Frank Portman's novel, King Dork, is one of my favorite novels in recent years. I interviewed the author here and named it one of my favorite books of the year that year.
Now he has written a sequel of sorts called King Dork Approximately. It is as original and brilliant as the first book but I would suggesting reading the first book first. Oh and Portman is also the lead singer of the punk band Mr. T Experience.
Where to begin to describe this book, the first one? The lead character, like his author, wants to lead a punk band but seems to spend more time creating band names than, say, practicing.
What I liked most about it was how he captured how English teachers worship and idealize The Catcher in The Rye and in their push to make you love it too really push you away.
The new book is a followup to events of the first book. He also wrote a book called Andromeda Klein which I interviewed him about here.
Frank and I did an email interview.
Scott: Was the plan always to have a sequel of King Dork or did that idea surface years after the first book was out?
Frank: It was always my plan to do a sequel, yes, though it’s nature and character were not specified in the plan. I didn’t realize it would begin precisely where the first book left off till I’d written a great deal of it. There is in fact a long storyline that takes these guys into a adulthood and also pulls in the characters in my other book Andromeda Klein along the way, though the precise nature of any further novels that deal with them will similarly only be determined if and as they are written.
Scott: Why was there such a long period of time between the two books?
Well there was a second book in between, and it was kind of, well, I think the technical term for it is “a doozy” as far as the experience of writing it and its aftermath. But generally speaking, it takes quite a long time to write a novel, quite apart from such doozies. Essentially, for me (though I know I’m not the only one) much of this time is spent staring at a blank page and/or typing out rubbish that will get abandoned completely when the real spark alights. Waiting for this spark with a contract hanging over your head, bills piling up, and maxed out credit cards has driven many a novelist to madness as well as penury, but it is the Writer’s Life. That said, three books in eight years is not such a terrible stat. Or so I like to tell myself.
Scott: How did you come up with the idea for this one? Was it hard to get back into these characters frame of minds? How would you summarize what this book is about?
It wasn’t hard to get back into the frame of mind of Tom Henderson at all, especially once it all “got going.” It’s a voice that has its own momentum. The idea at the outset was pretty vague, but I stuck to it. Whereas King Dork was a pseudo-mystery, King Dork Approximately was conceived as a pseudo love story. As to what it’s about, that’s actually kind of tricky, but both books are essentially about what happens when an adolescent’s solipsistic world encounters the reality outside itself.
Scott: Do you still tour with the Mr. T Experience? I have to ask - has Mr. T ever commented or attended shows by your band?
I’m gearing up to do some touring with the reconstituted band this year, yes, but it has been awhile. For the last ten years or so it has mostly been just one off shows and parties here and there. As for your second question, I think it’s safe to say that had the gentleman in question ever attended a show, I’d have noticed him. Over the years fans have presented him with MTX records to sign, and from what I gather the reaction has been theatrical, good-natured hostility. And I would expect nothing less.
Scott: How does song writing and performing compare to writing these books?
Between songwriting and novel writing the process is quite different, but there is an over-arching similarity that is, I suppose, common to any art or creative endeavor. Basically, you wait for inspiration to strike and put yourself in position with the tools (guitar or typing mechanism, respectively) necessary to take advantage of it so it doesn’t flit away leaving no trace. It’s not the case with all songs and all novels (and their writers) but for me I think there is a close affinity between the kinds of songs I write and the kind of novels I write. They’re “voice”-driven character studies.
Scott: One of the parts I love most about your books are not part of the books itself but, in this book's case, rather the glossary where you manage to get in some digs on Rush and art rock. Are those as fun to write as they are to read?
They are the most fun part to write, certainly. Pretending to be a teenaged Ambrose Bierce turns out to be way more enjoyable than you’d think.
Scott: You also, both in the book itself as well as in the glossary, have criticisms about how some bands drummers are. Is this an issue you also have to deal with in your own band?
It is a rare band that does not have some form of the proverbial “drummer problem” (which is why it is a trope that can be satirized to such great effect.) Friction between singers and drummers in particular is a well-documented phenomenon. As anyone who has ever been in a band will tell you, it comes up. (It predates rock and roll as well: “drummer jokes” date back to the early jazz era if not earlier.) From the other side, though, drumming is really hard, and largely a thankless job, so it’s not at all surprising that drummers tend to feel unnoticed and unthanked.
Scott: Do you have kids or friends in high school these days that you were able to use to try to describe what's life like in high schools these days?
I don’t have kids myself, no. I do have nephews of high school age, and I also meet and talk to lots of high school students in the course of my literary and rock and roll activities. To be honest though, I haven’t spent a great deal of effort trying to amass detailed notes on what life is like in high schools “these days”. I’m going for the general, not to say the universal, rather than the particular. And my own experience in life has truly been that the more things change, the more they stay relentlessly the same. I know from speaking with contemporary kids that I’m largely right about this. “High school” is an enduring thing, superficial changes notwithstanding.