Admit that you find the third-person meta routine slightly embarrassing and you’ve only agreed to do this because your book, You Killed Wesley Payne, which is out February 1st, desperately needs to move more units than the last one.
It’s true. Every word. Cynical bastard.
Describe the book in three sentences.
Raymond Chandler, Lindsay Lohan, and the guy with assless chaps from The Road Warrior go into a dark alley. Only one emerges with teeth. Hug, denouement, sequel-fodder paragraph, end.
Okay, but what is YKWP really about?
It’s the story of an 18 year-old Private Dick name Dalton Rev who transfers from high school to high school solving crimes for a fee. It’s the mystery novel you’ve been dying to ask on a date for months, but can’t work up the nerve. It’s at once a sly satire, literary neck-slap, and redemptive love story. It goes down like a Four Loko milkshake, but comes up lighter than air.
It’s possibly the best book ever written.
As a matter of fact, Jonathan Safran Foer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s great-great grandson, and I will decide that question in a Madison Square Garden cage match later this summer. Until then I’m cramming down forty grams of soy protein and doing a thousand lat presses daily. Get your tickets now. So, in summation, You Killed Wesley Payne is pretty much everything you’d expect from Just Another Debutante Novel. In fact, we almost decided to call it Gossip Boy. Or Dalton Rev’s Slightly Effeminate Professional Demeanor. Both were ultimately shot down by focus groups, but for a long time had their adherents on the editorial board.
Hey, the bottom line is this: if you buy a copy right now I will treat you to a piping-hot maple bar the next time you’re in Seattle.*
You don’t seem shy about self-promotion.
When my first book came out, I had no idea that so much of writing has nothing to do with actually writing. At least in terms of trying to get a book on shelves and have it stay there for a while. I learned that lesson hard. How do I feel about promo now? It still leeches away one or more of my essential vitamins. Asking people for favors, even if that favor is just giving my book a little attention, fills me with existential dread. But, unfortunately, you have to get your title into the buying-realm somehow, or they won’t let you put out another book. Also, your parents will be disappointed. My ultimate hope is to miraculously sell enough so that I can transition into not giving a shit about my Twitter follower total (a staggering 150). In the meantime, you sort of have to flog Facebook, ask friends to write Amazon reviews, do self-interviews, and generally act in a manner that is diametrically opposed to The Four Pillars of Writing–solitude, independence, intellectual rigor, and a complete disregard for public opinion.
That said, I truly believe in writers helping other writers. If someone does me a favor, I want to do two favors in return. Not because I think it will help me in the long run—even though it very likely will–but because it’s the completely non-ironic Right Thing To Do. And when you get into the habit, you realize how little actual effort it requires. Just as in any other specific pursuit, no one can understand the anguish of getting a book off the ground like someone who has already done so, or failed trying. In light of the payment structure of the publishing industry, and the soul-crushing amount of content available, this imaginary union is pretty much all we’ve got. We’re like coal miners battling the Pinkertons–ladle some stew on a metal plate and pass it on down the line.
But before I go painting myself as some kind of eager missionary, let me say that part of my commitment to this fraternal idea comes from the many years in which none of it occurred to me, when I was packed to the rim with the expectations I held for others while blithely selfish with my own time. I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to be converted. If anything, I’m still on the red side of the ledger.
Let’s talk about something happier. What was it like getting your first novel published?
A colossal relief. Vindication. Permission to drop the whole mantle of embarrassment around saying “I am a writer” out loud. A temporary reprieve from certain economic concerns. Like being indoctrinated into a secret society where everyone wears pointy hats.
I take it that hat thing is a joke?
I’m risking being left in a ditch with two to the temple here, but screw it. I’ll be the first to say aloud that, no, the secret society is very real. On the last day of the millennium, my pointy hat and I were inducted in a ceremony held in the basement of a gutted Borders. We now gather every other Thursday. The woman who writes Shopaholic kicks each off each session by sacrificing a goat. Harlen Coben collects dues in an old pillow case. Grisham spanks all comers wearing nothing but a Mardi Gras mask. Everyone takes turns citing their favorite passage from A Wrinkle in Time, and then we get down to business.
So, I’ve heard your book is somewhat controversial. In fact, while doing research for this interview, I came across a website calling for a national ban of Wesley Payne. Then I found a website that said everyone–across all gender, economic, and genre lines–should immediately buy a copy, thereby making it a bestseller. Of course, that was your website. But where do you really stand on this issue?
