www.johndiesattheend.com