This May, Three Rooms Press celebrates the launch of John Marshall’s hysterical debut novel The Greenfather. A vegan-themed parody of The Godfather, The Greenfather features gangsters and granola, the family versus the Family, and severed heads—of lettuce. We sat down with John to discuss comedy, environmentalism, and the shift from writing for television to writing the novel.
3RP: What are you reading right now?
JM: I’m in a PenPal program with a fifth-grader, so I’m reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It’s Greek mythology meets The Catcher in the Rye—right up my alley.
Before that I read Maureen Dowd’s Year of Voting Dangerously, essays in which she humorously and presciently covers the events leading up to the 2016 election.
Right now I’m also reading two books about Prince and am looking forward to a memoir by his ex-wife, Mayte.
Of all the books you’ve read, can you name a favorite? Additionally, looking back, is there one that you would say “changed your life” or had a lasting impact—even if you didn’t necessarily like it?
A favorite book is The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth. It takes a satirical look at early American history, which I didn’t think possible. It’s insightful and laugh-out-loud funny. It continues to inspire.
The book that changed my life was The Grapes of Wrath. This combined a compelling story with a depiction of conditions in need of social justice. It came off like poetic non-fiction, powerful and moral. Steinbeck was telling the reader to pick a side. His images are burned into my consciousness, like the starving Okies dying by the side of the road where companies have thrown out oranges, instead of feeding people. Unfortunately, The Grapes of Wrath still resonates. I wish it were dated, but sadly, it’s not.
You’ve had a long, successful career writing for television. What made you decide to write a novel? And what did you think about the experience? Would you do it again?
I decided to write a novel because I wanted to write something longer than the jokes and sketches I had done for TV. I’ve written sitcom pilots and film scripts, but I wanted to see what I could do in this format. I found I had more control over my characters and situations, which facilitated my style of humor better. I’ve been a stand-up for twenty years, and the book has a stand-up flow. It sounds good out loud, which is why I’ve been doing public readings. I also wanted to write about the environmental movement, which needs more humor. The Greenfather originated in an annual event called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Thousands of people commit to writing a certain number of words for the month. It’s not easy; you have to write every day, morning and night. It took me one month to write, then nine months to edit.
What drew you to write The Greenfather, a vegan parody of The Godfather? And then, how many times did you watch The Godfather once you decided to write the book?
What drew me was thinking what the green movement needs is some muscle. People don’t believe in global warming and get away with it. People know they’re supposed to recycle, but too many don’t. The government can’t change behavior overnight, but the mob can. At this point the mob is woven inextricably into the culture, so I wouldn’t have to explain what they were doing in this story. In addition to three Godfather movies, we’ve had Goodfellas, The Sopranos, even Analyze This.
I haven’t seen The Godfather in years. I wrote all the Godfather-derived scenes from memory. Since the book’s publication, I still haven’t seen it.
Kat tells me your wife, Meredith, is an environmentalist and worked with Al Gore. How did that shape your experience writing The Greenfather?
Even before meeting Al Gore, Meredith was a green activist. She wrote a blog called The Green, the Bad and the Ugly. It was about people changing their habits. The beach clean-up in the book was inspired by one of her clean-ups. I believed in going green, but I wasn’t as strict about it until Meredith insisted we do so. For example, we never take plastic bags from stores. We’ll carry nine items with no bag. Meredith studied with Al Gore at a conference in San Francisco, where she was inspired and taught the latest developments. While she was there, I started working at Current TV, which was run by Al Gore. So for a while Meredith and I both had as our boss the creator of An Inconvenient Truth.
Do you have a favorite Greenfather scene?
I like the Nutritional Security Council.
Do you have any advice for new writers? What do you wish you had known when you were first getting started?
Write every day. Writing rewards commitment. If you think you have no time, commit to the shortest time possible. Try writing for five minutes. The important thing is to get ideas flowing. I wish I had known that you don’t edit a piece until you’re done writing it. Be kind to yourself while writing, be merciless while editing.
What do you do for fun that’s not writing?
I play keyboards. I played in a restaurant with a band last year. We did “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie and many others.
John Marshall’s Greenfather Playlist:
“Mother Earth (Natural Anthem) – Neil Young Godfather Part II Theme” – Frank Zappa
“Cleanup Time” – John Lennon
“Junkfood Junkie” – Larry Groce
“Save the Land” – Grand Funk Railroad
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” – Bob Dylan
“Love Train” – The O’Jays