Before or after you watch The Bling Ring, also watch Foxes.

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review by Tessa

A group of friends from the Valley participates in an activity that is part bonding and part trying to become part of the adult world, and it backfires. They end up in a police station. Their actions and reaction reveal cultural preoccupations of their time. It could be a vague description of The Bling Ring,  reviewed by Rebecca yesterday, but it’s also a vague description of Foxes, Adrian Lyne’s 1980 film starring Jodie Foster and Cherie Currie.

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As I watched Foxes I immediately connected it to the teens of The Bling Ring – although I haven’t seen Coppola’s film yet, I have read Nancy Jo Sales’ book. I was happy to learn that I wasn’t stretching my interpretation – Coppola mentions Foxes as an inspiration in this interview with Rookie.

I thought The Bling Ring, Sales’ expansion of her original Vanity Fair article about a celebrity robbery ring run by a bunch of middle class teenagers in the Valley, an enjoyable if depressing look at celebrity-stalking culture, starring teenagers who are unaware that their narcissism is showing. Sales fills out the story with speculation as to why and how this kind of culture grew and affected Valley denizens (and non-Valley denizens), but it’s never a mystery how the kids (allegedly?) did it, and it ends up being cringingly sad how they all try to deny it and rat each other out.

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Foxes has a smaller and more internal trajectory, and a comparison of the two says a lot about the current interpretation of adulthood in America these days–and here I’m using “adulthood” to mean “grown-up aspirations”.

In Foxes, parents are around, but don’t get it – what it’s like to be the teenage girls. The movie follows four friends – Jeanie, Annie, Madge, and Deirdre, as they re figuring themselves out and yearning for family and a place in the world, somewhere safe – as Jeanie says “somewhere we can try to help each other.”  Annie is a burgeoning drunk and her dad is a psychotically strict policeman – she’s always running away from him to the back of some too-old dude’s motorcycle and the rest of the girls are always retrieving and trying to protect her. But the other three have good-to-normal bonds with their mothers. There’s a great scene where Jeanie (Jodie Foster) gets in bed with her mom to read her Plato, so her mom can study for a college class, and a very real scene where Madge (Marilyn Kagan) gets upset that her mom is questioning her about her virginity at her birthday party, so she shuts herself up in her room to cry — and then her mom comes in and curses her with calling every single friend who shows up later and apologizing for canceling the party.

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In The Bling Ring the parents aren’t so much of the picture, and if they are they identify too much with their children’s youth – like Alexis Neier’s mom. Although she is yelled at by Alexis every single time she tries to speak to Nancy Jo Sales, it is clear that her mom sees herself as a friend to Alexis, and booster of the pursuit of beauty and fame, and spiritual enlightenment (through the use of The Secret).

Is it better or just different than this outburst from Jeanie’s mom in Foxes?:

“You want a place of your own? Fine, take this one. …There’s too much music here, too many boys, girls laying all over the furniture, half out of your clothes, on the floor. You’re too beautiful! All of you! You make me hate my hips! I hate my hips.”

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In Foxes the girls are always talking about finding a space of their own:

Jeanie: “[Annie] should have someplace to go, you know?”

Madge: “Where?”

Jeanie: “I dunno… Sometimes I think it’s, like, 1 o’clock in the morning, you just had a fight with your mom, there’s no place to go. Someplace with like, pillows around, a little music, people to talk to. That sort of thing, you know?”

Their lives seem to be whirlwinds of trying to get to class on time, hitting on guys in the supermarket line, covering for each other when two dates show up to the same Angel show, fending off the gently clumsy advances of Baby Scott Baio, 10baioand being there for each other after breakups.  Eventually they try to fulfill their friend/family fantasies with a private dinner party at Madge’s older boyf’s house and it totally turns into a rager (no thanks to Baby Laura Dern).38dern

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The girls don’t explicitly learn lessons from this, but they do realize that they hurt other people’s property. And further, more serious plot developments change and toughen them, or set them up for even more growing.

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In The Bling Ring the guy and girls are yearning for a place in the world through fame – if you don’t do something, you are no one. The line that Emma Watson says in the trailer about being a world leader is taken from the mouth of Alexis Neiers herself.  They want a family that’s more like a clique and try to fulfill this through stealing (whether consciously or not) and it falls apart – they all try to blame each other to avoid jail time. Neiers gets married and reforms herself.

