Chapel Hill writer and teacher Daniel Wallace’s career didn’t follow a traditional timeline, but it worked for him. In 2003, Tim Burton made a movie of Wallace’s 1998 book “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions.” It featured A-list stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Danny DeVito, and Pearl Jam recorded a song for the soundtrack. Five years later, in 2008, Wallace graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill where, today, he’s an instructor.
On Monday, Wallace’s latest book, “The Cat’s Pajamas,” comes out via Inkshares Crowdfunded Publishing. It’s a children’s book he wrote and illustrated, a tall tale from “a time when cats lived in houses and went to school and had to go to work in a city full of cats.” Like “Big Fish,” “The Cat’s Pajamas” falls in the same neighborhood as tall tales and myths.
News & Observer caught up with Wallace between classes to talk about his new book and the importance of nontraditional publishers like Inkshares.
Q: What’s your interest in mythology and why did you want to write “The Cat’s Pajamas” like a myth?
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A: I think most writers gravitate towards things that interest them, that they’re obsessed with, for lack of a better word. They can’t help but write about it. In my case, and you can see this with some of my other work , I am fascinated by and kind of obsessed with myth and the way that it does try and explain day-to-day reality. I’ve always been really fond of Greek myths, particularly. They so obviously are used to explain and used to understand what it means to be alive, what it means to be human.
Q: With “Big Fish,” it’s a lot about the intersection of mythology and reality.
A: They are blurred into each other. I think that if we look at Greek myth as something that happened a long time ago, we would be missing the point of it. Stories of all kinds are written to clarify what it means to be human. It is, to me, a blurring that takes place naturally. When you are able to bring two worlds together, a story can take on more of a gravity than it might have on its own.
Q: I don’t think of Greek myths, specifically, as having a single, set, clear moral. And I don’t think of “The Cat’s Pajamas” as having a single, set, clear moral.
A: Stories that are written toward a moral, to me, are weaker stories. My job is to describe, and I don’t feel like I’m in a position to tell people how to live their lives.
Q: This book came out through Inkshares, which is crowdsourced and crowd-funded. What attracted you to a crowd-funded publisher?
A: Some of the things that Inkshares is bringing to the publishing industry reflect the future of publishing. I don’t know what it’s gonna look like in five or 10 years, but publishing now doesn’t serve readers the way that it could. It’s a very limited marketplace. You don’t have a lot of alternatives as a writer. On the one hand, any kind of new opportunity that avails itself I think is a good thing. On the other hand, just as a publishing model, it’s one that honors and serves the writer in a way that traditional publishing doesn’t, not as much as it used to. It’s more of an industry now, owned by huge corporations.
In the past, books were published because they were good. Now, a book has to be rubber-stamped by the marketing department: how are we going to sell this book? Where’s it going to be situated in the bookstore and who’s going to buy it? The marketing aspect of it is equal to, if not stronger than, the editorial part of it.
When you have a book that is offered to the world and then the world says, “I want to see this in the world” because it is a thing they see as valuable, I think that is a wonderful way of bringing these things into the world.
Q: You were a published author with a film made of one of your books before you finished college. What do you tell your students when they say, “Yeah, if you can do that, why do I need a degree?”
A: (Laughs) You know, I didn’t finish college until 2008. The truth is, you don’t need a degree to be a writer, but there are other reasons that a degree is important. Usually you can’t make a living being a writer – even a successful writer doesn’t make a living off their books, and by living I mean they’re able to stay at home every day and write. The college degree is very helpful in finding other work.