My latest interview is with author Ira Nayman who was very kind to answer all of my questions :)
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Ira Nayman: I am a middle aged man (so people who think Ira is a woman’s name should really stop hitting on me, because that can only end in disappointment). I live in Toronto, Canada, in the same neighbourhood where I grew up – I can still walk to my grade school, junior high school and senior high school from where I live. Not that I can imagine ever wanting to.
You shouldn’t assume from this that I have led a sheltered life (okay, there are plenty of reasons you should assume I have led a sheltered life, but this is not one of them). When I was 12, my father got religion and moved the family to Israel, where we lived for six months. We were led to believe it was a permanent move until a week before we moved back. I was grateful – I absolutely hated being uprooted from everything I knew. When I look back at it, though, I think it was a highly beneficial part of my life: when you are exposed to a very different way of living at a young age, you are more likely to question the pieties of your community. This tendency to question is a very valuable quality for a wannabe satirist.
I should also add that I lived in Montreal for three years when I was getting my PhD, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I have an undergraduate degree from Toronto’s York University: (big breath now) a Bachelor of Fine Arts in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in creative writing. I took a fair bit of screenwriting, which I fruitlessly pursued for the better part of a decade (and the worse part of a second decade). I have a Masters degree in Media Studies from the New School for Social Research; I have the distinction of being the first person at the school to do his entire degree online. (I have written a couple of articles about the experience; you can find them on the Internet if you are so inclined). The PhD I precipitously mentioned in the previous paragraph was in Communications. For five years, I taught part-time in the New Media programme at Ryerson University.
I really enjoyed teaching, and would happily do it again, but it was always something of a hobby. When I was eight years old, I had a conversion experience (you’ve probably heard a story similar to mine: a kid was given a camera when he was 10, and all he ever wanted to do with his life was make movies): in the parking lot of my grade school, I decided that I wanted to devote my life to writing comedy.
And, that is, more or less, what I have done.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Ira Nayman: Actually, I do; it has become something of a family legend. Soon after I had my conversion experience, I wrote three parodies of Sherlock Holmes stories (I was a precocious child, and that was what I was reading at the time). I used the backs of my father’s legal sized accounting pads (the fronts had too many lines). Each of the stories was a handwritten page long.
When I was done, I remember thinking: “How do writers get enough material to fill whole stories?” Last year, the first full year I could devote to writing after I finished teaching, I estimate I wrote between 220,000 and 250,000 words. Perhaps as much as a quarter of a million words in a single year. I guess I figured out how writers do it…
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Ira Nayman: I believe, based on both my own experience and that of other writers I know or have studied, that we are all influenced by certain artists at the beginning of our careers, and that it is only by mixing in other influences and our own observations and unique talents that we begin to develop our own writing styles.
My first influence was Art Buchwald. He isn’t well remembered now, but when I was growing up he was a celebrated American political satirist. I loved how his writing was both funny and smart, as well as his ability to take the raw material of life around him and turn it into art so quickly.
Other early influences included: the Marx brothers; Monty Python’s Flying Circus; Woody Allen; Kurt Vonnegut, and, of course; Douglas Adams. Critics and readers familiar with my work have noted these (and other) influences on my writing. It is always flattering to be compared to your heroes, but I hope that I have now developed a voice that people will recognize as completely my own.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about your book Luna for the Lunies! And, while you’re at it, can you tell us a bit about your earlier books Alternate Reality Ain't What It Used To Be and What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children's Toys?
Ira Nayman: A non-descript office building in downtown Toronto houses the Alternate Reality News Service. This is an organization that, using patented Dimensional PortalTM technology, sends reporters into other dimensions, and has them write about what they find there. The books unfold as a series of news articles (one reader described my writing as “a science fiction version of The Onion). Each of the books also contains a chapter of obituaries (because people in other universes die, too, right?).
Luna for the Lunies!, the most recent book, also contains a chapter of advice columns: Ask Amritsar (about love, romance and technology) and Ask the Tech Answer Guy (about technology and anything other than love and romance). I encourage readers to submit questions to the advice columns; if I use your questions, your name will be forever immortalized in my writing. How many authors offer that?
The books are obviously not traditional narratives; each contains 80 short pieces of writing. Charles de Lint, in his review of the first book, Alternate Reality Ain't What It Used To Be, said that it was a good book to read in the bathroom. While I would agree, I would add that it could also profitably be read on the bus, in a waiting room or anywhere else you have a little bit of time and don’t want to get involved in a novel that you won’t want to stop reading. I think of them as “dipping books:” books you can dip into during short periods of time. (In his review of my second book, What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children's Toys, Mister de Lint said Alternate Reality Ain't What It Used To Be was “one of my favourite books of 2008,” so I cannot begrudge him the bathroom reference.)
Woven into the last two books are actual narratives that relate behind the scenes stories of the Alternate Reality News Service. In “The Weight of Information” (from What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children's Toys), the Dimensional PortalTM goes nuts and spits 127 versions of the same person from different realities into our universe. The staff have to find out what went wrong in order to send them back to their own universes. In “The Reality Threshold” (from Luna for the Lunies!), Alternate Reality News Service Editrix-in-Chief Brenda Brundtland-Govanni has to investigate a leak in her organization that has allowed another transdimensional news outlet to scoop them on their own stories.
I should also mention that I have produced the pilot for a radio series based on stories out of the second book. Those who are interested can listen to “The Weight of Information,” episode one on Youtube.
Books & Writing: What attracts you in Science Fiction and short stories?
Ira Nayman: I have what I believe are two good reasons for writing science fiction. The first is that it gives me a great new set of metaphors to work with. (Much of humour writing is about the dissonance between a metaphorical representation of a situation and the real-life situation.) For instance: I had a scene that had to take place in the middle of a religious war: by setting it in an alternate reality where I essentially made up two new religions, I could make the points I wanted to make in a general way without invoking specific real-world religions.
The other reason is that science fiction allows for new comic possibilities. An alien name with lots of qs and apostrophes is inherently funny. Other forms of life (aliens, robots, Republican politicians) could have strange, unexpected traits that could be mined for humour.
As for writing short stories, my original impetus was to emulate my hero, Art Buchwald, and write for newspapers. I assumed that my target should be about 700 words. I was wrong: most newspaper columns are 400 to 500 words in length, but I didn’t learn that until much later, by which time I was more or less committed to 700 words. When I migrated the project to the World Wide Web, the short article format seemed to be ideal.
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new at the moment?
Ira Nayman: Always.
In 2002, I started a Web page called Les Pages aux Folles (http://www.lespagesauxfolles); it will be 10 years old in the first week of September. The site updates weekly, with new topical material, two new cartoons (yeah, I do those, too) and at least one new Alternate Reality News Service article every week. Interested readers can watch the fourth and fifth Alternate Reality News Service books take shape in front of their very eyes!
A couple of summers ago, I wrote a novel called Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience). It is about an investigation by members of the Transdimensional Authority, the organization that monitors and polices traffic between dimensions. Although the TA was mentioned in a couple of Alternate Reality News Service articles (and new Alternate Reality News Service are incorporated into it), the novel stands on its own. I am currently looking for a publisher for it. I have also written two novelettes which, although they stand alone, will eventually be melded with other work into a second TA novel; I am currently looking for a publisher for them.
Finally, I have written a series of stories that take place in a universe where matter at all levels of organization has become conscious. They feature a character named Antonio Van der Whall, who is an object psychologist. To date, four of these stories have been sold. “A Really Useful Engine” has been published in Even Birds Are Chained To The Sky and Other Tales: The Fine Line Short Story Collection and “Escalation is Academic” has appeared in the anthology UnCONventional. “If the Mountain Won’t Come to Mohammed” has been accepted by Here Be Monsters and “Thinking is the Worst Way to Travel” has been accepted into Explorers: Beyond the Horizon; both will be published in the next month or two. Several other stories in the series are currently awaiting editorial decisions at various publications.
