Tomorrow (May 21) at 6 p.m., De Haven, also a Virginia Commonwealth University creative writing professor, will be at Chop Suey Books to welcome Freaks’ Amour to a modern Richmond audience. He’ll read from his new prose short story sequel that is collected in this volume.
Creative forces have tried to transform the novel since its publication. “It was optioned five or six times for film,” recalls De Haven, who has worked in screenplays. Comic artist Gary Panter in 1980 made a three-page adaptation for the underground comic Young Lust. Panter went on to garner three Emmy Awards for his work on Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
In the early 1990s, the interest of director Alex Proyas (The Crow; I, Robot) led to two years of involvement and a script adaptation by De Haven — but no film. Around the same time, De Haven granted permission to Dark Horse for a three-issue comic by Mark Burbey and Phil Hester.
The novel begins in the 1980s, segues into a nervy, jagged early 21st century and features an epilogue dated, rather fancifully, May 15, 2013. “What’s weirder is the original Dark Horse publishing date was going to be May 15,” De Haven says with a slight laugh. “You know, back then, 2013 sounded impossible, like Buck Rogers futuristic.” Speaking of which, the new book is available through iTunes and Kindle.
The backdrop of the original novel includes terrorism, urban violence, orbiting weapons platforms, food shortages and factory failures, massive earthquakes and bacteriological warfare. The “freak nuclear accident” on Blofeld Street in Jersey City radically malforms the physiognomy of a newly married couple and their just conceived sons, making them pariahs in “normal” culture. The boys Grinner and Flour concoct a plan to raise money for expensive operations to make their appearances more palatable. They persuade their mutual love Reeni to participate in a bizarre touring live sex show that features them at first wearing theatircal disguises to make them seem "normal," that they rip off and ... thereby hangs the tale.
A year ago, De Haven gave the commencement address for the Vermont-based Center for Cartoon Studies. While there, he had breakfast with renowned comic artist Steve Bissette, who it turned out had also wanted to do an adaptation of the novel. “Steve wondered if the three-book series had ever been collected as a trade paperback, and it hadn’t, and he said if Dark Horse would do it, he’d write the introduction.” And that’s what happened.
The Afterword is by Dana Marie Andra, who used to be Mark Burbey. “I didn’t know she’d had a sex operation and was living in Paris,” De Haven says. “She writes about how important the book was to her.”
Perhaps now with films getting made of comics, the freaks are ready for their close-up, especially with the advancement of computer and animation technologies.
De Haven says, “After all, Walking Dead can’t last forever.”
It's been a whirlwind month. He’s made readings in New Jersey, Idaho, Colorado, now Virginia, and next week Massachusetts, with New York City thrown in between each venture out. On Thursday, he appeared at his own alma mater middle school, Robious, which served as the source of inspiration for the book’s setting.
He recalls, “True story: I can remember being in class one day, either sixth or seventh grade, and hearing something shift on the other side of the fiberglass acoustic tile above my head. Whether it was a piece of metal shifting or a squirrel or whatnot, the fantasy played out in my head that there was someone up there. ... And 20 years later, a middle grade trilogy was born.”
This is not Sweet Valley High. We are not reading The Diary of A Wimpy Kid.
Nor is it Twilight.
It shares kin with The Hunger Games, but without the dystopia setting, and Lord of the Flies minus the plane crash and isolation. It is more related to the gang in The Outsiders, and The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, if he were to be suspended upside down from a basketball hoop.
Between a press of presentations, we caught up with Clay via email and telephone.
But on Saturday afternoon, we’ll be brawling where such activity most often occurs: a parking lot. From 1 to 4 p.m., it’s going down on the blacktop adjacent to Carytown's Dixie Donuts, for yet another good cause: the Young Richmond Writers scholarship fund.
Valley Haggard, writer, teacher and Richmond Young Writers program director, explains that the fundraiser for the past three years involved writing marathons. “We thought we’d try something different,” she explains. “So excited that there’s a ladies arm wrestling league in Richmond. I saw the Charlottesville league perform a couple years ago. It’s great fun and they’re dedicated to fundraisers for good causes.” There’s also an auction for a Kindle and restaurant gift certificates, among other fine items. A $25 donation also gets you a dozen Dixie Donuts. Now that’s a sweet deal.
The sometimes raucous lady wrestlers are promising to keep things age appropriate, though Haggard says, “ Our young writers like characters and the performance aspect.” And who wouldn’t want to see the furious bicep-bulging action involved in a match between the Swiss Miss Fit and Patty Cakes?
Spectators may show their favor of a particular competitor with the purchase of fake money for, you know, display purposes.
RYW executive director Bird Cox made the RAWFL connection, and she and Haggard created Haiku Thumb Wrestling for this event's attendees. “We’ll have a register sheet if they want to go up to the bout table between the RAWFL matches. The competitive Haiku Thumb Wrestling is when you’re making up the haiku on the spot while you’re thumb wrestling.”
Talk about multitasking. Ladies are supposed to be good at that.
“I love them,” Cox says of RAWFL. “I might join up.” What might her wrestling persona be? The Woman Word Warrior? The possibilities are intriguing.
I’ll be out there Saturday in seersucker and brandishing a megaphone to keep the barbellerellas in something resembling order.
The rain date is May 25.
If you can’t make it but want to contribute, here’s the scholarship donation page.
Praheme has watched the film at home more times than anybody ever will — thus he’s able to spot the flaws that may be lost on the casual viewer. “When we do the DVD, we’ll have a fun drinking game to the mistakes,” he says, laughing. To his knowledge, there aren’t any boom mikes lazing in a shot.
What follows after the Byrd screening is still to be determined. His mentor, Tim Reid, may set up private screenings in the coming months. Praheme also wants to utilize his Howard University connections, and he envisions a three-day event during which the film is simultaneously screened around the world. This may sound ambitious, but then again, a year ago he didn’t have a movie to show.
And about those helicopter shots. In typical indie fashion, there was a friend at Helo Air through whom an hour of flight time was acquired. Praheme shot all he could in his effort give the little film a big budget feel.
While enduring the editing process, he got to the point where he couldn’t accomplish anything else while waiting for sound design, music composition and other details that were out of his hands. He added three script concepts to a burgeoning list. Praheme has three to five films that he wants to make in Richmond, then he’d like to travel. There’s a whole world of stories he’d like to tell in film.
“I’d work with Mr. Reid again and my editors, if they want to work with me again, I’d love to work with them,” he says. “I’d like to build a group of people I know who’ve done all this with so little, and see where that goes.”
Admission for Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions is $5 for children 10 to 18, $15 in advance for adults and $20 at the door, with various specials for churches and other groups. See the website for details.
Before I left, Baer wanted to tell me how impressed he is by Richmond’s riverfront. He was really knocked out by what we’ve got in terms of the river, accessibility, renovation and interpretation. Baer was wowed by the Pipeline Walk and the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge under the Lee Bridge.