April 2008

Sarah Dessen, young adult before it was cool

Girls on paper

30 APR 2008  •  by Zack Smith

Sarah Dessen was worried when her agent told her that her first book, That Summer, was a “young-adult novel.”

At the time, there was little to bridge the gap between children’s and adult fiction beyond such series books as Sweet Valley High, and Dessen feared her teen-focused novel would be shelved with such kiddie staples as Goodnight Moon and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby series.

“I was worried about the stigma of it, which was stupid,” Dessen says.

The Chapel Hill native needn’t have worried. Ten years and eight books later, more than 1.5 million copies of her books exist in print, and in 2003, two of her YA novels were adapted into the Mandy Moore film How to Deal. Her last book, Just Listen, spent 18 consecutive weeks on the New York Times‘ bestseller list, and Lock and Key, her eighth novel, published by Viking Juvenile, is poised to follow in its success.

Dessen’s books often deal with teenage girls going through an upheaval in their lives, and Key is no exception. The narrator, Ruby, living alone since being abandoned by her mother, is made to go live with her estranged sister and her ultra-wealthy husband. “If you look at the trend in YA fiction right now, a lot of it is about girls who find out they’re princesses or girls who suddenly become celebrities,” Dessen says. “So I was interested in seeing what happened if you were living this very hardscrabble existence, and struggling a lot, and suddenly you were plunged into this world of affluence and money and private school, and what if you didn’t like it?”

Key has its roots in Dessen’s life in Chapel Hill, where she still lives. “I used to live in a little farmhouse off the Chapel Hill side of Durham, where I lived with my husband right after college,” Dessen says. Though she was glad to move out of the house, she maintained affection for it—which made it all the harder when she drove by a few years ago to find out the entire property had been razed for an upscale community. “There’s a big, terracotta-looking wall there now and these very big mansions behind it and a gate you have to go through to get to the houses,” Dessen says.

Chapel Hill has always been present in Dessen’s work, most explicitly in an early, unfinished novel, written while in college at UNC (where both her parents taught). In that effort, which Dessen claims was “horrible,” she didn’t bother to disguise the town’s identity.

“People in my writing group kept pointing out the inaccuracies—it would take longer to get from the hospital to the airport than that—because everyone has an opinion on a place they already know,” Dessen says with a laugh. Still, the area has not only influenced the setting of her books, but also lets her easily flash back to her own high school experiences. “I tend to drive past a lot of places where things happened to me in high school, so I’m never too far away from it,” Dessen says.

Though the birth of her first child has slowed things down, Dessen is already at work on her ninth novel, along with promoting Key. And while young adult books are now huge, Dessen notes she was there before the trend started and will try to be there after it’s over. “It’s a great time to be in young adult right now,” Dessen says. “It’s an amazing world, and there are so many great people writing in it.”

Sarah Dessen has two upcoming local appearances in support of Lock and Key: 3 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 18, at McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village. Dessen maintains a blog at writergrl.livejournal.com.

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly


by Zack Smith

From the world-wide rocking of The Amazing Joy Buzzards to the deep blue journeys of Aqua Leung, Mark Andrew Smith isn’t afraid to deal with extreme ideas. His latest work is a one-shot from Image that deals with the perfect way to create a new generation of superheroes…Kill All Parents. What does this mean, exactly? Read on to find out.

Full Interview Here!


by Zack Smith

The definition of a fan favorite, Scott Morse is one of the most prolific writer/artists of the last decade, doing everything from cosmic epics (Soulwind) to gangsters (Volcanic Revolver) to Akira Kurosawa (The Barefoot Serpent) and even superheroes such as Elektra and Catwoman.

Now, the versatile creator has brought back one of his strangest and most beloved creations, Magic Pickle, as a new young readers series at Scholastic. The company just released the first two illustrated prose novels, Magic Pickle and the Planet of the Grapes and Magic Pickle vs. the Egg Poacher, along with a collection of the original Oni Press miniseries, recolored by Promethea’s Jose Villarrubia. Morse, who’s also moonlighting from comics as part of the Pixar team, talked with us about bringing Dill Justice back to comics (and we’re not gherkin you around).

