Emily: Cube Sleuth involves a fairly unusual mixture of standard thriller elements and some pretty dark comedy. How did you decide what kind of tone you wanted to create?
David: Over the years I have been striving to find a way to have my writing be a perfect reflection of who I am in real life. I have been a class clown all my life and have been performing comedy onstage for the past ten years. But my writing has always been straightforward serious drama or genre work with just little touches of humor here and there. I was kind of afraid to embrace the comedian side of my writing identity, afraid that no one would take the story seriously if I wrote the way I speak in real life.
With Cube Sleuth, the main character is a very thinly-veiled version of me. I always write in first person, and consider my novels to be one giant character monologue. So, when the character was me, I just let go and started telling the story the way I would if I were telling it to a group of friends at a party. I have told some sad stories in public, onstage and off, and I always find a way to make them funny. So, the tone of the book is my conversation style.
Emily: When did you start writing?
David: I started writing when I was ten years old. I found an old typewriter in my basement, a big electric 1970s monolith. I plugged it in and typed “ffffff" for ten minutes because I liked the sound. Then I got bored with that and typed up a short story about vampires. It was about a thousand words, off the top of my head, and took about an hour. I pulled it out of the typewriter, went upstairs, and read it to my parents. They clapped and I decided that this would be my career.
I wrote a bunch of short stories, all about vampires, and then at around eleven or twelve, I wrote my first practice novel. It was a hundred pages, and I wrote it as I went.
I wrote five more practice novels before switching to screenplays for a while. I wrote five of those and then came back to novels with Cube Sleuth, and I found that my foray into screenwriting really streamlined my writing overall. I still write both novels and screenplays.
Emily: Some portions of this novel involved some fairly explicit adult content. What's behind the motivation to include those kinds of scenes and language?
David: At its core, the novel is about Bobby's inability to relate to women in a nonsexual way, and the havoc it wreaks on his life. Unlike Bobby, I have mostly girl friends, and at the time I wrote the book, I was having a hard time viewing my girl-friends in a platonic way, and that was putting my relationship with my girlfriend in danger. I feared that my flirtatious nature--coupled with my utter lack of self-control--was going to lead to infidelity, and I didn't want to lose my girlfriend because I loved her a lot. So the book was my way of wrestling with those demons in a constructive way.
So, the language reflects Bobby's mindset, his overwhelming sexual predilection. And, really, it's a clue to the mystery of Ron's death. The reader is forced to continually think about sex, about infidelity, and they probably think the story is a series of tangents, and only in the end do they connect the two threads.
Emily: What are some of the biggest challenges of a novel like this one?
David: Because Bobby was based on me, and his backstory was my own, the story was intensely personal and painful. I didn't let my parents read the book until I published it because I didn't want them to know about my poker debt and some of my (and Bobby’s) other shortcomings.
In the course of writing the book, I went down pretty much every dark corridor of my brain. But the risk was worth it because being that brave in my self-expression resulted in a work I'm truly proud of, and it has greatly affected everything I've written since, both novels and stand up comedy.
Emily: Which character in the book is your favorite?
David: Definitely Cody Heet. He was a great foil to Bobby, and this scary view of what Bobby was terrified he'd become. Cody was based on a guy I met as an intern at the end of college, and I changed literally nothing about him. It was a lot of fun to insert him into this plot, and also to try to extrapolate what his home life would be like.
Emily: Tell me about your writing process. What does a day in the life of your writing studio look like?
David: I spend at least six months dreaming up the story, watching it like a movie in my head, rewinding it over and over again, branching off decisions and following paths to their logical conclusions, then rewinding and choosing another path. When something sticks out as right for the story, I write it down in a Word file.
By the time I start my first draft, I have 10-15 pages of these notes. And I read and research during that dreaming-up phase. This incubation is the key to everything I write. I am like a giant cauldron that fills up with ideas, and when the cauldron fills to the brim, and I can't hold it in anymore, I start writing.
So a day of writing when I'm in the middle of a draft is fast-paced and productive and a lot of fun. I only do a two-to-three page outline of the plot, and I leave a lot of the meat of the story up to the moment, especially the dialogue. I write the dialogue as fast as possible so it has a realistic sloppiness to it. I used to do really detailed character sketches beforehand, but now I enjoy writing the dialogue on the fly and discovering who the characters are from what they say and how they say it.
I always wrote my novels longhand, but Cube Sleuth was the last one I did that way. It was too time-consuming (between having to type up everything I'd written, and scanning each handwritten page so I'd have a digital backup in case something happened to the original), and with working a 40-hour week and doing stand up two nights a week or more, I needed to find ways to save time.
Emily: What one person (writer, celebrity, family member) has most influenced your writing career?
David: Overall, I think Thom Yorke from Radiohead has been my biggest artistic influence. I love the way he reinvents himself artistically from one album to the next. I never know what direction he'll go in next, but everything he does is very recognizably Thom Yorke-ian. That's my goal as a writer: to never repeat myself, but to always stay true to what makes me me.
Emily: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?
David: I love that there is no limit to what I can think about. No limit to imagination. And that when the real world gets to be too much--which is often--I can escape into the worlds I've created.
Emily: What's next for you? Any new projects simmering?
David: My agent is currently shopping my next novel to publishers. It's called Lost Touch. It's about a psychic who loses her power permanently and has to learn how to become a real detective to solve her sister's husband's murder. It's the first thing I've written that has a female narrator, and that was a great challenge. It allowed me to do the flip side of Cube Sleuth's treatment of female characters.
My agent recommended I write a screenplay of Lost Touch, so I did that, and I'm now entering it into various screenplay competitions.
I'm in the dreaming-up phase of my next two novels, a two-part superhero-detective hybrid. I love sci-fi and superheroes, and it's been fun figuring out how to mix those elements into a traditional detective narrative.
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Emily McCord is a freelance writer and lives with her husband in Washington, D.C. She blogs about simplicity and creativity at The Orange Slate. She loves to cook and believes that everyone should keep a journal.