TIH 441: Jason Pargin on David Wong pseudonym, Zoey Ashe series, and Anonymity Online

TIH 441 Jason Pargin on David Wong pseudonym, Zoey Ashe series, and Anonymity Online

In this podcast Jason Pargin talks about his David Wong pseudonym, the Zoey Ashe series, anonymity online, and much more. 

About Jason Pargin

Jason Pargin is the New York Times bestselling author of John Dies at the End and the Zoey Ashe series. He is the former editor of Cracked.com.

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Howls from the Dark Ages

Reader beware, you’re in for a medieval scare.

The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson, narrated by RJ Bayley

Listen to The Girl in the Video on Audible in the US here and in the UK here.

Michael David Wilson 0:07

Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson and every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella. Week out were masters of horror, about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now, today's guest is Jason Pargin, also known by his former pen name, David Wong. He is a former editor of cracked.com. And the author of many books, including John Dies at the End, futuristic violence and fancy suits. And this book is full of spiders. And it was a great conversation. We spoke to Jason for almost three hours. So this is a multi parter, but as with any of these, please do listen, in any order. And in this part, we of course, talk about the David Wong pseudonym, talk about the Zoey Ashe series. We talk about anonymity online, talk about social media, and much more. But before any of that, a little bit of an advert break.

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Bob Pastorella 2:33

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Michael David Wilson 3:03

Okay, well with that said here it is it is Jason Pargin. On This Is Horror.

Jason, welcome to This Is Horror.

Jason Pargin 3:15

Thanks for having me.

Michael David Wilson 3:17

Yeah,it is a pleasure. And I thought to begin with, let's talk about what some of your early life lessons were and your earliest memories growing up in rural Illinois.

Jason Pargin 3:36

Let's see. That is a great question. Because in terms of especially in terms of being relevant to what I do now, growing up in a tiny town with no bookstores was something so like all of my early reading was it was something that would have been paperbacks that came from the pharmacy or from the grocery store. We later got a Walmart but that wasn't until I was like 10 or 11 years old. And then they had the slightly bigger book section where they actually had some hard covers, but that's always the hard part of China when people want to know like what were my writing influences and things like that. I'm always slightly embarrassed by the fact that it's like why didn't grow up with you know, my love of books was whatever I could get off the narrow rack of like Dean Koontz and Stephen King and like the few your Tom Clancy the few best selling paperbacks like that was it it wasn't until much later in life that I was able to actually expand my horizons but that's that was the reality of growing up. I was born in 1975. So this is a youth spent without the internet right? You know, I did not have the internet time moved away to college. It didn't exist. So this is a small town of 5000 people with no anything had a couple of had a couple of stoplights. But no, like, we didn't have even a Barnes and Noble or any of the bookstore chains, nothing like that. So that is a unique challenge for someone who, I guess has the brain of somebody who wants to be creative, but you don't have any kind of a creative scene or anything like that.

Michael David Wilson 5:21

Right? And in terms of that environment, I mean, did you have access to movies? Or did you have comic books, I mean, I guess being, you know, having a grocery store as the main kind of outlet in my store.

Jason Pargin 5:38

Yeah, they had a little circular rack of comic books that I did not I read a few of them, it was never really into comics. Movies back in those days were VHS tapes from one of the two tiny video stores. Again, this was prior even to you have to go back several business cycles prior to Blockbuster Video. Prior to DVDs. This was in the VHS era, when video stores, at least in the United States, at that time, were these tiny little mom and pop shops, where they had one copy of every movie. And so if there was some movie, you wanted to see a new one, you would have to reserve it and there may be eight people in front of you. And the quality would be all poor, where they had paused like on the nudity, or whatever, and messed up the tape. So you just had very limited horizons, I guess is my point. Because I kind of envy people who grew up with something as cool as a comic book shop, or a real like, like a real record store where I you know, like I would see in movies where they have all the racks of the LPs and stuff. It's like that wasn't, you know, I remember being a kid and hearing about like gangster rap. And the only, like, they had the edited versions available at Walmart at that time. So I would get these edited versions of these rap songs. And that was like my only possible way to connect with any of that. But there was no scene for if you wanted to see independent movies for movies, if I had been a kid who wanted at the time to get into anime, or manga or anything like that, there would have been no way to do it. It wasn't that wasn't a city big enough. And again, the kids that grew up in the Internet era. I know I sound like an old man talking about having to walk up hill to school, or and all of that in the snow. But I can't emphasize enough the degree to which you were separated from culture, aside from a very, very narrow range of magazines, best selling books, a few best selling, like the main comics, that anything that was a little bit weird or off the grid, anything like that, there was no way to even necessarily find out about it. Like in theory, I could have subscribed to some sort of, you know, underground music magazines or whatever. And then from that could have found a way to mail order, you know, cassettes or that sort of thing. But you had to be really relentless about seeking it out. So my, my early tastes are very, I guess, basic, but I think it's a, that's a part of where just where I am from what America it is today, that same kid in that same small town now, with an internet connection has access to everything, all everywhere, from all time like that is a miracle if you have not lived without that you do not appreciate what a miracle that is a and I mean, Miracle capital and it is amazing.

Bob Pastorella 8:39

I can relate. I grew up in a small town. And we had the, you know, the grocery store, the you know, the racks with comic books, and you know, we had a good library, that was probably the key, and some people who actually curated it, but I can definitely relate. It was the pre internet age, you know, and it's a thing I mean, tech, that's my day job. And I kind of I'm nostalgic about the time before noon, we didn't have so much connection, because it seems like that you had this ability to seek out things on your own. And that was probably like an adventure sometimes. It's like if you wanted to find out something, you know, you you had to use your you had to use your noggin and you had to walk there because you didn't have a car. And I'm just you know, I think that's, that's kind of missing in today's society.

