I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was toying with the idea of conducting interviews, I was contacted regarding a young author and his new book “Tales of Iceland” and I was intrigued. It is all about his adventures in a different land with his two buddies. It explores the cultural differences and the simple comedy that takes place when you travel. I found out, myself, that Iceland is not just where Bjorks are made. Enjoy the interview, the book is available in electronic form on Amazon.
Patrick O'Hara: I was able to read the first couple of chapters of the book and one of the first things I noticed besides the humor were the asides that you incorporate throughout as your inner voice during the stories. What did you most want to emphasize using these notes?
Stephen Markley: When I wrote “Publish this Book” which is my memoir I used a lot of footnotes I love asides I love being able to step out of the narrative and deliver just a second narrative or a quick joke or anything that adds to the experience. Because we wanted to do this, there will be a print version, but primarily an e-version because that’s the way things are moving now in all e-books you have to flip to the back, so to speak, to get the footnote so I just wanted to play with this experiment sticking asides in the middle of text and forcing readers to interrupt their thoughts and to go with me wherever I feel like going. Mostly, my non-fiction writing style is dragging readers back and forth between a lot of different ideas. I think it is easy to be humorous, that’s the least humorous way to say. But to be funny I like to force the reader to be surprised I guess is the way to put it.
PO: Now this is a particular fact that I found interesting, because I am a comedian, the mayor of Reykjavik is a comedian who ran on a goof and won, right? You interviewed him for the book what was that experience like?
SM: Oh it is just fascinating, I highly recommend watching the documentary about it “Gnarrr” Jon Gnarr is the equivalent of Jon Stewart and Sasha Baron Cohen and maybe young Robin Williams but like the Icelandic version. After their financial collapse everybody was just fed up with all of the politicians, and he ran for mayor in a whim and he won, totally surprising himself and everybody else. He ran on a platform of free towels for the pools and he wouldn’t form a coalition government with anyone who hasn’t seen all five seasons of “The Wire”. So the dude was just hysterical and I wrote to a bunch of people to see if I could get an interview with him while I was over there and he was gracious enough to not only let us interview him but we took up a lot of his time, this is a city that has a huge budget crisis going on and we were just in there asking him “What was it like to win?”, you know that kind of stuff, but the interview first got published with The Rumpus and I just kind of took that whole thing and expanded it a little and stuck it in the book but it is one of my favorite parts.
PO: It is funny too because you are talking to an Icelandic woman in a bar and you asked her about the mayor and she tell you it was funny at first but now they are stuck with him for years so I thought that was a funny story to add.
SM: Right, well when we were traveling, before we actually met with him, I was asking pretty much everyone about it and people seemed to very duel sided about it. There were some people who very much appreciated what he was trying to do because he comes off as a super thoughtful guy and very self-aware, he walked into that job and the city’s finances were just a total disaster for many different reasons so he had a serious job to do it is interesting to hear him talk about landing in this position and his only experience is making movies being a spoof of a Marxist. It was great, it was totally fascinating.
PO: One of the first things you point out in the book is this book is not a travel guide or a to do list, you are not going to find anything about the cuisine in Iceland, this is just a trip you took with your friends.
SM: One of the things I noticed about a lot of travel books written about places is that they are either stodgy or they are trying to do too much. The way I conceived it and the way I pitched it was basically this will be what twenty-something people do when they travel to another country. We will talk about the culture, the politics and the experience of being over there but there is a lot of just guys driving around making dick jokes with each other.
PO: Speaking of which there’s a story where you guys go to a church found inspiration for his dick jokes when he saw the huge organ
SM: Yeah that’s just classic organ related humor. If this book is successful we might do another one and the idea is just to go places and just kind of have a fun time and give people in our demographic a point of access to country before they get there or even a reason to go to that country
POI think it is good approach because we live in such an “ADD society” that if you can’t keep the reader’s attention you’ve lost it. So I like that approach in the book, especially with all of the asides you’re forcing that so was that your intention in your style of writing?
SM: Absolutely, to not only keep people hooked with humor but with a fast and interesting pace. Not just settling into a 3,000 word diatribe about the history of Iceland, but taking the Wikipedia entry on Iceland and telling it with American action heroes. Just keep it moving and a way to keep people intrigued. The book was shown to some people who live in Iceland and they commented the book taught them things they didn’t know about Iceland. It is worth the read even you are not as fascinated with the land of Iceland as we were.
PO: You talk about it in the book but what was it that drove you to go to Iceland?
SM: Basically, my friends the two other main characters in the book, Trin and Bojo, they were both quitting their jobs and moving on to other things and I recently sold the film rights to my book. I was kind of looking for ways to blow through that money which is kind of the way I bring it with money, they said they were going to start their trip in Iceland so I just told them I go there with them and hang out for three weeks. So we had this impromptu trip that we did for a pretty impressive small amount of money. Which is also the demographic I think we are trying to hit, people with limited resources who are not jet setting around the globe, who have to stay in hostels and B and B apartments that kind of thing.
PO: So, how did you sleep with constant daylight, even at night?
SM: I think I had a really hard time adjusting to it. I talked about it in the book but being around that much daylight really messes with your body’s clock. There were times when I was just totally exhausted and I hadn’t slept in a day and half and I could not for the life of me turn off my head. I don’t know how they do it over there because you know in the winter it is totally the opposite, you see maybe an hour of daylight the whole month.
PO:In summary what would say was the one thing you took away from your trip to Iceland?
SM: Well, non-humorously speaking, they just went through their financial crisis of 2008. People were taking all of their cash out of ATMs, hoarding food, burning their cars for the insurance. When you talk to the people over there they would put it in terms that it caused them as a society to focus on what was important.
Humorously I thought about how cultural differences are so funny to anyone. I poked fun, in good nature, at some of Iceland’s quirks. They have a swimming pool in every town, and the number of signs pointing to a swimming pool is the stuff of pure comedy.
People who read this will learn a lot about Iceland hopefully it will be a funny and fast enough way it doesn’t feel like a didactic, let’s learn about Iceland kind of thing.
PO: Well I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book. What I have read so far is very funny which is quite the endorsement coming from a less than successful comedian.
Thank you for joining me.
I am honestly looking forward to reading the rest of the book. So far it sounds like something my friends and I could have experienced before marriage, responsibility and kids.