High school is tough on boys. Their bodies rebel, their hormones go crazy, girls are in a constant battle over skirt length and how exactly they can drive a young man insane. It is enough to make a guy feel like an alien.
In Larry Doyle's brilliant and sick-funny coming of age comedy novel, Go Mutants!, J!m is the teen hero and his feelings of alienation are compounded by being an actual alien and the son of the most despised alien leader to try and take over the world (think Pol Pot only more Marsy.)
The book takes a funny premise (alienation of teens who are actually aliens) and gives it a heart and a really really big brain. So I sat down with Larry over the interwebs and made him talk/type about his newest novel, his Simpson's streed cred and other fancy things.
Shax: What I really love is that you're taking this teen coming of age genre and this sci fi genre and neither one gets squashed. They both get served (in the non dance movie way)
Larry: I never really thought about the balance between the two because for me they were of a piece. It seemed very natural, and funny, to treat adolescence as alienation in the most literal sense. So I simply took from each what I needed to tell the story. I thought up the general conceit -- using the B-movie tropes of the fifties to tell a story about today -- and the two most prominent genres were the atomic/space movies and the juvie movies. Then the magic happened. I think maybe I came up with the opening first -- where a movie of an mutant alien chasing a girl through a school hallway turns out to be a dream being had by the alien, and then everything followed.
Shax: Go Mutants! is insanely visual so I have to wonder will it become a movie? TV show? Animation? Do you like/prefer animation to live action? Or the other way around? I wonder what Twihardened audiences would say when confronted with the James Dean as alien.
Larry: I haven't read or seen Twilight, but I imagine GM! will be funnier. I'd prefer the movie to be live action, and to look as much like a Nick Ray or Douglas Sirk movie as possible, with the aliens and mutants looking as real as possible despite their ridiculous physicality. It's important to me with the movie (if there is a movie; that will depend I think on the success of the book) that it isn't a spoof. I'd like J!m, the main character, to feel like a kind of sexy loner, even if he does have a giant brain.
Shax: You write novels, film, TV, and prose comedy for The New Yorker. Do you change to fit the audience?
Larry: I don't ever think about an audience. I let the New Yorker editors or my publisher or the movie execs worry about the audience. I just have my little story to tell, and I hope someone buys it.
Shax: That sounds both terrifying and liberating
Larry: Well, yes and no. I comes from having tried to do what people wanted and just not being very good at it.
Shax: When was that?
Larry: I tried writing a Mad About You spec once.
Shax: Well that would do it.
Larry: I think most employed writers in Hollywood think the same way, more or less. They do what they think is good, too, but they happen to coincide a bit better with what the studios or audience think is good. I don't know many "hacks" -- people who will write anything for money -- who are very successful. Usually the opposite.
Shax: Do you think every story has a perfect form (e.g. book, graphic novel, film;) geeks get very geeked out over adaptations.
Larry: Not every story, but some clearly do. The graphic novel was the perfect form for "Watchman." The novel was the perfect form for "Ullyses." Film was the perfect for for "Days of Heaven." But many stories can exist in all of those forms, being a slightly different thing in each, sometimes better in one than the other, and sometimes not. "The Graduate" is both a great short novel and a great film.
Shax: What's the best/worst thing about having The Simpsons streed cred?
Larry: Overall having the Simpsons cred is a gigantic plus, embarrassingly so, since I can't claim much more than a handful of funny lines on about 90 episodes, an increasing small fraction of the whole. The only downside, which came up again recently, is that occasionally snotty critics will use my TV writing as a cudgel to diminish my other writing in a way that they wouldn't if I taught at a community college. Publishers Weekly just did that with GM! And it's not just me. Simon Rich got slightly slammed in the NYTBR for his job on SNL; it was used to characterize his first novel as broad and thin, like a sketch. I think maybe the critics don't realize how much smarter the average TV writer is than the average journalist or "literary" writer. Or maybe they do.