Daft Mejora's Infinite Madness: (Or, How to Travel Near America with Friends)

An in-depth discussion with author Karl Dehmelt about his satirical book about an outer space Alien who saves a politician from a shooter's bullet. We discuss why he wrote it and its significance. He is also the author of The Hard Way Back to Heaven. We think you will enjoy his story.

1.      We are glad to have a chance to work with Karl Dehmelt. He is the author of Daft Mejora's Infinite Madness (Or How to Travel Near America with Friends), which we will discuss today.
Glad to have a chance to work with you as well! Let's get to it.

2.      Karl, what got you involved in this lonely and often unrewarding profession of writing?
Like many writers and artists, I had a pretty challenging run of time known as my "formative years:" I survived a traumatic brain injury at the age of 10 months that brought me within an hour of dying, and only recently learned the nature of the injury had been misclassified and misunderstood for over two and a half decades. My parents divorced when I was in my freshman year of high school, and during their divorce, my mother was revealed to have stage four lung cancer after already battling a different lung infection. She passed when I was 14, and I think discovering Stephen King and truly committing to writing at the young age of 15 happened directly after that as a way for me to survive, primarily and also to use creation and art as a means of understanding the world. It was Pet SemetaryCujo, and On Writing by King that primarily made me want to pick up a pen myself, seeing as I'd always been creative and started doing Teen Titans fan fiction when I was in middle school. I threw myself into writing because that's the one place in the world where I feel I can truly be myself in a way that transcends the kinds of people and voices who deride individuality and those who pursue their passions, and the great writers in American and world history are invaluable sources of artistic skill and knowledge. To go from being a kid writing about aliens in realities already crafted in cartoons to being told I'm "standing on their shoulders" at the age of 27 is a pretty wild journey, to say the least, and I'm humbled to be a Writer who has actually been alive long enough and to be lucky enough to witness a development like that.

3.      I felt like your book categorized as humor, was a lot deeper than that.  Did you write it to make a political or social statement about life in America?
The image from Daft Mejora that stands out the most to me, in a way, is the fact that Mejora's COVID-19 mask has the classical Greek comedy and tragedy masks fused together, creating one mouth with four corners, the grimace and grin open-mawed and mixed. This book started as an idea that I dreamed up in Brussels, Belgium, in 2019 about the three main characters, with the Owl as an Emu at the time (for personal reasons), who were on a journey to discover US national secrets for whatever reason; however, COVID happened, and I wrote a number of Daft Mejora pieces that were shorter and on the same level of absurdity as the novel. In those, Mejora wasn't an alien, but rather a press secretary or game show host, and I wrote those in Madrid, I think, as a way to process the fact reality became and still continues to become a warped, satirical version of what anyone in 2016 would believe to be reality. Except, of course, daily life in 2024 being this absurd isn't satire, it's still every day life, and I think that's why a lot of humor in these recent years has found it challenging to be "funny" at all with how it seems like we're inundated with headlines that sometimes feel worthy of the Onion on at least a bi-weekly basis. Basically, Mejora raises reality to the power of the internet because we're already doing that in real life, and whether someone is a democrat or a republican has little to do with it when literally everyone is being impacted by our inability to be the best version of ourselves as Americans -- and if an alien saw what we do and who we become in an online space, this is what I envisioned their reaction to be when we project the worst parts of our identities and allow those to drive our actions.

4.      Are you working on another Daft Mejora book?
Spoiler alert: at the end of the Infinite Madness, it says "The Infinite Madness Too coming in 2022!" ... and arrive in 2022 it did. It's currently under wraps in an undisclosed location surrounded by at least 16 donger pony replicas, still in its original form as it was crafted in Madrid amidst stupendous foliage and glorious music. I was inspired by those film directors who would take a cast and crew and film multiple movies at once only to release them later, and the second one is a totally unique project that, if possible, also memes some parts of the first one, and its also completely standalone; I actually have plans, at some point in the future, to do a third one of these, simply because the character of Mejora is so striking and singular. We'll see when the second one emerges for public consumption, probably during the third Trump administration.

