1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
Hmm… Is a writer who you are? Or is it what you do?
If it’s who you are, then I’ve always been a writer, Kelly. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was still a writer, hijacking my skill-set for other endeavors. Being a storyteller is a transferrable talent: From high school run-ins with angry teachers to smoke-filled single bars to PR clients in dire need of crisis communications advice, there’s a great deal of versatility to storytelling.
For decades, I did my best to avoid being an author of books, however. Lord how I tried! Writing books – at least for me – is an arduous, painful, dreadfully unpleasant task. Speechwriting for others is easy: It’s their life, their story, and I’m happily shielded from the consequences. But writing a book? Telling a story that’s truly a piece of me – and letting total strangers poke around, meet my alter-egos and dissect my inner-most thoughts? Aaahh!! It’s like standing naked on a city corner! Writing is a form of exhibitionism… and Kelly, I guess I’m naturally shy.
I don’t enjoy being exposed like this… but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake this God-awful compulsion to share these stories…
So more than anything else, I guess I became an author because I had exhausted all other options.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today
When I was younger? Too many to count, but one of the great things about being a Daddy (I have two boys, eight-year-old Daniel and six-year-old Micah) is that I get to relive my childhood by sharing the books I loved as a kid. Bedtime reading is a family tradition. We’ve already read Judy Blume’s “Fudge” series, Beverly Cleary’s “Ralph Mouse” series, the best works of Roald Dahl and we’re halfway through the final book in Tom D. Fitzgerald’s “Great Brain” series. Together, we’ve met the Boxcar Children, got lost in the Phantom Tollbooth, mourned when My Brother Sam Is Dead, and we have vacation plans to visit The Island of the Blue Dolphins.
My four all-time favorite “grownup” books are Frederic Bastiat’s The Law, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Brain Droppings and Richard Bach’s Illusions. I know that’s an odd combination, but what I adore about all four books is that they kind of stick with you, long after you close the final chapter. Even when you disagree with the author – or, more accurately: ESPECIALLY when you disagree with the author – the ideas and theories linger in your brain for quite a while. I like that. It’s something I sought to emulate when writing The Second Coming: A Love Story.
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel, The Second Coming: A Love Story?
I developed the concept about 15 years ago, while attending law school in Washington, DC: According to Christian theology, the Devil is thousands of years old and deviously brilliant. I remember wondering one night, if such a creature didn’t want you to know who he was… how would you know? How could you out-think a creature that’s not only smarter than you, but also thousands of years more experienced and capable of supernatural powers? We get fooled by ordinary people every day – and most of the time, they’re not particularly clever! So what “prayer” would we realistically have to outwit the Prince of Darkness?
Then I had a further thought: If the Devil really wanted to con mankind, he wouldn’t appear with a pitchfork and horns. All those horror movies have it wrong; that’s far too obvious! Instead, his best option would be to appear as a holy man – and to attach himself to the faith of his target audience.
Because if I were Satan’s publicist, that’s what I’d recommend.
But hypothetically, what if we raised the stakes even further, and now there were TWO self-declared saviors – one who preached to Red America, the other to Blue America? And what if all the key characters in the story were modern day updates of the major characters from the Bible? What would happen then? How would you know who is God and who is Satan?
This late-night “thought-experiment” became the basis of my debut novel – The Second Coming: A Love Story.
4. Religion has, and always will be, a touchy subject. You managed to make it fictional while not being satirical or offensive. In your opinion, what is it about the topic that is so personal that it has literally initiated wars?
I appreciate that, Kelly. I respect religion, and when researching and writing The Second Coming: A Love Story, it was never my intent to apostatize for any one ideology. I have no interest in arguing to the death about what happens after we die.
That’s your burden, not mine.
But religion has – and will always be – deeply, passionately personal. It has to be. Religion attempts to answer our most personal questions, and clearly, people don’t take kindly to being told that they’re wrong. Rejecting someone’s faith is tantamount to rejecting the essence of who they are – and nobody likes being rejected.
In fact, some respond quite poorly.
5. Many films and television shows have put an original spin on Satan, particularly Supernatural, which made Lucifer look as normal as anyone else. What has been your personal favorite representation of the Devil?
