Saturday, December 1, 2012

A bookstore in the UK linked GIRL with one of my favorite books of the last year:  THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick deWitt !!    My friend Sally who first turned me onto SISTERS, is now listening to it on Audio and likes it so much, I might have to do the same.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Just watched SOMEWHERE by Sofia Coppola and recently also read Sheila Heti's (pictured) book HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE?   The two seemed similar in some way.   I guess in the honesty of their female perspective.   Loved them both, though it's painful as a guy to experience how girls think of us.   Sofia Coppola can be especially brutal.  In VIRGIN SUICIDES there's this scene where the dad opens a beer and watches a football game that I swear, is the most painful thing I've ever watched on film.   The emptiness Coppola sees there, it's horrifying.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The new Sister Spit Anthology is out!   Published by Sister Spits own new imprint at City Lights.  What fun to see that legendary CITY LIGHTS logo on something that I'm actually in!   I loved getting like HOWL and some of Kerouac's books when I was just a kid and hanging around San Francisco.   And stuff like Sam Shepard's MOTEL CHRONICLES, a favorite of mine.

So we read at Skylight Books in Los Feliz which was full and lively as always happens with Sister Spit things.   So fun.  I read from my "tour diary" and everyone seemed amused by my descriptions of college kids in the new Foodie era.   Also present:  the ever wonderful Michelle Tea,  Harry Dodge (pictured), Myriam Gurba, Tara Jepsen, Cassie J. Sneider (pictured left top), Sara Seinberg (pictured left bottom), Tamara Llosa-Sandor.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Found myself googling PARANOID PARK over the holiday.   I don't think about that book much.  I guess because it did well, and the great movie was made from it, it doesn't need my attention anymore.   If all your books are your children, Paranoid Park is my child that went to Harvard and now has a great job.    

Some of my other books are going to community college and are still living in my basement and those are the ones that need my help! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jack Gantos: fashion mentor

Just got done with the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, which for me is basically a 48 hour social anxiety attack, un-medicated (thank you, thank you) but I got through it and anyway, probably everyone else is as freaked out as I am, writers are like that.

Saw fellow Portlander Cheryl Strayed who is having a huge success with her new memoir WILD and she has been on the road for like a month, so imagine what it must be like for her. (Probably better, actually, as you must inevitably get used to these things).

Also got to meet Jack Gantos (above), who is one of my fave kids writers and also, more importantly, my fashion mentor.   I told him, "I didn't know how to dress as a middle aged, male, YA writer, then I saw a picture of you and I was like, oh, okay, I should just do that."

But I was actually at that moment wearing a boring preppie J Crew shirt, but he said, "Well, you've got a nice New England thing going ..." 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The HAIRPIN "Turntable" Interview

By Melissa Locker

Blake Nelson has a knack for writing from a teenage girl's perspective, which has made his young adult fiction some of the most fun and realistic on the market. His first novel, Girl, was published as a serial in Sassy before becoming a book and, eventually, a movie. His much-longed-for follow-up novel, Dream School, came out in December — fittingly enough, also as a serial, although it's now in book form, too. Blake stopped by to spin tunes and chat about Kathleen Hanna, teenage girls, and why the Plain White Ts are the best band in America.

Melissa Locker started playing "Hold The Line Feat. Mr. Lex & Santigold" by Major Lazer

Melissa Locker: Hi Blake!
Blake Nelson: Santigold, oh my god, you've done your homework (she went to the college in the book).
ML: Homework is for winners! So, welcome to Turntable. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this.

Blake Nelson started playing "Destroy Everything You Touch" by Ladytron

ML: I thought you would be a natural fit for one of these interviews, because music is so important in your books.
BN: I was a musician for many years when I was very young. I learned everything I know about the entertainment business in the back of horrible clubs in Worcester, Mass.
ML: That sounds … unhygienic. You also lived in Portland in the '90s. That was quite a music education.
BN: It's so funny to come from that and end up writing "children's books." I love saying that at cocktail parties though. "And what do you do Mr. Nelson?" "I write children's books."
ML: Young Adult fiction has changed and grown so much in the last few years. It must be amazing to witness.

Melissa Locker started playing "Young Adult Friction" by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

BN: Oh, I like this song. I like the name of this band. I love that band that's called I LOVE YOU BUT I HAVE CHOSEN DARKNESS. I think they're from Canada.
ML: I do like band names that are almost sentences, like: And They Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead. It's like, add more words, guys! Make the marquee guys work for it.
BN: Ha ha.
ML: But back to young adult fiction, when you see books like The Hunger Games get mass market, crossover appeal, do you ever want to jump up and down and remind people that you've been doing it better and longer than a lot of people?

