My stand-up comedy days are long behind me. In fact, a quick check of the math says I started in 1979 and hung up my mic in 1996. But I still remain friends with many of the people I went through the trenches with.
High on the list of talented folks who have stuck it out wayyyyyy longer than I, is John Wing Jr. He is still grinding it out, most notably as a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent. But he’s also a podcast host, a poet with ten collections under his belt, and a new novel.
It’s a good read, and after knowing him for over 35 years (note to self: stop doing the math), it’s clear there’s a lot of him in it. Seemed like a good time to introduce John to you lot.
What inspired you to tackle a novel?
I have always been a writer. I was a writer first. The first thing I ever tried to write was a novel, or a short story. So it wasn’t too outlandish to try again in my late fifties. I’d tried a few other times but I’d always gotten bored and decided the story was boring. Plus I wanted to see if I set a particular writing regimen, could I finish a novel in a set period of time.
I get that. Count of the Sahara started as a bet with myself. A Car to Die For might seem a surprise to those of you who know you through your standup. Where’d it come from?
I had the bare bones idea of the story — the small-town lawyer who is kind of a gumshoe — for a very long time. The character is based on my father. The main case of the burglar was a case my father had in the 70’s. And there were aspects of the man who keeps others’ secrets that I decided were very interesting.
There’s humor in the book but it’s not necessarily funny. Was it hard switching gears?
I wanted to have as much humor as I could find, but there were no intentions with regard to writing funny or not. I was trying to tell the story. If opportunities for humor came up, great, as long as they moved the tale along its way. I had a few jokey lines that I took out in the rewrite because they seemed contrived. (The draft took three months. I tried to write three pages a day (single spaced). Some days I wrote more, and only two or three days I didn’t make three pages. The rewrite took a year.)
Poetry, jokes, and now a novel. How is writing each different?
Jokes and poetry are very similar in the writing. A visual picture and some powerful words, good-sounding words, and done as quickly as possible. Fiction is completely different, since you have to weave many strands of the story into the main story by the end. It’s the reverse of a comedy act, which is a river with many tributaries you can choose to go down or not. The novel has to flow into the main river by the end. Narrative is very unforgiving when compared to jokewriting or poetry, which have fewer rules.
Growing up in Canada, we had some different influences than American kids. I also know that you read even more eclectically than I do. Who did–and do–you read?
The two writers I read the most were Philip Roth and Mordecai RIchler, both dead. I read more non fiction now, a lot of scientific stuff, my favorite being David Quammen, a Montana-based writer. I like pulp, too. Stephen King, occasionally, (reading one of his now — The Institute), Thomas Perry, Michael Connelly, and I confess that I’ve read all or most of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child.
Where can people follow you and all you’re up to?
@johnwing5 on Instagram and Twitter, The Bad Piano Player Podcast on Spotify or wherever you get yer podcasts, dude.
Check out my Amazon Author Page for all my fiction and non-fiction work, especially Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk.