Kat Clay got talking to Eirik Gumeny, author of Exponential Apocalypse and editor of the Jersey Devil Press. In his own words, the book is “the tender, heart-stirring tale of crappy jobs, a slacker cult, an alcoholic Aztec god, reconstituted world leaders, werewolves, robots, and the shenanigans of multiple persons living after the twentieth-aught end of the world.” Sounds fun? It is.
You can check out his book and zine at www.jerseydevilpress.com
Kat: When did you first begin writing?
Eirik: I can’t really say for sure, but I do have pretty solid memories of typing up short stories on the old, blue-screened Word Perfect, back in 7th or 8th grade, if not earlier. I can’t say I gave writing a whole lot of thought until college, when I finally decided to major in English, concentrating in Creative Writing. Prior to that, any writing I did was, in my mind, the equivalent of doodling in the margins of a notebook. Just something to kill the time, not to be taken seriously. But then I started bouncing around from university to university, changing majors constantly, starting with engineering and ending up at art, never really enjoying, or even necessarily understanding, what I was doing. Eventually I sat down and really reflected on those couple of years, trying to pinpoint the parts I had liked and the things I had been good at. And that’s when I realized I could write. All my best grades had come from English classes and composition-based assignments; given the choice between building a bridge or describing it, I’d choose the latter. So I switched to the English program, started taking classes, and started having fun, making up characters and telling stories and all that. I’ve been writing pretty constantly ever since.
Kat: Where did the inspiration for Exponential Apocalypse come from?
Eirik: It was a story idea that had been floating around for a while. I’d tried, at least twice, to write a story about a guy going to a diner and complaining about the waitress, the last line being something like, “the service had really taken a dive after the apocalypse.” Basically a world still going about its regular day-to-day even though it had been decimated; a counter to all the survivalist, Road Warrior takes on the post-apocalypse that are out there. But I could never get it to work. It kept coming out far more dire than I’d cared for. After a bunch of false starts and attempted re-writes, the files eventually just got lost in the dumping ground that is my hard drive and I more or less forgot about it.
Then, about a year ago, I started another story, more as a free-writing exercise than anything, and started just randomly throwing things together—the Secaucus Holiday Inn is next to my office, my co-worker’s name is Catrina—just to see where they’d go. Somehow Thor became the guy on the phone at the front desk and I started thinking, “Well, why would he be working there? I don’t know, I guess an apocalypse could probably do it, right?” And all of a sudden that first idea came back to me and I had finally figured out how to make it work.
Kat: You have a lot of mythological references in your story. Are myths something that influence you? And how much do you enjoy satirising them?
Eirik: Yeah, I’d say so, to some extent. I read tons of mythology as a kid—Norse and Celtic especially, but really whatever I could get my hands on. Thor was always a favorite, in no small part because of all the Marvel comics my uncle gave me. There was a whole string of issues in the 70s where they just straight-up illustrated Norse myths with their version of Thor and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
There’s always been something engaging about these pantheons of gods and demigods just kind of living soap opera lives up in the clouds. The way they’re revered even though a lot of them are pretty much assholes. And I’ve always been fascinated by how many different versions exist of what are ultimately the same stories. Which is probably where the satire comes from. Everyone takes their gods so seriously, but, if you just look, they’re all basically the same. Pointing that out, having them interact, that’s always fun. And, if nothing else, I’m always looking for an excuse to dive into more research about any kind of mythology.
Kat: Why did you decide to self publish?
Eirik: Well, a lot of things, but mostly impatience, and because I didn’t think Exponential Apocalypse would be published otherwise.
When I started it, I was putting a lot of the individual chapters up on an old Xanga site I had, writing one a day for about six months, just for my friends and internet friends—which is why the chapters are so short. Technically, though, at least for some publishers, that Xanga site constituted a form of self-publishing already, which could have been a huge hurdle had I chose to go a more corporate route.
Beyond that, I’ve worked for two publishers—one smaller and one massive, with various global offices—and I’ve seen the red tape and the second-guessing and all the bullshit that goes on behind the scenes. Not to mention, any kind of editorial selection is completely subjective. While I believe in EA, and I think it’s funny as hell, I’ll admit it isn’t the easiest sell to corporate publishers.
The way I saw it, at best, I’d have to wait a really, really long time to see EA in print, and it would probably be a very small print run anyway. I wasn’t looking to make millions; I’d just written a book I was proud of and I wanted to get it out there. So I figured why not just do it myself? The technology’s there, so why not use it?
Kat: Tell me a bit about Jersey Devil Press? What is it, what do you guys do?
Eirik: Jersey Devil Press is a combination small press and online magazine, run by myself and my co-conspirator, Monica Rodriguez. It’s a way for us to spotlight some authors that otherwise might not get the exposure, whether it’s because of a lack of previous publications or simply because the content isn’t exactly mainstream enough for other publishers.
On the press side of it—aside from Exponential Apocalypse—we’re releasing the short story collection, Perhaps, by Stephen Schwegler, this winter, in both hard and digital copies. His stories are absolutely absurd, in the best way possible. I’m pretty excited that we get to be the ones to publish it.
We’ve also just started a new online endeavor, a monthly fiction magazine—essentially a literary journal, except, you know, not as pretentious. About six or so stories a month, listed on the Jersey Devil Press website and available for free download in a .pdf. We’re really looking for more offbeat, humorous short stories. Stories you’d actually want to read and tell people about. Next summer we’re going to collect the best of those into an anthology and release that in a more traditional book format. We’ll be doing that every year.
Kat: What authors inspire you?
Eirik: Douglas Adams, for one, absolutely. The Hitchhiker’s books are amazing. They’re hysterical, from start to finish. Adams has this completely insane story, with so much imagination, juxtaposed against the most boring, real protagonist he could think of. I’ve nearly worn out my copies, between re-reading them and letting everyone I know borrow them.
Kurt Vonnegut, too. What I love are his narrators. His narrators really, truly TELL a story. Vonnegut comes up with this guy, and then this guy is going to repeat to you this story in his own way, with all the tangents and blemishes intact, the way a story would actually get recounted. And Vonnegut’s stories were so defiantly his own, as far as content and plot and all that. Him and Adams, both, really. Imagine being their editor. How do you even pretend to tell either of them what they should be doing with their stories?
Kat: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Eirik: Keep writing, keep reading. You’ll only get better. And always do it for yourself first; don’t worry about the endgame. If your work’s good, people will find it. And if they don’t, who cares? You got it out, it exists. As long as you’re happy with it, you’re alright.
More specifically—and, you know, usefully—keep submitting stories. Don’t let rejection notices discourage you. There’s a whole community of online magazines and journals now. You’ll find a market that appreciates you sooner or later. And you’ll find some great stories along the way.
Kat: If you were in an apocalypse would you survive, and if so, what is the key to your survival?
Eirik: I’d like to think I’d make it, but it’s really all going to depend on the kind of apocalypse. I mean, if we’re talking a zombie uprising, I’m pretty screwed, regardless of my efforts. I live in the New York City metropolitan area, one of the most heavily populated areas of the world. Even my best zombie plan will only keep me alive for so long against those numbers.
Outside of that, I’d say luck determines your initial survival. There’s no real way to defend against a random meteor strike or, you know, Godzilla. If I make it past that, yeah, I think I’d be OK. I’d like to think I’d be pretty calm in the face of the end of the world. And I honed some pretty fierce scavenging skills in college. I think those would be the two clutch traits to have: composure and scavenging prowess.