Yeah, I’m profilic – proflic – prolicf – I write a lot.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Ira Nayman: Building an artistic career is a long-term prospect. It takes time to build an audience. It takes time to master the necessary skills and develop your voice. I recommended to my students that they need to be thinking of a commitment of 30 or 40 years. For this reason, you should only become an artist if you really, really, really, really, really love creating art (and, that’s five reallys, so you know I’m serious about it). There’s no point devoting yourself to something you have no passion for. On the other hand, if you toil for that long and you never become well known, at least you’ve spent your life doing something you love, and very few people can say that.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Ira Nayman: Thomas Pynchon. I would love to be Thomas Pynchon when I grow up. However, I know that this is an unrealistic dream…I plan on never growing up.
Books & Writing: What is the last book you read?
Ira Nayman: Samhain, which is a collection of factual articles and fiction about the pagan holiday. Over the last couple of years, I have gone to a bunch of science fiction conventions and befriended many writers of the fantastic. Whenever I can afford to, I buy the books of my friends. Stephen Pearl (with whom I read at the first convention I went to) has a short story in this collection. The book was informative, and the fiction was fun to read. Mostly, though, I was impressed with what a gentle belief system paganism is, and how delightful pagan believers appear to be.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Ira Nayman: Print versions of Alternate Reality Ain't What It Used To Be and What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children's Toys can be bought from Amazon, Borders and other bookselling Web sites. Luna for the Lunies! is currently available in a variety of ebook formats from Smashwords for the low, low price of 99 cents; it will be available in print in a month or two. And, of course, the easiest way to determine if you want to make the investment in a book is to go to Les Pages aux Folles and read some samples of my writing. (All three Alternate Reality News Service books can be found in the archive.)
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
Ira Nayman: In addition to my Web site, I am on Facebook under my own name, and Twitter as ARNSProprietor (on the covers of my last two books, I was listed as the Proprietor of the Alternate Reality News Service).
Books & Writing: Is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
Ira Nayman: Science fiction doesn’t always have to heavy stories about saving the country/planet/solar system/universe from the hands of evil people bent on control or destruction. If you open your mind to the possibilities, science fiction can actually be…fun.
Below is an excerpt from his book Luna for the Lunies!
Strange Dis’eas’es’ of the Literary Mind
by LAURIE NEIDERGAARDEN, Alternate Reality News Service Medical Writer
Apostrophosis. It’s the literary disease that nobody wants to talk about.
It’s starts simply enough. You want your billboard to say: “Nothing gets by Greta,” but, instead, it says “Nothing get’s by Greta.” The box for your toothpaste should read, “Crest for kids,” but it actually reads “Crest for kid’s.” It’s embarrass’ing.
“I can understand the Crest mix-up,” stated Warren von Winky, head of literary surgery at Boston’s renowned Kennedy Medical Centre and Intellectual Salon. “The copywriter obviously confused the plural and the pos’s’es’s’ive. The Fox News’ billboard…well, that’s a different kettle of haggis.”
Apos’trophos’is’ is one of many illnesses on the Obs’essive Punctuation Disorder S’pectrum. Other diseases of the literary mind run from the relatively benign Ellipse Elevation S’yndrome to the almost always fatal Comma Coma. The various illness’es are generally dis’crete, although cases of writers with more than one as’pect of the Spectrum, mostly from the 16th century, are known to exis’t.
Literary medical res’earchers have identified at least two strains of apos’trophos’is. Apostrophos’is’ A is a relatively minor condition that is easily treatable with a strict reading regimen of 19th century novels. It can lead to embarras’sment in certain s’ocial circles, but that’s about it. It is believed that William S’hakespeare suffered from this mild form of apos’trophosis’.
Apos’trophos’is’ B, on the other hand, is’ a much more virulent s’train of the di’s’order which, if not immediately diagno’s’ed and treated, can lead to the end of even the most promis’ing literary career. There has’ never been a documented case of Apos’trophosis B, likely because’e even the most experimental publi’s’her is’n’t likely to put out a book that is’ almos’t entirely made up of a single punctuation mark.
“At the dis’eas’e’s wor’s’t,” von Winky explained, “a common English word like ‘interregnum’ could appear as’ ‘’’’’rr’’’’’.’ A’s’ you might imagine, that can make it very difficult to write a report on the drop in la’s’t quarter’s earnings’!”
