Twenty years ago, Jason Pargin was stuck in a mind-numbing data entry job.He found a way to maintain his sanity by spending his nights writing comedy pieces for his site “Pointless Waste of Time” that would become the revamped humor site Cracked where he now works as its chief editor. Every Halloween, he would post a new chapter of a twisted horror novel about two slacker friends who experience a drug trip filled with monsters made out of frozen meat, time displacement and evil forces that make supernatural dick jokes.
He also transformed himself into David Wong and his friend Mack Leighty into John Cheese, the slacker protagonists of his book John Dies at the End. He did this to avoid any problems with his day job since some of the characters were based on real people and turned an already insane story into a fourth-wall breaking bit of mindf***ery.
“I honestly didn’t think anyone would want it,” he said. “I was not a real writer and the story was a whirlwind of grotesque madness like a tornado crashing through a sausage factory.”
David Writes in the Beginning
Much like the meat in the opening chapter of the full novel, Wong’s horror story took on a life of its own. It was published twice and earned Wong a book deal that led to an equally bizarre sequel This Book is Full of Spiders. The story also earned one of the highest honors a horror story can achieve: a film adaptation from Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep director John Coscarelli.
“I had never had anything published in print and had only been paid to write as a freelancer once or twice in my life for trivial amounts of money,” he said. “I had no agent and no aspirations of being a novelist – JDatE just oozed out of me without warning. I thought I may as well entertain my few readers with it. Then everyone started approaching me with suitcases full of money. It was bizarre.”
Wong’s inspiration for the novel was just as bizarre.
“I saw it as like one of those hot dog eating contests, only instead of hot dogs, it was a series of ridiculous plot twists and the contestants don’t know they’re in a contest,” he said. “In other words, it was a test to see how much insanity could be forced down the reader’s throat before they had to be rushed to the hospital.”
The story gained a huge, ravenous audience just from its time on the web before Permuted Press asked Wong if they could publish it as a book.
“If you’re a small data entry clerk in the Midwest and you think your blog post is going to get turned into a movie, you’re probably a crazy person,” he said. “At the time the offer came in, only a few thousand copies of ‘JDtaE’ had been printed and sold by a cool print-on-demand publisher called Permuted Press, which I already thought was like winning the lottery. But even then I was worried they wouldn’t make enough off it to pay the copy editor and cover artist. The idea of someone sinking millions into filming it wasn’t even something that crossed my mind.”
David Goes to the Movies Near the End
Coscarelli said in an interview that he found Wong’s novel after a “robot from Amazon.com” recommended it to him based on his zombie fiction purchases. He was instantly “hooked.”
“Don had adapted his last film Bubba Ho-Tep from its novel and did a perfect job,” Wong said. “From the first time we spoke, he was obsessive about getting everything right. He was in love with the dialogue in the novel and I think his biggest concern was trying to preserve as much as possible while still creating something that was feature length.”
Coscarelli put together a script adaptation of JDatE and sent a copy to acclaimed movie actor and star Paul Giamatti who was looking to do something edgier with more scary monsters in it (not counting Russell Crowe). He read Coscarelli’s version and instantly thought “it was a crazy, great script” and signed on to play Arnie Blondestone, the reporter that hears David’s dark and twisted tale about the dimension jumping “Soy Sauce.” Coscarelli also cast Chase Williamson as David Wong, Rob Mayes as John and Clancy Brown as the cool and collected Dr. Marconi.
“I think Chase and Rob bring more personality to the characters on the screen than I could have ever given them on the page and Paul Giamatti is one of the great actors in Hollywood,” Wong said. “Everyone in the cast really embraced it and had fun, especially Clancy Brown as Dr. Marconi.”
David Writes More Books Towards the End
Wong’s successful second run of JDatE with St. Martin Press earned him three more book deals including the sequel and one final John and David novel to close out the characters as a trilogy.
He said he’s also working on another book that isn’t connected to the John and David universe.
“I have never committed to writing a JDatE sequel without knowing exactly what it would be about and feeling like it was a story worthy of its own novel,” Wong said. “It will never be a situation of ‘Okay, what adventures can the boys get into this year?’ Not unless I run out of money.”
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