It isn’t. Despite the sizzling sex scene at the center of The Deep Whatsis, Peter Mattei says the focus of his novel lies elsewhere. He also thinks it can’t hurt sales to claim otherwise.
Zola: “The Deep Whatsis” is a character’s term for oral sex. Is this slang that already existed or did you come up with it yourself? And—since it’s seemingly a metaphor for the often absurd life of your protagonist—did you intend to use it as the title from the beginning, or did it only occur to you as you were writing?
Peter Mattei: As I remember, it was a phrase I had overheard someone say on the subway and then I wrote it down and later thought it would be a good title for the book since it really doesn’t mean anything. Then at a certain point during the writing I realized that the title could also be the name of said sex act and that this was in keeping with the pop-trash nature of the writing. It’s interesting because while said sex act occurs at a climactic point in the story, it isn’t that big a deal, at least to me; but maybe since the book is titled after said sex act this has become for many its most salient feature. I really don’t think the book is about sex at all, although that misperception probably won’t hurt sales.
Zola: Eric works as Executive Creative Director for an advertising agency where he’s put in charge of firing half of his department. Have you ever had to fire someone or been fired yourself?
PM: No, I’ve never fired anyone. Even though I have worked as a Creative Director I haven’t ever been very important or powerful so I guess I am lucky in that regard. My own ethos in terms of the corporate world is that if I choose to taint my soul for money that’s my business but I do my best not to fuck anyone else up in the process. Recently I hired someone and had to reprimand her for doing a crappy job and she said “So fire me then!” and I said “Okay, you’re fired!” and she stomped out of my office. But obviously she knew me well enough to know that I didn’t mean it and just showed up to work the next day. And yes, I have been fired, but that’s a long story.
Zola: The novel is full of brand names: Beats by Dre, LinkedIn, Redbook, Tom Ford. Was this dictated by the story? Do you worry that it will take away from the book’s timelessness?
PM: I don’t think that references to a specific era take away from a book’s timelessness. At any rate, that was never a concern. The brand names are there not to try to be contemporary but because Eric, the narrator of the story, is very concerned with brands. Like a lot of hip, smart young people these days, he (to me sadly) defines himself largely in terms of what he consumes. Food, furniture, music, etc. I live in Brooklyn mostly and it’s very interesting the popularity of tattoos these days: I think of tattoos as a way people can monetize their bodies, to use their skin like a pre-digital media presence that advertises their particular hipness to the world. A person without a tattoo (such as myself) is just wasting a lot of potential messaging space, and today it’s really important to get your personal brand out there in every way you can.
Zola: You live in three different places—upstate New York, Austin, and Brooklyn, where the novel is primarily set. What’s your favorite thing about each place?
PM: When I first moved to Brooklyn some two decades ago, it was decidedly not New York City and that’s what I loved about it. Today, much of Brooklyn is just a more hip, creative, younger version of Manhattan, but the same rules apply in terms of ambition and status-seeking and an obsession with consuming things like handcrafted bespoke cupcakes. I have a tiny house upstate and I love going up there for the calm and the woods and the more relaxed, open way that people are when they aren’t hanging out with you because you happen to know someone they need to know in terms of their career. Austin is kind of the perfect combination of upstate and Brooklyn and that’s why I’ll be moving there full time; actually it’s gotten a little too popular recently and so I should point out for anyone planning to move there that it sucks, it is truly hell on earth.
Zola: As a writer for film and television, you’ve created original series pilots for HBO, CBS, ABC, and FOX. Do you have a favorite show you’ve worked on? What are the advantages/disadvantages of writing a novel versus writing for TV?
PM: I’ve worked a bunch in Hollywood but not enough to say that I am a real TV and film writer. I’ve been lucky enough to sell a bunch of original ideas and perhaps also lucky that none of them ever got made. Long ago I studied playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and did semi-experimental plays in New York and around the country for about five years; at the time I was fascinated with popular culture in a pretentious critical kind of way and then one day I said to myself “Instead of complaining about Hollywood why don’t you just try doing it, smart guy?” That and I needed the money. When I started writing The Deep Whatsis it was a huge relief to be A) writing words that would ultimately become the work itself and not a blueprint for the work, and B) writing words without thinking about what some stressed-out studio executive with a five-figure mortgage was going to think of them. I never thought the book would get published, I just wrote it for fun, and I’m really grateful that the folks at Other Press got it and that it’s out there for people to go all hater with on Facebook.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.