For a long time, part of my day job had me driving to Wyoming and back once a week. That added up to quite a few hours with not much to do. Not like truck driver hours, but for me it was a lot. Several years ago, during one of my trips I gassed up at a new (to me) truck stop. While perusing their convenience store, I came across a rack of books on CD by Graphic Audio. (Aside: They do full cast recordings with music and sound effects.)
I wasn’t all that interested in westerns at the time, and I didn’t want to start some other series in the middle, so picked out a piece called “The Plutonium Blonde.” The cover & blurb spoke to many of my favorite themes and genres. Futuristic setting? Check. Private Investigator? Check. Femme fatale? Check. Action and comedy in my scifi? Check and check. So I bought it and it kept me company on the road for the next six hours or so.
I’ll tell you what, the book did not disappoint.
It was every bit as much pulpy goodness as I hoped it would be. Who’d have thought scifi could still be so much fun? Most of my other modern reading should have come stamped “very serious.”
Fast forward to today. There’s this whole pulp revolution thing going on. Folks have remembered how imaginative, exciting, and wonderful scifi can be. It doesn’t have to be morose and preachy. During a recent discussion online about modern authors that write pulpy stuff, I remembered the adventures of Zachary Nixon Johnson, the afore-mentioned world’s last PI.
Inasmuch as I’m making more of a effort here on the blog, I figured I’d track down the author and invite him around. His name is John Zakour. As it ends up, he’s written all sorts of stuff. He has a web comic, he’s scripted a couple of Simpson’s comic books, he’s penned a few children’s books, all sorts of things.
After a little work, I contacted him and he graciously agreed to do an interview. Now that this is the longest introduction I’ve ever written, onward with the questions. I’m in bold, John Zakour’s in italics.
What about you should everybody know?
Nothing. I like to keep some mystery about me. 🙂
When and how did you start writing?
I started out as a gag writer writing for comics and cartoons. I discovered gag writing during the (cough) late 80s when I lost my job as a computer programmer for Cornell. I spent the summer wandering the bookstore and found a book about how to write gags. I tried it and sold like a billion gags. (Okay more like a few thousand.) I branched off into novels to see if I could do it just as Cornell hired me back. I actually got into a Ph.D. at Cornell but decided I’d rather write gags and books than work on mice brains. As I was told “getting a Ph.D. is not a hobby…” My mom never liked that decision until I married the Cornell professor.
I see you’ve written several books by yourself, and several with a partner. What are some of pros and cons of writing with a coauthor?
Pros: You always have somebody else to blame the bad stuff on. “Larry wrote that…” would be my standard response to anybody who complained about the early Zach books.
Cons: Splitting the money.
What advice do you have for somebody thinking of collaborating on a novel?
Think again. Make sure you work with a person you can fight and disagree with but still work with them. There will be disagreements. Also make sure you are bigger than that person just in case.
How did the Zachary Nixon Johnson books come about?
I was a house dad for a few years in Costa Rica while I wrote gags and comics. I saw an HBO movie about a mystic detective. Then I watched Blade Runner. Then I read Hitchhikers guide again. Then I decided to blend them all together into a novel which I wrote in Costa Rica. When we returned to the US I pitched the story on whim to the sci fi channel web site. They bought it as original serial content. That was nice and I thought that was that. Then Larry Ganem told me about this little company called Peanut Press that was starting e-books. On a whim a wrote them about combining all the episodes into a book. They bought the book and it sold really well. So I thought that was that. Then somehow Betsy Wohiem from Daw found the book and told me she wanted to buy it as a full blown novel. I said “sure I could do that.” I really had no idea I could do that. So I recruited Larry to be a part of the writing team as well he knows stuff like verbs and things.
What were some of your influences for writing them?
Douglas Adams and Charles Schultz.
Were you a fan of the pulp detectives and scifi?
No not really. That’s the weird thing. I actually became a fan after the Zach stuff. I did like Dirk Gently and I loved the new series.
What got you into writing your children’s books?
People who know me pretty much say, “you know you think like a big kid who just happens to have a couple master’s degrees.” So I figured writing for kids is an easy mindset for me. They are my demographic. My diary of a super girl series is doing well.
What’s next for you as a writer?
More kids novels, another Zach story (for a pulp press) and I’m writing for a kids science magazine:
And of course my working daze comic will still keep rolling along as comics are in my blood. Hopefully I will write a couple more Simpsons.
What should I have asked you, if only I had known enough to ask?
What do you tell all would be writers? Have a significant other who has a real job. I love the freedom writing give me. It let my stay home with my son. But insurance and stuff is expensive and the pay for writing not nearly as much as they make it look like on TV. Oh make sure you give that spouse or significant other the credit they deserve as they working the long hours and having to deal with people while you are sitting at home in your underwear going “hmmm, this could be cool story!” Thanks Olga!!!! Love ya!
What the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? To which I would have replied one of the funniest moments in movie history. That’s how I roll.
If you’re interested in learning more about John: