Sue Nami's As the Pegasus Flies is a fast-paced and funny collection of short stories set at Reader's Digest in the 1950s. Part "Mad Men" and part "The Office," it's got everything a light-hearted read should have: scandals, sex, surprises, and, by today's standards, perhaps the most shocking of all: plentiful smoking! In short, I loved it! Lucky me, I was able to track down Ms. Nami for an interview to get inside the head that got inside the lives of Reader's Digest workers.
Let's start at the start. What was the inspiration for this collection of wacky characters and their stories, Sue?
It all started with a photo. On my company's intranet homepage, everything is there--company news, important links, etc. One day there was a new feature called Oh Snap!, which is an old b&w photo from the company's archives. People are supposed to write a funny caption for it.
I wrote a 300 word story (instead of just a caption), using the photo as a prompt. It was fun, so I wrote part 2, 3, etc. until the end of the week, when the new photo was posted. I did it again the next week. It started to catch on. Every Monday I'd put up part 1, and finish the story with part 5 on Friday. I began to reuse characters, and refer back to previous stories. All really silly soap opera stuff--people running off to have sex and smoke post-coital cigarettes during work. Things like that. Money hidden in walls, secret passageways. Plus, I got to slyly make fun of the company.
So even though the pictures were inspired by your workplace intranet, I should assume that you did all the writing on your lunch hours or other assigned breaks, or even after hours, never interfering with your schedule, correct?
Correct. Off hours, mostly in the morning before work. Then I would post at some point during the day, usually right before I left for lunch. Sue Nami would never do anything besides work at work. In fact, she is NOT answering these questions right now while at work.
You're a fearless writer. By that I mean that you don't pull punches with crazy antics or surprises, which is great for the reader. (There's also an ample body count.) I have to ask, do you find it easy to go the extra yard with these stories, or did you have a struggle sometimes, deciding whether or not to "go there?"
I go wherever I want. In fact, the more outrageous, the easy (and more fun) it is to write. This style of writing, and the whole lack of pressure to be "literary" is very liberating. I hope it carries over to my regular writing. Plus, that's the way I live my life--fearlessly--so it's natural to put that in the stories.
You live fearlessly like Jessica and take rides in helicopters? Or do you have a dash of Bernadette and live dangerous by eating Taco Bell for lunch without taking Gas-X and living with the repercussions?
Somewhere in-between. I haven't ridden in a helicopter yet, because no one has built one for me, like Stu did for Jessica. But I would, if someone did! Bernadette eating Taco Bell without having Gas-X handy is just inviting trouble, not to mention serious gastric pain. Fearlessness has to have an element of fun to it. That doesn't sound like fun. What about eating tacos, then going on a bumpy helicopter ride? Anyway, my bio states that I live a quiet, enigmatic life. My bark is worse than my bite.
I personally loved Boom-Boom Bernadette, and of course, Lorenzo. And I'd love to hear more about Joey the Pinhead Shark Bait. Who were some of your favorite characters?
Lorenzo is probably my favorite. He is the most used because he's so versatile, and likable. A jack of all trades, a sweet-talker. I think he's actually the most complex character, with a history that has been explored some, too. He came here from Italy to join his first love. He loves the ladies, loves food, helps out his paesans. He knows his way around the kitchen and the bedroom. Plus, he wears cologne that smells like money! What woman can resist that?
So tell me, Sue, was your main motive in publishing this book because, as is so often claimed by your characters, "publishing is so lucrative"?
Publishing WAS so lucrative. Not so much anymore. I published the book mostly so it existed in a physical form. I wanted all the stories together in one volume; it was a moment in time that I knew would never last. And I was right. Maybe the movie rights will be lucrative.
I am jealous of you. Insanely jealous. You've already managed to garner the 3 big C's that I've always chased after: a Cult following, Controversy, and you've been Censored. Does that make you feel like a bigshot? I'd feel like a bigshot.
For a second there, I thought you were gong to throw an acronym at me. The corporate world loves acronyms. But I guess three Cs don't really sound like anything except a clearing of the throat. As far as feeling like a bigshot--I'm thinking of entering some sort of rehab. That'll bring me back down to Earth. Isn't that what a bigshots do? Maybe I can plead exhaustion, find a nice place upstate to relax. I hear the old RD headquarters is empty, maybe I can rehab there. I can also kick this smoking habit I've had since writing As the Pegasus Flies. I've been smoking like a mad man! Mad Men, get it? They smoke a lot on that show. Is this thing on? And by the way, you ARE a bigshot. Don't be modest.
Why do you think, after you built a cult following, you suddenly started getting censored?
Coincidence? Or not? It's funny, because I got censored during what was probably the tamest story I had ever posted—it was just a simple love story. Either RD didn't like the fact that I was going to publish a book (I don't know why they'd care, though), or some tight ass complained about the length of my stories. Everybody was having fun on Oh, Snap!, and some brat had to take his/her ball and go home.
Are they still posting "Oh, Snap!" features on the intranet?
Yes, but it seems to be losing steam. But I am still using the photos as prompts for my stories, which are now only posted on the ATPF blog. Occasionally I'll still post a regular old caption on Oh, Snap!
Can we expect a Volume 2 of "As the Pegasus Flies"?
Well, there have been three new stories since the banishment. I'm going to keep it going a little longer. I want to end it when I want to end it, not when RD wanted it to end. There is a good chance there will be a second book, if for no other reason than to annoy people.
Is there a Pegasus at the new Reader's Digest building?
No sighting of a pegasus yet, either living or in statue form. Or any form, for that matter. No pegasus scat around. RD forsook the pegasus. The magic is gone. The dream is over. Samson's hair has been cut off.
Girl to girl here, did you ever visit the storage room at the top of the spiral staircase in the old Reader's Digest library with a Lorenzo-like co-worker?
Well, how do you think I know so much about that little room? You either know about it, or you don't. But all in the name of research, of course. Actually the spiral staircase has now been removed, and the opening in the ceiling has been closed. I hope no one (Lorenzo, I'm talking about you) was up there when they did this.
Are you on drugs?
Depends. Do you consider peyote "drugs?" I use it religiously.