Here's the transcript of an interview I did last month about my new book, Listening to Ian Magick, available as a Kindle eBook for 99 cents at Amazon. To buy it, click here.
Berkshire DuRoc: I'm here with author Tamworth Grice. Tamworth, you call yourself an “author, adventurer, and anarchist”—let’s talk about the “anarchist” part.
Tamworth Grice: Okay. I’m very much against, to use a hippies' term, “The Literary Establishment.” The big book companies have been screwing authors over for years. Stephen King was snubbed by executives at his first publishing house, even when he was the company’s top moneymaker. Authors have been underpaid—or not paid at all—the royalties that are due them. The treatment of horror writer Brian Keene by Dorchester is a recent example of this. And this crap has been going on for decades!
BD: And you say it’s not happening only in publishing, correct?
TG: Correct. For example, music companies have been screwing over musicians for years. There was even an episode on The Sopranos about how soul signers from the 1960s were cheated out of their royalties by music industry executives.
BD: How is this changing in 2011?
TG: Now, with ePublishing, authors (and musicians such as rappers and hiphop artists, too) have a chance to seize control. In the music industry, people are recording their own songs and albums and music videos, and they’re marketing them on the Internet. In the world of books, writers are increasingly taking control away from the publishers and the editors and the agents who’ve treated them like dirt for so many years.
BD: And all this is behind your decision to ePublish?
TG: That’s right.
BD: Your novel is about a “Satanic” rock star who influences his fans through his music. How did you get the idea for that? From Anne Rice?
TG: Not at all. Until you mentioned it just now, I hadn’t ever thought about Lestat being a rock star. I don’t think much is made of that in her books? I can’t remember—it’s been a while since I read her.
BD: So how did your idea originate?
TG: I saw an article somewhere—maybe on Wikipedia—about how Ozzy Osbourne had been sued by a father whose son committed suicide.
BD: Are you a fan of Ozzy Osbourne?
TG: (Laughs) Actually, I’m more a fan of the idea of him—and his wife and kids—than of his music per se. The whole family just seems very strange and interesting and loveable to me. I know that’s not the image he’s going for, but that’s how they strike me.
BD: Go on with what you were saying about the suicide.
TG: Oh, yes. Ozzy had a song called “Suicide Solution.” Tragically, some time in the 1980s, a depressed teenager in California played the song and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
BD: Yes, I think I remember that. Didn’t the family say that Ozzy Osbourne was subliminally telling kids through his music to kill themselves or something like that?
TG: That’s it. That’s what the father said. He hired a lawyer and charged that Ozzy, through his song, had encouraged the kid to kill himself—which is ironic, because I guess the song is really an anti-alcohol song, saying that drinking to excess is a type of suicide and so people shouldn’t overindulge. The word in the title, “Solution,” is supposed really to refer to solution not in the sense of an answer but in the sense of a liquid. Therefore, the title suggests that alcohol is a “Suicide Solution”: a liquid that’s the equivalent of suicide. Do you see the difference?
BD: Yes. So what happened in the courts? With the case?
TG: The courts found in Ozzy’s favor. But meanwhile some guy who was like a scientist or something analyzed the song and said it did in fact contain subliminal messages of some sort. Then there was a second case about ten years later, when another poor kid committed suicide, but Ozzy won that case, as well.
BD: So how did the case, the cases, inspire your book?
TG: Well, I thought, what an interesting idea that a rock singer could be almost like a cult leader, you know, and inspire, if you will, his followers through his music? I believe Charlie Manson sort of achieved this in a way. I mean, he influenced those girls to kill, and he had rock-star aspirations. So I thought, what if it were really possible? What if a rock star could influence, or even coerce, his fans to kill with subliminal messages in his music? And that’s how I came to write the book.
BD: It's a horror novel, am I right?
TG: Yes, it's a horror novel. And a psychological suspense-thriller? (Laughs.) I'm not good with labels.
BD: There have been several title changes for your book in the past few weeks, am I right?
TG: (Groans) Yes! First of all, I was motivated by the title of the Lois Duncan book, Killing Mr. Griffin—which I think is a fabulous novel and possibly the best YA book ever written. The best one in the twentieth century, anyway. So I wanted the title to begin with Listening to and use the rock star’s name, because the book is about how the narrator listens to the singer’s music.
BD: And the singer was called?
TG: Originally, when I first wrote the book, the title character—the Satanic rock star—was called “Johnny Magick.” I pictured him as looking like a young Billy Idol, or like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
BD: Where did you get the name?
TG: I can’t remember how the name came to me. Anyway, after I wrote the book—quite a while after—this rock singer from the 1960s named Neil Young came out with a song called “Johnny Magic.” To make things worse, there’s a DJ in Florida who calls himself “Johnny Magic,” and there’s a book about a card counter in Las Vegas called Jonny Magic. All of these appeared after I first had the idea for the character and the book. But I felt the name had been taken away from me, so I had to come up with another one.
BD: And the name went through several iterations before it reached its present form, am I right?
TG: Yes. I tried Donnie Magick and Ronnie Magick and Lonnie Magick. And Jamie Magick and Ryan Magick and Jack Magick and lots of other choices, but nothing seemed quite right. Character names are important. Elmore Leonard said the character Jack Foley—the one played by George Clooney in Out of Sight, with Jennifer Lopez?
BD: That’s a great film.
TG: Yes, it is. And the author says he originally named the character Frank Matisse, but he couldn’t get him to talk. And then he changed the name to Jack Foley and the character wouldn’t shut up! So a character name is vital to who the character is.
BD: And the character’s name is in your title, so it’s doubly important.
TG: Exactly. Meanwhile, the folks at my publisher, Dusty Raven Publishing, are inspired by Harry Potter and the Twilight books, I suppose, and they felt the book might sell better if it had a word like “vampire” or “werewolf” or “warlock” in the title. So I experimented, and even at one point announced that my upcoming book would be called Listening to Joey Warlock. But that name still just didn’t seem right. It’s hard to explain.
The character "Spike" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
BD: The muses didn’t like it, perhaps?
TG: That’s a great way to put it. Yes. So I kept trying and trying for the right name. And finally I came up with Ian Magick. Which feels very right to me. Ian is a form of John, after all. And very British. And although the rock-star character isn’t British, he is loosely based on Billy Idol and Spike, both of whom were English. So the title is now Listening to Ian Magick.
BD: Thanks so much. This concludes our interview with “author, adventurer, and anarchist" Tamworth Grice. The book, Listening to Ian Magick, is due out June 1st as an eBook released in conjunction with Dusty Raven Publishing and available for Kindle via Amazon.