My thanks to William Dickerson for stopping by Tribute Books Reviews & Giveaways for an author interview about his book, No Alternative.
1. How did you come up with the title?
I like titles that attempt to say it all, and I felt “No Alternative” as a title is an attempt to do just that. On its surface, it reflects Bridget’s opposition to the overwhelmingly favored musical genre of the time. For both Thomas and Bridget, it embodies their respective obsessions with music, music as a way to escape the inner turmoil of their angst-ridden teenage bodies and minds. I also think the title is meant to hint at the idea that music may not be enough to heal their woes – that self-destruction may ultimately be the only choice left – that there is no alternative in the most existential sense of the phrase. It’s a phrase employed by a suicide at the moment of greatest desperation – to kill oneself because life presents no alternative.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Aside from the cautionary elements in the book, I think a key cultural message is the celebration of the true DIY spirit. The person who is the true individual, who doesn’t fit into any box, or peg-hole, is the hero; not the person that follows the trends. The true hero is, and should be, the iconoclast, the person who can see through the illusions and just be him or herself, and be satisfied and comfortable being him or herself.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
Insofar as I picked up a guitar for the first time after Kurt Cobain killed himself and started a grunge band in the mid-nineties, it’s realistic. I was a teenager during those times and I wanted to dramatize that universal sense of alienation, apathy and angst we all felt through the fictitious lives of the characters in this book.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
Oh, man, it’s too early to tell! Several years down the road, or even before that, I’m sure I’ll want to go back in time to alter parts of it, or burn it, what-have-you. I’m a filmmaker also, and I say from experience that after I make a film, and it sits in the world for a while, and I watch it again, I always want to go back and do some things differently. But then I think of George Lucas and how he continually screws around with his first three STAR WARS films, and I say to myself, “I’m probably better off not touching it – let the art speak for itself in the context of the time that it was made and reflect the emotional state that the artist was in when it was created.”
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Rewriting. Writing is rewriting, as they say…and they speak the truth. I find it very cathartic and satisfying to sit down with a blank page and begin writing. It starts out like free association with me; I’m able to generate a lot of material, at first, but then the challenge is going back through it with a fine-toothed comb and crafting it into something that I can live with. That’s the tedious part. But it’s also a very gratifying part of the writing process, in an OCD kind of way. I’m a musician, and I also edit some of my films, and I feel both of those skill sets typify a kind of obsessive-compulsive/grasping-at-perfectionism part of me that lends itself well to the blissful torture of rewriting – it’s rhythmic, it’s the separation of beats by comma, by semi-colon, by period. Rewriting is the Pro Tools part of the literary mastering process.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that the stuff that works best on the page is the stuff that is authentic, that is emotionally true. A good story should be an emotional roller coaster. That doesn’t mean it has to be over-the-top, the emotion can be subtle, but either way it needs to feel real, it needs to resonate with people.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always gravitated toward the written word, which is fortunate because I’m terrible at mathematics. First time I can remember being moved by a book was in third or fourth grade when I read Robb White’s “Deathwatch,” an awfully adult book to assign to children, but then again one of the first movies I saw and remember liking in my formative years was RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. “Deathwatch” was the first example of a literary work that was able to infiltrate my mind in such a way that engendered concrete visual images and landscapes from the words and the spaces between words. It had a lasting effect.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
This is probably the toughest question of all. I don’t think I can pinpoint a specific author, but if I’m up against a wall and have to make a choice, then right now I’d say Ernest Hemingway. He’s a great writer to read while writing, because he says so much with so few words. In that sense, he’s a great role model. For example, I often look at a sentence and say to myself, how can I say this as simply as possible? That question, which is a crucial one in the rewriting process, is derived almost directly from Hemingway and his Iceberg Theory, which holds that the text, what’s on the surface, should be fractionally smaller than the subtext, what lies underneath the surface (80% of an iceberg’s mass is underwater). It’s not what we say to each other that rings true, it’s the behavior we exhibit that reveals character – it’s the thing that’s left unsaid that tells the story. But there are so many writers who are really important to me and who I can’t imagine living without. I’ve also been reading a lot of Philip K. Dick and Rick Moody lately.
9. Tell us your latest news.
In addition to publishing “No Alternative,” I just finished my first feature film, which I wrote and directed, called DETOUR. It’s about an advertising executive who gets trapped in his car during a California mudslide. We’re in the midst of finding distribution and applying to film festivals with our executive producers, Level 1 Entertainment.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
This seems like the perfect moment for a quote from the person who inspired me to pick up the guitar, and ultimately inspired the writing of this book:
“Punk is musical freedom. It’s saying, doing and playing what you want. In Webster’s terms, ‘nirvana’ means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that’s pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock.”
- Kurt Cobain
About the Book
No Alternative is a coming-of-age drama that drills a hole into the world of suburban American teenagers in the early 1990's.
Thomas Harrison is determined to start his own “alternative” band, an obsession that blinds him to what’s either the mental collapse, or the eruption of musical genius, of his little sister, Bridget. Calling herself “Bri Da B,” Bridget boldly rejects her brother’s music, along with the music of an entire generation of slackers, and becomes a gangsta’ rapper, channeling the persona of a well-endowed black man from the hood.
No Alternative probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the “Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll” ethos was amended to include “Suicide” in its phrase.
Kurt Cobain’s suicide inspires Thomas, 17, to start a band with his friends – to pick up where Kurt left off – and use the grunge music that’s hot in mid-90s Westchester County, NY, to find a girlfriend and sex. Thomas’s sister, Bridget, 15, is an artist with no ambition and aspirations dulled by anti-depressants. Rejecting alternative as commercialized pap, she finds expression in the emerging gangsta’ rap and writes songs that blow away preppy cafe audiences. The siblings’ parallel musical ambitions, and parallel paths to self-slaughter, are set against the backdrop of picturesque suburbia. Their father William, fully invested in the Law as a State Supreme Court Judge, and their mother, Maureen, professional homemaker, embody the suburbs, the upper-middle class ethos, and the notion that their kids should strive for success. The problem is their kids, like kids in every generation, are bent on the destruction of that success.
Release Date: April 2012
Format: Paperback, ebook
Pages: 331 pages
Price: $12.99 paperback, $2.99 ebook
Publisher: Kettle of Letters Press
Buy Links: Amazon, Kindle
About the Author
William Dickerson graduated from The College of The Holy Cross with a degree in English and received his Masters of Fine Arts in Directing from The American Film Institute. He is a writer/director whose work has been recognized by film festivals across the country and who recently completed his debut feature film, Detour, which was acquired by Level 1 Entertainment whose company credits include RENDITION, GRANDMA’S BOY and STRANGE WILDERNESS.
No Alternative is his first novel. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rachel, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Duet.
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