5.      How long have you been writing, or when did you start?
I consider myself to have started writing seriously at the age of 15, although I did write well before that in middle school, as I mentioned earlier. Since the age of 15, I've made it a goal of mine to complete a full-length book draft each year, whether it was published or not, so I've technically written 12 or 13 full length projects, whether or not we want to count the My Chemical Romance inspired 30,000 word novella about anthropomorphic stamps I wrote in Barcelona. Gerard Way tweeted something about "unhinged creativity" and I took him literally, and it's no accident that Mejora would emerge only two years later after pushing the boundaries of my imagination like that.

6.      What did you do before becoming an author?
I was a student! I became a published author my freshman year of college at Loyola University Maryland, at the age of 18, so writing has been a very core and very deep part of my identity for nearly as long as I've been a cognizant person.

7.      Have you written other books, and what are they about?
Indeed I have. My first published work, The Hard Way Back to Heaven, was an autofictionalized account of the events that transpired my freshman year of high school, including my parents' divorce, my mother's death, and my will to overcome said issues in honor of both my mother and a friend who was extremely important to me at the time as a role model, almost like an older sister. Here's the thing about writing, though: John Green once said that the idea of writing is to make gifts for people and that the ultimate beauty isn't to the people you make the gift for, but the gift itself. That book, along with the second one and the third one, are all contemporary fiction, with the second one being a story of friendship inspired by a dear friend of mine I lost to suicide (whom I connected with online) and with the third one literally being titled Good Friends. I am absolutely convinced that the friend to whom I dedicated the second book to would be nothing but appreciative, as he having been a writer himself, of what it truly meant to make works that weren't necessarily written to sell, but because of the importance of the people to whom they were dedicated and their roles in my life. I unfortunately cannot say the same about Hard Way nor Good Friends at the current time, at least for some of them, but that's why Green's quote absolutely rings true since the goal of the writer is to elucidate a certain vision which is unique to every person and every project. While the personal relationships have not aged well due to people being truly unbelievable in some ways, the works of art are testaments to what was true at that time and exist separate from that as projects in and of themselves, and something I'm most proud of in my career is getting a mixed review for my second book, The Theory of Talking to Trees, from Kirkus, and then returning nine years later with Mejora (with a third book between them, too) and getting a much more favorable reception. Development is the key, and perfection, as the saying goes, is a horizon one pursues yet never fully reaches.

8.      Do you feel your author’s platform is a good way to bring attention to social issues?
Yes and no. In a way, everything published is inherently political since readers meet the page where they are and where they come from, but just in the same way that we shouldn't necessarily have people with no legislative experience writing legislation, I don't think we should necessarily be listening to or trusting certain individuals on certain topics just because they have a lot of followers on Instagram. Mejora does a pretty stellar job of exploring the ways in which following the crowd for the sake of doing so can lead to some, um, non-ideal outcomes, as I'm sure he'd put it, and I want people to read the Infinite Madness and be left asking themselves questions about where we are as a society versus inherently passing a certain judgment on certain aspects of things. One conclusion I will draw, though, is that we live in a time not inherently tremendously dumb but where things that are tremendously dumb are certainly more visible if that makes sense.

9.      Do you find it therapeutic writing?
If not for writing Daft Mejora, and I do not say this jokingly, I would be absolutely insane at this point in my life. It's how I survived watching the people bong-ripping hydrogen peroxide to cure the coronavirus without clawing my own eyes out, because whether or not you agree on vaccine efficacy, that's the kind of suicidal stupidity that would have an alien going LMAO GO NEXT PLANET

