April 2010 Interview with Sam Moffie, author of The Book of Eli – not to be confused with the film with the same title.
BB: Welcome, Sam. First of all, should we clear up some confusion about your book? Am I correct that it has nothing to do with the movie of the same name that recently came out starring Denzel Washington? How did Hollywood happen to get away with stealing your book’s title?
Thanks for getting to Denzel versus Sam first. The movie and book have nothing in common but the title. The Book of Eli has been around for a zillion years – the Bible and the Torah both have “Books of Eli.” I was contacted by a friend of the screenwriter who had read an interview of mine last year. In that interview, I had talked about my upcoming novel – “The Book of Eli.” The friend of the screenwriter then served as a conduit vis-à-vis Facebook, and the screenwriter had no problem with my book because of the content. I might add that I have no problem with the content of his movie!
BB: Sam, since this book largely takes place in heaven, do you see it as quite a departure from your earlier, more “realistic” fiction, or would you say it’s a natural progression for your writing?
Excellent question. A total departure. After three novels that all run more than 300 pages apiece, I wanted to write something short. A fantasy novel seemed the best way to go. I always wanted to get my two cents in about heaven and hell, so Eli was constructed.
BB: What are the circumstances that result in Eli Canaan ending up in heaven?
Eli has one major fault – he likes to have sex with women. Unfortunately, he is married. His wife puts a good, old-fashioned Gypsy hex on him exactly at the same time the Almighty has plans for him, and the result is a trip to heaven for Eli.
BB: Sam, I know you’ve had a few complaints about the sex in your books, especially since this one emphasizes how much Eli enjoys sex. What is your response to such complaints?
You can’t please everyone, especially in the time of the “New Puritans.”
BB: Sam, you’re obviously not the first person to imagine what heaven is like. What do you think makes your depiction of heaven stand out from others?
A few things pop into my mind about how I see heaven. Atheists are allowed up there. That people all hear the Almighty differently. That God and Jesus (along with many others) all have great senses of humor. That there are no pets up there. There is no eating, but plenty of drinking. I like that free will is why we do what we do, but that what we have to do better is being kinder to our fellow men, women and animals while alive. I also wanted to make it very clear that if the Almighty does decide to get involved in helping mankind, he will send an ordinary man or women to do so—that it won’t be Jesus or someone of that stature.
BB: You state early in the book that Eli is a very good man, other than that he cheats on his wife, and you list a long series of ways he is good from never talking on his cell phone while driving to never keeping a gun in his house and changing his oil every 3,000 miles. To what degree were you being serious about these things as defining “good”? When you say God would send someone ordinary, do you see Eli as ordinary?
Eli is ordinary (except when it comes to his appetite for sex). I have always believed that the Almighty would send a flawed man or woman back to earth if and when he decided that it was time to stir things up. How could he not send a flawed human back?
In the earlier part of the novel I go out of my way to describe all the things Eli does that makes Eli think he is a good man, which helps him rationalize all the screwing around he does on his wife as being ‘okay,’ because he doesn’t talk on his cell phone while in public places. All those traits make Eli a RESPONSIBLE man. After all, we are all responsible for our own actions whether good or bad.
BB: Eli is assigned Julian as his guide in heaven, only to find out Julian is really Groucho Marx. What made you decide Groucho Marx deserved such a big role in the book?
Groucho Marx is the king of good, old-fashioned satire in his movies. My book is full of satire – couldn’t have had a better guide.
BB: Of course, Groucho Marx, and all the characters in the book are humorous, and your previous novels have a great deal of humor in them as well. Do you purposely intend to be funny—do you sit down and plan to write a funny book, or does it just happen as a result of your personality?
It’s all part of my personality, and I try to get it across in my novels. I like making people laugh. Laughter is great for everyone. The “New Puritans” need to laugh more.
BB: Will you define for us what you mean by the “New Puritans? If the “new puritans” are not your intended audience, who is?
The ‘new puritans’ want my books (and many others) banned. To me ‘new puritans’ are those members of our society who use their influences to tell the rest of us how to live in all aspects of our own lives.
My audience is comprised of people who enjoy a great imagination and a story that entertains them.
BB: Why do you think humor is so important in your fiction? Would you ever write a serious book, or am I being unfair and your books actually are serious?
I intend to write a serious book. I already have it in my mind, but I have a lot more material to get out before I get that serious book down. By the way, I do have some serious characters and plots scattered throughout my novels. It’s the only way the satire works.
BB: I don’t want to give away too much by detailing all the famous people Eli meets in heaven, but would you say one of those interactions he has is your favorite, and why so?
I enjoyed ALL the banter between Eli and Julius (Groucho) first and foremost. However, the interaction with Freud is my favorite and the interaction with O’Hair a close second.
BB: I found the interaction with O’Hair especially hilarious myself. How did you decide which famous personalities Eli would meet and did you have a hard time leaving some out?
George Washington, Gandhi, Scott Joplin, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Audie Murphy, Booker T. Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Crazy Horse, Mata Hari, Margaret Mitchell and Ingrid Bergman were all people who made the initial outline but were dropped, because I wanted a shorter book. If I wanted a longer book, there would have been even more people than the aforementioned.
BB: I’m struck by all but a couple of the characters Eli meets in heaven being American and in “No Mad” the main character explored America. Would you say your books then are beyond satire to be social satire about our country? Do you hope ultimately your satire will somehow change things or make people see them in a different light and improve how things are?
Eli is indeed social satire. I would love to have a tiny positive influence on my country via my books. It would be very rewarding as an author.
BB: Sam, without giving away too much again, at the end of the book, Eli returns to earth but you don’t go into detail about his return. May I ask why?
The epilogue that you and others have wished I wrote would have gone on forever. I never would have been able to finish a man cleaning up the world with the help of the Almighty, Jesus and the others. Too much to tell. I hope that readers can use their own imagination about how Eli would have fared.
BB: Sam, if it’s a fair comparison, the book somewhat reminds me of the films “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty.” Is there any chance there’ll be a sequel or a spinoff similar to how “Evan Almighty” was not a sequel but took a different character and told a story about him? I think your readers must want more.
Thank you for the compliments in regards to Bruce and Evan. Maybe.
BB: Do you credit any other books or films that depict heaven as inspirations for you, or what would you say did influence your depiction of heaven?
My own beliefs, with a smattering of mini influences from
Joseph Heller and Albert Brooks, to name two.
BB: Now that you’ve written four novels, do you feel one is your favorite or that one of them in particular is your best book, and why?
I think that “No Mad” is my best book. “Swap” was a good first novel, but a FIRST novel nevertheless. “The Organ Grinder and the Monkey” (which my muse Juliette likes best) is too ambitious for a second novel and some things I tried (changing the font in a few chapters for example), didn’t go over as well as I wanted. “No Mad” just flows really well, and I truly loved my main character, Aaron Abrams, and how he moved on with his life.
BB: Are you willing to give us any glimpses into what to expect next from your pen?
I am working on my fifth book—“To Kill the Duke.” It’s about a communist plot to murder John Wayne in the mid 1950’s. It’s a throwback to my Organ Grinder style (without the font changes).
BB: We will definitely be looking forward to that book. Thank you for the great interview today, Sam. It’s always a pleasure. Before we go, will you tell readers about your website and what information they can find there about “The Book of Eli”?
Thank you for a first class interview—excellent questions.
Three places to buy: www.thebookofeli.mobi or www.samsstories.com or, for those looking for a bargain price, go to Amazon.com
. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
BB: Thank you again, Sam. It’s always a pleasure. We’ll be waiting to hear about that John Wayne book.