Max Mobley is a known quantity in the San Lorenzo Valley. Whether he’s writing magazine features, reviews or interviews on music; books on music technology and the band Rush (Rush FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Rock's Greatest Power Trio); playing guitar with local bands Swordfight and Rockblock Weekend, or supporting his wife Tina in her role as Station Manager at KBCZ...you get the idea. Max is a man of many talents and ambitions, so it’s no wonder that he has dropped a fourth book in his pursuit as an author. “Howard & Debbie” is a stinging and compelling piece of fictional horror that takes the reader on a journey through darkness and grit, through hopes shattered, revenge and bloodlust, and dreams realized. As a freshman fiction writer, Mobley has all the right moves.
What was the motivation for writing “Howard & Debbie”?
Back in the early days of the Internet (circa Windows XP), I knew a few men who used to brag about catfishing women (long before the term had been coined), similar to what Howard tried to do with Debbie when they first meet in person. Only Howard’s motives were sincere. His pic was a fake, but the rest was real. He just wanted to meet someone and fall in love and have them love him back. These men tricked women, would arrange dates and then stand them up. Since they used a fake pic and persona, they could hang out at the bar and watch the woman’s reaction to her date being a no show. If they liked what they saw, they’d use the info gained in the online courtship to seduce them. I thought their actions and their bragging about it was horrible, and so I wanted to write a horror story about it.
When I sat down to write it, Howard and Debbie were there waiting for me. That changed everything. Debbie was the fearsome antagonist, Howard the dorky protagonist. Writing these stories, I am the first witness. I’m just trying to write down what I see when I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually enter that other universe and the minds of the characters there. What I sat down to write and what I ended up writing became two very different things.
Are the characters based on portraits of people you know, or are they an amalgam of people, or are they totally fictional?
They are total fiction. What they look like, their personalities, what drives them, who they are - all fictitious. They were in that universe I was peering into and I just tried to capture them accurately. Doing that shapes the story immensely.
Of your four published books, this is the only piece of fiction you’ve written. Considering your other books have been instructional or biographical, where did “Howard & Debbie” come from? Is it something you’ve been cogitating on for a while?
I had written the first draft of “Howard & Debbie” before I had written the nonfiction books. It’s just much easier to get a publisher for nonfiction. I am also finishing the second draft of my second novel.
As far as where it comes from - who knows? I try not to think about it and just trust that I’ll be able to travel to that other world when I sit down to write. It takes a lot of trust. During the first draft, I try not to think too much about a story when I’m not in the act of writing. I want it to come out when I’m working - spontaneous and fresh. I think that helps the quality of the story and the writing. I’m surprised as anyone when the twists and turns come. On the second draft, I think about it nonstop.
I start with a very rough outline of 5-6 plot points. Some basics about key characters and that’s it. The rest comes out when I’m writing. With “Howard & Debbie,” for example, I started that book knowing about only four of the characters - Howard and Debbie (of course), Debbie’s father, and the wicked Teddy Eel. The rest came to me a page or two before I wrote them. Sometimes it’s just a paragraph or two. It’s an incredible feeling when that happens. Relief and satisfaction. Validation, too. Very exciting.
Approximately how long did it take you to write? And did you travel at all for inspiration?
I was working full time when I wrote the first draft, so I wrote in the evenings and weekends. Took about eight months for the first draft. For this book I had a word count goal of 1.5k words per day. I hit that most days. Of course, not every word is a keeper. Some days I keep most. Some days very few. You have to stay on it. Like a surfer in the water, some days are full of good waves. Some days the good waves are few and far between. Still got to stay out there and not give up.
I did not travel except mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Locations were all based on small towns I’ve lived in, worked in, or traveled through. Most but not all in California. Ultimately its small town America - could be anywhere in the US. Except maybe Hawaii.
Want to learn more about Max Mobley’s body of work? Visit www.maxmobley.com and view the titles in his repertoire, including “Howard & Debbie.”
Christina Wise is a writer, reporter, and community advocate who resides in Felton. She writes for the Press Banner on housing, education, arts and culture. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.