Jason Pargin 9:39

The pleasure of feeling like you were the only person to know about a band and like you really loved it, I think the few times because if I ran across something like that it would have been on a cassette that somebody had recorded off of somebody else's kits that that they recorded it from their brother in Chicago's cassette, and it got handed around because a lot of stuff that's how things went viral by In the past from one person physically handing it to another, so somebody would come back from vacation somewhere, and then they would take off this thing and you would hear it's like, oh my gosh, that's amazing. And then you would feel like, oh, I discovered this like, like, I, this is mine. And there was a Yeah, I agree there i there the subcultures that existed, then, it had to been so much more special to people like, like the old time anime fans, which something I can't identify with at all. Like, I didn't know basically what anime was until the internet era. And it still looks ridiculous to me. But the people who went through the incredible amount of work to have those like the cassettes, you know, they would buy them from Japan, and this would take eight weeks to arrive. And that's how they had to curate their collection like that had been so special to them, as opposed to now where all media is so disposable. And especially like, I think any musician will tell you this, like the concept of the album as like a standalone thing is gone, because people don't listen to music. That way. They've got 8000 songs on the phone, or they just listen to Spotify. But the idea of an album of 12 tracks that forms one cohesive thing. And you just listened to it over and over and over again, and it changed your life. I don't know how many kids are missing out on that experience, because that's not the way they consume media now. But it used to be so meaningful to you, I got a copy of I would have been in high school in 1991 and got a copy of Nirvana's Nevermind, on cassette with the little baby on it. And I had no idea who that was. Somebody told me about them. And then I got hold of a copy somehow. And I heard it, it was so like, special to me, because in that high school, I was the only person listening to it. And it's like, Ah, it's just me, I'm their only fan. Of course, by that point, they had videos on MTV, they're getting me very famous, but in that tiny town, it was like, No, I'm the coolest boy in the world, because I've got this album that is clearly about me and my life. And, and is speaking directly to me. And now I don't know, if you get that if the kids today get that same thing. I don't know if it's possible to feel that because with all media available to everyone everywhere, and it probably just doesn't feel the same.

Bob Pastorella 12:25

Yeah, I have a similar experience, and it's liking now. And you know, I've got Apple Music, like you're talking about and we just, you know, get whatever, but I still, I add whole albums. And I because that's how I grew up. That's how I listen to me and I listen to the whole thing, you know. And it's like, you can you can see, I'm a huge Black Sabbath fan. And you can see the progression of the band, you know, as they go through their lives, by album from album to album to album. And you're right, people aren't aren't seeing that today. Because they have like this whole catalog and it's all mixed, mastered. And they created their own playlist and did it the other day. You know, and granted, there are occasionally there's nothing worse than having a band that you liked it only know about and your next album sucks. It has one good song. Maybe you're kind of like, well, maybe they weren't that good. Maybe where are the friends from? Right? I should have just been listening to journey instead of Metallica. Oh, no.

Michael David Wilson 13:30

I mean, I'm wondering, in that environment, and knowing early on that you wanted to be creative. Did you have a lot of people who are encouraging in terms of the people that you were surrounding yourself with and the parents, the teachers, I mean, what was that like in terms of encouraging or discouraging creativity?

Jason Pargin 13:56

If I were making a, like a movie of my life, which would be an extremely boring movie, but you would have to rewrite it to make it seem like, Oh, he's he has these weird ideas. But in the small town, nobody understood, you know, and but it really wasn't like that my parents are very encouraging. And, you know, we like my high school. And he's very, very small town High School. And I had one creative writing class. And like this is, in an era prior to having computers as something that you could learn in high school, this is going from 1989 to 93. Like a bigger city had them but that town could not have hoped to have afforded them. So in terms of the idea of having something like, you know, I would assume with a bigger school would have like a literature club or something like that, you know what I mean? Or like an advanced reading or something that gets into that exposes you to all sorts of different types of creative work and that kind of thing. And And it really wasn't anything like that. It's so you had the stuff that you were made to read in a typical English class, I had one very good creative writing class. But in terms of, you're someone who maybe wants to do this, you know, for a living someday,

how you get there from here from from this tiny, small town, and you know, where I'm not even sure I want to go to college, or if I should just get a job working at one of the local places, and just do that for the rest of my life. Because again, the possibility of well, I'll just put my stuff out there and the Internet, again, that did not exist. So it's like, well, how do you become a famous writer or not a famous writer, but how do you become a writer who actually can do it for a living, you know, our local newspaper, it was just like, like farm reports and grain prices. And then something about like the local elementary school Spelling Bee like that was it that was the paper and then there's the crime blotter of this person was wrecked, or arrested for drunk driving, or there's a fire at south of town. And so we're looking at that paper, you're not looking at, like, Oh, I could go work at the local paper and do this. I couldn't write up the minutes of the city council meeting. It's like that. Well, that's not what I want to do. So when you're reading a book by Stephen King, or one of the best selling authors I had access to, it's like, well, how did that guy get to do that? The end? It's like, well, he got an English degree. It's like, well, how do you do that? And it's like, well, and then from there, he got an agent. And then he submitted work to a bunch of publishers into a bunch of publications like, well, how, how, what, what publications? How do you? I'm just a total stranger, why would they take anything from me? And there was never any point. But like, I never befriended anyone in the industry, I never talked to someone who had done it for a living. So everyone was very nice to me, I gonna have to write short stories are funny poems or something like that. And it's like, oh, this is really good. It's really funny. But that's kind of where it's not. So I it was never a case where people were like, trying to take my confidence away or saying, No, you should be a farmer, like the rest of us. It wasn't that it's just that it's like, Yes, this is really good. So what? Like that? What does that what does that mean here? And this time in this place in this culture? What does that mean? That I seem to have a knack for writing things or for making people laugh. And so it just seemed like the kind of thing you would do as a hobby and show your friends. But otherwise, what you know, what do you do you watch TV? And it's like, Oh, I'll be a famous comedian or something. It's like, okay, how would there's no comedy clubs here? There's no comedy scene here. There's not a comedy scene within six hours of here. So how, how do you get there from from here and that's, that's an anxiety that I think is unique to people that grow up in kind of depressed small towns, that I'm not sure that people who grew up in cities or more cosmopolitan places really understand. Because you feel so disconnected from indie kind of what what you feel like would be interesting success. Like there's people around you that have good jobs. But those good jobs are as you know, pipe fitters and plumbers and mechanics and welders. The idea of having a job in a creative field, even something like advertising, you know, where it's more like a capitalist type of creativity, it doesn't matter. There's no ad agencies there. So there's not anything around you where you look at, it's like, that's what I could do when I grow up. So it was just as kind of a vague dream until until I go to college and somebody invents this thing called the internet. And suddenly the thing I was born to do, there's now a way to do it. They they invented a way for me to do it.

