I don’t often quote The A-Team, but given the nature of this novel and this interview, it’s apropros. As they used to say on the show: “I love it when a plan comes together.” Earlier this week, I found out about Adam P. Knave‘s new pop culture road novel, Stays Crunchy in Milk. He and I discussed the possibility of an email interview, I developed the questions and he got back to me the next day. I wish all my interviews were this fun and easily assembled. As detailed at his website, Knave is “a New York-based writer who has published numerous works of comics, fiction and non-fiction. APK was born and raised in Manhattan where he still lives.” Before jumping into the interview, here are the vital details on the novel:
“They were four: Wereberry the strawberry werewolf, Choco-Ra the chocolate mummy, The Creature From the Fruit Lagoon (his friends call him ‘T.C.’), and Cherrygeist the… well she was a ghost. At least, until she wasn’t. One day, she wasn’t there at all. And then they were three.
Three friends who have sworn to search for her to the ends of the world and beyond – to find and save her.
Through familiar lands to places startling and unknown – across looming castles, endless battlefields and simple brick roads – these three friends will hunt and search and scour every inch. Along the way they’ll have to rely on a whole lot of luck and a little bit of charm, but mostly each other.
A fairy tale for the super-sugar generation, Stays Crunchy in Milk is a road novel packed with 100% of your recommended daily allowance of essential action and adventure. And it’s a delicious part of a nutritious breakfast.”
My thanks to Knave for his time and thoughts–and his kind words about this blog.
Tim O’Shea: How did the concept of this quirky novel evolve into being–and how long have you been working on it?
Adam P. Knave: I was sitting around discussing ideas with my oft-times comic writing partner and POPGUN boss, D.J. Kirkbride. He wanted to write something prose, longer than a short story. So I tossed the raw idea off to him to use. He didn’t think it was right for him at the time, but suddenly I realized I could make a novel out of it. Just pure dumb luck, really. I realized, at the core of it, that the old Universal monster cereals were the only characters that each had their own cereal and yet seemed to cross over and talk to each other. You never see Tony the tiger chatting up Toucan Sam, after all. Once I had that I turned it into a quest and set out the front door.
The principal writing took nine weeks. I have a day job, so I gave up the rest of my life and just went to work, came home and worked. Editing it, selling it, pre-publication issues – those have all taken longer than it took to write. I don’t know why it was such a quick write for me, not everything is and certainly something this big never is. Luck, fate, or a combination of both with a dash of paprika, perhaps.
O’Shea: Part one of the book opens with the following quote from Robert A Heinlein: “To be matter of fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy—and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful.” Why did you pick that quote in particular–to set a tone for the reader? And did you come up with the idea of using quotes to open the parts of the book before you starting writing the novel or once it was finished?
Knave: As a writer I have always been a fan of using quotes to open sections of stories. It’s a challenge. Finding the absolute right quote to evoke the tone you want. It can take days of legwork. I may be crazy. Regardless! That quote was to very specific. The section it is for is called “The Real World” after all, and I wanted to bring up the idea that while life can be shades of grey when you just walk through it sleepily, in reality it is a huge mass of bright colors, just waiting to be seen. Opening your eyes and going out your front door is a big theme in the book, after all. I wanted it right there, from the jump.
O’Shea: How early in the story’s development did you come up with using the triplets of mass-destruction–BOOM, POW and BLAM?
Knave: As the quest, the road trip really, progresses through different areas of pop culture I knew I had to start with food based ideas, since my main characters would come from those realms. Which meant different cereal mascots, as well as all sorts of madness.
But I also, very early on, realized I didn’t want to do straight up “This is Tony the Tiger” stuff. I wanted to take any pop culture reference I intended to use and boil it down to the very core of the idea. Then build it back up so it is recognizable (sometimes in multiple ways) and yet its own thing. Also, in my head the Rice Krispie kids mated with Frank Miller. Hence the exact sounds they make.
O’Shea: In addition to delving into the world of cereal icons, you swim in general pop culture knowledge–given that part two is titled “Petty in Pink”. Is that an homage to the late John Hughes, the Psychedelic Furs, a little a both or neither?