Blake Nelson started playing "King Of The Beach" by Wavves

BN: Uh, I'm not sure I've done anything better than Hunger Games, it sounds pretty good. But I like to do literary stuff more, and more realistic so ... I am not going to have a big audience like that. I can still be good though. Have you ever read King Dork by Frank Portman? It is a GREAT book about being a musician and starting a band and all that.
ML: I haven't! But your book Rock Star Superstar touches on the same subject area.
BN: Yeah that's a good one. This is my song fave from my LA time, since it's so LA.
ML: Why is this song so LA?
BN: The Wavves song? Because it's about the beach?
ML: Right. It's very beachy. How did you start writing YA?

Melissa Locker started playing "Teenage FBI" by Guided By Voices

BN: I had this one character in my mind, and I saw that he could be YA. And people had said to me, "You should write YA, your style is really simplistic and you appear to be mildly autistic." So I said, "Okay, I'm gonna try this." And I did, and this woman Regina Hayes bought it at Viking and she was this super cool, awesome woman and I just liked her so much that when she said, "You should write another one," I said, "Okay."
ML: "Mildly autistic" is a HUGE compliment, right? And was Girl your first novel?

Blake Nelson started playing "Stay Monkey" by Julie Ruin

BN: GIRL was my first novel, yeah, but I had written a bunch of stuff by then ... so I wasn't a total amateur.
ML: Love this song.
BN: This record is my favorite by KH.
ML: Tell the nice people reading who KH is.
BN: Kathleen Hanna.
ML: Of Bikini Kill. OG Riot Grrl.
BN: This record is like a novel. It's so obviously done in isolation. It feels so solitary.
ML: Yeah, I can't wait to hear more of this project and see what she does next. Speaking of Riot Grrls, when did you live in Portland, Oregon?

Melissa Locker started playing "More Than This" by Roxy Music

BN: I grew up there. Then I lived there in the late eighties. Then a couple years in the early nineties. And then one year in the mid nineties, then another year in the mid nineties and then from 2007 to 2009.
ML: So you were around in the Riot Grrl years and long enough to really get a sense of the Portland music scene and the place. Your novels always have a really strong sense of place, but since I'm from Portland I'm never sure if I'm just projecting.
BN: Yeah, but that wasn't really on my radar. The riot grrl phenomenon. I knew who Bikini Kill was, and that was very different than what we think now. There was a lot of bad energy around that scene. It was kind of super confrontational and wild.
ML: Really?
BN: Yeah, when Bikini Kill first came out, it was a little ugly. I didn't go to any of their shows. My friend roadied for them and he told me to stay away.
ML: Details.

Blake Nelson started playing "1, 2, 3, 4" by Plain White T's

BN: I don't know. I wasn't there! I mean, I knew all those people eventually. But it was just like they'd stop the gig until all the dudes left. And the worst dudes were there because that was the thing, they were challenging the scene and calling bullshit on all of it, and so all these creepy dudes would show up and there'd be fights. It wasn't this touchy feely thing that people seem to think it was now.
ML: Yeah the YouTube videos of some of the shows definitely validate some of that. They could be very yell-y and confrontational.
BN: That's why the Julie Ruin record is so fascinating. That's what Kathleen did next. And it really shows her withdrawing from that and becoming more ... I hate to say it ... personal and artsy ... she's so amazing.
ML: And she's married to Ad Rock, which is just awesome.

Melissa Locker started playing "Waltz #2 (XO)" by Elliott Smith

BN: That's a really interesting marriage to think about. I can't figure it out myself. But I'm sure it's great.
ML: Ad Rock showed up at a Portlandia live show the other day and everyone in the audience was yelling, "Where's Kathleen?" which I thought was great. What was it in the Portland scene that inspired you to write GIRL?
BN: Actually, it was its normalness and its lack of anything really differentiating it from any other scene. And also it was where I went to high school. So it made sense. In those days, it hadn't become such a "thing" yet. It was still its backwater self.
ML: Just lots of young girls hoping the lead singer notices them?
BN: That's sort of a universal story.
ML: Sad, but true. What made you want to write about it?

