With such found footage horror movies as The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity series still scaring the crap out of people, you’d expect someone would apply this motif to other things. But while we wait for someone to make a found footage horror video game or a found footage horror three-layer cake with sprinkles, we can get spooked in literary form with the faux memoir The Last Days Of Jack Sparks (hardcover, digital), a found “footage” fright-fest novel from writer Jason Arnopp.
Photo Credit: Amy Terry
I always like to start at the beginning. So, to begin, what is The Last Days Of Jack Sparks about?
It’s about an arrogant social media celebrity named Jack Sparks who sets out to write a non-fiction book debunking the supernatural, laughs during an exorcism, then eventually ends up dead. And if we pull back further for a fancy-schmancy thematic overview, it’s about how ego, belief, and certainty interact in the age of social media.
Why did you decide to write this as a pseudo memoir that someone left behind, and was thus never “finished” when Jack died?
I’m a big fan of the whole found footage conceit, and hoped that reading a dead man’s final non-fiction book, complete with snarky asides to their long-suffering editor, would be an enticing prospect for readers. Especially when that dead man’s brother has added additional material to the book, which seems to contradict some of the testimony within. I also wanted to adopt the format of the “journalistic quest” book, a non-fiction story that sees the author searching for something or other, usually in quite an episodic format and placing the writer’s personality front and center in a fundamentally egotistical but entertaining way. Interestingly, this kind of book seems more popular in the U.K. than the U.S., although of course Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas is the granddaddy of them all.
The only real logistical downside to this approach, as I discovered, was that I had to allow plausible periods of time for Jack to actually write the book within the book, during the course of his quest through Italy, Brighton, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles. As my wise author friend Rebecca Levene pointed out, it was important for me to know where and when Jack was doing his actual writing. So that was tricky at times. But to quote John Cleese, I think I got away with it.
At what point, after you decided on the found memoir approach, did you realize that if anyone found a spelling mistake or grammatical error in the final book that you’d be able to say that you did that intentionally since Jack never really finished the book?
Yes, this wonderful side effect sprung to mind quite early on! In fact, I can deflect almost any criticism using this rationale. For instance: “Oh, so you didn’t find the book scary or funny or in any way entertaining? What can I say? Jack totally let you down. Gah, that guy….”
So is it safe to assume that such “found footage” films as The Blair Witch Project, the Paranormal Activity series, and Chronicle were an influence on the book in some way?
I liked Chronicle well enough, but it had no bearing on The Last Days Of Jack Sparks.
I love The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity films — the first and third entries, in particular — and I suppose my approach is more akin to Paranormal than Blair Witch because at some point I tend to want to deliver some kind of goods. I want stuff to happen. Blair Witch is one of my seven favorite films, but I don’t know if I could ever do anything quite so remarkably and brilliantly restrained. Maybe one day. But I’d say Blair Witch and Paranormal influenced the framing of the novel, more than the actual content. I guess there’s more of The Exorcist in there, if we’re talking classic horror film influences, since the apparently possessed teenager Maria Corvi is kind of an Italian Regan MacNeill from William Friedkin’s film. And my favorite horror film, The Evil Dead, is probably always going to influence my writing, even if it’s just lurking around in the background.
Author-wise, my favorites are Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk, who are always an inspiration.
Fittingly, film director Roger Corman and The Blair Witch Project co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez appear in the book. But the funny part is that in the acknowledgements, you actually say that they “agreed to appear in this book as themselves.” Did you actually ask them if you could put them in the book? Because I don’t think you’d have to do that from a legal standpoint.
You’re right, I don’t believe we did strictly have to do that from a legal standpoint. But I believe we did in terms of courtesy. Especially when you’re putting lines into the mouths of their fictional selves. That felt like the line in the sand, giving them dialogue. I mean, I mention Louis Theroux and Bill Bryson, and also briefly show Lemmy from Motörhead in L.A.’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, but those are really just passing glimpses. The Corman, Myrick, and Sanchez cameos are a touch more involved, and so I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with taking the whole “published and be damned” approach. I would rather have cut those scenes than piss any of these people off, because I have so much respect for them.
So how did you get them to be in The Last Days of Jack Sparks as themselves?
It was pretty simple: my great editor Anna Jackson contacted the Blair Witch guys, and I contacted Roger Corman’s people. We just got in touch and said, “Hey, uh, this might sound weird, but you’re in this book. Is that all right?” And, as it turned out, both parties were a dream to deal with. They just wanted to take a look, then quickly said yes and seemed amused.
Given that you now know three movie directors, has there been any talk of making a movie out of The Last Days Of Jack Sparks?
There have been talks about it, but I sadly can’t tell you about them at the moment. I can say, though, that if the film gets made by the director who currently wants to make it, I will die happy.
By the way, when you met with your publisher about promoting this novel, how often did someone suggest you call the book The Last Days Of Jason Arnopp and that to promote it, you should fake your own death?
Damn, it’s too late now. Still, we’ve had some in-world fun with the book. Orbit threw a “secret” wake for Jack Sparks in February, at which I gave a eulogy. You can see bits of that on YouTube.
What’s funny is that the folks at Orbit confessed that on the first day they met me, they had to make a concerted effort not to accidentally call me Jack instead of Jason.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, what would you suggest they read next and why?
I think the next best thing I’ve written is an e-only novella called Beast In The Basement. It’s a hard-hitting creepy thriller, which hopefully drags you in, then eventually smacks you upside the head. A senior editor at one of the UK’s biggest publishers recently told me he encourages his manuscript-readers to take a look at it as an example of good short-form fiction.
I also have a couple of free downloadable short stories on my website.