Michael David Wilson 19:03

And I guess we've entered the Stephen King route of going to college getting the English degree I guess that was kind of at the forefront of your mind in terms of the next step that kind of how that you spoke about. But you know, then it was a case of or how to fund it. So I believe your first step in that was getting a job at Dairy Queen.

Jason Pargin 19:33

Yeah, well, that was I've I've worked many jobs in my life. That was I worked at Dairy Queen in high school I've worked at there's an office supply place delivering like office furniture I've that I never had a job where I was asked to do anything creative. That didn't exist, you know, even through going off to college. I majored in journalism, because I thought, well, you know, that's the I could work in TV News. Something like that. And that was the first time I was able to do work that was kind of, I don't know, okay, it involves writing things and involve, you know, transmitting ideas to people. And then from that I got a job in local news in the college town where I went to, but that lasted less than two years, I realized very quickly that I, that I hated that. So that thing, I went to college for it, I realized, oh, I don't want to actually do this for the rest of my life, it's actually incredibly unpleasant working in journalism. And it pays very little in involves putting a microphone in the face of somebody while their house is burning down behind them, and asking them how they feel. It basically requires you to invade people's privacy and requires you be an extremely aggressive type of person, like being able to endure awkward conversations, putting people on the spot ruining people's lives, if you've discovered something about them, it's the kind of thing that appeals to a certain personality. And that's not why I got into I got into it, because frankly, I, I was looking at a list of the things I can major in. And journalism seemed like a job where you research things and write things. And that was that was that was the closest look closest thing so that like so many people, there's no way to find out. If you like a job or a career until you do it for a while. There's really nothing in the pamphlet that's going to tell you that so i i do to this day believe that the only way for me to find out how much I hated it was to go out and do it. But when I left that job in 9090 97, I had, I was just working for the next decade, I was just working a series of just office jobs, just stuff that I found through a temp agency. It wasn't these were not amateur writing jobs. These were not anything creative editing or anything like that. I was just I was doing data entry and office work and, you know, stuff, stuff like that.

Michael David Wilson 22:09

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, one of the first things I believe you did on the internet, or the first creations was pointless waste of time. So how did you go about that?

Jason Pargin 22:27

That would have been probably around 1998, I'd have to say probably because I tried several different iterations on various like free internet hosting things back back in those days. Again, for those people, I don't know how young your audience is. But this was prior to social media, this was prior to the concept of the blog or blogging, software, anything you made, you had to code it yourself. And so it at the time, and this is, you know, the late 90s. This is a period where probably about between 30 and 40% of homes in the United States had an internet connection, Mike, it was still something for young nerds to have for the most part. So I started that site as just a place to paste in the stuff I wrote. And the idea that's like, oh, I can type it here. And now it's being broadcast to the entire globe. And anyone in theory can read it. That was so intoxicating. I was like, Oh, this is this is all I'm going to do for the rest of my life. This is like I couldn't believe that no one was stopping me there wasn't there. Because again, prior right up until that moment, in between me and having work published, was like a series of insurmountable walls, like I could, I could type something and mail it to a publisher and I knew for a fact it would just get it would go into a big pile somewhere and then eventually thrown away, no one would even look at it. That here it's like, oh, I can I can type this funny little article or this little whatever. And it was just it was literally just a collection of the I call it now when I explained it people I say had a blog because that's what you call it. Now this was prior to that word existing. So it was just back then there were just websites and it could be anything. And it was just stories and it was poems and just whatever reviews of movies that I hadn't actually seen it was just whatever dumb thing I wanted to do while I taught myself how to write for an audience it was my writing class. But I did that again for I would spend a decade writing on the side the as a as a second. I was working two jobs. I was working a day job at one office, doing data entry and then a different night job at a different office also do a data entry and then I As a third job, I was writing comedy essays on the internet and slowly gaining an audience over the early 2000s. I had had some pieces go viral, even though again, the word viral did not exist back then you just got a lot of readers to it. But again, but there was no way to make money from it, you could I signed up with, like a banner ad network, that it paid very little, like I would make, like, you know, 100 and some dollars a month for some outrageous amount of labor, it was paying me out 30 cents an hour. So but I was, but again, I that's fine. For me at the time, like I was, that was my outlet. But that's all I did. I had no social life, I had no hobbies, like worked and work. And then I in the evenings and weekends, I would write and had again, I had an audience and in by like the mid 2000s, I had a large audience, I would have pieces that would be read by, you know, 400,000 people sometimes. But it wasn't making me any money and like the path to get from there to where it's like, okay, well, how do I do this? Full time, like, what's the and that that path didn't exist because the internet was so new, that the economic model, like the the.com, there was a.com bubble that where they handed out a bunch of money to people, and then that burst and all those people went broke. So then, not too different from now, it wasn't, it wasn't clear, it's like, well, how do I get to a place where I make enough money that I can do this full time and then have health insurance and all that. And it it just, it wasn't clear. And I kind of muddled along that way, until 2007, when I when I finally got, like actual work writing things,

Michael David Wilson 26:53

right. And I remember that early Internet era. And, you know, if you wanted to have a website, and you wanted to go the free route, it was the lights of an Angel Fire and geo cities, and they weren't great at the book. At the time. I mean, it seemed like an absolute gamechanger. And then later, moving on to the likes of Dreamweaver, if you wanted to get into a bit of coding and making kind of half, respective or looking website.