Blake Nelson started playing "I Figured You Out" by Mary Lou Lord

BN: I think of Andrea as not a person trying to get Todd's attention, but as a person that's just into that world. And she meets him, and she slowly falls in love with him....
ML: Oh I love Mary Lou Lord!
BN: I love this song. Mary Lou Lord is so real...
ML: She was on Kickstarter trying to raise funds for her next album. I gave her $5.
BN: Really great I meant to type.
ML: Sassy Mag serialized GIRL when it came out.
BN: Yes, thank god, or it wouldn't have been published.
ML: And then you repeated that serialization with the follow up novel, Dream School. Was that a nice bookend to the process?
BN: Yes, if it worked once, do it again!
ML: And then Figment published it. So it worked out both times.
BN: Yeah, it's been super fun having DREAM SCHOOL come out and connecting with all the GIRL fans and just like...

Melissa Locker started playing "Back In Your Head" by Tegan & Sara

BN: Tegan and Sara!
ML: They are up and comers! Again!
BN: I love how everyone hates LANA DEL REY. Everyone hated the SMITHS too. And now they are part of the canon.
ML: Jessica Hopper said today that everything people are saying about Lana Del Rey could be considered musical slut shaming. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I also get it.

Blake Nelson started playing "Born to Die" by Lana del Rey

ML: But I don't think she was ready for SNL, and I think she did a lousy job.
BN: Interesting. I sort of scoffed at Amy Winehouse at first, but now I love her so much.
ML: RIP Amy Winehouse.
BN: I love Pitchfork and that whole scene of geeks judging people who actually try to do things.
ML: Those who can't, write bitchy reviews. That said, I write a lot of reviews. Hire me, Pitchfork!
ML: What took you so long to write Dream School?
BN: I was busy. I was working on other projects. Ha ha!
ML: With all the '90s nostalgia floating around today, have people come calling about GIRL or other work?
BN: Yeah, sure, we've done a ton of stuff. It's been really fun.

Melissa Locker started playing "Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire)" by Y.A.C.H.T.

ML: Any chance GIRL is going to be re-made into a movie? Reboots are the new black.
BN: That's a really good idea. It's not really up to me though.
ML: Speaking of movies, what was it like working with Gus Van Sant to make Paranoid Park?
BN: I like really short songs and really short books. I think we have to get away from these 600 page books.
ML: I will admit my attention span is about 300 pages, preferably 250. Oops I just said that publicly, now The New Yorker will never hire me.
BN: That was another thing about YA books I really like. SHORT.
ML: That's what I like about YA, too. Plus I feel like the nature of YA requires authors to strip plots and dialogue down. I really respond to the simplicity.
BN: Me too.

Blake Nelson started playing "You Can't Be Friends With Everyone" by Make Out

ML: Have you ever considered writing for adults? Or, rather, for adults who don't read YA.
BN: GIRL was originally an adult book. I wrote it basically for Kim Gordon [of Sonic Youth] for some reason. And for my friends who had been through the '80s punk scene of when I was in high school. The tone of it was originally "look how stupid we all were." And how adorably confused. But then about halfway through, I realized that the kids of that time (the Sassy '90s) were going to be the real audience. They were gonna eat it up. And I actually felt this deep thrilling FEAR in my chest, like what if I became the J.D. Salinger of my time? Or more likely the Jackie Collins/J.D. Salinger of my time? And that's what sort of happened.

Melissa Locker started playing "Schizophrenia" by Sonic Youth

ML: Kim Gordon? Wow! Also, Jackie Collins/J.D. Salinger?
BN: I didn't know her or anything. I just had her in my mind for some reason ... I thought: oh, this will be my pop novel.
ML: Do you read a lot of Jackie Collings?
BN: Just Hollywood Wives...
ML: Well, yeah, of course. I was just wondering if reading a lot of Jackie Collins was the secret to cross-gender writing success

Blake Nelson started playing "1, 2, 3, 4" by Plain White T's

BN: Oh, I don't know. Is she? I never understand why people think it's so unusual that I write from a girl's perspective. Lots of people do it. PLAIN WHITE T'S, the heart and soul of America.
ML: But you have this knack of tapping into not just girls' minds, but teen girls' minds, which I don't even think their moms can do.
BN: Yeah, well what's more interesting than a teenaged girl? Not much. Teenaged girls are like ... they're the most important humans on the planet. Our fate hangs in their hands!
ML: My only problem with the Plain White T’s is that this guy would blast "Hey There Delilah" in his car outside my window over and over and over again.
BN: Yeah overkill is bad.
ML: For like a month. It was nuts! And teen girls like Tavi from Rookie really are taking over the world. It's so impressive to watch. I wish I hadn't spent so much time puppy-dogging after rock stars when I was in high school like your heroine in GIRL.

