This is Q&A, an ongoing series of short interviews with authors I like.
The first I heard of DC Pierson was on YouTube a few years back, where a savvy comedy friend of mine showed me the collected works of the sketch group Derrick, of which Pierson is a member. (Another is Donald Glover, who went on to write for 30 Rock and now stars in NBC’s excellent sitcom Community.) Derrick’s sketches quite frankly blew me away—if you’re not already familiar, "Girls Are Not To Be Trusted", "B-Boy Stance", and "He Really Gave It To Me" are all fine entry points—and I vowed to keep an eye on wherever these guys went next.
In Pierson’s case, that next step was a novel: The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, which I reviewed for SEE Magazine last month. It’s a lightning-quick romp that follows two high school nerds as they map out the biggest sci-fi crossover series never made, in the process unveiling one character’s best-kept secret: he doesn’t sleep. Ever.
Pierson spoke to me about the appeal of girls who use polysyllabic words, why the Clone Wars were doomed to be boring, and why parents continue to just not understand.
The two main characters in your book, Darren and Eric, come from a place that I easily recognize. They’re into video games, sci-fi, and a massive universe of characters that exists only in their sketchbooks. What about Christine, the drama student and love interest? How did you conceive of her?
DC Pierson: Christine is an amalgam of a lot of different people I knew in high school. Darren and Eric gave me this privileged outsider’s perspective on drama kids, but in reality, I was one of those kids. The idea behind Christine was that she’s driven and sweet and smart and, moreover, in love with the idea of being smart and artistic. She’s the kind of girl you would fall in love with if you were 15 years old and a girl in glasses using polysyllabic words was all it took to send you over the moon. And through no fault of her own, she comes across to Darren as not necessarily an actual person, but as the very idea of a girl. Girl as exotic foreign land you’re being invited into, though you never thought you would be.
Their project quickly spirals from a single comic book into an interrelated movie franchise, series of graphic novels, and merchandising tie-ins. What kind of planning did you have to do to keep that universe coherent within the world of the novel? Did you have a huge TimeBlaze spreadsheet/flowchart on your wall as you wrote?
DP: No! I wish I had. And I was definitely tempted to, for the same reasons that the characters get so into this saga they’re creating: it’s really fun to plot out the various strands of a sci-fi epic you’re never actually going to follow through on.
Now that I think about it, I think that’s kind of the story behind the Clone Wars in Star Wars. In 1977, George Lucas can write this line of dialogue alluding to the main character’s father having been in the Clone Wars. Sounds awesome! Multiple wars! That must be totally epic. That implies a million adventures. Then decades later he has to go back and actually flesh them out, actually portray them, and there was no way they could ever live up to the amount of imagined cool minutiae inspired by that one little throwaway line.
So what I’m saying is I didn’t want to plot out TimeBlaze too heavily because I was worried that if I was ever called upon to go back and do the whole thing, I might discover that it had been about petty trade squabbles all along.
I’d pretty much just let the thematic or narrative neccesity of the moment dictate the thing they were talking about in TimeBlaze, and hopefully it would imply this larger, multi-notebook thing.
First novels tend to be autobiographical, even—especially?—when they don’t appear to be. Now that the book is out there, do you feel like you’ve laid yourself particularly bare in any way?
DP: Yes. A lot of the details in the book are weird mirrors of my actual growing-up experience, which is all well and good, but what I didn’t expect, really, was to publish, unintentionally, a road map of pretty much exactly how my thoughts work. Before the book was published, people would often pick out an item and say, “I wonder what DC would think of this? Well, we’ll never know.” Now, having read the book, they can say with relative certainty, “I think he is either overanalytical of this thing, insanely, imaginatively jealous of/over this thing, or judgmental of this thing’s taste in music.”
The book has a really nice sense of constant momentum, as well as a natural fluidity that’s a lot of fun to read. Did it take a long time to craft that kind of pace and tone, or does it come somewhat naturally to you?
DP: That is a nice compliment! I plotted the book out pretty thoroughly before I sat down to write it. I studied TV writing in college under the amazing Charlie Rubin, and his curriculum is entirely focused around constantly moving the story forward. This proved way, way applicable to prose storytelling. It’s the kind of story where you have to hang out in the characters’ world and just let mundane things happen, so the fantastical stuff will hopefully feel justified when you reach it. But then by the same token, you want every scene to be moving the story forward. It really helped me to think about it that way.
What kind of roadblocks did you run into while writing it? Were there, for instance, certain characters or plot points that you had to scrap (or severely overhaul) midway through?
DP: When the book was in its first form, there were almost no adults in it. There are barely any adults now, but at the time, there was seriously no supervision. And I’d thought about it and justified it in my own head: these are kids whose parents aren’t there in any meaningful way, and it kind of gave me an out with Eric, since he’s so strange. It let me not worry about anyone else ever having noticed. My editor, Gerry Howard, called me on it, and he called me on it in the terms I’d been thinking about everything all along, that it had to feel real so the fantastical stuff would be leavened by the real stuff and hopefully you wouldn’t scoff at it. So I added the minimum amount of parent. They’re essentially Peanuts adults now, but Eric’s parents especially, I think, add a nice touch of “someone oughta love these kids more.”
Are there plans to write another novel? If so, what can we expect, in terms of story, genre, etc.? Will rap music make an appearance?
DP: Yes. I am working on it when it least expects it. I can’t say much more about it than it’s about music.
And stay tuned for more Q&As, just as soon as I can find and exploit some other authors’ personal email addresses. Hooray!
Previously on Q&A: