The Postmortal: An Interview with Drew Magary
Drew Magary’s first novel, The Postmortal, explores a not-so-distant universe in which a cure for aging is discovered. Realizations of “I can never retire” and “I will always get my period” slowly crop up; after a while, the institution of marriage becomes even less desirable to the postmortals (‘Until death do us part’ used to mean a distinct amount of time, but now…) spurning new “cycle marriages” that are annulled after fifty years. And things get worse; overpopulation takes care of most natural resources, and the narrative spirals toward apocalypse. But while the environment is admittedly bleak, Magary’s prose is hilarious, entertaining, and inventive. It’s like reading an incredible movie, only this book could not be properly morphed into a movie—though it flies by, it spans too much time, for one thing.
I don’t want to give too much away—The Postmortal is so good that I want everyone to read it—but I feel like Magary’s first foray into novel-ville represents a new and necessary kind of book, one that hybridizes filmic dialogue with a journalist’s eye for impending doom, and uses blog entries to describe violent action sequences. In essence, The Postmortal is not a novel that ignores contemporary markers to make itself sound more literary, and it is all the smarter for it.
Anyway, I recently had the opportunity to talk to Magary about his book, and to ask him some questions about how exactly he made it so fricking good. Here’s what he had to say.
Kathleen Hale (KH): This is my first time interviewing an author, so if I say something stupid, just laugh at me and say something smart.
Drew Magary (DM): [laughs] I’ll just match you, stupid for stupid.
KH: Awesome. So, in the acknowledgements section, you apologize to your family for being so annoying while writing this book. How long did it take you to write, and how annoying were you, really?
DM: I wrote the first chapter in the summer of 2009. So it took, I don’t know, I’d say, like, four months. I was sort of between jobs at the time so I sort of had to do a lot of cramming and stuff like that. But then I had to rewrite it all in the spring of 2010 and then after that you have like all of the copyediting. You know like the proofreading. You read it a thousand times and by the end of it you want to hang yourself because you have to read it again. It takes a couple years for that whole sort of process to go from start to finish.
In a situation like that, the reason you annoy your family isn’t the physical writing. “Oh I have to get away and I can’t be around you for a couple of hours.” That didn’t matter. It was more the times when I wasn’t writing but sort of figuring out shit in my head. When you’re with people like that, you’re with them but you’re not with them, You know, your head’s sort of out in the clouds, this idea has sort of pulled you into yourself and you’re up your own ass for a little bit. And then all of a sudden little Timmy’s hand is, you know, on the stove or something like that, and you’re like, “Ohh shit sorry!”
KH: In The Postmortal, there’s a lot of link roundups and reposted things from blogs and articles and things like that. The rest of the book is first person, from the protagonist, John’s perspective—but you do a great job of sort of breaking up his thoughts with these other things. Was this to keep you from getting claustrophobic as an author, or was it more for your reader?
DM: The way it was originally written was with a lot more of the blog posts and stuff. What happened was there was no central element pulling it all together. As I finished the book I realized you can’t really finish the book that way because you don’t have a real story to tell. It’s almost like a list, listing out these things. And you need a cohesive story to pull together. I had to beef up the narrator story to give it more of an anchor. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I do think that first person narrative, on its own, gets boring.
KH: How did working for newspapers, magazines, and online vendors prepare you for those sections where you had to lean on a journalistic perspective?
DM: Yeah. I mean, my day job is blogging. That’s part of the reason why it’s structured the way it is. That’s why some people would say “Oh, well, he’s just a blogger and he’s doing a bloggy book.” I mean, that was a part of it. I read a ton of blogs and Tumblr feeds. You know, I’m always on Twitter. It was easy for me to sort of formulate those false pundits and get those link roundups on politics. They take the best paragraph from that day’s op-eds and mash them together. I like reading that better than the actual op-eds because I’m lazy.
KH: Did your exhaustion or frustration from reading other blogs and magazines all day…did that make it more fun for you to do caricatures of The Atlantic and other magazines and talking heads and stuff?
DM: Oh yeah, yeah. In the first draft I used some real people’s names, particularly sports writers. But then it started to get a little too, “oh he’s just fucking around with the blogs and the other bloggers and stuff.” It distracted from the story. I didn’t do that as much. But yeah.
KH: Were there any real life urban environments or real life anecdotes you can share with me that inspired your vision of the U.S. as a third world country?
