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Interviewing John Scalzi at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

September 26, 2022

tl;dr Here’s the YouTube link for the interview on the Gaithersburg Book Festival Channel.

Imagine my excited surprise when the Gaithersburg Book Festival emailed to ask if I wanted to interview best-selling science fiction and fantasy author John Scalzi. I played it cool, like interviewing John Scalzi in front of a live audience was a totally normal thing for me to do. IT WASN’T! But it’s easier for me to pretend to be nonchalant in email vice in person, where I am made of micro macro-expressions.

To prepare, I first read Scalzi’s latest book The Kaiju Preservation Society. Of course, I loved it. So did everyone else. The book made all the bestseller lists. The Kaiju Preservation Society asks the question “What happens when someone who is good at lifting things gets the opportunity to use their skills on a parallel Earth dominated by massive, amorous, homicidal kaiju?”

I laughed so many times reading that book.

The face behind the mask

A week ahead of time, I contacted Scalzi to propose interviewing him in a full-sized inflatable Godzilla costume. It just seemed like the right thing to do. He went for it! I assume that was because he’s accustomed to dealing with fans who have somewhat off-kilter ideas about “the right thing to do.”

The costume was delivered and deployed. Bedecked, Cake Man and I each strolled around the house roaring incoherently, accidentally knocking over chairs, and generally having a fantastic time. One thing became clear though–the costume wasn’t going to work on the Festival stage. I let Scalzi know. I’m sure he was disappointed…

I kept the Godzilla costume anyway. Cuz Halloween. Obviously.

Fortified by my list of nearly-memorized questions, I arrived at my designated Gaithersburg Book Festival tent. The only thing I forgot to do was to douse myself with bug spray. Given the role of parasites in The Kaiju Preservation Society, keeping those buggers away should have been at the forefront of my thoughts. It wasn’t cuz ohmigosh the day was warm!

So. Warm.

But I lived. And I laughed. And I had a good time.

I would not have lived if I had been in that Godzilla costume though.

The interview lasted about an hour. My favorite laughs were when Scalzi told me and the audience that we were all going to die eventually. He also reminded everyone that “Hippos are not cute. They will f*@k you up.” And he described how, as the former President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, he accidentally fanboyed uncontrollably when inviting Connie Willis to be SFWA Grand Master.

As a writer, I was on the lookout for useful advice. Because of Scalzi, I got to contemplate what I get “for free.”

Scalzi said, “Humor is one of the things that I get for free. I think that every writer has something that they get for free. Some people are good at dialogue. Some people are good at description. Some people are good at humor. Some are good at making you cry. Humor is the thing that I get for free. I don’t overthink it too much. It’s just a part of my process. But if I laugh at my own joke–which is not always a guarantee because I’m a really easy crowd when it comes to me–but if I laugh at my own joke it will likely stay in.”

Throughout, the audience was all in–for the laughs, for the advice, and for the insightful stories. I was, too.

Me and John Scalzi on stage at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, Photo © Bruce Guthrie

The full interview is here on the Gaithersburg Book Festival Youtube Channel. For news and musings plus guest writers, John Scalzi updates his blog The Whatever several times a week. For six minutes of animated insanity, try Netflix’s Love Death + Robots Season 1, Episode 5. That’s “When the Yogurt Took Over,” which comes up in the interview. Scalzi wrote it, and it’s off the rails.

Selfie with John Scalzi
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