Jason Pargin 27:30

Yeah, I was never good at the coding part. And I tried, I took classes I actually because I actually thought, well, maybe I could do that as my full time job. Because they were everybody was hungry for web developers. Because back then the internet was like, wizardry, it's like, my, every business on earth does, like we did a website, oh, my God, what do we do? And so I thought, well, you know, I will learn all of the JavaScript and all of that stuff. And I had no knack for it at all, I guess I just don't don't have that type of mind. Or maybe there's not, not the patients. But I actually spent quite a bit of money, taking like courses at a community college just to try to earn that stuff and learn like integrating, like how to build, you know, forms and fields that can be filled out and all that stuff and thinking, well, I could be a web developer by day and I could write stupid stuff. By night, that dream did not come to fruition. Even even in a in a world where they were desperately trying to hire those people, they wouldn't have wanted to hire me, I was very bad at it that my if you could look at the code of pointless waste of time at the time, you would just see where I had just cobbled stuff together from bits of bits of code I stole from other websites, because I would see where they had, like why like how they make their their links change color when you put your mouse over them. But it's not just the underlying thing. So I would just go to View Source and just copy their whole code and paste it into mine and see what see what happened. And keep like deleting parentheses or things that looked like they didn't belong there until it started working. And I was at, I'm sure to somebody that actually knew what they were doing. When they saw the code of my site. There's like, Oh, my God, this is the work of a madman, but I just wanted it to work well enough that people could read the stuff I

Michael David Wilson 29:14

was writing that was it. Yeah, but I feel that you know, the old view source trick was that kind of DIY method for people just like starting out or hobbyist and just wanting to kind of do it quickly. So I certainly back in the day, the old view, so as well, I mean, it's kind of what you had to do, especially because, I mean, unless you were going on a formal course a lot of this stuff did seem like wizardry. So you kind of just had to figure it out for yourself.

Jason Pargin 29:49

I think I still have my HTML for dummies book somewhere the whole cover Yeah, but those

Michael David Wilson 29:54

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I I guess the for Dummies series doesn't really get like, you know a lot of sales anymore because, well, you got the internet and and so yeah, reasonably

Jason Pargin 30:10

anything yeah and find out and find out within moments yeah in the problem yeah, but even now like the parts of my job that have a technical aspect like I should be making more video everybody tells me to like I should be on tick tock well I'm scared of tick tock that's that's one of my big weaknesses because like the next form of it, where it's like, we should be able to make video edit video, you know, do a basic effects, that kind of thing. It's like, I'm getting to an age where I'm so scared of having to learn new or new techniques. It's like, well, would I think this is going to push other knowledge out of my brain? I think I'm going to lose something if I try to add, if I add too much to it.

Michael David Wilson 30:55

Yeah, well, I certainly understand you've been reluctant and a little bit scared a tic tac, I mean, particularly because I feel like the more technology advances and the more people kind of get obsessed in terms of broadcasting their lives, I mean, the more that you're Zoey Ashe series, and futuristic violence and fantasy suits, kind of becomes prophetic. You know, it's like, this is becoming more and more like real life. And I don't think any more this idea of having, you know, these little miniscule cameras monitoring everything, it doesn't feel that far fetched.

Jason Pargin 31:41

Yeah, if people have not read that series, part one of the cars it takes place in the future, but it takes place, very, like not distant not far into the future at all in the fields like, few years away, but they have their social networks have evolved, or basically, their internet has evolved to basically an entirely like video platform where everyone has just a camera, they pinned to their body like that only, they're so tiny that you can put it anywhere and like a button or anything, put it on your hat. And everybody's cameras and dash cameras on car security, everybody's cameras are all searchable. So the internet or their social network is basically this God's eye view of the world. So if you want to go see what's going on in Times Square, you can go see what's going on in Times Square, or if there's a crime happening, that immediately trends on this social network. And then you can go there, and it will just hop from feed to feed to feed as this thing unfolds. Among all of the bystanders are all the drones, everybody who's got a camera, and it's just this all seen network. But like I wrote that first book in that series, prior to the popularity of like the doorbell cameras, like that product came out about two years later after I wrote that book. So now today, you've got neighborhoods where everybody has a doorbell camera, and then they've got them all networked together. So you can in fact, now do that. If there's like a suspicious person entering the neighborhood. You can just hop from doorbell, the doorbell the doorbell following them down the street, the exact experience of this book where it's like it's this one cloud of all seeing eyes. And that what's what those books are about, it's about like, how does that change how you behave? Once you know you're always being watched a year have always been overheard. Because now if you're on a crowded restaurant, talking to a friend, like you will generally usually say whatever you want to say, even if you're telling an offensive joke, because it's still you feel like you have privacy, even though you're in a place with a lot of other people, but in a future where everyone has a camera on them, because they're all live streaming their lives the way a lot of Twitch personalities do now, where that becomes the norm in, I would assume anybody could isolate any audio at any time. So now you have a world where anything you say casually at a party or walking down the sidewalk or while shopping at the mall, if it's picked up by somebody's camera, then that could go around the world as listen to what this guy said. Can you believe it? And so that's what it's about. It's about different iterations of how this affects the world and how this affects the way people behave in a world where basically you're performing. Every minute you're outside. I'm never

Bob Pastorella 34:41

going outside again. Because I talk to myself, and I'm sure to do. Damn, you know, someone around the world like man, is he talking to someone he's talking to himself? He's pissed off about somebody once he do it. You know,

Jason Pargin 34:58

share, how are you Were you born?

