KD: I think I fell in love in Billy Purgatory. Where did inspiration for his character, and his story, come from?
JJF: Wow, thanks so much for saying that about Billy. At his core, he's kind of a knuckle-head – but I think he has some qualities that manifest themselves as the story goes along that catches people off-guard. A lot of it, actually, caught me off-guard as I was writing him.
Billy Purgatory came about from me loving and studying everything story over the years. Joseph Campbell and the 'Hero With A Thousand Faces' is like a religion to me. I wanted to do a hero story, but put a spin on it. Billy isn't this guy who's been prophesied by anyone to in any way save the world. He has his own mission, a definite arc, but what if he's not 'that guy'? I mean, maybe he might by some twist of fate end up pulling it off – but he's nobody's chosen messiah and there isn't one person on the planet who believes that he has it in him to accomplish anything even bordering great.
KD: Ulysses Purgatory is a fantastic character, where did the inspiration for him come from? (And I really think you should call NASA about checking the moon for Hoffa's body, I think Pop is onto something there.)
JJF: I have always kinda lived by this bizarre manifesto (and I've found out that I'm not alone in this) that my generation kinda got screwed out of all the fantastic space-age stuff that we got promised. There should be flying cars and jetpacks and a damn Hilton Hotel on the moon. I'm fascinated by Googie architecture and the space-age aesthetic that was implied by it. I wrote Pop as a believer, he thought that his military career and everything he was fighting for were leading towards something greater and after he returns home he finds a world that seems to be not moving forward, but crumbling around him. He's the guy who believes all the crack-pot theories, true, he has some inside information on some of the secrets of the universe, but he's still pretty eccentric in his beliefs.
Pop is my dad, my grandfather – lots of people's dads and grandfathers, really. He's the old kook who has a gun fetish and is waiting for the war to get cranked back up any minute.
KD: For me, coming up with names is one of best parts of creating a story. Are there any hidden meanings behind the names in Billy Purgatory or were they just names you liked?
JJF: I normally do put a lot of thought into names and try to work in a lot of meaning into them – I'm big on mythology and the time-tested meanings of things and places and especially names. For this book, not so much, though.
The name Billy Purgtory just came to me one day – I wish I could say that there was some secret meaning behind it all – I honestly just liked the way it sounded. I promise I'm not gonna pull a LOST and everyone is dead on the island (they promised too though, so I might be trickin' all ya). Ulysses (Pop) is named after the historical legend of old. Medusa is the real deal, but with my own personal spin on things. Anastasia is just a name that seemed all 'badass vampire girl' to me. Devil Bird and Time Zombie are kinda obvious choices considering.
KD: In the beginning of the story Billy is 10 years old. What was the 10 year old Jesse like?
JJF: 10 year old Jesse was a very quiet and well mannered child who read the classics under swaying elm branches and helped all the animals of the forest battle evil witches. Oh wait, I might be confusing myself with Snow White or some shit.
I was probably a little mean and crazy hell-bat.
KD: Ok, phew, you had me worried there for a minute. I was surprised at the level of information concerning mystical sciences from Greek mythology to tarot cards. Are they something you've always been interested in? What kind of research did you do for the story?
JJF: I'm a science-centric sort of guy – but I love mythology and ancient religions and definitely the old stories and the old ways. Tarot cards and Ouija boards and ancient texts were the science of our ancestors – they just didn't consider it that and to us in a world of iPhones and satellites it's all hoodoo. Now I'm not saying that I believe in any of that stuff exactly – but I respect that they were onto something maybe. I did a lot of sociology and anthropology and comparitive religion and mythology in college and every bit of it fascinated me. I think a good adventure or fantasy story either has to make use of these elements or make up their own. My bookshelves are full of dictionaries of mythology, religious and social theory, and paranormal wonderings – which is one of the reasons I'm so popular with the ladies.
KD: On the surface Billy Purgatory seems like a book about a kid with his skateboard killing mythological creatures but when I tried explaining the details of the story, I found myself just retelling the whole damn thing. What sort of planning did you do to create such a complex story simply told?