They need the crime to feel like they’ve been made real –they push in to the celebrities’ space, committing criminal acts, whereas in Foxes the police element comes from other people pushing into the girls’ space, their fantasy of what they want a family to be. But that doesn’t mean they don’t wish their families were like famous, or at least beautiful, people:

Annie: “You know, he’s not really my dad.”

Jeanie: “Since when?”

A: “It’s true. Remember the flower children that all the time used to do acid? I was like eleven. I dropped acid and it all came out. I mean that guy, the cop. He ain’t my dad. I saw my real dad. No shit.”

J: “Well what’d he look like?”

A: “Really cool. A cross between Cary Grant… and the Mighty Thor. He was a motocross biker.”

J: “I don’t see Cary Grant on a bike.”

A: “He was! He was so beautiful.”

But I think the most glaring difference between the fake teenagers of Foxes and the real teenagers of The Bling Ring is that the fake teenagers are more in touch with their own feelings. The kids in The Bling Ring are masked, disaffected, and their friendships fall apart when things get rough. The kids in Foxes might be just as bored as their future counterparts, but they seem less miserable, even when they’re crying, and more capable of real joy. Does that mean the world is grimmer today?

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Jeanie: “You go out into the world, it gets scary sometimes. Learn to laugh a little!”

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5 Reasons to make Night of the Comet the next 80s movie you watch

If you’re the type who needs convincing, here are some

Reasons Why You Should Watch Night of the Comet (1984)

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screenshots and review by Tessa

 

1. You’re sick of the classic 80s movies.

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Ok so, Night of the Comet isn’t OBSCURE – it has a whole fan site devoted to it. It was shown at an art museum. But it’s not on the level of Weird Science or other stuff that would automatically get namechecked in, say, Ready Player One. I’m getting old and I need to branch out into lesser-known fare from the 80s in order to satisfy my craving for 80s movies. Often this means watching the quality of the film degrade, in plot or acting or both, trying to find some small part of the film to make it worth watching (usually the clothes and/or hairstyles). Not so here.

 

2a. You like Linda Hamilton doppelgangers.

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Catherine Mary Stewart has the big blue eyes, strong jaw, tawny hair, and toughness of Linda Hamilton. Her character, Regina, is the daughter of a military-career-obsessed father. Her mom is dead and her stepmother is mean. She’s learned to take care of herself as much from her dad as from his absence –  and gets fun where she can take it – like keeping the top 10 slots on her favorite video game at work (a movie theater) filled with her initials. Her only deep bond is with her younger sister, so she has a protective and friendly side as well.

 

2b. Sisters!

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It’s great to see loving sisterly relationships portrayed. Regina and Samantha are totes believable as siblings. Regina has the older sister leading her way into the world thing down, where she makes mistakes and worries about her sister. Samantha, being the younger sister, is more carefree . She’s happy to be a sardonic blonde cheerleader type – tough & bubbly – and she wants to make her own decisions but kinda enjoys being in the protected zone. And R&S are close enough in age that they are also friends and can razz on each other without it becoming big drama. Except in the case of boyfriend-poaching which, if they both survive the cometpocalypse, will probably become a deep seated neurosis for Samantha in her adult life.

Overall, the main peeps were well-written and came off as characters. The zombies and the stepmom were pretty much evil though.

 

3. You’re into great 80s fashion.

 

I’ll start at the boots:

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And raise you legwarmers and spandex:

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Finishing with the irresistible shopping-at-the-mall-cuz-everyone-in-the-world-is-dust-or-zombies montage

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4. You want a post-apocalyptic movie that is as silly as it is gritty.

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The premise of the movie is that the Earth is in the path of a comet’s huge elliptical orbit – not the actual comet, but its emanations or whatever. The last time it hit earth the dinosaurs died, but everyone thinks that’s a coincidence. Most people are outside watching the comet when it passes through, and are pretty much instantaneously dried out and turned to dust.

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The ones who were partially exposed become zombie-like. They go a little crazy and kill and eat people, but they can also talk and reason, up to a certain point in the progression of… whatever it is. A virus? A bacteria? An environmental thing? It’s transmitted through the air. People who weren’t exposed at all are okay… or are they?  Some selfish scientists are trying to figure it out.

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The scientists also like legwarmers.