10.     What’s your favorite and least favorite part of publishing?
My favorite part of publishing is the fact there's such a wide array of voices available, especially ones contrary to the prevailing idea that everything's just hunky dory in the world today without casting a constructively critical eye on how our time as humans on this planet is so damn strange and violently askew in some ways. My least favorite part of it is the fact there are a bevy of brilliant perspectives restricted by forces outside of their control, but everyone just needs to remember that John Kennedy Toole was never even published during his lifetime, and the New Yorker did an amazing piece on how he actually captured the idea of the incel in a time before the internet, really ... just imagine if his mother never found his manuscript after his death! (For those that don't know the story, a friend of a teacher of mine told me about him when I decided to become a writer in high school as a way to point out the inherently absurd nature of writing, and the story is worth a read for anyone interested)

11.     Let’s talk a bit about your book “Daft Mejora's Infinite Madness (Or, How to Travel Near America with Friends).”  How do you describe it?
It's like the sensation of drugs without being high (or, waking up in reality these days).

12.     What inspired the idea for your book?
Well, I was a huge Zelda fan as a kid and teenager, and my favorite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. I always had a scar on my head from the near-death experience I survived as an infant, so the idea of being the "skull kid" was definitely interpreted in a tongue-in-cheek way, but beyond that, Majora in the Legend of Zelda is sort of this impish outcast who goes on a revenge tour through Termina, and so I swapped the A and the E as a little inside homage to the greatness of that series. I'm also a huge Miyazaki fan, along with Dali and the surrealists, plus the word Mejora in Spanish means "improve," and after a couple years (non-consecutive, thanks to COVID) in Madrid, I'm bonded with that scene and with that spirit, that uniqueness and energy only a city of that level can truly provide.

13.     How did you come up with the title for your book?
Originally, this thing was called The Absurd Circus, but I was actually writing an entirely different, unfinished book draft at the time about a billionaire who invents his own island city and runs the whole thing himself off the west coast of the US. I was saying, to myself, "It's time to go for it, it's time to go for it," and eventually, I got brave enough one night in Prosperidad to just write in that voice and detail what I was witnessing: lo and behold, as anyone who frequents the internet knows when you fall down a wormhole and mix the most important elements of daily life with the instantaneous combustion of internet humor, it's literally infinite madness so long as you keep going. The "how to travel near America with friends" part came from the fact that what we're seeing on the internet is "nearly" reality, but the real-life-raised-to-the-exponent in the writing is a hyperbolic example of how the internet has mixed with daily life and culture, and vice versa.

14.     What was your hardest scene to write, and why?
The ending; in the original version of the book, the donger pony literally spontaneously combusts in a place where it absolutely shouldn't, basically ending known reality, and to stray away from such explicit nihilism, we shifted things a little towards the benevolently absurd (yet still striking, as it attests to itself) and also closed the arc of the first one without completely making it impossible to make another one of these. In short, if the book is Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, it's basically him crying and walking down the hill again to get the boulder, maybe, versus tripping and splitting his skull open on a rock like Zeus birthing Athena, you know?

15.     What part of the book was the most fun to write?
Oh, dear Donger Pongus, the intro to the "Washington Sequence" ... if you've not heard of Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," I HIGHLY recommend checking that out, because once I saw that in person in El Prado in Madrid, I basically absorbed as much of the energy of that as possible and applied it to modern day America at a politcal rally, and the results were absolutely ... something. They were and are absolutely, conceivably a thing that was written and is indeed still in writing. My goodness.

16.     What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
Believe it or not, with how wild this book is, the version that was originally self-published on the Internet Archive was even wilder. I won't go too much into specifics, but let's just say editing for the sake of decency prevailed without losing literally any of the book's original firepower as a whole.

