MultiMediaMouth’s own Book Corner
Those who are fans of Kugane Maruyama’s fantasy light novel series will be glad to hear that Overlord‘s 12th volume, The Paladin of the Holy Kingdom, is scheduled to be released on September 30th.
MultiMediaMouth’s own Book Corner
Those who are fans of Kugane Maruyama’s fantasy light novel series will be glad to hear that Overlord‘s 12th volume, The Paladin of the Holy Kingdom, is scheduled to be released on September 30th.
Chris Jericho does a good job in the introduction of the book to tell us what his idea for the book is: to encourage his readers to achieve their goals in life. Jericho says that the word “no” is more powerful than most profanities he’s heard in his life. One of the things I took away from the introduction was the idea that “No” can derail the most dedicated of people.
Think about it, how many times did you have a great idea and get passionate about something only to find out that the person who you’re pitching it to or potential clients turns you down and you give up? “No” is a very powerful word. This book is Jericho’s guide to power through “no”.
Jericho spends the rest of the book telling stories on how he accomplished things over his 20+ year career. Jericho told one story about the Styles Clash and how he tricked Vince McMahon on getting the styles clash on WWE Tv.
One of the things that one should be careful when reading this is that a lot of what Jericho talks about should be credited to his status and celebrity. He talks about how he got McMahon to move him later on the show so he could go and meet some celebrities and performances.
Jericho also talked about being able to get onto a plane flight that he didn’t have a ticket for mainly because the attendants knew who he was. That would never happen to a non-famous civilian.
The book is good. It’s nice to see a famous and successful person write out his keys to success. I do recommend it if you like to see what someone will give credit to their success.
FORMER FBI DIRECTOR JAMES COMEY TO PUBLISH WITH FLATIRON BOOKS
(August 2, 2017 – New York, NY) Bob Miller, President and Publisher of Flatiron Books, announced
today that the Macmillan division has acquired World English and German rights to the first book by
former Director of the FBI, James Comey. The highly-anticipated book, yet untitled, will be published in
Spring 2018 with Editorial Director Colin Dickerman editing; Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn of Javelin
represented Comey in the deal.
Mr. Comey served as Director of the FBI from 2013 to 2017, appointed to the post by President Barack
Obama. He previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the United
States Deputy Attorney General in the administration of President George W. Bush. From prosecuting
the mafia and Martha Stewart to helping change Bush administration policies on torture and electronic
surveillance to overseeing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation as well as ties between the Trump
campaign and Russia, Comey has been involved in some of the most consequential cases and policies of
In his forthcoming book, Comey will explore what good, ethical leadership looks like and how it drives
sound decisions. Using examples from some of the highest-stakes situations in the past two decades of
American government, Comey will share yet-unheard anecdotes from his long and distinguished career.
Of the acquisition, Bob Miller says: “Throughout his career, James Comey has had to face one difficult
decision after another as he has served the leaders of our country. His book promises to take us inside
those extraordinary moments in our history, showing us how these leaders have behaved under
pressure. By doing so, Director Comey will give us unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and
a remarkable lesson in leadership itself.”
Chris Jericho has released a new book called No Is A Four Letter Word. You can find it here:
Three-time New York Times bestselling author and six-time WWE champion Chris Jericho shares 20 of his most valuable lessons for achieving your goals and living the life you want, jam-packed with fantastic stories and the classic off-the-wall, laugh-out-loud Jericho references he’s famous for, with a foreword by Paul Stanley.
Chris Jericho has known what he wanted out of life since he was a teenager: to be a pro wrestler and to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band. Most of his high school friends felt that he lacked the tools necessary to get into either, but Chris believed in himself. With the wise words of Master Yoda echoing through his head (“Do or do not. There is no try.”), he made it happen. As a result, Chris has spent a lifetime doing instead of merely trying, managing to achieve his dreams while learning dozens of invaluable lessons along the way.
No Is a Four-Letter Word distills more than two decades of showbiz wisdom and advice into twenty easy-to-carry chapters. From developing a strong work ethic thanks to WWE chairman Vince McMahon, remembering to always look like a star from Gene Simmons of KISS, learning to let it go when the America’s Funniest Home Videos hosting gig goes to his rival, adopting a sense of perpetual reinvention from the late David Bowie, making sure to sell himself like his NHL-legend father Ted Irvine taught him, or going the extra mile to meet Keith Richards (with an assist from Jimmy Fallon), Chris has learned countless lessons during his decades-long career. Now, in the hopes that those same principles might help and inspire his legions of fans, Chris has decided to share them while recounting the fantastic and hilarious stories that led to the birth of these rules. The result is a fun, entertaining, practical, and inspiring book from the man with many scarves but only one drive: to be the best. After reading No Is a Four-Letter Word, you’ll discover that you might have what it takes to succeed as well…you just need to get out there and do it. That’s what Jericho would do.
We will be breaking down the book on the Chris Nelson Podcast this week.
