Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel Discuss 'Lunatics'

Robert Siegel talks to authors Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel about their comic novel Lunatics. It tells the story through the voices of the two main characters: Philip Horkman is a happy man — the owner of a pet store called The Wine Shop, and on Sundays, he's a referee for kids' soccer. Jeffrey Peckerman is the sole sane person in a world filled with jerks and morons, and he's having a really bad day. The two of them are about to collide in a swiftly escalating series of events that will send them running for their lives — pursued by the police, soldiers, terrorists, subversives, bears and a man dressed as Chuck E. Cheese.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

OK. It's not the great American novel, but it is almost certainly the best novel ever written about a forensic plumber and a pet store owner who, together, managed to destroy and then repair much of the known world. It is called "Lunatics." And here to explain how this new book came about are its two authors, Dave Barry, who wrote columns for many years for the Miami Herald and who can claim responsibility for the widespread popularity of Talk Like a Pirate Day, and Alan Zweibel, who was, among other things, an original writer on "Saturday Night Live" and who can claim responsibility for the trenchant commentaries of Roseanne Roseannadanna. Dave Barry, welcome to you.

DAVE BARRY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And Alan Zweibel, welcome to the program.

ALAN ZWEIBEL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: First question. Dave Barry, why did "Lunatics," the novel, require two authors?

BARRY: Because we have two main voices in the book. One of them is Alan's voice, which is this really nice guy, sweet man. And then there's this complete and utter jerk who's the other main character and that's my voice in the book. Not that I'm a jerk in real life, but we kind of played the two voices against each other.

SIEGEL: And this was improvisational, Alan? You'd get a chapter from Dave and just make up what happened next?

ZWEIBEL: It was incredibly improvisational. My character spoke first. I wrote a two- or three-page first chapter. I sent it to Dave, not knowing what he was going to send back to me. It was like having a - oh, God - like a deranged pen pal. OK? It was like I was writing this book with Ted Kaczynski because I would see, you know, a chapter in my inbox and I knew that it would funny, but I had no idea what Dave was going to do with it and where he was going to then take it.

SIEGEL: And your attitude is you were handing off to the other man. Dave Barry, were you trying to make life easy for Alan Zweibel or were there puzzles that you planted in your chapters?

BARRY: No. I made it as hard as humanly possible. I think we both kind of did that. We were thinking like, all right: Mr. Funny Guy, deal with this development.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRY: You know, the problem there became, after a while, after - you know, I don't know - 20, 30,000 words into the book, we realized that - and if you - I know you're an astute guy, Robert. You probably read a lot of books in your life. A lot of them have - and this is a technical term I'm going to use - a plot.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Ah, yes. I've heard of that. I've heard of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRY: Well, that became our problem with this insane back and forth we were involved with.

SIEGEL: I wasn't going to bring it up right away, but there is a certain randomness to the events as they flow from one to the next.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZWEIBEL: Well, he brought up this word plot, I remember, over dinner one night. And being the Jewish person I am, I immediately thought he was talking about cemeteries. OK? And so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: You thought you were being offered a deal? Is that what you...

ZWEIBEL: Yeah. I said, get me one by a tree. It'll be nice. OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZWEIBEL: So when the people come - so we only actually communicated twice. You know, it was all emails back and forth, you know, in terms of where we were and what we might want to do or Dave would correct me. He'd call himself the plot Nazi only because things like - my character has two children and, at one point, they had five names. So he insisted...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRY: Very briefly, Alan's character became an elderly Belgian woman and he wasn't good at continuity is what I'm saying.

ZWEIBEL: Yeah. No. I went afield and he'd reign me in. But the two times we did get together, we said: OK, we have to have dinner or just speak about where this is going and we would have this terrific dinner and we'd speak about the Miami Heat and whatever. And somewhere during coffee, he would go, what about this plot? I'd go, yeah, I think it's going to be fine. And that would be our plot session.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: That was your rigorous - and since this story takes the characters everywhere - to Cuba and the Horn of Africa and China - did hours of research go into this or reading one copy of National Geographic? How would you describe how you prepared for writing all these scenes?

BARRY: I have one word and it's - I think the same, you know, when you're talking about research, the same word that Bob Woodward would use, Wikipedia.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRY: I found that, in five minutes of Wikipedia, I could be an expert on pretty much any world problem or area.

SIEGEL: Well, is this going to be the one novel the entire (unintelligible) of Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry or are you actually at this again right now?

ZWEIBEL: Well, you know something? We haven't spoken specifics, but this was so much fun that, yeah. I suspect, when we go on our book tour, we'll be spending - oh, God - an inordinate amount of time together and we would have to fill it with something. I think that we'll be talking about: OK, what could the next set of characters be and figuring how we don't repeat ourselves, you know. But, yeah, I would do this again in a heartbeat.

BARRY: Not me. Not me. I would never do it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZWEIBEL: Yeah. So my part of the book called, you're looking for another partner, a lot of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Well, Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry, thank you very much, both of you, for talking with us about the book you've written together, "Lunatics."

BARRY: It was our pleasure.

ZWEIBEL: Thank you for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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