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Rock ’n’ Writing: An Interview with Roger Danchik, author of Viila and the Doomsday Affair


Roger Danchik has had one of those lives that is much more interesting to talk about than to actually have lived. The stories of a life like this can be great. For instance, how he almost decided to climb Mount Everest when he was in Nepal—where pot was legal in the 60s—because it didn’t look that high.

Back in the U.S., Roger went to undergraduate school, where he hoped that his World Travel would help him get laid (it didn’t). He studied theater and spent much of his time moving heavy sets around and ignoring his classes. He wrote a children’s play called The Princess and the Ogre, because one of his heroes and friends, Larry Shue, had written one the year before, in which Roger acted. His play has been performed all over the U.S., always by word of mouth or by somebody who saw it or was in it and almost nobody ever sent him royalties. In some strange way, he considers that a success even though he spent a lot of his life broke.

Since he had no idea what to do next, he went to Brandeis Graduate School as a playwriting major, though he didn’t manage to write a play while he was there. Since he wasn’t going to class anyway, he started touring with rock ’n’ roll bands because at one point he lied about being able to run a carbon arc followspot (ask someone 50 or older). In those days, running a carbon arc followspot was a bump in pay. So when asked, everybody answered, “Sure, I can run a followspot,” and then when you got to your spot, you immediately asked somebody near you how to turn it on and what to do. Surprisingly, that often worked. Of course, you probably burnt yourself a number of times, but that was standard.

Roger, luckily, was David Bowie’s followspot man for two tours and got to watch a genius perform and play a lot of ping pong, which is generally what he did in undergraduate school. The list of bands he toured with would be impressive if he could remember them. He definitely toured with Chicago, The Rolling Stones for a few shows with an elephant, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Queen, and others. He positively tried to seduce Diana Ross on her tour, but they wouldn’t let him in her dressing room, even though he’d taken a shower.

After about ten years, the rock ’n’ roll industry started to change and became more professional and the new roadies were fatter. There weren’t as many problems to solve and everybody knew how to do everything. That was too boring, so Roger got out of rock ’n’ roll just at the time that if he stayed he would have started making real money.

So then he tried to earn a living by working in various theaters, which is another way to say you’re going to be broke forever. He accidentally started a new career, which was working in the movies. Though there weren’t a lot of movies around Boston when he first started, he earned enough—with unemployment of course—to only have to take out one home equity loan to survive.

During this time Roger also became the movie script reader at what was then Scout Productions, the producers of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. There has been some debate that he was the model for the messy straight guy, as when he went to the office they straightened his collar, asked him to pull up his fly, told him when he needed a haircut, and, after he left, they had someone straighten his desk.

Even though he managed to piss off many of the hiring people in the movie industry and was fired a couple of times, he managed to work until health problems forced him to retire and not hear any more useless penis old man gags. It was probably time since for the last few years all he had done was walk around and make jokes, which seemed to satisfy his bosses and other workers. He even designed a few low-budget movies, including The Legend of Lucy Keyes, where he should have gotten the award for most use of dead pig heads with makeup. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a category for the Oscars.

Roger has also written a couple of plays, one of which would be in a podcast if he ever finished it, called It’s Hard To Be Creative When You’re Dead. He wrote a musical based on The Scarecrow, but of course never finished it because even with Ritalin his ADHD keeps taking over. He wrote about twenty-five songs, but the usual musical has about twenty and he still hasn’t finished.

For those classicists who like Greek Comedy, he decided that Aristotle should have written one and so took it upon himself to write the dirtiest play ever written by Aristotle. He thinks it’s funny, but he also was in the rock ’n’ roll tour business for ten years.

So, finally, after about twenty years of thinking about it, Roger finally finished his book about Viila and wrote about 100 drafts until he had filled it with enough funny lines. The object being to make people laugh, have a good time, and just maybe give them something to think about. He has been told it’s not literature, which would be a grave insult if somebody could actually define literature. One reader said it was similar to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except with more foreskins. After that review, nothing else needs to be said.

You can buy Viila and the Doomsday Affair here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I didn’t have much choice in the title. The character, Viila, kept screaming at me during the night when I was trying to sleep and threatening if she didn’t have her name first and in capitals, there would be trouble.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

The Atmosphere Press book cover designers are brilliant and I was gobsmacked when I saw the cover and when I held the book.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Apparently, the need to write comes from a bone in the middle of your brain in an area designed for self-torture (it’s between sexual failure and shaving in the amamuddle). To use double negatives, if you have this bone you can’t not write even though it is the most painful and difficult thing in the world.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was a lighting and laser guy with rock ’n’ roll tours back in the 70s. The problem was getting any sleep since my companions were usually drugged out of their minds. Drugged, exhausted, or injured—the show had to go on the next day. A sort of discipline for becoming a writer.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

I get to go na na na na poo poo to all the doubters.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I toured with Queen, so definitely We Are the Champions would be in there. Anything from the genius David Bowie. Chicago’s Jeremiah was a Bullfrog, and on some tour one of the crazy guys kept playing Blondie, so I’d have to have One day or another I’m going to find you I’m going to get you get you get you. I don’t think I have the exactly right lyrics, but you get it.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The perfect reader would peruse the first three sentences and immediately start writing reviews saying that this is the best book ever written—actually, maybe they only have to look at the cover. I haven’t found that person yet. Other than the perfect reader—who would essentially have an orgasm after every sentence, which I suppose would slow down their reading to a couple years unless he or she was sixteen—it would be someone who wants to laugh and enjoys weird situations and outlandish characters. They should also have read every book by Coleridge and studied him extensively so they know to dump their disbelief in a trash can and throw it in the Pacific.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

One of the reviewers said I ought to write a sequel, something I’d never thought about. So I am trying to formulate enough of a plot to begin writing and discover what I’m writing about. Not long ago, I finished the dirtiest Greek Comedy in the world based on Aristotle’s lost treatise and I’m still giggling every once in a while about that one.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

The whole world of publishing is now changing and for a first-time author with a first novel, it is almost impossible to get one of the big publishing houses, like Random, to even read your book. There wasn’t any time when I was disappointed with Atmosphere Press during this whole process. I will say that as hard as writing something is, it is way more difficult to get published, do the publicity, and actually have people read it. I suck at it.

You can buy Viila and the Doomsday Affair here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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