Sunday, June 9, 2024

Q&A with J.P. Rieger




J.P. Rieger is the author of the new novel The Big Comb Over. His other books include the novel Clonk!. Also an attorney, he lives in Maryland. 


Q: What inspired you to write The Big Comb Over?


A: I wanted to try my hand at a modern day “comedy of manners.” Something like Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest or An Ideal Husband. No one seems to be working in that genre, at least in recent memory. (Mine extends back to the Taft administration).


I also wanted to swirl my toe in the pool of magical realism and religious fantasy. I know. But I figured, “why not?”  


The Big Comb Over began as a play. But I quickly dropped the play idea when I realized that, not only did I have way too many characters and scene changes for a viable play, I had no real idea how to actually write a play.


I knew it would take an entirely different skill set and tried to learn “on the go.” But my plot and dialog ideas started to outpace my ability to realize them, so I happily crawled back to my novel comfort zone.


Comedies of manners often revolve around extended families, so I chose the idea of nephews and their eccentric uncles as the main focus.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Well, the original title was The Man Who Saw Himself, because the character tim tim, one of the uncles, experiences autoscopic phenomena at certain points. Basically, at certain times he momentarily sees himself or basically a double of himself. But that title sounded a little too sci fi.


For a while I went with Avuncular, but that seemed too stuffy and didn’t communicate the comedic element.


Ultimately, I chose The Big Comb Over. Raymond Chandler gave us The Big Sleep. I’ve gifted the reading universe The Big Comb Over. I went for the silliness factor.


The title refers to our inclination to hide or sweep over things we may not want to accept. One of the uncle characters, Roland, is obsessed with his hair, or more accurately, his lack of hair. (Yes, drawing upon personal experience, here.)


The title also relates to nephew, Robbie. Robbie is being proselytized by his comic book loving uncle, tim tim. Tim tim is trying to convince Robbie that the two have inherited superpowers for the purpose of doing good deeds.


But, over time, Robbie is forced to accept that such is imaginary. He spends his adulthood hiding from and disguising his instincts to the contrary.

Q: What do you see as the relationship between this novel and your previous book, Clonk!?


A: There are several. Firstly, the characters are all Baltimoreans just as in Clonk! I’m a born and bred Baltimorean. I enjoy our quicky traits, pleasant accent and strong preference for all things local. We are a great source of comedy.


More specifically, two of The Big Comb Over characters appear in Clonk!, Chris Waxley and his actor friend, Roland. In The Big Comb Over, Roland is a protagonist and Chris Waxley a bit player. The reverse of Clonk!  


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Mainly laughs. The Big Comb Over is all about ridiculous events (Baltimoreans participating in a British Royal Wedding), unlikely juxtapositions, confused identities and misinterpretations – the stuff of the comedy of manners.


Secondarily, there is an underlying theme about our love for one another as family and as people, generally, and our denial of, or perhaps refusal to explore, the source of this natural inclination towards goodness and love. About how belief in the seemingly irrational may not necessarily be all that irrational, after all.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Well, I recently completed my fourth novel, Sunscreen Shower. Sunscreen Shower is a sequel of sorts to Clonk! It features Baltimore Police Detective Kev Dixit and the entire Clonk! gang. It, too is a gently dark comedy. I just signed a contract with a “real” publisher and Sunscreen Shower should be published within the next six months or so.


I’ve also decided to move the Clonk! gang forward as a series and am working on the next Kev Dixit novel, presently untitled.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I started my own publishing imprint for The Big Comb Over, Pearls Before Press Publishing. I picked the name Pearls Before Press as a joke. You wouldn’t throw your valuable pearls to the swine, nor should you send your good manuscripts to this publisher.


I figured The Big Comb Over would look awfully lonely on my fancy, new, self-publishing website. So, I decided to provide some company. I invented another two dozen or so books for my new imprint, all spoofs.


I figured anyone finding the site may initially believe it legitimate until they took a closer look at some of the ridiculous book titles and descriptions.


And, I created a lively blog featuring posts by the fictional Acquisitions Editor and guests, which are then commented on by one or two of the imaginary writers. And, yes, there’s a hardnosed attorney for the publisher constantly challenging the comments.


And eventually one realizes from the comments and video posted by the fictional Acquisitions Editor that the imprint is having financial difficulties and trying to dodge its royalty payments. Ridiculous, I know.  But “no fool no fun.”


I’ve also just started a music blog about Baltimore records of the ‘60s through ‘80s and obscure psychedelic records, in general. All easily accessed through my site, 


And finally, thank you, again, Deborah, for the opportunity to participate on your awesome blog!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with J.P. Rieger.

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