'Damaged' Tales Of Love, In Fiction From 'BoJack' Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Jun 21, 2019
Originally published on June 21, 2019 5:37 pm

Raphael Bob-Waksberg is best known as the creator of a talking horse who, following his glory days as a TV sitcom star, struggles with depression, alcohol abuse and the general ego death of being a Hollywood has-been. The horse is the title character of the adult animated comedy series BoJack Horseman.

But as his most famous creation has taken off on Netflix, Bob-Waksberg has also been writing fiction. As it turns out, his short stories also combine imaginative and surreal concepts with the deep and dark emotions of being human.

His debut collection of stories, out now, is called Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory. In an interview, he says that, in their own weird ways, these are all stories about love.

"The premise is that love, in all its forms, is difficult and challenging," Bob-Waksberg says. "And the question, the debate, is: Is it worth it? And I think there are stories that are very pro-love and then there are some stories in the book that take a more cynical view of it. ... I wrote this book over a long period of time, and I think my own feelings about love have changed in that time."


Interview Highlights

On the story "A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion"

Bob-Waksberg: The first large story is about a couple getting married, which is very much based on the wedding that I had with my wife, or was trying to plan with my wife.

Shapiro: Except this one involves sacrificing goats --

Bob-Waksberg: Yes, I said "based on"!

Shapiro: And ritualistic eggs and other parts of a wedding that we don't necessarily see every day.

Bob-Waksberg: Right. So a lot of this book takes place in a world that is slightly adjacent to our own, perhaps. And my wife and I are both Jewish. And we really wanted to keep our wedding very small and very simple. We didn't invite a lot of people — and a lot of people were very upset about that — but we really wanted to not have a big to-do. And I was shocked that, even when we were both in agreement about that, of how complicated to just have this small, simple wedding. And some of the things we wanted, I couldn't explain to you why it was — you know, why must we get married under a chuppah? I don't know, but we both have to! Or the food: "Oh, we'll just get some takeout, it's only 20 people." "We're not getting takeout for our wedding."

Shapiro: And then: "I thought we were on the same page on this! We've had conversations about this!"

Bob-Waksberg: "I thought we were on the same page! We're gonna do it small and simple!" "Yes, but it's still going to be a wedding. It's not going to be a potluck in the backyard." ...

I think the story is very recognizable because the premise of the story is a similar kind of thing, but all of these Jewish traditions are subbed out for mysterious, perhaps pagan or made-up traditions. But I think all the things, all the arguments, all the conversations about it are just as ludicrous in the real world. And so the story, which involves goat sacrifice and marriage cloaks and promise eggs, to me is one of the more grounded, realistic stories in the collection.

On the story "Missed Connection — m4w," which first appeared as a missed connections post on Craigslist

I had this idea to write this fake missed connection that starts very grounded and real, and gradually reveals itself to be a little more allegorical or magical — and just posted it anonymously on Craigslist. ... And it got huge. ...

I tweeted about it, and it started getting passed around. People started writing posts on blogs — I think somebody called it "the most beautiful Craigslist missed connection post ever." ... I mean, it is an art form in itself. And the whole thing was terrifying to me ... because I think part of the magic of this piece is that you, as the reader, you can read whatever you want to believe that it means. I think there were people who read that and thought this random New Yorker had this experience that moved him to write this beautiful thing. And I was afraid that people were going to find out that: Oh, he's a professional writer. Right? This wasn't just a magical moment. This was a crafted piece of fiction. I thought people would feel manipulated. ... I wanted people to live in that fiction of whatever they believed. I didn't want to burst that bubble.

But also, what the story is about is about this guy who can't work up the nerve to talk to this woman sitting on the same train car as him. And in fact, 60 years pass ... he's paralyzed by this idea of who this woman is even though he never actually talks to her. It's almost like he creates this fantasy in his head, and in some ways, the tension of the fantasy is more exciting than actually talking to her. And I realized I was kind of living that afterward, where I felt like the fantasy of the mystery around me is so much more interesting than if people actually got to know me and see: Oh, it's just some guy who wrote a thing.

