There is nothing quite like satire for opening the mind and eyes to current issues. Perhaps it is because that mode of writing breaks past normal barricades, catching the reader off guard and revealing things about themselves and the world that they might not have otherwise seen. Humorist and science fiction author Willie Handler’s debut novel was a political satire designed to do just that. His current work in progress, a science fiction novel titled Loved Mars, Hated The Food is not a satire, but it is still got plenty of humor. I got the opportunity to pick Willie’s brain on genre, the importance of humor, and his writing process. Check out what he has to say!
1. Your first novel was a political satire. What made you decide to veer into science fiction?
My first novel, The Road Ahead, was partly about my previous career. I spent 30 years in government and had this story I wanted to tell. This novel is a different part of me. It has allowed me to be full utilize my creative side. As for science fiction, I had a strong interest at a young age. I used to read authors like Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. Then I got away from reading fiction while I was working. I’ve sort of come back to it now. Though, I should point out that that the novel is humor/scifi.
2. How did you develop the concept for Loved Mars, Hated The Food? What were your inspiring moments?
It’s an interesting story. Two years ago, I was taking a creative writing course on humor. In the first class, we went around the room doing introductions. When it came to me, I said in a deadpan that I must have made some mistake because I was supposed to be in science fiction writing course. The next week when I returned, the instructor was surprised to see me back. I told him that I decided to stay and would make my science fiction book funny. Each week we had a writing assignment. One week I decided to write a story about the first Starbucks on Mars. After I read it in class, people began asking me if the story was from my novel. I said I was joking about the science fiction class and was actually writing a political satire. The instructor told me that the story was pretty good and I should consider working more on it. As I thought about it, I began to realize that I would enjoy writing a scifi story.
I played around with a couple of ideas. There was a short lived 1960s TV series called My Favorite Martian. It was about a Martian who crashes his spaceship on Earth and secretly lives with this young bachelor who tells people the Martian is his uncle. I decided to reverse the situation and have an Earthling, Dix Jenner, stuck on Mars. My character is a chef, which is intended to indirectly poke fun at the film, The Martian, in which the Matt Damon character is a botanist. The title of the book reflects Dix obsession with food.
3. What is your writing process for this novel?
Writing process? Am I supposed to have one?
I am a totally undisciplined writer. I can be writing away furiously one day followed by a day of organizing my paper clips by size and color. I don’t do story plans or outlines. I’m strictly an organic writer. I only really know what will be in the chapter I’m currently working on. The rest of the plot is either fuzzy or undecided. I’m more than half way through writing this novel but don’t know how it’s going to end.
4. What have been your favorite parts of the process?
I love waking up in the morning with a brilliant idea for the book. I’ll grab some coffee and will begin to bang away at my laptop. Sometimes the idea applies to a previous chapter, which means I need to work a thread through portions of the story already written. Other times it may apply to a future chapter. People will ask why my writing process is so slow. It’s because I’m always jumping around changing or adding things. But it works for me.
5. What are the toughest parts of the writing process and how do you deal with them?
Since I don’t have an outline or plan, there are days when I really don’t know what comes next in the story. I can’t move forward so I go back and do editing. I’m going through a bit of a dry spell at the moment. Rather than get frustrated, I find other ways to be productive. Eventually, the creative juices begin to flow again.
6. Obviously, you are a funny guy, but why humor? What is important about this type of story telling?
You can’t teach someone to be funny. Humor is in my DNA. It’s part of who I am. When I was young, I actually wanted to be a comedy writer. But not being a risk taker, I went to grad school instead.
I spent about 30 years writing dry technical reports and business documents as part of my job. I now have the opportunity to do creative work. Besides, who doesn’t like to laugh? You find a lot of humor and satire in film and TV but not nearly as much in literature. I think I have something to contribute to this genre.
7. What do you hope readers will get out of Loved Mars, Hated The Food?
I just want readers to have fun reading it. I think it’s a great story and the book is full of laughs. As I said, who doesn’t enjoy laughing? But underneath the surface, there is also a story about politics, race, and discrimination.
8. You opted to go indie with your first novel? What are your plans for this novel? What are your dreams for it?
I went indie with my first novel because I couldn’t find an agent interested in it. I know what writer hasn’t had that experience? Because the book was a satire of Canadian politics, I was limited to contacting Canadian literary agents, an extremely small group. None had any interest in the genre. This happened to a well known Canadian humorist, Terry Fallis. He also wrote a political satire and was forced to go the indie route. He submitted his first novel for a Canadian humor award, the Stephen Leacock medal. It became the only self-published book to ever win the award. After winning, he had no problem finding an agent.
I would love that to happen to me but I can’t count on it. I’m not limiting myself in the same way with the current novel. The protagonist is from New Jersey and is sent to Mars by NASA. I think this book provides me with an opportunity to approach agents on both sides of the border and improves my chances of going the traditional publishing route.
9. Who have been the most influential authors for you, and why?
I would have to say, Philip Roth, Mordechai Richler, John Irving and Terry Fallis. Each has their own individual brand of humor. And each one uses fiction and humor for social commentary. Their books cover topics like homosexuality, abortion, politics, war, sexuality and immigrant families in America. In my first novel, I lampooned political decision making. Yet people who have worked in government, tell me how much the story reflects how governments really operate. I like to straddle speculative fiction and real life.
About Willie Handler
I’m fledgling author, humourist, die-hard Toronto sports fan, policy wonk, insurance expert and now a blogger.
I have several decades of experience working in the Ontario public service where I was involved in policy and decision-making. I have a number of humorous short stories published online on CommuterLit and Show Me the Funny, as well as many articles published in professional trade journals. THE ROAD AHEAD is my first novel.
What’s my plan to get my novel published? Plan A is to contact every literary agent in the English speaking world.
If that doesn’t work? Plan B is to pull a Rupert Pupkin (King of Comedy, 1982) by kidnapping a publishing executive and holding him or her ransom until my book is published.
I finally went with Plan C, I self-published.