DM: Sure, I lived in New York for 6 years and New York is already overpopulated. I had experiences where I was like stuck on a platform at a 4 train station and people were nearly falling down into the tracks, and sweaty bodies were huddled together, and all of that horrible shit. So yeah, there’s a lot of that—and obviously it’s not as if the world isn’t already over-populated. There’s so many different places where you can draw from in today’s world and all you have to do is tweak it enough to push you forward and into the future. It doesn’t need to be like, everyone lives under a plastic dome in the future, that doesn’t appeal to me or strike me as incredibly realistic. I think that the future will end up resembling our world with a few minor tweaks here and there.
KH: This book is pretty dark, but made me laugh like crazy. Like how the Church of Man develops, and at one point John admits, “I know very little of the church of the black man, only that I have never been invited to any of its functions.” Is it important for you to intersperse tragedy and comedy?
DM: It was important with this book because it’s obviously really bleak subject matter and it gets very, very dark at the end, and you’re dealing with very dark things and horrible shit and if you don’t have any sort of human levity in there it’s just too much. People aren’t going to want to read it. People want to be entertained. You can’t just bludgeon them to death over and over again and not give them any relief.
I’ve read plenty of dark, depressing books and you almost, by the time you get to page 200, you almost want the author to kind of snap out of it. Like I read Blood Meridian and by page 150 I was ready for him to start writing like a normal person.
KH: I don’t want to assume that everything in this book is a comment on real life, or anything…but what sect is The Church of Man based on?
DM: Well I was thinking Scientology. But the whole point was to sort of illustrate the end of typical religions—because where would religions be without death?—and to create this weird cult that says it’s not self worship, but then it is self worship. It seemed fun to me that it was this religion that wouldn’t hurt anybody, but who knows.
KH: Like, we don’t believe in violence, but we’ll take Katie Holmes onto a boat for a month until she starts smiling again for Us magazine.
DM: Yeah, so there’s a lot of that in there but I didn’t want to make it obvious. I mean, how many times has Scientology been parodied?
KH: Not enough I think. I think it’s maybe one of the scariest things in the world.
KH: All right, here’s an original one: What writers have influenced you?
DM: I worked in advertising as a copywriter for about ten years, radio ads, scripts like that. Writers that influence me? I don’t know. I’m influenced by a lot of different stuff—you know, TV, movies, lots of stuff—
KH: That’s inspiring to hear. I don’t think a lot of people admit that they’re inspired by television. Well except maybe Andy Warhol.
DM: Yeah you know, we’re not a reading culture anymore. Back in the 30’s everyone read books for entertainment. People just don’t do that much anymore. And I think books should reflect that. They should read like television or a movie—they should have that stuff in there. My agent is like, you should read novels, you write them, read them. But…I don’t know, I like non-fiction. There’s not a lot of bullshit in the story. Novelists try to be more flowery. I like information that keeps me interested.
KH: So, in the book, despite the cure putting a stop on an aging—so that no one who receives it can perish from old age—individuals can still be murdered or killed by stuff like cancer. And you kill off a lot of characters. At one point, your character Solara says to John, “You said you’d never mix love and death, but that’s all you do.” What’s the significance of your continually intertwining love and death?
DM: It keeps things interesting, for starters. I get really annoyed at Sci-Fi TV shows and movies. In one episode, someone dies and you’re like, “Oh no…you’re dead.” But then a few episodes later they’re back and you’re like, “Oh man, fuck you.” Frankly, I think characters dying is fun. It keeps the narrative alive and interesting. That was my beef with the Sopranos when I watched it. You always watched it thinking a lot of characters would get whacked and it would take a few seasons for characters to get whacked.
KH: Cool. Okay well we’re getting to the end. I feel like this has been very professional.
KH: So why is your protagonist 6’6″ anyway? That’s tall. I kept imagining what it’d be like to have sex with him from behind, and how it would probably be like kneeling underneath a table.
KH: Okay well it was great talking to you bye.
DM: You too.
Drew Magary is a writer for Deadspin, NBC, Maxim, and Kissing Suzy Kolber. He’s also written for GQ, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, ESPN, Yahoo!, Comedy Central, Playboy, Penthouse, and various other media outlets. His first book, Men With Balls, was released in 2008. The Postmortal is his first novel. He lives in Maryland with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter here.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook