Pug was nice enough to set some time aside for me to interview him and ask him a few questions relating to his new book and writing.
In your biography, you state that Pug Grumble may or may not be a pen name. Can you tell us why you’ve decided to write/create under a presumed pen name?
When I first started Farlaine the Goblin I didn’t want to put a name in it. Everything was labeled Farlaine the Goblin. At conventions I’d register as Farlaine the Goblin.
To me, it was all about the book, and I wanted the work to speak for itself. In my mind, you like the comic or you don’t. It shouldn’t matter who made it.
So that’s how the first few books came out. But over time, I started to realize a few things.
First and foremost—it was tougher to do a follow-up, which I had now decided to do. People wouldn’t know to connect the anonymous book with the new book.
There were also some logistical issues I kept running into at cons where they’d insist on having a name. For a while I’d just tell them Farlaine the Goblin, but that didn’t always work.
I’d always liked the idea of a pen name, but when I wrote that first issue of Farlaine I hadn’t come up with one I was happy with, and the worst thing to do would be put out a book with a pen name you weren’t happy with. I’d forever be known by a name that didn’t fit.
At some point when I was midway through the series I finally came up with a pen name I liked —Pug Grumble. It was a play on Mark Twain type pen names that had an actual meaning and were sort of tongue in cheek. For those who don’t know, if you have a bunch of pug dogs together it’s called a grumble.
I liked how the name looked visually, it was short and to the point, it was unique and memorable, and most of all it conveyed the kind of work I wanted to produce —some kind of innocent medley of funny, quirky, and creative.
I sat on the name for a year, letting it stew. Book 4 was released anonymously.
Finally, with Book 5, I unveiled it.
Since then I’ve used it on the remaining books and any reprints that have happened, and have updated it on Amazon and places that sell my books. Over time, I’ll put the name on the rest of the series, as well as my first novel Ouch, and I plan to continue to use it on whatever I do in the future.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing Ouch?
Tone was the dominant one, for sure. This is absolutely a weird and different book! It’s a love story between a masochist, a sadist, and a klutz, which on its surface means folks won’t even pick it up, or will come into it with a lot of preconceived baggage and expectations. It SOUNDS weird.
One of my early goals with the book was to make the character of Sylvester someone whose every waking moment was spent in a neverending chase to hurt himself, so I was constantly cramming in injuries to every moment of his life. I wanted to get incredibly creative with it, but I almost overwhelmed the worldbuilding side. I spent a lot of revisions going through and trimming out words and moments to focus more on the characters personalities and humor than just a list of injuries.
I needed to work hard on establishing a tone that was funny and accessible without getting into downright torture and crazy violence. Some of my beta readers kept mentioning that the descriptions needed to be toned down. I ended up doing a bunch of tone tweaks where I’d run through the whole book and trim out some of the excessive descriptions or endless examples I stuffed in.
The other tricky part is the creative side—I have a pretty high bar for wanting to read something I haven’t read before, so while there are some traditional scenes and settings (a diner for instance) I tried to cram in a lot of unexpected locations and scenes, such as the pumpkin sledding, pancake bar, and the stairwell. Sometimes these were just unique ways of using a location, while others were (hopefully) moments you’ve never before read in a book.
One of my goals is always to write something I haven’t read before, and ideally my readers, too.
Was the writing process different and what challenges did you face writing in the humor fiction genre?
Prior to writing Ouch my only published work was my comic book series Farlaine the Goblin, which is an all-ages fantasy story about a tree goblin shaman trying to find a forest of his own. That was a story that needed to remove anything adult or too violent, so while the creativity was a blast, there were limitations of things I didn’t want to include.
With Ouch, I was dealing with a more mature novel, but I still needed to balance things.
The larger challenge was simply the length; with comics you have a shorter amount of pages, and a lot of the storytelling is done through visuals. I may need to leave a note to myself to draw something a certain way, but I didn’t need to convey that to the reader in writing. Now, with a novel, I had to get better at converting visuals into prose.
In the end, I spent an absurd amount of time on editing and polishing early drafts to tighten things up and clarify.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I get bored of all the formulaic books that exist; the ones where you know what’s going to happen and have read it twenty times before with different character names. I think there are a lot of those books out there, and while there’s nothing wrong with them, it makes me want to read something I haven’t read before. If I’m going to spend years writing and editing a novel it needs to be something that I personally want to read, and I will happily admit that I love how this book came out. I’ve never read anything like Ouch before, yet it’s exactly the kind of book I wanted to read. It’s everything I hoped it would be and I’m quite proud of it.
Is it for everybody? No, probably not.
Lots of folks don’t want unique and creative books; lots of folks enjoy reading the same story again and again. And for them, they probably won’t like this.
But for the folks that do, I think they’ll fall in love with the oddity of it all. The words dance along as proper prose should, enjoying the beauty of language. Sometimes, if a word doesn’t exist to fit the moment, I create one. It’s the kind of writing that used to exist in the world long ago when stories were first being written down and printed. If I’m devoting hours of my life to reading a book, I want to enter a world that doesn’t already exist in my memory. I want something that brings me to new places, with new characters and worlds. Ouch falls in that vein.
At the end of the day I hope they laugh and enjoy a book that’s creative and unexpectedly different, yet fully satisfying.
If you could tell the younger author Pug Grumble anything what would it be?
Write more and don’t worry about not everything being perfect and published. When I was younger I was always concerned with ‘wasting time’ and didn’t want to write something that didn’t have a guaranteed audience, which often meant not writing at all! Huge mistake.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
JRR Tolkien and Gaiman come to mind the most. I love The Hobbit and think it’s brilliant and close to perfect, but the creativity and worldbuilding alone are worth it all. True creation!
Neil Gaiman I love his style of writing. Each word and phrase is well chosen and the humor is everywhere. I love reading a book where I get to savor each sentence, which I get from Neil.
What was Pug Grumble’s dream job when you were younger?
Making movies. That’s what I went to school for, and I even worked on a couple of them, but it was clear early on that it was a ‘networking job’ where the people with the right connections could jump right to the top of the food chain. There wasn’t a ladder system where you could climb and succeed based on merit and hard work alone, which seemed like I could waste a lifetime flailing at the bottom. Also, it relied on others to finance and produce the movies, which meant a perfectly written script may never go anywhere. Comics and novels seemed like a variation on the same world of storytelling, but was something I could do solo and release myself without having millions of dollars behind me:)
Would you rather live in a haunted mansion or live in a un-haunted cottage?
A cottage sounds wonderful!
Shower or bath?
I am a bath NUT. If I’m writing in the winter and can’t go out I’ll rotate between writing, reading, and taking a bath as my ‘activities’. Sometimes I’ll take 2-3 baths in the same day!!
Can you share a snippet that isn’t in the blurb or excerpt?
Pug: Sure, here are the first two pages from Ouch Chapter 5, “Tattoos & Light Sockets”:
Sylvester stared up at the ceiling, noting the cracks and water spots and the sagging signs of squirrel nests living in the walls. The house was old and rented to the kinds of people who wouldn’t muster the energy or the interest to move; the ones who didn’t mind scurrying neighbors and funny smells.
Light Socket had lived there for years now, fitting that bill and building his own nest. The squirrels probably saw him as nothing more than a large neighbor who shared their interest in winter storage.
His rooms were piled high with stacks and collections of various types and sorts, all seemingly on the verge of toppling should you wander too close or allow a gusty breeze to cross their teetering tops. Sylvester glanced to his right and picked up a newspaper from the closest stack and chuckled at the mid-90s publishing date. Yeah, Socket had been here a while.
For a few years Sylvester had called it home, his last vestige of bachelor normalcy before Felicia confiscated him away to her closeted apartment life of nightly pokes and prods. He smiled at his surroundings, evidence of the alternate universe his life might have taken without her.
“OK, Vest, you ready?” came a booming and squeaky and bearded voice as it wandered into the room, echoing around the canyoned walls of piled TV Guides and comics books and empty wooden booze boxes.
“Ready and waiting. As always. You keep to your schedule like a Wonderland rabbit with a timepiece.”
Light Socket gave a hearty, mocking laugh, “Yeah, yeah, I get it. You’re oh so witty.”
