Zack Parsons has been an editor at satirical online comedy magazine Something Awful, producing both comedy and serial fiction aimed broadly at the geek contingent of Generation Internet (ie., white males 16-34). His debut novel, out from Citadel Press, is Liminal States, a time-spanning, genre-leaping, “awe-inspiring” (PW) novel that holds together beautifully in spite of its many moving parts—which also include a prequel serial (The Reificant), several alternate-reality web sites (released before the book was even announced), art, music, trailers, and—you heard it here first—a short film, debuting on liminalstates.com and elsewhere.
Liminal States hops from 1875 to 1951 to 2006, launching into a different genre in each time period. What possessed you to tackle so much at once, and how did you wrangle it all into what PW called a “cohesive, thought-provoking whole”?
I know there is a lot going on. It's probably a rookie novelist mistake to try to pack your debut book with all your ideas, a lot of characters and events, and I'm glad PW felt I kept the narrative cohesive. It was daunting at times, but I followed the central trio of characters, let their actions guide my story, and played with character archetypes of the various genres the overarching narrative travels through.
Readers will take away what they will from my book, but I consider Liminal States to be about characters dealing with absolute subversion. To reach those absolutes, to give the descent the gravity it needed, required a lot of time and space. I also needed that story to be uniquely American. I chose three time periods where the U.S. is dealing with the after-effects of major events, changing and redefining itself, and I drew on the corresponding genres of American fiction rooted in those time periods. Namely westerns, hardboiled detective novels and the anxious dystopian sci-fi of present day. For the 2006 portion, I wanted to set it in the reader's past, and as the subversion resolves with greater clarity, the details of the divergent world sink in.
Speaking of subversive: you’re an editor at the online comedy magazine Something Awful, where you’ve published several fiction serials. How much would you say your internet work informed Liminal?
My fiction work on Something Awful heavily influenced this project, if not the direct plot. Over the past few years I have been writing fiction in the form of weird 21st century epistolary serial novels. Some of them are funny, some of them are more serious, they all verge on satire. Two series definitely played a role in developing Liminal States. Four Days in Winter is a short, four-part serial featuring an aging, hard-ass private military contractor hired to provide protection for entitled rich Hollywood kids filming a disgusting MTV show. Satirical web advertisements peppered each installment to give glimpses of the setting and its grim humor.
A year or so later I wrote That Insidious Beast, which covered a lot more territory and told the story of these bizarre alien factions fighting over humanity. It started out humorous, but became increasingly creepy and serious. What really applied from that project was that I teamed up with Josh Hass to do some great artwork, Conelrad to let me use some music and Dan Sollis to create a video for the finale. These are the same people I worked with on the multimedia aspect of Liminal States.
Tell us about the multimedia aspect of Liminal States.
Josh Hass has painted, wow, maybe 15 or 16 paintings for Liminal States. He did nine for The Reificant prequel serial that has been running. He is an amazing artist. Someday I am not going to be able to afford him with my budgets because some smart art director at a game developer or something is going to snap him up and give him a top job. Dan Sollis has been doing all the video work for the alternate-reality game and for the promotional videos. The final trailer releases March 27th and I think it will blow everybody away.
And this is actually breaking news (we've only teased it), but Dan directed a short film based on Liminal States. Shot on locations, VFX, cinema quality digital, professional actors and crew. It will be debuting April 16th. Dan is the best. Any day now he is going to be a big name in whatever film scene he chooses to occupy. At a lot of points I felt embarrassed because he was working way harder than me on stuff related to the project.