Rob Dircks spent 20 years in advertising before writing his debut sceince fiction novel, Where the Hell Is Tesla? Amazon listed Where the Hell Is Tesla? as its #1 time travel novel a month after it was published. (It’s actually an interdimensional odyssey comedy love story, but we won’t quibble with Amazon.) Audible lists Where the Hell Is Tesla? as its #3 bestselling sci-fi book behind The Martian and Andromeda Strain. Amazon and Audible review averages are above 4.
Dircks talks about the main character in his story. How did an average Joe save the universe when all he was really trying to do was get back to his own dimension so he can propose to the woman he loves? And why is his narration so meandering?
(Also: Read a short story by Rob Dircks entitled “Today I Invented Time Travel” and watch a video of him reading the story in the New York City Queens Library.)
CARL SLAUGHTER: Why did you write a story based on Tesla? Although I can’t imagine this story based on Edison or Einstein.
ROB DIRCKS: A couple of reasons. First, I’ve always been fascinated with conspiracy theories, they’re so much fun – UFOs, The Illuminati, government cover-ups, you name it. And second, I’ve always found Nikola Tesla such an interesting historical figure – so visionary, but so mostly forgotten. So one day, while reading about a Tesla conspiracy theory about his “lost journals,” it clicked: what if Nikola Tesla not only had these covered up journals, but they contained something crazy like the secret to an interdimensional portal? Having that “mad scientist” vibe in popular culture made Tesla the perfect guy to pull something like that off.
CS: Why is an interdimensional misadventure comedy mostly about 2 guys trying to get home instead of humanity at risk or the fabric of reality unraveling or some other plot with much higher stakes?
RD: Great question. I think this is a character-based story, and for these two guys, Chip and Pete, the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher than trying to get back home to their normal, safe lives – and in Chip’s case, back to the love of his life he thought he had lost. In fact, I think in all stories, we look for ourselves in there somewhere, and when we can see characters yearning for something we can relate to, like heading out into the unknown and just wanting to go home, it heightens our investment and enjoyment of the story. It also heightens the comic perspective: here are two regular guys, worried about getting home, when literally the fate of the entire multiverse hangs in the balance of their actions.
CS: The 2 main characters are average Joes and one of them appears to be a loser. Yet they are resourceful enough to escape no matter how many times they discover they have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire again. How do you deal with this apparent contradiction?
RD: I don’t know if you’d call it me dealing with the contradiction, but maybe more heightening the contradiction to comic effect. Here you have these guys, with absolutely no survival skills, somehow bumbling their way through this insane adventure. But if you stick with the story, eventually you see that their ordeals shape them, especially Chip, and they become better versions of themselves. And you see that faced with challenges, just regular people, reveal that we all have pretty awesome qualities if we look for them: loyalty, love, a sense of humor, and hopefully some occasional good luck.
RD: Another great question. Once you start peeling back the layers of the story – sci-fi odyssey on the top layer, buddy comedy on the next layer, even the how-does-reality-work layer – you get down to the core, the love story. It’s really, underneath it all, the story of a regular guy who makes a mistake with the girl he loves, and spends the entire novel trying to get back to her, and tell her he loves her. And I love that story – it’s in all our lives, all the time, the things we go through to get back to the people we love. It’s universal.
CS: What role do the FBI agents have in the story?
RD: I guess they’re like bookends. They provide the setup, that they’ve bungled the management of Tesla’s lost journals, allowing Chip access, and then they show up at the end, still unaware of the impact Chip has had. I guess they represent the bureaucratic establishment in a comic way, the establishment that really has no idea what’s really going on, letting important stuff like this slip through their fingers. They’ll play a bigger role in the sequel.
CS: Is the narrator ADD? Why is his narration always wandering?
RD: Chip is very much ADD! One of the reviewers put it really well, describing Chip as that guy in your group chat who always has something to say, but in the end is the kind of friend who gets you through the day. I wanted him to feel real, like a friend, and I think lots of us have friends that won’t shut up sometimes, or that say what’s on their mind regardless of the consequences, or who seem to bounce from on idea to the next. And from a writing perspective, Chip’s ability to go anywhere with his thinking really freed up the story, so I could have him escaping death one minute, and the next minute writing a list of the top ten reasons he loves Chinese food.
CS: Has it been hard to sell a buddy comedy to science fiction fans?
RD: Absolutely not. I’m still amazed at the response this book has gotten, and based on lots of feedback on social media and in reviews, people are saying it’s because there’s not enough of it available – good, quality sci-fi comedy. So in my case, I think it filled a void for folks who were looking for a new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Terry Pratchett novel. (Personal note – reviewers have said that, not me – it’ll be a long time before I compare myself favorably to Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett!)
CS: Will there be a sequel? Will the girlfriend return for the sequel? Will the government be involved again? Will it involve another one of Tesla’s secret inventions? Will it involve time travel?
RD: Oooh. All good questions. Yes, after my next novel, I’m going to return to Chip and Pete for a sequel. Julie, his girlfriend, will play a larger role, as well as the government agents. I’m not sure about Tesla – I don’t want to overplay that card. But no matter what, you can count on friendship, and love, and the maximum amount of “how the hell do they think they’re going to get out of this one?” moments. (And without giving away the answer to a lot of readers questions, Bobo is never far from my thoughts 😉 ).
CS: What’s on the horizon for Rob Dircks?
RD: Before the sequel, I’ve got a few projects coming to fruition. First up is my second novel, another sci-fi comedy about an Artificially Intelligent “unit” who finds himself in the middle of nowhere with a very important package to deliver. That’ll be summer/fall. In the same timeframe, my brother Dave and I are finishing up our first children’s book, Alphabert: An ABC Bedtime Adventure. Dave’s an amazing illustrator, wait until you see his work. And later in the fall, I’m publishing the latest novel from a friend and mentor (sorry, can’t give more details on that one yet). I’m doing all this through my small publishing firm, Goldfinch Publishing. Because not only do I love the writing part, but the self-publishing process. It’s become so empowering, it’s amazing. So I spend my non-writing time (in addition to my normal full-time job) helping other authors who might not be quite as techy/marketingy get their voices out there into the world. The horizon is full of possibilities!