In a little corner of Orange County, California, called Little Turku (it doesn't have enough of a Finnish presence to be known as Little Helsinki), I met up with the author of the Uncle Sal Chronicles. Gary stands six feet tall, but with his wild mane of curly hair he stands at least six feet three inches. He agreed to meet me at Markku's House of Stew and Grog for dinner and a couple of Harry Wallpapers.
So, you recently wrapped up the first year of the Uncle Sal Chronicles.
I have to tell you that Uncle Sal is an icon in Finland, wildly popular.
That just tells me that Finnish people have impeccable taste.
I also have to tell you that your sense of humor is as unusual as your fashion sense.
Oh, you're only saying that because I'm wearing a monocle, bow tie and spats.
Indeed. With a rugby shirt and cargo shorts. Tell me, how did this idea of the Uncle Sal Chronicles come to you?
Right. How did it come to me? Let me tell you. One day I was sitting in my lentil chair.
Yes, it's like a bean bag chair. The shell is made entirely of duct tape and it is filled with red lentils. Anywho, I was sitting in my lentil chair and I said to myself. I have a tendency to talk to myself, you know. I said to myself, "You know, Gary, instead of waiting for some publisher to realize how brilliant your writing is, you should just publish your own stuff." So that's what I did. You could say that the Uncle Sal Chronicles were born in my lentil chair.
Is it true that Uncle Sal is based on one of your uncles?
Why? What have you heard?
I'm afraid I can neither confirm nor deny that.
When you started the Uncle Sal Chronicles, did you see it as something that could last this long?
That's a real good question, Ricky.
Right. To be honest, I wasn't really sure I'd be doing the Uncle Sal Chronicles for a year. I basically just wanted to write something that would make me laugh. The fact that I entertain others, whether here in the States or in Finland, or anywhere, that's a tremendous compliment.
Do you think you can get another year out of the Uncle Sal Chronicles?
That's a real difficult question to answer. Who can say what will happen a year from now, or even a minute from now? I could win the lottery tomorrow...although probably not since I haven't bought a ticket. No, the thing is, as long as there's a pun that makes me laugh, I won't have any need to finish writing this. [laughs] Finnish. That's funny. I'll write until I'm Finnish. [Laughs hysterically. After about a minute, he regains his breath and sips his Harry Wallpaper.]
So, if I may be so bold.
Oooh! This is gonna be a good question.
Let's hope so. What would you say is your favorite episode?
My favorite episode. Hmmmmm. Well, it's not easy to pick one, because they're all brilliant. It's like, if you have a litter of genius kids and you have to say which one you like best. I'd have to say Uncle Sal's Close Call is right up there. Uncle Sal and the Relieved Roller is a very good one. Heck, they're all good. Can I say they're all my favorite? Great. that's what I'll do then.
Let me ask you, what sort of reaction do you want to provoke in readers?
Whoa! You mean like, if I'm sitting in someone's lap as she or he reads the Uncle Sal Chronicles, what sort of reaction do I want to see? I have to tell you I'm not like that. I don't just go and sit in the lap of a reader.
That's not what I meant at all. I just meant, when someone gets to the end of an episode, what sort of reaction do you want him or her to have?
Well, that's different. The response I'm really looking for is a graugh.
A graph? I'm afraid I don't understand.
One time, a loyal reader named JL told me that he got to the end of an episode and didn't know whether to groan or laugh. I'd say that's the perfect response to Uncle Sal. Or an arched eyebrow, a roll of the eyes. As long as the response isn't blind rage.
What can we expect in year two?
Well, I suppose what you can expect is more wacky adventures, more graughs, and more puns. Oh, and more stories about monkeys. Monkeys are always funny.
Finally, what is the deal with Jellybean Merengue?
Ah yes! I get that question a lot. People are always asking me what is the deal with Jellybean, so I know exactly how to deal with it. Jellybean Merengue is...are you ready for this? Get your pen ready. Jellybean Merengue is the only character to appear in every episode.
Ummmm right. Well, thank you for your time. It certainly has been a pleasure.
You bet it's been a pleasure...for you [grins].