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Writing Satire, with Christopher Largen


September 6th, 2005


The Writing Show (WS): Welcome to The Writing Show, where writing is always the story. I’m your host, Paula B., here today with my guest, Christopher Largen. Christopher Largen is an internationally published writer who has appeared in hundreds of print and Web-based venues. He is a guest speaker at colleges and festivals across America. His new novel, JUNK, is a dystopian drug war satire about a war on junk food.

Welcome, Chris. I love your book.

Christopher Largen (CL): Thank you, Paula.

WS: Can you give us a quick summary?

CL: Sure. JUNKtakes place in a world where the U.S. government has declared a war on junk food in response to rampant obesity. So fast food felons get ten-year federal prison sentences. Candy wrappers and barbeque grills are confiscated as paraphernalia. Insulin is outlawed because the legislators want to avoid sending mixed messages about sugar abuse. Police get charged with corruption for donut possession. Street gangs like the Ice Cream Crew and the Hot Dog Homeboys have gun battles in the streets. Officials post up neighborhood weight watch signs in suburbs across the nation.

This is the backdrop where a police officer, a food abuse counselor, and a black market baker are posed to collide with devastating and hilarious results. That’s it in a nutshell.

WS: They certainly are hilarious. How did you get the idea?

CL: While I was writing my first book, Prescription Pot, I spent a few years traveling the nation with George McMann, a guy who’s one of only seven Americans to receive legal medical marijuana from the U.S. government through a little-known FDA program called “investigational new drug.” During this time we visited state capitols, colleges, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and the federal pot farm at Old Miss, all the while carrying a pound of government-grown marijuana. So I had the opportunity to talk with legislators, activists, physicians, police officers, and marijuana patients about different aspects of drug policy. Everybody seemed to have their own ideas about how we should reform these policies, but everyone I talked with agreed pretty much that our current approach isn’t working.

Shortly thereafter, I learned that a close family member had gained an enormous amount of weight over the course of a couple of years. She weighed almost 500 pounds and was declaring disability because she could no longer work and could barely walk. She developed a severe dependence on sugar and fat, and I think she was really suffering from severe depression, which made it harder for her to break the eating habit and made her heavier and more socially isolated, and thus more depressed.

So it was a vicious cycle. I thought it was very similar to drug addiction. My subsequent research confirmed that drug and food addictions are very similar in their emotional, habitual, social, and biochemical structures. It seemed to me the main difference between them was legal since drug users were considered criminals and food addicts were not.

Then I had this dream about being chased by food police for sugar distribution. I took some time to reflect on that, and I started to wonder what might happen if the government treated certain foods the way that they treat certain drugs. I found myself laughing to tears. That’s when I knew JUNK had to be written. Plus it seemed kind of natural to follow a book about marijuana with a book about the munchies.

WS: That is a great story. I love that. I had no idea. In the book, you really do substitute food for drugs. All the situations and all the imagery and all the description—you could easily substitute drugs for food, and it would make exactly the same amount of sense.

CL: Yes, you know I think the dynamic of prohibition, you could fill it in with product X—any product that people in the public want if you outlawed it altogether rather than regulating it. I think it’s going to produce the same effect. You’ll have mobsters getting wealthy, and you’ll have guns involved in the manufacture, sale, and distribution. You won’t be able to put any meaningful age restrictions on the use of the product because black market dealers don’t typically ID their customers. I think it’s very much the same dynamic. I hope people who read JUNK will see it’s not really—I mean it is about the drug war in a sense, but it’s really about how we treat public health issues.

WS: I was going to ask you about the writing of the book, but I want to come back to that, because you just raised an interesting point. Your book is a satire, and it brings up so many issues. Can you just talk about some of the issues you raise?

CL: I think the main issue is how do we treat a public health issue in our nation. If we treat a public health issue as a criminal justice matter, do we in turn exacerbate the public health issue? I think other issues it raises in terms of personal liberties, who owns our bodies, and is it possible to simultaneously acknowledge that a product is unhealthy but also defend the rights of Americans to use that product with their own bodies in ways that do not harm other people directly.

WS: You say in the acknowledgements that you method-wrote the book while on a three-month junk binge. Can you talk about that?

CL: Sure. As a child, I was a professional stage actor and model, and I studied Stanislavsky’s theories of method acting, where the performer literally tries to live the life of the character as much as possible. Then I saw “Supersize Me” and thought that perhaps two could play this game. So every night before I’d sit down to write, I’d head down to the convenience store and load up on the garbage. It was candy, ice cream, snack chips, hot dogs. And the clerks who ran the store began to get worried because I was in there like clockwork at the same time every night. Well, during that three-month period I gained 25 pounds, and I felt awful. But I did gain a sense of empathy for what my family member had gone through with her food addiction because once I finished writing JUNK, I found it was very difficult to change the habit. I literally had sugar cravings. Plus I had to deal with feeling bloated and obese. So I’d say it was a worthwhile experience, but not one I would ever wish to repeat, and I hope that some of the prose reflects that perpetual sugar rush I was having while writing it.

WS: That’s what I was wondering. How did it change your writing?

CL: I think it gave me kind of a sense of nervous energy. When I wrote Prescription Pot, it had a very almost stony feel but it was very laid back, almost had a zen vibe to it. We tried to craft the prose so that it really that kind of here-and-now mentality that many patients claim that cannabis provides them. With JUNK, I kind of wanted to go a different route and have it be more of a hyped up, paranoid, superenergetic vibe. So I think all the caffeine and sugar probably assisted in that regard.

WS: I think it did. Your imagery is wonderful. I want to talk about that and a few other items about the craft of writing, but I’d like to start with your description, which is very rich. And I’m not saying that to be punny, but it is very rich and very visual. That’s one thing I noticed immediately upon starting the book, that everything was very visual. It was almost as if I was watching a film. Here’s just a little sample.

“Conrad Tucker slapped the dust from his dashboard and stared through the bug-spattered windshield. Electric purple fuzzy dice dangled from the cracked rearview mirror. He thought they looked like lopsided testicles.”

Now this is so vivid. What is your secret for writing so vividly and painting such complete pictures in the reader’s mind?

CL: It’s interesting that you compared it to film, because I did write the book with film in mind. So I tried to keep the narrative tight. I really didn’t want to dilute the satire too much. I wanted to give the readers just enough information to enable them to build a mental image, and more importantly, an emotional image. I tried to come up with details that would resonate psychologically, emotionally, and politically. So that within a short excerpt of text…for example, the example you gave—the electric purple fuzzy dice, the cracked rearview mirror, the dusty dashboard. Those are the types of things I think that many college students, who are struggling to make it through, can relate with. There’s that sense of masculinity in the fuzzy dice, and kind of a distorted masculinity through consumer culture. These are things that the reader may not pick up on consciously, but I’m hoping that it kind of works its way into the emotional subtext of the read.

WS: How do you come up with these images? Do they just pop into your head? What is your method for doing that?

CL: Generally when I write I try to turn off my self-editor initially so that it just flows forth, and then when I go back through, I will tailor the prose with a more deliberate purpose. So really, as far as they details, they kind of come spontaneously. And then I fine tune them.

WS: You’re so lucky. You really are. You don’t have to struggle over that.

CL: Thank you.

WS: You often write in a tongue-in-cheek style, and I’d like to read a little sample that is one of my very favorite images in the book. You’re describing a kid who’s trick-or-treating, and of course Halloween becomes a big issue when you’re not allowed to eat junk food. He’s collected “five apples, six granola bars, two bananas, and a multivitamin.” I love that. How do you achieve that tongue-in-cheek style? What are you doing there?

CL: Well, of course the humor is implied by the timing, and in the example you gave, it’s critical that the multivitamin needs to be at the end of that list. If I had changed the placement of that word, it might have impeded the comedy. But also the humor’s about context, and that list needed to have several items in it because it demonstrates the irony of this kid inventorying this meager Halloween bounty, which he will likely never eat.

I want to say a bit about satire. From my perspective, effective satire should teach people something about themselves without coming across as didactic or polemic. It’s like the author holds up a mirror in front of the reader. The reader may be concerned about looking good, but the mirror is disfigured, kind of like the ones you see in funhouses where the qualities are over- and underemphasized. And the reader realizes the apparent disfigurement is actually a more realistic reflection of the content of their character. When the satire works, the reader leaves the mirror enlightened but laughing through their tears. I love satire because it allows people to laugh through their own cynicism and hypocrisy. Laughter is much more empowering than disillusionment.

WS: Do you have any particular favorite pieces of satire or authors that you like to read?

CL: I love pretty much any of the dystopias whether they’re satirical or not. Of course, Orwell was an influence. Kurt Vonnegut. I love Animal Farm and Brave New World. But I try to kind of separate myself from those influences when I’m writing. I’m not seeking to imitate a particular style or slant.

WS: I don’t think you do. I don’t think you imitate them at all. But I can see how they might be inspiring.

CL: Yes, absolutely.

WS: How about your characters? Can you tell us…you mentioned a couple. You said a black market baker, and mentioned a couple other characters. Can you tell us about them, and then I’d like to know a little bit about how you go about the task of drawing your characters.

CL: I started with the idea that if I was going to fairly explore this issue of prohibition, I wanted the readers to know the perspectives of a police officer, a counselor, a dealer, an addict, a bureaucrat, a journalist, and a kingpin. I was able to develop a common thread between the three main characters. All three of those main characters are searching for security. The police officer, Justin Bailey, seeks security through the law. The food abuse counselor, Moe Goodman, seeks it through religion. The black market baker, Billy Sweet, seeks it through money. All three characters evolve in response to the war on junk, and by the end of the novel, they have shifted their priorities and abandoned security. They’re walking paths that are less certain and well trod. But they’re also living lives defined by their own consciences and their relationships with other people. With my main characters, I tend to focus on internal dynamics: emotions, spirituality, their sociopolitical perspective. In other words, I don’t want the reader to be focused on their external qualities. So I allow the reader to fill in the physical details of these characters based on their internal qualities. With secondary characters, I focus more on the physical characteristics that will imply the internal state of those characters.

WS: That’s really interesting.

CL: With all my characters, I try to handle them with a sense of love, even when I disagree with them and they act foolish. That was the reason I loved Tolstoy’s work so much–Anna Karenina in particular. He managed to make value judgments about the behaviors and perspectives of his characters, but never really allowed a sense of judgment to temper his handling of these characters with a sense of bitterness or nastiness.

WS: Well, I think that’s the hallmark of an effective writer, that you don’t really know where that person’s sympathies lie. If somebody puts their thoughts into the mouth of a character, it can come off as very obvious and heavy-handed attempt at didacticism, or a polemic. But certainly with a master like Tolstoy, you would never get a sense of what he felt through his characters.

CL: Right. I think rather than placing ideas into the characters or using the characters as a vehicle, which to me is disrespectful of the characters to some degree, I think what I try to do is I try to find elements of myself that can be naturally reflected and expressed through those characters. I have a little bit of all three main characters in me. There is part of me that sees the devastation associated with drug abuse and addiction who would really like to play the cop. Then there’s another part, Moe Goodman. I don’t know if you noticed this, but the characters’ names reflect their internal qualities.

WS: Actually I did notice.

CL: Yes. Moe Goodman, his main struggle is that he believes he’s “moe good” than his fellow man, in a sense. He is sympathetic, but he doesn’t have true empathy with the people that he’s trying to help. So if I can find something within myself to naturally reflect through the characters, that works better than simply using them as a vehicle for my thoughts and ideas.

WS: That sounds like it’s partly your actor’s training coming out.

CL: I think you’re right.

WS: Which is not to say that other writers don’t do something similar. But you mentioned being an actor, and I know that that’s one way actors approach roles.

CL: Yes. That’s very true. It allows them to create authentic characters because the emotions are coming from an authentic space, and the actor draws from those feelings without so much constructing them for specific social or political intent.

