JW: In a word, unemployment. But let me expand upon that:
I've always liked to write, but I've had an aversion to being deskbound for long periods. So, I chose jobs where I could mix writing with other activities. Public relations was a good fit. I was a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation in the Bay Area for about fifteen years, which I really liked.
In a move of impeccably bad timing, I changed jobs, moving into private industry in 2008, just before the economy came crashing down. I endured several cycles of working and getting laid off.
During one jobless bout, I had some free time and a story idea, so I began to write. I found that I really enjoyed it and could stick with it. That's not to say that some days I'd rather chew on steel wool than write, but most days go smoothly now.
One thing that I like about these days as opposed to my youthful days is that I don't try to be too grand with my writing. I don't sit around thinking about how to write the Great American Novel. My muse is usually one of the kids over at the elementary school. I like to channel my Uncle John to whom the book is dedicated. He used to tell us these great spooky stories. He enjoyed telling the stories as much as we'd like hearing them. I try to channel that vibe.
JW: Our family was sitting at the dinner table and my son wouldn't eat his peas. He was being quite stubborn and fixated on not eating them. I thought I'd distract him with a story. So I made up a tale about a kid who went to the zoo and had his leg replaced with a gorilla leg so he could kick long field goals. I could tell by my son's expression that he thought that would be a very cool thing.
Indeed, I thought it would be a pretty cool thing, too. The next day I sat down at the computer and started writing the story.
He never did eat his peas.
BBB: Tell us about your main character, Ivan Zelinka.
JW: Ivan's a little too adventurous for his own good, sneaking out of his tent during a campout at the zoo. One thing leads to another and he winds up in a laboratory with Dr. Carlson, Elko and their pet monkey, Ipoo. Ivan is accidently injected with gorilla serum and by the next day he is sprouting thick black hair and bulging muscles.
For most teenagers, this would be a horrific occurrence. But Ivan is the field goal kicker on the high school team. His horror transforms into joy as he's booting it through the uprights from sixty yards out and punting the ball into the stratosphere.
There's an autobiographical scene where Ivan phones Elko, asking him for help with his German homework. I was a perfectly lousy student of German in high school. Just like Ivan I had to read Kafka's the Metamorphosis in German. I didn't know what a metamorphosis was in English, let alone German.
And, of course, The Metamorphosis fits in well with the story because Ivan has had his own metamorphosis. But, Ivan only has to deal with an Affe Bein, while Gregor has turned into an Ungeziefer.
I wasn't a good German student, but I love German words. If I get half a chance to fit a word like "Ungeziefer" into a story, I'll do it.
BBB: What do you think readers will enjoy most about your book?
JW: This is a middle grade book (ages 8-12). For various reasons, people of all ages have read it, which makes me happy. I tried to make it like the old Bullwinkle cartoons where there's stuff for kids and adults to like.
Kids get a kick (pun intended) out of the sports scenes, especially where Ivan first starts really walloping the ball with surprising results. They also like the little monkey, Ipoo.
It's a good book to read out loud because it's full of action, surprises and onomatopoeic words, which allows the reader to really ham it up. I've read it to a couple of elementary school classes and the kids really get a charge out of it.
A lot of the readers will like Elko, the German scientist who loves American football. Elko is a study in contrasts. He physically huge, but he does mental work in a laboratory, and not physical work on a football field. He's a smart guy, a scientist, but he also behaves in ways consistent with a Neanderthal man. He has some of the best comic scenes and I think he really grows on you.
JW: I was working on two distinct stories, one about music and the other about tornados. I decided combine them into one.
Right now, it seems a little jammed together. But sometimes dissonance works. I can't think of a literary example right now, but a musical example comes to mind, "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles. You've got a John song with a Paul song plopped right down in the middle of it. But it's a great, great song.
My story isn't that cohesive yet. It's more like "A Very Messy Day in the Life." But, I’m still working on it, slowly and surely.
You can find out more about Jeff Weiss and his work by visiting www.jeff-weiss.com.