Sylvester didn’t have many close friends, but Socket was one of them, the odd remnant of high school who’d somehow slipped through to the rest of life.
They’d met in one of those science classrooms with the sinks and the gas spigots, the Bunsen burners and the strange things in jars. Back then Sylvester carried pliers to tease his early urges, a masochistic puberty, while Socket carried fuses and wiring for similar reasons. One day they decided to marry them together and have an electrical socket preside over the nuptials. The friendship really took off from there.
“So, what’re you after today?” asked Socket as he leaned down, giving off the air of a barber offering haircut advice.
“I want you to fix this,” said Sylvester as he lifted his tattooed arm, showing off the forearm within a forearm.
Socket laughed hard and howled. “Oh man, how long did it take before you saw it? I was bitin’ my tongue something fierce when I was doin’ it! That’s what you get for zoning out…”
“Didn’t notice it ‘til last night. Someone at the supermarket pointed it out to me. Felt like an idiot.”
“As you should!”
“Well, yeah. But now I want you to fix it.”
Light Socket lifted the arm and looked at the tattoo with an analytical air. “It’s still too fresh to be removed. Best I can do is add to it or cover it up, your call. It is a forearm though, so I could probably attach a body to it…”
“Anything would be an improvement. But nothing stupid. I don’t want some dude spanking it or something.”
Socket smirked knowingly at him. “I’ve been drawing a lot of the fairy tale folk recently; I could give that a go?”
Sylvester nodded, “As long as…”
“I promise! No self-indulgence.”
Socket wheeled up a stool and pulled over an ottoman, piled high with magazines and paper pads and topped with a tray of inks and tattoo needles. The tray itself had a medieval feel to it, but one that was quickly undermined by an amazingly odd array of glittering gumball stickers stuck to it. Hello Kitty and car emblems mixed with hearts and butterflies, roses and daffodils, some adorned with saying like “Love is eternal” and “Mom” that spoke to cheesy teenagers and oedipal bikers. Socket clearly had other clients for his home-brewed tattoo services.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
I’ve been working on a new comic book series and another novel, but neither are far enough along to really crow about. The novel I worked on over the pandemic, but then put aside because I wasn’t in love enough with the characters and it needed some tricky plot fixes I didn’t have an answer for yet. I will let that stew for now and likely return to it at some point. The comic is what I really want to work on next, but comics are a very slow process, so I need to balance when I decide to dive in so I can make sure I have the time to finish it. For now I’m focusing on releasing Ouch and trying to get that in reader’s hands:)
OUCH by Pug Grumble
A Comical and Quirky Love Triangle Between a Masochist, a Sadist, and a Klutz, Sylvester’s got a bit of a thing for pain. In the silliest of ways, he enjoys it. He likes splinters and stubbed toes, pizza burns and ice cream headaches.
He’s dating the perfect girl in Felicia, a sadistic siren who torments any who wander within reach. The kinda girl who sharpens doorknobs and electrifies jukeboxes.
But when Felicia goes to jail, Sylvester literally can’t help but run into Natalie, a colossal klutz who topples into everything. The kinda girl who twists her ankle on the toilet and gets injured by plastic reindeer.
It’s the start of something fun, until Felicia gets out of prison.
If you enjoy a quirky and funny bit of literary fiction along the lines of A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman, THE FINER POINTS OF SAUSAGE DOGS by Alexander McCall Smith, FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk, and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman (or if you enjoy narcoleptic porcupines and deep-fried pancake bars), then this is the book for you!
Shane Staley’s career in professional publishing spans more than 20 years. He is the founder of Delirium Books. In 2005 he won the Bram Stoker Award for excellence in specialty press publishing. He has published more than 300 titles through various imprints of Staley & Associates. He is also a Bram Stoker-nominated author and professional web developer.
Throughout his career, his creative drive to support and promote the independent author and artist has resulted in the establishment of a prolific career in the arts and entertainment world. His creative output includes web development projects, book design and layout, editing and publishing. He is also an independent freelance publishing partner to several authors and publishers.
Visit his publishing, editorial and web development site at: staleyandassociates.com.