WS: We could really get into a big long discussion of acting, but I think I’ll save that for another time. That’s a really fascinating subject too. I wanted to ask you about the presentation of your book, starting with your structure. You alternate traditional narrative with artifacts like letters and newspaper clippings and similar even scrapbook-style little pieces. Why did you do that?

CL: There were several reasons. For one, JUNK doesn’t have a specific human antagonist that’s present throughout the work. Most of the characters, certainly the main ones, are simultaneously pathetic and sympathetic in their own unique ways. So the primary antagonist is the war on junk itself as it generally wreaks havoc on the characters’ lives. So I used these “mockuments” to sort of pull back from the lives of the characters to give a more macrocosmic sociopolitical scope to the antagonist, the war. Also the mockuments lend a sense of realism to the fiction, which tends to bring the absurdity home for the reader when they link it to our current drug war. A war on junk food sounds absolutely absurd, but when you view it through the lens of news articles, interviews transcripts, and personal letters, the connection to our current reality I think becomes more clear. Reality and fantasy had to be blurred in order for JUNK to work. And also, almost every story in JUNK is based on actual stories from the drug war. Prior to writing the novel I had spent six years researching drug policy, police corruption, addiction and treatment, drug raids, incarceration statistics, and the political perspectives on the drug war. So I’d collected a lot of letters from drug war prisoners, government documents, and news articles. So it seemed like the natural thing to do.

WS: It’s very effective.

CL: Thank you. My one concern was that it might break up the narrative. So I tried to elements of the characters within those mockuments. Some of those mockuments have direct references to the main characters.

WS: I love the way you call them “mockuments.” That’s a great word.

CL: Thank you.

WS: I noticed the layout and illustration of your book are very distinctive, and I wonder if that was your doing or your publisher decided to do them that way. You have some black and white illustrations. Even though, I must say, your language made me feel like I was seeing colors. But there’s black and white illustrations, very sort of fifties style. And the font is very distinctive and attractive. I’m just wondering about that.

CL: I came up with the initial idea to have the mockuments put into graphical format that looked like newspaper clippings and notepads and such. But my publisher chose the graphics themselves, although she allowed me to give feedback throughout the process. I just love the way her choice of interior illustration both reflects and mocks all the nostalgia surrounding comfort foods. I think in a certain sense those foods are comfort foods, and they help us to get in touch with our past in a sense, when we were infants. When we could just relax and be nurtured. I think that’s part of what makes them so psychologically addictive, as it were. I think the juxtaposition of the colorful narrative with the black and white kind of shows…it kind of gives a dividing line for the world. It’s easy to look back on a time when things seemed simpler—black and white, as it were. Then you have the conglomeration and the confusion, perhaps the sensory overload that comes with intense color. I kept trying to keep jelly beans and candy canes and the McDonald’s red and orange in my mind as I wrote this.

WS: It really comes through. When I was making notes in putting together questions for you, one of the first things I wrote down was how I just feel like I’m seeing colors all the time. And I’m not sure that you really specify them that often. But for some reason, I kept seeing them. And I wasn’t eating anything while I was reading, so I can’t claim it was from sugar or anything. But it was a very powerful feeling.

CL: Thank you. That may have been in a sense a reflection of your own internal dynamic, which is exactly the effect I was going for. I don’t like to spend too much time on physical description, though I will in certain instances. I tend to do it more with the supporting characters than with the main ones. I try to give just enough detail to where the reader has in a sense a blueprint, but they’re able to fill in the details and to actually participate in the creation of the book in their own mind.

WS: Well, I have to say that this book was almost unique in a sense for me I that I had constant physical feelings while reading it.

CL: Really?

WS: I went from feeling hungry to feeling like I’d eaten too much sugar to feeling absolute revulsion when you described foods that are good for you. And as I said, I wasn’t eating anything while I was reading. You can describe broccoli in a way that just makes me never want to look at it again. I don’t know what you did, but it was really an amazing experience.