Bob Pastorella 35:01

I was born in 67. Yeah, I

Jason Pargin 35:03

was born in 75.

Bob Pastorella 35:05

Next month, and Michael Alder, you

Michael David Wilson 35:08

I was born in 86. I'm 35. So we've got I think we're all in a different decade, then.

Jason Pargin 35:14

Yeah. But that's, that's a good range because I feel like like I got the internet when I was a, let's see, I would have been approaching 20 years old. And then I got social media when I was approaching 30. So I do not have a brain for social media, but a kid that was raised now like when I look at 12 year olds, and they've all got tick tock accounts, there has to be something fundamentally different about the way their minds work. And I don't mean that in a way I'm not big on like scare mongering about the youth or are all good at by media, because my parents could have said the same thing about the way how much TV I watched, or how many video games I played. So I'm, I'm not big on scare mongering about the kids today. But there that is a completely different way of thinking. Where you're always it's always like, how not? How do I look to my friends or my classmates? That How do I look to the masses, because you will go and look at you know, I don't know if I've got a niece or somebody in my family who's younger, and they're like, 1314 years old. And they like friend you on Instagram. And you see they've got 1200 Friends, that's like, oh, they have fans, because this person is not have 1200. Friends, people that actually know they've got a following. And you realize, oh, they've all got a following of people around the world. So the idea that when you pick out your outfit that day, or you pick out what you order at the restaurant, and you know, you're going to be taking pictures, though, because that's part of your rituals. When you go to a birthday party, or you go out with your family, you take some pictures, you've got to have something some content for tick tock or Instagram that night. That has to be in the back of your mind at all times. How was this outfit going to look on tick? How is my hair gonna look. And that is a mental stress source of anxiety, the I did not have as a kid and I was an anxious kid. But it's a whole different dimension of how you, I don't know how to describe it, because it's almost like the amount of energy you have put into your outward presentation. Because it's not just what you're wearing. It's everything about the UN anything about the way you talk about your your teeth, about what you're seeing, eating, how you're treating your pets, anything can come into judgment if you post it. And then if people decide that you're mistreating your cat, or if you are there's something low class about the what you're eating, or whatever it feels like you would have to be constantly paranoid about that. Whereas now like even though I exist as a public figure by profession, if somebody criticizes if I took a picture of you know, a restaurant, they noticed that I'm eating something I ordered the worst thing at Cheesecake Factory, I don't care like it would, it would just be funny to me. But the idea that your self worth is tied to that. It has to be very difficult. I can't to the point that I can't really imagine that because I best of all arrived at a point where I was already a fully formed person, I did spend my formative years on social media I was, you know, by the time you're 30 years old, you're pretty much who you're going to be. So it's like, take it or leave it, but I can't imagine your formative years when part of the forming of your personality is being done by hundreds and hundreds of people you'll never meet.

Bob Pastorella 38:44

Yeah, I see it all the time. And like I said, I'm I'm in a tech business. And we, to me, it's like, you know, we have like generational gaps. And so you have, you know, older people who don't want to get the younger people phones and things like that. And they have this massive reliance. The younger generations have a massive reliance on this technology that can be completely obliterated by an EMP. And you kind of go on what why are you? Why is this so important to you, but that's just how they interact. It's, it's changed, it changed so fast. We didn't see it happen. And that's usually how change happens anyway, and it's like, one day, it's like, okay, this changed why, you know, it to me, it's, I think it's beautiful thing, but at the same time, it's also very horrifying. Is you know, what I always say the beauty and horror, and that's, we see it every single day. And I don't I don't know how they can can live this life but they do. That's No, I don't know. I've seen it the same way you do. Because I know. She My mom doesn't even have a computer. She has the internet But you want to convince her that she needs to internet for things and she knows. So I don't need the Internet to run the Amazon fire stick. I'm like, you do need the internet to do that. You know? So she's like, Well, why do I need internet for? I was like, Well, let me explain it to you, you know. And she's 70 something years old. So but I mean, like she, she's, she's on Facebook, she's not friend, nobody, she's, you know, she larges and looks at other people's profiles. So weird.

Jason Pargin 40:32

But she's not, she's not gotten into like Q anon or anything like that she's not sharing the conspiracy memes or any of that stuff. Now. Now,

Bob Pastorella 40:38

I told her that, because she had some, some friends that are kind of on the kind of lean to that side of the fence. So I explained to her what all that was, and also explained to her in all seriousness, that if she fell into that, then I would never speak to her again. So she was kind of like, okay, it sounds like that's a bad thing. I'm like, yeah, pretty much. She's like, well, I don't want to have no part of

Michael David Wilson 41:01

it. I'm just glad that, you know, I was born when I was, as opposed to 10 years later, because I mean, at university answer, we've a lot of people got drunk did some very dumb things. And the idea of, you know, all of that being videoed, and having this kind of record, forever, is pretty terrifying. But I think, you know, as Jason was saying, that is going to shape you know, how you behave, and it is going to create an awful lot of anxiety. Because also, it's, it's like, is this gonna be framed in a way to look very bad in the future? Or is this gonna be taken out of context? If you're all always being videoed, then you're not quite sure what's going to emerge. And I mean, it can be even worse than being taken out of context, you can splice these things together. And of course, now we've got the deep fake, so any video of anyone can then kind of be manipulated to be doing or saying anything?

