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English Introduction

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the Book Discussions with Mirjam Morad and
the Jury of Young Readers!

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Joey Goebel

Gespräch der Jury der Jungen Leser mit dem Jugendbuchpreisträger 2006 Joey Goebel, dem Autor von 'Vincent' und 'Freaks', das wir momentan auch im Blog besprechen.

26.Oktober.2006 im Café Prückl.

JG...Joey Goebel
MM...Mirjam Morad

JM: Do you think that Harlan, a character in your book, is very similar to you, because in the book it says he has also a band... ?

JG: Well, we are similar only to the extend of our view of the world, we both have a kind of bitter attitude towards American culture, because both Harlan and I found American culture completely dumb and beyond that there aren’t many similarities. I think that Harlan compared to myself is a kind of a meanie. I would never hurt a child like he did to Vincent.

JM: Why did you choose the name Vincent, in the book it says it’s from a song?

JG: Yes. Do you know the song (he starts singing) ‘Starry, starry night’. It’s from that one. I think it’s a really beautiful song. The version I really like, which is mentioned in the book, is by an American punk band called “NOFX”. Do you know them? I was really in to them when I was in High-School.

JM: What about your next book? What’s it going to be about?

Joey: It’s going to be about a really wealthy family, but there is one trashy son, one son who has a mullet (Vokuhila) and within that context I talk about the class struggle in America. It’s something that the media doesn’t cover that often, the main stream media portrays our society as if there were no classes at all. And the strangest thing is that we have a very tiny class of elite billionaires and then we have a humongous low class, working class and the working class votes for the elite politicians who don’t represent their interests, it makes no sense, but the politicians ensnare the lower classes through so-called values like morals, morality, god, guns, gays and abortions and so forth. I won’t get into that, but I think it’s a shame that people in America, maybe all over the world, vote against their economic interests.

JM: Why did you choose women’s names for the titles of the chapters?

JG: I know that personally girls have played a crucial role in my development as a writer and as a person and I think that, more in general, love can bring out the best and the worst in every individual. I think it’s the alternate motivation and the alternate inspiration and I thinks it’s what everybody is looking for. I think, everything, everybody does, anything a person tries to achieve is in hopes of finding true love somehow and with that in mind each woman in each chapter plays a crucial role and everything revolves around that woman, so it seemed fitting to me to have the chapter titles be women’s names.

JM: Where did you get the idea from writing this (crazy) story?

JG: I guess the simplest answer I can give for that is that I just came up with a weird idea. What if every song on the radio is written by one really lonely guy? I thought how could that happen, how could that come to be, and I thought the reason would be he would be deprived of love, he would be kept lonely, maybe he would even be kept in a dungeon somewhere, just completely unhappy, and it’s just a silly idea, but then I thought I could get a whole story, a whole book out of it.
Any idea I ever have I write it down. That’s the most practical advice I can give to any young writer. Don’t rely on your muses, because the muses normally won’t collaborate with you when you want them to, so what you have to do is any idea that comes to you, keep a little notepad with you and write it down. That way you don’t have to rely on inspiration all the time. When you get to the keyboard you already have your ideas written down and maybe you can build a story around them. I can’t stress how important that has been to me, keep notes on my thoughts. Underneath every piece of furniture in my house I keep a notepad and a pencil.

JM: How did you start writing books?

JG: First I was a screenwriter, an unsuccessful screenwriter and as you can imagine, it’s like winning a lottery to actually sell a script to Hollywood, so my first novel “The Anormalies (Freaks)” originally was a script and I couldn’t sell it. I love reading novels so I thought, well, I just turn it into a novel, more novels are sold than scripts of course, and so that worked out for me and in the end I’m glad that I chose that path.

MM: Do you really think that an artist has to be in such a bad condition to be good?

JG: No, I don’t really think that at all. I think that it’s possible for a completely well adjusted and happy person to be capable of creating something good, I don’t think that’s a prerequisite at all. I think a lot of young writers think that they have to suffer, they have to develop some cool addiction in order to be taken seriously and I disagree with that. Hopefully it made for an entertaining story, but I don’t condone tormenting yourself for the sake of your art. I say to young writers you don’t have to become alcoholic to be a good writer, that’s a cliché, try to be happy, writers can be happy, it’s possible, artists can be happy.

JM: When did you write the book “Vincent”?

JG: It was released in America two years ago this month and so I wrote it three years ago and “Freaks” I wrote when I was 21, so it’s been five years.

JM: It wasn’t like start writing overnight with “Freaks” or “Vincent”, was it?

JG: I should mention, and this is important, that first I was a songwriter, and I had a punk band “The Mullets” and I sent demos out to a lot of labels and got rejected a lot of times, then I became a screenwriter, sent tons of query letters out to agents and producers and I was rejected many times, wrote a novel, started trying to contact agents, was rejected many, many times. I mean, this book was rejected about 35 times by agents. So, don’t give up, whatever it is you want to do, I just think that life is too short, follow your dream whatever it is as long as it doesn’t hurt other people.

JM: But it’s really amazing, because you also could choose a job like everybody else…

JG: I should mention that I will become a teacher next year. I’m going to be an English composition teacher, creative writing and I guess I come in misconception about publish authors, that they make a lot of money and that’s what they do for living. From what I’ve learned personally that’s rarely the case, most publish writers have a job, many authors teach and of course the alternate goal is to be able to support yourself with the writing alone.

JM: Are you still making music?

JG: Writing my books takes all my time, it takes long to write one and after a day of writing I like to relax, that usually means watching TV or listening to music rather than making music.

JM: Which are your favourite bands?

JG: I love “The Pixies”, some of the newer bands I like are “The Strokes” and “The Killers”, the “Arcade Fire”, “The Dead Milkman”, “The Beatles”, I love “Bob Dylan”.

JM: Are you also a reader or just a writer?

JG: I read every night before I go to sleep, it relaxes me. My favourite writers are “Kurt Vonnegut” and “F. Scott Fitzgerald”. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately to research for my new book, I read a lot of political material.

JM: Did you do a lot of research for “Vincent” too?

JG: Yes, I tried to learn as much as I could about writers and artist who were known for being really troubled. I compared them and tried to find out what they had in common. I found in my research that so many writers got a creative disease. Lots of them had bad relationships with their fathers.

JM: In “Vincent” you introduce everybody with a favourite-list. Could you tell us your own list?

JG: I love it when people ask me that, because I think it’s a really easy way to get to know somebody. My favourite band are “The Pixies”, my favourite TV-Show is “The Office”, my favourite movie is “Cool Hand Luke”. I also love “The Royal Tenenbaums”, anything James Dean has been in, I love “The Godfather”- movies, lots of titles that I mention in the book actually.

JM: Do you like Vincent or Freaks more?

JG: I like my newest, my third novel better than both of them. I think “Vincent” is superior, it’s more well-written, but “Freaks” holds a very special place in my heart since it was my first novel. I wasn’t such a perfectionist with it, because I thought I had nothing to prove. I don’t know, I like them both.

JM: Are you very confident with your books, a hundred-percent sure?

JG (laughs): No, no, no,  just fifty percent. Only fifty percent. I don’t want to be confident, I think confidence is probably the worst thing that can happen to a writer, you stagnate, you won’t improve, because you say: Oh, I’m so awesome. Whatever I write, it’s going to be good. I think confidence is really overrated in general. To me confidence is a turn-off. I like awkwardness and self-deprecation (laughs), I think that’s a good quality to have, thinking that you are no better than the lowest of the low.

Morton Rhue

Gespräch der Jury der Jungen Leser mit Morton Rhue, dem Autor von Die Welle und jetzt ganz aktuell ‚Boot Camp’

14.03.06 im Literaturhaus Wien

(Für mehr Informationen zum Buch, gibt es hier eine Rezension oder du besuchst die Online-Diskussion in  unserem Blog.)

MR...Morton Rhue

MM...Mirjam Morad

 JM:  All the books you wrote are about the outsider-theme and also this grouppressure-theme and even kind of fashistic tendencies – is this based on your experience, when you were young?

MR:  Yes. When I was young my experience was being an outsider and so all this books seem to have that theme of the outsider and the insiders.

MM: Your last book – ‘Boot Camp’. You did research? Have you been in a Boot Camp?

MR:  No, I couldn’t. They wouldn’t let me in. There has been a lot of publicity about Boot Camps in the last 2 or 3 years and so they would not let writers or journalists in now to write about them. They used to let them in, because they thought, the publicity would help, but the publicity turned very negative and so now they don’t let writers in.

JM:  In Austria we don’t have Boot Camps and we don’t know about anything like that. How do you come to write about it?

MR: I was reading a US-newspaper, actually a story about Guantanamo, Cuba, which is where the US keeps foreign terrorists from the middle-east and they are kept there without charges and they have no idea, there is no sentence, they don’t know how long they are going to be there. In the same newspaper, in another part of the paper was an article about Boot Camps, where american teenagers are sent without charges, and they have no idea how long they are going to be there. So I was reading and I realized that some of these kids in american Boot Camps are treated the way the US treats foreign terrorists and I thougt this is something to write about.

JM:  Is it legal to keep the children or the young people there in this Boot Camps?

MR:  Until they reach the age of 18 it is legal. At the age of 18 they are considered adults and they can leave, but as long as the parents want them to be in a Boot Camp they can stay there.

JM:  Because you wrote about this disgusting states in the Boot Camps and between the young people – how could something like this be legal?

