The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Interview with Kevin Glavin

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Kevin Glavin's complicated satire, Rock Star's Rainbow. Today, Mr. Glavin has agreed to do an interview for The Daily Monocle! So, without further ado, I'd like to post the wonderful interview I had with Mr. Glavin. This is The Daily Monocle's first interview, and I know that you'll all enjoy it.


What inspired you to write Rock Star's Rainbow?

I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was in my 20s, I wrote two novels, which I ended up throwing away; they were more of a learning experiment.
Rock Star’s Rainbow actually started out very differently. It began as a short story for a U of Iowa grad magazine, about two teenagers in love and all the awkwardness involved with that. It ends with their graduation from high school and the end of their relationship in a barren Iowa cornfield.
Years later, around 2005, I was at a coffee shop at Berkeley and had the idea of taking these characters and forming a novel around them. I started writing ideas on napkins, wondering––whatever happened to these heartbroken kids? That was the kernel, but the story changed a lot. It morphed into a celebrity adventure. As a culture, we’re obsessed with celebrity, and even more so with celebrity scandal. I wanted to explore that. So the teenage boy from the old story becomes a rock star with everything––fame and fortune, but completely unhappy; he doesn’t have the girl. It’s a satire, but not a funny ha-ha satire. It’s more poking fun at the idea of how silly our society can be when we put these celebrities on a pedestal, as if they have all the answers and should be emulated, when perhaps they’re more lost than most.

Anyway, the protagonist, he’s become incredibly jaded, something of a jerk. Early in the book, after another night of excess, he dreams and longs for a return to a happier, simpler, more innocent time before all this celebrity madness that he has to deal with. Despite living in the multi-million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills, he’s still chasing the rainbow of happiness––this impossible dream. So, you have this megalomaniacal character at the height of superstardom and of course he must fall. And so he does, many times as he goes on his adventure to find his high school sweetheart, his “Dulcinea,” hoping she’ll help him find happiness. But she’s in more trouble than he is. He finds her, and it shocks him, and in the process he reexamines his entire life. He tries to help her and their daughter (that he never knew he had), but he’s also finding himself. It’s a quest story. But I was also interested in building upon this framework, so I layered it with many literary allusions, perhaps too many. But that was important to me––I wanted to throw everything into the pot.

Did you listen to a rock and roll playlist while writing? What was on your playlist?

To be honest, I prefer silence when writing. Occasionally, I do have music in the background. If I do, it’s usually classical––something like Beethoven or Bach. I love rock music, but I can’t really focus while listening to it.

Your main character, Rook Heisenberg, is a world-renowned musician and songwriter. Was Rook inspired by any real-life musicians?

He’s a conglomeration of many real rock stars and celebrities. Think of all the famous ones at the height of their careers––“sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Of course, the novel starts in Hollywood. I wanted it to open right in the center of the entertainment world. Sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl (which, by the way, has a rainbow stage). The paparazzi. Beverly Hills. All the chaos. But at some point the mayhem usually becomes too much, and usually these stars seek some kind of peace, through rehab, a quest, family, seclusion, what have you.

Rock Star's Rainbow is packed with references to Rook's life and travels as a celebrity. Did you have to do any research on the places he visited, or the lifestyle he lead?

I did a lot of research. Let me say that I can’t write about a place unless I’ve been there. It doesn’t feel authentic unless you’ve actually walked around and gotten the vibe of the streets. I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for about 11 years now, so that part was easy––I see it all the time. I went to college in Iowa, so that part was easy too. For Amsterdam and India, I had to travel there. Very wonderful places. As I was there, I kept thinking, now how would the characters act here, or there? How does this fit in with the overall plot? As far as the lifestyle of Rook, I’ve been to quite a few rock concerts and celebrity events, and have read quite a few of their stories. At the same time, I wanted the novel to be more than just a typical celebrity rehab tale––and so that’s why there are twists and turns and strange references.

What is the zaniest piece of information you came across while researching?

There’s a lot of zany stuff that I tried to include if it fit in. For instance, some celebrities actually do keep track of their sexual conquests. There really are some very bizarre private “clubs” where people do strange things. There really are naked holy men in India painted blue who smoke some strange drug. We ran into a German guy who hung out with them, and then disappeared for a few days. When he came back his face was all messed-up, horribly sunburned, his eyes puffy. What else, some people actually do lie in a coffin as a sort of shamanistic exercise to rid oneself of the fear of death and to make the most of life. Lots of strange things, things that I couldn't possibly make up. I realize some of it is stretching belief, but I wanted to get to that point where one crazy thing happens after another, where nothing's surprising anymore in this superstar's life, while at the same time, you know that it's been written by a tabloid reporter, so you can't really trust any of it.

While reading Rock Star's Rainbow, I noticed a lot of literary and/or historical references—particularly to Vincent Van Gogh. Why Van Gogh?

