Jason Mott, HELL OF A BOOK

Jason Mott, HELL OF A BOOK

Jason Mott’s latest novel, Hell of a Book —which is already a New York Times bestseller and a Read With Jenna Book Club pickis meant to make readers laugh out loud on one page while offering a critical look at serious topics like race and policing in America on the next. Jason joins Zibby to discuss the technical structure of the book, as well as how his introverted tendencies both inspired the story’s undertones and prompted Zibby to reflect on her own shyness. The two also talk about ways they like to recharge after spending time around other people and why Jason doesn’t like to take himself too seriously. Check out Zibby and Kyle’s appearance on Good Day LA where they recommended this book here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CSXW1bUJhVp/


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jason. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Hell of a Book.

Jason Mott: Thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to be here.

Zibby: The great thing about this book, one of the many great things, is having a protagonist who’s an author going on book tour. Yet you are an author going on book tour, obviously, so you were clever in the ways that you told the media not to bother you in this book. Among the eight thousand other things it accomplished, I am not going to ask what this book is about. Although, I love your media tip to repeat the title. I was like, oh, okay, I should do that with my own books. I don’t usually do that. Thank you for that.

Jason: You’re welcome.

Zibby: I’m not going to ask you what it’s about. We’re just going to have a conversation. What’d you have for breakfast today, Jason? Tell me that.

Jason: What did I have? A protein shake, some eggs, and bacon. It was a pretty good, simple breakfast.

Zibby: Nice.

Jason: What about yourself? What’d you have for breakfast?

Zibby: I had some of my kids’ Honey Nut Cheerios.

Jason: Awesome. I haven’t had Honey Nut Cheerios for — that sounds so good. That sounds better than my breakfast.

Zibby: It was actually great. It was fantastic and didn’t take much time to eat, so that was good. You have developed some of the most interesting characters here in this book. I love the pacing. I love the way they talk. I love all their funny interactions. I love how you never know if the boy is real or not and all of the mental health issues. I love how you riff on the publishing process, wow, and incorporate really important big themes in life like race and police. Yet you package it all up in this narrative. You’re almost tricking the reader that you’re reading this light, fluffy book, but it’s not at all a light, fluffy book, at all. Tell me about your — . I don’t even want to ask you any questions. Respond to that if you want to. If you don’t want to, that’s fine too.

Jason: You’re totally allowed to ask any questions you care to. The book’s goal was obviously twofold. I wanted to have a very serious discussion about race in America and identity and all of those very big, “heavy,” topics that permeate the American existence. Yet I also at the same time, partly for my own well-being but also for the well-being of the reader, I wanted to have some fun. I wanted it to be a comedy. I’m someone who, I don’t take myself very seriously. I take my writing very seriously. I myself, I do not take myself very seriously. I like to laugh. I wanted to create a space where readers could come to the page and find this absurdist farce where the silliest things are happening one moment and then literally the next page over, you’ve got really heavy, dramatic, powerful moments that are occurring as well. That pendulum swing between the two was part of the technical challenge for writing this. It was a lot of the fun as well because I like to laugh. I got to laugh during the writing process. I think readers are laughing during the reading. That’s actually what I wanted, so that’s really good.

Zibby: You start off right away with us — how can you not laugh at a naked man in a hotel lobby trying to get a key and then not having his driver’s license? You set the tone great. Then we go through all of this intense sadness later when you see what happens. Parts of it, I was like, oh, my gosh. I couldn’t believe — you saw it coming. It takes you on a wild ride, basically. I think my favorite character was the limo driver. He was so great. Tell me about inventing that character. You’re just sitting in your office. Tell me about coming up with him. Tell me about that.