MR: It’s not legal. But if there is noone there, if there is no evidence, that something illegal has happened, there is noone, who is going to stop them. It’s like in the US: we have speedlimits on highways. Speedlimit is 55 miles an hour, but I can drive 100 miles an hour if nobody catches me. It’s the same thing in Boot Camps. If you are not caught, you can do it.

JM:  Is it true that there are children dying sometimes?

MR: There are 50 documented cases of young people dying in Boot Camps. There are probably more, who have actually died. Just two month ago a 14-year-old boy died in a Florida Boot Camp. He was beaten to death.

JM:  If a child dies, is there anybody doing anything against it?

MR:  Yes, because in this case of this 14-year-old boy it was video-taped and now there is an investigation into what happened. But if you walk out in the desert or in the mountains and there is no video-tape and somebody dies, how do you prove that it was done by the camp?

JM:  When they come out of the camp after they are 18 do they group together and seal the camps or the parents or something like that?

MR: I have not heard of them doing that. The only law-suits had been by parents against Boot Camps, where children have died or has been badly injured.

MM: How can parents compare if they bring their child there or let them take their child?

MR: I think what happens is that parents have a child, who is very rebellious. The child doesn’t go to school during the day, they’re stealing money, they are taking drugs, whatever and the parents sometimes are desperate, they don’t know what to do. Other times maybe the child isn’t quite the child they want and they think that a Boot Camp will make them more the child they want.

MM: But they are zombies!

MR: That’s the point. If the child comes out and now says: ‘Yes daddy, yes mummy’ and goes to school every day and does their homework, was has happened to their childs spirit? They are broken.

MM: But they will be the next parents to bring the children to Boot Camps…

JM:  You were not allowed to visit a Boot Camp, so where did you get your information from?

MR:  Uptill I got a lot of information from old magazine-stories and newspapers and some televisiondocumentaries and there is a lot of information on the internet. You can find testamonies from students, people, who had been in the Boot Camps and so I worked from those sources.

JM:  Do you think, that if parents are putting their children to a Boot Camp, it is kind of running away from their responsibility?

MR: I think in some cases that’s true. I think that some parents feel that they are not willing or able to help their children and so they are giving up their responsibility as parents and hiring someone else to do it.

JM:  Do the police know about the brutality in these Boot Camps?

MR: There is a difference between what the police know and what they can do about it. They may know that there is brutality but if they can’t prove it, they can’t do anything.

JM:  What about the parents? If parents sent their kids to Boot Camps they must know about it…

MR: I think, what happens there is, that the Boot Camps says ‘Oh no, that won’t happen again…that was one time and it wasn’t really our fault…that was a different Boot Camp…’ I think, they have explanations for these things.

MM: Are there people, who want to change this and are fighting against these camps?

MR: There is an organization, that has collected a lot of information, a lot of stories about Boot Camps and in fact they came up with the number of 50 who have died. They had done all the research. But I think all they do is collect this information, I don’t think they do anything more than that.


JM:  In ‘The Wave’ you say, what bothers you most is, that nobody is doing anything against this movement of the experiment and do you think that if ‘works’ with kids, that can also happen with adults in a way again?

MR: I don’t know, I mean, the purpose of the wave is to warn against that. But I mean there’s always this inclination among human beings to sort of band together and all believe in the same thing and I want to have something to protect against and that’s why the book ‘The Wave’ exists.

JM:  But do you think, when there is a group like this and all believe in the same thing, I mean, when you are religious it’s the same, so what happens that fascism grows, what’s the trigger that’s starting a fascistic movement?

MR:  I don’t know. I guess the thing is that the religion do not use fear. It’s not like: ‘you join us or else’ and that is what a fascistic group does – they use fear, they give you the feeling, that if you don’t join you will loose your money or your home or your freedom, whatever it is. So my guess is what makes it fascism is when there is fear involved, when there is really a pressure and you make other people afraid.

JM:  You often write about violence, group pressure and such things, which happens daily on the street, so do you want to open the eyes with your books?

MR:  That’s what I am hoping. But I am always showing the extreme, like the school-schootings in ‘Give A Boy A Gun’.

JM:  In a way you are giving us the example in your books that it’s not good to be part of the group, because the group in all of your books is in a way bad.

MR:  It’s almost true, but in ‘Give A Boy A Gun’ the group is the pressure that makes these boy snap, but what they do is really the worst thing. They start to shoot other kids. Generally in my books there are evil influences that do emanate from the group against the individual and that comes from my experience as a teenager.

JM:  Can you identify with the characters in your books?

MR: Usually I do identify with the protagonists, they to me are the heros, so I do. The case again in ‘Ich knall euch ab’ I identify up to a point of them, but obviously I don’t think it’s right to pick up guns and shoot people.

