It’s Banned Books Week and though I normally don’t pay any more attention to it besides screeching indignantly at some of my favorite books being picked on and reading other people’s posts, I actually have something kinda related to BBW to post myself! Kind of. Does a book that’s on the edge of being banned count?
Frank Portman is the author of King Dork and, of course, Andromeda Klein, one of my favorite books of 2009. Both books have problems with the ban-happy crazies: one of Dr Frank’s visits– to a high school– was actually canceled after parents complained about the occultism in Andromeda Klein (a defense by Girl Detective), and King Dork has been pissing off parents since it was first published.
But this interview isn’t about pissed-off parents (though they are very good for publicity). It’s not even really about book banning, which kinda negates the connection to BBW. Instead, this interview is about Dr Frank’s relationship with Andromeda Klein! So, haters to the left.
A(nastasia): As a former teenage occultist I strongly identified with Andromeda and her life. Do you identify with any of the characters yourself?
Dr F(rank): People might think it a bit strange to say, but I do identify with Andromeda to a large degree. I believe I understand the experience of alienation and isolation: most of my songs and both of my novels explore this general situation. I think a lot of people (teenagers as well as adults) use obsessive interests (like occultism, rock and roll, gardening, fishing, what have you) as a way of keeping the hostile forces of the world at bay, as well as a means of carving out a little space for themselves and seeking to understand and come to grips with the world.
A: Did you write Andromeda Klein with a specific audience in mind?
Dr F: Like a lot of writers, I try to write the books I’d like to read (or to have read). I read pretty much all the magic-oriented fiction I could find as a kid, but I can’t recall a character-study type novel grounded in actual magic traditions from those days. I’ve always been a sucker for sprawling get-inside-the-character’s-head novels, and I would have loved Andromeda and her weird, borderline-OCD obsession with esoterica. I also have always had a soft-spot for misfit/outcast types and a fascination with their “coping mechanisms,” as they say. I was a strange person back then, though, and remain one to this day.
A: I really liked the idea of “synchs,” that events and signs can be matched up to spell out a message from the universe if you’re paying enough attention. Do you believe in synchs, or are you more of a “only a coincidence” kind of person?
Dr F: If there’s one thing I learned from writing this book, it’s that I find it pretty hard to answer that question definitively with complete confidence. Maybe it’s just because the human mind has evolved to seek meaningful patterns amid the chaos, and maybe the patterns discerned are mere delusions, as some people say. But when things coincide, and you notice the “coincidence”, it’s part of your world whether you want it to be or not. I guess I think that if I can find meaning in anything, it’s no stretch to imagine that wiser or more sensitive people might be able to grasp deeper or additional intelligible patterns, or that I might not occasionally catch a glimpse of a hint of one myself. So say you have a flash of something like that, a “glimpse of the beyond” or somesuch. What to do with it then? I don’t know, but I’d prefer Andromeda’s Pythagorean “universe-jewel” to the other extreme, i.e. total meaninglessness. When in doubt, choose the coolest alternative, I say.
A: There’s obviously a ton of research put into Andromeda Klein as evidenced by the occult lingo, but it doesn’t come off as forced at all. Did this come naturally when you were writing or did you have to work at it? And how much research did you actually do?
Dr F: I began writing thinking that I knew quite a lot about magic and the occult, certainly enough to use it as scene-dressing in a novel about a teenager. As Andromeda developed into the kind of character she became, I realized the limits of my knowledge. So in order to move past the “scene-dressing” stage as Andromeda required, yes, I had to do a ton of research. In fact, I lived and breathed occultism and little else for the entire three years I spent writing. This was a kind of weird thing to do, maybe, but it really did shape Andromeda’s character. Say what you will about her, she’s unique.
A: There’s ton of references to music in the book, including ars nova and Led Zepplin. Was music a big part of writing Andromeda Klein? Did you listen to any particular artist or album while you were writing?
Dr F: I do like to listen to music when I write, and sometimes it’s a pretty important part of getting in the proper mood. Late medieval music is the spookiest-sounding music I know, and it played constantly while I was writing. (I also lit candles and burned incense sometimes — it was pretty weird around here for a while.) I’m pretty sure I’m the only person I know with all the Ensemble PAN albums on his iPod. I also put the Led Zeppelin catalog in rotation as well. It’s a strange combination that helped conjure the slightly crazy frame of mind I had to be in to “channel” this character.
The song “Andromeda Klein” (and “Bethlehem”) come from outside the Andromeda mind-set, as did the playlist. But I sure have had a good time listening to that playlist since I assembled it. “Devil Woman” sets a pretty Andromeda-ish mood, even though she’d never have heard it and there’s nothing devil-y about her; perhaps it’s because it is a song about obsession and fascination? That song was on the radio all the time while I was reading Lovecraft, Blackwood, and E. Nesbit and the Dark is Rising and the Headless Cupid and watching Night Gallery and it still evokes them to this day, so maybe that was what set things in motion all those years ago. Synch, sort of?
Thanks so much to Dr Frank for doing the interview! If you’d like to check out Andromeda Klein yourself, my review is here and you can buy it from such places like Amazon or Indiebound. Drk Frank himself can be found at his website or his blog.