I sort of liked the Devil in Charlie Daniels’ song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Great tune! Satan is capable of commanding demons, destroying souls and waging war against God Almighty – but for whatever reason, he’s apparently not a very good fiddle player. (With all those decadent, drug-fueled rock stars burning in Hell, you’d think someone could’ve given him music lessons.)
6. Were any of the characters personalities or emotions taken from real life (not religion)?
Absolutely. You’ll notice parodies of today’s most influential talk-radio personalities, cable news anchors, TV evangelists and other celebs making guest-appearances throughout the story: For example, the character of bombastic talk-show host Nate Konrad has clear shades of Don Imus and Howard Stern – plus an ample dose of Rush Limbaugh. But there’s a deliberate purpose to this: In today’s culture, celebrities – and the way we consume media – have become an extension of politics, and politics is an extension of religion.
Let me explain:
Just 30 years ago, American households only had three or four TV channels, one or two daily newspapers, and a dozen-or-so radio stations. The Internet didn’t exist. There was an extremely limited number of media options, and this fostered cultural cohesion. You, me – everyone – we all sampled and shared the flavors of society’s top tastemakers. Red America and Blue America overlapped constantly; it was unavoidable. Everyone knew about The Beatles, who shot J.R., Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, and why Johnny Carson hated Joan Rivers. Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, Republicans, Democrats – it didn’t matter.
Today, we’re hopelessly tribalized by our interests and our ideologies. A conservative / traditionalist in Red America will see, read, hear and think something completely different than a liberal / secularist in Blue America. This insularism further separates us, expanding the cultural divide. It’s the difference between Rush Limbaugh and Jon Stewart; FOX News and MSNBC; CMT and BET; Ted Cruz and Al Franken. Especially now with social media, we spend more time in our self-constructed echo chambers than in the outside world.
There is no more popular culture, Kelly. It’s all just cult-culture… and who better to take advantage of cult-culture than a cultist?
This is the very real backdrop of The Second Coming: A Love Story.
7. You've ghostwritten speeches and written for various reputable news sources in the course of your career, and now you're a fiction author. What other forms of writing (or other fiction genres) would you like to try your hand at?
With apologies to Brian Williams, sometimes it seems like the most creative forms of fiction ARE on the “reputable” news outlets! (I kid, I kid!)
This might sound weird, but I’ve always loved poetry. Especially British poetry: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Blake in particular. None of the critics or reviewers have picked up on this yet, but I wove-in dozens of homages to both poets in The Second Coming: A Love Story. Phrases like “sinking like lead into the sea” (Rime of the Ancient Mariner) or “forests of the night” (The Tyger) or describing Hell as having “canyons measureless to man” (Kubla Khan) – you could almost make a drinking game out of all the references. (And if Coleridge was still alive, he’d probably participate!)
I’ve actually written a book of poetry, but I’m hesitant to publish it. There’s not much of a marketplace for poetry anymore. I mean, I’m proud of it, and I honestly think it’s good… but it sort of seems self-indulgent and egotistical, doesn’t it? At least a little bit?
(Or maybe that’s just my own insecurities rearing their ugly head…)
8. What would you do if you were in your story?
That’s an interesting question, Kelly. In a way, I am in the story. We all are: This is a story about today’s culture – how ideas, faiths, politics and social movements are orchestrated and manipulated. It’s a theological-thriller in an ultra-realistic setting, and we’re all living in it.
So what would I do? I’d guess I’d write something…
9. Would you like to see Second Coming as a film? Who do you want to see play your characters?
Oh, I’d absolutely love to see a film adaptation! And y’know, it wouldn’t bother me one bit if a studio changed around the story and modified the characters. The book is MY story; the movie would be someone else’s. To me, that would be fun: To see how others adapt what I’ve already written. Lots of writers are fearful of this, but I think the process would be fascinating.
As for actors and actresses? One reviewer recommended FOX News’ Megyn Kelly for the part of Margaret Magdala. I hadn’t thought of that before, but it would be a bold choice. I don’t know if she has the acting-chops to pull it off, though. If Heath Ledger was still alive, he’d be brilliant as one of the two saviors. To make this story work, you really need someone who can be charismatic, moralistic and ambiguous all at the same time, and Ledger had those attributes in spades.
