Waste of Space author Gina Damico answers questions about her latest book and tells us about her love/hate relationship with reality television.
About ‘Waste of Space’
Cram 10 hormonal teens into a spaceship and blast off: that’s the premise for the ill-conceived reality show Waste of Space. The kids who are cast know everything about drama — and nothing about the fact that the production is fake. Hidden in a desert warehouse, their spaceship replica is equipped with state-of-the-art special effects dreamed up by the scientists partnering with the shady cable network airing the show.
And it’s a hit! Millions of viewers are transfixed. But then, suddenly, all communication is severed. Trapped and paranoid, the kids must figure out what to do when this reality show loses its grip on reality.
Interview with Gina Damico
Tell us 5 interesting facts about yourself.
I once owned a gerbil named Superdude. I’m five feet tall and and probably shrinking. I was an extra in the movie The Departed — look for the puffy-haired girl in the background of the subway scene. I love musical theater, yarn, escape rooms, and cheese. I’ve twice participated as a victim in SWAT-team training exercises — in one, my leg blew up, and in the other, I got shot four times in the back by ammunition that was technically fake but still really hurt.
What is one of the first ever stories you remember writing?
When I was five, I wrote a story called “Poor Rabbit.” It got published in my local library’s children’s magazine, and I shall reprint it here in its entirety as evidence of my twisted leanings even at an early age:
One day a new rabbit came into the forest and he sniffed the air. He saw a rabbit just like him and the other rabbit said “Hi, who are you?” Then they heard some hunters coming. They had guns. The rabbits ran and ran and one of the rabbits had an itch. He didn’t run fast enough and the rabbit that had the itch felt a gun shot and the rabbit got shot. Then the rabbit that didn’t have an itch ran and ran to find his friend. Then he found out what happened to the rabbit that had an itch. He was gone. The rabbit who didn’t have an itch said “Bye friend.” The rabbit with the itch was dead.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Waste of Space’?
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with reality TV for over a decade, and was dying to write a satire about the genre. It’s low-hanging fruit, I know — how hard could it be to make a funny book about reality television? — but I wanted to write a deeper story than that, to first present the sort of over-the-top caricatures that are cast in these shows and then dig deeper into the backstories that the show wouldn’t want you to know. What sort of teenagers would willingly volunteer to be shot into space? What are they hoping to find? Or, perhaps a better question, what are they trying to escape?
What are some of your favorite reality television shows to watch?
I like anything where skilled talent is on display — Project Runway, Top Chef, Face Off — and anything that involves adventure – The Amazing Race, Survivor. A big goal of mine is to get more people to watch Survivor again — it seems to have faded in popularity, but in my opinion it is the gold standard for competitive reality shows. The producers are still making up rules and twists and surprises, which keeps the contestants guessing and keeps the format fresh. And the level of strategy and calculations that go into it is insane. It’s so much more than eating bugs, people!
Would you be able to survive if you were seemingly trapped on a deserted planet (or in the desert!)?
Oh, I don’t think so. I would get desperate and try to kill a lizard and it would spray poison in my face or something. It would all end in screaming.
What made you decide to write this book using a format of transcripts and emails?
It’s partly because the television premise naturally lends itself to the script format, but also because it’s so much easier for things to fall through the cracks that way. One of the central conceits of the book is that an audience can never know for sure what’s really going on on a reality show, because everything that’s being presented to them has been manufactured and pre-packaged; this is then illustrated via transcripts of what actually did reach the airwaves versus the raw footage of what didn’t. The spottiness and unreliability of the narrative is by design — it adds a fun layer of mystery and second-guessing that nicely parallels the paranoia that the characters are feeling themselves. They’re never going to get the full story, and neither are you.
What was the biggest challenge of writing ‘Waste of Space’?
As a writer, one of your main goals is to create fully-realized, multi-dimensional characters that are believable and don’t feel forced or fake. I had to fight against that instinct from the start; since outlandish stereotypes are what populate reality show casts, I had to think like a sketchy casting director and cast the loudest, most unpleasant, cartoonish people I could conjure. Only once the reader is deep into the book do the characters start to become more realistic and take on more honest, human qualities. The Hollywood sheen wears off, and their true selves peek through the cracks.
Also, this book is swimming in scientific inaccuracies, which is the whole point (since the clueless producers are faking it as they go along), but as a lover of all things science and astronomy, the ignorance pained me deeply. I’m sorry, NASA!
What kind of projects or adventures do you have coming up next?
I’ve got a couple of new writing projects in the works — at the moment it’s a toss-up as to which one will most fiercely grab my attention, so we’ll see where those take me. I also recently moved to Los Angeles, so I’m on the lookout for any TV writing opportunities — I mean, I’m qualified, right? *grandly presents Waste of Space, a book about television*
About the author
Gina Damico grew up under four feet of snow in Syracuse, New York, and has since worked as a tour guide, transcriptionist, theater house manager, scenic artist, movie extra, office troll, retail monkey, yarn hawker and breadmonger. She is the author of the grim-reapers-gone-wild books of the Croak trilogy (Croak, Scorch, and Rogue), Hellhole, Wax, and Waste of Space, all published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She lives in California with her husband, two cats, one dog, and an obscene amount of weird things purchased at yard sales.