Author Interview with Len Vlahos
Can I sneak in a question about Scar Boys? What made you choose punk as the style of music for the band Harry and Johnny put together? Was it strictly based on your own experience or preferences or is there something more about that genre of music that particularly inspired the story? (Other than the sad truth that there are seriously not enough books about punk kids in bands. What’s up with that?)
I love this question. It was based on both my experience – Woofing Cookies, the band I played in when I was younger, was a punk-pop band – and on knowing first-hand that the punk world is more welcoming to those who don’t conform to standards or norms. It was a perfect fit for Harry.
Yes! Strangely, I hadn’t really thought about the misfit element of the punk scene as it would relate to Harry. But now that you say that, I’m like duh. Yes. Totally fits.
Do you listen to music while you write? Were there songs that most inspired your favorite moments in Life in a Fishbowl?
For the most part, I do not listen to music when I write. My preference is for ambient sound, and anonymity – meaning no family and friends. It’s why I wrote most of Life in a Fishbowl (and Scar Girl) on a commuter train from Connecticut to New York City, and why I do most of my writing now in coffee shops. (We moved to Colorado, so no more commuter train.)
However, I do listen to music when I’m editing, and when I’m writing for blogs. (I’m listening to Bob Marley’s Legend right now. It’s the really cool vinyl in the colors of the Jamaican flag.)
Ha! That’s a fun pick. So all that writing about music on a train with no music. Is there a music element to the story of Life in a Fishbowl?
Deliberately no. So much of The Scar Boys (and Scar Girl) was drawn from personal experience that I really wanted to step outside of my own sphere of knowledge and comfort zone. I wanted to write something cut from whole cloth; to prove to myself that I could really write.
Music won’t play a role in my next book either – can’t share any details about that just yet – but I would like to get back to it someday. (If for no other reason than I get to bring my guitar on book tour.)
A guitar and a book tour sound like a perfect match. I’ve been surprised at how different Life in a Fishbowl is from your other books– not in a bad way! How did the story Life in a Fishbowl come to you? Did the whole idea arrive fully formed, or did one particular element spark the story and gradually it took shape?
It was the latter. I read an online article about a man named Ian Usher who had put his life for sale – his house, his car, even his friends and his cat (if I remember correctly) – after going through a bitter divorce. It made me wonder, what would happen if someone put their actual life for sale on eBay? What would make them do it, and who would bid on it?
At the same time, I had seen a movie when I was younger called Whose Life Is It Anyway? (Not to be confused with Whose Line Is It Anyway?) It was the story a sculptor, who, after an accident and paralyzes him from the neck down, decides to end his life. The film tackles euthanasia head on, and I’ve been fascinated with that topic ever since.
Fishbowl grew out of the clash of those two ideas.
I like how the story explores both those ideas. What do you most hope readers take away from Life in a Fishbowl?
This is a tough question. I guess I hope people take some small amount of inspiration to question the validity and veracity of what we see in media. Just because it’s on a screen does not make it true. We have an obligation to seek and accept the truth when it’s presented.
That said, one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of writing is learning what readers see in your work that you never saw to begin with.
[SPOILER] For example, I had no idea Cheyenne was pregnant at the end of The Scar Boys – which is the set-up for Scar Girl – until a reader told me. Crazy, right?
That’s really awesome. What a cool thing for readers to know they can impact a story so deeply. I love that!
Looking beyond your novels, are there books you’ve read recently deserves a greater spotlight or changed your life in a meaningful way? What makes it so special?
You don’t have enough space for me to really answer this question, but here are a few that have had an impact:
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – An honest and difficult look at police treatment of African American men. If ever a book was a conversation starter, it was this one.
The Magus, by John Fowles – I hardly remember what this book is about – other than it was really trippy – but I read it in two days when I had the flu in the mid 1980s. It’s the book I credit with changing me from a casual to a voracious reader.
Ready Player One by Ernie Cline and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, because, well, because. (I’ve read and listened to both.)
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf – It’s the book my mom read to me every night when I was five, and I think it did a lot to shape who I am.
As for recently, I just read The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan and listened to Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas, both of which were brilliant. Brilliant.
This is a great list, and I want to comment on so many of them. I loved Because You’ll Never Meet Me and JUST bought All American Boys with a Christmas gift card. I will have to check out some of the others you mentioned. Thanks so much for your time!
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About Life in a Fishbowl
Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Everything she says and does 24/7 is being taped and broadcast to every television in America. Why? Because her dad is dying of a brain tumor and he has auctioned his life on eBay to the highest bidder: a ruthless TV reality show executive at ATN.
Gone is her mom’s attention and cooking and parent-teacher conferences. Gone is her sister’s trust ever since she’s been dazzled by the cameras and new-found infamy. Gone is her privacy. Gone is the whole family’s dignity as ATN twists their words and makes a public mockery of their lives on Life and Death. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day very soon her father will just be . . . gone. Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie is determined to end the show and reclaim all of their lives, even in death.
The band broke up in 1987 and I followed my other passion, books. I’ve worked in the book industry ever since. And, of course, I write. And I write, And I write, write, write.
My first novel, The Scar Boys — it’s labeled as Young Adult, but I’ve never really liked labels — published January 2014. It is, not surprisingly, a rock and roll coming of age story. No vampires or dystopian future, just a messed up boy and his guitar. (I have nothing against vampires or dystopian futures. I loved The Passage, The Hunger Games, and The Road.)
Check out the other stops on the tour.
Jan 3—Swoony Boys Podcast
Jan 4—Ex Libris
Jan 5—Peace Love Books
Jan 6—Reading is Better with Cupcakes
Jan 9—Here’s to Happy Endings
Jan 10—WhoRU Blog
Jan. 11—Dazzled By Books
Jan. 12—It Starts at Midnight
Jan. 13—The Story Sanctuary – You are here!