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Interview with James Hold, Author of "Remember the Aloe, Moe"
James Holder is…
JH: Just a normal average guy who grew up in a small town in Texas, read a lot of comic books, watched a lot of movies, and fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, wrestling, and the Three Stooges.
Taylor: Thanks for joining me today, James. First tell us a little about your main character, J. For a book, he’s a very unusual and unlikely hero.
JH: J is a Siamese cat who takes human form to see how the other half lives. He found a job as a professional wrestler, using the ring name “J-man,” and managed to stumble upon many humorous adventures from there.
Taylor: I think it’s your love of wrestling that influenced the book. Tell us a little about J as a wrestler. How did you decide to make him a wrestler, did you follow the example of any real wrestlers?
JH: I’m afraid that doesn’t mean much to people who aren’t wrestling fans, so they might want to skip to the next question. However, for those interested, the wrestler J-man uses fairly basic moves that were popular in the sixties and seventies. That was the period that had the greatest impact on me. He’s largely modeled after Ricky Morton, a scrappy little guy who can do basic lobs and rolls, among other moves. Combined with his very fast speed, this again fits the mold of J being a cat. I did make some changes to him because Morton is blond, which would never be the case with cats, so I gave him black hair. I also made J much smaller – he’s only 5-1, which gives him a David vs Goliath side to all his fights. This is something I learned from lucha libre (Mexican wrestling), where the competitors are usually smaller than here in the US. For this I borrowed from Juventud Guerrera (Anibal González), who made his debut at 17 years old. Sadly, the modern day Juventus is nothing like the Juventus of his day, but if you saw him in the early days, he was a true wildcat. Finally, for the last move, which is his strategy for getting most of his wins, I want him to have something simple but effective. So I gave him the old running knee lift used by Mr. Wrestling II, a masked wrestler (Johnny Walker) who was very popular on TV in Georgia. Wow, that’s a long answer! As for why I chose to make him a wrestler, well, again, it seems like a natural thing for cats to do – and it gives him the freedom to move between the cities where his adventures take place.
Tyler: What is J’s mission to find himself?
JH: His pursuits are no different than anyone else’s. He just seeks acceptance in the eyes of others.
Tyler: I know J has had a few adventures. How did you organize the book around these adventures? Were they written as individual short stories or a novel?
JH: “Remembering Aloe, Moe” is a collection of short stories, read in order, it constitutes a complete novel. The first time I encountered this format was “A Sinister Study of CP Ransom” in an old sci-fi novel Homer Nearing.
Taylor: What drew you to this format for this book?
JH: For me, it provides variety. For a novel, you have to break it down into chapters of roughly equal length. This format allows me to write story segments of any length and offers a variety of themes. So whenever I have to, I can spoof a theme to get the point across, and then move on to another theme while taking things in directions that might not be obvious at first, but when you get to the final story, the reader can see to how you got there.
Tyler: James, I know that J first appeared in “Out of Texas”. Can you tell us a little bit about your first book and why you decided to write a sequel to it?
JH: “Get Out of Texas” introduces J and takes him on a series of adventures, he saves Houston from a giant Japanese cabbage, visits some old movie actors in a haunted house, joins West Texas His expedition to find Viking tombs and mummies from outer space ends up falling in love with a beautiful Filipino princess who he saves from an evil group bent on world domination. “Remember Aloe, Moe” tells the story of J’s thoughts of the princess returning to her country.
Tyler: I’m assuming J goes looking for his princess in the second book. Can you tell us a little about his adventures along the way?
JH: Well, J was actually stuck in Texas while the princess was back in Davao. However, she does appear in some flashback stories. Regardless, the promotion for J’s work holds a tournament to crown the new champion, and J enters in the belief that the media coverage of his success will reach his loved ones. It’s a long event, covering the weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter. On the night of his first match, J finds himself far from the arena where the evil Sisters of Sludge are using mind control gas to turn the citizens of a small town into zombies. Not only does J have to beat her, but he also has to return to Houston to compete. Similar outings include a Wild West tale with a Bob Dylan soundtrack; another story straight out of Weird Stories magazine about a book of forbidden lore known as the Text Arcana; and an apocalyptic encounter with the Easter Bunny, music provided by Doors. It all ends with a Perry Mason court trial where J is charged with murder.
Tyler: Where did you get the idea for J?
JH: There was a cartoon in the ’60s called “Tennessee Tuxedo,” about a penguin who, according to his theme song, wanted to “be like a man.” I just took it from there; it’s just that I turned him into a cat, and he was based on my mom’s Siamese cat, Coca. That’s why he’s always described as “a small, gaunt fellow with black hair and blue eyes.” There’s a bit of a split personality at work, as the traits of his former cat still show in his human behavior. I don’t care much about this, but it’s the kind of background where, for example, he occasionally licks his hands, scratches his ears, or wants to jump on top of things. Sadly, just before the first book was published, Coca passed away at the age of 16.
