Tuesday, November 10, 2009

10 Questions with Rob (Diesel) Kroese

As many of you know, my friend Rob (Diesel) Kroese (pronounced KROO-see for some unknown reason) recently published his first novel, Mercury Falls.

Mercury Falls is an extremely clever and surprisingly deep book about how the Apocalypse is supposed to unfold, and the characters who are unfolding it. What's not surprising is why it's clever and deep.

I've been following Diesel as a blogger for several years and find him to be one of the wittiest, smartest and most snarkastic humorists in the business - which is exactly what you want in an author of a novel about a smartass Angel who is meddling with Armageddon.

I see big things coming for this man, so I decided to interview him while he was still unknown enough to talk to me. Then later, when he's all "Ooh... I'm a big famous author guy" I can crack open this post and say I knew him when. Enjoy.

1. Your book's storyline is very well organized and complete. Describe your writing process. Did you have the whole plot mapped out before you began writing it, or did you just kind of start it and make it up as you went?

I definitely didn't start from any kind of outline. For me, that makes writing too much of a chore, although I can see why some people do it. I started with the character of Mercury, who is this sort of disillusioned smartass of an angel. It seems like angels (and demons) are always depicted in books and movies as being these unquestioning agents of higher powers, and I wanted to challenge that idea, so I came up with this angel who is basically well-intentioned but has absolutely no interest in doing what he's been told to do. And since Mercury is such a big, overbearing character, I decided I needed a more down-to-earth foil that readers could relate to, so I came up with Christine, a reporter whose job is essentially to cover the apocalypse (which turns out not to be as exciting as it sounds). I contrived a situation for these two characters to meet, and then kind of went from there. The problem with writing this way is that you end up writing yourself into a lot of dead-ends, and you do a lot of backtracking and rewriting. Still, for me it works better than writing from an outline. I'm too much like Mercury -- if I have an outline, I feel compelled to rebel against it, even if I imposed the outline on myself.

2. Armageddon, the Apocalypse, destiny... these are heady topics. Do you ponder these things for real, or do you just find them entertaining topics to write about?

Honestly, no. I don't think much about these things, at least not in any specific sense. In fact, a lot of the book's humor comes from the attempts of human beings (and angels) to understand concepts that are way beyond their pay grade. Anybody who tells you with a straight face that they understand the Book of Revelation is not to be taken seriously.

3. I suffered along with you as you struggled to get a book deal and ultimately ended up self-publishing instead. That must have been very frustrating. Did you think it was going to be easier? How has your view of the publishing industry changed? Do you feel jaded by this experience?

I knew it was going to be hard, but not as hard as it was. To be honest, I think that if I had finished Mercury Falls two years earlier, I would have been able to get it published by a major publisher. But things are really surreal in the publishing industry right now. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say that this is the worst time in the last hundred years to be trying to get a novel published. Unless you're already a celebrity or you happen to hit on the 'hot' topic of the moment (hint: vampires), your odds of being published by one of the big houses are ridiculously small. I got positive feedback from a number of literary agents, but in the end nobody wanted to take a chance on a quirky novel about a rogue angel written by a guy with an apparently unpronounceable last name. So my choice was to try to get it published by a smaller, independent press or to self-publish, and I just didn't see the advantage of going with an independent press. With any publisher, you lose a large amount of control over the book and you forfeit most of the book's revenues. Sure, you can say that you were published by a "real publisher," but who cares? There are tens of thousands of books published every year by "real publishers" that never make it to the shelves of Barnes & Noble. So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I should add that it is absolutely not true that a self-published book will never be picked up by a major publisher -- or, for that matter, sell a hundred thousand copies without the help of a major publisher. Yesterday I got an email from someone at Barnes & Noble corporate asking me to send them a copy of my book so that they could consider stocking it. I have no idea where they even heard about Mercury Falls; I can only guess that enough customers asked them for it that it made it onto their radar. That's a nice email to get -- a lot nicer than the dozens of rejections I was getting from literary agents looking for the next pubescent vampire series.

4. You have a very dry and snarky sense of humor. I know your type. I'm one myself. As a child, did your mouth ever get you in trouble? Did you have trouble respecting authority figures?

There's a lot of Mercury in me. Or a lot of me in Mercury. I have a compulsive need to point out absurdities, and that includes the hypocrisies and idiosyncracies of the people that I'm supposed to respect. So yeah, I got in a fair amount of trouble in school, and I've been fired from a few jobs. I like to think I've grown up a bit, but I figure that if you've never been fired from a job, you're not pushing hard enough.

5. At one point in your blog-tales you were chronicling the progress of your home remodeling efforts. Did you ever complete your house and landscaping projects or do you still have a giant unfinished addition and a dirt yard?

I stopped blogging regularly shortly before the house was finished, so I never closed the loop on that whole saga. Yes, the house is done. My wife and I designed it ourselves (and I did a fair amount of actual construction work), and it's awesome to have a house that's exactly what we wanted.

6. For some reason I'm fascinated by the fact you own an almond orchard. Tell me about it. Is it still producing? How large is it? Do you farm it personally or lease it out to other growers? Does it provide income for you? Do you have almonds with every meal?

Yes, we have an almond orchard. And it's pronounced "amund," like "salmon." I live in the Almond Capital of the World, Ripon, California, so we get to decide how it's pronounced. We only have about 8 acres, so it's not really worth the trouble of farming it ourselves. We lease it to a guy who has like a bazillion acres in the area. Without giving an exact figure, I'll just say that it provides slightly less revenue than panhandling. It's like writing that way. And you can't really just pick almonds off the tree and eat them, because the nuts have this hull around them that you basically need a hammer to crack open. And if you go to the trouble of doing that, you get one tiny little almond that's kind of moist and squishy and bland, because it hasn't been dried, roasted or salted. So no, we don't have them with every meal.

7. Do you still work for Google? If so, what exactly do you do for them. And more importantly, can you get me a job there?

I'm always very careful to say I work "at" Google, not "for" Google. Technically I work for another company that's a subcontractor for Google. The company I work for manages inventory for tech companies -- basically, they help these companies keep their employees supplied with computers, monitors, mice, etc. For the past two years I've been building an asset tracking system for Google -- basically a system that allows them to track where all their laptops, monitors, etc. are once they've been deployed. You'd be surprised at how unsophisticated the tracking systems are at a lot of these high tech companies (and it's not just Google; we have contracts with lots of other big companies). These companies are so focused on growing and delivering products to their customers that pretty quick they've got a multi-billion dollar enterprise that's tracking its equipment on 26 different spreadsheets. Google is particularly surreal; they believe in giving their engineers basically anything the engineers need. It's standard, for example, to give an engineer a desktop PC, a laptop and two 26" flat panel monitors on the day they start. Which is awesome for the engineers -- but it would also be nice to be able to track where all this stuff is that you've given out. So, to answer your question, no.

8. I know you've thought about it... so who will play your characters in the movie?

For Mercury, I like Bruce Campbell (left) or maybe Simon Baker (you know, from "The Mentalist"). Will Smith would be great too. It's gotta be somebody with some swagger. Not sure about Christine. Maybe Zooey Deschanel (right). As for Karl (the Antichrist), I think Kevin Smith might be a fitting choice. (And this question isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Hopefully I'll have more news on that in a few weeks.)

9. What's your next book going to be about?

Probably about a hundred pages shorter.

10. Finally... In the book, you described the title character this way: "Mercury was tall, maybe six foot four. He had the physique of a cyclist and the hands of a harpsichordist. He could just as well have been a long distance runner and concert pianist..." And, "His features were pronounced and aquiline. Deep set green eyes peered mischievously out from under his prominent brow."

Let's see... I'm 6'4", thin like a cyclist, I play the piano, have deep set green eyes and a prominent brow. You totally created that character after me didn't you.

That description was only in your copy. I customize it for everyone who buys the book. It's a lot of work, but well worth it for the joy it brings to my readers.
Ed note: That's very considerate... thank you. 

So there you have it folks... 10 questions with Rob (Diesel) Kroese. I hope you enjoyed it, and I highly recommend you buy his book. It's funny and smart and way worth the measly $12 they're selling it for on Amazon.

Buy the book on Amazon here
Visit the Mercury Falls web site here


rick said...

