*Here’s the source of Nonfiction Monday, in case you were wondering (which I was, which was why I did some sleuthing and figured it out. Is there anything that Anastasia Suen can’t do? She has a kajillion blogs, all of them terrifically informative, and she put together this Nonfiction Monday meme happening event thingy. I stand in awe. Actually, I sit in awe, but that just sounds weird. Have you realized yet that reading my parentheticals is oftentimes a foolish undertaking? No? It’s okay, we all learn at our own pace.).
I wrote a song for my library’s winter reading program promotional video (actually, wrote new lyrics to an existing song). Expect to see more of this in the not-too-distant future:
I have the sense of humor of a twelve year old boy. Farts, poop, burps–anything gross and juvenile will set me off. Any time I see a Ford commercial, as soon as they mention “super-duty” I am snickering.
Recently in my library adventures I came across discovered a book with the phrase “three magic balls” in the title, and I nearly lost it. Needless to say, it got weeded (for many other reasons besides the balls, but the balls were funniest reason).
I just finished reading a coworker’s arc of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. It is extremely hard to not accidentally type Willy when I try to type that repetitive title. Then I am reminded of my co-worker who is eagerly awaiting the release of Free Willy: Willy vs. The Gorton’s Fisherman. Or whatever it is called.
Anyway. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a lovely book. I enjoyed reading about a fat character who wasn’t ashamed to be fat (even though he recognized that society thought he should be) and who was, in fact, a sex object. Yes, sometimes people become more physically attractive when we’re ensnared by the sheer force of their personality. I don’t think I’ve seen a strong example of this since The Phantom of the Opera.*
I also liked the platonic love story, which, according to the authors’ notes, was a major theme. I didn’t learn how to acknowledge this love until I was well into my twenties, so having all of these recent examples aimed at teenagers is a good thing, I think. Maybe if we all realized that love can occur without romance, we’d all feel a bit happier with ourselves and our lives.
*I’m sure there are others, but I can’t think of them right now.
**Please don’t burst my inflated sense of power and self-importance, it is all I have right now.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have met James Kennedy. We were both standing beside the treacle well. I was drawing treacle; he was drawing pictures of Richard Nixon wearing iconic costumes from famous movie musicals, such as Anna’s ball gown from The King and I and Eliza Doolittle’s black and white ensemble from the horse racing scene in My Fair Lady. You can’t deny that what James lacks in understanding he makes up for in inventiveness.
“That’s some nice cross-hatching on Nixon’s jowls,” I said.
“Thank you,” he replied.
After a bit more drawing, he said, “If you like my pitiful art, you should really see the work on the cover of my book. Now that’s some drawing.”
“You have a book?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, tucking his pen behind his ear. Not the best idea, really, since it was a fountain pen; ink immediately began trickling down his temple and running into his mouth. “I have a book. The Order of Odd-Fish.” He paused, dipped his finger into the ink running down his face, and proceeded to adorn himself with a small Charlie Chaplin mustache. “Have you read it?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve only just heard of it.”
“A likely excuse!” he said, adding to his face an impressive pair of side-burns. “Too busy drawing treacle, were you? I suppose you can be forgiven….a dying art, is treacle drawing. I should commend you.”
“Perhaps I would read it, if I only knew a bit more about it.” I was contemplating whether the best way to order odd-fish was alphabetical or numerical; or, perhaps, if one should order odd-fish before or after the soup course.
He tucked his sketchbook away and motioned for me to follow him to the gate enclosing the treacle well. He perched upon the gate and I sat down upon a nearby rock. He harrumphed and said, “I’ll tell thee everything I can. It begins with a baby in a basket….a very DANGEROUS baby. Jo Larouche, to be precise, raised for thirteen years by a fading Hollywood starlet. One night, during a party, a Russian General appears….”
He prattled on for quite a while; I missed much of it, since I was thinking of a plan to dye one’s whiskers green, and always use so large a fan that they could not be seen. Fortunately, it has all been written down; and I heard and retained enough that I knew I wished to read this book.)
Kennedy’s book is large. It contains multitudes. The cast of characters is vast. The humor is painted in broad strokes. The journey is epic. It is part steam-punk, part urban fantasy, part fairy-tale, part bildungsroman, and part romance (in the Hawthorne sense of the word).
Within the main character of Jo LaRouche, there are echoes of Alice, Milo, Wart, and Dorothy. In the world, there are homages both subtle and obvious to Lovecraft, Stephen King, Monty Python and Moby Dick. Yet from these many and diverse influences, Kennedy has created something unique.