(Hey, don’t blame us for the puns – we took these directly from the comic.)

Read the full interview here!

by Zack Smith

Hope Larson’s evocative work on her first two graphic novels, Salamander Dream and Gray Horses, earned her a 2007 Special Recognition Eisner Award. Now, Larson is poised to reach a new and wide audience with Chiggers, a new original graphic novel from Simon & Shuster about two girls forming a unique friendship at summer camp. We called Larson up to find out what readers can expect from this story, and how she drew from her own experiences to tell this tale.

Read the Full Interview Here!

by Zack Smith

As artist on the Eisner-winning Icon series Criminal, Sean Phillips has paid tribute to classic noir books and films with both his detailed, expressive artwork on the book’s main stories and his illustrations for the single-issue-only backup essays. But a recent DVD release has given him a chance to go back to the series’ roots – and help bring a legendary lost crime film to a wider audience.

Full story here!

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

The Duck Variations; Sexual Perversity in Chicago

9 APR 2008  •  by Zack Smith

The Duck Variations and Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Ghost & Spice Theatre at Common Ground Theatre
Through April 19

The Duck Variations

Why have David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations been paired together so often? On the surface, the two one-act plays bear little resemblance, save for their use of blackouts as scene transitions. Nonetheless, Ghost & Spice’s production of the two plays at Common Ground Theatre helps illustrate the similarities that lurk beneath the surfaces of these two seemingly disparate works.

The Duck Variations, which opens this production, presents a series of “variations” on a conversation between George (Jordan Smith) and Emil (David Ring), as they observe ducks in the park. The piece contains almost no action and only the merest semblance of a plot, but veteran Triangle actors Smith and Ring have such a solid grasp of Mamet’s staccato dialogue that the energy stays high throughout their time on stage. Their relaxed body language and easy chemistry illuminate their characters’ inarticulate-but-profound observations, such as “Everything that lives must sweat,” which are comic and ultimately poignant.

Sexual Perversity is both darker and more elaborate, dealing with the bitterness of the singles scene. Set in the leisure-suit days of 1976, with period songs punctuating many of the scenes, it tells of two sets of friends, Bernie and Danny (Carl Martin and Jeffrey Scott Detwiler) and Deborah and Joan (Tracey Coppedge and Rachel Klem). Their lives collide when Danny and Deborah begin seeing each other, which prompts would-be womanizer Bernie and romantic burn-out Joan to each offer their own destructive support.

As Bernie, one of Mamet’s most gloriously misogynistic characters, Martin radiates a raw comic and malevolent presence. Clad in a too-tight business suit reminiscent of Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character from Saturday Night Live (and occasionally a Speedo), he gets to the heart of the combination of braggadocio and resentment at Bernie’s core. Klem, mostly clad in black-and-white outfits, has a particularly difficult character to work with, but gives a comic snap to her line readings, particularly in the scenes where Joan, a teacher, deals with her grade school class. As the couple, Coppedge and Detwiler are better when they’re breaking up than when they’re together, but do an excellent job of communicating how their friends influence their romantic interactions.

The production uses the absolute bare minimum of props to create Mamet’s worlds, but the effect gives the two plays a unique sense of synchronicity. You feel as though George and Emil might be older and slightly wiser versions of Danny and Bernie, still sitting around discussing things they barely understand. Perhaps that’s why the plays are paired together so often; it’s to give the audience a double dose of sweet and sour. —Zack Smith


by Zack Smith

Dwight L. MacPherson has already taken Edgar Allen Poe on a fantastic journey with Image’s The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allen Poo, which was recently nominated for an Eagle Award. Now, he’s taking on Harry Houdini with Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits, an original graphic novel premiering from Viper Comics in June (you can also preview the series at http://www.chemsetcomics.com/). What happens when a young Harry Houdini starts a detective agency with a group of circus children?

Read on to find out.

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