The actual science is, as you may expect, vague, and its resolution is in keeping with that vagueness. Scientific clarity isn’t really the point – the setup is a great background for seeing empty city streets and setting up alternately silly and scary situations, but with a SPOILER ALERT happy ending — that has our characters totally not worried about things like gas, and continuing to put things in the trash as if there were garbage collection still happening.  Walking Dead it ain’t.  Still, the zombies are scary – there aren’t very many, but the fact that they retain brain function for a while makes them trickier to deal with.  And the human characters can also be scary – Doris, the stepmother, punches Samantha in the face, and the scientists give off a vibe that made me feel uneasy – like they were losing their minds but they didn’t know it, and so had to be watched at all times.  There’s even a plot twist that faked me out and made me think that the writer/director was really being gutsy.

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5. You want a soundtrack chock full of smooth 80s jams.

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Everyone is constantly listening to the radio on giant boomboxes or in their car, and the songs are uniformly full of spiraling saxophones and pulsating keyboard chords. (The shopping montage features a non Cyndi Lauper version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.)

BONUS: Because empty cities are a little thrilling.

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Ready Player One is Sci-Fi Potato Chips

readyplayerone

Ready Player One

Ernest Cline

Random House, 2011

review by Tessa

Characters

Wade Watts / Parzival – our hero – a teenager living in a stack of mobile homes in future Oklahoma City who has nothing else to live for but figuring out the OASIS fortune scavenger hunt.

James Halliday – reclusive genius and co-coder of OASIS. He left the wiliest will ever – solve his puzzles and find the Easter Eggs embedded in OASIS and you’ll receive his forturne.

Aech – Wade’s best and only friend in OASIS and a fellow gunter (Easter Egg hunter)

Art3mis – Wade’s super crush who is also trying to beat him in the hunt.

The Sixers – Unethical employees of a corporation that wants to take over OASIS and use it for their greedy goals.

ReadyPlayerOne RD 1 finals 2

Hook / Worldview

OASIS – a fully immersive online world – has, by 2044, pretty much become the world. The outside world sucks, and it’s free to join OASIS, so there’s no reason not to spend as much time as possible there.  It was invented by a sort of Steve Jobs-like dude named James Halliday. Being an extremely socially-averse person, he left no heirs when he died. What he did leave was a series of puzzles and tests inside of OASIS that, when solved and unlocked, would lead to the biggest Easter egg of all time – his fortune.  They are represented by 3 keys and 3 gates – copper, jade, and crystal.

And because Halliday was obsessed with the culture of his youth in the 1980s and wished everyone else would be, the keys and gates have everything to do with the 80s. So the egg hunters, or gunters, are basically experts in 80s pop culture.  Four years go by after Halliday’s death, and no one shows up on the scoreboard. Until one day, someone does. An avatar named Parzival, who is actually a teenager in Oklahoma City.

Once the first key is found and the first gate opened, Parzival is quickly followed in his feats by Aech, his best friend and a clever gunter, and Art3mis, a snarky girl gunter and blogger who Parzival has been crushing on hard for years.  Oh, and the evil Sixers who exploit the loopholes in the rules of the game so they can win and take over OASIS, turning it into billboardmoneyland.

WHO WILL WINNNN?

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Does this book achieve its intentions?

As you can probably tell from the description, Ready Player One is a book written by a geek, for geeks, with much love for geek culture. It concerns a quest, so that means built in suspense, and Cline’s chops as a screenwriter guarantee that the journey from copper to crystal key is smooth and hits all the tried-and-true suspense/tension points.

Accordingly, the response has been pretty huge. Enough so that Cline was able to buy himself a DeLorean and customize it, and get a seven-figure book deal for his sophomore novel (and also a seven-figure deal for the movie rights??). Wil Wheaton narrated the audiobook version of Ready Player One. Cline created his own Egg Hunt in real life (with the prize being another DeLorean). It’s brain candy for a certain audience.

And I guess that audience isn’t me. Sure, I devoured Ready Player One in a weekend and wanted to know what would happen to Parzival, Aech, and Art3mis (and two other players who were clearly created to be meaningfully killed), but I never stopped feeling like I was reading a series of tropes, and ones that weren’t very creatively put down on the page.

I can't stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

I can’t stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

Cline doesn’t stop to think that the reader might want to figure it out his or herself. Or that (s)he might already know some of the stuff he’s saying. He just explains it and goes on to make another reference to the 80s.  I couldn’t even enjoy the nice romance between Parzival and Art3mis, and the fact that Art3mis probably has my BMI so I could identify with her, because the romance was so unwavering and neatly wrapped up – even its rough spots were predictable.

