A front-end web developer by day, Rory Douglas still finds time to stretch his literary legs with creative writing. Inspired by the scene of the local amateur MMA circuit in the Seattle suburbs, Douglas followed his brother’s career as a fighter for two years and shared his observations and anecdotes for a regular column for McSweeneys.net. He later turned his column into an expanded memoir/MMA primer with The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight, published by University of Hell Press last October. The published work of humorous nonfiction is Douglas’ first book. Fans of MMA, and even readers who don’t know what the acronym stands for, will enjoy Douglas’ first-hand account of cage fighting and the community of fighters, coaches and fans. I caught up with Douglas between web development projects, tending to his garden and raising his newborn son to talk about the experience of writing his first book and becoming published.
To learn more about Douglas and The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight, check out his website (which Douglas designed complete with animated fighting stick figures) at cagefightbook.com.
SH: With a full-time career in web development, where does writing fit in?
RD: I’ll go a few months where I’m not as busy with work and life stuff and I’ll write a bunch, and then I’ll go a few months where I’m super busy and don’t write as much. I enjoy writing, so I don’t really get down on myself if I’m not doing it as much — I know that if I’m not writing it’s not because I’m procrastinating, it’s just because I don’t have time. In general I don’t really worry about finding time to write. People have written great books from like the Soviet Gulag, so I can handle having a full-time job that I enjoy and writing on the side.
SH: How did the idea to tell the story of Chad Douglas come about?
RD: The first time I went to one of his MMA events I was like, “Holy crap, this is hilarious and crazy,” and I scribbled notes on my program. Over the next couple of days, I wrote a few thousand words about the event, but I didn’t really know what angle to take or what to do with it.
Around that time the fantastic internet publication McSweeneys.net announced their first column contest: writers could submit a pitch for a regular column for the site along with the first installment of that column, and McSweeney’s would pick a few winners to write for the site and give them $500. McSweeney’s was and is one of my favorite things about the internet, and I’d always wanted to write for them, so I turned what I’d written about the MMA event into a column. They got more than 800 entries, and I didn’t win $500— but they wanted to publish the column anyway.
So over the next two years I attended MMA events and wrote about them for McSweeney’s. I thought that at some point I’d run out of things to write about, but it seemed like each event was funnier and weirder and more interesting than the last one. At one point John Warner, the editor I’d been working with at McSweeney’s, said that he thought the column might make a good basis for a book. I honestly hadn’t even thought of doing that until he suggested it, but I had tons of great material and backstory that I hadn’t used for McSweeney’s, so I used that and the columns to tell the MMA story of Chad and his fighting buddies.
SH: What was the process like to become a published author?
RD: It was pretty much terrible. It took forever to find an agent, and once I did the agent disappeared in the middle of the pitch process. The last email I got from him was “Publisher XXXX is really interested and is meeting about it on Wednesday,” and then I never heard from him again and couldn’t find any trace of him online, and the agency he was a part of shut down.
While I was working with him, another agent approached me, and their agency seemed really excited about the book and agreed to represent it. I spent a few months working on changes they suggested for the book, and after I sent them in I didn’t really hear from them for a month or so. Then they called me to let me know they were dropping the project and spent about fifteen minutes telling me exactly how bad they thought the book was.
Contrast that with my experience with University of Hell Press, the indie publisher that ended up publishing the book. From the start they got what the book was about, they put the book through an editing process that made it much better, and were cool and communicative kind about everything along the way. And they’re all about creating a community of readers and writers, which has been awesome to be a part of.
SH: Has life changed since becoming a published author?
RD: My self-esteem is slightly higher.
SH: You spent more than two years watching MMA and pretending to be a journalist. What was the best part of your research?
RD: I was pretty much obligated to go to all these events anyway, so having it be “research” made it way more fun to spend so many Saturday evenings in hot gymnasiums.
SH: How has the local MMA scene received this tell-all?
RD: The fighters who’ve read it have really enjoyed it, in general. I know a few MMA people who have the book and then never said anything to me about it, so I’m just assuming that they were immensely displeased or didn’t actually read the book.
SH: Did anything not make the book that you’d like to share?
RD: It probably won’t surprise anyone who’s read the book that I didn’t cut anything because it was too edgy or violent. I had a whole chapter on whether it was ethically OK to watch people beat each other up for your entertainment, but that can only have one of two answers: “You shouldn’t enjoy this thing you enjoy” or “If people want to beat each other up for fun and they enjoy it and they want you to watch them then it’s probably OK.” The first answer is one of the least enjoyable writing genres out there, and the second answer was so obvious that it didn’t really require a whole chapter — it’s more or less implicit in the whole book. So that chapter got cut.
SH: Spoiler alert: Does Chad become an astronaut?
SH: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
RD: I hope they laugh a few times and have a good time. I don’t care if they learn anything about MMA. You don’t need to know anything about MMA to make it through life.
SH: What did you take away from writing this book?
RD: I took away a lot of knowledge about amateur MMA in the Pacific Northwest that I will never use again. Aside from the whole debacle of trying to find an agent, the whole process of writing and publishing this book was fun and enjoyable and was pretty much the opposite of “tortured writer wrings out soul to produce magnum opus.”
SH: Now that you’ve entered the literary scene, what’s next for you in your budding career as an author?
RD: I have a novel that’s pretty much done that I’m about to send through the horrible find-an-agent-and-or-publisher process.
RD: For this book, whenever I felt like I lost the funny-but-insightful tone I was going for I’d go back and read non-fiction from John Jeremiah Sullivan or David Foster Wallace, mainly Pulphead and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, respectively. In general I don’t think readers can go wrong with Flannery O’Connor short stories or Annie Dillard non-fiction. Also I just read The Sellout by Paul Beatty and it’s fantastic.
Somer Breeze-Hanson is a journalist and blogger in Tacoma, WA. When she’s not reporting or watching PBS’s Masterpiece Classics, she’s reading the latest historical fiction release. She views herself as a full-time writer, part-time reader, and always with her dogs by her side.