Andrew Demcak is an award-winning poet and novelist whose work has been widely published and anthologized both in print and on-line, and whose books have been featured by The American Library Association, Verse Daily, The Lambda Literary Foundation, The Best American Poetry blog, The Nervous Breakdown, and Poets/Artists.
About his new GLBTQ, Sci-Fi, Teen novel, A Little Bit Langston, Kirkus Reviews raved “This book really … takes its place in the marginalized-will-lead-us genre, as popularized by The Matrix and the X-Men franchises.”
You were a poet before you were a novelist – How does poetry influence your prose?
I think it informs my word choice. My first agent, Carolyn French, called my prose “lyrical.”
What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Be your favorite author and do not listen to criticism.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Right now it’s Alexander Key. I just finished reading his novel Escape To Witch Mountain (1968). So much better than any of the movies. It’s one of those books that changed everything about YA/Teen sci-fi/fantasy. 4. How do you develop your plot and
How do you develop your plot and characters?
It all starts with an image I can’t get out of my head. Then I build a narrative around the image and the characters just show up and demand to be written about.
Tell us something about A Little Bit Langston that is NOT in the blurb.
In the novel, the reader gets to meet a gay alien named EBE. He’s from the Roswell crash. Ooops! Said too much.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to tell us about?
Yes. I am currently editing the second book, Alpha Wave, in the Elusive Spark series (Harmony Ink Press, 2017, 2018, 2019) A Little Bit Langston is the first in the quartet. So far this book has a talking rat, a tattooed demon, a girl who can transform one substance into another, e.g. flesh in marble, and the lead characters are two pairs of teen LGBTQ superhero couples (male/male and female/female couples) and you get to meet EBE’s “pleasure companion” UBE, who is a total snap-queen of an alien.
What are you reading now?
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have four books of poetry and three novels published right now. I have three unpublished poetry books and three unpublished novels, too. Alpha Wave is my favorite because I am working on it right now. But they are all my children. I love them all differently.
Thanks for interviewing me!
Being different is a challenge, especially for James Kerr.
He’s no average teenager. James begins to channel a dead writer’s poetry and then discovers he has the power to manipulate electricity. At the same time, romantic feelings for his best friend, Paul Schmitz, make him realize he’s gay. But he has little time to explore the drastic changes in his life before heartbreak strikes at the hands of Paul’s violent father. James is sent to The Paragon Academy, an institute specializing in juvenile paranormal research. There he meets Lumen, the mysterious daughter of a famous Korean actress. Lumen’s psychic ability might just be the thing that helps James unlock the secrets of both his poems and the origins of his supernatural talents.
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An excerpt from A Little Bit Langson (Harmony Ink Press, 2016)
“I’M GLAD I can keep my Halloween candy here at your house. My mom would just throw it all out when she found it,” I said.
“I can’t believe she still does that,” Paul said.
“Every year. Now she says we’re too old for Halloween anyway.”
“Too old? No one is too old for free candy.”
“Anyway, my mom thinks sugar is bad for you at any age.”
“Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
An enormous pile of miniature Snickers, Mounds, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Mike and Ikes, and Almond Joys spread across Paul’s twin mattress in front of us. Paul and I were both ninth graders at Hardwick School, which, I admit, really did make us too old for trick-or-treating. I guess I was feeling a little bit guilty that we’d just fleeced the neighborhood of all this candy. We began to separate it into colorful piles.
“Ouch!” I said as Paul’s hand brushed mine and a green spark of electricity snapped between us.
“That must be from the carpet.”
“Or my electric personality.”
“That’s so weird too. It always happens to me.”
“Yeah. I wonder how many volts it was,” I said.
“Who knows? Let’s finish this up.”
Paul was fifteen already, a year and two weeks older than me. He’d been held back in the second grade at Silver Star Elementary School, and ever since then, we were both in the same grade together. Paul had grown much bigger than me too: puberty kicked in early, his vital glands making him taller, broader, and more muscular. In spite of his size, his dad still wanted to toughen him up. He made Paul lift weights three nights a week on a rickety exercise bench in their overpacked garage.
“What the hell are you two doing in there?” Paul’s father shouted as he banged his angry fist on the locked bedroom door.
Paul and I jumped up off the bed, startled by the loud sound. The doorknob rattled, turning left and then right, again and again.
“Nothing, Dad!” Paul answered as he rushed over to unlock the door.
“Open this goddamn door!” Paul’s dad yelled and pounded his fist again.
Paul’s father stood in the hallway staring daggers down at us, an open beer can sweating in his left hand. He looked big for a short man, tough and muscled. He had a tanned, leathery face from standing in the sun selling cars all day. On top of it all: he was just a mean son of a bitch.
I waited next to Paul’s bed paralyzed with fear.
“I warned you not to close this door when you had someone over!”
“Yeah, Dad, I know, but I didn’t want Tiffany to see what we were doing.”
“What’s your little sister got to do with it?”
“She’s always stealing things from me. I didn’t want her to see all the candy.”
Paul’s father looked at me, the candy, and then at Paul.
