Interviewer: So, you’ve finished your ninth novel. What’s it about?
Me: It’s about teens on the autism spectrum who discover time travel.
Interviewer: (hissing and arching back) Whoa, whoa, whoa! Haven’t you ever heard of double mumbo-jumbo?
Me: This isn’t double mumbo-jumbo.
Interviewer: (narrowing eyes) How why not?
Me: How why not? Is that English?
Interviewer: Don’t get smart with me, mister.
Me: Okay, double mumbo-jumbo is just a comic idea in the book. It means that audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie. You can’t have an alien invasion in the story and then get bitten by a vampire, because now you’re dealing with both aliens and vampires, and that’s over-kill. Get it?
Interviewer: Well, I read your book because I’m a professional. I know what’s going on, so don’t bullshit me. There’s a Terminator, a dragon, giant birds, a swirling pool of gunk that’s invaded the parking lot, a giant bowling ball that smashes its way across Los Angeles, and people are getting raptured up into the sky. You’ve thrown double-mumbo-jumbo out the window and now it’s morphed into a helter-skelter of a gazillion mumbo-jumbos.
Me: In science fiction, readers will give you one ‘freebie’ where you don’t really have to explain the mumbo-jumbo, they will just accept it for the sake of the story; i.e., hyperdrive, or that aliens can read minds, or whatever. But then in the context of that freebie everything else has to ‘make sense’ logically/scientifically/quasi-scientifically.
In fantasy, however—which is my schtick—everything is kind of a freebie if you want it to be. That said, I do think there’s something to be said for cohesion.
Interviewer: How why cohesion?
Me. That question doesn’t make sense, but what I mean by cohesion is that I don’t want a lot of new stuff happening, because every complex thing that gets added bogs down my ability to let readers get caught up in the plot and characters. My rules for worldbuilding are: the less important it is, the simpler it should be.
Interviewer: I happen to be well read, and double mumbo-jumbo is an expression in a book called “Save the Cat,” and that is the best book in the world.
Me: You say that because you’re a cat.
Interviewer (who is indeed a cat, my cat, named Howard, so let’s just call him as such): I have a right to my opinion.
Me: In this story there are autistic teens and the tribulations they undergo. There is also time travel and its repercussions, where the continuum fabric is torn and the things the time travelers created in the 1950s, 60’s 70’s and 80s come back through time to haunt the present.
Howard (my cat): OK, I’ll lick that, what kind of things?
Me: You’ll lick anything. And you have to understand that they live in Hollywood.
Howard: Or Hollyweird…
Me: That’s right. The teens are in the special needs school, and the adults are all wannabe screenwriters, each with their own peculiar fantasies. An arcade game called DIMENSIONAL NEEDS appears one day outside the school, and it gives the students and the adults—those that in some bizarre way qualify—the tickets to travel through time and space.
Howard: Did you answer the cohesion question, which, I believe was ‘How why cohesion’?
Me: Look, if little brain-eating monkey-birds get introduced, regardless of anything else, they must maintain a consistency and work the same way every time. If that consistency gets broken and things don’t make sense, then I may lose the reader.
Howard: You do the POV of a different character in every chapter and sometimes these people are unreliable. Won’t that lose readers?
Me: Unreliable narrators often perceive/narrate something they don’t fully understand which can cause confusion, but otherwise everything is still consistent, the story elements are coherent, everything belongs in that world.
Howard: Time travel… Need I say more?
Me: Is that your question?
Howard: It’s been done a million times. Why do it?
Me: That’s actually a good question. The whole mind-bending paradox of time travel and its myriad ramifications make great stories. Stephen King said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it harmonizes, and what it usually makes is the devil’s music.” That’s what I’ve done with my characters that slip back in time, stealing the ideas of popular books and movies. They plagiarize, and the characters they create in the past bully their way into the present and kill or horrify everyone in the shopping center where the special needs school is located. Anything goes with the terror that ensues.
Howard: (now licking a leg) So what themes are you digging into, anyway?
Me: The major theme might be that we all have needs, but they’re often different from what we thought they were. And who exactly are the needy ones, anyway? — Those with physical or cognitive impairments, the aspies, or the NTs (or neuro-typicals)—those of us considered normal, but who have immature longings or irrational outlooks, or prejudices, or fears. Who really has the greater need?
Howard: How long did it take to write this thing?
Me: I started in winter of 2018 and finished in summer, 2020. As with the other eight children of the pen, child-birth doesn’t get easier. This one was hard too.
Howard: Is it within the genre of comic-fantasy?
Me: Oh, yes, it’s pure comic-fantasy, thoughtful insanity, kind of like the genie who will trick you and not give you what you want, but you realize later that it was what you needed. Sometimes the characters are just brutally murdered—but always with some life-reflection beforehand. Lloyd Alexander said, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
Howard: (extending leg in impressive fashion and licking asshole) The story can be quite, how to say, insensitive, no?
Me: Maybe, but there’s enough insensitivity in this story for everyone. If I’ve failed to insult your demographic, religion, gender, race, ethnicity, or cognitive functions in this tale, then I may get it right in a later revision.
Howard: Well, let’s wrap with that stinker of a reply… So, how’d I do? Am I your regular interviewer now, and what do I get for this?
Me: I’ll call you.
Double mumbo-jumbo is an expression in Blake Snyder’s book “Save the Cat.”