Sometimes people ask me to recommend a sci-fi comedy book. And they want it to have time travel. And Elvis Presley. And a space trucker hauling heavy-metal concert gear across the galaxy. And it absolutely must include a Russian cosmonaut chimp shot into space in the 1980s who was picked up by aliens and turned into a super-intelligent cyborg.
This is the point where I’d normally say, “Go home, Goodreads user! You’re drunk!”
But if you asked me for that recommendation today (and for the sake of this introduction, let’s pretend you did), I have an answer, thanks to rocker, nerd, and super nice guy, James R. Tramontana.
|James R. Tramontana|
|Area of Existence:|
|Centerville, Ohio, USA|
|Favorite Sci-Fi Book:|
|Right now, The Expanse series. Can’t get enough.|
|Favorite Sci-Fi Movie/TV:|
|Whoa boy, this is a tuffy. Tie between The Matrix and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.|
|Original or Extra Crispy?|
|Original recipe. Can’t go wrong with the classic!|
Marcus: Much like the beloved sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the story of Ace Tucker Space Trucker started as an audio drama. Can you tell us about the original audio version, what inspired it, and how it came into existence?
James R. Tramontana: The book was actually written first but not released yet. I wanted to do something interesting to get people hyped up for it, so I turned the entire thing into a full-cast radio drama where I portray all the characters and do all the sound effects, music, editing, recording, etc. etc. It was kind of the confluence of all my skills and manias.
I’ve listened to some of these and they’re pretty amazing. The podcast is worth checking out for the rockin’ theme song alone. I’ve had “Go Ace Tucker Go” stuck in my head for a week. Did your background in music help with your audio production?
I am a musician and have been around music studios probably for over 20 years so it was a fun exercise to make the characters come alive and also stick to a rigid production schedule that forced me to not second-guess my terrible acting and just let it ride. That’s part of the fun of the show, the fact that you can tell it’s one guy doing all the voices, but it still sounds like distinct people.
Did the audio show work to promote the novel as well as you hoped it would?
The show was very well received. It’s garnered well over 100,000 downloads and helped the book do well when it was first launched. Although I’ve somehow shot myself in the foot. I’ve split my audience. There are people that only want to listen to the audio fiction and then there are those that only want to read the books. So I am torn as to what to spend more time on. I’ll go back and forth because what I really want to do is just write books, although the audio fiction is a lot of fun, it is extremely time-consuming.
I’m actually doing it a little different for Ace Tucker Space Trucker 2. I’m doing more of a straight read instead of a full dramatization, but I am also adding in all the character voices and sound effects and music. So it’s kind of a hybrid of a traditional audiobook and a radio drama. We’ll see how it does and whether the super fans get pissed. 🙂
In this story, Elvis Presley is still alive and has been living in space since 1977.
Elvis is still alive. What are you talking about?
Uh, right. Of course. So what was it like using an actual (living?) historical figure as a main character? Did you do a lot of research to make him accurate, or did you just wing it?
I visited Graceland for my 30th birthday with two of my friends. It was a really awesome experience, I’ve always been an Elvis fan, but not what I would consider a super fan. But he’s the king of rock ‘n’ roll and we owe so much to him. Even though we all know he stole his music from other musicians, he was the embodiment of what became rock ‘n’ roll and for that we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.
One thing that struck me as really odd when you tour Graceland is you are not allowed to go on the second floor. If you ask to go up there you are told by a security guard that that was Elvis’s private abode in life and out of respect it is kept private in his death. That simple idea stuck in the back of my head for years and became a major plot point in Ace Tucker Space Trucker—no spoilers, but you really want to find out what’s on the second floor of Graceland when you read the book.
For the surrounding areas and topography around Graceland, I mainly use Google Maps and Google Earth. Come on man, it’s the 21st century we gotta cheat somehow.
While we’re on the subject of research, after reading the first book I have to ask: Why do you have such a comprehensive knowledge of how Kentucky Fried Chicken is made?
There are some questions you don’t want to know the answer to. I have gone down such a deep rabbit hole with KFC that sometimes I still dream about those tasty little chicken wings and thighs. It’s a mania. It’s an obsession.
I’m actually an enormous fan of fried chicken in all its forms and when researching the area around Graceland I noticed there was a KFC not too far from the property and it all just kind of clicked. It was a total accident. A happy accident, just like Bob Ross would’ve wanted. Don’t get me started on what people in Japan do it with KFC at Christmas time.
What do you think is the best thing about writing sci-fi comedy? What advice do you have for authors who want to get started in the genre?
One of the best things about writing in the sci-fi comedy genre is that there are literally no rules. You can get absurd as you want and it’ll still make sense as long as you can shoehorn an idea into the little strange world you’ve created. I like to balance my complete assholery with elements of heart and excellent storytelling. I hope I’ve achieved that with Ace Tucker Space Trucker. There are some real moments in there that I hope hit people in the feels, but at the same time keep them giggling and guffawing at the right times.
To go along with the book’s time-travel theme: If you could send your past self a message, what would it be?
Oh, I’ve already done this. I’ve written a song to myself and sent it back in time, the song is called “Note to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self.” Here is a link so you can listen to it.
Nice track. The message is powerful, but subtle. And that’s a great segue into something else I wanted to talk about: Your music, and how freaking incredible it is. How does being a musician influence your writing?
Music is a monumental part of this series and I’ve written a lot of music that coincides with the books and the audio fiction. I usually publish my music under the moniker CR8RFACE (like the “T.C.B. Fight Song”), but I’ve also formed a fake band for April and Ivan in the second book called Trampoline Grrl and I’ve put out two songs under that moniker as well.