Monday, June 7, 2010

Fat Vampire: a Conversation with Adam Rex

You may know Adam Rex from his alien-invasion novel The True Meaning of Smekday (which wins for most hilarious alien). Or from his bestselling poetry collections Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake (which win for best running jokes). Or from his very entertaining blog. Now Fat Vampire is about to come out, which wins for Best (Comic) Relief from the Vampire Craze.

To find out more about his newest book, I put on my trenchcoat and met him in a darkened parking garage.

ADAM REX: You're Editorial Anonymous?

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Yeah. Why?

ADAM REX: I dunno, I expected someone older, I guess. Isn't this a school night?

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I'm often mistaken for younger than I am. If you guess my age, you'll be wrong.

ADAM REX: 42.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Shit.

(awkward silence)

...So thanks for agreeing to this interview. I'm guessing that you saw and/or read a bit of the Twilight oeuvre, and reflected (of Edward Cullen), "What a douchebag!" And perhaps at about the same time you attended a ComicCon and witnessed one or more of the attendees being called douchebags... And you were inspired to write about the true nature of douchebaginess. Am I close?

ADAM REX: No, not even. I haven't seen either of the movies, and I haven't finished any of the books. When a bookstore-worker friend heard I was writing a YA vampire story back in 2007 she insisted I take home a copy of Twilight, and I got about 100 pages in before I decided it wasn't for me and bailed out.

No, I'm just the sorry SOB who decided to start a vampire manuscript a few years ago with no idea what vampires were about to mean to the literary world. I mean, I was aware of Twilight and at least a half-dozen other vampire books/series at the time, but there you are–there are ALWAYS vampire stories, why not another? Now I'm watching the clock and hoping vampires don't entirely wear out their welcome before July, or that they wear out their welcome just enough for people to be ready for my kind of book.

But since you mention it, I did sort of write a treatise on douchebaggery.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I enjoyed the treatise. And I think the time is in fact ripe for a vampire spoof. Fat Vampire made me wonder how many people, if stuck with vampiredom, would really find it made them all brooding and romantically tortured? And how many would just find it to be an enormous pain in the ass?

ADAM REX: That's the gist of what got me started. A big part of the fantasy of vampirism, of course, is the wish-fulfillment of being frozen at the peak of your existence. At the moment we seem to have agreed as a culture that everyone should want to be a teenager again. But, while being a teen had its charms, I actually think I'm a lot happier now. I'm certainly a better person now than I was in high school.

I have to say the impetus for this book actually came when I misread a banner ad. I was in the middle of my morning web-crawl when I saw an ad for some manga or webcomic or something called My Dork Embrace. And I thought, That's great. I bet it's a story about the kind of awkward guy who's never supposed to become a vampire. And a minute later my brain wouldn't let go of it because the art and tenor of the ad didn't really jive with the assumption I'd made, so I scrolled back to have another look at it. And I discovered it's really just My Dark Embrace. I'd misread it. But then I got excited because that meant I could write My Dork Embrace myself, and it would be a good framework to work out some thoughts I'd been having about high school.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: My god, I remember that banner ad-- I misread it the same way! And I was so disappointed when it wasn't My Dork Embrace. The lowercase 'a' in that typeface wasn't very clearly formed.

ADAM REX: Oh, that's funny. It's nice to have corroboration, because I've since searched for that title and I can't seem to determine just what it was the ad was advertising.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: So what about writing this book was a pain in the ass? And what was fun?

ADAM REX: I always enjoy writing dialogue, and I'd do it all day and all night if I'm not careful. Sometimes I have to accept that NOTHING'S HAPPENING and the story will never go anywhere if I can't get my characters to stop exchanging breezy banter.

I also think one of the larger challenges of this book was writing my main female character, Sejal. She becomes something of an Indian Exchange Student Goth Kid–a combination I thought was funny, what with the Goth predilection for pale skin and pseudo-medieval-romantic European sensibilities, but which probably only underscores how little I really know about the subculture. There are probably Goths of all stripes.

Anyway, writing a teenager from India was sort of terrifying–I wanted her to seem genuinely foreign but also instantly relatable to my readers, and I didn't want to appear that I was trying too hard either way, if that makes sense.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I thought she was very well developed—a stand-out character. And the comparison between Sejal and your main character, Doug, helps to underscore your point about it being our mistakes that force us to grow—she’s made hers, and is trying to overcome the aftermath; she's more grown up. Doug is still in the middle of making his (and is going at it with gusto, too, which is a happy thing for the book).
How do you approach character-building?

ADAM REX: I don't have much of a system. I'm afraid I just sort of plow into the story and then revise. Sejal's backstory changed a number of times, and each time it changed I went and rewrote some of her parts to better reflect the person I'd felt she'd become. I often use someone I know or once knew as a kind of personality anchor for a character, but I give myself leeway to go off the map here and there.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: So you do it by feel? That's about what I guessed, though it's not a lot of help to my readers, lol.

ADAM REX: No, it isn't, and yet I do think there's something encouraging in knowing that published authors are just feeling around in the dark as well. When I was a teenager and took my first real stabs at creative writing, I frequently felt like a big faker because I would just write without being entirely sure what I was writing or where it was going. My public school education had not taught me to have much faith in this approach, but the thought of mapping everything out ahead of time was too daunting. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird saved my life because she explains that she doesn't compose outlines or flow charts or any such thing, either. She dives in and figures it out as she goes along. And she assures her readers that this is the method preferred by every author she's ever known. This was a big deal to me–knowing that, despite appearances, my own amateurish blindfolded plate-spinning might actually be a legitimate means to an end.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Do you have any method to your revision?

ADAM REX: One rule I try to stick to is that if I find myself, just twice, wondering if some passage (or dialogue, or plot contrivance, or bit of drawing) is good enough and then mollifying myself that it is, I'm wrong. I'm wrong and I have to fix it.

Frankly, revision is often what I'm doing when I want to feel like I'm working but I'm feeling shy about charting new territory. There's nothing like rereading twenty pages and changing three adjectives to give you that sickly florescent glow of accomplishment, in lieu of any actual ray of light from the heavens.

What a nice metaphor. I bet it's going to be hard for people to believe that this is the transcript of a face-to-face meeting between the two of us in a darkened parking garage and not actually some protracted email exchange.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Shh, let’s preserve the illusion. What was the editing process like for this book (if you don't mind talking about it)? Was it different at all from the process for Smekday?

ADAM REX: I had the same great editor (Donna Bray) on each, but there were differences. In Smekday Donna pointed out, quite rightly, that an entire middle section sucked and, later, that the entire second half could be tightened up quite a bit. In fact, given the clarity of hindsight, I wish I'd really done as she asked and tightened it up a bit more. According to Donna Fat Vampire was, comparatively, a cleaner manuscript. She asked me to clarify and strengthen the motivations of a couple characters but there were no big plot rewrites. I think in general she always has to nudge me in the direction of being more forthcoming, as I tend to err on the side of being a little obtuse and vague. I've already read a review of Fat Vampire online that confesses not to understand what actually happened at the end of the book. Whoops.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I followed the ending, but readers will have to pick up the book to decide what they think.
Finally, do you have any advice for budding writers? Or budding vampires? Or budding douchebags?

ADAM REX: There's a joke in there somewhere: What's the difference between a writer and a vampire? One of them leads a pallid, lonely existence, sucking dry both loved ones and strangers alike in his ghoulish quest for immortality, and the other one is a vampire. Ha ha.

I don't know if I have anything new to say to writers. As someone who not long ago was an illustrator who wanted to write and is now the author of his first major work without any illustrations whatsoever I am still in equal parts exhilarated, bewildered, and frightened by writing. I've been doing this just long enough to suspect that those feelings are not supposed to go away. But to answer your question: read as much as you can, and read critically. Live frugally. Marry someone with insurance. Find your own voice, or failing that mimic your favorite authors so blatantly and with such conviction that the costume of their style gets humid and itchy and you can't wait to be rid of it. All that, and write more.

To the aspiring douchebag I can only say, you're too late–the market has reached saturation. Buy low and sell high, man.

17 comments:

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Ahahaha! I laughed the whole post through - I definitely want to read the book now.
And, now that I think about it, writers and vampires are a little too closely related for me to be comfortable with. :)

Ebony McKenna. said...

Woo hoo! I love this interview.
It also sounds like I would LOVE this book.
May there be many more . . . interviews and dork embraces.

Laraine Eddington said...

If all Adam's interviews are this good, he'll sell a lot of books.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Great interview. Can't wait to read it!!

Adam - I have to tell you, my 12 YO reluctant reader loved, loved, LOVED SMEK DAY. Thanks for writing such a great, funny book!

Literaticat said...

Ooohhh ADAM REX you might be my favorite-who-isnt-a-client!

Terrific interview, both. :)

Kelly said...

Adam is always so funny. I can't wait to read the book!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Loved True Meaning of Smekday; I give it as a gift all the time. This sounds great, kind of Christopher Moore-esque. Can't wait to spend some of my birthday money on Fat Vampire!

Nicole MacDonald said...

Sounds like a book I want to read and ewww the cover made my cringe (in a good way) I'll never look at slushy's the same!

Rose Green said...

Awesome. We LOVE Smekday at our house, and have been waiting anxiously for the Next Great Work from Adam Rex. Hurry upl, July!

Chad W. Beckerman said...

This is by far one of my favorite covers to come out lately.

Anita said...

I need me a copy of FAT VAMPIRE!

Donna said...

Thanks, EA, for a terrific interview that does the book justice!

jmartinlibrary said...

I bought both Frankenstein books for my library--we all (not just the kids, mind you) LOVE them. It's never on the shelves. I can't wait to read FAT VAMPIRE. Thanks for the peek behind the curtain of creativity.

brian yansky said...

Great interview. Looking forward to reading FAT VAMPIRE.

Yat-Yee said...

YOu guys are so brilliant! I bet you just lit up that pretend alleyway where you met! Super interview. Can't wait for the book.

Tanya said...

Huge SMEKDAY fan. LOVED Fat Vampire, too. Made me want to read teen books again (which I am now.) Interview was brilliant - I appreciated the insights and intrigue. Did not know it was currently ok to say douchebag so many times in so many new ways. That is one thing I am enjoying about revisiting teen books - lots of new swears to be learned. Loved the itchy costume metaphor, too. THANKS!

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party, but just want to say, great interview!

Adam Rex.... you're my hero.