At MultiMediaMouth we like to be one step ahead of the game and this month we are happy to bring you an exclusive interview with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes; a stunning novel which sits somewhere in between dystopian and literary fiction. The book won’t hit the shelves until February 12th (I told you, we like to be one step ahead!), but we confidently predict already that this novel will be a huge success Paola Rizzato was able to ask Anna a few questions…
Paola Rizzato: It will come as no surprise to readers of The Chimes to learn that you have a background in music, specifically as a violinist. When did you realise that the avenue you wanted to pursue was writing? Do you still play?
Anna Smaill: Growing up I always wrote as well as playing the violin. Music and writing felt quite interdependent for me, and they tended to feed into each other. There’s a kind of brilliant meditative pay-off to practicing a musical instrument – you’re concentrating very hard on something abstract (the musical idea, or phrase, or the piece as a whole) at the same time as focusing on the physical (ie the way you’re holding a bow, or standing, or what the note actually sounds like). The effects of this sort of concentration would spill into my writing – you start hearing the words in a different way, thinking about the way they combine. You have a broader sense of the tonal effects and rhythms. Or, that’s how it seems to me on reflection. It’s also a great model for writing – the idea that you need to actively practise your craft, hone the physical and mental connections you’re making. I think it’s quite easy to assume that writing comes from on high in one awesome swoop of inspiration.
Things started coming unstuck with the music-writing balance when I started a degree in performance music. I was incredibly idealistic about music as a form of expression and hadn’t faced the practical realities of music as a career. The degree was intense and demanding and I had some fundamental technical problems as a violinist. The upshot was that I quickly lost confidence in my musical ability. At that time I was writing more and more, and it was really my way of understanding what I was going through. Music felt unstable, but language mostly held steady. When I stopped playing the violin, it felt like a complete break, a divorce almost. I don’t think I picked up the instrument at all for at least a year. Since then, I’ve returned to it, but usually in fits and starts. So, it does feel like an absence in my life at the moment, something to be remedied. I really want to return to that balance between the two. I’ve been thinking about learning a completely different instrument, actually. Maybe the trombone.
PR: The Chimes is an incredibly imaginative novel, but which can seem a little challenging at times because of the use of music terminology and metaphors. Were you aware of this when you were writing the book and did you ever make a decision to sacrifice accessibility in the name of style?
AS: To tell the truth, I was blissfully unaware of this while writing. Probably due to my own early immersion in music, I tend to assume that certain musical terms and concepts are more universal than they really are. I am also a fan of challenging books, books that make the reader work a bit, so that probably shaped what I was doing. But, I do think of the novel as a consummately social form – its history and its mechanics and conventions, they don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re shaped by audience. So, I think when it came to the plot and the rhythms of the book, I was always aware of an audience over my shoulder – it has to be plausible and parsable for a reader. It has to stand up by itself. I hope that this will encourage the reader to trust the book, and give them the confidence to push past any of the immediate resistance in the language.
PR: Here’s the inevitable ‘who are your literary influences’ question!
A.S: And the customary response: ‘too many to count’! I think the reading I did as a kid, and the books my parents read me, are a massive ongoing influence. I loved Rosemary Sutcliff in particular – the rhythms in her work are so weighty and simple and beautiful, and she has this amazing sense of the loneliness and intensity of being young. We got Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Katherine Paterson, Tolkien, all out loud – very lucky, as I think the stories enter your head in a different way when you listen like that. I stumbled on Tolstoy, Woolf, and George Eliot at a fairly early age, via my parents’ bookshelf, and that was world-changing. The New Zealand novelist Janet Frame made a massive impact on me, and in general I’m awed and swayed by Michael Ondaatje, Marilynne Robinson, Russell Hoban, Patrick Ness, Haruki Murakami, John Crowley, David Foster Wallace…the list goes on.
PR: Dystopian settings are en vogue at the moment, especially among YA novels, but although The Chimes is set in a dystopian London it doesn’t quite feel as though it belongs to the same genre. Why do you think dystopian settings are so popular is so popular with both readers and writers?
A.S: That’s a good question, and I think there are a lot of different answers. I think it probably appeals to the curiosity we have about being pushed to the limits. I think we are hungry to be tested. Particularly those of us who are living in ostensibly comfortable first-world environments, where we’re often cut off from neighbours and families, and from the natural world. There’s that old chestnut that suicide rates in London dropped during the second world war, and it makes a specific kind of sense. Human disasters push us to big decisions – what is most important to me? what will I protect? – and they push us into communities. I think there’s a nostalgia there – we probably miss that kind of immediacy, that sense of competence and human connection. There’s also the sense that every dystopia is simply a utopia waiting to happen – raze the world and you can start again from scratch, do it right. For YA readers, dystopias present a world in which teenagers can fight, overcome, wrest power, create a place for their own ideals, and that’s immensely seductive and powerful. But, I’m also really interested in what I think of as metaphysical dystopias. José Saramago’s Blindness, for example, or much of Kafka, Ballard, Janet Frame – they stage apocalypses which seem to be reflections of internal, personal or social breakdowns, ruptures that are somehow built into human existence, or can be stumbled across at any time. I think they’re all the more disturbing for that.
PR: And now, the inevitable ‘what will you be writing next’ question!
