With the end of 2016 starting to loom overhead, I have turned to all the books I have read this year to start composing my top 10 list (expect it in early November). While reviewing my preliminary candidates, I noticed very few of them were new authors this year. However, I decided to reach out to the author of one of the stand out successes I read this year and see if he would tell me more about what went into his book, Mechanical Failure. The author, Joe Zieja, was kind enough to reply to my questions and give some insight into the humor and futurism of the Epic Failure Trilogy. My original review of Mechanical Failure can be found here, and the interview is below, enjoy!
What made you want to go into writing after all this time as a voice actor?
This question is hilarious! I have been writing far longer than I have been a voice actor. In fact, I only discovered voice acting in 2013, after which, for some bizarre reason, I experienced a lot of success and quit my government job. In fact, Mechanical Failure was written before I switched careers. Publishing is just a bit slower than advertising and other media. To be clear, there’s no “instead of” here, for me. I’ll be doing both as long as both industries will let me.
Do you see yourself writing more serious sci-fi, sticking with comedy, or a combination of both in the future?
This is such a tough question. Prior to MF, I wrote mostly serious fantasy. I would love to do so again, now that my writing chops are a bit better and I’m starting to build a reputation. I’m locked in for at least 3 books in the Epic Failure series, and have some spinoffs in my head, but I’ve never been known to do one thing for very long. It’s likely I’ll branch out again, and it’s also likely I’ll cry when people pigeonhole me into humor for the rest of my career.
Does military life really have as many difficulties as Mechanical Failure implies?
The military is literally the largest, most violent bureaucratic organization in the world. It is bizarrely equal parts “FORGET RULES AND JUST FIGHT THE ENEMY” and “I am going to ruin your career because you failed to wear a reflective belt at sunset while walking along the road.” So, yes. The difficulties that come with a military career are unique, strange, and very often revolve around reflective clothing. But that’s not to say that it’s all bad. The goal of MF was not to paint a bad picture of the military as much as it was to lampoon it a bit.
The depiction of what food was like in the military in your novel was eye opening. How much did your own military experience reflect this?
Well in some ways it depends on what you mean here. Is food sometimes strangely gourmet? Yes, though that’s really not much of the case these days. Is food sometimes protein cardboard? Absolutely. I modeled the Sewer Rats off of MREs, which are absolutely disgusting most of the time and absolutely delicious when you are in survival school.
In Mechanical Failure, the main character suffers under a seemingly incompetent superior. Was this taken from personal experience, or were you tapping into the “I hate my boss” zeitgeist?
I pulled some of those conversations with Admiral Klein directly from conversations I’d had or overheard with general officers in the air force. The conversation about colors of bars in the intelligence briefing? Oh yeah. That happened to me as a lieutenant. Klein was more of an amalgamation of the bad qualities of several leaders than it was a caricature of a specific person, though.
What was the hardest part about writing Mechanical Failure?
Probably reigning in some of the silliness. I tend to get on a roll and suddenly my humor is a little bit more toddler-esque.
Your next book is Communication Failure, how will it differ from Mechanical Failure or will it be more of the same?
Well it is a continuation of Rogers’ (and the Flagship’s) storyline, so you can accept a similar experience for sure, with a vastly expanded cast of characters and “world.” Rogers will probably try to fix things. It will probably go wrong. It will hopefully be funny.
What are some of your favorite fantasy and sci-fi books? Are there any you drew inspiration from (other than presumably Starship Troopers and Catch-22)?
My favorite spec-fic books really run the gamut from Robin Hobb to Patrick Rothfuss to Brandon Sanderson and Sofia Samatar, to name a few. As far as inspiration, Catch-22 was definitely in there because it was one of my favorite books that I didn’t read until I was in the military. It so firmly reflected some of my thoughts on the military that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. One of the strangest things I get though is that people compare my work to Pratchett. Confession? I’ve never read one of his books.
Which character in Mechanical Failure do you identify with most other than Rogers?
Probably Deet! I mean who doesn’t identify with a obscenity-repressed, walking kitchen-aid droid who is hated by all of his peers?