JJF: It's not about a kid with his skateboard killing mythological creatures? Oh cool – you want complicated author answers… The first stuff that I wrote, kinda strangely, were all the secondary parts – the world building stuff – before I even wrote a word of Billy. I had already done the 'I am the Devil Bird' chapter – which explains Billy's world and life through his eyes, but I didn't expand on anymore Billy stuff until after I'd written the Medusa/Ancient Greece chapters. I knew vampires were going to play a small and kinda secondary role in it all – so I wrote all the Anastasia stuff next. I asked myself what her motivations were as a character and to answer those questions I had to come up with the 'who are vampires and how do they fit into this story' parts. Where did they come from and what's their current state? The stories of secondary and arguably minor characters proved crucial and making the world real – once Billy had somewhere to inhabit, writing his silly skateboarding bullshit and trash-talking was the easy part.
KD: What was your favorite scene/chapter to write? Was there any parts that were difficult to write?
JJF: I'm kinda fond of all of it – obviously because I'm a complete narcissist – but I have two favorite parts and they're both Billy-centric in their own ways.
One is the chapter called 'Back to the Old House in 8MM', where Billy has grown up and has had a bad streak of luck involving his place in adult life and some issues with a recent girlfriend. He doesn't know what to do so he goes back to the house he grew up in looking for answers. I got to go kinda Scooby-Doo secret passageway and, in what I hope is an interesting way, Billy gets the first ever look at his mother, Emelia. Until he traces down these clues he's not really sure what's been real and what hasn't, but he finds evidence that his mother in fact was real and I think it gives him something to hold onto and push him forward.
My favorite chapter (sorry, other chapters) is 'The Birth of Billy Purgatory'. It's a flashback towards the end of the book which answers a lot of questions and gives the reader some serious payoff. I guess, obviously, you get to see Billy get born and the mayhem which ensued on the night of his birth. I never promised I would be real original with chapter titles.
KD: The chapter about Billy's birth was completely badass and as I stated in my review, I'm quite fond of the Sword Witch myself. I hear there's a rumor that you paint in graveyards, is it true? Do you see dead people?
JJF: I think I would be letting everyone down if I didn't hang out in graveyards – but I don't paint in them, I crochet. I don't see dead people, but I talk to them. They let me ramble and never talk back so I'm sticking with the plan.
KD: A lot of writers write to music or at least count music as one of their top inspirations, what do you write to? Did Billy Purgatory have a soundtrack?
JJF: Billy Purgatory was written listening to Clutch, Alabama 3, Led Zepplin, and Hall & Oates and I did it all with mix-tapes.
KD: Billy Purgatory deals a lot with the unexplained: vampires, ghosts, zombie soldiers, UFO, magic, what is your favorite conspiracy theory, myth or urban legend?
JJF: I'm glad you asked me this question because nobody else ever does and I normally just have to weave this stuff awkwardly into conversations at cocktail parties. I think the Truth Is Out There, and I blame these beliefs on Dana Scully, who is way hot and that was good enough reason for me to believe. I'm actually putting together a team of scientists and the greatest yeti tracker in Texas to seek out the answers that people have no idea they are desperately seeking yet. This will be presented in episodic video-blog form and details are forth-coming.
Oh, and elves are trying to fucking kill us all. Mark my words.
KD: Dude, that's my kid, not an elf, stop looking at her that way. *turns to child* Go get mommy another beer. *ahem* What? It's my bar, I can have my kid in here if I want, I'm a working mother. Anyway, back to the interview, are you working on anything currently?
JJF: I'm working on a secret Booktrope project of essays with other authors for a great cause – breast cancer research. I'm very excited to have been asked to be a part of it and in our way to be doing something for the fight. I'm working on the sequel to Devil Bird, Billy Purgatory and the Curse of the Satanic Five. I'm also writing a bizarre cop drama called MythCop, which I can't say anything about other than there are Grey-Aliens with shovels in it.
Thank you, Jesse, for stopping by the bar! Friends you can find Jesse on the links provided underneath his pic, I highly suggest you follow him. 🙂 I also suggest that you check out the other two badass interviews he did with two of my favorite people, AJ Aalto and Shay Fabbro.