The Christopher Monks Interview: A Li'l Under Twenty Questions

Today I interview an longtime internet buddy of mine who has recently published the book The Ultimate Game Guide To Your Life: Or, The Video Game As Existential Metaphor. He also runs the hilarious blog Utter Wonder, is the editor for McSweeney's Internet Tendency and in his free time enjoys mocking people who do not cheer for the Boston Red Sox. But I like him anyway.

How would you explain your book to folks who aren't familiar with game guides?
They're sort of like CliffsNotes, except for video games. Game guides walk readers through all the levels of a video game and offer tips on how best to complete the various challenges and puzzles. Best of all, there's no stuffy teacher giving you an 'F' for using one.

What have been some of the most enlightening lessons you've learned in the process of getting this book published?
I've learned that there are a lot of books out there, seemingly more than the number of people who are interested in reading them. I was in a Barnes & Noble last week and lo and behold there were five copies of my book. It was a delight to see, as it was sort of a culmination of all the hard work I had put into writing the thing. But then I noticed sitting next to it on the "Humor Books" table were five copies of something titled Wet Cats, a book comprised entirely of photographs of wet kitties. Things were kind of grim for the next couple of hours.

Is it possible to win Your LifeĀ®?
Sure. My book offers one route on how to do it. It does takes some effort to win Your LifeĀ®, of course. Life Points don't just drop out of the sky. But if you do an adequate job with the game's challenges, power through the unavoidable setbacks and embarrassments, and love the ones that love you, chances are you'll make out fine. Oh, and don't choose the political pundit or sports radio personality career paths. But that should really go without saying.

When I publish my book, do you recommend I check out my Amazon ranking or will it only lead to misery?
It depends on how often you check them. You don't want to overdo it or else you might go a little bonkers. I'd keep it to down to like 50 times a day. Anything over 50 or 60 times and your speaking voice will develop an unrelenting quiver. 70-90 times and you'll stop feeding your pet. Over 100 times and you'll begin to think that Hasselbeck girl on The View has a good head on her shoulders.

What's been the most fun part of promoting your book? The most tedious?
The attention is nice. Sounds self-absorbed, but whatever. I realize some of it might be feigned interest, but who cares? I'll take it. When I wrote the book I felt pretty isolated, as only my editor and my wife knew what I was trying to do. Now to have strangers respond well to it, to say that they "get it," - again, whether they're just being friendly or really mean it - is a nice little boost. And, yes: I have an incredibly fragile ego.

In terms of the tedious aspects of promotion, I hesitate to answer because I just feel lucky enough to have been able to publish a book. Complaining about certain aspects of promoting it is akin to some singer/songwriter devoting their second album to whining about how tough it is to be "out on the road." Yeah, I'm sure there are some aspects of being on the road that are tough, like which groupie to have sex with, that's always a puzzle, but at least you're in the fortunate position of being able to be out on the road. Eat your blue M&M's and buck up. A lot of other singer/songwriters have it worst off than you. So, yeah, I have no complaints.

What's your favorite video game?
I'm something of an snob when it comes to video games. If it doesn't have a Metacritic rating over 85 I won't bother playing it. In general, I'm partial to sports games. There was this baseball series a few years back, which is now defunct, called "High Heat" that I was completely and utterly addicted to. I was in an online league and everything. Most of the guys in the league were either Republicans or teenagers or both, so at times it was pretty soul-devouring. To this day, though, it's still the most satisfying video game experience I've ever had.

What do you think about Second Life?
It doesn't make much sense to me. I tried to join once, but my computer at the time was too old for it to work. My gut tells me that was very fortunate.

My husband tends to stop at the stop signs and pull to the right when he hears sirens when he plays "Grand Theft Auto." Is he secretly a woman?
When I first played the game I would do the same thing. Whenever I saw a cop car I'd wait patiently at a red light or politely let a pedestrian walk across the street. Now I just careen through intersections and city parks like everyone else. But, yes, I think you probably married a woman, perhaps even a prepubescent one.

