Now that Atom Town: It Came From 1958 has become the number one best seller of any book ever titled Atom Town: It Came From 1958, and the name Jason Scott Nebel has become synonymous with shameless plugs for Atom Town, I sat down with myself to ask the hard-hitting questions that fans are demanding to know in the thousands upon thousands of letters that I’m sure will be arriving in the mail any day now…
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Birth. I popped out and said “jolly good job, mum, now be dear and hand me that typewriter, won’t you?” I was born with a bad English accent. No idea why, but I grew out of it.
How long does it take you to write a book?
20 seconds to 20 years. Each book is an assimilation of years of random thoughts, or about a month of focused effort. It takes About 100 hours to produce a readable copy of an Atom Town book. At about an hour a day, it takes me around 3 months to finish a book (I Mathed, today!).
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
It’s like a rabid mongoose after a pot of coffee! I write for an hour a day, sometimes in 2 minute increments- “Quit honking, I’m writing an interview response!” But seriously, don’t text and drive kids! Stop in the intersection and put your hazards on.
I always try to write things down as soon as I think of them, so in many ways I’m writing all the time: In the car, at work, at the grocery store, in restaurants, in the bathroom, while answering interview questions, wherever, and whenever.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I am horribly nonlinear, meaning I go from the middle of the book to strawberries. I figure out order and structure after I’ve played around with the writing. I never know entirely what’s going to happen, I just set up characters, put them into a situation and see what they do. The work comes in when you have to figure out if these random events are at the beginning, middle or end, or if they even belong in the book at all.
I even do this in a conversation. I’ll skip ahead to the middle of a sentence, jump ahead a page or two, and then back to the beginning, generally making it difficult to make any sense of my rambling. Once I lay it out and go in to organizing mode, people realize, “Oh that’s what this idiot was just blubbering on about!”
How do books get published?
When a mommy book and a daddy book truly love each other… magic happens! After a book is born it goes into the publishing phase, which for me, involves days and weeks of formatting, drawing and piecing together artwork, then navigating online markets. If you’re lucky enough to have a traditional publisher do all of that for you, it’s recommended, but it also takes about ten times longer… Someone else’s time so you can spend that time writing!
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Life, art, cybernetic toaster pastries. I’m inspired by what I see, maybe it’s something from youth, maybe a movie or book, maybe a concept that seems amazing but untouched or underutilized, and I say, “Hey, somebody else out there might enjoy hearing about or experiencing this through fiction!” until people in line at the DMV start giving me funny looks, so then I tell myself to keep it down so they don’t hear us.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Preschool. My first book was a four page masterpiece about a cat and a bug (movie rights pending… Universal is talking “Trilogy”). I published my first Atom Town book nearly 40 years later, so I’m a legitimate overnight success!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have long philosophical debates with my dog. I know what you’re thinking. He can’t understand English, but it’s okay. I talk in Pig Latin. I also thrive on time with my family, watching old cheesy movies and TV shows, reading and writing (of course) and drawing.
What does your family think of your writing?
They’ve all changed their names and moved to Canada. The family I post on Facebook are well-paid actors.
Anything I put out for public consumption goes through my family first. My kids and wife have the unique pleasure/punishment of being the first to experience my work. If they don’t love it, it doesn’t move forward.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That Shia Labeouf is actually a cyborg sent from the future to prevent alien pineapples from taking over the Earth (Thank you future Neil Patrick Harris!) I read it on the internet, so I know it’s true. I also learned how much work goes into the other aspects of publishing. Formatting for print and devices can take just about as long as actually writing the book. And then there’s marketing and distribution. Everyone in the process deserves respect for the insane amount of hard work they have to do, just to get you one copy of a book.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
That’s like picking a favorite child (which is easy… it’s whichever one that does the dishes tonight). I’ve written dozens of books in my head, and started likely well over 100 different ideas, but only 2 books are published to date. I enjoyed the latest a little more, because I didn’t have to set up quite as much as you have to do in the first book.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Wear a wallaby on your head 24×7. That way, if writing doesn’t work out you’ll always be “that wallaby guy”, and they can’t take that away from you!
Read, write, finish, repeat. You won’t know what a book is, unless you’ve read a few. You can’t write a book unless you spend time writing, and if you never finish a project, you haven’t really written anything. Midway through you may feel everything you’ve done so far is garbage… and this may be true, every writer writes garbage, but don’t go back and fix it, just finish it. Fixing it is what you do upon rewrite, and you can’t rewrite anything that isn’t fully written in the first place.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
They say things like “That Atom Town… it didn’t entirely suck!” And “Well, I loved it!” and “Who is that creepy guy hiding in the bushes and writing down our entire conversation?”
Do you like to create books for adults?
I don’t like to adult. Adulting is no fun at all. Reading should be fun, whether you’re a little kid, or a big kid. I simply write what I want to read, and hope there’s a few others out there, regardless of age, that will hopefully have fun reading them as well.
What do you think makes a good story?
Cinnamon. Add it to any story and it becomes delicious! If you find an idea or concept that doesn’t bore you to tears, chances are it’ll make a decent story. I also like to remind myself that every story had already been told, so it’s not necessarily the story, it’s how well you tell it. How engaging you can make it, what new twists you can bring to it. This is where the challenge often comes in, and if you don’t enjoy challenges, don’t become a writer.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be King Kong, Superman, and a Rhinestone Cowboy. I’m afraid of heights and look pretty silly in sequins, so I had no choice but to turn to writing.