“No more closed doors, and it’s almost 8:00 p.m., time for your little pal, James, to go home.”
I knew Paul’s dad didn’t like me at all. He walked in on Paul and me constantly, always checking up on us. He was waiting for something to happen. But I could never figure out what. And the way he looked at me, like I came from another planet. I guess he thought I was a bad influence, even though Paul and I had never gotten into any real trouble or anything, at least not that his dad knew about. Paul wanted me to start lifting weights with him too, but his dad thought I was a weakling. Paul said his dad even called me a sissy. So we still hadn’t started any weight training. I doubted very much we ever would.
His dad was a total asshole.
“Well, you heard him. He wants you to go now,” Paul said, crestfallen, as he picked up an empty pillowcase and began herding the candy inside.
“I know. See you tomorrow on the bus.”
“Yeah. See you.”
* * *
“WHERE HAVE you been? I called and called, but you didn’t answer,” my mother scolded me as I walked into the ochre kitchen. “And you’ve missed dinner again.”
She was wearing her paint-smeared silk kimono. Her bright red hair was pulled back by an elastic headband, and she had absolutely no makeup on at all. I could tell she’d been working in her studio. My mother, Cindy Kerr, was a famous painter here in Los Angeles. Everyone who was anyone in the modern art world knew who she was. The Guggenheim in New York just purchased two of her pieces, which was a really big deal. One of them was a nude she’d done of me when I was six years old. It used to hang right in the center of our living room. It totally embarrassed me having my friends over; they would immediately see me naked right over the leather sofa.
My mother stood at the Spanish-tiled counter by the sink cleaning off her paintbrushes with a filthy rag that stank of acetate.
“I told you I was going over to Paul’s after school.”
“Well, next time write it down somewhere. I’m only your mother. I can’t be expected to remember every detail of your life. What did Paul’s mother serve you for dinner, anyway? Some dreadful Filipino food cooked in lard with tons of salt?”
“What? I thought you liked Filipino food.”
“When it’s cooked properly.”
“Paul’s mom is a Filipina. How much more properly cooked could it be?”
“Don’t take that tone with me. You know what I think about proper nutrition. Most people are eating themselves into type 2 diabetes.”
“It was fine, Mom. She made a chicken stir-fry with lots of broccoli and also her vegetarian lumpia.”
“I’m sure the chicken was full of hormones and couldn’t have possibly been cage-free.”
“I’m going to my room now,” I said, exasperated.
“Okay, darling,” my mother replied, suddenly softening her voice to a gentle purr. She returned to her sable brushes and her half-empty gin and tonic. Then she looked up at me, “You know, James, I’ve been thinking: you see too much ofthat Paul. Those obnoxious parents of his. Such vulgarians. How they ever got their child into Hardwick I’ll never know.”
This was one of my mother’s favorite rants. I could always tell when one was coming on because she always started with “that Paul.” Being a single mother made her a bit overprotective, to put it mildly. She thought both Paul and his family were pure trash, even though they were pretty well-off financially. But that didn’t matter to my mother. I didn’t care what she thought, anyway. Paul had always been my best friend, and he always would be.
“I don’t know how I got in there.”
“It didn’t have to do with your grades,” my mother laughed, a little bit cruelly, and then sensing her faux pas, stopped. “You are a smart boy, James. You just don’t know how to apply yourself yet. You will, in time. I promise.”
“That’s not what my test scores say.”
“You still have a little trouble with reading, that’s all,” my mother said, then sipped her drink. “It’s not dyslexia, thank God. And now you have your reading teacher on Tuesdays, right? Or is it Wednesdays? I can never remember which day it is.”
“Mrs. Kimble? It’s Tuesdays. She makes me read Cat in the Hat to her. She’s awful.”
“Now, you stop that. She’s only trying to help you. That’s why I love Hardwick School—all those special classes and teachers.”
“It makes me feel retarded.”
“Darling, you are special. Always remember that.”
“Anyway, can I go to my room now?”
“Certainly you may. I’m not stopping you. Don’t you have some homework to do?”
“Yes. A lot of it,” I lied.
“Oh, Mrs. Wu tidied up a bit in there today. I hope you don’t mind.”
“What? You never make that bed of yours. Clothes all over the place. She merely straightened it up. She is our housekeeper, you know.”
I stormed out of the kitchen and made a beeline to my room. I tossed my red backpack onto my twin bed as I switched on the overhead light to survey the damage. My Antony and the Johnsons poster flapped up at one end where the tape had come away from the wall. Mrs. Wu hadn’t really done anything more than make my bed and fold up a few pairs of my Levi’s. She’d been our housekeeper ever since I was really little. I couldn’t remember a time she wasn’t around. I pulled my muted iPhone from my pocket and put it on my nightstand. It turned on as I touched it, the screen blinking a message up at me. I read the message slowly like Mrs. Kimble told me, sounding out the letters, forming the words carefully between my lips.
One missed call from “Mom.”
By the time I was done reading it, the iPhone winked off again.
At least she wasn’t lying about that.