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Interview with Rob Dircks, Author of the Fabulous Books Where the Hell is Tesla? and Don’t Touch the Blue Stuff!

Recently, I shared my thoughts on the fantastically hilarious novels Where the Hell is Tesla? and Don’t Touch the Blue Stuff! – two extraordinary works by the very talented Rob Dircks. Today, I’m pleased to bring you a little behind-the-scenes action, and share his thoughts on the books, writing, and the scary importance of Personal Growth… Enjoy!

An Interview with Rob Dircks

Why Tesla? He was clearly a genius and doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for his inventions, but why him in this particular instance as opposed to someone like Einstein (who doesn’t appear until book two) or Schrodinger or someone more typically associated with quantum theory? (Or is it because he’s not?)
The choice of Tesla didn’t stem out of a choice of who’d be more appropriate for a parallel universes story (though you’re right – Schrodinger would have been awesome!), but because Tesla’s got such an intriguing mad-scientist eccentric vibe, and also he’s got all kinds of theories that follow him around, about developing death rays and talking to aliens. And he lived in the New Yorker Hotel! How cool is that?

Is there really a Tesla Notebook or was that an invention of yours? What type of research did you have to do into Tesla (and/or other aspects of the science underpinning the stories) before writing?
Is there really a notebook? It depends who you ask. Personally, I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories (just for fun, I swear), so one day I stumbled across this outrageous conspiracy theory article about Nikola Tesla, how he had secret journals that disappeared after he died, that the FBI took them, and that they contained plans for all kinds of crazy stuff. Maybe an hour later, I was still digging down this Internet rabbit hole, finding little scraps of hints and clues, this wonderful bottomless pit of Tesla lore, and I said to myself: what if he had something REALLY crazy in those journals? Like an Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus? And what if some slacker security guard found his journal in an old abandoned FBI desk drawer?

As far as research, I went down the rabbit hole a little more, and read one of Tesla’s books, My Inventions. But the really cool part? It turns out Tesla’s last living relative, his grand nephew, is this 85-year-old regular guy living in New Jersey named William Terbo. So I contacted him, and we talked on the phone, and as I wrote the parts of the book, I’d snail mail them to him (no email, please!), and we’d talk about whether Tesla would say this or that, what his views were on things like alcohol or taking risks or whatever. William’s a great guy. And sharp as a tack at 85.

Where did the idea of the infinite hallway of doors come from? It’s such a great and evocative image. The doors themselves reset on a regular basis, which causes much hilarity as the guys try to remember which door is which – yet they still lead to the same places. What exactly is going on in there?
I’ve always loved the multiverse theory, that there are infinite universes, each stemming from changes in each moment – it’s such a mind-boggling thing, and for me the perfect vehicle for limitless possibilities. When I found out that Tesla lived in a room in the New Yorker Hotel, it clicked instantly – OF COURSE it would be like a hotel hallway, with infinite doors on either side. It honestly never occurred to me that it would be anything else.

How the hallway works? This, I’ll admit, was completely made up as I went along. I’d invariably paint myself into a corner as I wrote, and I’d have to come up with some absurd-but-somehow-believable way for things to work out and not narratively fall apart. Although if anyone ever took me to task on a definitive, logical guide to the hallway, I’d wave a white flag of surrender immediately.

How did you come up with the format – a series of emails, sent at the exact same time on the exact same day? It’s such a fun touch, having the story continue to develop yet Chip remain stuck (at least theoretically) in the same moment.
When the very first scene with Chip came to me, sort of amorphous, I actually sat down and typed it as an email to my brother Ken. So the voice was very casual, and the email form lent it a sort of immediacy, like “hey, are you there?” I didn’t pick it up again for months, but when I reread it, I liked the urgency of the email, and how intimate it felt — just one person communicating with one other person. So I ran with it.

Time stops in the ITA simply because I had to have a way to keep Tesla alive into Chip’s time of 2015. By having him explore the ITA, Tesla stayed basically 83-ish years old. Old as the hills, but still alive and kicking enough to join Chip on his adventure.

Chip really comes full circle as a character by the end of the second book, yet remains true to his hilarious origins and the books are consistently hilarious throughout. The books are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny – is it tough to write comedy that also tells a story, complete with Personal Growth?
I think writing any novel is tough (at least for me), so I’m not sure the humor part makes it any tougher. It’s not like I had to sit there trying to think up jokes to be thrown in — more like I would sit with a scene, and open myself up to the possibilities of humor. What might go totally wrong right here that would be funny? What’s the most embarrassing thing that could happen to Chip that would also reveal more about his character?

Regarding personal growth, not only do I not think it has to be serious, but I think most of the time in real life it’s pretty funny. Like have you ever seen me play golf? I keep trying, but If I ever get any better it’ll be a miracle. Or as a dad? A lot of my growth as a dad has come at hilarious moments, like trying to change a diaper in an airport bathroom, or trying to boogie board with them in my forties.

Do you think the guys will have any more adventures? What else are you working on?
After the first novel, I thought that was it. No sequel, standalone. But I kept getting readers asking for a sequel. So I said what the heck, and always loving a challenge, I decided to write my very first sequel, Don’t Touch the Blue Stuff! I had no idea what it would be about, but Chip’s kind of this character that never stops talking, so I just let him start, and away we went. All I had to do was throw in a baby and a by-the-book-FBI-agent Gina Phillips to keep him in line (or try anyway!). So if I keep getting good feedback, and Chip keeps opening his big mouth, I think he might be up for another adventure.

Currently, I’m working on a book for Audible Studios, another sci-fi comedy about a mission to Mars (think a mashup of The Martian and a reality show). I don’t know if I’m supposed to say more than that, but I think it’ll be out in mid-2018, so mark your calendar!

Then, after that, I have a novel in mind tentatively titled Shut Up And Run, another sci-fi comedy, this time about a lab researcher who discovers something that gets her on several high-level international hit-lists, and to protect herself and her family, she has to take her curmudgeon old dad and her irresponsible younger brother with her on the run.

***

Rob Dircks is the Audible bestselling author of Where the Hell is Tesla? and The Wrong Unit, and a member of SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). His prior work includes the anti-self-help book Unleash the Sloth! 75 Ways to Reach Your Maximum Potential By Doing Less, and a drawerful of screenplays and short stories. Some of these sci-fi short stories appear on his original audio short story podcast Listen To The Signal, which he also narrates.

Rob is a big fan of classic science fiction, and conspiracy theories (not to believe in them, just for entertainment.) When not writing, he’s helping other authors publish their own work with Goldfinch Publishing, writing and designing for the award-winning ad agency he owns with his brother (appropriately called Dircks Associates), and generally doing what he calls “sampling”: video production, audio production, app development, photography, guitar, reading, cooking. (Note the absence of the phrases “going to the gym” and “running iron-man triathalons.”)

Visit Rob at robdircks.com.

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