28-year-old Brooklyn author Chris Genoa is just as wacky in person and via email as his book Foop!, about a man who travels through time and encounters hog-tying monkeys, a menacing duo, crazy boss and wormholes everywhere, would suggest. Foop! is a book that may not always make sense, but is engrossing nevertheless, if only to see what catastrophe awaits the protagonist, Joe, next. Genoa works his goofy charm to good effect, and seems like the kid in high school who was smart yet crazy enough to either blow up the school or become President. Genoa chose a third option, writing, in which his character manages to off one President, watch a ghost take a shit, ponder various impossible and improbabl sexual scenarios, describe time travel using a metaphor of a donkey, a wagon and time, use the phrase “loop-de-loop” countless times and generally create one of the most surreal worlds imaginable. But what else can you expect from a man who sends dancing vegetable icons to demonstrate his points?
Foop! is a very unusual book, veering from Abe Lincoln’s assassination to time travel with quirky observations throughout. Where’d you get the idea for it and can you explain what your made-up word "foop" means to the uninitiated?
There’s an old urban legend that says if you go into a dark room at night, lit only by a single candle, look into a mirror and say “Honest Abe” 50 times in a row that the bloody floating head of Abraham Lincoln will appear before you. About two years ago I was really bored and decided to try this. Much to my surprise it actually worked. Abe appeared in the mirror and commanded me to write a bizarre time travel comedy with him as the main character. He also said that I had to portray him as looking like a young Paul Newman and that no mention could be made of his wife Mary Lincoln’s penchant for acting like she’s cuckoo for Coco Puffs.
If I didn’t do as he said he threatened to inflict all kinds of pain and misery upon me and my loved ones. So I started to write the book, and the working title was Buckaroo Lincoln Saves the Universe. But then I got to thinking . . . what the hell could a floating head in a mirror do to me? Nothing, that’s what. So I wrote the book I wanted to write instead, and I cut down Abe’s role to a cameo in the beginning.
Originally the book was called Poof!, which is a horrible title. It makes me nauseous just thinking about it. Poof! sounds like a book on magic written by disco hippie magician Doug Henning. If I close my eyes I can even see Doug on the cover of Poof!, sitting cross-legged on a rainbow and pulling a rabbit out of a pink top hat.
A couple weeks before the book went to print my Uncle Bob posted a comment on my blog that jokingly said he was working on a book called Foop! (which obviously is just Poof backwards). One thing led to another and I decided to change the title. As for Foop’s meaning in the book: it’s the sound people hear when they walk through a wormhole. But if you look it up on the Urban Dictionary you’ll find three VERY different definitions which I didn’t know about until recently: (1) it’s Barbadian for “have sex,” (2) it’s a mix between farting and pooping, and (3) it’s the act of sticking two fingers into your anus.
How long did the actual writing process take and what was the biggest stumbling block? Did you work with an outline or make things up as you go along?
Right from the get-go, the biggest stumbling block by far was that I didn’t know how to read or write. Once I got that taken care of it was a breeze.
It may seem like I was just making up crazy stuff as I went along, or that I was on drugs (which a few reviewers have said) and bouncing up and down in my chair like a lunatic while I wrote. But I wasn’t. I was sober, and early on I installed a seatbelt on my computer chair to eliminate the bouncing.
I actually outlined the book quite a bit, mainly because it was the only way for me to keep track of paradox issues that pop up with time travel. My research mainly consisted of watching Time Bandits over and over again for 72 hours straight with no breaks. When I could no longer tell the difference between the dwarfs on the TV screen and the imaginary ones I saw swinging from the light fixtures in my apartment, I knew I was ready to write Foop!
All in all it took me about a year to write.
The format veers from present day to the future, but there’s also plenty of room for observations that could be seen in a regular novel, such as your take on bartenders and others shortening the conversation to the absolute basic words, such as when a bartender greets Joe simply with "What?" Were trends like that things you’ve personally observed? As cartoonish as some of the characters may seem and as bizarre as some of the action is, there’s nothing in the book that wasn’t inspired by my own personal observations of people and the world around me.
Foop! Has various characters, from your protagonist, Joe, to his boss, Mr. Burk, going back and forth through time and encountering their past and future selves, which starts to get a little tricky since one can influence the direction of another’s lives. What would you tell your past or future self if you encountered him?
If I ever encountered my past self, the first thing I’d do is take a step back, slowly twirl around with my arms out, pause for a moment, and then say “Not too shabby, eh?”
With my future self I’d tell him to take a step back and twirl around, and then I’d either say “Not bad . . . not bad at all” or “You sicken me” depending on how sexy he looked.
You categorize Foop! more as "surreal fantasy" than "science fiction," and not being someone who’s read much of either genre, can you tell me what the difference is for you?
The problem with the “science fiction” label is that when most people hear that they immediately think of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Vicki from Small Wonder. There’s also a little warning sound that goes off in their heads that says (in the voice of Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds) “Neeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrds!”