As a fan of Diesel's blog "Mattress Police" I was going to recommend that people check out "My First Video Blog" there, which totally cracked me up. But for some reason I can't get the video to work. I also liked his four part series about being a kid in Florida, which starts with "The Sunshine State". Definitely an interesting guy.

diesel said...

Thanks, Jeff! I enjoyed doing the interview. One thing though: is there any way you can make the link to buy my book smaller? I'm thinking it should basically look like a dotted line that doesn't really even resemble text. Thanks! ;)

Rick - Thanks! In case people want to know what you're talking about, the link to that video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VdlWfbSurk. And the Florida series starts here: http://mattresspolice.com/default.aspx/The-Sunshine-State-(Part-1)?PostID=514.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

rick - "Interesting" is a very polite way of saying he's basically nuts, but in a non-threatening kind of way.

diesel - Sorry about that font malfunction. Blogger did that by itself and I didn't catch it, so now I overrode it and made the link HUGE. And thank YOU for doing the interview. I enjoyed it as well.

diesel said...

Thanks, Jeff. I'm glad I didn't have to mess you up. In a non-threatening way. :)

sage said...

I followed the facebook link over--great interview!

Rob said: "There's a lot of Mercury in me." He really should check out another dentist!

Ed said...

Excellent interview. Having written my own novel and halfway through my second, I have some questions for Diesel too (if he's monitoring the comments here)...

How many revisions did you go through before you started to contact agents and editors? What was your process from initial draft to finished manuscript?

diesel said...

Sage - Say what you want about Latvian dentists; they don't skimp on the anasthesia.

VE - I went through a LOT of revisions, and I got feedback from several writers I know. You really want it to be as good as you can possibly make it before sending it to agents/editors. And evidently my book STILL wasn't good enough for their tastes. I'm going to be doing an interview with Mark Rayner from The Swib soon; we'll be talking about some of these issues over there. Watch my blog or the MF Facebook page for details....

Junk Drawer Kathy said...

Great interview, and congrats on the book Diesel. I know now for a fact I will never be able to do this. Can I ask where you found the time? And how did you handle the times you weren't motivated to write?

diesel said...

Hi Kathy!

I have no idea where I found the time. I tend to write in spurts, and whenever I had a slow period at work (and all my other projects), I would just write like crazy. As for motivation, I actually owe a lot to people like you and Jeff, who kept encouraging me to write by commenting on Mattress Police and sending me nice emails. I knew that there were people out there who were genuinely interested in what I had to say, and that really kept me going.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

sage - Thanks for following the yellow brick link. I think too much mercury in Diesel's system would explain a lot actually.

ve - Wait... am I supposed to know about your 1st novel? Cause I don't remember seeing it being promoted or for sale. Or has it just not been published yet.

kathy - Those are good questions. I was wondering the same things.

diesel - "...whenever I had a slow period..."

Now hold on... I've been following you since you started this project and during that time you were rebuilding your house, traveling back and forth between Ripon and Mountain View on a regular basis and putting in a sprinkler system. When did you ever have a "slow period?"

Michelle said...

Very cool... and as a fan of snark, now I have another book to add to my to read list. What do you suppose the odds are that I can convince my library to buy some copies? ;)

Michael from dadcation.com said...

sounds great...i have it next to my bed but have yet to stop working early enough in the evening to start reading. what i need is a flight somewhere!

Maureen said...

Aw, great interview Jeff! I was particularly glad to finally have closure on that whole house renovation thread he left us hanging with over at MP.

Oh crap. I still have to get my copy to go with his other book I bought.

Ed said...

Nah...my first novel is only through one full revision. It's in the stage they call "sitting in a drawer" where you await for it to be fresh enough again to tackle the next rewrite. I gave it to four people to read and have feedback awaiting that time period.

I'm sympathetic to Diesel's cause because I'm following the same path behind him; albiet slower and later. Still, it's all in the story and the writing craft. Great work finds it's way to print...

JD at I Do Things said...

Nice interview, Jeff! Maybe you should do more. You never know what bloggers might suddenly become famous.

And thank god I finally know how to pronounce "Kroese." That was bugging me.

Bill said...

I armageddon the idea Diesel is Hollywood bound!