The KING DORK Sequel Is Almost Here... See Why We LURVE Author Frank Portman in This Exclusive Interview!
Tom Henderson, the antihero of Frank Portman's 2006 cult classic King Dork, has a conspiracy theory involving so-called normal people, an ambivalent at best and demonic at worst high school administration, the death of his father, the Catcher Cult of teachers and other adults obsessed with J.D. Salinger's (very Tom-esque) Holden Caulfield, a fake fake girl, and a pervy vice principal. He's just about my favorite YA protagonist Of. All. Time. (Even John Green is a fan!)
So, here's my conspiracy theory: Portman and his publisher have waited eight long years to publish King Dork's sequel, King Dork Approximately, because they like to torture us. Also, Portman was behind the Moon Landing. At age four. "Moon" has four letters, which is how many letters both "King" and "Dork" have in them, which if you add them up is eight letters, which is how many years we've had to wait for this sequel. You follow?
KDA comes out in December, but sport that he is, Portman has offered us a sneak-peek and
indulged my finest flattery answered some questions on Tom Henderson, high school, bullying, and toothpaste. ~STAY TUNED FOR THE SNEAK PEEK!!!~
SparkLife: Chi-Mo, I mean Tom, has been blessed with many nicknames. Have you ever been involuntarily christened with a name you didn’t like? If so, did you deal with it with the same grace and aplomb as your protagonist? (Please cross-reference Question 6.)
Most of the epithet-hurlers in my own life have been extremely unimaginative, never moving far beyond “faggot” (though they certainly did hurl that one with great frequency and enthusiasm). Exceptions I can remember were things like “Port-woman” or “Porta-potty,” which I can honestly say I enjoyed quite a bit more than “faggot” because they were, it seemed, gentler and less threatening of imminent violence.
There was this one kid, though, Raymond Something, who in elementary school decided to start calling me “Portable Pig,” sparking intense feelings of persecution and torment that I now see were arguably quite far out of proportion to the offense. I think it was mostly down to Raymond S’s diligence and single-minded consistency: Every single time I entered the school grounds or emerged from a classroom I would hear his buoyant, faux-cheerful bellow, “Hey, look everybody, it’s Portable Pig! Hey Portable Pig! Whatcha been doing Portable Pig? And how’d you get to be so portable?” Or he would sing a jolly little song with lyrics consisting solely of the words “portable” and “pig,” following me down the hallway and doing a weird spastic dance that was, I assume, a parody of my walk. Everyone would laugh, including most prominently this kid Reza, who was my kind of friend who would be walking next to me the whole time snorting and who once whispered to me in his barely-intelligible English, “It’s a funny he is making because a pig eat his own bathroom.” I hated Raymond S. and the name Portable Pig with the fire of at least a thousand suns. It’s hard to explain. Maybe you had to be there.
Eventually Raymond S. shortened the epithet to a mere “Portable,” changing nothing else in the routine, and eventually this was shortened to “Port.” Now, “Port” wasn’t so bad. Port I could deal with. In fact, I think I’ll have a glass now...
In other words, how much of Tom Henderson is there in you? And *mind blowing* vice versa?
I think I heard somewhere that everyone you encounter in a dream is actually some version of you, and I think there’s supposed to be a kind of broad lesson there about how one is only truly knowable to oneself and everything else in life is mere narcissistic projection disguised as genuine engagement with others, which in reality is just a self-flattering illusion. I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with that per se, though I find such pessimism about human psychology to ring true, but I think there’s a sense in which it is probably true to a degree about fictional characters. You can’t write about stuff that isn’t already in your head, and that stuff has to come from somewhere. That said, I don’t think I resemble Tom all that much. I certainly didn’t personally experience anything like the level of alienation that he suffers through and cultivates. But the kernel of it, I’m sure, had to be there. So the answer to the question is, maybe a little, but not really. I “relate” far more to Andromeda Klein (my other protagonist) frankly, than to Tom.
Was your high school more like Hellmont or Queerview?
It was definitely Hellmont, through and through. In fact, I’ve had people who attended that high school, but without knowing that fact about me, tell me they could identify the high school it was modeled on immediately. Something about the poor quality of the education and maybe just poor quality in general.
When did you first read Catcher in the Rye, and why are you so clearly obsessed with it?
I first read it in high school, and for me as for Tom, it was mandatory and unwelcome in a way that mandatory things tend to be. Unlike Tom, though, I am not and never was obsessed with it. In fact, I used to go around saying it was my favorite book, because I knew that’s what was expected of me, and I possibly even half-believed it, till one day it dawned on me that I was faking it. That’s when the whole complex of what Tom calls the Catcher Cult started to seem interesting to me as an outside observer. Before that, my relationship with it was more along the lines of how I used to say, when asked, that green was my favorite color because I’d once read that green is the favorite color of the most intelligent people, when in fact I really didn’t care what color anything was.
Tom is in a band that goes through many, many names. As a real-life punk rock demi-god, your band is called the Mr. T Experience. What other names has your band had? How many times did the logo change (approximately)?
That band never had another name, though we played around with it a bit (The Empty Experience, MTX, MTX Starship, maybe other variants...). But I certainly did, previously, have a great many “notebook bands” of the kind described in King Dork when I was in high school. Many of these names wound up in the book(s) (The Visine Eye, Sentient Beard, The Shopping Centers, though not, perhaps sadly, Tennis with Guitars or Ray Bradbury’s Love-Camel).
Your stage name is “Dr. Frank.” Is that a PhD, MD, or DDS?
I am a Doctor of Nothing, Miss Williams. It sounds important and I hurt no one. Unlike most doctors.
That’s a quote from the 1941 film The Shanghai Gesture, from a character named Dr. Omar played by Victor Mature, and it’s a better answer to that question than any I’ve come up with myself. But I have answered all those things, especially dentist.
Do you write songs for your band? If so, which is harder—writing fiction or writing songs?
Yes, I do write songs, and in many ways writing songs and writing novels is similar, and similarly difficult to do well. The main difference is in how they are experienced by the audience. If someone dislikes a song, it’s over in a couple of minutes and can quite easily be forgiven and forgotten. But people take novels more personally, when they dislike them anyway, and react with outrage and fury when “forced” to go through 300 disliked pages. But with songs and novels alike, when they do “click,” they work in the same kind of way and, at the risk of sounding a little corny, they become part of a person’s soul and life.
Tom is super into music, to an intimidating degree. In five words or less, describe your take on popular music today.
Page 325: On a scale from 1-10, how uncomfortable was that to write and revise with your editor? (We like arbitrary metrics here at SparkLife. [See Question 8.] They make us feel safe.)
To be honest, that’d be about a "1" as far as discomfort. It’s a pretty genuine moment that just flowed out and felt right (and incidentally, the end, including this bit, was written first—is that a surprise?). That passage was originally quite a bit longer, but it was cut down for impact rather than to avoid discomfort. Anyway, to a large degree I’m in it for the discomfort, so maybe I’m not quite getting the question.
What does your toothpaste say about you?
Unfortunately my toothpaste isn’t on the list. Aim. 99 cents. And what it says about me is I am a smart shopper/cheap bastard.
Who are your favorite writers (other than J.D. Salinger, obvi)?
This changes over time, but right now I would say: Patrick Hamilton, Henry James, and Patricia Highsmith, with a lifetime achievement award-type nod to D. Manus Pinkwater. JDS is okay but has never been my main line.
Did you love King Dork? Are you fully aboard the Frank Portman bandwagon?!!