AS: I’m in the first stages of writing a book that is set in Tokyo, where I lived for two years before heading to London. It’s hard to tell at this point, but it seems likely to be rather sprawly and rather supernatural. However, it’s still very early in the game, so all bets are off.
Thank you, Anna, for talking to us!
Check out Paola’s review of The Chimes – out on 12 February 2015.
In our third article in the series, MultiMediaMouth speaks to Anthony McGowan – widely acclaimed and prolific author of YA novels ‘The Knife That Killed Me’ and ‘Hello Darkness’ – among several others. Anthony was also a guest at the recent London Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC), speaking on one of the panel events on: ‘Crossover: not just for kids’. As I couldn’t make it to YALC on both days, I was thrilled to be able to ask the author some direct questions on the growing phenomenon of YA.
In recent years, Young Adult fiction has grown immensely – with new titles being released pretty much constantly to an apparently insatiable audience. Did you spot this trend when you moved from regular fiction to children and then YA fiction? Was your decision to write for children/YA a conscious move to offer a product for which there was a bigger demand?
It was a little more complicated that that. The first creative fiction I wrote – back in the mid 1990s – was the text that eventually became Hellbent (the original drafts were all entitled Abandon Hope). I’d heard of a growing category of fiction called ‘Young Adult’, but assumed it meant people like me (as I was) – in their twenties). So, Hellbent was a raucous, rude, quite intellectually demanding book, not at all intended for teens, or at least not for the 12-14 year olds that now form the core of Y/A readers. It didn’t get a book deal, in fact never even came close. But it did get me an agent, who suggested I write something more sensible. I then wrote an adult thriller, Stag Hunt, which got published quite quickly. While that was happening, I had a rethink about Hellbent, and decided, as the main character was a teenager, to recast it as a more obviously teenage book, by taking out some of the filth. It got snapped up, and did a little better than Stag Hunt. I therefore found myself by default as a teenage writer. It was never a commercial decision on my part – in fact I’d certainly have earned more money if I’d stayed in the world of adult fiction. But the truth is I found it very easy to re-enter the teenage world, and it struck me vividly that teenage life is full of exactly the sorts of passion, violence, intensity, love and hate that are the very stuff of fiction.
Series like ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Divergent’ have seized a considerable share of the adult reading market too. What do you think makes YA fiction so appealing to adult readers?
I’ve got into hot water before for suggesting that adults should wean themselves off escapist Y/A, fantasy/dystopian books. I think it’s great for teenagers to read widely – including fantasy, as well as more realistic Y/A, and anything else that grabs their interest, and makes them want to lose themselves in a book. But I think that adults should move on. There’s enough great adult speculative fiction, as well as more traditional literary fiction, to last the most avid reader a lifetime. I think adults read it (teen fantasy) because it’s entertaining, undemanding, and provides what they want in easily digested packets. And many of the adult readers are infantalised, and see themselves as teenagers. Of course people should read what they want, and none of this stuff does any actual harm, but it’s like spending your life eating nothing but Frosties. (Which isn’t to say that there aren’t several Y/A writers who can be read by anyone of any age – Mal Peet, Patrick Ness – all the usual suspects.)
In the wake of the success of series such as the Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maize Runner, the inevitable stream of copycats has followed. Do you think these blockbuster titles help YA literature through the exposure they provide to the category/genre, or are they possibly creating a bandwagon for less talented writers to jump on?
If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think that the copycat authors are any less talented than the ‘originals’ – they’re all pretty terrible. I read the first fifty pages of Michael Grant’s Gone the other day and thought it was laughably awful. In a cultural movement like this, you tend to get a breakthrough book that changes the landscape, and then the next wave consists of books that already existed, having been born of the same forces as the first, and were waiting, in a sense, for that opening. And they all do quite well. You then get a third surge (the first true copycats), and they also often do respectable business, albeit it at a lower level. And then you get the ragged fourth wave. I think we’re in that now with Y/A fantasy. But as prose writers they’re not necessarily any worse than the first wave/breakthrough books. Well, OK, sometimes they are. But as I said earlier, it’s not like any of these people are Shakespeare.
From anecdotal evidence and just plain observation, I get the impression that most young readers favour the paper book format over the ebook (possibly because they don’t have debit cards to buy online or have to use their parents’ account). What’s the feedback you get from your readers, and could YA fiction be the saviour of the mainstream paper book?
This is such a complex and difficult question, and the truth is that no one has the faintest idea what’s going to happen, whether in relation to adult or Y/A fiction. E-readers are still a relatively serious investment, for young people, at least. There was talk a while back of Amazon essentially giving Kindles away. If they start selling for, say £20, then that might well shift things around. But for now, yes, it definitely seems that older readers are the ones most likely to be reading e-books. Of course there are interesting questions around piracy – you can get almost any bestseller for free, if you’ve a mind. I actually think that publishers should shun e-books. It’s the work of a second to strip the DRM out of an ebook issued by a publisher, but it’s a hell of a job to scan a book, then OCR it and check it for errors. Who’s going to do that for nothing? No, if publishers do really care about piracy, then the only answer is luddism.