Tyler: How did J become human? Does Coca have the same human-like behavior that you drew upon when creating J as a human?
JH: There’s a scene in “Females” where Jerry Lewis is lecturing Katherine Freeman about butterflies and points out that there is a species that arose from frogs. She naturally didn’t believe him, and asked how a frog could turn into a butterfly. Without hesitation, Jerry replied, “Well, ah, he forced himself.” It must have been improv, because you could see her laughing when she heard it. Anyway, this will be my answer. Until then, since I’m also a big Godzilla fan, I vaguely mentioned a toxic waste dump that might have something to do with it too. I also occasionally do little things where J’s eyes light up momentarily when he switches from one form to another, similar to the way Godzilla’s dorsal fin glows.
Coca’s influence on J, in addition to his appearance, is curiosity and secrecy. If you’ve ever had cats, you know that they sometimes have a way of making themselves invisible, so J keeps popping up on them, startling people, and seemingly popping out of nowhere.
Tyler: Why did you choose that title, it seemed like an obvious play on “Remembering the Alamo”?
JH: It’s in the vein of “Out of Texas,” a play based on Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa.” “Remember the Aloe, Moe” is also the title of one of the stories, about a man named Moe who has an aloe plant with which he can converse as if he were a real person. Here, J meets Josie, who turns out to be the mosquito incarnation of a Viking mummy from outer space from the previous book. I know it sounds a little weird, but it’s actually not that hard to understand.
Tyler: I know that “Remember Aloe, Moe” is a retelling of the biblical story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Why did you choose a biblical source, and how does it facilitate character development?
JH: Well, it’s not what I’d call a strict retelling, but it definitely draws on it. The biblical patriarch Jacob was a wrestler. He wrestled with his twin brother Esau in the womb and later with the angel. His name is derived from the Hebrew word for “heel,” a wrestling term for bad guys. (Not that J is a bad guy, but a lot of people don’t like him.) Anyway, Jacob has two wives, Rachel, whom he loves dearly, and Rachel, whom he doesn’t particularly care about but she loves him Leah. So in “Remember Aloe, Moe” we’re the Filipino princess representing Rachael (whom J is hopelessly in love with), and Josie plays Leah, who is hopelessly in love with J. Like any triangle, it’s bound to end up being a fiasco.
Taylor: Sounds like a real love triangle. Once you mention that Jacob is a wrestler, I can see the parallel validity. Besides the Bible, James, you mentioned that you were influenced by cartoons. You seem to have wide reach. So, who do you think is your target audience?
JH: Anyone who likes to laugh should find some fun in my book. Everything is there – Texas, religion, wrestling, rock ‘n’ roll, cats, cartoons, bad puns, mad scientists – but not a single thing is emphasized. So if you don’t like Texas, or if you’re not interested in wrestling, don’t worry because I’m not trying to convert people. It’s like a buffet where you can pick and choose. Heck, I even did a condensed episode of “Mrs. Dalloway” at one point, so even nerds can find something to like.
Taylor: What kind of response have you received from readers?
JH: I don’t get a lot of fan mail. Although I used to get a card from my air conditioner. (Get to the basket, please.) To be honest, I’ve gotten some really good comments, mostly from people in the wrestling world… I’m resisting the urge to make another joke here. The only real complaint I got was from an arrogant relative who simply said, “I don’t like wrestling.” To me, that’s like criticizing “Moby Dick” because you’re against whaling. But, you know what happens to sisters.
Taylor: James, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what made you make that decision?
JH: When I was younger, I found myself working in fairly isolating jobs, like working in a corner of a warehouse, or walking from one end of town to the other to read a water meter. Also, this was before the Walkman and iPod, and to pass the time I made up little skits or sketches based on things I’d seen or read before. Then one day I told myself, “Hey, you should write some of this stuff.” Unfortunately, none of that stuff was great, so it took me all these years to come up with some better stories. But at least the seeds were planted.
Tyler: Are you planning to write more stories about J, or are there any other genres you plan to write next?
JH: Both. I have definite plans for him, and it will take about five books to chronicle it. I also have some more mainstream plans like a mystery or two.
Taylor: Thanks for joining me today, James. Before we go, do you have a website, or can you tell us where else readers can go to learn more about “Remember Aloe, Moe” or purchase a copy?
JH: Unfortunately, I don’t have a website. Websites are one of those things that require a lot of attention, and if you really care about doing things right, it just takes up my writing time. Both of my books are available from the publisher at http://www.iuniverse.com, and you can also find them on Amazon. And, you can always ask for it at your nearest bookstore or library. Anyway, I just hope people read my book and hopefully get a chuckle or two from it. If I succeed, then I’ve done my job.
Tyler: You did your job here. This is an interesting interview. Good luck, James.
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