Friday, February 18, 2011

RIP Perry Moore

Perry Moore, whom I interviewed here back in 2007, has been found dead in his NYC apartment of, according to sources in the NY Daily News, possible prescription overdose. He was found by his partner, Hunter Hill. This is nothing but sad, so I'm reposting the interview (sans most of my commentary) from when he was hot off his YA Title, Hero, and the success of producing the first of the new Narnia movies.

November 6, 2007:

In Hero, we find a teen who wants more than anything to have a superpower, to work with the heroes he admires, and to bring his family out from under the infamous shadow his former superhero father casts. There's more though; Thom is gay. His father makes openly homophobic statements, and as Thom slowly discovers that he does have superpower, he has to hide more that just his sexuality from his dad, since heroes and power are just as forbidden as being gay.

Perry Moore enters the world of teen lit from a unique angle, his other job is as a producer on the Chronicles of Narnia movies. This of course makes me rather curious:

1. You are a first time novelist who's coming from Hollywood. Have you read much of the current fiction written for young adults? What have you especially enjoyed? As a producer, is there a teen book out there you'd love to see on the screen?

I’ve always been a rabid fan of YA literature. That’s how I came to play such a special part in getting the Chronicles of Narnia made. Sheer passion for staying true to what makes the source material special. By the way, I don’t come from Hollywood. I live in NY. Only lived in two places in my life. First Virginia, then New York. I go to Hollywood often to work, but I’ve never lived there. To be honest, I think that played a crucial difference in helping to get the rights to Narnia. I’m not very Hollywood. It’s funny because most reviews will often mention this like I’m some Hollywood producer taking luxurious baths in all my cash, but it’s not like that at all. My passion is good storytelling. Always has been. I live in a modest one-bedroom in NY. I work out at the local rec center. I play tennis on public courts. I surf waves in Montauk, not Hawaii.

At any rate, I loved so many books growing up. I never knew how much of a bookworm I really was until I started working in Hollywood where few people have time to read books. My favorites, among so many others, were The Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, S.E. Hinton’s books, I went through a huge Lois Duncan period when I was a boy, too. I’m sure they’re so many more. Actually, I’d classify Stephen King’s Carrie as a YA book, too. I just loved that one. The movie was good to, It was such a dream to co-direct a movie with Sissy Spacek as the star. I would love to make Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles into a movie franchise like Narnia. Same for Madeleine L’Engle’s books. Not to mention HERO! (Stan Lee is hard at work?)

2. Thom is mostly unaware of the extent of the power he wields - to the point that he doesn't even take credit for what he does. Not only that, but he doesn't SEE the good he does - only the inadvertent side affects. Poor kid's got some serious self-esteem issues. Even taking away the power element, Thom's got a lot of normal-kid angst. What do you want reader's to take from Thom's experiences?

The book doesn’t feel like homework: it’s a fantastic book, full of love, hope, loss, bottoming out, seemingly insurmountable challenges, and redemption. My theme is very true: That those very things that may make you feel alienated are actually what make you unique, and once you embrace those things and integrate them into your life, well, that’s about the most powerful thing you can become!

3. There is a lot of inherent conflict with Thom's power. What stops him from getting bombarded with people wanting him to heal them?

Wait until the sequel for more on that one.

4. Much relies plot-wise on Thom remaining ignorant of the extent of his power. I had difficulty believing that once he accepted that he had power that he didn't run around experimenting and familiarizing himself with it. Could you enlighten me?

Well, Thom grew up in a household where powers were strictly taboo. Much like being gay. I didn’t run around experimenting with being gay when I was young, much like Thom doesn’t run around doing that or experimenting with his powers. Plus, he doesn’t have one of those obvious powers like flying that we all want to have where you’d just love to soar the heavens if you found out you could do it.

5. You took a bit of a risk on page 203 in allowing Thom's first kiss to happen with a stranger who offered him a ride. Why the choice? Any worry that might incur some opposition?

You have to write the truth. This was the truth to the story. I’d been there, a lot of people have been there, and Thom went there. It happens. At a certain point the characters take over, and you just have to make sure that you, as the writer, doesn’t get in the way. As far as opposition goes, I’m not really all that bothered. Sure there will be some people who don’t want to recognize truth, there always are. But the truth will set you free!

6. In your opinion, what are some of the lamest super-powers out there? What were some of the powers you discarded?

Look at Pied Piper. One of DC’s token gay characters. Sometimes a good guy, sometimes a bad guy. Blows on a pipe to make others do his bidding. Ugh.

7. On your site you've listed gay characters in comics. Listed thusly, it becomes disturbingly clear that most of them are either evil or meet horrible ends. Why did you decide to write this as a novel, where we find many positive depictions of gays, rather than in Graphic Novel format, where you could perhaps enact some change?

First, YA books changed my life. They opened me up to a world of hope and change. It’s why I loved all the books I mentioned above. CS Lewis taught me that tapping into a young person’s mind, without condescending to them, is one of the most powerful things you can do. Don’t think young people are as stupid as what you see on MTV. They’re not. They’re imaginations are limitless. So I chose to tell the story in book form first. Would love to do a 12 part miniseries for Marvel or DC, too. About time they stepped up to the plate. They’ve never had a story starring the world’s first gay teenage superhero, and if HERO is any indication, there’s a tremendous appetite for it. With regards to the list, let’s make it better. Let’s update it. Things will get better! E-mail me!

My parents taught me two very important things. One, none of us were put on this great earth to ride on the back of the bus, and two, the pen is mightier than the sword. Write Marvel, write DC, tell them what you want!

8. Superheroes first made their indelible mark on society just before and during WWII, and have experienced a recent resurgence of mass appeal with movie after movie adaptation, when, at the same time, the world has become increasingly unstable. What do these powered heroes provide us both then and now?

What a great question. Not sure I can articulate the best answer because being a lifelong comic book fan that aspect of superheroes has always been so ingrained in me, just part of my nature. I believe there’s a HERO in all of us! There’s a tremendous appeal in that inspiration.

9. In my limited comic knowledge, I've found that alien superheroes always comment disparagingly on humans tendency to abuse our environment, and that evil alien supervillians use it as an excuse to try and destroy earth, under the famous and brilliant "you-weren't-appreciating-it-anyway" clause of argument. Since both of these things happen in HERO, what do you have to say about the trend? Is it merely an environmental message or chastisement? (p415)

I didn’t know it was a trend. As far as I know, it’s not the majority of what supervillains are after in the comics I read. I guess there are a few. Please write me about trends and things you see or things you want to see explored in the sequel. I’d love to hear more. Excellent question.

(Jackie: I was mostly thinking of Karolina's alien betrothed in Runaways & The Silver Surfer in F4. And possibly all the Captain Planet cartoons I watched as a littlie. Admittedly, this is not my area of expertise.)

10. "I had never let myself fantasize about being with someone my age, because it stopped being a fantasy at that point. It entered the realm of possibility, and that's where you can really get hurt" (p396). That? That right there? That stopped my heart. It's more than just about relationships - I think it applies to anyone who wants something but is too scared to go after it. What was your great fear that you had to overcome to get what you truly wanted?

You got it. Man, you really got it. I think anyone can relate to that unrequited crush in school that was so very real. There was a guy two years older than me on the basketball squad above mine. In many ways, he inspired Goran. Obviously I could never say anything to him. What would you say to that person now?

11. I was surprised to find myself thinking of Nick Hornby when reading HERO. Are you a fan? Would you put HERO in the category of "Lad Lit," albeit on the younger side?

I’d consider it an honor to be lumped in with Nick Hornby on any list.

12. In your interview yesterday (part 1, part 2) with The YA YA YAs, you said: "Anything Walden Media makes will be good, for instance, because they stay so true to what makes the book special in the first place. If you want to satisfy both audiences, you must stay true to that great story." Do you stand by this statement now that they've released The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising in conjunction with 20th Century Fox? Cheeky, aren’t I?

You are indeed cheeky. I wasn’t involved in that movie, so I don’t have anything to say about it. Haven’t seen it either, but I do love anything Susan Cooper writes. Moreover, I do stand by my words regarding Walden Media’s commitment. Their support of Narnia is the reason those movies exist! Same goes for Bridge to Terabithia and Holes with Shia LaBoeuf. Unless you’ve made one, you can’t imagine how hard it is to make a stellar movie. Truly it takes a miracle of commitment. And Walden has that commitment. They’ve revolutionized the industry in so many ways.