Your books tend to appeal to the younger male reader; however, on the day I attended YALC I think it’s fair to say that a good 3/4 of the attendees were female. Why are teenage boys so reluctant to read?
I haven’t got any magical insights into that. There are some boys who are insanely manic readers, so there clearly isn’t a reading gene that girls have and boys lack. I prefer to see getting boys to read as presenting a series of interesting challenges. I try to grab their interest with humour, violence or extreme emotion, but then, once I’ve got them, to stretch them intellectually to breaking point. I try to perplex, enrage, astound, amuse, disgust, enlighten and exhaust them. (I should probably say that although my books are quite ‘male’, my perception is that most of my readers are female – a simple function, I suppose – of the fact that girls read more than boys.)
Finally, what’s the main difference between writing for an adult reader and writing for a younger audience, both in terms of your creative process and connecting and interacting with your readers?
The main difference, for me, is simply the age of the protagonist. I’ve written for younger, pre-teen readers, and there I’m remembering what I was like at that age, and what made me laugh or otherwise engaged me – so it’s a sort of archeological process, digging back to find the lost treasure. But if you’re writing for 8 year olds, the truth is you have to think about your vocabulary, and, to an extent, the nature of the material. When writing for teenagers, in terms of language and intellectual complexity, I essentially go full throttle, just as I would when writing for adults. But I suppose I’d be inclined to think more about pace when writing for teens, being wary of passages in which nothing much happens. But for all that broadly similar rules apply to all writing. I try to apply something similar to the William Morris dictum that you shouldn’t have anything in your house that isn’t either beautiful or useful – so every sentence has to pay its way. Is it funny? Is it clever? Is it wise? Is it interestingly vile? Does it tell you more about a character? Does it move the story on?
Thank you very much for your time, Anthony!
In this first in a series of articles on Young Adult fiction, I interview YA fiction writer Anthony Ergo, whose debut novel, Dystopia, debuted at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) in London last month. You can read my review of the novel here.
Dystopia is your first YA book but I recall that you mentioned you have also written children’s books. What made you move on to YA?
Well, I had the idea for a paranormal story (which became Dystopia) and after the first draft I felt that it wasn’t going to be appropriate for younger readers. For a start, some of the horror scenes are fairly intense! Also, I was interested in exploring themes which were more suited to the YA genre. My book has some complex and intertwining relationships between the main characters and YA allows for room to delve into these areas. Lastly, I’ve read a lot of YA and always wanted to venture into writing for teens and young adults at some point. For me, it wasn’t a case of writing a YA novel specifically, but rather writing a story which ended up becoming a YA novel.
Over the last couple of years, YA fiction has become immensely popular, not only with its target audience but also with adult readers. It’s a trend that seems to have started years ago with books like Harry Potter, which were technically children’s books, progressing to what we now define as YA. Why do you think is YA so popular with adult readers?
For me, YA novels seem to capture a sense of adventure and excitement that books written for adults don’t always seem to. A lot of YA is also written in the first person present tense, which I find particularly appealing in how it pulls you directly into the character’s experiences and emotions. I suppose for older readers of YA it’s an opportunity to become a teen again and revisit experiences such as discovering identity, experiencing first love, etc. There’s something about a teen protagonist, and how they handle the curve balls of life, that makes them all the more fascinating.
Although your novel is called Dystopia, it’s not strictly a classically dystopian novel, but rather a mystery/paranormal thriller set in a dystopian background. It’s a title which will undoubtedly get a reader’s attention. Why do you think the dystopian genre is so popular among young readers? (This was discussed in one of the panels at YALC but you were busy signing books and I was right at the back and couldn’t hear anything!)
My book is a modern day dystopian novel, unlike many others which are set in futuristic/post-apocalyptic societies. I wanted to take a different approach on the dystopian genre; I’ve depicted a broken society but it’s one where the vast majority of the population are not aware of the underlying paranormal threat. A recent reviewer described it as “The Matrix with ghosts”, which I quite liked! I’ve heard a lot of theories on why dystopia is so popular and I have to say I don’t buy into a lot of the psycho-analysis. A dystopian novel allows for escapism and creates an environment where the protagonists are in extreme and relentless danger; this is the appeal for me.
Tell us about the genesis of Dystopia: how did the idea come about? And did you decide that it would be part of a series right from the outset?
The idea started with an idea I had for my main character, Sasha Hunter. She has an extreme form of “triskaidekaphobia” (fear of the number thirteen) and believes that she’s cursed with bad luck. I had a lot of fun with her crippling superstitions and how they affect her choices. I’m also a big fan of the paranormal and horror genres – my English dissertation was on the classic gothic horror novels such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Once I started to develop the strange environment that Sasha finds herself in, I knew very quickly that I’d need more than one book to portray her journey.
Several reviewers commented on how ‘real’ Sasha, the book’s protagonist, is compared to other YA heroines (I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen). Sasha doesn’t see herself as particularly attractive, she suffers from asthma and really seems like a regular girl. I think a lot of female readers will appreciate that. How does a male author manage to create such a convincing female teenage character? Did you draw inspiration from a sibling, a cousin, or anyone else you’ve met in real life?
