Monthly Archives: October 2009

Heckoween in Salem!

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Blog Blog Blah

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Portland journalist Andrew Klaus interviewed me the other day for his blog, Digging to China. It was a fun opportunity to answer smartly asked questions with smart-alecky answers. Here it is:
Dale Basye knows where Bad Kids Go.

Author Dale Basye is scary smart and witty as hell, two things that make him perfect to write for the ever growing “Young Adult” market, kids books that parents swipe and read on their lunch breaks. Heck: Where Bad Kids Go caught my eye on a bookstore shelf, I read the opening sentence of the dustcover involving Milton and Marlo Fauster’s deaths in a tragic Marshmallow Bear explosion… I stopped reading knew I had found something special and bought the book, AND a year later it’s sequel Rapacia. Heck tells the tale of innocent boy Milton and his less than innocent sister Marlo in the afterlife of Heck, a limbo boarding school where bad kids go and classes such as ethics are taught by Richard Nixon and Home Economics by Lizzie Borden . While not for everyone (apparently) I’d highly recommend Heck for a clever slightly dark and twisted good time especially this Halloween season. Diggin’ to China was lucky enough to sit down with the creator of Heck and chat about controversy, children’s lit , monkeys versus robots, and more.

Your novels Heck and Rapacia are filled with high brow references and literary allusion next to low brow potty humor, which is a brilliant combo by the way- have there ever been cameos and in-jokes that were too obscure or too high brow to work in that you wished you could?

Dale Basye: Yes, perhaps too many to mention. Ayn Rand was going to make an appearance as the Chairperson of the Netherworld Soul Exchange in Rapacia, which made sense to me, but—in the end—it seemed far more compelling to have Mammon—the devil of covetousness employed by Dante—serve that role instead. Usually the teachers had more interactions with one another initially (I had a scene with Richard Nixon and Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the Principal of Darkness, in the teacher’s lounge in the first Heck book that I had to cut due to gratuitous Watergate references) and those scenes are usually trimmed. In general, whenever I have scenes that focus too heavily on adults, they are the first to go. Most of my favorite references make it in, though, such as Milton’s sign in the Cafeterium: “Milton’s Pair of Dice: Lost.” That’s perhaps my favorite. I’m learning that action is the key to keeping these books moving and many of my “ooh, isn’t that clever?”-isms just slow things down unless they serve the story. Still, I’ll find a way to wedge them into something else…I’m big on recycling, living in Portland and all.

Years ago (nearly ten) I worked at a bookstore and someone returned Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones as it offended her religious beliefs teachings of “heaven”Since your tales are set in a rather unconventional afterlife have you had any backlash from more conservative factions of the populous?

DB: Initially, when the first Heck book came out, there was a website in Texas called BeliefNet that lambasted the book. Of course, no one had read it, and they were literally judging the book by its cover. There have also been some appalling reviews on Amazon that my ever-rationalizing mind is desperate to chalk up to fundamentalism. I mean, if you go through the trouble of posting a long, one-star rant, clearly a button has been pushed. Recently, my publicist at Random House began booking my book tour and the aptly named Page at Barnes and Noble in Clackamas tried to book schools in her school district for appearances and was told that they would not have a book titled Heck in their school! Luckily the Beaverton School District was much more open-minded, especially just after Banned Book Week, and I had a great time visiting schools there. I find it startling when I encounter that rigid thinking. My opinion is that the Heck books, even if you find them in direct conflict with your religious views, invite discussion, which is the proper place for religious and spiritual exchanges, not a book (unless, of course, it’s THE book). It’s not like I’m really conjuring up anything new…I simply take all of the myths, references, and figures available and make a sort of kid-centric collage out of them. I mean, it’s not like I invented the notion of everlasting torment for sinful transactions (but man, if I did, I would have patented it and made billions!). Really: where DO bad kids fit in the Judeo-Christian system of things? If I were a fundamentalist parent, I would be delighted that my child was reading something that even mentioned such things…got them thinking about their spirituality. I would use it as an opportunity to help my child figure out his or her own personal beliefs. But there aren’t as many engaged parents as we really need in this world. I think it’s lame that parents think a book or movie or videogame should do the parenting for them. I also think the Heck books provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss obscure historical figures. I doubt if many kids today know who Nixon, Lizzy Borden, or the pirate Grace O’Malley were…but perhaps, after reading about them in Heck, they—perhaps with a little help from their parents—might nose around another book and learn more. In general, I was expecting a bit more controversy, actually. I even got Random House to print Heck and Rapacia in an environmentally friendly, clean-burning paper to help fundamentalist groups hold more responsible book burnings.

