"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism. To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors. Today I'm interviewing Sonny Zae, the talented author who contributed the story "Beelze-Bubba." Thank you for being here, Sonny.
MTI: Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
ZAE: Getting to where I currently am required much hard work and pain—mostly for my family and people around me, as I don't have the time for such drudgery. My efforts are directed at appreciating all of the finer things in life, and without expending too much effort in the process. Naturally, telling stories would be an ideal way for me to make a living.
MTI: Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?
ZAE: My favorite fiction is anything that strikes me at the time. What first compelled me to weave fiction was getting caught with the farmer's daughter. I had to do some fast talking to avoid getting speared with a pitchfork. From that experience, I learned a roll in the hay can find many burrs. And I learned to be creative and even prepare a story or two beforehand, just in case.
MTI: Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?
ZAE: Patrick McManus, who writes tall tales of hunting and fishing and outdoor life. His stories are sly and exaggerated, like mine (though I am not claiming he copies my style), and his main characters are often quite clueless as they bumble through various difficult situations.
MTI: Your story, Beelze-Bubba, appears in To Hell with Dante. Tell us a little bit about that. What's the general idea behind it?
ZAE: If Satan has family, it would be his own personal form of hell. And family members as employees might be the most painful form of torture.
MTI: Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?
ZAE: If it will sell copies and bring me money, my story is a deep, serious statement about how everyone, even the Prince of Darkness, has family, and family that brings both joy and tribulation. But if not, it is just a silly story about a doofus in bib overalls.
MTI: Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?
ZAE: Mark Twain. I admire his ability to make great piles of money through exaggeration and story-telling. I have a natural talent for embellishment, but so far the talent hasn't paid off for me, including in careers as diverse as stock trading, law, teaching, and politics. I am told I would be a natural at telemarketing, but picking up and putting down a telephone all day sounds rather tiring, and I have not yet been so desperate for money to debase myself by begging money from strangers.
MTI: Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?
ZAE: I am working on the second book in a fantasy series, the follow up to "Wizard Seeking Trophy Bride." It is untitled as yet. In the second book, Sonny the Scoundrel, Grandpap the wizard, and Griselda Gruts, giantess and Grandpap's trophy bride, are persuaded by BeSotto the sop wizard to help reclaim Grandpap's alchemy wand, which BeSotto secretly recreated. BeSotto mixed up a good strong drink to celebrate, stirring it with the alchemy wand, whereupon a portal opened to another land. In his surprise, BeSotto dropped the wand through the portal and needs Grandpap's help to recover it. But when they crawl through the portal, it closes, leaving their small party stranded in a strange land of redneck magic. They must find the alchemy wand to return home, and they do not know what perils they will have to face to get their hands on the wand.
MTI: Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?
ZAE: My fantasy novella "The Adventures of Sonny the Scoundrel, Love Elixir Antidote" will be published in the near future by Roane Publishing.
MTI: On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?
ZAE: I love the Simpsons. Homer is my personal hero, sleeping at work and at all other times having fun and wild adventures, without any concern for the fun or safety of others.
MTI: How about music?
ZAE: My favorite music is Yoko Ono music, especially those songs where she screeches and reaches impossibly high notes. I developed an affinity for her singing at my dentist's office, of all places. I discovered it to be most soothing and relaxing—and drowns out the sound of the dentist's drill most effectively.
MTI: What are three of your favorite movies? You know, the ones that never get old.
ZAE: Naked Gun, Top Secret, and Hot Shots.
MTI: Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days. Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?
ZAE: I love anything by Alastair Reynolds, a prolific and fantastic science fiction writer. I am reading old and new science fiction books by Larry Niven lately, and recently discovered Robin Hobb in the world of fantasy.
MTI: You have the attention of potential readers. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?
ZAE: Writing is fun. What is more, it is relatively easy. Unlike in my past teaching and legal careers, in writing one can make up the most outrageous things and no one will question you. Surprisingly, this never helped me in trying to obtain political office. People kept demanding that I provide proof of my educational degrees, as if one would simply make up claims of graduating from all the finest Ivy League schools.
MTI: Of course, readers love free samples, so let's give them a taste. Here are the first few paragraphs of your story, as featured in To Hell with Dante:
Tweege rapped on the doorframe. "Uh, sir?"
The Prince of Darkness looked up from his papers. "What?"
Tweege gestured behind himself with a pointed black hoof. "I brought someone you should meet."
"Can't you see I'm busy?" Satan snapped. "How will I finish my paperwork if minions keep interrupting me? Handle the problem yourself!"
Tweege took a step back, but didn't leave. "This is... um... a personal problem, oh Exalted Master of Evil, Destroyer of Worlds." Tweege bowed low, speaking toward the black obsidian of the floor. "It's a problem of your own making."
"My making?" The Prince of Darkness placed his quill pen carefully in its asbestos tray after shaking off a last drop of blazing ink. "Very well. Who is it?"
Tweege stepped into the room, tugging at a young man who followed him. "This is Bubba Backfatt."
Lucifer stroked his thick, dark goatee as he inspected the guest, then curled his lip in disgust. "He's fat and hairy and... and disgusting to behold! Clearly, an inferior specimen. Why did you bring him here naked, Tweege? Are you trying to make me ill?"
The demon bowed again, but not as deeply this time. "It is the policy you yourself made, oh Great and Matchless Deceiver."
"Don't hide behind the rules, Tweege!" Lucifer's long, elegant red fingers curled slowly and the demon gasped in pain. "Remember the first and only rule—I make the rules." Lucifer's mouth pulled up into a wicked smile. "But enough pleasantries. Who is this Bubble fellow, and why is he important to me?"
"His name is Bubba, lord, not Bubble." Tweege bared his pointed teeth in an attempted grin. "He's a new arrival, my lord—and your son."
MTI: Many thanks to Sonny Zae for this insightful interview. For those who want to read more of his story, and many other funny and thoughtful stories, get a copy of To Hell With Dante today!