17.      What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with this work?
Honestly, while the first three books I published were grand, this book is where I truly felt I could call myself an artist. A former friend of mine, upon hearing of Daft Mejora's acceptance, told me, after getting four of these, that "maybe the next one will need more grit." This comment and its ignorance really shocked me, seeing as this was someone I trusted like family, and I want to say to all the aspiring writers out there: don't listen to people who see your success or view your ability to do what you love as a threat to their own insecurity. This book that I had the privilege to write in the company of some amazing human beings in Madrid, which I prioritized my life in order to pursue, has drawn comparisons to some of the best artists of the past century, with AuthorsReading doing me the great honor of mentioning R. Crumb in terms of how they'd view this book in cartoon form. I didn't know, when I wrote this book and it got accepted by Apprentice House, especially considering all the avenues available in publishing, that I was going to receive praise from AuthorsReading, Thaddeus Gunn (of all amazing humans and writers to walk this earth), and other reviewers mentioning Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson and Toole, and while that comment still rings in my ears (since some misguided people don't see writing and art as work that's difficult, apparently), I look at what this book has done as a force of its own and say, "This is what 12 years of consistent work, dedication, discipline, and desire to challenge one's own beliefs for a higher purpose demonstrates."

18.      How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?
Anyone looking for a work that understands and empathizes with the way current reality makes one want to cry, laugh, or be unsure about whether to do one or the other.

19.     What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Sticking with it when things don't go ideally, which I think is something a lot of writers can empathize with. There are times when, in terms of different projects, the process of writing felt like the emotional equivalent of slamming one's head into a brick wall and or concrete floor (one of which I've done, and which I do not recommend). Luckily, when it comes to writing, any trauma inflicted by the process doesn't typically result in a traumatic brain injury (trust me, I'm the anecdotal expert, there!), and so the best thing I've learned to do is know when something isn't working, or when I'm too tired, or what I have to do in order to position myself to write better. Pro tip: I take a lot of advice from King's On Writing, as mentioned, including the 2,000 words per day commitment when writing a full length fiction draft, and also HEAVILY draw from Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream; I also utilize Salvador Dali's hypnagogic method quite frequently to inspire ideas. Trust me, it worked for those masters, and it can, to an extent, work for anyone willing to expand their horizons!

20.     How long did it take you to write this book?
Just about 3 months, although the idea existed prior to this particular book, so if we're talking from the inception of the idea in Brussels, through me playing around with it recreationally in Barcelona, to me writing the shorter form versions and then finally sitting down and writing the book start to finish, that's closer to about 3 years, but the draft of the book itself, cover to cover, was about 2.5 or 3 months.

21.     What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
To quote the grandmaster himself: READ, A LOT, WRITE, A LOT! - Stephen King. To get to something as well (beyond my wildest dreams) received as Daft Mejora, it took me 12 years, nearly 12 books, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of words to get to this point; I don't say this to discourage you, mostly because there are plenty who have written way less than I have and done way better in some regards, but the point is, a lot of that development was purely enjoyable. Do it because it makes you happy, first, and then see where it takes you, because as I said, sitting in front of the page and doing this is the one place on this earth where I feel truly, completely alive as myself in some ways.

22.     What other advice do you have for new writers?
Don't give up, ignore the ignorant, and put your a$$ in the chair as much as possible without burning yourself out; consistency, above all, is the most important thing, right alongside grit and determination and the desire to challenge one's self. Read work that makes your heart sing. Understand the classics; Daft Mejora never happens without Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson himself, and likewise doesn't happen without internet creators of today like Anonymoose and the work of Flying Lotus, for example. Expand your horizons. Flow. Be the one who does the damn thing, in the words of a friend of mine. And, most importantly, the world's way too small to be anyone but yourself, and that's what I was afraid of doing prior to Daft Mejora.

23.     Is there anything else you would like to add to the Interview?
Yes. The Infinite Madness Too is called The Infinite Madness Too (Or, How to "Be" In Two Americas With Friends). Shoutout to someone who I met in Madrid who went "Donger Pony Metaverse" and gave me the good grace to allow that idea to become a core part of the next work since the first one, too, was sorta heading in that direction. I'm so, so grateful to have spent the time in Madrid that I did, and despite, ahem, learning that my brain injury had been misclassified from childhood through the time right before I turned 27 (shocker to learn you had to have life-saving intracranial incisions as an adult, let me tell you) I will always consider myself so so so so lucky to be a part of that community -- and I'll hopefully be back there before we know it, if just for a visit at the time!


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