Knave: That is pure Hughes. I mean you could, if you wanted, claim that the first section “The Real World” was partly about these three characters, picked to live in a novel and see what happens when things stop being predictable and start getting real. But that may be pushing things. Maybe. Probably. I’ll never tell.
O’Shea: Would you agree on some level this book is a celebration of what pop culture you were exposed to growing up? If so, I’m curious–who in your family helped nurture your appreciation of pop culture?
Knave: I would agree that on many levels this is a celebration and love letter to the pop culture I grew up with. I love pop culture, from eras I wasn’t even in right through till now. I worship at the feet of the likes of Bob Haney, possibly the best pop comics writer of them all, slamming down script after script that was disposable entertainment, not meant for collections or the future. It was meant to be read and enjoyed and then you go get another one. Singles, issue or EP were all about that. Dime novels … the list goes on. Does that mean this book is disposable entertainment? There are worse fates. So long as it is entertaining I’ve done my job.
My family wasn’t that big on pop culture stuff actually. My father wrote SF so that was always around, and he loved comics, but as far as the rest of it is concerned, no, they didn’t seem to enjoy it or give half a damn. They just let me watch a lot of TV. You know all those warnings about letting your kid watch too much TV? How it rots brains and destroys eyes? Well I wear glasses and I wrote this novel. World, I give you proof!
O’Shea: In trying to get the right flavor (pun intended) with each of the story’s main characters, which character proved the most challenging and/or required the most revisions?
Knave: I think T.C. was the hardest. I needed set roles and I couldn’t reuse what the old Universal monster cereals had done. So Count Chocula was out. Well I’d want a chocolate something, but not a vampire and the names all had to sound like cereals you could really go and buy. A mummy (and yes the Universal theme cereals did use a mummy and so on, just not in the same roles) for chocolate was easy. I think I got that one first. Choco-Ra just felt so right in my head. But T.C. I struggled with. The Creature From the Fruit Lagoon. Eventually I could see it in my head on a box of cereal so I stopped fighting and grew to love the atomic bomb, so to speak.
O’Shea: The great thing about this book is the inherent appeal (to readers) of people on a quest. On some level, is the quest itself a nod to all the cereal commercials where there the icons were in pursuit of that magical bowl of whatever?
Knave: On some level, yeah. I always did enjoy a good quest. I’m an Arthurian legend kinda guy, you know, along with a healthy dose of Kung-Fu and the A-Team and Zelda. Which are all the same thing. Except Zelda is the Grail, sometimes, and Murdock makes a piss-poor Gawain. So knowing I was going to get into this with cereal mascots as my leads let me create a quest that much faster. We expect it, don’t we? They’re the hard traveling heroes of the food world.
O’Shea: What’s are some of your favorite quest films or novels–and did any of your favorites help influence your mindset when structuring this tale?
Knave: Hmmm great quests. Well Arthurian legend of course. I’m a fan of The Once and Future King (the book) as well as the old Excalibur film. Bits and pieces here and there, I’ve read my Mallory of course. Also old school video games. Your Zelda era, NES stuff. All of those quests. These days things like Farscape, where every character had their own evolving quests, really work for me.
But in terms of helping illuminate where I was headed with this I went back to the cartoons of my childhood, old Steve Gerber comics and Mark Twain. They all go together shockingly well. It’s kinda of freaky, really. Try it sometime.
O’Shea: Of the supporting cast in the book, who did you look forward to writing the most as the story grew?
Knave: I loved writing the Princess. She was so much fun to nail down, because she wasn’t a bad person, she just didn’t think about things. And when you have a lot of power not thinking can be a problem. So it was fun to design the things around her so that they honestly reflected that somewhere in her head everything started out as a good idea. Then they all grew and spun out of control. So evolving the land to where we come into it for the story was a nice game to play. Her actions and dialogue were also a total joy to work with. I think we all know someone like her, and secretly they all wish they had her life.
O’Shea: The story comes in a little under 370 pages, how much if anything did editor Lauren Vogelbaum convince you to leave out or put into the book?