Melissa Locker started playing "Battery Kinzie" by Fleet Foxes

BN: Who was you favorite?
ML: Rock star?
BN: Yeah?
ML: Oh jeez. I'm supposed to be interviewing you! But I was in Portland in the late '90s.
BN: Really?
ML: There were so many options.
BN: Courtney Courtney Taylor [from the Dandy Warhols].
ML: NO! But he did sell me my first pair of Doc Martens and invite me to his show, but not the Dandys, the Beauty Stab, his hair metal band.
BN: What were you doing in Portland?
ML: I grew up there. Born and raised.
BN: No shit. Where did you go to high school?
ML: Lincoln.
BN: Wow. I went to West Sylvan.

Melissa Locker started playing "Where Is My Mind?" by The Pixies

ML: Oh yeah? All my friends went there. But I was a magnet student.
BN: Lincoln High school; Mark Rothko, Elliott Smith, Matt Groening ... pretty impressive.
ML: The Portland Art Museum is having a Rothko retrospective.
BN: I'm going to be there Feb. 27 to March 5.
ML: You can see the show then.
BN: I will check it out … I always think Mark Rothko's paintings are about first love. The blindingness of first love.
ML: I have not heard that theory before.
BN: Epicness...
ML: Yes, that for sure. Overwhelming emotion.
BN: That's a California word: epic. Also I say gnarly now. And rad. All because I live in LA now. California is its own world. It's like living in another country. And they're sort of fascists a little, but it's okay because everything is neat and clean and the dudes come and trim the palm trees every Tuesday.
ML: Hahaha. Does it affect your writing?
BN: Yeah. Totally. It affects everything. I just wrote a book that is unlike anything I've ever done.
ML: Can you talk about it?
BN: Can't say. But California … it makes you happy.

Blake Nelson started playing "Our Deal" by Best Coast

BN: I think of my childhood as a Portlander in that constant gloom. And then all my years as a struggling artist in the cold grit of NY. And now I'm like, wow, I go to the beach and I go on hikes and everyone is sort of nice and not super-serious....
ML: Going from Portland to New York seems like a big improvement, what with the no rain thing, but California and sunshine? And the beach? That sounds like perfection. Do you listen to Best Coast and Wavves all the time now?
BN: They are the "first couple" of Indie California so I pay homage.
ML: Nice.

Blake Nelson started playing "Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's

ML: nooooooooooo
ML: ooooooooooooooooo
ML: oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Like everyone else “in the know” in high school, I looked to Blake Nelson’s Girl like it was my bible. All the confusing feelings and twisted emotions I was having as a nonconformist teenager were documented perfectly in this book. My friends and I passed around our one collective copy, each signing it like it was a sacred artifact.

There’s something about Blake Nelson enthusiasts, but Girl and now Dream School fans in particular—you can spot them from a mile away. Like there's an underground code, a secret handshake, a fight club without the fighting. I ran into my old friend Tyler the other day on the subway and I held up my book for him to see, wondering if it meant anything to him. He seemed like a would-be fan. He held up his own copy of Dream School and we laughed. I wasn’t surprised.

I recently got the chance to interview Blake Nelson over email and his responses were yet another reminder of how much I love his work, his decisions, and his characters. Warning: If you haven’t read the book yet, this interview may contain a few spoiler alerts. And, uh, what are you waiting for?

Jesse: Andrea left Wellington on a pretty abrupt and dramatic note. Did you have a similar experience at Wesleyan?

Blake: Yeah, I left Wesleyan kind of hastily. My situation was more based around the band I was in. We were always getting into trouble. It reached a point where we needed to not be there. So we left.

Jesse: In general, how similar was your Wesleyan experience to Andrea’s at Wellington? Did you have a Vanessa, a Carol, an Andrew, a Paul?

Blake: It’s somewhat similar, not those actual people though. The thing about her not finding her own people at first—that did happen. When I first arrived at Wesleyan I thought it was going to be all these East Coast hipsters. But most people had, like, Bob Marley posters in their rooms. It was, like, this prep school time warp. It took until my sophomore year to find ONE person who was into the same stuff I was. He was wearing a Bad Brains button. What a relief that was . . .

Jesse: When you first started writing the book, did you know Andrea was going to wind up leaving college early, or more importantly, that she was going to leave feeling “unchanged” to a certain degree? Like, changed, but not changed in the end-all-be-all way she had anticipated?

Blake: No, I just started the book and let it flow and take me to wherever it was going to go. I didn’t even know she was going to be a writer! As for being unchanged, I think she was changed a lot actually. I’m not sure, if she’d gone to Oregon State, that she could have ever taken herself seriously as a writer. That was the secret benefit of Wellington. Because people at places like that take themselves so seriously. They think they could be writers. It makes it easier for someone like Andrea to do so well.