CL: I’ve had some recent feedback from some readers who said that they would read it in one sitting basically, from beginning to end. And that when they went into the kitchen to grab a snack, they felt a chill go down their spine…in the sense that they may be being watched. And it really brought home what it might be like to live in a world like that. And the absurd aspect of that is that in a sense, we do live in a world like that.

WS: That’s right. How about reading a passage for us—one of your favorite parts of the book?

CL: Sure. I sure will. But I’m required to read a brief warning first.

The following narrative may be considered illegal contraband. Officials may investigate your library and bookstore records without your knowledge or consent if they suspect you’ve been reading this book. Possession of these pages may constitute probable cause for police to search your person and property. You may be subjected to blood and urine tests, property seizures, invasive body cavity inspections, wiretapping, and involuntary detainment for indefinite periods of time without access to counsel. Readers should exercise extreme caution when traveling across state and national borders while in possession of this material. The publisher and author bear no responsibility, stated or implied, for any and all legal difficulties arising from the manufacture, distribution, or consumption of this work. The words in this book are not intended to incite or advocate immoral, illegal, or unhealthy behavior. Please do not operate heavy machinery while under the influence of this prose.

Okay. Now that I have that out of the way, here’s one of my favorite scenes, which occurs just around the time the war on junk is beginning.

Billy had been stunned that drizzly afternoon when the food-enforcement agent trotted into his
doughnut shop. The agent was tall and muscular, wearing a starched, black pinstriped suit and
dark shades. In his hands, he hauled a crisp copy of all 1,970 pages of the so-called Dangerous
Products Act. The arrogant son of a bitch actually smiled when he dropped the enormous stack of papers on Billy’s counter.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings,” the agent said, “but we’re giving you two months to
close down your facility.” He opened his jacket to display his Food Enforcement Administration
badge. “Orders directly from Uncle Sam.”

Billy stopped polishing the display counter and glanced at his watch. “What took you guys so
long? I’ve been expecting you.”

“Good. Then this shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

“Why would I be surprised?” Billy sneered.

“You government types are all the same, sniffing around like busybody bloodhounds. You’re nothing more than a bunch of bureaucrats with badges. You oughta be ashamed.”

The agent shrugged again. “Sir, you have the right to your opinion, and the right to express it.
I’m an enforcement agent, not a legislator. I’m just doing my job.” He sounded as if he were reciting the words from memory.

Billy slapped the cleaning towel down on the counter. “Oh yeah? That’s what the Nazis said

The agent coughed into his hand. “Is it really necessary to say things like that, sir?”

“Okay . . . So what if I should choose to stay open past your stupid deadline?”

“Then you’ll be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Billy smacked his hands down on the counter. “Well, doesn’t that just take the cake? You know
I’ve got cops in here every morning, crack of dawn? That’s ’cause they can always get a quality
doughnut from Sweet’s!” He felt like he was about to cry.

The agent gave Billy a conciliatory nod. “I have no doubt your doughnuts taste wonderful.”

“How am I supposed to afford all this? I’ve got so much invested. My pantry’s stocked. I’ve got
hundreds of pounds of sugar, chocolate, flour, and sprinkles. Is there any way for me to recoup some of that?”

The agent clicked his tongue. “I’m afraid not. All the inventory is considered contraband.”

Billy raised his eyebrows. “Even the flour?”

“Sorry. The flour would normally be okay, but yours has been stored with other hazardous materials.” The agent flipped through the stack of papers. “And, according to section . . . aha, here it is! Section 5.H-8.W-1S.2A0.L3 of the Dangerous Substances Act explicitly states . . . ‘Any food
stored within two hundred thirty-nine feet and seventeen inches of prohibited food items is contaminated.’ So, technically, the flour is contraband too.”

Billy shook his head and clenched his jaw, then said, “I gotta tell you, this is fucking unbelievable!
What am I supposed to do with my supplies?”

