Origins: Jonathan Walburgh on Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music

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I know Jonathan Walburgh from my newspaper days. Besides that experience, we both shared the experience of growing up in the 1980s, and getting our ears filled with everything from Madonna to Michael, but also Metallica and Men Without Hats (and you know what you can do with friends who don’t dance.) Paging through Jonathan’s book makes me nostalgic for ear-splitting Quiet Riot concerts (1984, Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas was my first) and girls in Chic jeans doing their best to look like Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon.

Here’s Jonathan to tell us more about rock and/or roll ’80s style:

There’s the cliche “Write what you know.” Well, there’s also the saying “Write the book you want to read.” With Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music, I did both. There have been many good books about the music and pop culture of the 1970s but very few about the 1980s, so I felt I needed to fill that void.

Having experienced that decade firsthand (I’m 38) I’ve always been annoyed at how Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen get all the credit for the decade’s musical innovation. While all of them certainly contributed some quality work, there were some other acts that were pretty creative as well. The 1980s saw Neil Young take a total left hand turn and incorporate synthesizers into his music on his album Trans, while Lindsey Buckingham collided sound effects with songs on his album Go Insane to create new musical textures and soundscapes. Acts like Huey Lewis & the News and the Bangles updated the styles of the 1950s and ’60s by incorporating synthesizers into the mix to create music that sounded both retro and new at the same time. I also wanted to include other acts such as The Cars, Men at Work and Def Leppard whom I feel have never gotten the credit they deserved for creating some great music.

Being a major music buff, the biggest temptation was to focus on every obscure act that I loved, but I realized that would make pretty boring reading, so I narrowed my subjects down to the ones that whose music I felt the most passionate about and had the most interesting stories to tell. I spent three years researching the book, combing both through libraries and my own personal collection of musical memorabilia. I hope anyone with an interest in 1980s pop music reads Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx and finds it enjoyable and informative.

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Buy the book: Amazon ¦Barnes and Noble

Origins: Karen Harrington on Sure Signs of Crazy

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I don’t recall how I first discovered author Karen Harrington, although it was probably through following a link to her blog Scobberlotch. However it happened, I’m glad I did. Her first novel, Janeology, is a moving exploration of mental illness and family, and a riveting legal thriller.

Karen’s follow-up novel, Sure Signs of Crazy, a middle-grade/YA story of Sarah Nelson, surviving daughter of Janeology’s Jane Nelson, is a moving and touching story of a young girl’s quest to understand herself, her family and her relationships with her father and especially her mother.

I recently emailed Karen to tell us a bit more about her new novel:

TG: What made you write the story?

KH: I wrote this story in large part because of a letter I received from a reader of my first novel, Janeology. The letter asked questions about Jane’s daughter, Sarah, and wondered what it would be like to grow up with an infamous mother. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head! I thought, Wow, I’m now thinking about that young girl, too. That was the genesis of writing Sarah’s story. I wanted to understand how she would cope, how she would see herself in the world.

TG: You’ve mentioned the novel was originally meant to be a more adult novel, a sequel to Janeology, rather than a YA or middle-grade book. How did the change come about? Was it difficult to adjust the manuscript?

KH: This was an interesting adjustment, but one I’m quite happy about. I really thought the themes of mental illness and fears of inherited traits were darker and heavy, and, therefore, more suited to an older audience. But since that time, I’ve read many terrific books in the middle-grade category and find that there’s lots of space for stories that are realistic and depict big problems in the lives of young kids. I like that these stories sort of provide hope and an example for real-world kids to follow. That’s what I’d like readers of Sure Signs to take from Sarah’s story.

TG: Why did you choose To Kill a Mockingbird as the novel that guides Sarah?

KH: I don’t even quite remember the part of the writing process where To Kill A Mockingbird came into Sarah’s life. It just happened. Then I read a lot of biographies about Harper Lee and lit upon the fact that Lee’s mother possibly struggled with mental illness. I knew then that this book would be a huge part of Sarah’s life. She would find that connection in the characters and with the author that would allow her to know she wasn’t alone. Sarah also related to TKAM so much because like Scout Finch, she too is being raised by a single father.

TG: You have a tween’s voice down very well. Was it difficult to develop Sarah’s voice?

KH: Thank you for saying that. This might sound odd, but writing this story was so natural. Sarah came to me fully formed and I followed her. I remember days when I’d open my manuscript and think, “I can’t wait to talk to Sarah today.” So it was really like having a conversation with a young person.

TG: What are you working on currently?

KH: I’ve just finished up final edits for my next middle-grade book, Courage for Beginners, due out in August 2014. It’s another coming-of-age story that follows the life of a Texas seventh-grader during a dramatic change in the life of her family and how working on a Texas History project plants the seeds of courage in her life. An early reader told me this story is “a love letter to Texas” and I hope others see it that way, too.

—Todd

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Editor’s note: This is the first of what I hope to be a series (tentatively titled Origins) of author interviews, guest posts, etc., of recently published novels nonfiction or other creative projects. If you would like to participate, please comment below or contact me through this site.  I will follow-up with guidelines in a later post.