Here’s the thing . . . I’m no nerd. I mean, look at me, Rachel. Look at me dammit! Beyond the fact that I have huge muscles all over my body and incredible taste in clothes, I also listen to a type of music called “Indie Rock.” Maybe you’ve heard of it? Nerds, real nerds anyway, don’t listen to it. They aren’t allowed to. However, fake nerds (who are simply cool people who ironically wear Neighborhooodies that say “nerd” on them) MUST listen to Indie Rock or risk an MTA-sanctioned lifetime ban from the L train.
I’ve actually stopped calling it a “surreal fantasy” and have started calling it Bizarro instead. The “science fiction” label just carries way too much baggage for me, too many reader expectations as to what they’re going to get. And I want people to read Foop! with as much of an open mind as possible. Because if people pick up my book expecting to get something exactly like sci-fi/fantasy comedy writers Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, or popular humor writers like Christopher Moore or Jasper Fforde, then they might be disappointed. As great and successful as those guys were and are, in no way am I trying to write like them.
Regardless, Foop! has way too many fart jokes in for it to be considered science fiction.
Even though Foop! is all over the map and largely surreal, there are other parts that are, in some ways, very tender and honest. How much of yourself is in Joe, not so much in his actual experiences but in his personality?
Well, it’s hard to write in first person and not put at least a bit of yourself into that character. But there are certainly a lot of things about him that aren’t like me at all. For example, all of those tender and honest moments you mentioned? Not me. The stuff about Joe having huge muscles and incredible taste in clothes? Totally me.
Actually, here’s a little secret between you and me: 90% of Foop! is stuff I copied word-for-word out of my diary. I just deleted the “Dear Diary”s off each entry, threw in some bullshit time travel nonsense, and I had a novel. I just had to take out a few entries written around the time my pet hamster Doodle died, because there really wasn’t room in the story for 180 pages of me cursing a cruel and distant God for forsaking me.
One critic called Foop! "the weirdest book I have ever read." Did you set out to make Foop! deliberately odd, strange, or confusing? Were you looking to break away from the label of science fiction and create something totally different than what had come before?
I didn’t set out to make it as bizarre as possible, but I did want to write something totally different. What’s the point in writing the same type of books that other people have already written?
All I was trying to do was take everything in my head at the time and make sense of it by putting it down on paper in the form of an entertaining story.
Is there a theme or message to the novel?
There is, but I can only truly express it in haiku form:
Night, and the proud moon!
A chimp, playing on his uke -
oh no, out of tune!
Foop!’s publisher, Eraserhead Press, also publishes books with titles such as Oceans of Lard, Dead Bitch Army, and Angel Dust Apocalypse. How did you get involved with them?
Just like Uncle Joey from Full House, when I was lost out there and I was all alone, a light was waiting to carry me home. But instead of the Olsen twins the light for me was Eraserhead Press. Every other agent and publisher I sent Foop! to thought it was too weird for them to publish, except for Eraserhead.
Foop! is actually incredibly tame compared to the other Eraserhead books. I’ve enjoyed working with them because for once I’m the normal one of the bunch.
You mentioned that there’s a possibility of a movie version of Foop! in the works. How is that progressing and do you have any ideas for what you’d like to see in the film, such as how you’d like to see the time travel, especially, portrayed?
There has been some interest from the Hollywoodies, but I won’t believe it until a director says “Action!” The film business is crazy. But if it did ever happen I’d like to see Terry Gilliam or David Lynch direct it, Johnny Depp or Crispin Glover to play Joe, the monkeys to be real and not CGI, and the soundtrack to be by a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel.
What’s up with your obsession with monkeys, who feature prominently in Foop!, and gorillas, especially Koko?
Let’s face it: monkeys are hilarious. Mainly because they’re so similar to us and, unlike with other humans, we can stare at them for hours on end without repercussions. And Koko . . . well, as you can see in that interview I did with her, Koko has some emotional problems she really needs to work on.
You’ve joined up with some other misfits to form Bizarro Lit, which you describe on your blog as "The misfits and weirdos are crawling out from their hiding places on Amazon and banding together in a kill or be killed assault on the publishing world. I'm throwing my propeller hat in with these freaks because I bizarro love them. What ties us all together is that we don't fit neatly into any of the normal bookstore sections, mainly because a lot of us take the kitchen sink approach to writing, throwing all of our varied cross-genre and cross-medium influences together into each book. Outside of the literary world, a band that does this beautifully is The Flaming Lips." Can you tell me more about Bizarro and what you’re doing with them? What qualifies something as "bizarro" and can there be anything that unites such a strange mix of authors?
People have been going into bookstores and video stores looking for the “weird stuff” for ages. To them, “weird stuff” is a genre just like science fiction or horror. But it just hasn’t been given an official name until now. We’re calling it Bizarro. It’s the books and films that people usually refer to as “Cult” because they don’t know how else to categorize it.
So about 12 or so weirdo authors and three small presses decided to band together and promote our work as being Bizarro Lit. We’ve all gotten sick of hanging out on the outskirts of various genres, feeling like we have to pretend to be something we’re not to promote our books.
I like to compare it to Voltron: we’re all coming out from our hiding places to join forces and see if the Bizarro whole is greater than the sum of its weirdo parts.