Who else? Hmm… Breaking Bad was genius: maybe Bryan Cranston as Reverend Phil Pharis and Aaron Paul as Michael Waters? Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen as David Shepherd? Or maybe something entirely different?
What do you think, Kelly? Who would you cast? [Heath
Ledger would've been perfect! Maybe Martin Freeman as Shepherd, Felicity Huffman as Margaret, and the rest of your casting is pretty spot-on!--KSR]
10. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
In ten years, my boys will be 16 and 18! I can’t even wrap my head around that... and sadly, I don’t think they’ll be letting me read them Judy Blume books anymore.
I don’t know where I’ll be – or what I’ll be doing – in ten years. I sure couldn’t have predicted the last ten years! I’m (cautiously) hopeful that I’ve finally found my place in the cosmic ocean: Instead of battling against the celestial tide, maybe in another decade I’ll be exactly where I’m meant to be?
Maybe. Maybe not.
11. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
Walking around with half-a-head, ‘cause without writing, my head would explode. I don’t know how else to describe it, but sometimes I get these strange thoughts ricocheting around my skull. If I ignore them, they’ll ricochet faster and faster – and then BOOM!!
Without writing, I couldn’t excise my demons. I’d be a scary person to be around.
12. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
The Second Coming: A Love Story is the first book in a trilogy. I’m completing the second book, Three Days Later: A Revenge Story. (I’m holding-off releasing it until more people read the first book, so PLEASE help me get the word out!)
13. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
I’d like to work with Bill Shakespeare. (I know he usually goes by William, but I’m pretty sure he’d be cool with Bill. We’d be pals, after all.) Stan Lee would be exciting, too – he’s the guy who either created or co-created Spiderman, the Avengers, the X-Men, Hulk, Iron Man, Darevedevil, the Fantastic Four and on and on. He doesn’t receive nearly enough mainstream credit for his achievements, but he might be the most influential storyteller who ever lived. Yeah, okay, I can feel your eyes roll, but I’m serious: I’ll bet more people worldwide are familiar with the characters and stories Stan Lee helped create than any other single author. It’s a mind-blowing accomplishment, when you stop and think about it: Arguably, the most prolific storyteller in human history is living right now! And instead of leaving his mark in a “respectable” art form like a novel, opera or scholarly tome, he did it with flippin’ comic books! Isn’t that wild? [Just a note here, I most certainly did NOT roll my eyes! I agree with everything said here!--KSR]
14. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
My pleasure, Kelly – and thank you for the opportunity. How about this:
1. When I did PR for QB Mike Vick and was overseeing a photo-shoot Vick was doing with Maxim Magazine – this was back when he was still an Atlanta Falcon – I mentioned to a certain person in his entourage that I had just adopted an American Mastiff puppy. This person’s eyes lit up: He told me that Mike LOVED dogs, and that Mike had a big, sprawling property where he stayed during the entire off-season… along with his 40+ pit bulls. “You never have to worry about Mike getting in trouble, Scott! He spends all his time on his property in the middle of nowhere with his beloved dogs! Say… do you think you could hook Mike up with one of those American Mastiffs? They get real big, don’t they?” That’s right, folks: I was asked to get a dog for Mike Vick! I’m VERY glad to say that I never did. About a year later, the dogfighting scandal broke and Vick went to jail. (BTW, my American Mastiff puppy is now 10+ years old, weighs 220 pounds, and my little boys love to hand-feed him Cheerios. Terrific dog.)
2. I once did a (horrible, awful) National Lampoon movie with Kato Kaelin and a young Olivia Munn: National Lampoon’s Strip Poker. The filming took place at Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica – the world’s most infamous nudist resort. I also starred in Academy Award-nominated director Brett Morgen’s film Ollie’s Army, and appeared in the Academy Award-nominated documentary A Perfect Candidate. (Alas, neither of these documentaries were filmed at Hedonism II. Nor did they include Kato Kaelin.)
3. Whenever the movie Road House appears on TV, I’m compelled to watch it. (HELLO, PEOPLE!! HE TEARS SOMEONE’S THROAT OUT!! BOOYAH!! GO GET ‘EM, DALTON!!) Also: Buffalo wings are the greatest invention ever created and nachos are a close second. (Pepcid AC is third.)
Find Mr. Pinsker online via:
The Second Coming: A Love Story on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KT6B3G0