After the Bubble bursts

Nicole Capozziello

Having graduated 25 years ago, Paul McComas will return to Lawrence next week at the tail end of his book tour for “Planet of the Dates.” He will participate in a question and answer session in Main Hall’s Strange Commons from 3-4:30 p.m. Friday, May 16 before visiting Conkey’s Saturday at 11 a.m.
I spoke to him over the phone Monday, taking in the sun behind Main Hall, which remains more or less unchanged since McComas’ time here. Rik Warch, who commenced his presidency at the same time McComas began at Lawrence, has retired, as has McComas’ mentor, Professor Dintenfass.
“He taught me about fiction-writing, teaching and teaching fiction-writing,” said McComas. During his time as an English major at Lawrence, McComas took Dintenfass’ fiction-writing class three times, also soaking up all of the film classes Dintenfass offered.
Now, after having completed his second novel, McComas credits Dintenfass for instilling “a sense of how difficult long-form narrative is.” In time, however, McComas has become spoiled by the novel form, which, comparing it to short story writing, he said “is like juggling 11 balls as opposed to three.”
“Planet of the Dates,” which was released in February, is the tale of a budding, teenage filmmaker in the summer of 1980. McComas chose to set the novel at this time not only because it coincides with his personal timeline but also because it was the age of cultural transition.
He was drawn to the idea of portraying, “the transition from boy to man … set against the backdrop of cultural shift.” Mc Comas, now teaching in Evanston, Illinois, stated, “Planet of the Dates” is “a love letter to the city [Milwaukee] as it was then.”
McComas is glad that he waited until now to write the novel, giving him distance and increased objectivity toward his own teenage years. According to McComas, the book, unlike a lot of other coming-of-age novels, is very funny and character-driven.
After graduating in 1983, McComas expanded upon his screenwriting interest, enrolling in Northwestern’s master’s program for film. After that, he took a series of jobs in writing, both in institutional and academic settings.
In 1998, his first book, a collection of short stories titled “Twenty Questions” was published. At that point, McComas withdrew from the PR world to take more time to write, taking teaching positions at Northwestern and National-Louis University.
“I never want to teach full-time. I always want to be a writer who teaches,” admitted McComas. The year 2002 saw the coming of his second book and first novel “Unplugged.”
Currently, McComas is living his dream, teaching film and writing classes on the side and focusing on his writing, while also engaged to be married. At the end of April, “Planet of the Dates” was optioned, the film industry’s way of saying that it is being considered for film adaptation.
McComas, who is no stranger to the film world, would “love the book to be made into a film,” as it would not only be interesting but also bring a wider readership to the book. McComas admits too that he writes his fiction “in a cinematic way as opposed to a capital ‘L’ Literary way.” He grew up “loving movies, making movies and seeing the world through the lens of science fiction, fantasy and horror.”
He is currently co-authoring a novel with William F. Nolan, a genre fiction writer most known for “Logan’s Run.” Nolan has always been a hero of McComas, who received encouragement from Nolan when he sent him a letter and sample of fiction over 30 years ago.
Together they are working on the fourth book in the Logan series, “Logan’s Journey,” to be published in 2010. So far, McComas has really enjoyed the experience and is “honored to have graduated from fan to collaborator.”
Later this year, at his 25-year class reunion, McComas’ college punk band The Daves will reunite, a “tour” that doesn’t look like it will cut into McComas’ writing career. “My years at Lawrence weren’t perfect, but they helped me in a number of ways to become the writer I am today,” said McComas.
For more information, visit or hear him yourself at McComas’ reading and question and answer session.