I’m so glad that people have connected with Sasha in that way. She is indeed vulnerable, afraid, flawed and at times weak, and all of these things hinder her progress. After reading a lot of books where the main character is depicted as strong, fearless, beautiful, etc. I really wanted to devise a character who is just a normal teen thrown into extremely abnormal surroundings. I had hoped that being a male writer would give Sasha a different feel to other lead female characters, and I’m overjoyed that people find her to be so real. I can’t really put a finger on how I achieved this, but I’m fortunate to have the help of my excellent female Editor Kathy Graham (who was particularly useful in guiding me through the romance scenes!)
What inspired you to become a writer? Who are your influences?
My inspiration would have to be my English Teacher from high school. He had an infectious passion and encouraged my reading and writing from an early age. I am also inspired by this incredible generation of young readers, many of whom I was lucky to meet at my book launch at the Young Adult Literature Convention in London. It’s great to be able to get direct feedback from readers via social media and review sites and it definitely inspired me to power through the first draft of the follow-up, Hysteria, in just six weeks.
At YALC, readers were able to purchase the book as part of a special ‘package’ which included a wristband, a signed bookmark and a CD by your band, “Signed in Crimson” with a ‘soundtrack’ to Dystopia. I thought that was a very interesting approach which made your book stand out. Do you think this kind of marketing is going to be the way forward for a writer to attract readers in an increasingly crowded market?
I’m in a lucky position to be able to create both music and literature, which are my two passions. I was working on the demo CD with my band (Signed In Crimson) at the same time as I was writing Dystopia, so the two went hand in hand. I wanted to try and create a special package for the book launch and that was when I had the idea to include the CD as a soundtrack. I was listening to the songs a lot during the creative process of my book and some of the lyrics and themes transferred over.
Finally, when can we expect Hysteria – the next instalment in the series?
The good news is that I have just finished the first draft of Hysteria. I’m incredibly excited to release the follow-up, which has allowed me to explore a new environment and a whole host of new characters. My Editor feels that it’s a huge leap forward from Dystopia so I can’t wait to share it with everyone. I’m planning to release it in October this year, with the third book, Porphyria, planned for early 2015.
Thank you for your time, Anthony. We are looking forward to October!
It all started with Harry Potter. Remember that time in the late 1990s, when scores of grown-ups would be spotted reading JK Rowling books on the tube? It was the time before e-readers; the internet was still in its infancy and the iPhone was more than a decade away. People carried massive tomes with them to read on their way to work so you could always tell what the man next to you on the tube was reading. It really was a different world. As for me, I resisted the Harry Potter craze for a long time, stubborn in my refusal of giving in to reading a children’s book. But eventually I relented and got sucked in by the series like the majority of the western world’s reading population.
When I grew up, there was very little choice for young adult readers. There were children’s books, which were often forgettable, wholesome stories infused with good morals. Then there were ‘classics’ such as The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, Pippi Longstocking and Peter Pan. Some of these titles could still be enjoyed by an older reader – think of Little Women, White Fang, and Lord of The Flies – the latter’s violent, disturbing content could give a child nightmares for days on end.
But once you exhausted those sources, all that was left were your parents’ books. That could be both a blessing and a curse, forcing a younger reader to challenge themselves with more complex texts: that’s what happened to me by the time I was in my mid-teens, when I exhausted all of F.S. Fitzgerald’s novels along with anything else that I had been able to lay my hands on. But for the less precocious kids, and for the children of non-readers, the lack of age-appropriate material certainly didn’t help in sustaining an interest in fiction.
Fast forward a few years. The Young Adult fiction market – a category which I can’t even remember existing in pre-Harry Potter days – is huge and as popular as ‘real’ grown-up fiction. Take the ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Divergent’ series, for instance. Both have a huge following even among adult readers. Why is this genre suddenly so popular? And are we experiencing some kind of renaissance for the good, old fashioned written word in the age of the iPad?
We at Multimediamouth have decided to turn these questions over to the best qualified people in the field: Young Adult fiction writers. So stay with us, because we have some really juicy interviews coming up soon.
Next: interview with YA fiction writer Anthony Ergo
I first discovered Fanfiction whilst trawling Lord of The Rings-related sites in the early 2000s. On most forums, there would be a section called “Fanfiction”. I dipped my toes in, read a few paragraphs, and quickly retreated: the idea of other people messing with Tolkien’s original work was blasphemy. What I did not realise was, that Fanfiction was actually a well-established, widely followed underground ‘pop’ genre.
Although the origins of any cultural phenomenon are often blurry, most sources agree that Fanfiction first emerged in the 1960s within the Star Trek fandom; in those pre-World Wide Web times, stories were circulated by means of home-produced fanzines which were swapped or sold at cost price at Sci-Fi and Comic Conventions. What was initially just a natural expansion of the Star Trek storylines, would soon, however, take a rather more interesting direction with the arrival of “slash” fiction. Slash, whose name originates from the use of the (/) symbol to refer to the “Kirk/Spock” pairing, focused on sexual relationships between (generally) male characters, such as those played by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. As you can imagine, this rather unconventional approach did not go down too well with a large part of the original fanbase, but no amount of geeky debate stopped the proliferation of slash, which soon began to cannibalise content from other highly popular TV shows of the time. A few decades later, Fanfiction is going stronger and stronger.