Jason: It’s funny, he’s a character who stole the show for so many people. When I wrote the character, I definitely enjoyed writing it, but I didn’t expect it to be this character that so many people connected with in such a strong way. You know what’s funny? When I sent the manuscript to my agent, she immediately was like, “I love Renny. I love this character. I love him so much.” He came about just because when I was on book tour for The Returned almost ten years ago now, a lot of the craziness in Hell of a Book, it’s patterned after that. It was a really whirlwind, surreal, bizarre, frenetic experience. I wanted to capture that. One component — what happened is you would land in a new city. They would have this limo driver. I don’t know what it was called, media escort. They would take you from bookstore to bookstore and all those kinds of places because they knew the town better than anyone else. I wanted to combine a few really positive — there were some crazy media escorts I had, and there were some really cool people. I took the best parts from those really wonderful media escorts I had, people who really helped me get through the book tour. I rolled them up into Renny’s character. I patterned him after an actor named James Hong. He’s an Asian American actor. He’s been in film for decades now. He’s really become one of those people, one of those actors whose body of work has kind of been the background of my life. He’s been in so many movies that I love and so many parts of my existence growing up that I wanted to pay an homage to him as an actor. I patterned the character after him a little bit. That’s where Renny, the driver, came from. He’s become a sudden star of the show, totally unexpected.

Zibby: Ugh, I thought I was so unique. Forget that. So much for my original interpretation. I wanted to just read this one paragraph because I thought it was so interesting, this whole theme of being seen and invisibility. Who has the gaze? There’s this whole male gaze. Multilayered, or maybe it’s just luck. I don’t know. I think you meant it. You say, “‘So you’re some new kind of superhero, I guess, the invisible kid here to save the invisible day.’ ‘Yeah,’ the boy says brightly. ‘I never really thought about it like that, but I think that’s pretty dope. I can be here one moment and then not here the next whenever I want. Nobody can see or hear or even touch me if I don’t want them to.’ Something akin to pride creeps into his voice, but it’s a hollow sort of pride. It’s the pride of someone who’s rarely proud of anything. It’s the type of pride that can be knocked over with a feather, and so it rarely gets to shine in the face of the world. The little black kid flashes those impossibly white teeth at me and he laughs and then he covers the smile and quells the laughter like Miss. Celie used to do, and I know that he spent his entire being afraid to be happy. ‘I’m sorry, kid,’ I say leaning back. ‘What are you sorry for?’ the kid asks. ‘For whatever trauma of mine led you here,’ I reply. Before I know it, everything and all of it hits, and I’m asleep.” I love that passage. Tell me a little more about that and this whole notion of, from the beginning, this boy who feels like his main superpower is to not be seen and to try and avoid pain, essentially, which he can’t escape from, whether or not he’s real or a figment or whatever.

Jason: A lot of that component of the visibility, seen and unseen, some of that actually does come from my personal experience. As much as I may seem like a very gregarious, outgoing person, I’m actually a hardcore introvert. I really shy away from attention. I always have. Growing up, I was the kid who wanted to just tuck away and not be seen. I wanted to sit away and read books and just not interact with people. I always felt a little bit insecure and nervous and all those kinds of typical feelings that you have a lot of the time. That’s something that still carries forward a little bit today. Even as an adult and having written a few things, I still want to disappear. The spotlight and attention always unnerves me a bit. I decided for this novel to really lean on that and explore it for myself, but also really make that a part of storytelling. I think it’s a feeling that a lot of people actually have. There’s safety in not being seen. The ability to decide when you are seen and when you aren’t is something that I think all of us can kind of relate. There have always been moments in our lives when we wished we could just disappear, something really embarrassing happened or whatever happened. You’re like, I wish I could just disappear from this. I wanted to use that from a personal standpoint, but also implement some social commentary. Parents, particularly black parents, they worry about their children so much interacting with police, interacting just with America in general. That ability to disappear would be the most amazing gift that a parent could have for a child. That’s where that all came from.

Zibby: That’s really heartbreaking that that’s the gift that you would want to bestow on your children. It’s heartbreaking.

Jason: Yeah, I think it’s a true thing. There is this thing that you’re oftentimes taught, at least, I was taught and I know many other black males in particular that were taught, you don’t want to stand out too much because you’re always being noticed to a certain degree. You have to learn when you can and when you can’t be in the spotlight and be seen. Like I said, so much of the story was taking that social construct and really stretching it out to this big metaphor. Hopefully, readers are responding to that.