Knave: Lauren and I worked really closely on this. We laid out both our goals for cutting and expanding. It just so happened that they were 99.9% the exact same goals. So she helped me cut a good 10k words out of the manuscript by the time we were done, but also added probably 4k. I trust Lauren completely. I learned that fairly quick when working with her on this novel. She has incredible instincts for story and a great head for humor. So when she told me something didn’t work I knew it didn’t work. There were times I wanted to hold onto an idea, or a moment, but really Lauren could always find the truth in the moment I wanted and help me not only see where I had gone slightly (or wildly) wrong but also help me find the best way to express it clearly and in tone.
Seriously. Y’all wish you worked with Lauren on your novels. I brag about my editor. Yup. That’s how I roll.
O’Shea: The book has received praise from some unique sources–how did you get the quote from Gary K. Wolf, creator of Roger Rabbit?
Knave: Turns out Pete Allen, over at Creative Guy Publishing knows him some. Enough to be able to mail him and ask. Gary, or as I like to call him, Mister Wolf, liked the idea and then liked the novel enough to grace me with a blurb. All my blurbs are from people I truly do admire. I am incredibly lucky and know it. Also? Oh my lord! For a pop culture junkie like myself to get a blurb from Gary Wolf? To trade emails with him? I jumped up and down a lot that day, I tell you.
O’Shea: The book ends with the tease “Never the end” If given the chance and enough consumer interest, would you revisit these characters again?
Knave: I truly don’t think so. The idea of “Never the end” is that stories don’t end, if you don’t want them to. The story I am telling ends. Right there at the last page. Hard to miss. But if you enjoy it, if you walk away from it and carry it with you it still continues. The story lives on and grows and gets shared. It isn’t the end, not in some senses, because we hold on to our stories and keep them going, don’t we?
Also, given the ending of the novel itself I could see no other way to truly get across what I wanted than with those three words. They say it all for me. A good quest doesn’t end, it just dovetails into another quest. In this case though it isn’t a quest I think I ever want to tell.
Of course … enough money and who knows what I’d be willing to do.
O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I did not ask?
Knave: So many things! I mean I’m one of the editors of POPGUN from Image, I write two ongoing webcomics (Legends of the Burrito Blade and Things Wrong with Me) and I have other books out. So of course I want to be asked about all of that. but truthfully? If I had to be honest and give you some kind of TalkingWithTim exclusive here, because I really do like this site and read it (and hey, a Scott Bateman interview! Bateman rules, guys) well all right. Then I’ll ask myself a question no one has ever asked before and I will also answer it! Begin the drum roll, my Joyce-enjoying friend, for this is An Exclusive!
Knave as O’Shea: Is it true that writing almost caused you to die when you were only two years old?
Knave: It is, in fact, true. My father was a writer. He used a typewriter. Those of you who don’t remember typewriters consider it a screwed up computer that used paper as a monitor. So anyway! He’s typing away and smoking away. This was the 70′s. Too many mistakes would lead to a balled up sheet of paper flung into the metal garbage can near his desk. Too full an ashtray would be emptied into the same garbage can.
You see where this is headed, you tell yourself, but no, not quite. I mean, yes, he dumped a full ashtray with a half-lit cigarette into the garbage can setting all of the paper into a quick smoking smolder. My mother and a friend who was over saw smoke filling the apartment. Then they wondered where my father was. Two plus two equals “Oh god the smoke is coming from his office!”
So anyway, my mother and her friend grabbed me and my sister and quickly hurried us out of the apartment. Then my mother went to the door of my father’s little office. After banging on the door, and I do mean banging, like a fist and foot being used in tandem, he opened the door. See, he was so involved in what he was writing, he hadn’t noticed the room he was in was full of smoke. Until he was distracted by someone banging on the door. That he realized he couldn’t see. Due to the smoke, of course.
The whole apartment smoldering problem was quickly dealt with, no long term harm was done and everything worked out for the best. Except for one lingering problem. When I write, you see, I get really focused sometimes. And that makes me fear. Someday I’m gonna do something really dumb … and it will make the news.