#ScribdChats Presents Drew Magary
In his first book, Drew Magary explores the reality of being a parent in modern day America. Someone Could Get Hurt is a hilarious and brutally honest portrait of real people trying to make the best of raising children. Then, in The Postmortal, Magary’s first published work of fiction, he explores the simple idea that “immortality will kill us all.” Set in the near future, the book follows one man’s experience with the cure for aging.
Both books are fine examples of Magary’s digestible and insightful writing style, not to mention his extensive work as a columnist for Deadspin and as a correspondent for GQ.
Now, with his most recent work of fiction, Magary tests the limits of his own imagination when left unchecked. The Hike is a novel that blends classic fairytales with video game folklore to create a truly unique story. If anything, The Hike solidifies Magary as an established voice in modern literature.
We recently caught up with Magary to talk about his history with writing, the inspiration behind his latest novel, and the difference between writing novels and features.
Someone Could Get Hurt
Scribd: How did you get started as a writer?
Drew Magary: I was an English major in school and I studied creative writing, but I wanted to make money, I wanted a job. I didn’t want to go to L.A. and put scripts under toilets and wait tables and stuff like that. And then my dad said “Why don’t you go into advertising? You can write and be creative and they pay you a living wage.”
I finally got a copywriting job — writing the ads, you know, writing headlines, radio ads, TV ads and all of that — and then in 2006 my first kid was born. This was back when blogspot was still flourishing and social media hadn’t closed most avenues off. But like back then it was the Wild West; you just found whatever, and sites had link dumps — no one does link dumps anymore because Twitter does that for you now — and so eventually I started a blog called “Father Knows Sh*t.”
The blog had a lot of jokes about being a dad. I’m a terrible stand up comic so I had nowhere else to put my jokes. So it was better to write them on the blog than it was to try and execute them on a stage at some comedy club. And that did ok, and then I started a football site, and that got purchased by Uproxx, and then that got me a job writing about football at Deadspin, and that turned into freelance with GQ, and that turned into a correspondence gig with GQ, and then there were books along the way.
SC: You’ve obviously had a lot of success writing blogs and articles, and as a journalist, but did you always want to write books?
DM: Yeah, why not? The Postmortal was the first novel that I wrote, and before I wrote it I didn’t know if I could. It’s actually structured like a blog — that’s how lazy I was. It’s all blog entries and stuff like that. So I had an easier time writing it instead of trying to do a straight, narrative-based novel, which I didn’t know if I could do. But once I finished The Postmortal it gave me the confidence to do The Hike.
SC: So if The Postmortal was written as a series of blogs, how is it any different from writing for for publications like GQ?
DM: Well, it’s longer. So it’s a bigger pain; it’s a little daunting. But there’s also a sort of freedom in it, because it’s your space and you can do whatever you want with it. No one is going to constrain you because of space or short attention spans, so you can kind of luxuriate in the experience. I had actually tried two other stabs at writing a novel and I had stalled, because I don’t outline.
[I don't outline] because I’m lazy and I don’t like it, and I just can’t think of plot points. So I would get like, thirty thousand words into these books and then I’d get stuck, and I just wouldn't know where to go. And then once I was stuck on those I didn't quite know what to do and I was kind of bouncing back between them and trying to switch stuff up.
Then I had to go give a lecture at a school because The Postmortal was their freshmen book. And I went out behind this old Country Inn where I was literally the only guest. And I went out on this trail and I realized that I was the only person on the trail, like there were no joggers or bikers, and this wasn't like Montana, this was 70 miles outside of New York City in the Poconos — it was highly settled territory — but I was the only person there. And I thought that, like, a “bear man” could come eat me. And I started thinking of all this weird stuff, and then eventually that became The Hike.
SC: The plot of The Postmortal centers around a pretty moralistic narrative. Is that something you did on purpose? And if so, is that something you tried to do with The Hike?
DM: Not really. Because the whole idea [of The Hike] was to tell the craziest story I possibly could. And then it was cool; I mean, one person emailed me because his sister had passed away at the age of six, and he thought it was an allegory for terminal illness. And then someone else I was talking to thought it was an allegory for addiction, and I wasn’t going to say “No, you're wrong.”
But that’s the cool thing about writing: when someone takes something you did and they do something on their own with it. That's the coolest part. Like, I went to Comic Con to promote The Hike and, you know, Comic Con is essentially a festival, with people taking something that someone else did and making it their own. So you’ve got, like, Chewbacca Smurfs, and people going their own way … and that’s [a] really cool thing.
SC: It seems like you did something similar with The Hike, almost like you were incorporating video game folklore into your story.
DM: Yeah, when I was a kid I used to play a lot of 8-bit video games, like “King's Quest” and stuff, and these were old point-and-click games where you moved the character around the screen and he would have to go get a dagger from under a rock and then he would have to go give the dagger to a clown to get the gold heart that opened up the cave mouth, or whatever. And it was always sort of nonsensical and buggy, but it was cool, and I always thought of those games fondly.
There are no direct video game references in The Hike, it’s just that the hero is presented with puzzles that are video game-esque, and he has to solve them with objects in an inventory. And it’s fun to have it echo that without directly referencing it.
SC: Do you think it’s important to read fiction in order to write fiction? What authors do you like?
DM: I’m bad; I read a lot of nonfiction. My editor said, “Hey, you’re writing a novel, you should read a lot of novels,” but a lot of novels, you know — you can see the guy trying to win an award on every page. Which, I would rather just get the straight information. I would rather read about Devil in the White City, or something just completely insane that happened and the poor schmuck author had to go to the library and dig through microfilm for like eight years to find the insane story from the turn of the century.
I didn't go to journalism school but now I’m a journalist, and I've had to learn that stuff on the fly. There is a benefit to having that outside voice, because if I had gone to journalism school I could have ended up sounding like everyone who went to journalism school. So I think it’s cool if you take the influences that you have and then sort of sift them over so that you have a unique perspective on this other thing.
SC: Would you describe yourself as a curious person?
DM: Yeah! I would say that, particularly with GQ, when they send me somewhere, I’m always interested in where I’m going to go. Before coming here I visited Seattle and Portland, and I had never been there before. So I have this rule: when I go somewhere, I walk the city. It’s good creative stimulation, but it’s also a good way to get to know a city and to reset your brain. That’s part of the process too.
SC: So, we'd like to take a moment and ask a few questions that readers have tweeted at us using the hashtag #ScribdChat.
SC: @TeacherDooly asks: As an educator, what would you want me to teach your kids?
DM: My children specifically? Just don’t put on TV for them, or movies for them. They get enough of that at home. Like, I’ll get mad if they come home and say they watched a movie that day. That’s not why I send them to school.
Now, I say that because I’m not a teacher, and I know that teaching is [really hard]. I can see a teacher wanting to put on Finding Nemo for a few hours, sure.
SC: @TheJohnCotton asks: What do you love to rant about the most?
DM: What is my favorite thing to rant about? I mean the more absurd it is, the better. I did [a] post talking about how much I hate umbrellas. Because the wind takes them, and there’s no way to get in the car with them, and old ladies from New York will like, poke you in the eye with their umbrellas. And if there is any wind, then your knuckles are just white, and you’re holding on for dear life under this, like, eighth of a tent that doesn’t really do the job.
One time I got so wet and so annoyed with an umbrella that I just smashed it, and it was the best feeling ever.
SC: @MustardSeedsTreets asks: Who is the most interesting person you've interviewed?
DM: Usually I’m asked who is the best, and it’s Chris Pratt because he’s just such a nice guy. But that’s not interesting, the most interesting would probably be Phil Robertson. You know, I’m sitting there with this guy who welcomes me into his home and he’s really nice and he’s really knowledgeable about hunting, and he has a sort of interesting, admirable farm-to-table lifestyle, and then he’s also [harboring some very unpopular ideas]. So it’s like, I admire certain things about this guy, but then there are some other things where I think [it’s] some really messed up stuff he’s saying.
But it’s interesting. Can I be appalled by what this guy is saying and still like him? Because a lot of the internet is reductive, you know? Somebody says one thing and then all of a sudden they're a bad person, and that’s sort of crystalized. And it’s obviously not that, but then the question is: how big does your resume have to be to be a bad person?
It’s not so clear cut with many people.
SC: @GeezeLouise asks: If you could be any video game character, who would you be?
DM: Provided I don’t die? Hmm, maybe Kid Icarus? Although, he doesn’t stay airborne. Maybe one of the “Joust” guys? I would want to fly, really. That’s it. I want to fly.
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