Zibby: See, I thought you meant to do that.

Jason: I totally meant to do that.

Zibby: Okay, good. I don’t know if I’m an introvert or just — I used to be super, super shy. I think I’m a little of both. There were times when I wanted to talk. It sounds like you didn’t, maybe, want to talk. You wanted to just hide. I wanted to talk, but I just felt like I couldn’t talk because I was so shy. There were times where I was like, can anybody actually see — maybe I’m not here. No one would be talking to me because I wouldn’t be talking. It just really makes you question all of the social dynamics. What does it mean to be here? Do I have to talk? What does it mean that I’m not talking? All of that mess. You brought back my whole seventh grade.

Jason: Good, good, it was meant to bring that back. I can relate to those. I’ve definitely been the guy who wanted to say things but then didn’t for shy, introvert, insecurity, whatever you want to call it. I can definitely relate to that. I’m the guy who — in college, we’d have parties. I would go. I would always just disappear without telling anyone I was leaving. They began to call it the Jason escape. The party would be happening. Then someone would turn, and I wasn’t there anymore. That was so much of one thing I did.

Zibby: I still do that. I did that at my own fortieth birthday party. I also can’t take too much. I just can’t take too much. I get to a point where I’m like, okay, I’m starting to shut down. I can’t be in this big social setting anymore. I just am like, I’m out. I can’t wait five more minutes. Probably, the people I’ve been married to don’t really appreciate it. I’m like, we have to go right now. What? Why?

Jason: Yes, I know that so well.

Zibby: My whole fortieth birthday, I was like, this is too much. Now I need to go home and go to bed. I just walked out. Everybody, later, was like, it’s your party, where’d you go?

Jason: I can totally respect that. That’s awesome.

Zibby: I try not to do it. Then I feel like I’m always ready to leave too early. Then I’m going to offend people. Then they’re going to convince me to stay. It’s a whole thing.

Jason: I know in my experience in particular, it’s not that you have any personal issue with the — you love the people you’re with, but there reaches this point of just critical mass where it’s like, I’ve been socialized too much. I have to go. I totally get it.

Zibby: Gosh, I never even talk about that, really. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who reaches that point.

Jason: Not at all.

Zibby: I’ll be thinking of you next time I skulk away quietly from a party. I’ll be like, I’m pulling a Jason Mott here.

Jason: I like that.

Zibby: Are you working on a new book now that Hell of a Book is taking the world by storm? Are you taking a little time to just do all this publicity?

Jason: Actually, both. Publicity is definitely a big part of things right now, but that period lasts only for maybe a month, month and a half. I’m also working on a new project and trying to figure out what it is. So much of writing at this point is just putting the words out and not really knowing where it’s going or what it’s actually going to be about. I’m definitely working on a new novel. It takes me about a year and a half to two years to write a novel. I’m always trying to be ahead of the curve as much as possible. Definitely, working on some new stuff. Can’t really say what it’s about yet because I honestly don’t know what it’s about yet, but it’s definitely something to work on.

Zibby: How do you regroup and get your energy back to do all the interviews and everything?

Jason: I hide a lot. After a day of interviews, I will go home and turn on a movie that I’ve seen a thousand times before and just let it watch me instead of me watching it. I play a lot of video games. I go exercise with friends. I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is fun. I just try to do anything removed from writing as possible. It reaches a point where I’ve talked about writing and I’ve done writing so much for that day. I’m a movie buff, so I’ll go watch movies or play video games or whatever, just anything apart from words. That’s the way I try to do it.

Zibby: What video games do you play? Maybe I’ll hook you up with my son. He’s fourteen. It’s all he wants to do.

Jason: I play pretty much everything. I’m a big fan of fighting games. I’ll play Street Fighter and things like that. There’s a game called Dark Souls, which is really difficult. I play that a lot. I got a PlayStation. I’ll just turn it on and find something to play and have fun.

Zibby: My son is in the stage where I come in and he’s talking to these people. I’m like, “Who are you talking to?” He’s like, “My friend from the video game.” I’m like, “You are talking to strangers. This is not good.” He’s like, “No, we’ve been talking for a year.” I’m like, “Still not good.”

Jason: I’m going to defend your son here. I’m going to tell you, totally let it happen. There is a beautiful online community. Games used to be, your friends came over, you did it in your house. All that’s happened is that shifted to online. Don’t get me wrong, there are some weirdos out there, for sure, but they vastly are outnumbered by the number of people that you meet who just love the game. They want to talk about the game. They become your teammates and your friends. I’ve got a couple friends, people I’ve never met in real life that live in entirely different parts of the country. We only meet through video games.

Zibby: That’s what he says.

Jason: It’s really fascinating.

Zibby: Mind you, I spend my whole day in my room talking to strangers on the internet. Seriously, who I am to talk? I share my innermost feelings with strangers every single day. I’m like, oh, no, watch out with the video games. Okay, fine, I’ll let I happen, I guess.

Jason: I also get your point of view, though. Strangers talking to your kids is always terrifying, so I get that as well.

Zibby: He seems pretty sure of himself. It’s also like, all these levels, it identifies you somehow. He’s a bronze in this game. I’m like, “Do you want to meet this kid? I’m at a party with this kid,” or something. He’s like, “Well, is he a silver or bronze in blah, blah, blah game?” I’m like, “Uh, excuse me, are you a bronze or a silver?”

Jason: Exactly. You got to show your credentials. You got to show your credentials if you’re going to hang out. I totally get that. That’s wonderful.

Zibby: Yes, exactly. Excellent. Do you ever read to regroup? What do you like to read?

Jason: Yes, I do like to read. I oftentimes read books that I’ve read before, which is kind of a bad habit because I don’t read as many new books as I should. So much of my reading is trying to study writing craft. There are certain authors that I just reread their works a lot. I do have a few new books that I’m reading. Right now, I’m reading a graphic novel by one of my favorite comic book authors named Barry Windsor-Smith. It is mind-blowingly good. I am so blown away by it. It’s taking me three weeks to read it because I’m trying to go through it very slowly. He’s one of those creators who, he does not produce very often. He hasn’t had a new piece of work in almost ten years. There may be another ten years or so before he produces another one, so I’m just trying to take my time as much as possible. Like I said, I read a lot of old stuff. I’m a big fan of John Gardner and William Golding. I reread a lot of their works. Dalton Trumbo, I read a lot of his stuff, Hunter S. Thompson. About a month ago, I read Mateo Askaripour’s Black Buck, which was really wonderful. He’s a great guy. Him and I are doing a thing later today. I try to read. I don’t read as much as I think I should. I spend so much time writing that I just get burnt out on words. I really do. At the end of the day, I don’t want any words. I want just images, usually.

Zibby: I don’t think there’s an amount you’re supposed to read. Again, with my son, you two could swap graphic novels here at this point. I don’t stop podcasting and go listen to a podcast. I’m like, okay, I’m out.

Jason: Right, yes. It’s funny because I always feel like there’s this pressure or expectation as a writer that you’re supposed to be reading just all the time and having thirty thousand books you’ve read and you can name off in a second. It’s usually not the case. A good six hours of my day is spent working with words. After doing that for six hours straight, I kind of don’t want words anymore.

Zibby: I totally understand that. Everybody reaches a saturation point. Totally fine. Awesome. I feel like maybe now I’ll connect you with my son over email. You two can play.

Jason: Sounds good.

Zibby: He’s a pretty cool dude. Thank you so much. I know I’ve been sort of light and flippant. Not flippant, but the book has real depth and serious issues that are so important. I don’t mean to minimize that by this lighthearted conversation, so I hope you didn’t take it that way.

Jason: Not at all.

Zibby: It was great. I’m so glad I read it. I’m so happy for all your success. I hope it all continues and that you get enough downtime.

Jason: Thank you very much. This was a terrific interview. I enjoy laughter, so this was a fun interview for me. I’m really glad. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: You’re so welcome. Have a great day.

Jason: Thanks. Take care. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Jason Mott, HELL OF A BOOK

HELL OF A BOOK by Jason Mott

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