I’ve been watching a lot of the web series Hate by Numbers lately. In each episode, the show’s creator, Gladstone, takes some irritating news story, music video, or movie trailer that has hijacked the public’s attention and counts off all the things that make it ridiculous. A personal favorite of mine is his take on the country song “Stop the Mosque at Ground Zero.” Back when the Ground Zero mosque debate was dominating the news cycle, he also wrote about it in his column at Cracked.com and in both cases, his analysis was funny and insightful enough to almost make me grateful that this stupid debate existed.
In addition to Hate by Numbers and Cracked, he’s coming out with his premiere novel, Notes From the Internet Apocalypse, later this year. In this interview, we discuss his column and his book among other things.
Brendan Bourque-Sheil: One challenge of writing for a big website like Cracked is producing content that will be relevant to a large audience. Many of your columns center around politics and pop culture. Do you write on these subjects to be relevant to your audience or just because that’s where your mind goes in looking for material?
Gladstone: Writing for Cracked is usually about finding the shaded part of the Venn Diagram where the audience’s and my interests meet. The politics columns, however, were for me.
BB: Describe the process of writing your Cracked column each week. How do you know when it’s ready to go live?
Gladstone: I have a folder of half-formed ideas. At the beginning of the week, I start pondering a topic or seeing if there’s an idea floating around in there. I work it during the week while riding public transportation. When I have five or more list entries or two thousand words, it’s done. That might sound like I don’t care, but you have to keep in mind that as I write, I constantly rewrite each paragraph before going on to the next. Also, when picking a topic, I’m already thinking of ways to frame subjects so that they come out to five-ish entries or two thousand words. A lot of the work is done up front in how to conceptualize the piece.
BB: As a freelance writer, you’re expected to conform your style to whatever publication you’re writing for. Has adapting your voice for sites like Cracked and McSweeney’s helped or hindered you in the development of your own voice?
Gladstone: That’s an excellent question. Because I’ve been writing at Cracked for so long and am a columnist, I don’t have to conform to a specific voice. Cracked has always afforded me a good amount of freedom. Having said that, I’m writing to an audience that Cracked has cultivated and honed for years now with very specific content and style. So while I write like me, often, I do package my stuff in a way that that will be accepted by that audience. Sometimes, I don’t worry about that though. It’s good for the soul to break that convention.
It took me a long time to learn the McSweeneys voice and I definitely had to conform to their mindset to get published consistently there. That is a magazine’s right, but yes, I found it limiting. And I don’t know if it’s true, but I was afraid to write too much for McSweeney’s for fear it would mess up my voice. Indeed, even though I’ve loved the Onion, I rarely read it because I’m afraid I’ll start thinking in only that kind of humor.
BB: Last year you wrote a column about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It ended on a fairly serious note which I’ll quote here:
“Don’t fabricate excuses for our leaders. Look what has happened straight in the face and say that you’re totally fine with it. In fact, scream it. Scream it loud enough to wake all the journalists who aren’t reporting. All the liberals concerned only with wedge issues and greater evils. All the patriots who forgot to keep fighting. Scream it loud enough to pierce the sleep of anyone who dreamed that they could rest their heads with indifference and still wake up in America.”
Did you see this piece as a departure from the kind of columns you normally do on Cracked? What motivated you to write it?
Gladstone: I think NDAA is the scariest thing to happen in America in my lifetime. Even scarier, no one cares. Scarier still, ultra libs who are usually the watchdogs of Constitutional abuses are so in love with Obama, it’s hard to imagine what transgression he could engage in and be called out about in the press. Romney would have signed NDAA too, but my liberal friends would be pissed off about it. I wrote that because I felt I had to. I ran it on Cracked instead of elsewhere because I wanted to educate a large audience. I’m not sure that was the right choice. Perhaps, I should have tried to publish at a smaller site of more politically-minded people. I’m still not sure.
BB: What are some subjects you’d like to write about in the coming year?
Gladstone: Boobs, mostly.
BB: Who are some writers you cite as your biggest creative influences?
Gladstone: I really don’t know. I love Franz Kafka. I’m a big fan of Jonathan Franzen. Michael Chabon is clearly gifted. I’m not sure any of them are big influences though. Monty Python are the only ones I feel comfortable citing as influences because I’ve known Python since I was five so I did not have a voice when I was exposed to them.
BB: Who are some of your favorite writers on Cracked?
Gladstone: I don’t have any favorites. I appreciate different things about each of them. They each have so much to offer even if none of them are as talented as I am sexually.
BB: Has your approach to making your web series Hate by Numbers changed since it became a viewer-supported show?
Gladstone: Only in one way. It’s more important to me than ever that each episode be as good as I can make it. I always took pride in HBN, but with people paying for it, I feel added pressure to maintain quality.
BB: Your book, Notes From the Internet Apocalypse is (as far as I know) expected to come out later this year. How has writing a long, fictional piece differed from writing the short, non-fiction pieces you normally do in your freelance work?
Gladstone: I signed with an agent at the end of 2012. She’ll either sell it this year or I’ll self publish so yeah it’s coming out in 2013 one way or the other.
Notes is a novel. Even when I did it as a serialized novella on Cracked. I sat down and outlined and framed it as a novel. As far as putting it on Cracked, I cut it down from 12 parts to 9 because as it got more character-driven, it was harder to frame in a way for the Cracked audience.
BB: When you spoke at the Edmonton Expo last year, you said your book has a lot to do with internet addiction. What compelled you to write on this subject?
Gladstone: The whole novel sprung from a freewriting. The first paragraph of the novel is not very different from what first poured out of me. At first, I made the protagonist older because I wanted him to remember life without the Internet and satirize all the foolish kids who didn’t’ know how to live without it. I soon realized, however, it would be more interesting if he were addicted too. More interesting still if he didn’t realize it.
BB: The book explores what people do in the sudden absence of the internet. If the internet really did disappear tomorrow, what would you do?
Gladstone: Buy a road atlas.
You can follow Gladstone on twitter. Look for his novel later this year.