Umm...Paola...we need to talk....
It’s not surprising; if such an amateur art form had managed to emerge at a time when home printed fanzines were the only vehicle of distribution, it seems inevitable that with the advent of the Internet, Fanfiction was just going to get even bigger with a multitude of online communities of writers and readers proliferating under every possible fandom. Now, with social networks and easily accessible blogging platforms, it has never been easier to read or, indeed, to publish Fanfiction. There is something for everyone: from “het” (strictly heterosexual pairings) to “slash” (male/male), to “femslash” (female/female pairings), to the more controversial “RPF” – Real Person Fiction, written about famous people: actors, musicians, entire bands – if you can think of them, the chances are that somewhere in cyberspace they are the unwitting protagonists of their own Fanfiction.
Unsurprisingly, RPF presents a whole new range of complications: if breach of copyright and occasionally atrocious prose are the main points of contention by Fanfiction’s detractors, consider an entire literary sub-genre built around the fictitious lives of real people. These ‘real people’ become puppets in the hands of fans with a flair for story-telling and an extremely active imagination, their idols’ public personas providing instant, ready-made characters to be ‘paired up’ in a variety of ways – because ‘pairing’, of course, is central to most Fanfiction. Without sex, or at least romance, there would be very little to write about.
Free from the burden of having to stick to the truth, RPF allows fans’ most unlikely fantasies to co-exist with reality such as in the case of the hugely popular J2 slash based on the TV show ’Supernatural’. In J2 the two male lead actors, Jared Paladecki and Jensen Ackles, are not only a couple but are also frequently involved in BDSM and even cross over into other fandoms. Back in the real world,
Jensen Ackles and Paladecki, are said to find the whole thing rather amusing. But if some of the ‘protagonists’ of RPF Slash are so good-natured about it, things get more twisted when it comes to “cest”, a further spin on the genre which, taking creative liberties to a whole new level, features incestuous relationships between famous siblings. “Cest” is often more popular than the original Fanfiction it spawns from and is even specifically named according to the fandom it belongs to. Take the case of Hanson; under the umbrella of “Hanfic”, the three brothers have been inspiration for both Het writing and the imaginatively named “Hancest”, with its tales of more than just brotherly love between the three (in all their possible combinations). By comparison, the My Chemical Romance-inspired “Waycest” – which pairs up My Chemical Romance’ brothers Gerard and Mikey Way, seem so restrictive, with, after all, only two brothers available. Understandably, the bands in question aren’t too happy about being the objects of such fantasies.
One could be forgiven for thinking that only a certain kind of bands appeal to the consumers of Slash and RPF, but in the surreal world of fandom, nobody is safe, not even the members of heavy metal groups like Metallica and Megadeth. My suspension of disbelief was pushed to its limits when I discovered Metallica Slash featuring singer James Hetfield¹ ‘paired’ with former bassist Jason Newsted ² . Forget multi-sibling incest, my reaction was, this kind of stuff is totally outrageous. Why would Jason sleep with Hetfield?? I wonder if Metallica is aware of the fact that the Masters of Puppets are actually their own fans and what is stopping the notoriously litigious band from suing Fanfiction writers, Napster-style? The answer probably lies in the word ‘Disclaimer’ which inevitably precedes the opening paragraph of any RPF, and which basically says ‘Before you reach for your lawyer’s phone number: NONE OF THIS IS TRUE’. And as Fanfiction (not just RPF) can never be commercially distributed, as it clearly infringes copyright and probably every intellectual property law, nobody makes any money from it ³.
You can’t sell it, you can’t buy it, but thousands of people write it and an even larger number of people read it: there has to be something more to Fanfiction than just porn. Should it be dismissed as trash and placed at the bottom rung of the literary hierarchy, lower than even the worst self-published, straight-to-Kindle ‘indie’ writing? I am not so sure anymore. Standards vary enormously and, granted there is some really bad, actually, diabolically bad stuff out there, whose sole purpose is to give fans an opportunity for self-insertion in a fantasy involving their idols (this, in Fanfiction-speak, is called doing a “Mary-Sue”). But there are also plenty of well-crafted stories, some of them successfully serialised across several months and even years, with believable characters, elegant prose and plausible dialogue. And more often than not, the authors are university-educated women⁴ who are using Fanfiction as practice towards original writing. They put out their raw, unedited work for others to read and comment on, and learn their craft in the process. If it wasn’t happening online, this ‘learning by peer review’ path wouldn’t be so different from what happens at a Writers’ Group.