How did you get your editorial gig at McSweeney's Internet Tendency?
John Warner, the editor at the time, was planning on taking a sabbatical from the site and he asked if I had any interest in taking over. It's understatement to say that I was thrilled by the offer. John also happened to help land me my book deal (he edited the book, as well), so basically it was at this point that his role as my "Sugar Daddy" became official. Should I ever need a kidney or bone-marrow transplant it's an enormous relief to know that I'll be able to count on him for an organ or two.

Do you have to write rejection letters in that position? What's your method for letting people down softly?
Rejections are never fun, but for however hard they are for me to write I recognize they are far more worse to get. So I try my best to let submitters know that although we won't be using their submissions, their work has been read and appreciated. I myself was rejected several times before McSweeney's eventually accepted something of mine. And if it wasn't for the encouragement I received in those rejections I probably would have given up. So I try to keep that in mind with every reply I write.

Do you ever receive submissions from people who you're inclined to let down not so softly?
Rarely, if at all. From time to time we'll get something from someone who has clearly not read our submission guidelines, which to be honest, I can't really understand. I obsessively read through the guidelines of places I send my stuff to. But in the end it doesn't do any good to get all snippy about it. Plus by nature I do anything I can to avoid confrontation.

How do you think McSweeney's has evolved throughout the years, if you think it has?

There has always been an emphasis on humor, but early on much of it tilted toward clever-funny or smart-funny rather than laugh-out-loud-funny. That's in no way a criticism, of course, as I'm a fan of all kinds of funny, but when John took over he steered the site in a more focused direction, toward short, culturally-engaged conceptual humor that's main intent is making the reader laugh. We still cater to writing that is sharp and nuanced, but we're also looking for stuff that will reach a broader audience.

As a frequently tired and not inspired person, I'm impressed that you always have something to say on not just one but now two blogs. What do you do when you don't have anything in mind to blog about?

I am forever stressed out about what to blog about. It's pathetic. I try to convince myself that it doesn't really matter, but if it's 7:30 in the morning and I have yet to come up with anything to write, panic inevitably ensues. Before you know it I'm barking at my sons to eat their LEGO Waffles quieter because Daddy needs complete silence while he surfs the web in search of a wacky picture of Star Jones or an adorable video of a puppy napping, or else he will fail the eight to ten people who might accidentally happen upon one of his blogs that day.

What are you working on next?
I'm still hemming and hawing, but I suspect it will have something to do about parenting. My sons are forever making me look good, so I figure it would be a missed opportunity to not take monetary advantage of this in some way, shape, or form.

Does it make you sad that the Red Sox as a team is so overlooked by the press and general public? Sometimes I forget they even exist.
It's one of the great failings of our time. People moan about the economy and the war and Heidi and Spencer, but do they ever stop and think about Kevin Youkilis's feelings? The man and the rest of his teammates are living, breathing human beings who deserve our respect and admiration. Let it be known, Mr. Youkilis, that I for one care about you and your arbitration eligibility. I'm especially fond of the promos you've done for the Red Sox-themed dating show Sox Appeal that I see roughly seven times a day while watching rebroadcasts of classic Red Sox moments on the television network NESN, which just happens to be owned by your employer. My son also has a small plastic figurine of you, which during quiet, contemplative moments he holds up to his cheek and whispers robotically, almost as if he were in a cult, "Yooooooooouuuuuuuuuk."

How does it feel to be the 221st person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
I feel that whatever clever answer I give it has already been used by one of the 220 people who came before me. In fact, I am too afraid to scan the archives and look, but my guess is that even that last sentence has probably been used before. Just the same, it is in all honesty an honor, as I have been a fan of this site for several years. I have the gushing fan email I wrote to you five years ago to prove it.

Aw, that is nice. By the way if people are interested in those other 220 interviewees they are here.