'The Video Game That Killed the Radio Star'
He's nearly thirty, but feckless Adam Pennyman has finally found a purpose: The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments, his encyclopedia analysis of every video game ever made. His research hits a snag with Lucky Wander Boy, the surreal, epic videogame that ruled his world years ago. Despite its underground cult following, Lucky Wander Boy seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.
But when he lands a copywriting job at the second-rate Hollywood production company that owns the game's film rights, his luck takes a turn. The closer he gets to locating an existing Lucky Wander Boy console, the more certain he becomes that the game holds the secret to everything that is missing from his life.
Author D.B. Weiss was born and raised in Chicago, where he honed his skills on an Intellivision. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he earned a Masters of Philosophy in Irish Literature from Trinity College in Dublin and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.
In 1993, Weiss was fired from an internship at MTV. He has also served as a script researcher and office PA on the film Viking Sagas (New Line Cinema); a freelance internet copywriter; a script analyst for National Geographic Films; a research assistant for marine biology/animal psychology research in Santa Cruz, the Bimini Islands and in Hawaii; and as a screenwriter, working scripts on location in Warsaw, Poland, for Red Branch Productions, and for Next Entertainment in Hollywood.
D.B. now lives in Los Angeles and that's where we caught up with him to chat about his first book, Lucky Wander Boy. I first wondered if he set out to purposely write this book to also entertain the video
game uninitiated as well as those fully aware of all-things arcana ?
"Yeah, I was hoping for "cross platform" appeal, which I think it has now. It took a fair amount of rewriting to get the balance right. The early drafts may have leaned more towards the arcana, but as much as I wanted gamers to like it, I thought it was equally important for non-gamers to get a sense of what these games mean to the main character, to understand why videogames could mean a lot to someone else even if they mean nothing at all to them. I wanted them to like it too. I just want to be loved. Is that so wrong?"
There seems to be a lot of literary (Shakespeare) and pop culture
('Donkey Kong') references throughout, but weren't you ever afraid that you might overload the scene-setting before the readers brain had time to ease on in to the storyline ? "Well... there's not that much Shakespeare in there, is there? [laughs] There's a lot more MOBY-DICK than Shakespeare. But no, I wasn't too worried about the narrator's culture references in general, especially pop culture references. The guy has an obsessive relationship to many facets of pop culture, and he's the one telling us the story. MOBY-DICK, Japanese movies, Tempest, William Zabka - these things are the building blocks of his consciousness, more or less. Without them, he wouldn't be who he is -- he would be someone else."
Did 'Lucky Wander Boy' ever exist as a game in any facet or origin before ? "No. Pure fabrication. The first two stages have some general similarities to games like Lode Runner and Battlezone, but they're a lot more complicated than those. You couldn't have actually made the game Lucky Wander Boy in 1983. Come to think of it, you couldn't "actually" make it now, or ever. But I can't explain why without ruining the book."
'Lucky Wander Boy' was obviously written in a clever, yet
sardonically-humorous tone, but what was the downfall to that over just
relating a simple tale ? "It all comes back to the character of Adam Pennyman. He is telling you his own story, and he is a guy with... some problems. He suffers from many delusions involving the interconnectedness and interrelatedness of everything he sees, and in his own mind, no story about himself could ever be a "simple tale." You're right, it's important from a writing standpoint not to let fancy-pantsing obscure the story itself, and my editor Kelly Notaras was very helpful in preventing that from happening. Then again, when all's said and done, the "story itself" is kind of obscure, isn't it? I dunno... I just wrote it, what the hell do I know?"
'Lucky Wander Boy' is clearly an original story, but where did the
concept first originate ? "Come to think of it -- and I haven't for a while -- the real, ultimate origin of LUCKY WANDER BOY came from John Updike's short story "A&P," which is an extremely strange place for my book to have started, because I would say my book is one of the least "Updikeish" books I could imagine. But "A&P" is this story about a kid who throws his job away in a completely pointless act of chivalry toward a girl who does not know him, and who does not even witness the act of chivalry in question. I wrote a short story more or less inspired by "A&P" that contained the core story to LUCKY WANDER BOY, except the object of obsession wasn't a videogame, it was a lady wrestler. When I started thinking about expanding it, I didn't want to write a whole book about lady wrestler - although who knows, it may have been interesting. Anyway, I started thinking along other obsessive lines, and I'd been wanting to do a piece of videogame-related fiction for a long time, and the pointless chivalry of "A&P" got me thinking about the delusional chivalry of DON QUIXOTE... and before I knew it, I had the first draft of my book."
Were there any real life experiences or people that infiltrated this book ? "Not experiences, exactly. A lot of the settings were inspired by real places - places I'd been, places I'd worked, etc.. And there's no way to write without drawing on the people you've known, distorting them, amalgamating them, lying about them in the service of story, or even a good laugh. But I don't want to get sued by anybody, so... LUCKY WANDER BOY is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real places, situations, businesses, or persons living or dead is purely coincidental."
Were there ever any alternative titles for both the 'obscure 1983
Japanese video game' and therein, the book's title ? "For a very brief time, about 100 pages into the first draft, I was thinking of calling it THE CATALOGUE OF OBSOLETE ENTERTAINMENTS, but as Lucky Wander Boy came to the fore, it was immediately obvious to me that was a better name. With a novel, it's a good idea to keep it under ten syllables. "
Were there discarded gaming ideas for 'Lucky Wander Boy' that never
made it into the final draft ? "Oh yeah, pages and pages of them. It goes back to the 'gamers vs. non-gamers' thing we were talking about earlier, and the "simple story vs. fancy-pants" story thing too. I liked a lot of the stuff I threw away, but I felt that it pulled the reader away from the storyline without providing any extra insight into Adam Pennyman's personality and motivations, so I got out the red pen, and that was that."
What's your next project ? "It's historical fiction, set in 17th century Europe during the time of the 30 Years War. I hope to have it done sometime... uh, sometime sooner rather than later."
Finally, from initial conception to holding the finished product in your hands for the first time, what was the timing and what did you go through to get this book finally into print ? "It took a while. The book sold right before 9/11. It was bought with the intention of a Summer 2002 release date, but with 9/11 and the aftermath, that proved to be too soon. The extra time led to a better book, no question. As for what I "went through"... just lots and lots of revising, same as anyone. I got to work with great people, it was ultimately a very rewarding process. I can't wait to do it again."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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