“Oh, it’s’ not as’ bad as’ it ‘s’ounds,” said Ches’ter Bus’hmins’ter (apparently, that is the s’pelling of hi’s’ name - Bus’hmins’ter’s parents’ were eccentric). “You know - it come’s’ and goes. My wife ha’s’ Waddings’ham’s Long Das’h - we mos’tly communicate by ‘s’emaphor. It’s’ a very exspre’s’sive medium, ‘semaphore.”
Apos’trophos’is’ occur’s’ in approximately .0000087% of the population. S’cientis’t’s’ have not conclusively determined why. Currently, the best gue’s’s’ - uhh, I mean, theory - the bes’t theory - ‘s’cientifically s’peaking, because’e this’ is’ literary medical ‘s’cience - the best s’cientific theory is that the dis’eas’e i’s’ caus’ed by a malfunction in the s’peech centre’s of the brain. Wherea’s’, mo’st writer’s can s’top at one apo’s’trophe in more or les’s the appropriate place, apos’trophos’is’ ‘sufferers’ have an uncontrollable tic that force’s them to place apo’strophe’s everywhere.
“It’s like a literary Tourette’s,” von Winky explained. ‘S’cientifically.
In the early s’tages’ of apo’s’tropho’s’is, the diseas’e can be difficult to detect, ina’s’much as’ it can be easily confused with poor grammar or simple s’loppiness’. As’ apo’s’tropho’s’is’ progres’s’es’, the apos’trophe appears’ with increas’ing frequency. This’ cons’titutes’ “s’tage one”of Apos’trophos’is’. In “s’tage two,” the punctua’tion mar’k s’tarts’ to appear after letters’ other than’ “s’.”
“S’ome res’earch’ers’ believe that the dis’eas’e is term’inal at s’ta’ge two,” s’tat’ed von W’inky. “How’ever, we have had much s’ucc’es’s’ treating monkeys’ at this’ s’tage - they went bac’k to bang’ing on their type’wri’ters’ with an apos’troph’e freq’uenc’y no great’er th’an chan’ce. I’ be’lieve thi’s’ can be rep’lica’t’ed in hu’man’s’ with the dis’s’ea’s’e.”
In the thi’d ‘s’tage of the di’s’ea’s’e, apo’trophe’s begin to re’lace let’er’s’ in w’rd’s’. “At th’i’s’ po’nt, you may a’s’ we’ll make t’h’e pat’ient co’mf’o’rt’a’bl’e f’r the res’ of h’’ life,” v’n Wi’k’y said, “bec’use’’e, frankly, hes’ beyon’ he’p.”
I’ la’’an’s’ t’’ms, th’e’re ‘’ n’o c’’e’ ‘or ‘s’t’’e thr’’ A’o’s’tr’’ho’s’i’s’. On’ce ‘’’ di’s’ea’s’e ‘’’s’ r’ea’’e’d thi’s’ po’’t, t’’ e’f’f’e’c’t’s ‘r’ ir’’v’er’s’ib’e. T’o’u’ght’ p’o’c’e’s’s’e’s’ ‘r’ p’r’an’e’n’tly i’’’I’r’d, ‘’’ w’ri’te’ c’’m’u’n’i’ca’i’on i’s’ well nigh im’o’s’s’ib’e.
“Y’’ ‘’’’d’t ‘’’’’’’ h’’ b’’ ‘’ ca’ g’’,” v’’ W’’’y s’’’. “’’’s’ ‘ ‘’’zza’’ ‘’ ‘’’c’’’ti’’ ‘’’ks! ‘h’’’ ‘’ ‘’ wa’ t’ un’’’’t’’d ‘h’’ ‘’’ w’’t’’ ‘’ ‘’’ing ‘’ s’’!
“‘’’’’’’’ ‘’’’’’’’’’’’’’ ‘’’ ‘f’’’’’’’,” ‘’’’ ‘’’’’’’’’’’’. “’’’’ ‘ ‘’’’’’’’ ‘’’ ‘’’ ‘’’ ‘’’’’’ ‘’’’ ‘’’’. ‘ ‘’’’, d’ ‘’’ ‘’’’’ ‘’’’’ ‘’’’?”