Jesse: Andrea is pretty comfortable with herself, confident in her decisions, and able to “go with the flow.” She doesn’t seem to sweat the small stuff or obsess over everything the way some girls her age might. Where did the idea for Andrea’s character, her sophisticated and wise attitude in particular, come from?

Blake: You think of her as wise? Ha ha. Well, that’s a compliment I guess! I think of her as . . . well, she’s from a small city, Portland, so she has that small town common sense thing. I don’t know if she’s sophisticated. She does feel grounded to me. But also na├»ve. She’s obviously some composite of me and other people I’ve known and the kind of people I enjoy meeting. But I don’t really make decisions about her personality. She just is.

Jesse: Another thought about Andrea’s character . . . I always thought (in Girl first, and now in Dream School) it was really interesting how she straddles both the punk and mainstream worlds so seamlessly. It seems like a very conscious decision on your part; why did you make it? Were you like that at all growing up?

Blake: Yeah I was like that. I’ve got the classic writer personality of being able to blend in and sort of exist in different worlds. I think for Andrea it’s more part of the process of becoming herself. She starts off being this totally normal person, on the surface, at least. And then slowly she makes the transition to something less mainstream. I love remembering people I knew in high school who made dramatic shifts. Guys who would show up at shows and be, like, the most normal nerdy types. And then they’d come back the next week and be totally punk or whatever. They would totally change in one week.

Jesse: This is kind of a predictable question, but . . . Why did you wait so long before writing the sequel to Girl? And had you always known there would be a sequel?

Blake: I wrote the sequel around 1998-2000. Then I couldn’t get my original Girl publisher to publish it, (it was a little late in their eyes). Over the next couple years, I brought it up with different publishers, but could never get the right fit. Then in 2008 I met Lauren Cerand who was this really smart media person and a Girl fan and she helped me find Figment, which is an online writing community for teens mostly but older people too. Figment was just starting and they were looking for something fun and interesting to help launch their site. They had the idea of serializing it, like we did originally in Sassy. When Figment saw the numbers of people who were reading it on their site, they decided to publish it. It was really a good fit, especially in that Figment is all about helping young writers find their voice and Dream School is essentially about Andrea finding her writer’s voice.

Jesse: Another popular question, I would imagine, but I still don’t know the answer . . . How do you, as an adult male, get inside the head of a teenage girl sooo well?

Blake: I don’t know. One thing: I don’t think it’s so much about gender. I think gender is overrated. I think boys and girls think most of the same thoughts . . . In my case, maybe I’m confident enough in my belief that gender is not that profound, that I can let Andrea be, and not try to make her overly “female.” I let her be a person first, then I sprinkle a little girl-ness on top.

Jesse: Todd Sparrow, ABlakeOne.jpgndrea’s hot rock star boyfriend in Girl, was obviously a hugely integral part to the book. Did you think about putting him in Dream School, or was it always clear there was no place for Todd Sparrow there?

Blake: Going off to college, she is pretty removed from Todd Sparrow’s world. So it seems natural that they wouldn’t bump into each other. Maybe he’ll show up in a future book. Todd Sparrow was always an enigmatic figure for me. I had trouble getting him clear in my mind as I wrote Girl. I solved the problem by remembering Courtney Love—a fellow Portland scene person. She could be so charming and funny even though she seemed like a borderline street person. So when I struggled with Todd, like, “Why would Andrea like him so much?” I would think of Courtney at her best, being brilliant and magnetic and having this quality of sweeping you away into [her] world, which was so much more interesting than the ordinary world.

Jesse: How did the movie adaptation of Girl come about, and what did you think of it?

Blake: A production company called Muse Productions—they had done Buffalo 66, which I had loved so I was hopeful. Some interesting people were involved at different times. Sarah Jacobson—who has since passed away but was this amazing figure in the indie film world at the time—was going to direct at one point. But they kept changing people. When they finally finished it, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. It was nobody’s fault; that just happens with movies sometimes. But it was shown endlessly on cable, and got the book a ton of publicity, so I was happy.

Jesse: Have you thought at all about further continuing Andrea’s story line still? Even if you never write about Andrea Marr again, do you feel like you have a sense of what happens to her after the book ends?

Blake: Yeah, I’ve thought about doing another book. I don’t know where she’ll end up or what will happen to her. I’m not sure that matters to me that much. I feel like her youth, like with most people, is probably the most interesting part of her. After that, she’ll get older. She’ll be like an old person. She’ll still be who she is but in a more sedate manner.

Jesse: Cheers to that.