Scare Quotes: Q&A with author Michael Okon
Writer discusses his career and his new book, “Monsterland”
Michael Okon is no stranger to scares. The rapid rise from author of self-published books, to published author, to creator of a possible Hollywood film franchise would intimidate anyone. But Okon seems up for the challenge.
The author released his book “Monsterland” on Oct. 13 to coincide with Friday the 13th. Okon pens a horrific thriller with the novel, setting up a theme park and filling it with werewolves, zombies and vampires.
The Spectrum spoke with Okon about how “Monsterland” came to be through blending entertainment’s classic monsters in one space.
Q: Even besides the creation of “Monsterland,” with the release of the book -- what sort of past experiences writing screenplays did you employ when looking at the characters and synopses?
A: Every writer is a 9-5 worker, I’m an author and a screenwriter so my 9-5 is researching and development. I’m on Amazon and Google all day, researching and developing all my subjects. I create a fake town called Copper Valley in “Monsterland.” This was a town like out west, Victorville, Hesperia, San Bernardino, that are left out, the stepchild of what Los Angeles is. I want to capture a town like this in the high desert, with a population of 1,200, that was going to be the main focus of “Monsterland,” that’s where the park was going to be. I have to know the longitude and latitude of the town. I have to beat out all of the character arcs. I have to know the beginning, middle and end. Plotting every single move of my characters in an outline, a screenplay format. I can’t write the words “chapter one” without knowing a complete roadmap of all my characters. I’ve tried writing chapter one and you’re plowing through the first chapter, you get lost and can’t write anymore. The difference between a script and a book, however, is there’s a code to a screenplay that has to be bare minimum. With a novel, you can flesh it out and talk about how the characters are feeling, seeing and believing.
Q: Where did you get the idea then to set things into motion for the novel?
A: I always wanted to write a monster book but I could never get the right one, everything was so cliché and there were so many tropes. It was boring. One weekend over the summer of 2015, I was sitting and watching a movie marathon with my son. “The Goonies,” “Gremlins,” “E.T.” and “Jurassic Park.” I thought to myself, why isn’t there a theme park with monsters? The minute this popped into my head, I called my brother and said “I know what I’m going to write about: a theme park with Zombies.” Then he said “No, it’s got to be werewolves, vampires and zombies. You have to take all the classics tropes and turn them into these circus acts, without it being a circus.” There were then two layers to “Monsterland” - a teen that must save his date in a theme park with monsters. But what happens below the surface? The story is about bullying, being comfortable in your own skin, finding oneself. Wyatt Baldwin, my protagonist, is my Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. Wyatt is on this hero’s journey and there’s additional characters as a part of this universe. I started writing the storyline that night but there’s a nefarious use of this theme park. I don’t want to give away too much but there’s a massive twist at the end that no one sees coming, even my mother. It’s very current with the politics happening today too, and I wrote this over two years ago. I had no idea Donald Trump would be president but in the self-published version, Donald Trump was the antagonist.
Q: So you got inspiration from the political climate, then?
A: Honestly, “Monsterland” is almost like a political thriller. Do monsters have rights? What’s different about my monsters and other monsters, the classic trope monsters, is that my zombies, werewolves and vampires are all human. Zombies are humans, carrying this disease where they have to consume flesh. They aren’t bad people, they just have to eat. So should they be in internment camps or put peacefully in a safe area? It turns out that Dr. Vincent Conrad, who is the park owner, is a cross between P.T. Barnum and “Celebrity Apprentice” Donald Trump. The werewolves were the hillbillies living in the Everglades, wanting to live on their own because they knew when they transformed once a month they were in a really bad spot and didn’t want to hurt people. So [Dr. Conrad] puts them in a Werewolf River Run. The vampires were my rendition of heroin addicts. The heroin they had was blood, laws were passed that they weren’t allowed to mate and their numbers were dwindling. They were the rock stars of the ’80s and ’90s, the Mötley Crüe, they ruled the scene. Then they became boring. But they’re given their own concert in “Monsterland,” the Vampire Village Show. This is not a Freddy Kruger horror-type book, mind you, it’s about being human and what makes a monster a monster. They just have an unfortunate disease.
Q: Now I know you do have upcoming installments of the “Monsterland” canon, can you reveal anything about the future of the series?
A: In the first book, I have werewolves, vampires and zombies. Those are three classic monsters and I do have a hunchback in there: my Frankenstein, hunchback assistant. In the second book, I have my rendition of the Blob: the Glob. I also have a re-animated monster and I have to have mummies, zombies wrapped up in a substance that re-animates them. I also included this notion of humans as monsters. I was watching a lot of “Mad Max” movies when I was writing part two, so it’s more a dystopian adventure whereas the first one is more about the theme park. We go back to the theme park in book two but it’s more of a chase through the desert. The second book is called “Monsterland: Re-animated Vol. 2.” It’s coming out on Friday the 13th too, so it’s scheduled for April 13th. And I’m knee deep in book three. If there is a film, we may be in franchise territory here. No one had heard of a lightsaber before George Lucas and no one has heard of a monster theme park before Michael Okon. I don’t know what’s going to happen but it’s pretty exciting to say the least.
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.