Robert Schnakenberg has been called "the Howard Zinn of nerd pop culture." He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, Old Man Drinks, Christopher Walken A-to-Z, Secret Lives of Great Authors, and The Encyclopedia Shatnerica. His work has appeared in Penthouse.
Please tell readers about your current book.
The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray is an A-to-Z guide to the life and career of actor Bill Murray. It's the third book in a trilogy of biographies of pop culture icons that began with The Encyclopedia Shatnerica (about William Shatner) and Christopher Walken A-to-Z, both published by Quirk Books.
Who or what inspires your writing?
I grew up reading popular reference books about history, sports, entertainment and pop culture. Books like The People's Almanac, The Book of Lists, Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion, and The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film by Michael Weldon made me see that reference books don't have to consist of dry recitations of fact. The authors of those books had very distinct voices. They wrote in an engaging, sometimes offbeat or irreverent style and weren't afraid to express their opinions about their subjects. When I began writing professionally I wanted to bring that same spirit to my non-fiction.
When did you know you would be a writer?
As soon as I realized I would never be an astronaut or professional baseball player. Writing was the only thing I was really good at in school, so it wasn't much of a leap from doing it in my spare time to doing it for pay.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
I wrote my first book for adults, The Encyclopedia Shatnerica, back in 1998. In that Jurassic age before YouTube, Google, and streaming video, writing a book about a celebrity involved a lot of on-site library research. I spent about six months trolling photo stock houses and compiling huge folders filled with hard copy clippings from magazines and newspapers. If I wanted to watch one of Shatner's movies or television appearances, I had to rent the VHS from an actual video store, or buy bootleg DVDs from people I met in Star Trek newsgroups. It was all very labor-intensive. The writing, which took about three months, was the easy part. Today I would be able to research and write that book without ever leaving my house.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Writing is relatively easy compared to the business of being a writer. Finding good projects, convincing publishers to hire you, just the day-today hustle that's required to make a living doing any sort of creative endeavor is the most maddening part of the job.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Other than sacrificing a goat to my dark lord before beginning every new project, no. I tend to write at my desk, on a large and formidable-looking desktop computer. I've never cottoned to laptops for some reason. But it would be a stretch to call that a ritual. More like a pigheaded affectation.
Have you written anything else?
Indeed I have! About a dozen non-fiction books for adults and several books for kids. I write the Kid Legends series for Quirk Books under my "kid-friendly" pseudonym, David Stabler. The complete list is available at my Amazon Author Page.
Any advice to aspiring writers?
Develop a thick skin to deal with the inevitable rejections and reversals of fortune that come with being a writer. Also, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, focus on writing the kind of book you would want to read, rather than trying to anticipate or game the market. Focus on creating something that's interesting, original, and compelling instead of what you think might sell at any given moment. No one wants to read a book whose core is a marketing proposal. It debases the culture and makes us all look bad.
Who are your favorite Authors?
Among fiction writers, I like Raymond Carver, Graham Greene, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, and Walker Percy, to name just a few. Rod Serling, the television writer, and Stan Lee of Marvel Comics were definitely formative influences on me when I was growing up.
What are your favorite books, or which book has impacted you the most?
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf impacted me enormously when I was a child. I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier when I was an adolescent. And three books that I read as an adult: The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstader, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and a book called Limbo by Alfred Lubrano, which is about how people from working-class backgrounds have to adapt to working in white-collar environments.
What are you currently reading?
I'm reading a new biography of the baseball manager Billy Martin by Bill Pennington and a collection of comic books from the 1990s by Dan Clowes called The Complete Eightball.
How do readers find out more about you?
Please visit my website schnakworld.com. You can connect to all of my social media accounts and—if you're lucky—see photos of what I had for lunch. Before I ate it, presumably.
He’s the sort of actor who can do Hamlet and Charlie’s Angels in the same year. He shuns managers and agents and once agreed to voice the part of Garfield because he mistakenly believed it was a Coen brothers film. Bill Murray’s extraordinary career is rich with fascinating anecdotes, contradictions, and mystery, from his early success on Saturday Night Live and the biggest blockbusters of the 1980s (Caddyshack, Stripes, Tootsie, Ghostbusters) to his reinvention as a hipster icon in the early 21st century (in films like Lost in Translation and Moonrise Kingdom). And now you can get your fill of Bill: part biography, part critical appreciation, part love letter, and all fun, The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray chronicles every single Murray performance in loving detail, relating all the milestones, yarns, and controversy in the life of this beloved but enigmatic performer. These pages are packed with color film stills and behind-the-scenes photography.
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