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Review & Author Interview: Geek Fantasy Novel

April 28, 2011

Title: Geek Fantasy Novel
Author: E. Archer
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pub Date: April 1, 2011
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover

What happens when a science geek and magic collide?
Be careful what you wish for. Really. Because wishes are bad. Very bad. They can get you trapped in fantasy worlds full of killer bunny rabbits, evil aunts, and bothersome bacteria, for example. Or at least that’s Ralph’s experience. He’s been asked to spend the summer with his strange British relatives at their old manor house in order to set up their Wi-Fi network. But there’s much more to it than that, of course. It’s just that nobody told Ralph. He’s a gamer, sure. But this game is much stranger–and funnier–than anything to be found on his xbox.
He is a geek. This is his story. — GoodreadsThis book is not AT ALL what I expected. I thought it was going to be a cute little foray into geek culture, (with which I am very well-acquainted) a romp through a world full of comic book in-jokes and World of Warcraft references. While Geek Fantasy Novel has those, as well as fire-burping bunnies, the book is soooo much more than that–it’s smart and meta and inventive and full of SAT words and freakin’ layered–there are TWO narrators! Not that it’s a hard book to read; it’s definitely not that. It’s just, well, to be completely honest, waaaay better than I thought it would be.

The main plot is that Ralph, a super geeky kid living in New Jersey with parents who are anti-wishing, is recruited by his aunt to come to England for the summer to help set up their WiFi network. While there, he reconnects with his cousins, Cecil and Daphne, and his half-cousin (is that a thing?) Beatrice. He also meets his other aunt, Chessie, who, as it turns out, has the power to grant wishes. However, these wishes have to be acted out via a quest that the wishee must complete.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, as is normally the case with magic, not everything is what it appears to be, and loopholes are abundant. With Ralph attempting to save each of his cousins from their careless wishing and terrifying quests, he wreaks havoc on the age-old profession of narrating quests and causes quite the stir in his family’s otherwise quiet life.

After I read this book, I could not stop thinking about it. I enjoyed it so much that I just had to speak with the wonderful, talented Eliot Schrefer, who is, in fact, E. Archer, about the book! So I did! Check out my interview with Mr. Schrefer after the jump!

BL: What was the inspiration to write Geek Fantasy Novel?

ES:  I actually wrote this in 2006, after I’d written my first two adult novels which were intricately plotted. My main ambition going in was to try to write something that had a free form structure. On a selfish note, this book was a way to detox from that style of writing and let myself go. Well that and I wanted to write something funny, and my comic voice doesn’t do well if it has constraints.
BL: What made you interested in writing a fantasy novel? 
ES: There were about ten years of my life where mass market paperback fantasy books were all that I read. In fact, my first novel, which remains unpublished, was a really earnest fantasy novel. My best friends couldn’t finish reading it. It was deadly pretentious and really heartfelt, but in a way that made everyone cringe. With this book, that really started as an exercise, I wanted to revisit that first book, find the cringe-worthy things, and then spoof myself.
 BL: Okay, I have to ask: Where did the fire-burping bunnies come from?
ES: In the book, Ralph [MC] came across the basket of bunnies when he was in a moment of true depression—the lowest moment in the quest, and in the book—and then there are adorable bunnies. I wanted to throw a wrench in the cog, so he had the basket and it had to go somewhere, so the bunnies became malevolent.
BL: The tone of the book is extremely droll, which surprised me because I figured it would be overtly geeky. Why did you choose to go with that tone?
ES: Dry humor is definitely part of the geek world—it’s not a style of humor that everyone will find appealing, and that’s OK. But, my mom is British, so I feel like I’ve just always been around that sort of humor, and it’s apart of who I am.
BL: One of my favorite aspects about this book was the “role” of the narrator. Why did you choose to have a narrator who intervened and was actually a character in the book?
ES: I started writing with the express intention to have no rules and no constraints. In Chapter 2, the narrator just happened to break the [fourth] wall. It took me by surprise and it just went there, so it surprised me too as I was writing it. But I was really happy it happened because I had always been fascinated with books where the telling of the story becomes part of the story, like in some of Salman Rushdie‘s books and in The Neverending Story with the Old Man of Wandering Mountain. I remember as a kid being so intoxicated by those moments where I was implicated in the moment where the story I was reading was all of a sudden part of the story.
BL: You wrote Geek Fantasy Novel under the name E. Archer instead of Eliot Schrefer. Was there a reason why you used a different name with this book?
ES: Part of it is that it’s for a very different audience than the other books I’ve written. I knew it’d be a little bit younger and potentially much more male than the others. It wasn’t for any reason as cynical as branding, but I wanted to do something different. And I really like coming up with character names, so it was kind of a fun project.

BL: Is there anything significant about the pseudonym?

ES: Not particularly. It’s a name I think is neat. I’m a Sagittarius and that’s the archer, so there’s that! (laughs)
BL: At one point in the novel, the narrator announces to the reader that Beatrice is his favorite character. I’ll admit that she was my favorite character, but I’m curious to know if she was your favorite character as well. 

ES: She’s not my favorite character, but I wanted the narrator [who does not like Ralph] and Ralph to have a smackdown, and I thought she was a good reason for it, and then all of a sudden the narrator was trying to take out his own character in his own story. I just found that really interesting and wanted to explore that possibility.
BL: You mentioned earlier that this was a free form writing process as opposed to an intricately plotted one. Do you mind talking about your typical–if you even have a typical–writing process? 
ES: I started more free form than I am now, but now I typically have about a twenty page outline. It’s really hard to steer the bus once it’s in motion, so when I’m outlining I can be agile about what I want the story to do.
With Geek Fantasy Novel, I knew I wanted to have the aunt granting three wishes that became three quests, and then I figured out that I wanted the main viewpoint to be an outsider, which is where Ralph came from– and he was truly an outsider, which is a huge part of the geek quality. And from there it all just happened!So there you have it folks! I definitely recommend this one–it’ll throw you for a loop in a couple different ways, and all the while keep you laughing. If you like fairy tales, geek stories, or books that have a very, very dry sense of humor, Geek Fantasy Novel is absolutely up your alley. And if you feel like you just want to read this book because you are a curious sort, that is an even better reason to read it!

The interview with Eliot Schrefer took place on April 13, 2011 via telephone. No, I will not give you his number. 😉

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