Chicago-based author Alan Goldsher is a renaissance man. Author of a growing catalogue of “remix” novels, spoofs that mix classics and zombies or in Goldsher’s case, Von Trapps and Vampires, Goldsher also finds time to ghost write, play standup base and mock Lady Gaga. Tonight at 8:30 p.m. he’ll hit iO Theater to celebrate the release of two new novels, A Game of Groans: A Sonnet of Slush and Soot, and Give Death a Chance: The British Zombie Invasion 2 with an night of reading and improvisational comedy. He spoke with Our Town first.
Our Town To what do you attribute the growing popularity of the (usually) supernatural mashup/parody genre?
Alan Goldsher The simple fact that the books are out there. Mashups -- or, as Team Alan calls mine, remixes -- likely would have been embraced several years ago, had they been in the marketplace, but few major publishers would take a chance on that sort of thing. As is the case with new a musical sub-genre, it took an indie company to test the waters, then, once the big publishers realized readers would embrace that kind of goofiness, the floodgates opened. And I mean floodgates in a (mostly) good way. [Also], young adult readers seem to have gravitated to the books, and Y.A. is arguably the smartest, coolest, and trend-making-est demographic in the industry. Publishers know this, and will take a shot on a mashup in hopes that it could be the next, um, er, Paul Is Undead.
OT What initially attracted you?
AG I dig writing humor, I dig writing horror, and I dig writing about pop culture, and doing something like Paul Is Undead or Give Death a Chance gave me the opportunity to kill three birds with two books.
OT What about zombies? They’ve been off in the corner for decades, why have they recently come to the fore?
AG I could get all philosophical and discuss how zombies represent the id, and in today's America -- what with its wobbly economy and simmering class war -- people can't help but embrace the ugly part of themselves when it comes to entertainment, because they aren't allowed to get that ugly in their day-to-day lives. Truth is, for me, zombies are a wonderful entity to play with because, unlike vampires, the undead don't have a set mythology, so a writer can do with them what they will.
OT Your new book pits Lady Gaga against the zombie Beatles. What parts were particularly fun to write?
AG Gaga takes herself too damn seriously, so it was a blast to mess with her, and, given the opportunity, I'd do it again, and I don't care if she knows it. Truth is, Give Death a Chance is just a novella, so I didn't spend too many pages trashing her, because I had to give equal time to making fun of Madonna, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Lil Wayne, Oasis, and obstructionist Republicans.
OT Fictionalizing public figures vs creating fictional characters, discuss.
AG When I fictionalize a public figure, I fictionalize the hell out of them. I mean, if you want to see Paul McCartney being Paul McCartney, you can pop over to You Tube, so what's the point of making a fake McCartney act like the real McCartney? When you do parody, you heighten and exaggerate -- e.g., the real McCartney spends a surprising amount of time talking about sales figures, so my Zombie McCartney is flat-out obsessed with them -- whereas when you create an original character, it's all about realism. There's little real about my undead Beatles.
OT You’re also a musician, how is musical sampling related to literary sampling?
AG In both cases, it's about piecing together a puzzle within a defined format -- for music, it's generally a three-ish minute song, and for literature, a 250-ish page book. The artist has to figure out which snippets they want to utilize, then they have to reshape them into something that's equal to, or more than the sum of their parts.
OT You’ve written four music-themed novels. How can one adequately discuss music in a soundless medium?
AG Since I spent the first half of my professional life as a bassist, I went with the write-what-you-know maxim, so if nothing else, all four are honest, passionate, and, I hope, loaded with verisimilitude. They're less about music than they are about the music life and its inhabitants, because, as you point out, it's difficult to write a description of a song or a concert that's as compelling as the song or concert itself.
OT What music novels have you found interesting, for example, thoughts on Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad?
AG High Fidelity is the gold standard of music novels. It was written by a music nerd, for music nerds, but what makes it transcend beyond music nerddom is the fact that Nick Hornby has the ability to turn his musical passion and savvy into relatable, lovable characters. I hope to get there someday. And as for Jennifer Egan, chick's a badass. 'Nuff said.
OT What are you working on now?
AG Three ghostwriting projects that I can't discuss, a Miles Davis biography, a young adult sports series, and a remix short story collection. (I also hope to clean my apartment at some point.) I'm kind of compelled to have multiple projects in differing genres on my docket at all times. Also, in August, St. Martin's is publishing my Sound of Music/vampire remix, My Favorite Fangs: The Story of the Von Trapp Family Vampires. It features a guest appearance by the ghost of John Coltrane, so, needless to say, I can't wait until it sees the light of day...and the dark of night. [Insert sound of evil laugher.]
Check out Goldsher tonight at IO Theater or tomorrow when he reads at Quimbys.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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