“Well, you can’t dump them just anywhere. A child could get hold of them. The law requires that
you dispose of illicit food substances in hazardous waste containers, so they can be hauled to the
incinerator.” The agent fished in his jacket pocket and handed Billy a business card. “If you call this number, a service representative will direct you to the nearest location. You can take a tax deduction as a business loss, but that’s all.”

Billy glanced down at the card. “I’ve got just one thing to ask you.”

“What’s that?”

Billy stared into the agent’s sunglasses and asked, “Are you proud of what you do?”

The agent raised his hands defensively. “Look, it’s nothing personal. My feelings about this don’t
matter. As far as I’m concerned, you could stay open if the law allowed it. I’ve got nothing against
you. Really!” The agent reached into his back pocket and removed his wallet. “As a matter of
fact, since I’m already here, why don’t you go ahead and give me a dozen of those raspberry
crullers for the road?”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“No, really. They look delicious!”

Billy was bewildered by the apparent compassion. He filled a bag, took the agent’s money, and
watched him trot out of his store. As the door swung closed, Billy could have sworn he heard the agent whistling the insistent, interminable notes to Don McLean’s “American Pie.” He wondered if that was supposed to be a joke.

And that’s just a little snapshot. Kind of sets things up.

WS: That’s just wonderful, Chris. I have to tell our listeners that it is a very typical passage in that there’s a lot of food. You hear about a lot of wonderful food. There is this wonderful alliteration that you use throughout the book, but it’s very subtle. You hear it a lot when you read it aloud. And I love it.

CL: Thank you.

WS: So thank you for reading that for us. I wonder if you would indulge me, because I have a favorite passage that I thought was hysterical. If you wouldn’t mind if I just read this really fast.

CL: Certainly.

WS: I’m not sure where in the book it is, but aside from the multivitamin, I think this was my favorite part.

“I’d like to check out one of those fondue forks, though.”
The clerk shook his head and stared at Bailey. His face became serious, and he spoke in a monotone voice. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you mean.”
“Um, aren’t those fondue forks hanging on the wall, right back there?”
The clerk shifted his weight and tapped his fingers on the counter as if he were hesitant.
“Oh no. They’re elongated broccoli utensils.”
“Elongated broccoli utensils. Fondue forks are for illegal substances like chocolate and cheese. Therefore it would be against the law for me to sell them in this store. Elongated broccoli utensils, on the other hand….”

CL: It’s amazing how things kind of descend into these covert semantics. Many people now who run tobacco and pipe shops really do have to watch that because a subtle difference in language can make all the difference between selling a legitimate product and selling drug paraphernalia.

WS: Listeners, you’re gonna love it. Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to add?

CL: I would like to state my publisher has just been phenomenal to work with. I feel like I chose them as much as they chose me. I had initially been approached by a few agents that place books at large publishing houses, but I could pass up the opportunity to work with a publisher whose primary goal was tipping sacred cows. ENC Press bypass the big chain distributors and the cutthroat commissions. They won’t allow their books to go through the meat grinder of remaindering, where the books that don’t sell within a given time frame are destroyed. ENC Press really nurtures their authors. They encourage them to be involved in the entire process, all the way from editorial to marketing. So many of the authors have developed personal and professional relationships with each other. It’s become kind of a three musketeers approach where authors come together, they’re motivated by enlightened self-interest to help each other out. I think it’s really a dynamic alternative to corporate publishing. I believe it’s an approach that can help the publishing industry to evolve in ways that would be healthy for everyone concerned aside from those who view books merely as products to dispose of. My hope is that when readers purchase a book from ENC, they’ll realize they’re actually helping to influence the publishing industry itself in a small way.

WS: That’s phenomenal. And they only do fiction, don’t they?

CL: Only do fiction. The lead publisher, Olga Gardner Galvin, won’t look at anything she doesn’t want to read. And she refuses to read any nonfiction. I don’t think she read Prescription Pot, in fact. I gave her a copy, and I doubt she’s read it. But she had a really interesting past. Grew up in Soviet Russia and she had to sneak her reading on the public transportation system because there was only state-sponsored literature. Anything else was illegal. This was one of the reasons her parents emigrated to the U.S., because they were worried about what their daughter might get herself into with this renegade reading.