JM:  Do you think you could write about outsiders without having experienced this feeling when you were a child?

MR: I don’t know, that’s a very interesting question. I think you write about the things you have experienced, if I had not experienced being an outsider I probably would not be writing books like this. I think what makes you a writer is the experience, what has happend in your life.

JM:  The character of Robert  (‘The Wave’) – does it basic on a real person with other name or does it more basic on your own experience?

MR: ‘The Wave’ is is based on an essay written by Ron Jones, the teacher, who did the experiment. And Robert was one of the original characters from the essay. There are other characters in the book, that I made up to make the story bigger.


discussion because of a question about groups, after some time…


MR: You know, all of us are members of some groups, in this room right now many of us are members of ‘the blue-jeans-group’, so there are groups that are not harmful to be a member of and than there are some groups that are harmful. But we all tend to follow fashion, if we are following fashion we are part of a group. So it’s not like I’m saying, you can’t be part of any group, I’m just saying it’s important that you think for yourself and not be part of oppressive groups.

JM:  So the message is, we shouldn’t believe everything they tell us, and do everything they want us to do?!

MR: I think that you should always think about what you are doing. That doesn’t mean you always say ‘no’, but it means you don’t just do it because someone tells you to do it.

JM:  And what was the reaction of people or the press who read ‘The Wave’?

MR: It’s interesting, it got a good reaction in the US, but over the years it sells more copies a year now than it did when it first came out.

JM:  Do you think the reason for this is the fear of this fascistic groups or movements?

MR: I’m not sure, I think that’s a part of it, I also think that more and more teachers in the US have learned about it and have decided that it is a good book with a good lesson. I also think that as we go further and further from Worldwar 2 there is more need of teachers and people wanting to have something to remember, so that the lessons are not forgotten. I think it’s an effort to keep the memory of the lesson alive!

JM:  So it’s not the fear of a new group, but the fear of forgetting?

MR: Yes, but the reason you fear of forgetting is because if you forget, then maybe a new group will come along – so it’s both.


MM: What are you going to write now?

MR: I’m going to write a book about young people who join gangs and living in ‘ghettos’ (gemeint: sowas wie Gemeindebauten bei uns).

JM:  How long do you usually work on a book?

MR: I would say these books would take me 8 to 10 months.

JM:  What do you feel when you are writing?

MR: I am in the story, sometimes I start writing at 8 in the morning and suddenly my stomach gets hungry and I look at my watch and it’s 11.30 or 12 o’clock. The time is just gone, it’s almost like a dream, cause you are in this other world. I am always very much involved in the feelings of every character or try to be.

JM:  When did you start writing?

MR: I started writing when I was at college, university and I just kept writing and writing and writing…

JM:  Did you write other books like the ones that are in the market here?

MR: Oh yes, I have written about 120 books, but not just 6 or 7 have been published in German.

JM:  But you are not always writing about this heavy stuff?

MR: No, I write a lot of books for younger kids and those books are funny and I write other books for teenagers that are more actionoriented like my serious of teenage-surfers.       

MR: Now a question to you: How do you like Boot Camp?

JM:  I liked it very much because at the end, when Conor says ‘Sir’ to his father and keeps very distant it seems so realistic to me. It shows the broken soul. And I was very shocked, when those people who brought him to the camp, bring him back after he had rescued them. It’s really hard for the reader.

JM:  I was very shocked when I read it. In Austria you don’t know anything about such camps and you don’t have the idea that something like this exists. And when I came to the end and there stands it is true and there are such camps, I was even more shocked, because I thought it was a story.

JM:  I started reading and I didn’t stop until the end!

JM:  It’s hard to imagine, that this is done to people, who have not really done a crime or something like that, just normally young people who have misbehaved in a way and they are sent to a camp with such brutal methods. And this dark atmosphere in this camps, the military feeling, I just can not imagine…

JM:  While reading I wasn’t really sure, if the camps really exists and so I asked my mother and she also didn’t know about that. So it’s not only shocking that these camps exist, but also that noone knows about it!

JM:  There is a lot of tension in your book and this true story behind, it really kept me.

MR:  Dankeschön!

JM:  I like your books, because you write about real problems and I think with this books you show us how it is. I think the ideas of your books are very good.

JM:  The authenticity and the normalness of your books are more shocking than the ‘shockers’ (actionbooks, …) I can much more identify with your books because of that.

MR: There is a saying in Englisch: Truth is stranger than fiction!

MM: I want to say that you don’t spare the reader!


JM:  When I read the last chapter, I began to cry and I told it Mirjam and she said, her feelings were completely different, she was very angry, so what do you want to create in the reader, what kind of feeling do you want to create?

MR: It’s a little vague, so that the reader comes to their own conclusion, I think if an ending is a little bit unsure, it makes you really think about it. And that’s what I want!

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