I spoke with Paul Rasche about his bizarro occult-SF novel, Smudgy in Monsterland.
JF: Smudgy In Monsterland is about a boy who is orphaned in a Satanic terrorist attack on a space theme park, in a world where the Heinrich Himmler is king of a Nazi empire that spans the solar system. How does a project like this take shape in your brain? What was the seed idea?
PR: This was the second novel I’d attempted. Both attempts were built from a single idea, that is then extrapolated upon in both directions (i.e. how did it come to this, and where does it go from here?) The first (unfinished, rubbish) concept was “What if someone’s cat literally told them to fuck off?” The idea that eventually morphed into Smudgy In Monsterland was “What if someone was attacked by jackals every day?”
That was the initial seed. I made a few attempts at starting it, but nothing was working. Then, one evening, I just happened to be having a tipsy conversation about movies with my brother (not a rare occurrence). I’d probably just seen Pandorum and/or The Devil’s Rock and/or Outpost, because I was waxing eloquent about how my two favourite genres of movie are ‘Space Madness’ and ‘Nazi Occult’. Then there came the light-bulb moment. What if there was “Space-Madness-Nazi-Occult”? Gold. Staplegunned that onto the existing concept and got writing the next day. The whole thing came out in a big hurry. It was a wave of inspiration that took me all the way through to the end, the likes of which I haven’t experienced before or since.
JF: Smudgy is a difficult book to categorize. In the end it probably reminds me of Norman Spinrad’s work–the willingness go so very dark, not just in terms of plot but in terms of who the characters are. Satanic terrorists on one side, Nazis on the other… and a cartoon rabbit on the cover. Very dark satire.
PR: I don’t think of Smudgy as a satire, but I can see how others might. I’m not interested in social commentary or deeper meanings or metaphors in my writing. My only goal is to tell an interesting, weird, new story – I’m inspired by Lewis Carroll’s work in that respect. So the only reason its Nazis v Satanists with a cartoon rabbit in the mix is because I thought it would be cool.
Smudgy is hard to categorize, I agree. When people ask me what it’s about it’s hard to know what to say. I didn’t start with a genre in mind, or even an audience, really, I just wrote what I wanted to write. It was fun!
JF: I detect some rage in Smudgy. This poor kid Odo, who lives in a world run by Nazis, whose life is ruined by Satanic terrorists and then by a demon… Surely this reflects some dissatisfaction with the how the real world operates. Where does this anger come from?
PR: I’d never really thought of Smudgy as an angry book. It’s true that Odo (and many others) face a horrible fate and there is nastiness aplenty throughout. On one hand, I’d say that a protagonists face seemingly unassailable adversity, (unless you’re reading a pretty dull book), and that Smudgy’s ending isn’t too nasty. On the other hand, the truth of the matter: Smudgy was written in 2012, when our house was being built. If you ever want to be “dissatisfied with how the real world operates”, hiring a dodgy rip-off lowlife builder for a year will do the trick! Having another, entirely under-my-control, world to escape into was more than just a relief, it was probably necessary for my mental health. Also, I was in my early 20s when Howard came to power, and that was a pretty heart-breaking time to be invested in the real world. I think that whole “Children Overboard” thing was the final straw for me, it really exposed the underlying racism of the Australian electorate and the willingness of that lowlife weasel scum Howard to exploit said racism. Did someone say they detected rage?
After that it was time for me to stop watching the news and start smoking pot, playing video games and drawing cartoons instead.
JF: You make it sound as if the book was a thing that coalesced around an almost random set of ideas, but there’s a thorough worldbuilding project here (especially the Smudgy cartoon universe!) and a rock solid internal logic to the plot. Did you make detailed plans before you started writing?
PR: I use an spreadsheet to work out what needs to happen in each chapter. It’s pretty bare-bones stuff though. When it comes time to write the actual content, a lot of it is just thought of on the spot. All of the Monsterland attractions and the stories they relate back to in the original Smudgy cartoon world were all thought of on-the-fly, as were all the character names and little details. For me, that is the most fun part of writing, coming up with crazy stuff. Things like the story behind the Haunted Mansion or the 666 Castles of Madness don’t have much, if any, actual impact on the plot. It’s basically just letting my imagination off the leash and watching it tearing around like a mad thing.
It’s kinda like the plot is one of those fake Christmas trees, whose construction you struggle over, scratching your head and reading the instructions. Once that’s done, you can have all the fun and express all the creativity you like putting on the decorations. Only then do you have a real Christmas tree.
JF: Were you at all concerned about offending anyone with this book? Christmas tree aficionados, for example?
PR: No, not at all. I never had the thought, “Oh, I should change this because it might offend someone.” I can’t second-guess what a moron might think. I don’t have any respect for people who get offended by fictional content. If you don’t like it, stop reading it. If you really don’t like it, maybe have a book-burning, that’s always the sign of a healthy mindset.
I don’t go out of my way to be offensive, I just write whatever I like and don’t censor it. I will say that I have always found offensive jokes to be especially funny. I don’t know why, but there’s no point denying it. I love the comedy of Anthony Jeselnik, he really explores the nature of what is offensive and why (mainly by being as offensive as possible).
I had a printer refuse to print my first graphic novel “Contrariwise”, due to offensive material, and to this day I’m not even sure what they found so wrong with it. Officeworks to the rescue.
Patton Oswalt sums it up perfectly, I think. He has this routine wherein his newborn baby is murdered by a robot, and people in the audience are appalled and stuff, and as a quick aside, he snarks “Yeah, BOO robot I just made up.”
JF: What’s next for you, Paul? Another book? A graphic novel? What else can readers buy if they need some more Rasche in their eyes?
PR: Well, let’s see… Yes, I am working on a new book, which I’ve plotted out and am something like 25,000 words into. I want to write a really, really long book, and that’s what this will be. A tome of sheer madness that, hopefully, some misfit kid/s will get into. That project is my favourite thing to think about when I’m bored or being talked at. It’s set in the same universe as Smudgy but there are no crossover characters (yet – who knows?).
I just finished an illustration project, it’s a Dr Seuss parody called Dopeheads on Mopeds (and is extremely offensive). It was a secret birthday surprise for my brother, I’m giving it to him on the 22nd, so don’t tell anyone until then. I’ll let it loose on the webs after that. Might have to take some bits out.
I also illustrated a deck of cards last year, they’re still for sale, but there’s only a few left. They’re called “Below Deck” and they’re on Etsy. And some friends want me to design a mural or some sort of giant picture to go on a blank wall in their new house, that’s exciting and there are ideas a-swirlin’ about that. And I’ve got some cool ideas for tattoo designs. I’m still hoping to sit bolt upright in bed one night with an amazing idea for a new illustration project, so I’ll keep you posted on that front.