Fandemonium Blog Tour Interview #2: What’s in a name

Posted in Blog by - September 13, 2015

Blog tour

Second of three interviews with the author on the deluxe Fandemonium Blog Tour, Sept. 7-14, 2015.

What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?

Topless Hotties is the title of a piece of fiction I’ve been working on that is either a long short story or a novella. I hope it’s not a novella. It’s about a veteran journalist who has a knack for writing headlines. Full disclosure: I happen to have won some awards for writing headlines.

How long did it take you to write Fandemonium, from the original idea to publication?

The book evolved in fits and starts over 15 years. At various points I put it aside for years, rewrote it from start to finish, and even gave up on it altogether, or so I thought. It was represented by two different agents, under two different titles. It was rejected by many editors, some kindly, others not so much.

What genre would you place your book into?

Well, that’s one of the things that kept coming up in the rejection notes: Editors complained that it doesn’t fit into a genre. I think it’s a literary satire, a comic novel with serious overtones, but I guess that’s not a genre like “crime” or “dystopian young adult novel.” By the way, did you know there’s a Twitter feed called “Dystopian YA Novel”? It’s pretty funny.

What made you decide this particular type of book?

At the risk of sounding New Age-y, I’d have to say the book decided what kind of book it wanted to be.

Do you have a favorite character/s from your books? And why are they your favorite?

I can’t be the first writer to say this: That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child. How about if I tell you about my agents’ favorite characters instead?

My first agent, a man, liked oversexed actress Harmony Storm and wanted more of her, and disliked 12-year-old comics fan Fred, a lot. My second agent was a woman who hated Harmony and felt she was unrealistic. But she loved Fred and wanted him to be introduced earlier.

How long have you been writing? Who or what inspired you to write?

Not counting the novel set in Disneyland I started when I was 9 or 10, I guess my writing career began my junior year in high school when a short story I wrote for a homework assignment got published in the school literary magazine and then won a New York Times award at a press day event. Validation is addictive.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what did you want to be?

Since I was trying to write a novel when I was 10 or so, I guess the impulse goes back pretty far. But I was also very interested in science as a kid, and I was always attracted to computers. Maybe if I’d paid more attention to math in high school, I might have wound up writing computer code instead of novels.

Fandemonium is a complex narrative that includes many different types of characters. How did you come up with your characters’ names?

I’m pretty obsessive about names. If I can get a character’s name just right, their whole personality comes right along with it.

I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where there is a rich tapestry of ethnic surnames: Polish, Italian, Irish, Eastern European. For two years I want to a prep school run by a Hungarian order of priests. Maybe that’s why so many of the names I see in contemporary novels seem bland and anodyne to me in comparison.

I keep a file of real-life names I like. I think a lot about the names of kids I went to school with. Sometimes I look carefully at the production credits of old movies. I have pored through telephone directories and genealogy websites.

And sometimes I look out the window. I struggled for months to think of the right name for the hotel most of Fandemonium is set in until one day I noticed a van driving by that said OLYMPUS CLEANERS. There it was.

Some of the names in Fandemonium have specific meanings to me. Fred is named D’Auria because he’s to me he’s golden, a golden child. Harmony Storm’s first name is ironic and contradicts her surname. There’s a character named Alec Tilton after the late rock musician Alex Chilton, just because I happened to like that name.

One book blogger who reviewed Fandemonium was completely enamored of a very minor character who shows up briefly only twice, a TV reporter called Taffy Poppenberg. I’m pleased with that name.

Do you decide on character traits (e.g. shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?

As I go along.

Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books?

No, they just come right out and bash you across the skull, I think. Subtlety may not be my greatest strength.

What is your favorite book and why?

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon turned my head inside out, which I touched upon in a blog post herePurple America by Rick Moody affected me deeply. But I guess I’d have to choose Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which shatters the boundaries of what a novel can be.

Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favorite/worst book to movie transfer?

James M. Cain had most of his books sold as movies but avoided seeing them. When people asked, “Don’t you care what they did to your book?” he supposedly answered, “They haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf.”

I think Ang Lee did a nice job capturing the wistfulness of Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm in 1997. It’s an overlooked film that I think will be rediscovered.

The best book-to-film adaptation of all time may be John Huston’s 1941 version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The final line, “the stuff that dreams are made of,” caps the movie exquisitely, and it’s not in the novel. Bogart came up with it.

As far as I know, no one has ever been able to make a decent film of The Great Gatsby, even though it’s been tried five times since 1925. I’ve only seen the 1974 and 2013 versions and I didn’t like either of them. I’m not sure Gatsby is filmable.

Your favorite food is?

I am not a foodie. My dad was in the supermarket business, and I was raised on processed food. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a fine meal now and then; I do. But day in, day out, it’s fuel to me. I have a foodie friend who hates when I say that. But put me in a decent diner, I’m a happy man.

Your favorite singer/group is?

I’m a lot pickier about music than food. It’s a huge topic for me. My younger brother, my only sibling, is a professional musician in New Orleans, where bad music simply isn’t allowed.

Let me carve the huge subject down and say that two of the most interesting albums I’ve heard this year are “From Kinshasa” by Mbongwana Star, a band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and “IF” by Paul de Jong, formerly of the band The Books.

Your favorite color is?

I don’t know. Maybe if I had my colors done I’d find out. I’ve always sort of wanted to do that.

Your favorite author is?

Thomas Pynchon. For one thing, no one does character names better than Pynchon, not even Dickens. They’re amazing.

Why should readers choose Fandemonium to read?

Because it’s fun. Because it’s a bit messy, on purpose. Because it’s about comics, on its surface, anyway, and comics are a medium whose vast and subversive influence is still sneaking up on us. Because comics are transverbal, if you will, and brand themselves on our brains before anyone can do anything to stop it, although plenty of people have tried. Because comics are like rock and roll in that they’re disreputable yet irresistible, and will never die. Because comics are like jazz (superhero comics are, anyway) in that they are one of the few art forms indigenous to America and hence explain a lot about America. Because I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have some kind of emotional connection to comics, whether they care to admit it or not.

I used to have some of my old comic books framed in my living room. Sometimes when grown men, burly men who had come to deliver furniture or do work on the house, happened to enter that room, their eyes would fall on those comics and soften, and I could tell they were remembering the boys they had once been.

And readers should choose Fandemonium because comics are only part of what it’s about. It’s really about people who make and love comics.

 

This post was written by

Rick Schindler grew up in the idyllic northern suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y., a psychic stone’s throw from Archie Andrews’ hometown of Riverdale. His writing career began at age 15 when he won a New York Times award for a short story published in his high school literary magazine.

At 19 he interned on the copy desk of the Buffalo News, where he discovered a knack for headline writing that has served him in good stead until the present day. He went on to a checkered media career that has included stints at HBO, TV Guide and NBC News Digital, where today he is a writer and editor for the website of the venerable American TV show TODAY.

Schindler shared a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi award in online reporting with NBC News’ Bob Dotson for the “American Story with Bob Dotson” features on TODAY.com. He also won two 2012 awards in headline writing from the American Copy Editors Society, another in 2014 and two more in 2015.

Schindler lives in White Plains, New York.