Actually I wrote the first draft of The Talk Show twenty years ago. There are lots of contemporary references in it, and over the years I updated the references and also worked on alternative ways to open the novel. Writing You Got to Be Kidding and Papal Bull reenergized me as a writer. They also came very fast with a great sense of urgency, so I wanted to publish them first before issuing The Talk Show.
As to why I wrote it, I would say that even though the novel has been in decline for decades in terms of its cultural importance as a result of a host of communications breakthroughs, including film, TV, the 24-hour news cycle, The Internet, social media and mobile communications, I wrote The Talk Show out of the same impulse that writers had back in the day when they believed that the novel was central to the culture—when some would even imagine writing the Great American Novel—and that is to capture the reality of our contemporary experience.
What was your inspiration for writing The Talk Show?
I first thought of writing a book called The Talk Show when I was in college at Notre Dame, so it’s had a long gestation. The initial idea was to portray the lack of real communication in our culture epitomized by TV talk shows, and that is indeed an important theme of the book. It’s one of the factors that move Abraham Lincoln Jones to conceive of his national Emancipation Tour. The book is also an attempt to capture the sense of fear and anxiety that a lot of us walk around with every day—the sense that something terrible could happen at any moment—any time, anywhere–and of course it often does. It’s a sense of paranoia really that is born of terror—911, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Columbine, Sandy Hook. We’re all acutely aware of the constant threat that is posed by what Thomas Friedman has called the “Super-empowered individual,” that is someone who is willing to die in the act of lashing out against society and the culture. We all have a great fear that terror can invade our own lives, can victimize us, and that has created a sense that we live in a kind of hyper reality, that we live in an insane world where anything can happen. In fact, that’s another reason why the novel has diminished in importance. It’s almost impossible for the novelistic imagination to compete with that reality, although that is what I am trying to do in The Talk Show.
Are the characters in The Talk Show based on people you know?
Jack Winthrop and I have a lot in common in terms of our point of view and our experiences. He certainly represents me in the novel. Also, I would have to say that everything in the book is deeply experienced. All of the characters and the action come out of my experience living on the planet. On the other hand, almost everything that happens in the book is purely fictional. There are a few exceptions. For example, Winthrop’s encounter as a young boy with Robert Kennedy–that happened to me pretty much the way I write about it in the novel.
What do you want people to take away from The Talk Show after reading it?
The Talk Show is a fast read. It’s a page-turner. It’s dark. It’s funny. It’s edgy, so I very much want people to be entertained. I also want the book to disturb. I want the book to move readers from one position to another. I want it to change their perspective, change their point of view, change the way they look at the world and their lives in the world.
The book examines race, gender identity and violence in our society and takes a look at what can happen when someone tries to initiate change. How does the talk show host, Abraham Lincoln Jones, try to initiate change?
He initiates change by risk taking. He abandons what’s safe—in his case, simply being a huge TV star—and he takes his message for radical change directly to the people. In doing that, he crosses the line. He makes himself a target, and that’s when the threat of terror for him, for Winthrop and for their friends becomes personal.
Will there be another book to follow this one with the same protagonist?
I wrote the book specifically with the idea of a sequel in mind. The ending of the novel and the theme that there’s always another gunman suggest that. So that is certainly a possibility.
What are your plans for the future in terms of writing?
Well, I’m writing all the time. This past summer I suddenly began writing lots of poems. It’s been an amazing experience, very much like writing You Got to Be Kidding and Papal Bull with the writing going really fast. In the last few months I’ve written three books of poetry. The first is Free Air, which I published in September. The next one is Looking for Potholes, which will be out in January, and the third book is Dirty Pool, which I’ll publish in May. I’m working now on a fourth book of poems called In Transit, which I’ll publish next September. I’m also almost finished a book of interviews with amazing LGBTQ people called The Human Agenda: Conversations About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which will also be published in January.
I’m sure that all of this writing is some form of pathology, but I have no intention of seeking treatment.
Title: The Talk Show by Joe Wenke
Publisher: Trans Uber LLC
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 334 pages
Someone is following Jack Winthrop—most likely the gunman who tried to kill America’s most controversial talk show host, Abraham Lincoln Jones. Ever since that fateful night when Jones called Winthrop with his audacious proposal, life has never been the same. Winthrop, an award-winning New York Times reporter who calls the Tit for Tat strip club his second home, agreed to collaborate on Jones’ national “Emancipation Tour.” The plan is to bring Jones’ passion for radical change to the people and transcend television by meeting America face to face. Now Winthrop has to survive long enough to make the tour a reality.
As the reach of his stalker spreads, so does the fear that Winthrop’s unconventional family is also in danger—Rita Harvey, the gentle transgender ex-priest and LGBT activist; Slow Mo, the massive vegetarian bouncer; and Donna, stripper and entrepreneurial prodigy—as well as the woman who is claiming his heart, media expert Danielle Jackson.
Steeped in the seamy underbelly of New York City, The Talk Show is a fast-paced and mordantly funny thriller that examines how the forces of nihilism threaten our yearning for love, family and acceptance.
JOE WENKE, who is known for his seminal work on Norman Mailer, is an outspoken and articulate LGBTQ rights activist, social critic and observational satirist. He is the founder and publisher of Trans Über, a publishing company with a focus on promoting LGBTQ rights, free thought and equality for all people. Wenke is the author of MAILER’S AMERICA, FREE AIR: Poems, YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING! A Radical Satire of the Bible, PAPAL BULL: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church, and THE HUMAN AGENDA: Conversations about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (January 2015). Wenke received a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in English from Penn State and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Connecticut. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post.