Yes, there are many references. Maybe too many. The big ones are Durer’s Melencolia, Don Quixote, Either/Or, Satyricon, Crime and Punishment, Ulysses, and some references to physics. But you’re right—Van Gogh is also a big part. Durer’s artwork is a key underpinning to the work—it’s faintly in the background on the cover and serves as the frontispiece and “bookmark” of the unknown author’s progress throughout the work. Durer’s work is very complex, with many symbols, some obvious and some covert, but simply put it represents a quest––a spiritual quest for meaning, but also the artist’s quest for achieving one’s vision—for achieving perfection. Van Gogh is another echo of that––of an artist giving one’s all to achieve a vision. Rook and some of the other characters in the book are on quests too. One of Rook’s quests is that of artistic accomplishment. Where do you go after you hit the top? But what is this top? Just because he’s famous and rich, does that make him artistically successful? The contrast with Van Gogh is also to show that sometimes success in art, whether it be music, painting, or whatever, can be measured in very different terms. Van Gogh achieved his vision, but was not recognized in his lifetime. You could say that not being recognized contributed to the passion and greatness in his art. Conversely, Rook is recognized and adored during his lifetime, but for what? Some silly, corny, catchy rock songs, but is that it? A new fashion line? A movie here or there? Isn’t there some magnum opus out there for him still to achieve? He knows there is. But it might be beyond his reach. And yet still, he has to at some point reach for it, and that's where the book sort of ends. Van Gogh represents this reaching, this yearning for true art, something beyond the rainbow.

Imagine: you're taking a ten hour car ride with one of your characters from Rock Star's Rainbow. Who would you take, and why?

Oh, that’s a hard question. Um, maybe Pui-Pui Poon. She’s a bodyguard, and a black belt, but feels a conflict with violence due to reading Gandhi. She’d be interesting to talk to, and hopefully would protect me if we ran into trouble.

Who was your favorite character to write?

The entertainment reporter and supposed author of the manuscript—Aitchkiss Killawathy. I very much wanted to play with this archaic idea of the found manuscript, and loved the bit that someone would be so upset as to throw this reporter out of a plane and to his death over a celebrity exposé. We first meet Aitchkiss as he’s falling off a twenty-five foot hedge, spying on Rook’s Beverly Hills mansion. He’s the omniscient narrator, falling down to earth. He’s repugnant, but likeable at the same time, and while he strives for truth, like any tabloid reporter, he’s unreliable. He makes stuff up when it suits his purposes, so you have to take everything with a grain of salt and read it as if it were a tabloid, in a way. And yet, he’s complex as well, as he struggles with his own issues. And lastly, we don’t even know for sure that he is the author, because no one wants to confirm anything due to legal reasons. He was fun to write. Perhaps I’ll figure out a way to bring him back in some future work.

Can you sum your book up in three words or less?

Chase your dreams.

Do you consider yourself a rock star in any form or fashion?

Not at all, although I do enjoy playing music with friends from time to time.

I know that you've started your own publishing company. Has this changed the way you write, or the way you look at the writing business at all?

Yes, most definitely, I did start out working with a couple of agents, but they had different ideas for my book that I was not interested in. They wanted me to streamline my story, and cut out the “editor” part and the allusions. Of course, their effort was to have the broadest possible appeal and sell more books. That’s great, but I very much wanted to follow my own vision. After all, that’s a big part of what the book is about—following your vision, no matter what it is. And so I started my own publishing company to have that freedom.

Also, it was very worthwhile learning the whole business side of publishing. From formatting the book, to distribution, to marketing, to developing eBook versions, all this has helped me tremendously as an author.

I'm not going to ask you where you get your ideas, or what motivates you to write. However, I am going to ask who your favorite author is. Have they influenced your style at all?

That’s really difficult. I read John Irving’s The World According to Garp back in high school, and that inspired me to pursue writing. But there are so many great authors that I admire and who have influenced me. Joyce, Tolstoy, Bronte, Hawthorne, Salinger…too many influences to mention.

What is your perspective on writer's block, and how do you beat it?

I find it easiest to write every day. Even if it’s just a little bit. That way you keep the flow going.

About how long did it take you to write Rock Star's Rainbow?

About 5 years.

Are you working on a(ny) book(s) right now? If so, what are they about?

I’m working on a Gothic satire. It’s more of a straightforward story, set in Ireland. I visited there a couple years ago, and walked about Bram Stoker’s old stomping grounds, and Yeats’ Sligo. It will involve an aging yet debonair vampire, and a young American woman who has inherited a Bed & Breakfast. She goes over there to set it up, and little does she know what she’s in for.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I prefer to write early in the morning, when I’m fresh. I try and pick up where I left off the day before, and keep going until I find a place where I can stop for the next day. When I’m done with the first draft, I go back over it, and revise, or add layers, or streamline it, or whatever I’m aiming for. I try and write down ideas that occur at odd times so I don't forget them. If I'm driving, I might scribble something down at a stoplight on a Starbucks' napkin, or sometimes I'll call myself and leave myself a message.

You have been given the opportunity to sit down with any author from any time period for lunch. Who do you choose to dine with, and why?

I think it would be hard to turn down Shakespeare. I don't have the slightest idea of what I'd ask him though. I'd be too intimidated.

You're stranded on a deserted island, and only brought one book with you. What is it, and why did you bring it?
Can I bring my iPad? Well, if I could only bring one book, man, that’s tough. Maybe T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. It has fragments of everything. Or I would like to bring a blank book. That way I could write in it. While I love reading, I think I would be more tormented by the inability to create and write.

Thank you, J.P.

Thank you Kevin Glavin!

All of you bookworms, don't forget to check out Rock Star's Rainbow's website, here, or become a fan of Rock Star's Rainbow on Facebook!

Posted on July 14th, 2010


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