That confirms my suspicions that Fanfiction, as a literary phenomenon, is really nothing new. Throughout the centuries, every conceivable art form has, at some stage, delved into existing sources, in a tradition which can be traced as far back as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; the Greek poet most likely borrowed his famous heroes and heroines from the story tellers of the time. Consider also the legend of Don Juan, which, since its first written appearance in the late XVII century, went through endless permutations, among which are Byron’s eponymous epic poem and Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni. And shall we talk about Keats’ Hyperion and Endymion, whose subject matter is entirely lifted from classic mythology? In fact, my Fanfiction-o-meter is going into overdrive just at the mention of the Romantic poet, since Keats’ own life was indeed given the full RPF treatment in Dan Simmons’ sci-fi novels Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion: Simmons’ Keats is a cybrid who falls in love with a woman named Brawne Lamia; Fanny Brawne was Keats’ real life fiancé and Lamia is the title of one of his poems. And if that wasn’t enough, Hyperion is also based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, down to the frame story structure and the pilgrims’ stories.
Confused? Welcome to the world of Fanfiction, where everything is possible; a world in which characters from different TV shows intermingle and where Frodo and Sam go out on dates; a world which bears little resemblance to the original content and is actually more like an alternate universe of its own. And, ok, it is also a slightly warped dimension in which it is perfectly acceptable for brothers to sleep with each other, and where pretty much everyone is gay. But, as Bethany – one of the most prolific writers of Hancest – stresses in the disclaimer section of her website, “absolutely no money is being made from this story; it’s all just good, angsty fun”.
And I, for one, am inclined to agree.
¹ Undoubtedly the most obnoxious rockstar of all times
² He can do better than Hetfield
³ With the notable exception of the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy which originally started as a Twilight Fanfiction.
⁴ According to most sources, most Fanfiction writers are heterosexual women with university degrees.
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Everybody loves us
Everybody loves our town
That’s why I’m thinking lately
The time for leaving is now
When Mudhoney’s song “Overblown” appeared in the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe’s film Singles, grunge had already become a global phenomenon. Everybody was talking about Seattle. How did it all start? How did a former logging town in the Pacific Northwest manage to suddenly become the epicentre of rock ’n’ roll?
Everybody Loves Our Town, written by former Blender magazine editor Mark Yarm, may well have the answers. Compiled in the form of an oral history, this 592-page tome is an attempt to understand how it all happened—and why.
Tracing an arc from the early days in the dingy, smoky, beer-soaked clubs of Seattle, the book charts a complete trajectory of grunge. Yarm takes us all the way to sold-out arenas and multimillion-dollar record deals, down to the scene’s inevitable implosion, replete with numerous casualties along the way.
Unlike other books attempting to explain the grunge phenomenon, Everybody Loves Our Town tells the story through the voices of those who were actually there. Instead of a writer’s retrospective socio-anthropological musings, readers are treated to the equivalent of a long night out sharing a drink or ten with the survivors and listening to their recollections—conveniently woven together by Yarm in chronological order in a superb delivery of rock ’n’ roll storytelling. Some of the material will already be familiar to the most devoted grunge aficionados, but the author used both existing and new interviews, creating a far more comprehensive account of those days than what a series of recent, retrospective interviews could have achieved. The result is not fragmented, but instead forms a tapestry of two decades’ worth of firsthand accounts expertly interwoven into an almost seamless conversation. It must have been a mammoth task—but also, we suspect, a labour of love.
MultiMediaMouth: Mark, forgive us the obvious question, but do you consider yourself a fan of grunge?
Mark Yarm: Yes, I consider myself a fan—though after working for three years on a book like this, sometimes grunge is the last thing I want to hear. Still, I still find myself listening to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles for pleasure quite often.
So, why another book on grunge now? After all, there have been several attempts to explain and describe the scene, from biographies on individual artists or bands, like Charles Cross’ Heavier Than Heaven on Kurt Cobain, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad, to the more recent Greg Prato work Grunge is Dead—which, like Everybody Loves Our Town, is also written in interview form. Everybody Loves Our Town was published in the autumn of 2011, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind album and an inevitable revival of all things grunge. It only took two years to write—which, considering the amount of material spanning over a decade, does not seem very long at all.
MMM: Was Everybody Loves Our Town always going to be a combination of new and old material? How did you go about putting everything together? Did you turn your office into one big grunge control room? We’re thinking of a huge whiteboard with the main suspects with arrows pointing towards each other, like something out of The Wire, only with the U-Men at the top of the tree.
MY: My goal was to get as much original material as possible. I’d say about 90 percent of the quotes are from interviews I conducted personally. In instances where I couldn’t get someone to talk to me, I’d use archival material (and, in some cases, previously unpublished interviews conducted by other journalists who were gracious enough to help me out). I did pin up index cards detailing each chapter in my office space, but I’m afraid it was not as elaborate as something out of a police procedural.
The story starts in 1985, with the U-Men’s account of how they set fire to the stage on Labor Day weekend of that year. I must admit to not knowing the band at all, but still got drawn into the tales of punk rock and pyromania. The Melvins, Cobain’s muses-to-be, are next, and, chapter after chapter, the archaeology of the Seattle scene begins to be uncovered. If you have visited the “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses” exhibit at the Seattle Experience Music Project, you might agree with our choice of the word archaeology to define the days of mixed cassette tapes, grainy black-and-white flyers and home-produced fanzines. Photocopied posters, disseminated around the city, were cheaper than getting a telephone line connected. Our present time of social networks, smartphones and music downloads truly seems futuristic in comparison.
