Our interview today is with Tony Jame Slater the author of the humorous book That Bear Ate My Pants!. Before we get to the interview a brief book description: There comes a time in every man’s life when he says to himself, “Holy Sh*t! I’m about to be eaten by a bear!” Tony James Slater went to Ecuador, determined to become a man. It never occurred to him that ‘or die trying’ might be an option…
The trouble with volunteering in a South American animal refuge is that everything wants a piece of you. And the trouble with being Tony, is that most of them got one. Just how do you ‘look after’ something that’s trying its damnedest to kill you and eat you? And how do you find love when you a) don’t speak the language, and b) are constantly covered in excrement and entrails? If only he’d had some relevant experience. Other than owning a pet rabbit when he was nine. And if only he’d bought some travel insurance…
That Bear Ate My Pants!is the hilarious tale of one man’s quest to better himself. Whether losing a machete fight with a tree, picking dead tarantulas out of a tank of live ones or sewing the head back on to a partially decapitated crocodile, Tony’s misadventures are ridiculous, unbelievable and always entertaining. Long before Sky One got involved, there were already plenty of Idiots Abroad. This is the story of one of them…
Author interview with Tony James Slater
1. What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
I think the unique setting was the animal refuge in Ecuador. It’s a world as strange as many a fantasy novel – full of crazy creatures and machete-wielding midgets! Without this place there would be literally no story – all the adventure comes from my struggle to survive in this hostile environment – and how close I regularly came to failing!
2. What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?
This is a coming-of-age story. I tried to emphasize the benefits a person can get from traveling, from challenging themselves and from getting outside their comfort zone. Oh, and from being bitten by assorted large animals! I wanted to show how much the experience changed me for the better – from a nervous, insecure youth to a strong, confident young man. Even if the ‘man’ part was constantly in question by the rest of the staff…
3. Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
Strangely enough the main character reminds me of me :0) But the characters are all 100% real. I only changed one name – for obvious reasons – in the whole book, and apart from sometimes improving on the way people said things, I think I’ve got a fairly good representation of the individuals involved. As indicated by the large number of law suits I’m currently dodging…!
4. How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
Well, some of them come and some of them go. I myself have large chunks bitten out of me, then end up dating a woman who turns out to be married and have to go on the run from her machete-toting husband. I don’t think I changed overly much… other than gaining a few scars. No, I’m kidding! I transformed my whole outlook on life, gained immensely in self confidence and, um, durability… The constant pressure to impress the bosses resulted in a genuine ability to do the kind of things that impressed them – such as chop down trees with a rusty bread knife, wrestle crocodiles and shrug off injuries that would have had me in tears before!
5. In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of the author’s world view?
The simplicity of the life appealed to me so much that I started to lose my connection to (and desire for) the vain, consumerist lifestyle I’d led previously. It opened my eyes to some fundamental truths about the way in which we can all make a difference in our lives and our attitudes. Judging by the reviews, I think this is reflected quite strongly throughout the book – but I was very careful to avoid being preachy. No-one likes that.
6. Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Did this lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
The only bit that was really uncomfortable was the portraying of other people. Since these are real life individuals, I was a little worried about what they might think. I’ve had a few people joking about lawyers’ letters, but so far that fear has proved groundless. Writing the book did bring me face to face with my own laziness though! I’ve heard of writers who force themselves to sit down at the computer for 8 or more hours a day, bashing away ‘till they come up with something. I’m ashamed to say that’s not me – I struggle with my personal goal of setting down at least 1,000 good words per day. There’s always something else I’d rather do, from watching movies or partying, all the way down to cleaning the house. My motivation is terrible!
7. Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
The main motivation was to spread the word about what traveling, and volunteering, can do for a person. I tried to travel before the adventure this book is based on, in Ecuador – I set out to conquer the world, and got as far as France. That’s about as close to not traveling as it’s possible to get from England! I was defeated by the fear, the loneliness and my lack of preparation. Knowing these factors often defeat people wanting to travel, I thought this book would encourage them. Volunteering helped with all those aspects, allowing me to be far from home, doing something crazy and often dangerous – but with friends close at hand and a lot of the tricky stuff – like where to live and how to feed myself on a budget – taken care of. And with regular big cat maulings thrown in for free…
8. What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
You could say that… of course I lived every minute of this book in graphic, often painful, reality! I learnt first-hand how tough rural men are in poorer countries like Ecuador. Their resources are very limited, so they rely on themselves to do stuff we would have machines for in the UK. By the time I left I was a whole lot stronger – and about a foot shorter. From carrying all the tree-trunks used to build fences… And I was already starting to acquire the common Ecuadorian belief that I was indestructible!
9. What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
I try to pick a story every day and get it completed. Some are only a thousand words, some spin out much longer and take several days to complete – but I always find it easiest to work on whichever story takes my fancy. It’s not the most efficient way of working though, and inevitably it takes almost as long to stitch the stories together as it did to write them in the first place. But it does mean I’m writing something I’m really in the mood for each day, and I think this comes across to the readers. When I force myself to write something I don’t want to do, it never comes out funny – and funny is my biggest selling point.
10. How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
Unfortunately I don’t! That’s why my first book took me six years to write… of course, in that time I also traveled to about 15 countries, joined the army, left the army, tried my hand at being a TV personality, a property developer, a professional sailor and a pumpkin picker! Really, the internet is the least worrying of my distractions. Although I do spend a lot of time on there ‘promoting’… which of course is another way of saying ‘messing around on Facebook and Twitter’…
11. Favorite book from childhood.
Has to, has to, has to be; Lord of the Rings. I’ve read it every year since I was twelve!
12. What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
Well, it’s a bizarre one. My wife recently returned from a metal detecting holiday in the Australian desert, so two whole shelves are filled with all the ‘treasures’ she found: glass bottles mostly, and bits of old clockwork machinery, mostly around 100 years old. Then we have just enough space for my laptop, surrounded by piles of journals, paperwork and overdue dvd rentals… and all topped off with three slowly deflating helium balloons, which she brought to the airport to welcome me back to Australia as a permanent resident! Oh – and there might also be some chocolate… :0)
Tony James Slater Bio:
Tony James Slater is a very, very strange man. He believes himself to be indestructible, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He is often to be found making strange faces whilst pretending to be attacked by inanimate objects. And sometimes – not always, but often enough to be of concern – his testicles hang out of the holes in his trousers.
It is for this reason (amongst others) that he chooses to spend his life far from mainstream civilization, tackling ridiculous challenges and subjecting himself to constant danger. He gets hurt quite a lot.
Find his book on Amazon: That Bear Ate My Pants!