Jason Pargin 42:15

But maybe that's what you need to be able to, at some point to have like, that deniability to say, oh, no, that's a deep fake. And then, because only then will we be free from it. Because again, humans need privacy, it's you need to be able to say things you don't mean you need to be able to vent and you it, you can't get to a world like we're starting to have now where if I say something that I thought was private, like I'm venting about my boss in Slack or something, I sit under DM, and that DM gets screencap and posted and goes viral. That's not people need walls, separating them from other people. And they there's people need to have private versions of themselves. And they need to feel like they can say stuff. That's just the team, they need to be able to tell offensive jokes that say things they don't mean, because it is a release to be able to say the most offensive thing you can imagine. Because you've spent all day being like not saying that, and it feels good to just cut loose and say something stupid that you don't mean, that is a sacred right that humans have enjoyed for the entire time, we've had language and I do not approve of digging up somebody's old whatever tweets or whatever you've video from some party from 10 years ago, and you heard them use the wrong word or tell a terrible joke. And when they were, I don't know, 17 years old, I don't. People have to have a right to be young and stupid, they have to have a right to get drunk and be stupid, even if they're adults. That is a I think feel like that's sacred. So if you get to a point where everyone is going to clutch the pearls about something they've discovered where the you have been caught saying the wrong thing or whatever, even though you otherwise have no reputation for being a hateful person. If we get to a future where you can just always say, oh, no, that's fake. And it's impossible to tell because the deep fakes are so good. I think that's positive. But let's count let's go ahead and cast doubt and just go back to the way it was where we don't feel the need for everything. For everyone to act as if the way a politician has to act where like every single thing they do is judged where that's not healthy. It is. It is healthy to be able to I don't know there's a whole reason like you are you act different in polite society, you have different work than the way you act at home and the whole thing we have now where somebody goes nuts in a grocery store and start screaming at the court work, and then they get fired from their day job because that video went viral. That's nuts. If they did it work, fine fire them from work. But if somebody went in there off hours, they get drunk and they they yell at the meat counter at a grocery store. That's a separate problem that has nothing to do with. My boss doesn't need to know about that. That because now that is that clip will go viral on Twitter or whatever. And then now that will go on the local news and hit the national news. It's like, why is it a news story that this person went nuts at a grocery store? Or that they they got into a fight with the drive thru person at Taco Bell? That's between them. But the point is that business, it is not something that your boss needs to know about. I don't approve that. So I don't know, I, if technology comes along, it totally disrupts people's ability to nail you for the things you did that you when you thought you were out of the public eye. I'm fine with that. I don't need constant surveillance, which is why I wrote a book series about it, because I don't think most people have thought through all of the implications of having that.

Michael David Wilson 46:09

Yeah, yeah, a very compelling case, is not in a lung to or like that. So that might be a reason why video is good. You know, see, you could see the silent nodding. Or mean, thinking about social media, and all that we've been discussing. So do you have any rules in terms of the kinds of things that you will and absolutely won't share?

Jason Pargin 46:41

I don't think through them as carefully as I should. But I have now by this point, I have been living my life as a somewhat public person on the internet. Since I'm trying to do the math for 2024 years, because I had with pointless waste of time had a message board, for instance. And at one point, it had over 500,000 members, you see, it was like, and I was the administrator of it, because it's on my site. So that was like being the mayor of a small town. But I spent a good part of my day like that was my socializing was done on message boards are what we had prior to having social media, and then they, for the most part have died out as a social media and Twitter and Reddit have basically filled that that gap. So over time, I've gotten a sense of like trying to build barriers between what part of my life I don't talk about or don't want to share and things that I keep private. And there's certain elements of myself, I just don't discuss, because I've decided this is where I'm going to arbitrarily draw the line. But otherwise, there's jokes I would have made 10 years ago and didn't make that I wouldn't make now.

But it's I don't know, because back then, in the late 90s, when it's like the internet is just the the most on the like the young male nerds is was the whole Internet back then. And so everybody's making the same jokes and same type jokes. But it was all the understanding that there's no one listening. It's just us weird nerds who have internet connections on this one message board for this one, whatever basketball team or movie or whatever the thing was, we were all there to talk about. And it was very much framed as we're, we're we're just a bunch of friends talking to each other. And even for me in the early days of social media, Twitter or whatever. And definitely when I had the message board, even though as a large message board, it was still understood that what you typed there as being typed for my friends here on the message board, the other fans of my website, these people I hang out with the idea back then as recently as the 2000s that one of those message board posts could be screen kept, and then go viral elsewhere and then become the subject of news. Most absurd, it's like Whoo, that was just a joke. I was telling for my my friends like that's an inside joke that would take forever to explain. That's idiotic. But now that time type of thing is routine. Like if somebody gets a prominent position or immediate position or whatever, people will go dig up you know, screengrabs is something they said in discord, where they clearly thought they were talking to three or four other people that it doesn't matter if it can be accessed from a computer. You're broadcasting it to all of planet Earth that is very recent. And like even my early tweets, I was just like, oh my gosh, here's another box I can just type the dumbest thing into and it goes out to my at the time I you know, 150 Twitter followers. And it I can just say the dumbest thing to these people and these poor people who signed up to to read The dumb thing, they have to read it. And that's hilarious. Well, you know, I've long deleted all of that. Because now your tweet is I mean, Christ, the President is on there. The world leaders are on there. It's like, yeah, a tweet is national news. A tweet gets screen captain, it shows up on Fox News. So if you, you know, this, the first thing that happens, like, it's, I don't know how, what the delay is when these shows run versus when we record them, but that time we're recording them. We've had just, we've just had a mass shooting in the United States. And then when this runs, we will probably have a different mass shooting. But the first thing we do is go try to dig up their social media, and try to go dig up there. And sure enough, this guy had private messages from he was sent on Instagrams, like, Yeah, I'm gonna go shoot at my school. That's like, that's weird. It's weird that everything, because we don't draw the line in between private conversation and public statement for all of planet earth anymore. And it is it makes me cringe a little bit. When I see it's like, well, they have uncovered a video of this person who's running for mayor. But back when they were in college, they were on video, making some sort of they're wearing an Indian headdress and doing a racist impression of Native Americans like, Yeah, that's very offensive, but they, they were 19 and thought they were doing it for five of their friends. And they were incredibly drunk. It's like, can you forgive them for that? It's like, they weren't Mayor when they did that. But it's like, no, that stuff lives forever now. So now I, I try not to post anything that not has not gone through a filter in my brain, like, does this could this disrupt my mind, whenever my business partners, my publisher might you know, and that's not I don't know, that's not healthy. Because again, that's where I do all of my socializing. That's where I do all of my talking to people. I just, you know, I'm on here all day I have to be that's I've got deadlines to meet, I'm on the computer, I'm writing. And I in another window, I've got Twitter open, and I've got you know, on my phone, I've got an Instagram and I have to keep updating it because that's the method by which I keep in touch with fans to sell them books and pay my my mortgage and buy food for my dog. So I have to be on there. That in terms of the old days where it's just like we're conversing with each other that is long overdue. Now it's more you're you're crafting things. And and yeah, you're a lot of times are crafting things, you think we'll get that engagement, because you have to, that's otherwise you're not, you're not getting the good out of the platform,