13. You've told us to wait for the sequel. Can you give us any hints (no spoilers) for what's to come?

I love this question! Yes, this will be a series. Like I said, please e-mail me about what you want to know more about, because I’m in major planning stages. Now that these characters are alive, they keep coming to me with their stories. Hmmmm? hints. Well, what do you think Thom’s mom has really been up to all these years in her absence? And how do you know the Invisible Woman is really dead if you can’t find a body? Wonder about where Thom and Goran’s relationship is headed? And what exactly are the true natures of Goran’s abilities and his background? Expect a lot more from Typhoid Larry, Scarlett, Golden Boy, and some new characters, too! Remember, as Thom learns in the first book, things aren’t always what they seem!

Thanks, Perry, for spending some time with us!

Read the full interview with my obnoxious commentary.

Here's hoping I never have to do this again.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Sorta Like a Rock Star or Fame With or Without Spotlights

There's always chatter among writers and publishers about the slush pile. The great mass of unsolicited manuscripts that publishers are sent every day. While I've never worked at a publishing house, I have to say that for me, the first few weeks of the Cybils is always a little like being confronted by an enormous slush pile that you have three months to get through. After five years, I've somehow come up with an odd balance of excitement and apathy that works for me. Essentially, I lower my expectations, and don't put too much thought into what the next book to read will be. I allow myself to be pleasantly surprised.

One particular quirk I have about reading is that I don't like to read to far into reviews, or the book description before I read. Invariably, too much is given away, and it sucks the fun out of the whole thing for me. Going along with that, I don't pay a whole lot of attention with the blurbs that show up on everything. But, in the Cybils slush pile that appeared on my kitchen table, I couldn't help but notice that Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (Incidentally, I went to college with a guy with this name, so that never stops weirding me out.) was blurbed by Justina Chen and Sara Zarr. When I flipped open the back cover, there was a blurb from Dana Reinhardt. I love all three of these authors. All three. I knew what I was reading next.

There is no one like Amber Appleton. She's frank, honest, and not only willing to see the bright side of everything and everyone, she's going to make the world a better place through sheer force of will. She WILL win over even the most curmudgeonly. But her unfailing optimism isn't merely altruism. It's how she gets through the day. It's how she can bear her life. Amber Appleton doesn't have the best of mothers. When mom's last boyfriend kicked them out, they had nowhere to go, and now live on the school bus mom drives for a paycheck. It's cold on an unheated bus in Pennsylvania in the winter. It's lonely when mom's out trolling for men until late. It sorta, like, sucks. But Amber Appleton knows it will get better. Because, really, it can't get worse. Of course, it can, and it does. And even the spectacular, remarkable hope that Amber has always possessed and shared freely can't raise her above the pain she's about to endure.

I want to repeat this for emphasis: There is no one like Amber Appleton. She is both annoying and uplifting. Her voice is so unique and so powerful. One of both the strengths and weaknesses of Sorta Like a Rock Star is Amber's jargon. As someone who works with teens, I know that many have weak filters and an annoying habit of saying the same phrases and exclamations over and over. Most of that stuff is normally cut out of novels in favor of readability. That's not necessarily the case with SLARS. "True? True."

"[Mom] never again tried to make me play sports, although we ate many more hoagies on that bench and fed flocks of ducks for years to come -- and the feeding-ducks memories are something I truly treasure. Quack, quack. Ducks. Pretty killer" p 14-15.

Random meanderings like that are fairly typical for Amber, and frankly, I've known a teen or two who would say things like that. It serves to lighten up the rather serious mood of the preceding thoughts, and prevents Amber for dwelling on the horrible situation she's saddled with. But, it doesn't necessarily make it easier to read if you haven't already been completely captured by her voice in general. Which I was.

But above voice, and above a great depiction of setting, is character. Amber is kicked when she's already down, and it changes her. She goes from the most positive, uplifting person in that town, to an angry, hurt, sad individual. Regardless of whether a reader understood Amber before, by the time she gets to the depth of her depression, you simply can not look away. Her pain is palpable.

"I decide to quit being Amber Appleton, which isn't to say that I change my name or anything. I just decide that I can't keep living the way I used to live -- swinging for the fences, believing that things are going to work out, that everything is worth fighting for, and that I am brave and strong enough to change my reality, because I'm not and I can't. Joan of Old was right. I get her now, and what she said about life being a hell that I was only beginning to experience -- that makes sense suddenly" p 178.

However, even though she herself wouldn't have believed it, Amber Appleton isn't one to stay down.

I think more than any other book I read this year for the Cybils, this is the one that stays with me. This is the one that has a special place in my heart.

Obviously, the sequel should be entitled "I'm Kinda a Big Deal." <-- Joke.