On the book's title, specifically the phrase "damaged glory"

What I like about it ... what I think the phrase means is this feeling of glory that, as humans who exist, there is something marvelous about us, something magical, something stupendous, something exemplary. And I don't mean that in a religious way, but perhaps religious-adjacent — that we are touched by God, that we have a spark. But also, by nature of being on this planet, we are scarred and weathered and corrupted by the world outside of us, and the flawed architecture inside of us. So I like the phrase damaged glory because I think it represents that. And I do believe that we are all worthy of somebody who will love us, in all our damaged glory.

Dave Blanchard and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The show "BoJack Horseman" is an adult cartoon that takes a surreal approach to some universal human challenges, like work, self-esteem, relationships. The show's creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, now has a new collection of short stories. It's called "Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory." And while the tone is similar to "BoJack Horseman" - funny and sometimes dark - these stories all swirl around one central question.

RAPHAEL BOB-WAKSBERG: The premise is that love, in all its forms, is difficult and challenging. And the question, the debate, is, is it worth it? And I think there are stories that are very pro love.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BOB-WAKSBERG: And then there are some stories in the book that take a more cynical view of it. I wrote this book over a long period of time, and I think my own feelings about love have changed in that time.

SHAPIRO: You talk about this in the acknowledgements. You thank your wife and you write about half these stories are from before I met her and half since, and I'm convinced that if you lined them all up in the order they were written, you could pinpoint the moment where my heart became whole, which is, first of all, just such a beautiful turn of phrase...

BOB-WAKSBERG: Well, thank you.

SHAPIRO: ...And, second of all, makes me wonder what that looks like in short fiction, that moment that your heart becomes whole.

BOB-WAKSBERG: The moment. Yeah. Well, I'd say it would be the - the first large story is about a couple getting married, which is very much based on the wedding that I had with my wife or was trying to plan with my wife...

SHAPIRO: Except this one involves sacrificing goats and...

BOB-WAKSBERG: (Laughter) Yes. I said based on (laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...And ritualistic eggs and other parts of a wedding that we don't necessarily see every day.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Right. So a lot of this book takes place in a world that is slightly adjacent to our own perhaps. And my wife and I are both Jewish, and we really wanted to keep our wedding very small and very simple. We didn't invite a lot of people, and a lot of people were very upset about that. But we really wanted to keep it simple and not have a big to-do. And I was shocked that even when we were both in agreement about that of how complicated it was to just have this small, simple wedding. And some of the things we wanted, I couldn't explain to you why it was that - you know, why must we get married under a chuppah? I don't know, but we both have to. Or, like, the food - I go, oh, we'll just get, like, some takeout. It's only 20 people. We're not getting takeout for our wedding.

SHAPIRO: And then I thought we were on the same page on this.

BOB-WAKSBERG: I thought we were on the same page.

SHAPIRO: We've had conversations about this.

BOB-WAKSBERG: We're going to do it small and simple, yes, but it's still going to be a wedding. It's not going to be a potluck in the backyard.

SHAPIRO: Could I ask you to read a section of this story?

BOB-WAKSBERG: Sure. I'd be happy to. OK. The kid - the narrator is named Peter, and his bride - his affianced, Dorothy, have decided that at their wedding, we're not going to sacrifice any goats.

SHAPIRO: Much to the dismay of everyone around them.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Yes. And Dorothy says, can we do that? And he says, Dorothy, it's our wedding. We can do whatever we want. And that's where we find these characters now. (Reading) But doing whatever we want turns out to be a real headache when we're applying for our marriage license. How many goats are you going to sacrifice to the stone god, asks the woman at window five. We're not going to sacrifice any goats to the stone god, I say proudly. It's not that kind of wedding. The woman looks down at her form and then back at us. So just, like, five then? No, says Dorothy. Zero. The man behind us in line groans and makes a big show out of looking at his watch. I don't understand, says the woman. You mean, like, one or two. The stone god is not going to like getting so few goats. No, I say, not one or two - zero. We are sacrificing zero goats to the stone god. She crinkles up her nose. Well, there's not an option on the form for zero, so I'm just going to put you down for five.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) What appeals to you about translating that universal debate into a world that is so specific and kind of unrecognizable because of the sort of bizarre fantastical elements that you weave into it?