Since then, the internet has changed things so much that everything seems to be simultaneously more fragmented and more within reach. The evolution of a music scene spawned by the cultural and geographical isolation of a pre-Microsoft Seattle is now unimaginable. If Kurt Cobain was a 16-year-old kid from Aberdeen now, he might still hate the place but would probably pour out his angst on Tumblr and upload his demos on SoundCloud.
MMM: Have you visited the Experience Music Project exhibition? Would you agree that looking back at the demo tapes and old black-and-white flyers feels a bit like Howard Carter walking into Tutankhamen’s tomb?
MY: I visited the [museum] on a number of occasions, the last of which was in November, when I did an Everybody Loves Our Town promotional event there. During the course of working on the book, I got to know the museum’s senior curator, Jacob McMurray, who was immensely helpful when it came to, say, fact-checking the spelling of a club’s name or when a certain show happened. (The relationship was mutually beneficial: I actually helped out on their excellent Nirvana exhibit, which opened in April of last year.) And, yes, their collection is pretty amazing—there’s so much more in their archives than they can actually put on display.
The Experience Music Project Exhibition
Whilst the Experience Music Project’s own publication of a “Taking Punk to the Masses” catalogue does an excellent job of gathering these “grunge artifacts” in one place, its purpose was probably to document rather than to entertain. Everybody Loves Our Town, on the other hand, is a pleasure to read; every chapter is a collection of testimonials and soundbites from band members, producers, soundmen, girlfriends and odd hangers-on. Yarm gives every character—however minor—the chance to tell his or her story, and often what follows is a direct rebuttal of the previous statement by someone who was also there at the time. Alcohol and drugs have probably taken their toll on the memory of a lot these people, making their versions of events rather unreliable, and the result is often very funny. (Somewhat unsurprisingly, Courtney Love’s recollections rarely coincide with anyone else’s.)
All the time, Yarm keeps his own voice firmly muted, but one cannot help but form an opinion eventually. It is impossible, for instance, not to notice Buzz Osborne’s resentment at Nirvana’s success, considering that Cobain saw the Melvins as his mentors; equally, one is left with a strong impression that Pearl Jam’s “overnight success” changed Eddie Vedder more than he would readily admit. Courtney Love—undoubtedly the most controversial figure in the entire history of grunge—is, almost unanimously, depicted in unflattering tones.
MMM: Did you encounter any difficulties in getting people to co-operate with the project, or was there a willingness to try and finally set the record straight and explain what grunge really was?
MY: Some people were incredibly forthcoming and incredibly giving of their time. Typically, the further a person was from the white-hot spotlight of ‘90s grunge mania, the happier [the person would] be that someone was interested in [his or her] story. But there were plenty of difficulties. Pearl Jam weren’t available to me, presumably because they were working on their own book and movie at the time, though I did get material from them: I’d interviewed Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard for the Blender magazine piece the book grew out of, and I got to speak with Matt Cameron through the Soundgarden organisation. And I dug deep, interviewing all of the band’s former drummers—something Cameron Crowe did not do in his Pearl Jam Twenty documentary.
The grunge phenomenon was perhaps the last time a music scene was so successfully hijacked by media and industry to be mass marketed to the world. Some 20 years later, there seems to be hardly any trace in Seattle that grunge ever existed, Sure, some of the bands are still together—such as the newly reformed Soundgarden—but the city itself seems to have tried to rid itself of the memory of those long-gone hyped-up days. Some of the venues still exist, but only just. Outside Cobain’s former house in an upscale Lake Washington neighbourhood, in a tiny green space called Viretta Park, two wooden benches, graffitied with tributes to Kurt and acting as the only memorial (and an unofficial one at that) are regularly cleaned and repainted by the local authorities. Save for the Nirvana exhibition at the Experience Music Project—running through early spring of 2013—one wouldn’t know that Nirvana ever existed.
The Viretta Park Bench
MMM: Why, in your opinion, does Seattle seem so determined to forget grunge?
MY: People who were involved with the scene seem to go through phases of not wanting to talk about it, then feeling that it’s OK to discuss it again. I guess I’d also get pretty sick of talking over and over again about something I did 20 years ago.
Those directly involved might be sick of talking about it, but most fans of grunge will never tire of reading about it. And they will, without a doubt, devour this book. Rock histories and biographies almost invariably fall within two categories: shameless, fan-driven hagiographies, or tedious, impenetrable bricks about chords and guitar models. Everybody Loves Our Town, we are glad to report, is neither. As well as acting as a definitive document to posterity, before the fragile collective memory of that era fades away forever, it is also, without a doubt, the most compelling book on grunge written to date.
MMM: One last question. If you had to mention a single album of that time, which would you choose?
MY: I’d say the aforementioned Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles. If you do not own it already, pick it up post-haste.
Everybody Loves Our Town is published by Faber and can be purchased here
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