Q&A with Alameda author Will Viharo
East Bay pop culture guru talks about his new book, self-publishing his body of work, and the New Parkway's opening date
Will “the Thrill” Viharo is an East Bay icon, best known for his iconic Thrillville events at the former Parkway Theater in Oakland and current Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda. Viharo, a jack of many creative trades, is also the publicist and entertainment booker for Forbidden Island and will be involved with the New Parkway, scheduled to open September 1 in Oakland’s Uptown district.
But Viharo’s first career love—and recent resurgence—is as a storyteller and novelist. Viharo collaborated with scientist Scott Fulks on the terrific, pulp fiction-inspired book It Came From Hangar 18 (the book’s official release party takes pace March 1 at Forbidden Island). It’s Viharo’s tenth published novel—his first, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, has been optioned, repeatedly, by Christian Slater for film adaptation—and Viharo has joined the hot trend of self-publishing to put out the other eight.
I first wrote about Viharo in Diablo in 1999, when I met him at the old Parkway, which closed in 2008. It was great to catch up with him about his books, his love of pulp fiction and B-movies, and the East Bay’s greatest tiki lounge.
So Will, many of us know you as Will the Thrill, the guy who secures a print of Kingdom of the Spiders as part of your annual William Shatner tribute. When have you been banging out all these books?
I’ve always been writing, but I went full circle when the Parkway and Cerrito theaters folded. (The Cerrito was reopened by Rialto Theatres.) My original dream was to be a writer, specifically a novelist. Years ago, I had written several novels on a typewriter, and the pages had been sitting in my closet for awhile. I would compulsively write novels, once a year or every other year. It was usually attached to a heartbreaker of a relationship.
My first book was published, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, in 1996. Christian Slater tracked me down and optioned it in 2001. Every couple of years he options it again, he says he wants to write, direct, and star in it. We’ll see. But every couple of years, I get another check.
You’ve put out eight of these books through self-publishing. I’m hearing about all kinds of writers finding success this way. Why did you go that route?
I had started a book called A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, and I went back to finish it after the Parkway closed. I love the book—it is a blurring of genres, very bizarro. It’s very surreal and psychotic. Of course, publishers did not quite get it.
Here I was 47, I’d been writing for 30 years, and I wasn’t sure what to do. But at this point self-publishing was really starting to thrive. So I started to self-publish, and I put out Mermaid and did quite well with it.
So I went back and revised these other novels—I call them B-movies in a book—Chumpy Walnut, Down a Dark Alley, Lavender Blonde. It is so creatively satisfying, to get them out of my closet and out there in the world.
I just put out a novella, Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up To Your Room, which is very bizarre fiction. I’ve become a one-man pulp fiction factory.
I love a lot of the authors who seem to influence your writing. Who are the writers you’d most like to see your books on the shelf next to?
My stories are a mashup of influences, maybe more cinematically influenced than influenced by literature. So, Mermaid is a mashup of Jim Thompson, David Lynch, and Robert Rodriguez; Chumpy Walnut is more Damon Runyonesque. Down a Dark Alley is influenced by Carl Hiaasen and Charles Willeford—its 21st Century Pu lp. And this new one, It Came From Hangar 18, has a Douglas Adams feel—its kind of hardcore science fiction.
It Came From Hangar 18 is set in Alameda, so its appropriate that you are having your book release party at Forbidden Island—which deserves a perennial Best of the East Bay award for most authentic retro tiki lounge.
Some of the book is actually set in Forbidden Island! Its such a great place, like an oasis in the middle of this sleepy town. It makes Alameda a destination, people come from all over to go to this enchanted tiki lounge. It’s a beautiful thing, exposing people to all this wonderful pop culture, via alcohol.
And you are also involved with the New Parkway, coming soon to the Uptown neighborhood in Oakland. When’s it opening, and what will it be like?
It’s scheduled to open on September 1, and its going to be great,. The guys who are opening it were huge fans of the old Parkway, which everyone was sorry to see close. So this will have that vibe—the couches, the beer, two screens. But its being built in a new warehouse space, with digital projection and all the contemporary bells and whistles.
I will be the publicist and the special events coordinator, but I don’t want to give the impression that I will be the face of the New Parkway. That role goes to Oakland, I think the theatre will reflect the personality of the city and will be a perfect fit into the thriving Uptown area.
Will Viharo and Scott Fulks will be signing copies of It Came From Hangar 18 at the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge on March 1 from 7-11 p.m. 1304 Lincoln, Alameda, forbiddenislandalameda.com