Michael David Wilson 52:49

right. Um, back in the day, you know, we'd have these aliases and user names and pseudonyms and then that will give us that layer of anonymous kind of presents. But I mean, even now you have like on Facebook, they actually insist you use your real name so that privacy is being forced away, really.

Jason Pargin 53:17

And I can't emphasize enough how much of a difference it was the early internet, if it's entirely text based, then you can be whatever you want it you can be whoever you want it and everyone was using a fake name, everyone. And now like in the TIC tock era for kids growing up, there's like, not only is it not anonymous, it's your face, on camera, performing your face, your voice in your home with your family, your dog, your room, your decorations, like everything about what the stuff is behind you in your bedroom, like what decorations you have in your wall, that's all part of your presentation now to the world, not to the people who visit your bedroom, but to the world. There are total strangers on the other side of the globe, judging you for the banned poster you have on your wall or for what type of junk food you're eating, or, and the idea that I don't know if you are a young teenage girl and you've gained five pounds and that people in in Japan notice that you've gained five pounds. You know that you're in Oklahoma, and the somebody in Tokyo is like, you know, you're putting on weight you need to you need to watch it while you're eating. Jesus I can't imagine because that's the thing. You know, you think of like child stars and Hollywood people who became famous as kids and how you think of them as all being messed up as adults. Like they all wound up with addiction or mental health problems that's like Well, of course they did that you know that young you can't handle being famous. You can't handle having to constantly think about what the masses think about you and take being criticized by, you know, a big ocean of strangers. Well, now that's every kid to it. agree. I mean, it has to feel the same. The only difference is you don't have the wealth and privilege that comes from it. You just have the scrutiny of the strangers. You don't get any of the benefits.

Michael David Wilson 55:10

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, of course, this is your now how and why you began with the David Wong. pseudonym, here to have that anonymity. And I mean, I wonder, I mean, what was it that kind of made you decide to go away from the pseudonym? And was it a difficult decision?

Jason Pargin 55:41

No, cuz what happened was I, like I first started using that and probably 9096. So we're talking 20 years 26 years ago, was that wrong? Am I doing the math right? God the time? Yeah. No, it was because I had, back then the writing I had done, it was for me, and like, two or three of my friends in high school. So I had like short stories. And they featured this character that I created, and that has made my entire life but of this guy, who it's not like me at all, the character is a very drunk, angry person. And he has, he has enemies and he had in the story he had. And these are unpublished things I wrote when I was a teenager, so it's not. But he would use the alias. David, he's last last name long, because he thought this would make it harder for his enemies to find him because that's the most common surname on Earth. And then the joke in the story was that he was from this small, like, Midwestern town with no Asian people. So it's like, it was obviously not his real name. So it was actually the worst possible alias. So when I started writing on message boards and stuff in the mid 90s, a lot of people would pick back in those days, either some sort of a username that sounded like a hacker thing, or something, you know, like demon slayer, 666, or something like that. Or it was always some sort of a pop culture reference. I used a pop culture reference, the name David Wong, out of a story that only I had read. So, so that's how insufferable I was, it was a pop culture reference that literally no one other than me, and literally, two other people on planet Earth would know what it was. But it was the extra layer because it sounded like a real name. So when you use like a hacker username, people would start to like it, when people start to get to know you, they'd want to know your real name and go searching for it. Well, if you used a name, that sounded like a person's name, they would just assume that was your name. So they wouldn't go hunting for it. And then it Sure enough, if they tried to search for it, and back, then they would just get an endless list of people around the globe with that with that name, and they would never find me, which I had to do. Because, again, I had, I've just worked in a series of day jobs, I did not want these people getting their own internet connections. And in searching for my name, and finding these incredibly filthy jokes I had written in many cases about them.

Or riffing about the Office or Office life or, you know, I wanted the freedom to be able to make fun of my world without doing the thing that people do, which is like, What was this about me? Like, to this day, people will take the novel and say, well, well, who is this based on? What's like, why don't put real people on the books? That would be weird. Like, how do you write a sex scene about if the character is somebody you know, like, that would be it's like, the hero zero. You know, it's my aunt having sex with the gym teacher at my high school. It's like, no, these are fictional characters. That's not how that's not how it works. So I needed the anonymity back then. But in 2007, two things happened within weeks of each other one, I got contacted by Don Coscarelli, asking for the film rights to this horror story that I had written on pointless waste of time, I had written that as a series of just blog posts for free and that it had gotten I had gotten to a print on demand publisher had gotten a copy of it, I had like, formatted for them, send it to them to sell and somehow he was one of the couple 1000 people on Earth who gotten a copy of it. And he wanted to make to do to buy the film rights and then immediately that got me a publishing deal. And then I got the job@crack.com it was literally like Three weeks later, it all happened very, very quickly in the middle of 2007. At that point, once I'm a professional in two different ways, there was no cause my goal was not I wasn't on the witness protection program, I was like, as long as I don't have to worry about people my day job finding out where I'm writing, I can do it under my own name. So like the very first edition of John dies at the end that came from St. Martin's Press, with the hand reaching across the cover, it's got my real name on the About the Author, like on the flap, it's just says, David Wong is pseudonym JSON pardon. And same thing that crack like once I was the editor there. It's It's David Wong as my username on the forum. But on the signature of my columns, it's, this is a pseudonym, a JSON parser. Because people have to know who I really am, there was never a case where I was playing this character or pretending to be this person. There was just a brand, it was just a name. And then we used it on the first edition of the book, just because I thought it was funny to pretend the book was like autobiographical. There was like one more layer of fiction that like this guy wrote this about his own life. So it's the main character's name on the cover. But as time went on, if I thought it was doable, or I don't know, if it was more feasible to do it, I would have as of like, the second or third book, I would have just started putting it under my real name, but I think I was afraid back then that readers would just be so confused. And they would think that David Wong had died or something, you know that that who's this other guy, and then the publisher just hired some other idiot to write the books. Because they either didn't look at the about the author part are never like, they just saw the books on the shelf and just assumed that was my real name. But that turned that fear turned out to be totally unfounded. We, we really stole his books under my real name. And it's been fine. People are smart enough to figure out oh, no, he, like many authors, he used a fake name, but now he's, it's now he's used his real name. There we go. And it's, it's no, it's not as confusing to people as I was worried it would be. And then the element of anxiety of like, I'm exposing myself to the criticism, whatever, because if you're hiding behind like a fake person, or like a fake persona, I think that's something a lot of performers do where it's like, like, Larry, the Cable Guy, the comedian, like, that's, obviously not his real name, or accent or anything, that he'll do that in interviews and stuff. And I think he just feels more comfortable, like being this other version of himself. And I think in the early going, I think it gave me more confidence or made me feel like I had more freedom to write as David as this guy, this this, this cranky character who I played and who is the narrator of the of the first books.

Because then if somebody hates it, it's like, well, they don't hate me, they hate. They would want the hate this, this, this, this drunken, angry white guy who I created. And they don't know the real me, whereas now they're my age as long as I've been doing it. It's it's like, no, it doesn't matter. I guess you just have to level with people. But I think early on, the anonymity is, especially early and early on writing on the internet. It helped a lot, like knowing that they couldn't get to me and I had total freedom to have just the worst opinions. It helped me work through those bad of hands, because I didn't feel like no, I can't I can't write this in a place where like, the people at my church will find it. It wasn't like that. It's like, No, they'll never find it. This is I'm writing I am inhabiting the body of someone else. That now if you want to do that, if a kid wanted that same level of anonymity, if they unless they wanted to go just post on 4chan or something, like to try to do that at Tiktok. Jesus, you've got to re you would have to invent a whole new look for yourself. You wouldn't have to invent new mannerisms. You would have to fully play a role. And I know there's kids who do that, that in order to get that level of detachment where all of the trolls are not they don't have access to me because I'm just going to give them this fake person to yell at. I feel like that to some degree has been stolen because now it's like, each new iteration of social media demands more and more and more. And so it's like no, if you want to be on Twitch, you need to be Beyond there for four or 56789 10 hours in a row, while you play video game or Wii U while you do whatever, it's got to be you your whole body, your face, you know, as you and, boy, it's, it's a whole different ballgame. And if that had been the technology when I was coming up, I wouldn't be I wouldn't still be sitting here I would not have become successful or famous or anything because I don't have any of those skills or any of the, like performance type skills or on camera. That's not That's not my thing.

Michael David Wilson 1:05:35

Yeah, yeah, I suppose if you were to want to be anonymous on tick tock, you'd probably have to do something like the electronic artists dead mouse and just you know, where a massive mouse had some sort of mask. But then, as you said, before, you know, your bedroom and everything because part of the presentation, so you'd probably have to combine that with a green screen unless you have some secret basement in your house that nobody's actually been to. And that's your little studio for your tick tock videos, but it's quite advanced days.

Jason Pargin 1:06:13

These days, people get so relentlessly curious. They if you ever had like, Okay, well, I've got my separate I've got this, but then I've got my separate secret accounts that are for my family and stuff where I'm actually myself, they would hunt that stuff down. Yeah. Like they because they they couldn't handle not having that access to like the your core innermost being, it's like, they want to know, it's like, no, and especially if you get be famous, like, No, I want every part of you, I want to know who you're dating, you know, and, and so that's, that's rough, because so much of that is like tick tock is girls talking about their trauma, their eating disorders are like, because that's what the audience demands that you open up to the deepest, darkest part of yourself. And I that was never asked of me. I had those early days of the internet. It's like you had total freedom to decide your, what you would give to people. And again, I was born at the exact right time because again, I I was at an age where I got in on the ground floor of the internet, like I was learning how to use it when most people still didn't have it. But I wasn't so old that because I was in college, so I wasn't so old that it was like scary to me. You know, I came around. There's so much so much in life as about when you're when you happen to be porn. Because if I had been born 10 years earlier, you're 10 years later, I don't think I have this career. I don't think I have what I have now. Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 1:07:46

Thank you so much for listening to Jason Pog in on This Is Horror. Join us again next time for the second part of conversation. But if you want to get it ahead of the crowd, if you want to get every episode ahead of the crowd, then become a patron on patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you get to submit questions to each and every interviewee. And we've got a number of great guests coming up soon, including next weekend conversations with Catriona Ward, and Matt Wesolowski, the author of the fantastic six stories series. So if you would like to ask a question for either of them if you would like to ask a question for any of our forthcoming guests, then become a patron on patreon.com forward slash, this is hora. Okay, before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break.

RJ Bayley 1:08:52

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Bob Pastorella 1:09:01

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As always, I would like to end with a quote and this is from Seneca while we are postponing life speeds by something to ponder I'll see you in the next episode for part two of Jason Pargin. But until then, take care yourselves. Be good to one another, read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.

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