RRM: What (if anything) do you think differentiates High School from elementary and secondary education or that stuff after school (commonly known as life or “real world”)?
ZT: High school is a very false environment. While the time spent there is very brief, it can be very intense and very damaging. In larger high schools, like mine, I find that students feel easily defeated. Their time is spent putting endless effort into futile things. I don’t think I can really answer this question without incriminating myself. I don’t know enough about the real world to tell you all the differences and similarities. I am hoping that once I graduate from high school, I will have the time to do things that I love. I hope that I will spend less of my time answering to people who believe they can determine my fate. I hope that my friends have more self-worth once their lives aren’t determined by a scale of letters. It’s all hopes and wishes and we all know those don’t go anywhere. Really, just excuse me, the mess, the rambling. If you want to know the sickening truth, I’m leaving high school early because I can’t handle the heartbreak. Go ahead, laugh at me. I do.
RRM: I’m sure you’re sick of being asked this. But, okay, the elusive “six-figured” deal is probably enough money to significantly alter a young person’s life. So what are you leaning towards-college, life experience, a balance? Are you planning on being “a writer”?
ZT: I’m planning on having a life. The details are vague. I have no idea where I’m going to go to college or what exactly I’m going to do after college. I’m a junior now, but I’m graduating in June and taking the next year off to think about some things. I want to travel and read books and write long letters and be wistful and eat strange foods.
I’m not looking forward to finding a school to attend. I worry that if I go to an Ivy League school, I’ll be surrounded by the sort of people I despise — the ones who place all of their life’s meaning on some numbers, their SAT scores, their GPAs, their trivial academic existences. I don’t want to go to school with a bunch of white 18-year-olds who’ve had more than one suicidal episode over their grades or their parents or their lack of self-esteem. I want something else.
RRM: What was the writing process like for Please Don’t Kill the Freshman – was this an actual diary or what? Tell us the Kevin Sampsell story, please.
ZT: Kevin Sampsell purchased a mail-order bride named Sing-Sing from Siam. She was more than happy to be my ghost-writer for PDKTF and I believe that her work was really above par. Much more entertaining than the bullshit I was writing at the time.
In exchange for Valium and contraceptives, Sing-Sing wrote about 30,000 words. I cut her manuscript in half, translated it into English and– Ta-da! A teen author masterpiece! I was really quite pleased with the results.
Oh, wait. You wanted the truth? Dammit. Well, Kevin Sampsell made the fortunate mistake of teaching a writing class to a bunch of asshole 8th-graders. I was lucky enough to be one of them. He survived my weekly verbal abuse and I read his book, How to Lose Your Mind with the Lights On. I’d never read small press before and I had no idea that writing could be raw, energetic, or even weird. After the class was over, I e-mailed my writing to Kevin. What he really loved were my obsessive and spotnaneous journal entries, which he decided to publish as a chapbook. So, yes, PDKTF was a real diary. The HarperCollins hardback novel of PDKTF is a more elaborate collection of journal entries. It continues on into the summer after my freshman year, and much of my sophomore year as well.
RRM: What’s your reaction to some of the (in my opinion) psychotically negative reviews of your book? Has your success caused strange negative reactions from people in your life (besides administrative bullshit)?
ZT: I get more upset about people who think that my writing is ‘mediocre’. I’d like it much better if someone really hated or really loved my work. I just want people to feel something, even if it’s bile rising in their throats.
It’s tough for me to read negative reviews because a lot of them attack me or others personally. I get very defensive and I want to stand up on a chair and say LOOK HERE, BUDDY! YOU’VE GOT IT ALL WRONG! I want people to know the truth. Let them make their own decisions, but give them the facts first.
Everyone in my life has been pretty supportive of my success. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to people, but no one has been violently upset or anything.
RRM: How did your friends react when they heard of your Harper book deal?
ZT: “Buy me a car!” No, seriously, almost everyone I told asked me to buy a car for them. Jeezus. Other than that, they were terribly excited for me. Since it’s not something that comes up in daily conversation, I think it’s difficult for it to sink in. It doesn’t seem very ‘real’ to most of my friends and I think it won’t hit them until they actually see the damn book on the shelf at some store.
RRM: Do you feel more an observer than a participant in the Daily High School rigamarole?
ZT: Yes, but I’ve always felt that way. I watch everyone and everything very, very intensely. I’d die if someone ever watched me the way I watch everyone else. I think the subtle social situations among my friends has caused me a lot of pain over the years. I guess I feel like I see things that no one else sees.
It’s also very difficult to find the energy or motivation to write a paper, complete a worksheet, give a speech when you’ve got a book deal and an editor and an agent all waiting for you. It can be very, very distracting.
RRM: When you’re legally adult are you still gonna write under Zoe Trope?
ZT: Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.
RRM: What do you read?
ZT: Warnings on over-the-counter medications, the backs of cereal boxes, fine print for contests, contact information on websites, disclaimers, directions for the use of shampoo, books by people that I know, ‘zines, my Livejournal friends page, the Sunday comics, diaries.
There are two books in my bathroom right now: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and The Phantom Defense: America’s pursuit of the Star Wars illusion by Craig Eisendrath.
I consistently read three magazines: Adbusters, Mother Jones, and the Progressive.
RRM: Any particular pen you enjoy?
ZT: I can’t seem to find one that I like. I switch all the time. I prefer thick paper and a .8mm width pen. Right now I’m using UniBall Vision Elites. Black ink only. Ticonderoga pencils only.
RRM: What the hell is the deal with Afro Ken? If I was a coupla years younger you’d marry me and be my sugar mama – is this correct?
ZT: Afro Ken rocks the shit. C’mon, a dog with an afro.
And I don’t think my girlfriend would be very happy with me if I married someone else.
About the author:
Ryan Robert Mullen is the author of Naughty, Sweet Boy (Word Riot Press) and a columnist at Get Underground. He maintains a website at ryanrobertmullen.net.