Why do you think Kids/Young Adult fiction has boomed as of late?

DB: Because being an adult sucks. So why wallow in it by rubbing your face in an adult book? I just think that you can approach so many more interesting, potentially controversial subjects in YA fiction these days, versus the ossified realm of adult fiction. It’s like the wild west, where anything and everything is possible because kids are so on the ball these days, eager to tackle difficult subjects and themes because they haven’t learned that they shouldn’t yet. The line is really blurry between YA and adult, which is a good thing because that’s how it is in real life. It’s just an exciting place to be. Young fiction plays a much more significant role in helping to form a reader’s foundation than adult fiction. The books that really meant something to me were almost all read as a teen or young adult. Much of the adult stuff I read lately just seems so pretentious and precious and self-serving, much more about the author than the story. But, then again, I don’t read much adult fiction these days anyhow. A macro view may be that, in the modern world, adults have less time to read overall, with technology taking hungry megabytes out of what little time they/we have. Children have a little more time, though not much, to devote to reading, and they do so voraciously.

Choose: Monkeys versus Robots? (Robot monkey cannot be your answer as I already called that)

DB: Without a doubt, robots: pneumatic grappling claws down. Robots are cool (I’m currently working on a robot book now, it just so happens) but it’s more to do with the fact that monkeys creep me out. Seriously. I can’t make eye contact with them at the zoo: that imploring look they give you that seems to say “I’m just a few DNA strands away from you…you better watch your back or I’m liable to take a big chunk out of your bald back!” Monkeys are just wrong: scat-slinging, chattering simian chumps!

Do you have any writing rituals? Music that you listen too while you write?

DB: Before sitting down to write, I typically pour myself a sifter of Mendis brandy and sacrifice a small helpless animal to the writing gods. Actually, I used to surround myself with creepy surreal art (like Mark Ryden) and hunker down to work behind a hulking, imposing desk in the dark, blasting if-it-ain’t-Baroque-don’t-fix-it music. But I’ve discovered I’m not much of a method writer. There just isn’t any time. Plus, after hours of industrial and Goth music, I feel more like jumping off a bridge than making some kid on the other side of the page shoot chocolate milk out of his nose. Usually I just shuffle my music library, which is heavy on Brit Pop and ska at the moment. I can’t listen to overly wordy music (sorry Elvis Costello) or else I get derailed, and soundtrack music usually sends me to sleep, so I keep it eclectic…until Van Halen’s Panama pops up then I have to stop everything for an air guitar solo (which can be embarrassing as I often work in coffee shops). I try to listen to new music, but after a couple of tracks, I’m reminded of better, older bands that the currently hot band ripped off and I just go to the source.

You are a parent I understand. Has that changed your work ethic/way you work?

DB: Thank you for being so understanding about my status as a parent. Considering I haven’t been writing fiction for that long, my role as a parent hasn’t really been all that affected. Time is an issue since I prefer to be with my real son than make up pretend people in a book, but thankfully there’s this thing called “school” that usually gives me enough time to hammer something out during the day. I can’t really work at home when my son is around, since our house is just as smidgen larger than ones typically composed of gingerbread. Usually I go to one of several coffee shops that haven’t kicked me out and work until I get the sense that I must leave. Usually one cup of coffee equals roughly two and a half hours of rent at a coffee shop, I’ve found. Anything more and you receive the surly look that only a hardened barista can deliver. I was laid off from my advertising job six months ago, so I have more flexibility (the yoga helps too). I still do a lot of corporate freelancing as this author thing doesn’t really pay the bills on its own. I can’t help but think that there’s a more efficient, more rewarding way of writing, but I haven’t found it yet. I used to try working at odd hours, but I just can’t handle it. If I work too late then my mind gets going and sleep is impossibility. Too early and it’s like trying to turn over a ’63 Thunderbird on a cold winter’s morning. Usually I have a few productive hours between 10 and 3, then I’m kind of burned out and do other things, like interpretive dance, panhandling, shrieking belligerent poems at passersbys, and getting arrested.

Fan Mail for Heck!

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Writing Wrongs (and Rites)

When the act of writing is at its pernicious worst, I try desperately to gain some perspective by imagining that I could be, instead, cleaning out bedpans, toiling in a coal mine, or making solicitation calls (like I did right out of college). But, after doing so, I sink deeper into my tar pit of pity: after all, a candy striper—after administering a barium enema—doesn’t have her handiwork savaged on Amazon by some idiot named ReedM&weep@aol.com.

Sometimes all of the planets are aligned and writing can be enjoyable and perhaps even productive, akin to cracking open a piñata and feasting on the candy (unfortunately for this metaphor, the piñata is one’s head). And—these wondrous, fleeting moments of inspirational twinkle—make all of the slogging, procrastinating, doubting, and palpitating primal fear worth it.

