I had just finished writing a giant 400 page book on religion (published in Italy under the title iGod) and I was focused on nothing but pushing that project. So, when Disinformation asked me work on a much shorter book on religion for their 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know series I wasn’t all that enthusiastic. Their mentioning the magic word “advance” (as in “we’ll send you an advance check in the mail”) did wonders to raise my level of interest, but I still felt a bit like a literary whore since this wasn’t my book. It looked fun enough, though. Coming up with 50 stories/characters/anecdotes about religion that are little known, bizarre, possibly offensive and preferably hilarious definitely wasn’t a bad deal. The only issue was that I’d have to finish the book on a relatively tight deadline.
Shortly after giving my word that I’d get it done in time, my life went to hell. Weeks in the hospital by my wife’s side ended with her dying in my arms. At that point, I was left being the single father of a 19 month old baby, about to lose our home and with the high likelihood that a good chunk of the college courses I teach would be cut. In the midst of this, I was still supposed to write a book.
The guys at Disinformation were very cool to me and said they would postpone the project but by this point A. I needed the money B. If at all humanly possible, I never, ever go back on my word. So, I just began to work. Since my free time was non-existent, I would think about the book while feeding milk to my daughter, while driving, in my sleep… The second I put her to bed, I’d start writing until I passed out, and started over the next day.
Even though this may sound like a hellish punishment, it was the best thing I could do under the circumstances. Whining and sitting around contemplating how much life can suck at times wouldn’t have helped me. By forcing me to focus all my remaining energies on getting the job done, writing the book basically chased away self-pity and all those other forces that drain one’s spirit. On top of that, it forced me to be light hearted and funny about very serious topics—at a time when life was neither light-hearted nor funny: the best therapy for horrendously tough circumstances. Last but not least, I have always been a pain about writing. I would spend long hours debating the merits of every single word in the most perverted-perfectionist fashion. Having no time to indulge in this psychosis showed me that the quality of my writing style was the same whether I’d have 2 or 10 hours to get the a section done.
During some seriously fucked up months in my life, writing 50 Things allowed me to smile—a lot. After all, I had a chance to write chapters with titles like “Orgies for Jesus”, “The Trial of the Zombie Pope”, “If You Are Poor, It’s Because God Hates Your Guts”, “Bible Porn”, “Teletubbies Are Gay (And God Hates Them)”, “Zen and the Art of Chopping Your Enemies’ Heads Off”, “Deadly Alliteration: Moses the Mass Murderer” (about this last one… I seriously hope that the sweet Jewish people who gave my daughter a scholarship to attend their daycare don’t read this book.)
Disinformation (and life’s circumstances) removed all inhibitions from my writing. And in dealing with a topic as important and sensitive as religion… the result was a lot of fun.