Although OASIS is a giant universe, it lacks depth. After finishing Ready Player One I felt the same way I used to feel as a teenager after staying up too late drinking too many cans of Squirt and mechanically crunching on Bugles or Doritos or whatever–the kind of snacks that companies build mechanical mouths to test for the sweet spot of crunchiness so that they are wickedly addictive.  A temporary pleasure with no real substance.

I would read a fact put forth in the book, like the halls of Wade’s virtual school being no swearing zones, so kids were automatically muted when they used profanity, and immediately wonder – how did no kid hack that yet?  Or, why hadn’t the kids developed new insulting slang to work around the restrictions?  And the universe was so culturally homogenous – I’m not sure if it was because the book is written from Wade’s POV and he hangs out with other gunters and only thinks of the 80s, so all the book provides is planet after planet and person after person based on or obsessed by the 80s – and mostly video games and movies from the 80s. No art, very little music, and the usual suspects of fantasy books. Where were the other subcultures? The black-and-white planet where people dance like Fred Astaire?  And what about the outside world?  It seems less over the top than the world of Idiocracy but less realistically scary than Ship BreakerEveryone in it has just given up – no protesters, information about no neo-hippies forming hopeful communes.

I guess I expected something more complex than a movie pitch disguised as a novel.  So to answer my question, yes, the book achieved its intentions but did not satisfy my expectations.  But whose fault is that?

5 Things I Learned From the Director’s Commentary Track of Valley Girl (1983)

by Tessa

I’ve been taking a wee break from reading YA, instead immersing myself in the marital concerns of a man in the late 1700s, a book about one woman’s journey within her own black feminism, and new theories of emotion as they apply to brain research. Also finishing reading this poem.

But I did watch a tale of young love on the first day of the year: Valley Girl, Nicolas Cage’s first role under the name Nicolas Cage. Cage is very young and looks like he’s stopmotion animated. He plays Randy, a devotee of punk-edged pop-rock from Hollywood, who falls for Julie, a pastel-ensconced Valley Girl.  They run up against the social prejudice of the suburban set. The whole thing felt like an Apatow precursor – it had almost-too-long scenes with Julie’s hippie parents and its comedy comes from that uncomfortable-realist perspective.  It seems improvised, but it isn’t (mostly).  It has more substance than one might expect, and a really great soundtrack – the big song “I Melt With You” got famous because of it, and costumes (partially designed by the teenage punk son of a costume designer).

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I ended up watching Martha Coolidge (the director)’s commentary, and this is what I learned:

Things I Learned From the Director’s Commentary of Valley Girl
1. Nic Cage was asked to remove some chest hair so that he would look younger (though he was the youngest of the cast).  He came back the next day with a weird, distinctive chest hair triangle. Sort of looks like a swooping gull.
2. Nic Cage was in the casting reject pile and his photo was pulled out as an example of what the director wanted to see – “No more pretty boys”.

 

Nic Cage at the 38th Cannes Film Festival in 1985 (AP Images editorial license)

Nic Cage at the 38th Cannes Film Festival in 1985 (AP Images editorial license)

3. The club in Hollywood where they go the first night they meet was called the Central in real life. Now it is occupied by the Viper Room.
4. Coolidge asked X to be the house band before the Plimsouls, but X did not want to alienate their Valley-based fans, so they declined.


5. There’s a montage where Cage tries to win Julie back by infiltrating all aspects of her life, including getting jobs at all the places she frequents. He pops up as a disguised waiter in a chef hat at a drive-up joint, and when informed that he’s forgotten part of the order, exclaims “Well Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers, I guess I DID!” and his gum drops out of his mouth into the car.  The gum was an accident that they kept in the movie. (It was also Cage’s idea to wear a chef’s hat).

BONUS: Cage also improvised this line.

OTHER THING: Elizabeth Daily went on to voice Tommy Pickles of Rugrats among other things.

Here’s another blog post with more (unverified?) facts! FAXCXTZ.

Carol Rifka Brunt Discusses Character-Building, Cheese, and the Mysteries of Love: An Interview

Today at Crunchings & Munchings I am joined by the lovely Carol Rifka Brunt, whose debut novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, knocked my socks off and then stole my heart! See my gushing review HERE. Born in Queens and raised in Pleasantville, New York, Carol now lives in Devon, England. She has been kind enough to answer my burning questions about Tell the Wolves I’m Home (and a few other things to boot). Carol, welcome!

Carol Rifka Brunt

First up, some questions about Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

Rebecca: Tell the Wolves I’m Home isn’t necessarily a young adult novel but it could be read as one. Were there books that were particularly important or influential to you as a teenager?

