Back to the Future with Author/Fanboy Ernest Cline

June 25, 2012 Monday

This month’s final book signing was also the most anticipated. Ever since I had read Ready Player One, I’d dreamed of meeting Ernest Cline.

Ready Player One is an amazing novel, and I have to say it brought out the uber-geek in me. It was filled with a lot of references to 80’s pop culture, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the action-packed, thrill-filled story.  The audiobook version was read by actor and fellow geek Wil Wheaton, which made the story even more awesome to listen to.

I got my best buds Lena and Maiko hooked on it too. Thanks to Lena, who found the listing for Ernest Cline’s book signing at Book Soup, the three of us were able to meet one of our favorite writers in person.

The first thing we saw, was a DeLorean with Texas license plates parked right outside the bookstore.

Ernest Cline’s DeLorean

Ernest Cline was already inside, waiting to tell us his story. He seemed nervous when he stepped up onto the podium to loud applause. He quickly got over it though, as he talked nonstop for 30 minutes.

He told us of his geeky origins–playing computer games on his Atari, playing Dungeons and Dragons, watching John Hughes movies, listening to Rush. All of his hobbies and obsessions made it onto to the pages of his best-selling novel.

Ernest Cline worked as a short order cook, fish-gutter, video store clerk, radio personality, website designer and technical support drone before finally finding his calling as a writer.

Author and Screenwriter Ernest Cline

Throughout all of the many changes in his life, one thing remained constant: his love for geeking out. In 1996, his geek obsession with the cult movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension compelled him to write a spec script. Tired of waiting the movie’s promised sequel, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, Ernest Cline decided to write the script himself.

He read books on scriptwriting, wrote the script, and  posted it online.  He only did it for fun, and so was shocked when he found a copy of the script being sold at a comic book shop he went to. He told the shop owner that he wrote the script, and asked if he could get it for a discount, but of course the man said “no.” He told Ernie to sign it however, so he could sell it for about $10 more.

Receiving high praise for his spec script from Dr. Banzai’s fans and even the press, gave Ernie the idea that he could actually make a career out of it. He moved from Ohio to Austin, where he knew some successful filmmakers like Richard Linklater, and Robert Rodriguez had started their careers.

While he was trying to figure out how to make films, he performed regularly at the Austin Poetry Slam (even winning  as Slam Champion twice).

Author and Screenwriter Ernest Cline

His geeky roots struck again in 1998 when his obsession with Star Wars coincided with the much awaited release of the prequel, Episode 1. His mom had just passed away from cancer around that time, and he thought, “what if you were a Star Wars fan, and you knew you were going to die?” He spoke to other Star Wars obsessed friends and they confessed that they, too, had the same fear. He had a friend who began to drive more carefully on the freeway, for fear that he would get into an accident before he got to watch Episode 1. An idea for a movie came about from this fear, and he began to write Fanboys.

Ernie had a crazy idea that he could make the movie all by himself. He wrote the script with a very low budget in mind. It would be a road trip movie, and all he would need was a camera and a van.  He bought the van, picturing it as the characters’ Millenium Falcon, carrying them from Texas all the way to the Skywalker Ranch. There they would break in and try to get a sneak peek at Episode 1.

The DeLorean in front of Book Soup

In Fanboys, Ernie wrote a part for film critic and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles. He sent Harry the script. Harry loved it and the two became good friends. Harry featured the making of Fanboys on his Ain’t It Cool News, garnering the attention of several Star Wars fans—and film makers.

Ernest Cline found himself going on an amazing rollercoaster of news that was every geek’s dreams. The Weinstein Company bought the rights to the film and the long process of making it began. Ernie had intended Fanboys to be a loveletter to Star Wars fans and fellow geeks, but the company wanted to make the movie more commercial and appeal to a broader audience. They ended up changing the story line about the cancer-ridden Star Wars fan completely. Star Wars fans heard about this, and banded together, campaigning against “Darth Weinstein.”

Weinstein finally caved and returned the movie to its original film maker, director and plot line. Ten years after Ernie set out to make the film from scratch, Fanboys was finally released. It instantly became a cult favorite.

Fanboys led Ernie to believe that there were other people out there who shared his geekiness and his love for Star Wars and other things. He decided to write what he knew and put everything he loved in a novel. In 2011, Random House published Ready Player One, which instantly became a New York Times Bestseller.