Jo’s companions also echo Tock and the Humbug, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, the Mad Hatter and the White Queen; her foster mother echoes Merlin and another faded starlet, Lily Cavanaugh; her foes, the Belgian Prankster and the Silent Sisters rank among the best villains of children’s literature such as the Jabberwocky, the Terrible Trivium, and Shere Khan, to name just a few.
Kennedy’s companions sparkle because of their oftentimes pathetic absurdities (a cockroach butler bemoans being smeared in the press, but when the press ignores him, he tries doubly hard to be worthy of their write-ups) set them apart from more noble examples of the archetype, and his villains feel all the more dastardly because of the sheer goofiness with which they practice their evil, such as writing musicals to thwart one another and filling the Grand Canyon with pudding.
The world of Eldritch City, which we reach by means we don’t really understand but go along with anyway (hint: it involves the Moby Dick reference), is incredibly bizarre but functions with a logic all of its own, and it obeys its own insane rules, as all the best fantasy worlds do. The characters are iconic but have been imbued with qualities that make them stand out from those who have come before. The plot, which its standard fantasy trajectory of a quest and an evil that must be defeated*, familiar to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, is told with such singular style that the well-worn path seems freshly paved.
I could blather on and on, but there is no reason to; this book is worth reading, and if you love any of the books or characters I’ve mentioned during this review, you will love this book as well. This book is not for every reader, nor should it be. As Ranganathan taught the librarian so long ago:
I am obviously one of this book’s readers. If you think you might be, too, do yourself a favor and go read it now.
Reviewed from a library copy.
A couple of other internet references to The Order of Odd-Fish:
*And yet the journey is also inverted, which I will not discuss further lest I ruin the tale for you.
Jon Scieszka rhymes with Fresca, and putenesca.
Barry Lyga rhymes with Tiger (if you’re from the Bronx; Tie-gah).
Tomie DePaola has a POW in the middle.
Eoin Colfer is just Owen spelled the lovely Irish way.
Neil Gaiman is Gaym’n, like gamin’.
Jake Wizner rhymes with Eisner (eyes nur).
Cynthia Leitich Smith: “Leitich” is prounced Lie-tick. First a long “i,” then a short “i,” followed by a hard “k.”
Q: How do you pronounce your surname? A: Lar-bal-est-ee-air. It can also be pronounced Lar-bal-est-ee-ay or Lar-bal-est-ee-er. Those are all fine by me. Friends at school used to pronounce it: Lavaworm. I have to really like you to let you get away with that one[…] (her website)
Jarrett Krosoczka (Punk Farm, Lunch Lady): Rhymes with Oscar (Osca’); “(pronounced Crow-ZAHS-ka)”
Here’s a blog post that has a lot of names, including Halse Anderson, Rick RYE-or den, and others.
A post I’ve linked to before about pronouncing.
Ooh! A database of how to pronounce authors’ names! All sound-y even!
Please comment with other tricky author names I should have here.
During my cyberstalking researching of Barry for this interview, I learned that he is a fan of Stephen King, especially the Dark Tower series. I, too, am a fan of the Dark Tower series, although I do think King lost it a bit when he wrote and released the final books in quick succession following his car accident. I will forgive Stephen, however, because that is what one does; he is the Jeff Bridges of horror fiction, and the King abides.
The thing about the Dark Tower books, though, is that it isn’t simply a 7 book series. There are related short stories scattered hither and yon, and characters from many King books make an appearance in or are referenced to in the Tower books (although King never brought back the characters from The Eyes of the Dragon in the big way that I was hoping, and I still cry about that sometimes–oh, Steve, why must you make a librarian cry?).
Barry is doing something similar with his Brookdale novels, albeit on a much smaller scale, but the effect is the same. By having a common location, and a time frame that overlaps, we are reminded that stories do not take place in a vacuum, and that even though most of the time we are caught up in our own little dramas, everyone around us has their own dramas as well, and events make an impact. The introduction to the short story “Her Decade” has the most information about Barry’s Brookdale world, if you’re interested.
Enough of my blathering on; how English major of me. Here’s the original question:
I read that King’s Dark Tower series is one of your favorite extended pieces of fiction. You’re sort of creating your own King-like universe by using Brookdale as a setting and having characters from different novels and short stories pop up in different places. Was this a conscious decision, and do you think your Brookdale will ever reach King-esque proportions? Do you think some day someone will write a Barry Lyga/Brookdale concordance?