A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L'EngleCarol Rifka Brunt: I was such a big reader as a teenager. I frequented not just the library in my own town, but also the ones in neighboring towns. I loved The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, A Wrinkle in Time  and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle. I remember not liking the third one as much because Meg and Calvin were too old by then. I was also (and still am!) a Judy Blume fan. Oh and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. It’s amazing to see the explosion of YA books now. We’re really living in such a rich time for children’s and young adult fiction. I envy kids and teens having so much choice.

R: One of the central struggles of Wolves seems to be June’s attempt to figure out which specific pieces of someone’s habits, tastes, and desires, make up the essence of who they are. I really identified with this approach to thinking about taste, and it seems quite apt in a kid like June whose tastes are so personal. Could you talk a little bit about why taste is so important to identity and relationships in Wolves?

CRB: I think, in a way, June is looking for the true person underneath tastes and habits. She starts out thinking she knows her Uncle Finn really well, that his habits and tastes are who he is, but gradually she realizes that those are external things. That we pick up out tastes from other people we know and (sometimes) love. Maybe there is no ‘true’ person to any of us, maybe our tastes and desires are who we are. I’m not sure June ever figures out the answer to this, but I think she does eventually see the beauty in the way our habits can live on, be carried along, in other people once we’re gone.

R: Since June’s and Toby’s relationship rotates around the missing center for both of them—Finn—it seems like it would be so easy to make Finn be a perfect, magical character whom they each idolize. Instead, you make him flawed and complicated. Toby and June, similarly, are deeply complicated characters who aren’t always elegant or likeable. Can you tell us a bit about how you built these rich characters?

CRB: I actually think Finn does come off as pretty magical and charismatic. In a way, he has to be very likeable to make the story work. Also, we’re seeing him through June’s eyes. He was always wonderful to June, so, naturally, she would see him as pretty close to perfect. As a reader, I think we can see more than June sees. His flaws are gradually revealed.

I don’t know that I consciously built any of the characters. June’s voice was there from the start and she revealed herself to me as I wrote. I hate to be flaky or mysterious about the process, but I really don’t know how the characters arrived on the page. I never do character profiles or anything like that. Sometimes I write a few pages in first person from other characters—I did this for Greta and Toby—to hear how they’d speak and to get their voice into my head, but beyond that it feels very intuitive. It’s only in the second and third drafts that I really start to think hard about each character’s motivations. Once I know that, I’m able to go back and make sure everything they say and do makes sense in that context.

R: You’ve mentioned the importance of the setting of 1980s New York to Wolves in other interviews. Why was this setting so important to the story? Did you consider any others over the course of the writing process?

Tell the Wolves I'm Home Carol Rifka BruntCRB: Once I understood that Finn had AIDs, the 80s seemed the natural setting for the novel. When I think of all the dystopian fiction around at the moment, I’m always reminded how AIDS in the 80s had some of that feel. An unknown virus. Thousands dying. No cure. New York and San Francisco were the epicentres of the disease. Since I knew New York, I chose to set it there. Reluctantly.

I say reluctantly because I didn’t want to write anything remotely autobiographical, but I have to admit, once I settled into it, using a familiar setting made life a lot easier. I could really see so many of the places. Strangely, none of the book places really correspond to my real places. The woods of the book aren’t any specific woods I know, the school from the book looks different in my mind from my own school, I didn’t imagine their home town as my own, their house isn’t like mine. The locations are all composites.

I also wanted to play with the barrier between suburb and city. They’re so close, but when you’re from the suburbs, the city doesn’t feel like your place at all. You’re always a visitor, never a native.

R: Man, oh, man, first loves are notoriously intense and painful! June’s complex feelings for Finn are made all the more so because he is her uncle. Do you see Wolves as a first love story? What kinds of response have you gotten to the book’s treatment of June’s feelings for Finn?

CRB: Yes, I do see it as a first love story for June. Going back to question 2, I think I was interested in the idea of love that isn’t based around the external. I was thinking about the idea of love that comes from seeing the real person buried deep inside social contexts in which we live our lives. I wondered how we’re wired to be ‘in love’ with only certain people. A straight woman might adore everything about another woman, but still, something in her makeup would never allow her to feel romantic love for that woman. This feels like such a mystery to me, the way attraction is so beyond our control. Obviously, there’s genetic basis for it all, but in real life it still feels profoundly perplexing to me. I guess some people would call June’s feelings for Finn a crush, but to her it feels like real (and very embarrassing) love. I’m not sure even at my age I fully understand the difference between those two things.

