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Interview: April 2011

April 2011

E. Archer is a self-confessed geek. So it only seems fitting that he would write a book called GEEK FANTASY NOVEL. In this tale, which plays with the conventions of fantasy, a science geek is granted the power of wishing; what he doesn't realize yet is that wishes are bad…very bad.'s Sarah Rachel Egelman talks with E. Archer about his own love of fantasy, gaming and self-referential literature. He also reveals his ideal reader, his inspirations, and what he really thinks about the morality of wishes. First off, talk to us about the title of your fantasy novel. How did you come up with it, and what makes the book particularly geeky?

E. Archer: I wrote a very earnest fantasy novel when I first started writing fiction, and though I loved it at the time, it's something I now have trouble reading without cringing. Four years after I wrote that book, I started GEEK FANTASY NOVEL. It was a way to exorcise those demons and have some fun. Comic Fantasy is a great genre for the imagination, because whatever crazy thing you imagine can happen. If you want a scone to walk forward an inch when it thought a character wasn't looking, you can. Realistic Fantasy seems limitless but can be surprisingly constrained in the sense of mood and expectation.

The geek quotient of GEEK FANTASY NOVEL is less a result of the majorly geeky protagonist (though he certainly is) than of the awareness of fantasy conventions it assumes in the reader. My ideal reader alternately loves and is exasperated by fantasy novels.

TRC: Is fantasy a genre that you have been a long-time fan of? If so, what are some of your favorite titles?

EA: Definitely a long-time fan. I ripped through a sword-and-sorcery paperback a week back in high school. All the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books with their dragons with names full of consonants. I've also read THE NEVERENDING STORY more times than I can count. On the humor side, THE PRINCESS BRIDE is an endless source of pleasure.

TRC: What did you take from the fantasy genre in crafting this book, and in what ways did you tweak the characteristic conventions?

EA: GEEK FANTASY NOVEL is pretty omnivorous in its lampooning. Cecil's quest takes on the epic quest, that central conceit of high fantasy that a young person who thought he was normal discovers that he was actually very special all along. (And the reader can, vicariously, experience the same pleasure). Those quests are really exercises in fulfilled grandiosity. Then Daphne's quest takes on the curious mix of cute and dark that's in Hans Christian Andersen. Characters are juvenile and uncomplicated and charming, until they're stolen away forever or have their legs wished away or what have you.

TRC: In GEEK FANTASY NOVEL, wishes are powerful, literal and often very dangerous. Do you think that is so? Or is it only the case if you have a magical family? Should we "be careful what we wish for"?

EA: Remember that fairy tale about the man who wished for a sausage and it wound up attached to his nose? I always found that one tiresome. No, I don't think we have to be careful what we wish for --- wishes and aspirations are pretty awesome. Avoiding wishing is Ralph Stevens's dilemma, not the reader's.

TRC: What idea came first: Ralph's adventure, the idea of the power of wishes, or the power of the narrator? Which theme do you think is the most essential to the story you wanted to tell?

EA: The adventure came first. Specifically, the action of a far-off aunt granting the wishes of her nieces and nephew. I actually witnessed something very similar while I was on the job as an in-home tutor. The aunt wasn't magical, but she was absurdly wealthy, and she lined her nieces up and asked them what their greatest desire in the world was. She wound up granting each one, in a small way. That modern-day version of wish granting got my mind to turning. What if, instead of a bizarre and unique occurrence, that sort of wish granting was actually the way of all wealthy Brits?

TRC: Can you explain the ideas about narration that you explore in the book? What is the role of the narrator generally, and why is yours so different?

EA: Once upon a time I applied to graduate school, and in my Statement of Purpose I said that I wanted to study self-referential storytelling, the moments (particularly in fantasy, but also present in Nabokov and Nicholson Baker and others) when the person telling the story, whom we assumed not to be a character, suddenly becomes one. It had always been a fascinating moment for me as a reader, to see the safe assumptions of how fiction works be stripped away. It always seemed that the story could head in giddy and unlimited directions after that.

I might have been the only one who found that so fascinating. I never did get into graduate school.

TRC: The narrator (whose identity I won't give away) is most fond of the character Beatrice. As the writer, do you have a favorite character in GEEK FANTASY NOVEL?

EA: Yes! I'm a big fan of Prestidigitator, the loyal fairy who accompanies Ralph in Cecil's quest. I kind of want her to hang out with me, always.

TRC: Ralph is a gamer and dreams of designing video games. Do you play? If so, what games are your favorites?

EA: Recently I've been playing Dragon Age 2 on the Playstation. I've always been a big fan of Final Fantasy (except X-2; I never could figure those dancing costumes out), and I adored Valkyria Chronicles. I'd buy the sequel, but it's only on a portable device, and if I allowed myself to buy one of those, I'm afraid I'd never read a book again.

TRC: Ralph's journey begins when he goes to England to spend time with his family there. Why England? Did it lend itself to the fairy tale setting better than keeping him in New Jersey?

EA: My mom's English, so I've grown up with a British sense of humor and a taste for biscuits. For a comedic fantasy about outlandish relatives visited by a very prosaic geek named Ralph, the cross between British high culture and New Jersey nerd culture seemed very fertile. Also, I like writing words like "bloody" and "natch."

TRC: Are there more fantasy novels in the works for you? Would you be interested in exploring other genres down the road?

EA: I'd really like to write another comedic fantasy down the road. I also have an idea for an epic sea fantasy in which the main character is an octopus. That wouldn't be a comedy. In fact, it might not ever be written unless I can convince myself that other people find octopuses as fascinating as I do.