I think mentioning my work in the same breath as King’s Dark Tower is a stretch, to be honest with you. He’s working on a whole different kind of canvas than I am, at least with respect to the complexity and diversity of the Dark Tower stories. Honestly, with Brookdale I was reaching more for Faulkner* and Yoknapatawpha County, with the idea of stories that stand apart, but are interlinked in the backstory. And, God, I just realized how unremittingly arrogant it sounds to compare myself to Faulkner! I’m not saying I think I’m as good as he is –just that he sort of inspired the move to connect the stories. Well, that and comic books, of course. Just about everything I do probably connects to comic books in some way, shape or form, whether I realize it or not.
As to the proportions Brookdale will reach… I don’t know. It’s strange to think about because I have some other things I’m branching out into right now, new universes to play in, so Brookdale is sort of off to the side temporarily. There are at least a half dozen other books set in Brookdale knocking around in my head, though, so once I have the time to write them, we’ll see how much broader that particular world becomes. I never know these things until they actually show up on the page.
And hey — if someone wants to do a Brookdale concordance, I’d be tickled!
I say give Barry ten years, and there will more than likely be a demand for a concordance.
We’re reaching the end, friends. I think all that’s left is one more Chicago question from Barry to be answered…and then he will actually be in Chicago, if I haven’t soured him on the idea entirely. Just don’t try to park anywhere and you’ll be fine, Mr. Lyga.
*I haven’t read as much Faulkner as I should, so I was only dimly aware of this Faulkner world of related characters/incidents. I read As I Lay Dying in college, though, and my professor, Rich Martin, told us a great story about how the first time he read As I Lay Dying, when he got to the chapter that consisted of the sentence “My mother is a fish,” he threw the book across the room and didn’t pick it up again for a week. I’d love to write something–anything–that would cause the reader to forcefully fling the book across the room. The power! bwa ha ha….
Let’s get down to it, kids. I’ve been posting these Barry Lyga interview installments at a much slower pace than I’d like, because At&t is made of fail and I haven’t had internet access at home since the end of January, so I’ve been trying to steal time to work on the blog whenever possible. But we’re here, together, at the moment, so let’s enjoy it, shall we?
[Barry, y]our story “Her Decade” reminded me of the play “Rabbit Hole” by David Lindsay-Abaire (similar plot points of kid kills someone while driving drunk, runs into the family). Which made me think: what would a play by Barry Lyga be like? Would you ever write a play, or would you ever like to see one of your novels adapted for the stage? Maybe Fanboy and Goth Girl: The Musical.
I actually started writing a play in college. It was a one-man show, inspired in some ways by The Canterbury Tales and the Decameron. The idea was it was a guy trapped in an asylum, telling himself stories as a way of trying to stay sane. I never finished it, but now that you’ve brought it up, maybe I will!
Fanboy and Goth Girl: The Musical is one of those ideas that’s so wrong, it just might be right. I can’t imagine how that would work, but I would love to see someone try.
Any time I think of this question, I get the Batman tv show theme song stuck in my head, except I substitute “Goth Girl” for “Batman.” Not really a promising start to a musical, but stranger things have happened. I mean, have you seen some of the musicals getting produced these days?
Anyway…. on to the collaboration question:
Since you’re friends with David Levithan, do you think you’ll ever follow in the steps of Rachel Cohn and John Green* and write a collaborative work with him? How do you feel about collaboration in general, since typically writing is often seen as a rather solitary profession?
David and I have actually joked about this in the past. In a way, we ARE collaborating right now because he’s the editor on ARCHVILLAIN. Collaboration sounds like an amazing experience to me, but I have some pretty serious control freak tendencies, so I sort of fear for the sanity of anyone who collaborates with me. I’m actually collaborating on my first graphic novel right now, but that’s different because I can’t draw to save my life, so I have no choice but to cede complete control over the artwork to the amazing, wondrous Colleen Doran.
But, yeah, I’d like to take a crack at collaborating with another author some day. It’ll probably just take a while for me to get to that point. Plus, I’m pretty busy right now — I don’t really have the time anyway!
Barry’s not kidding about being busy part. In addition to Archvillain and the graphic novel, Barry is working on a project called I Hunt Killers, about a boy who is working on solving murders by making use of a “killer instinct” he’s inherited from his serial killer father. Doesn’t that sound completely awesome? Barry’s shown us his ability to handle dark themes a little bit in Hero-Type and Boy Toy, so I’m really looking forward to his handling of this macabre material.
Speaking of macabre, did you know that Barry is a Stephen King fan? In our next installment, you’ll read about that, and I’ll expound on the origins of Chicago. Or, knowing me, I’ll wander completely off topic and you’ll have to send out a search party. We’ll see.
*I can’t wait to get my hands on Will Grayson/Will Grayson. *bounces with excitement to the great annoyance of all around me*