I haven’t had anyone approach me to complain about June’s feelings or to say they found it an offensive thing to write about. I’m sure there are people who would feel that way and maybe if the book starts to get a broader audience, I’ll get some of that. I think a writer’s job is to tell an honest story.  I’m sure June isn’t the only person in the world who has ever fallen in love with somebody completely inappropriate. I see this as such an innocent, honest and tender book. I think perhaps I should be the one to be offended if people want to twist it into something ugly.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home Carol Rifka BruntR: On the first page of the novel, June says, “I’m fifteen now, but I was still fourteen that afternoon” (3). Could you talk a little about your decision to tell this story in the near past, as opposed to in the present tense or when June is an adult looking back?

CRB: I was actually asked by my editor to consider doing just that—have a prologue and epilogue with the adult June looking back. Although it instinctually felt all wrong to me, I gave it a try. I think it’s so important for writers to be open to suggestions, not to get too precious about their work. An editor has a bird’s eye view of your work, something you’ll never have, so it’s always worth exploring any suggestions. The thing is, I think the story is very pure the way it’s told. It’s innocent. June is guileless and open. She can’t hide her feelings. I think that’s where the beauty comes from. If you start to step back from that you lose her voice and you start to get a whole different perspective on the events. I wanted to create something that had an element of rawness and immediacy with Wolves and I think that’s only possible by telling the story from a perspective close to the end of the events.

And now, a few questions and speculations about you, June, and cheese!

R: June’s obsessions (and I don’t mean that word negatively at all) with certain places, music, etc. were really important to her character. You’ve mentioned in interviews that June is not an autobiographical character, but I think most of us have similarly June-like obsessions. Did you have any obsessions as a teenager? How about now?

Choose Your Own Adventure Edward PackardCRB: The story isn’t autobiographical at all, but I have to admit that June’s obsessions are pretty autobiographical. I gave her a lot of my geeky teenage obsessions. I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure books, medieval fairs, The Cloisters, Mozart’s Requiem and the idea of being able to travel back in time. Like June, I always felt a bit out of step with the rest of the kids my age. I shared her fairly foolish notion that if I were in another time, somehow I would fit in better.

I think a lot of writers feel a bit like watchers, people on the fringe of things. I still feel that, but I think it’s no longer a painful thing the way it can be for a teenager. It’s just part of who I am. If I’m writing, that’s usually my obsession.

R: So, if June is fourteen in 1987, then she’d be in college in the early and mid-90s. Given her taste for all things medieval and requiem-esque, what do you imagine June would think of the grunge scene?

SoundgardenCRB: Well, since I gave June my geeky teenage things, I guess she could also share my musical tastes in college! I liked the Pixies, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Camper Van Beethoven, Mudhoney, Belly and the Breeders. I also listened to a ton of Tom Waits and Velvet Underground in those days. I think she would have liked the grunge idea. Less artifice and more substance than a lot of 80s music.

R: I have a theory that everyone has at least one hidden talent, no matter how random or seemingly useless. Will you tell us yours?

CRB: If I had one, maybe I wouldn’t be a writer. Whatever it is would certainly be easier. I do love baking and I used to make quilts. I wouldn’t say there was a lot of talent involved in my case. Oh, I do have a bit of a latent travel agent lurking inside me. I’m very good at planning excellent trips on a budget.

R: What is your favorite food or drink to make while writing?

CRB: I’ve mostly managed to abandon this unhealthy snack, but while I was writing the novel I was very fond of mini-poppadums with a little bowl of mango chutney to dip them in and a nice glass of diet Coke with lemon.

R: And, finally: cheese is very important to Tessa and me, so we’ve got to know: what is your favorite cheese?

CRB: Just one! Oh no. I definitely share your passion for cheese. I’d have to go for brie. I live in the southwest of England and there’s a brie they make fairly locally, in St. Endellion, Cornwall, that I adore. I like it melted on some good toast with slivered almonds broiled over the top. Mmmmmm.

So, there you have it, folks: one more cheese stop to add to my world-wide tour (Tessa, I’m looking at you!). Scads of thanks to Carol Rifka Brunt for chatting with us today, and I hope you all scamper right out and read Tell the Wolves I’m Home, my (totally informal because no one asks me these things) nomination for book of the year.

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