Hostile Questions: Adam Selzer
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
Adam Selzer: Do you know that name? Well, you might. He has published over 10 books since 2007 and maintains blogs on everything from Chicago history to naughty playground songs to retro YA. In short, he’s the type of unstoppable word-producing machine who scares writers-block-plagued let-me-try-this-sentence-one-more-time hunt-and-peckers straight out of the room.
But none of that scares me, Mr. Selzer. I myself can fancify words right quick. You know how long it took me to type up this whole interview? NEGATIVE 30 SECONDS. Let’s do this!
Just who do you think you are?
I’m one of those YA mid-listers who gets good reviews but sells about six copies per book. All these years of publishing has taught me a valuable lesson: reading is for squares. These days I mostly concentrate on my night job, which is taking people around Chicago in a black tour bus telling them gruesome stories about people getting stabbed in the face with sharpened umbrella sticks in 1898 (right where the parking meter is now!) and telling them a few basics of how to launch their career as a 19th-century resurrection man. In the 1870s a gang of such guys had a hub right about where the Hooters is now.
I find that the market for these sort of stories is much better than the market for YA novels nowadays–at least ones that aren’t about a “highly relatable” girl who loves her first boyfriend forever and ever. The thought of having to write those all the time scares me much more than spending the night in some old graveyard.
Where do you get off?
Usually at the Aberdeen stop (ho ho ho). The Grand Avenue bus used to stop right on my street, but now it doesn’t, probably because some old men complained about having a bus stop right outside of their “social club” where they would sit around reminiscing about the old days, when they were a greaser gang called (and I’m not making this up) The Almighty Gaylords. The guy who makes the sandwiches down at Nini’s Deli still has stories about getting hassled by the Gaylords back in the day. Nowadays you never see greaser gangs at all anymore. Even the “social club” popular with the grown-up members is gone now, but they never put the bus stop back, so I get off on Aberdeen and walk up to my street from there. I go around the block if the guy in the overalls is out and about–I swear, that dude just wanders the earth looking for people to bother.
That’s what I said to the guy who was putting his car in the oven. Turns out he wanted a hot rod.
It’s weird how these jokes come to life, you know. One time on one of my tours we pulled down a dead end street that was used as a body dump by a 19th-century murderer, and there were chickens running across the road. To get to the other side, no doubt.
Jokes aside, own big idea was always to write YA novels for weird kids. Geek empowerment. Ragged glory. Encouraging adults to go read “Howl” doesn’t carry any special thrill, but pushing the same poem on fifth graders is probably not even legal and makes me feel like a regular subversive even though I’m really kind of lame and middle-of-the-road. I’ve lost more than one job for not being crazy enough.
What is your problem, man?
Mine? Mainly that they always want to market my books as “ages 10+” instead of “ages 14+” on the grounds that Barnes & Noble will order twice as many copies. So I take out most of the swear words and the more explicit references to sex (in the first draft I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It they dealt much more with the fact that Doug the zombie didn’t have flowing blood and, therefore, couldn’t get it up, which I think is the sort of thing girls who date the undead would have to deal with every day). Then when Barnes & Noble skips the book anyway, I just feel like I sold out for nothing. One day I’ll put them all back out with the swear words and titles restored–my last two, Sparks and Extraordinary, were a lot more fun to talk about when they were called Debbie Does Detention and Fairy Godmofo. My first one, How to Get Suspended and Influence People, is out of print now, and wheels are in motion for a special “now with more swearing” edition that the people who try to kick that one out of libraries will really hate.
Are there still YA book bloggers out there who have disclaimers saying “I don’t do literary analysis of books, because that sounds like work”? Are there still unpublished authors hanging around message boards dispensing terrible advice on how to write, sell, and market your novel? People who think books with the word “ass” have no place in the library? How about people who think Goodreads is a wonderful tool for promoting books? People who think it’s okay to freak out and say “it’s totally dated now” if a book from 1978 has a reference to 1970s pop culture? If so, have I said anything to shock and offend them yet? If not, I still have some work to do.
I’ve also only done Smart Aleck’s Guides to three Shakespeare plays, so I have at least 30 of those left to do. At the Newberry Library they have a copy of the First Folio, the first big Shakespeare book that they’ll actually bring out to you–and not just under glass. You can touch it and smell it and everything. It smells like bowling shoes, and there’s not a single badly-formatted e-book of the Collected Plays of Shakespeare that’s a bigger pain to actually read. So that’s my advice to new writers: if you don’t like the cover or the title they give your book, or you don’t like the way it’s laid out or marketed, just remember that the first Collected Works of Shakespeare, the first time roughly half those plays were ever in print at all, came in a big, unwieldy book that’s full of typos and layout problems. It cost the equivalent of about a thousand bucks in modern money when it first came out, featured an “author photo” that may not have looked a damn thing like Shakespeare really did, and smells like bowling shoes. And he did all right. He was too dead to care by the time it came out, but still.
In the mean time you can find me prowling the streets of Chicago, wearing through shoes that are supposed to last thirty years in two months, shouting insults at nightclub douchebags, sticking cameras into tombs, and working on a YA novel for kids who worship the devil.