Hi readers! I’ve another fantastic interview for you today with Gene Kendall about his novel yeah, shut up. Enjoy!
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Anything overly interesting about my background probably isn’t something I’m going to reveal to the world, but…I’ve been writing online for almost ten years now. Last year, I finished my first novel. I’ve always had my face in a book, and the idea of perhaps one day writing a novel was something I toyed with, just like most dedicated readers likely do.
I have stereotypical “fanboy” tendencies, and have developed obsessive interests in things that most people would only view as passive entertainment. Which is probably a healthier attitude to have towards such things. I also try, especially as an adult, to keep these things in perspective.
What inspired you to write?
Probably a simple arrogance that I could at least do it as well as others. That doesn’t mean that I actually can, of course, but I think that’s the starting point of most people who try to do anything. Also, I honestly did feel as if I had a story to tell, and that there might be some form of audience for it.
What inspired your novel?
There was a very basic inspiration early on — a conversation with someone around my age about the sea of bands plucked from obscurity and given an opportunity to possibly, maybe, but probably not, become the next Nirvana. And how those bands have virtually disappeared from memory; some of these bands, we couldn’t remember their name, but we remembered the hooks from their singles. Often the only singles the bands seemed to have.
I started to think about these bands, what it would be like to be 22 or something and you’re offered a record deal, rushed into a studio, shoved in front of the camera for a video, and then sent off on a bus for six months to see if you sell 100,000 copies or not. And if not, you’re toast.
This, coupled with some ideas I had about family and friendship and the bonds formed early in life, provided the basis for the novel.
I tried to do research and still don’t see the proper term. It’s technically “commercial fiction” I believe, although I don’t know how “commercial” it is, as it focuses on the failure of a struggling band to obtain commercial success. It’s also contemporary fiction, in a sense, even though most of the novel is set twenty years ago. Not very contemporary.
What draws you to this genre?
I wanted to tell a story grounded in reality, that focuses on character over plot. It’s not a thriller or a mystery, nor does it exist in a fantasy realm. It’s set in boring everyday reality, starring characters trying to escape boring everyday reality.
How did you develop your plot and your characters?
I didn’t want the setting to exist simply as nostalgia. I wanted the common themes of the music (and overall media narratives) of this era to be reflected in the plot, and for the actual events surrounding the music industry to impact the characters in some way. We were told in the 1990s that latchkey kid had now grown up, creating a generation of disaffected youth with poor relationships with their parents and cynical views toward authority. I took that as a starting place to develop one of the lead characters. If you really were the kid in songs like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Father of Mine”, then how would you enter adulthood? What would drive you? After having a pretty good idea of who this person would be, I then tried to conceive of characters who would bounce off of him in interesting ways. That’s the starting place of the characters, but ideally, I wanted to craft legitimate personalities so that they didn’t exist as obvious “point-counterpoint” figures.
While working out the plot, I thought it might be fun to have the status of this band reflect the overall status of the music industry, which unbeknownst to everyone, was on the verge of collapsing at the time. There’s some dramatic significance to the creation of Napster in 1999…as the century was drawing to a close, the seeds of the destruction of the music business had already been planted. Also, if you were born in the late ’70s or early ’80s, that means that your childhood was dying just as the millennium was coming to an end. I wanted to use the death of the previous century, the death of “old media” and analog communications, as a backdrop for the death of childhood dreams and adolescent fantasies.
What inspired your protagonist?
I wanted the two leads to have personalities that stood in clear contrast, but I also wanted their friendship to remain believable. Meeting those needs helped to define the characters. As I mentioned, the common themes of the music of this era inspired the basic idea behind the character of David, and after establishing his personality, I had a decent idea of how the other characters around him should be played.
What inspired your antagonist?
I didn’t like the strict idea of an antagonist as a villain, conspiring against the heroes of the story. I tend to view one of the characters as his own worst enemy, so that creates more than enough conflict. Also, I think time itself is an antagonist. The fervor to sign these bands only lasted a few years, and after being signed, they only had a handful of months to prove themselves. The burdens of adulthood, clashing against your youthful passions, is another form of antagonism.
What was the hardest part to write in the book?
Simply knowing “when to say when” was difficult at times. I didn’t want to oversell certain ideas, but wasn’t sure if I was being too subtle. There are also some lengthy dialogue exchanges in the book, and I questioned when I should or shouldn’t be adding bits of prose to the conversations.
What was your favourite part of your book to write?
My favorite part was simply finishing it. (And then came the proofreading, which was more of a burden than I initially thought…)
Are you a full time or a part time writer? If part time, what do you do besides write?
I work a rather non-exciting office job. I enjoy writing, but the idea of pursuing it full-time as a career doesn’t seem to fit my sensibilities. I enjoy having health insurance, for instance.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading “The Coming of the Fairies” by Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s Doyle attempting to rationalize his belief that two girls have honestly discovered fairies. The idea that Sherlock Holmes’ creator fell for this is just one of my favorite quirky historical facts from that era. More on the case can be found here.
A more contemporary novel I read and enjoyed recently is St. John Karp’s Radium Baby.
Who would you say are your favourite authors?
I grew up reading Mark Twain and Jack London. As a teenager, I was heavily into Kurt Vonnegut. Today, I download pretty much anything that’s easily available. I usually read Edgar Rice Burroughs, H G Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and G. K. Chesterton.
In terms of contemporary fiction, I enjoy Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels. Some more than others.
How about your favourite books? What would be your top 5?
In no real order: Slaughterhouse Five, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would have to throw in Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac novel. After I bought it, I read it twice in the course of five months or so; Graysmith’s dedication to that case and the way he presents the facts is utterly fascinating. Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm also need to be in there somewhere, but that’s over five.
What are your future projects, if any?
I’m working on my second novel. I think I’m probably around eighty percent finished, but who knows.
I ‘m also contributing to the Comics Should be Good! blog at comicbookresources.com. My two current projects are Adventures(s) Time here and The Guide to the Guide to Comics here. Adventures(s) Time examines the animated DC Universe created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm (and many other talented creators), while The Guide to the Guide to Comics is an exploration into the most successful, and controversial, comics fanzine of all time. I’m also examining the work of television writer David Milch at the Gentlemen of Leisure site.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you and your books?
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Regarding my personal experience with Kindle Unlimited, I compiled my advice here.
As for promoting a novel as an independent writer, I’ll admit I’m pretty clueless there. Seems as if you have to send 100,000 emails in the hopes that someone will review your book.
For specific writing advice, there’s no shortage of information online. My personal preference leans towards Kurt Vonnegut’s. A year or so ago, I read this quote: “Daydreaming is the enemy of creativity” — meaning that daydreaming but not sitting down and doing the work actually undermines creativity. True creativity requires making a goal to accomplish something and putting in the hours necessary to create the work. The old advice about writing a page a day is solid, and even if you can’t do a full page, at least make a commitment to accomplish something each day. If you’re committed to daily work, within a few weeks you’ll honestly be able to see your story shaping into something, which is a nice inspiration to keep going.
Thank you to Gene Kendall for allowing me the chance to interview him. If you’re looking for something more reality based to read, be sure to check his book out!