There just aren't many career options for a washed-up superhero these days. Sure, he can adopt an orphan, write a book, go to rehab, and become governor of a large Western state, but will he ever be happy? Boston-based author G. Xavier Robillard's debut novel Captain Freedom: A Superhero's Quest for Truth, Justice, and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves (HarperCollins) skewers the cult of personality in a single bound.
HE SURE DON’T LOOK THE PART: This guy a comic superhero?
Let me guess, you were into comics as a kid.
I read a ton of comics, and there's no better testament to this than the verbal tattoo that is my pen name. At my Confirmation I thought it'd be fun to pick the name of a superhero instead of a saint or family member. My real middle name is Charles, so when you put them together you get Charles Xavier, the X-Men's bald telepathic mentor. Please don't tell my mom.
Neal Pollack called Captain Freedom "A neurotic hipster fame whore." 'Fess up: how much of Freedom's persona is really you?
I am neurotic, and as much of a fame whore as anyone else who writes on the internet. Can't cop to being a hipster, though. I don't know where to buy the tight jeans.
Which came first, the Captain Freedom character, or a joke that called for a character?
A few years back I read at a variety show in Portland, Oregon. It was broadcast on NPR, and that piece became the second chapter of the book. The spirit behind Captain Freedom — this action hero as politician/public figure/celebrity — came from a McSweeney's piece I wrote after Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected supergov of California. For NPR I wanted to write about a superhero politician, focusing on his roots: what caused him to stop saving people and move into politics? What began as a six-page story spun out of control and became a draft of a novel.
Were there other celebrities whose fame-whoring/public breakdowns inspired you?
There was one thing I had to change for fear of being sued. It's a throwaway line in the acknowledgments about a celebrity publicist who allegedly ran over some people in the Hamptons. There's also a reference to former New Jersey governor James McGreevey's tearful admission of his homosexuality, which seems to me a lesser offense than, say, being born Rod Blagojevich.
You've been spreading across the internet like kudzu since 2004 —McSweeney's,Comedy Central Insider and Indecision, Yankee Pot Roast, your own AllDayCoffee.net. Did comedy blogging help birth the book?
I started All Day Coffee around the time I began work on Captain Freedom in 2004, and that, like the other blogging, helped me procrastinate. Sick of revising? Blog!
Working for CC Insider and Indecision also helped me come up with lines quickly. You have to be a punchline factory — and it's liberating, because you write it, the story gets posted, and it's relegated to the Internet consignment shop of history in 16 minutes. Blogging made me churn out funny material and worry about editing later.
What do you do when you wake up and say, man, I don't feel funny today?
The nice thing about long-form fiction is you can spend non-funny time describing rooms and what's on somebody's dresser. More often than not those efforts lead back to the funny. I also exercise — working out at the climbing gym, skiing in the winter, or running when it's warm. That helps me regain focus, and in the case of rock climbing, replaces writing frustrations with good old-fashioned white-knuckled fear.