My process involves poring through notes, grafting together shreds of ideas and hoping that some will play nice together, and researching the topic at hand (in the case of the Heck books, usually this has me sifting through lists of dead historical figures to find potential teachers best suited for the particular circle of Heck I’m fashioning).  At this point, some ridiculous plot-driven chain of events will avail itself and I’ll capture them within a synopsis.

I am both cursed and blessed that my subject matter—the Underworld—is so fertile and I have a lot of conceptual toys to play with. With Rapacia, my sandbox was greed, and—fortunately—research merely involved heading to the local mall. Oh, wait…it seems that one of you has a question. Yes, you. No, the guy with the dueling scar, seersucker suit, and glass briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.

Question: What were the events that affected you writing Rapacia?

Answer: That’s a great question, fabricated figment of my imagination. Most every event in my life led to the physical writing of the book, if you think about it. But I’m sure you mean the events that affected the plot line, specifically. Growing up, the only thing to really do was to hang out at the mall. Even though we never had any money, it’s what we all did, which is rather pointless since we either were wasting our time surrounded by things we didn’t want or torturing ourselves drooling over things we couldn’t afford! So this conundrum probably formed the basis of Mallvana: a place so wonderful and glittering and perfect and awesome that it is either Heaven to some, or Heck to others, depending on your particular circumstances (and credit limit). And, like Marlo Fauster (the just-teen kleptomaniac anti-heroine of the Heck books), I have—as an adolescent—run into a few sticky situations in which certain material items found in a store somehow made it to my backpack. But only a couple and—on both occasions—I did an even more daring act of returning the items. In fact, sometimes my friends and I would commit acts of reverse shoplifting, where we would smuggle stuff that we didn’t want into a store—weird stuff—and put it on the shelves. And also, like the first book, most of the turmoil and horror come from my experiences in middle school, a place that isn’t full of fun and laughter like elementary school, but without the responsibilities, empowerment and promise-of-impending-freedom that high school provides. A place that feels like eternity—and actually is—at least for a little while.

Lightning Round in which I psychically take unformed questions from the collective unconsciousness of my invisible audience

• What am I working on? I’m dusting off an older manuscript and—after doing so—may actually revisit it, if it will have me. In addition, I am working on the fourth Heck: Where the Bad Kids go book, Fibble (honest).

• None of your business, mom. Why do you always, always do this to me?!

• I am currently reading the writing on the wall, while my wife reads me the riot act. My favorite new author is the author that is really good but not too good. That just pisses me off. My favorite book of the year is Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters. My favorite book of all time is whatever book buys me a summer home.

• My favorite food is sweet, hard, wrapped in foil, brown (sometimes white), occasionally has nuts or raisins in it, and gives me a little “lift” just when I need it the most. No, it’s not chocolate…I forget the name, though.

• The writers that have influenced me the most are, in no particular order, Kurt Vonnegut, Roald Dahl, Tom Robbins, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and whoever wrote the “Do not open hatch while aircraft is in flight” sign, which has saved my butt on more than one occasion.

• No, that sound was my thighs rubbing against the Naugahyde chair.

Gotta Love Jeff Baker and the O!

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Writer Jeff Baker with the Oregonian interviewed me a few weeks ago when I was in, of all places, Denver and the resulting interview came out in last weekend’s A&E section. I had a lot of fun, as I almost always do when talking/lying about myself. It seemed like Jeff had fun too, judging from his goofy piece. Check it out!

Thank U Wordstock, Thank U India, Thank U Silence

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who showed up at my reading yesterday at Wordstock: the penultimate celebration of all things “book”! That said, I would also like to officially castigate all those who didn’t show—billions of you. You really let me down, especially you sheepherders in the Tibetan village of Xiahe (you know who you are). I shared the stage with the brilliant David Michael Slater (an audience member asked if we were related and, in a sense, we are all brothers—except the women—they would be our sisters, which is weird when I think of my mother and wife both being my sisters…never mind). The audience was supportive and engaged (maybe they’ll get married some day) and several lucky children won OFFICIAL Heck buttons. After a brisk book signing, I led a workshop on marketing to young folks—a subject that no one can ever really master as kids are too smart for such things—but the adults in the group asked great questions and oozed integrity (I trust that’s all they oozed) and seemed to enjoy themselves (one attendee even brought me French fries!). Anyway, Wordstock is an amazing resource for authors and readers alike and I look forward to embarrassing myself next year!

Heck @ Barnes & Noble in Cl@ck@m@s 2nite!

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