Even though we all write in very different styles, what unites us is our boyish good looks and refreshing “can do” attitude.
For authors who don’t fall neatly into a single genre, or any genre, how much more difficult is it to get the word out about your book? Are there any especially creative ways you’ve gone about promoting Foop!?
Yes, it’s very difficult promoting a cross-genre book. You get shut out of a lot of opportunities because you don’t fit in.
The main thing that I’ve been doing to get the word out is reading Foop! on the subway while holding the book in a very awkward way that puts the cover in clear view. Basically I hold the book straight out at arms length and rotate my torso back and forth like a garden sprinkler to get maximum coverage. I also slap my knee a lot and guffaw loudly while reading it. If the other riders aren’t at least glancing at me, I’ll ask other people what they’re reading just so I can loudly tell them what I’m reading. “Pardon me Sir, but what are you reading? Harry Potter? Oh that’s nice. I’M READING CHRIS GENOA’S DEBUT NOVEL FOOP!”
Sometimes, when I’m really desperate, I’ll suddenly jump out of my seat and shout things like “Oh no! I was so totally engrossed in reading this hilarious book entitled Foop! by Chris Genoa that I just missed my stop! Ha! Oh well, it was totally worth it!”
I get the kinds of authors you’re joining up with, but who are the fans for Bizarro lit? Are they mostly younger people?
I can’t speak for the other Bizarros, but right now I have only one fan, and she’s a 6th grade honors student in Alexandria, VA. She has a signed photo of me in her bedroom and she keeps asking for a lock of my hair. I’d give it to her, but I fear she may use it to make a fake little mustache and glue it on my author photo . . . and that’s just not cool with me.
But since the Bizarros are an eclectic bunch, we attract an eclectic fan base that varies greatly from author to author. And yes, most of them are young, in the 17-35 year old range.
If you could travel back in time to any period in history, where would you go and what would you do there?
I’d go back to just before I began writing Foop! and write The Da Vinci Code instead.
You’re engaged to comedian Sara Schaefer, and while you both have rather quirky, offbeat senses of humor, they strike me as very different. What’s it like to live in a household with two funny people? Are you two constantly playing practical jokes on each other and being silly?
Let’s just say that if you were to drop by our apartment unexpectedly one night, the odds would be very high that you’d find Sara hopping around naked on a pogo stick while I, wearing a full bear suit, shoot plastic suction-cup arrows at her. A Tiny Tim song would also most likely be playing on the stereo, and a cat would be walking around on its hind legs, holding a tiny umbrella and wearing a monocle. The cat may or may not ask you if you’d like a cup of tea.
All in all I’m lucky as hell to be living with a smart, sexy, funny lady who puts up with my almost constant silliness.
There are illustrations in the book by Chris Daily; how did you coordinate that process? Did you give him the completed manuscript or ask him to draw specific scenes, and did you have approval over the drawings?
Chris Daily is an old friend of mine from William & Mary (we were in a sketch comedy group together), so working with him was great. I sent him the manuscript and just let him have at it. He primarily draws comics, so the stuff he came up with was perfect for the book. You can see some of the sketches he did up at my website.
Your bio says you made a short film at age 24 about "marshmallow peeps coming to life and killing people." Can you tell us more about this film and what you have against marshmallow peeps?
When I made the film I really didn’t have anything against those adorable little blobs. I just loved the expressions on their faces and thought they’d make a good villain in a lame black and white student film.
Now, however, I hate the fuckers. Because ever since I made that movie my family thinks I love peeps and so they give me a huge box of them every Easter. Ever try eating more than one bite of those things? It’s like eating Styrofoam. So I end up exploding most of them in my microwave because that’s the only eco-friendly way to get rid of them. They have a half-life of 50 billion years.
You worked as a bartender while living in New Orleans, and there’s a brief foray to The Big Easy in Foop! How does life in New York, especially the bar scene, differ from life in New Orleans? Have you tried your hand at bartending here?
New Orleans, bless its soul, is basically a lot like your younger kid brother who’s a lovable screw-up. The pace there is much slower and the attitude there is “It can wait ‘til tomorrow” with almost everything.
I worked in a bar in the French Quarter, which is a lot like working in a museum that happens to have a bar in it. Because that’s what a lot of New Orleans is: a museum of what it used to be back when guys like Jelly Role Morton and Louis Armstrong were still tearing it up in Storyville. Yes, it’s an incredibly fun museum where you’re allowed to flash your tits, piss and puke in the streets, and get Daiquiris at drive-through windows, but it’s a museum nonetheless.
I also happen to love the place and sometimes miss the easy life down there. New York is too busy redefining itself every second to be a museum, and sometimes I wish the city could just slow down and spend a few days, weeks, or even months sitting by the river, doing nothing but eating Snoballs drenched in condensed milk.
What’s next for you? How do you top such a crazy work as Foop!?
I’m working on two novels. One of them, Lick Your Neighbor, I hope will be out sometime late next year. It’ll top Foop! simply by virtue of being written by a slightly older and wiser Chris Genoa, which is pretty much the equivalent of a slightly older and wiser Daffy Duck.