Any right-thinking general public should immediately ban You Killed Wesley Payne. They should rise up and toss it into the street. People should stack Wesley Payne on the horizon like cord wood and douse the offending piles with kerosene. Media should refuse to admit that the book even exists. Aspiring Bartleby’s should decline to type its name. Every single person reading this should call on their congressman to begin an investigation. The masses should pulp, shred, tag, deface, belittle, mutilate, and spindle every last copy until there is nothing left but gobs of binding glue and the tears of the saved.
You get to spend an hour with any writer in history. Who do you chose?
Apparently Norman Mailer was a lot of fun at a party. And Herodotus would definitely be able to put a few mysteries to rest. Having a martini with Dashiell Hammett or Evelyn Waugh would be great. Arguing all night with Pascal, H.L. Mencken, or Schopenhauer has definite appeal. Christopher Hitchens throwing a few wheezy left hooks, after I tell him that Hitch-22 is the worst book title ever, would make a great story. But I think in the end I’d go with Vladimir Nabokov. Poet, historian, professor, linguist, raconteur.
Why do you write Young Adult novels?
Pretty much because it’s the last thing every single person I know ever expected. Actually, that’s not true. It’s because I think what is being published in YA is far more interesting and open than most of what passes for commercial literary fiction these days. Because there are no constraints. Because when I get a letter from some kid who says my book helped them survive junior year, I feel exponentially better than I do standing around at fern parties. Because I stopped trying to write any particular genre of novel, and just write what I would have anyway, and let the marketers figure it out. Because there is a huge market of truly avid and enthusiastic readers, both teens and adults, that devour YA novels, and their genuine interest not only refutes the free floating cynicism endemic to our culture, but makes me feel that what I’m writing has real meaning.
You Killed Wesley Payne deals a lot with cliques, parodying them as a way for you to talk about their effects on school society without sounding pedantic. Not to long ago, we were all ankle-deep in that society, and now we’re here reading this website, with absolutely no lingering scars. What are your personal thoughts about cliques?
If “clique” can be taken to mean “a hurtfully exclusive gathering you’ll find out five years later was full of people you didn’t want to hang out with anyway,” than I think it can pretty safely be said I’m not real big on them. On the other hand, cliques can also just be a bunch of people who like the same bands, or hate the same football players, or who dig chess, or reading, or World of Warcraft. So, they’re pretty useful too. On a purely animal level, we seem to like to pair off. If lemurs do it, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for doing it as well. In my experience, high school was a three-act drama spread out over four years. Without the cliques, no matter how dire the snobbery seemed at the time, it probably would have made for a less interesting storyline.
What’s your favorite band?
John Coltrane on tenor, Johnny Hodges on alto, Jimi Hendrix on a fat white Strat, Keef on rhythm, Duane Allman on slide, Richie Havens on acoustic, Billie Holiday and James Brown sharing vocals, Sam Cooke singing backup, Charlie Mingus on bass, John French on drums, Dodo Marmarosa on piano, Richard “Groove” Holmes on the organ, Chano Pozo on congas, and Tina Turner slapping a tambourine in 9/16 time against Iggy Pop’s ass.
This was fun.
Yeah, it was. You were very gentle. And, I dunno, this may sound dumb, but…
Nothing. I was just. You know. Going to ask…for your number.
Not that I’m not flattered, but I’m married.
Really? Oh. Okay. Actually, it’s funny, because I am too.
That is funny. Totally. You know, I didn’t realize how tall you were. And your eyes are really blue. You did mention that you’ve had something published too, didn’t you? Four four seven, one three nine eight.
No, I changed my mind. I don’t want it now.
It was a fake anyway. That’s a pizza parlor.
What an asshole.
Is that really how you want to end? After all we’ve accomplished here?
No, I guess not. I’m sorry.
Me too. Thanks for coming.
Thanks for having me.
* Offer of maple bar is contingent on county laws and customs, lawyer’s recommendations, and author’s actual willingness to follow through on promise, which may be negligible, depending on your level of interest in spending many post-pastry hours listening to author whine about his bad back, mean agent, and desire to own a cat even though he has severe cat allergies.All rights and restrictions apply. “Piping hot” may not have an actual centigrade equivalent, and therefore is a subjective description not open to interpretation. In other words, eat it. Eat it cold.