WS: So she must have really appreciated your book because she must have been able to identify with it quite personally.

CL: I think so. Her book, The Alphabet Challenge, which is an excellent exploration of political correctness and all of the implications stemming from that, has kind of almost a libertarian bent to it. So I think she identified with this very quickly. It was really wonderful to be involved with a publisher that would actually take the time to engage in a little cerebral ping-pong with the author rather than simply acquiring the work and then treating it as their own. Does that make sense?

WS: Yes it does, and I would love to have them on the show, so maybe you can put me in touch with them.

CL: I certainly will.

WS. Great. Chris, would you like to tell our listeners about your Web site?

CL: Yes. It’s . We tried to design the Web site with the intent of, in a sense, bringing the reader into the world of JUNK before they even open the page. The Web site itself has actually generated some hate mail because of the warning page. People have actually taken it seriously, although I was very careful to word it in such a way that, for example, “May be” considered illegal rather than “Is” illegal. Anybody that read to the end of the warning would see, “Do not drive while under the influence of this Web site.” I think people aren’t making it that far perhaps. We kind of kept in mind the prevailing climate we’re in now post 9/11. The fear. There’s this prevailing fear of threats that come externally from other nations and terrorist groups. And then there’s also the fear of threats that come internally, from our own government’s response to these threats. The erosion of civil liberties and that sort of thing. So the idea was to kind of make people afraid and then give them a good gut laugh.

WS: Did you answer the mail?

CL: I did in a few cases. Well, I let them know that it was posted. One guy that really went over the top and called me a “pseudointellectual shit-heeled keyboard weenie”—those were his literal words—I ran a search on his profile and learned that he was ex-special forces. So that didn’t sit really well with me. I conjured up this image in my mind of someone sitting in a motel room cleaning their M-16. But hopefully people will realize it’s all in good fun. I know there’s a tendency among some to kind of want to pigeonhole my political perspective, but I think in the long run JUNK may be important not so much for the answers it gives, but more for the questions it raises. If it gets people discussing and thinking, then it’s done its job.

WS: And it comes out in September.

CL: Yes.

WS: We’re recording this in late August. It’ll be out…what’s the date?

CL: It should be out by the third week in September, but it is available for pre-order now. They’re sending it to the printer this week, so it’s kind of contingent upon how fast that process goes.

WS: And how can people pre-order the book?

CL: You can get it through or you can go to It’s available for pre-order at either of those sites. It should be released by mid-September, and for some of the initial readers, we’ve got a little surprise. We have lollipops with JUNK ID tags, as if they may have been diverted from the evidence room. This will be while supplies last and at the publisher’s discretion, but we thought that was one more way to bring the reader into the world of JUNK before they peruse the novel.

WS: That’s a wonderful idea. And I have to say, Chris, you do such a wonderful job of marketing. Every email you’ve sent me you’ve had some sort of food imagery. I know when I sent you a list of potential questions that I might ask, you wrote back and told me that was “food for thought.” I noticed that. You’re doing a wonderful job of being “in character.”

CL: Well, I’m glad to hear that because it was something that really ate at me for a while.

WS: Oh no! Not puns!

CL: We’re on a roll.

WS: Oh no, oh no. You know, if we start this, we’ll never stop. I don’t know if I should let this punfest go on, so I think maybe I’ll stop. But if you want to continue this punfest with Chris, I’m sure you can get in touch with him through his Web site and keep going.

CL: That’s right. I welcome emails and discussion and debate and death threats. Anything people want to send.

WS: You’re a great sport. Thank you so much for being with us today, Chris. I wish you a wonderful, wonderful reception for your book, and I just hope there are a lot of lollipops because I sure want one.

CL: Thank you so much for having me on and for the moral support, Paula.

WS: It’s been a pleasure, Chris. And be sure to visit our Web site, which does not offer lollipops yet but I’ll think about it, at, where you will find more information and inspiration for writers. I’m Paula B., and you’ve been listening to The Writing Show.