Emperor Franzen & Evil Wylie Unmasked

By Maryann Yin Comment

masked emperor.JPGThis GalleyCat correspondent has uncovered the writer behind the satirical Twitter feeds of Evil Wylie and Emperor Franzen. Yesterday, we had lunch with the mystery author (sans cloak).

Evil Wylie gave his first e-mail interview to Independent Publisher last week, revealing that Emperor Franzen and Evil Wylie had the same author. Today GalleyCat Reviews is proud to introduce the person writing these satirical Twitter feeds.

SPOILER ALERT: If you prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of the true identity behind these humorous Twitter satire characters, stop reading this post now…

the emperor is unmasked.JPGAndrew Shaffer is the writer behind Emperor Franzen and Evil Wylie. He chose to meet this GalleyCat correspondent at Alice’s Tea Cup, a literary cafe spot dedicated to Lewis Carroll’s novel. We shared the Mad Hatter platter.

Shaffer (pictured) has lived in Iowa his whole life, and is full-time writer and a reviewer for RT Book Reviews. In January 2011, Harper Perennial will publish his nonfiction book, Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love. He will also have an essay in the forthcoming The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. He has also produced a line of atheist holiday greeting cards. Highlights from our interview follow below…

Q: What did you do before becoming a full-time writer?
A: I worked at a number of telecommunications companies. That’s one path I took. For a while, I was trying to write short stories. There was this dream of being a great short story writer and being in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Probably for about 10 years I wrote short stories and novels. I managed to get the short stories published at some small places.

Q: What sparked the full-time writing career?
A: Gave up on writing for a few years and then I started writing greeting cards. They got pretty big. My cards were on The Colbert Report and Fox News. Pretty much, a whole lot of places just for these greeting cards. I thought, ‘Maybe I could do a book now.’

Q: Where did you go from there?
A: So I came up with some ideas on what I wanted to do and I sent them around to various agent slush piles after researching what type of agencies and agents I wanted to work with. My agent, Brandi Bowles who is now with Foundry Literary + Media pulled me out of the slush pile, threw me a life raft, and she said, ‘Your first idea’s crap; it’s terrible. But, I like your greeting cards, they’re very funny and you can definitely do a book.’

Q: Did you send a proposal to Wylie and then get rejected by them?
A: No, no. I looked at books that I liked on the shelves and then researched their agents. Andrew Wylie, his company was not one of those agencies. So, I don’t have any ill will towards him or anything. I think after he buried his hatchet with Random House, the online war between Evil Wylie and Good Random House sorta ended and we kind of went our separate ways.

Q: So you went through a lot of book proposal ideas for non-fiction before happening on this current one; it’s on philosophers and their romantic love lives?
A: It’s called Great Philosophers who Failed at Love. It’s about the failed romantic love lives of philosophers. There’s 37 different ones in there from Socrates, Aristotle, Plato up to Ayn Rand and Sartre.

Q: What philosopher has the most interesting story?
A: Rousseau had five children by the same woman. Took each one of them from the delivery room a block down the street to the orphanage as they were born over the course of five years. Never figured out birth control or anything. Just ‘sorry, this one’s going bye bye too.’ Never let his wife keep any of them. It was just the most horrific thing, but he thought children would interfere with his work. There’s a lot of similarities between writers and philosophers and overlap between the two. But, I just focused on philosophers because they’re a bunch of guys, mostly guys except for two women in the book, who are just so into their jobs that they either didn’t have time for love lives or they did horrible things. Or they horridly ignored their wives. Naturally, I partially wrote the book while I was on a honeymoon cruise with my wife. So it was sort of instructive to me as well on what not to do if you want to keep your marriage together.

Q: Were your satire Twitter accounts promotional stunts with your forthcoming debut?
A: That’s the funny thing. I didn’t actually tell anybody that I had created these for a week. I didn’t tell my agent. I didn’t tell my editors. I was just playing around on Twitter. I really hadn’t found any real use for Twitter. My own Twitter account had failed horribly to take off and attract any followers. I felt I was being ‘too nice’ maybe, if that makes sense. I wanted an outlet where I could be as much of a smartass as I wanted to be. Not really in an entirely snarky way I guess; I think there’s a difference between being a smartass and just snarking off. So, my agenda with it at first was just to do a purely comedic thing and I had no intentions of revealing myself to anyone, ever.

Q: You are actually a fan of Jonathan Franzen’s work. Have you read all of his book publications?
A: Just his essays and Corrections. In terms of the nonfiction writing, I am a huge fan of David Foster Wallace. If there were a couple of guys whose writing I would someday like to live up to, it’s David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen. Their non-fiction writing is simply amazing. I think their fiction writing is so good, it just goes over my head. It goes over a lot of people’s heads. It’s just because they’re so good. So, I’m a bigger fan of Jonathan Franzen’s nonfiction than his fiction.

Q: Why ‘Emperor’? Why not King, Czar, Fuhrer, or Chairman?
A: Me and Stefan Moorehead, who runs the Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago. [They shared some tweets.] ‘Andrew: All I’ve read is people defending Franzen against the ‘backlash.’ Where is the backlash taking place? In coffee shops?’ ‘Stefan replies, in my basement. With my star wars action figures. Really just that bastard Boba Fett. Stupid clone.’ Just two Star Wars nerds talking about J. Franzen and toys in their basements.