The amazing success of Ready Player One changed Ernest Cline’s life and finally allowed him to buy something he’d always wanted: A DeLorean. He purchased the car to promote the release of Ready Player One (whose main character drives a DeLorean). He combined aspects of Ghostbusters’ Ecto 1, Buckaroo Banzai’s Jet Car and Doc Emmet Brown’s DeLorean into one car: Ecto 88.

Fans posing with the DeLorean

Halfway through his talk, an audience member pointed out that a metermaid was writing him a parking ticket for his car. This prompted Ernest Cline to tell us a story about how his many brushes with the law.

“Cops turn into 14 year old boys when they see my car. One time, a cop pulled me over and then disappeared. Five minutes later, three other cop cars came and all the cops came over and posed for pictures with my DeLorean”.

Ernie says he’s gotten many parking tickets, but the one speeding ticket he got was for going 75 on a 55mph road. The cop who pulled him over was a lady, who wasn’t impressed with his DeLorean. He begged her to write “88mph” on the speeding ticket so he could frame it, but of course she refused.

Ernie ended his talk and allowed questions from the audience. Someone asked about the Contest Ernie just started, patterned after the story in Ready Player One. Ernie was thrilled when several video game developers, including Warren Robbinett, whom he mentions in his story, contacted him and offered to create games for him based on his book. Naturally, he said yes—and the contest was born.

The winner of the contest gets to take home the DeLorean Ernie’s driving on his paperback release book tour.

Complete with a Flux Capacitor!

After answering questions and getting a loud applause from the audience, Ernie went into the back of the bookstore and we all lined up to get our books signed.

Myself with Ernest Cline

He asked us if we liked Star Wars or Star Trek better and signed our books. He happily posed for pictures and encouraged us to go outside to check out his DeLorean.

Maiko and Ernest Cline

Lena and Ernest Cline

The DeLorean’s speakers blasted the theme song for “Back to the Future”. It was a thrill to sit inside and check out the Hoverboard and Flux Capacitor based on the hit movie.

Sitting inside Ernest Cline’s DeLorean (with his Back to the Future hoverboard)

A Lamborghini was parked right behind the DeLorean, but people ignored it. They wanted instead to pose for pictures with the DeLorean and Ernest Cline.

The popular DeLorean and the ignored Lamborghini

Going Back to the Future

The sky had grown dark by the time Ernest Cline finished signing and stepped outside. He gave “Save the Clock Tower” flyers and posed with fans in front of his DeLorean.

Fangirls with Fanboy Ernest Cline and his DeLorean

Maiko, Lena and I had tons of fun that night. It was the best book signing any geek could ask for.

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16 Responses to “Back to the Future with Author/Fanboy Ernest Cline”

  1. Bish Denham says:

    Totally cool and awesome, Nutschell!

  2. shelly says:

    Looks like you had a blast…from the past.


  3. Hee hee hee. Too bad he didn’t let you take a spin through time in his car, eh? =)

    I nominated you for the sunshine award today–because you are sunshine.

  4. mooderino says:

    Now that’s the way to make a splash at a book signing.

    I wonder what he thought of Phantom Menace when he saw it. Fanboy 2: George Lucas Must Die?

    Great pics, as usual.


  5. Lynn Kelley says:

    What an awesome, amazing journey Ernest Cline has had. Wow! So cool that you met him, Nutschell, and got to sit in his DeLorean. I got a big kick out of his traffic ticket and cops pulling him over in it.

  6. WOW! That had to have been the best book signing EVER! So glad you and your friends were able to go. That’s an experience you’ll be talking about for a long long time.

  7. Fabulous photographs and that car is amazing… but you didn’t get to drive it, right?

  8. Looks like great fun! I think Ernest Cline had as much fun as you :)
    Happy weekend.

  9. Nick Wilford says:

    What an interesting history he has and it looks like you had a blast. Embracing geekiness is a great thing. I love the idea of him buying a DeLorean to promote the book!

  10. That looks utterly awesome! I love it when authors are so down-to-earth.

  11. What a story! Living in LA, you get to participate in a lot of awesome events. Love the photos, as always.

  12. Talli Roland says:

    Wow! That does look like the best book-signing ever. Glad you had a good time.

  13. That’s an awesome story!

  14. Lynda Young says:

    That is soooo super cool! I love the photos.

  15. Wow! This is so cool. What a fun time for everybody. Awesome photos; thanks for sharing all of this with us.

    Kathy M.

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