BOB-WAKSBERG: You know, it's funny because I think the story is very recognizable because - yeah. Because the premise of the story is a similar kind of thing, but all of these Jewish traditions are subbed out for made up traditions. But I think all the arguments - all the conversations about it are just as ludicrous in the real world. And so this story, which, you know, involves, yeah, goat sacrifice and marriage cloaks and promise eggs, to me is one of the more grounded, realistic stories in the collection.

SHAPIRO: One of the stories in the collection is called "Missed Connection-m4w" - men for women - and it begins sort of like a Craigslist post in missed connections and then evolves from there. And you actually first published this on Craigslist. Is that right?

BOB-WAKSBERG: Yeah. What the story is about is about this guy who can't work up the nerve to talk to this woman sitting on the same train car as him. And in fact, 60 years pass where they...

SHAPIRO: He also can't get up and leave.

BOB-WAKSBERG: He - yeah. Well, 'cause he's paralyzed by this idea of who this woman is even though he never actually talks to her. But - so I had the idea to write this fake missed connection and just post it anonymously on Craigslist.

SHAPIRO: And?

BOB-WAKSBERG: And it got huge. I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: What happens? How does something go viral on Craigslist? I don't even know.

BOB-WAKSBERG: I don't know. I mean, I tweeted about it, and then it started getting passed around. And, you know, people started writing posts on blogs. I think someone called it, like, the most beautiful Craigslist missed connection post ever.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) That's a very competitive category.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Well, there are a lot. I mean, it is an art form in itself. And the whole thing was terrifying to me.

SHAPIRO: Why?

BOB-WAKSBERG: Well - because I think there are people who read that and thought this random New Yorker had this experience that moved him to write this beautiful thing. And I was afraid that people were going to find out that, oh, he's a professional writer, right? He's not just, like...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

BOB-WAKSBERG: ...Some - this wasn't just a magical moment. I feel - I thought people would feel manipulated.

SHAPIRO: I think they would've felt manipulated if it had been, like, sponsored by Tinder, like actually viral advertising for something.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Right, right, right. The reveal was this was all a marketing thing.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Yeah.

BOB-WAKSBERG: But I still felt like I wanted people to live in that fiction of whatever they believed. Like, I didn't want to burst that bubble.

SHAPIRO: The title of the book is very long.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Yes.

SHAPIRO: It's "Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory." And I love that phrase, damaged glory, and it comes in the context of a story where a drunk woman slurs into the narrator's ear, you deserve someone who will love you and all your damaged glory. What does that phrase, damaged glory, mean to you?

BOB-WAKSBERG: What I like about it - what I think it invokes - or evokes. Does it invoke or evoke?

SHAPIRO: I think it evokes.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Yeah. What I think the phrase vokes (ph) and then you can edit in an en or an E.

SHAPIRO: Right. Just say en and E and - yeah.

BOB-WAKSBERG: What I think the phrase means is this feeling of glory that as humans who exist there is something marvelous about us, something magical, something stupendous, something exemplary. And I don't mean that in a religious way but perhaps religious adjacent, that we are touched by God, you know, that we have a spark. But also by nature of being on this planet, we are scarred and weathered and corrupted by the world outside of us and the flawed architecture inside of us. And so I like the phrase damaged glory because I think it represents that. And I do believe that we are all worthy of somebody who will love us in all our damaged glory.

SHAPIRO: Raphael Bob-Waksberg, thanks for speaking with us today.

BOB-WAKSBERG: Well, thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: He is the creator of "BoJack Horseman," and his new collection of short stories is called "Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory."

(SOUNDBITE OF CBDB'S "CAROLINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.