A Fiendish Conversation with Sean Beaudoin
It'd be tough to instantly peg Seattle’s Sean Beaudoin as a writer of popular teen fiction, but that has been his primary literary realm for years thanks to books like Wise Young Fool, Fade to Blue, and Going Nowhere Faster. Beaudoin strides past the YA niche with his new book Welcome Thieves, a collection of 12 deliciously dark short stories. From dying rock dreams to escapes on fake beaches in the desert, there's something intentionally off as each story pulses with profanely humorous and raw musings on modern adulthood. Tonight, Beaudoin heads to Hugo House to launch Welcome Thieves with an event that marries music and the literary world in a way that suits the author.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Beaudoin about the long road to Welcome Thieves, bias against young adult novels, and being "edgy."
What is your favorite aspect about Welcome Thieves?
Well, I started writing some of the stories more that 15 years ago. Many of them have been written and rewritten over and over again. And really in the last couple of years, it finally started to feel like the collection had pulled together and was truly professional. So I guess I’m excited by the fact that I finally reached that point, regardless of how long it actually took. Now it’s actually gonna be on shelves
Did you always plan for these stories to be presented in one collection or did you just realize that they kind of tonally worked together as you wrote them?
They’re not linked stories, but I definitely write stuff that’s more sex, drugs, and rock and roll kind of attitude and sense of humor as opposed to, you know, more serious, depth of craft kind of short stories: losing the farm stories or grandma’s sick sort of thing. Not that I have a problem with any of those kind of stories, it’s just not what I do. The stories definitely seem of a group. Also, I think they sort of reflect the ‘90s a little bit as a decade— even though that wasn’t necessarily intended—because many early drafts were written then.
Do you have a favorite story in the bunch?
Man, that’s a tough one. I think that while none of the stories are autobiographical, the first story—“Nick in Nine (9) Movements”—comes closest to my true experience. A guy in a band who sort of ends up giving up his artistic pretensions because he has a little girl.
More kind of the “write what you know” school…
Or write what your friends know. [Laughs] Write what you see on the bus. Yeah, I really like that one. I think in some ways it’s the most completely contained one.
A lot of your previous work falls into the young adult realm. While some people often a look down on that genre to an undeserved degree, did you feel like that was something you wanted to consciously step away from when writing Welcome Thieves?
First, I’m always amazed they put my books out as young adult. [Laughs] They’re very adult in a lot of aspects. If it weren’t for the relative age of the protagonists, they could easily be adult. And I do have another YA book coming out next year, called Cornelius Rathbone, so I still have one foot in that water. Although after the stories come out with Algonquin, I have an adult literary novel following that. So I’m still doing both.
I think it’s true that there is definitely a condescension from some aspects of the book world towards young adult. And I agree that its not necessarily deserved. My feeling is that there is really, really good and really, really bad writing in every genre. It’s really hard to write a good book. So no matter how it’s shelved or marketed, its still a really good book .
So for you, writing YA books is just a result of character age and not a conscious decision to write one style as opposed to another?
I spent some early years trying to approximate others styles of writing, kind of feeling out what commercial chops I might or might not have. And quickly I discovered, I can only write exactly the way that I do. Whether its young adult or literary fiction… I also write a lot of political and cultural critique—nonfiction—and it all kind of comes out the same way. So I really don’t even think about that except in terms of the way its shelved and the way it’s marketed from the publishing end, which I also don’t really have much to do with. So I view myself as just delivering content and I’ll let other people handle how they want to chop it up and sell it.
How has Seattle influenced your writing?
I lived in San Francisco for more than 15 years and never thought I was going to leave. But my wife got a job here and we came up very quickly. We were uprooted, and so I didn’t know very much about the city or the literary scene. But I’m amazed by how rich it is, how inclusive it is, and how people are really, really friendly here in terms of the writing community. Just the number of events, the number of great bookstores in town; I really like it a lot.
After reading a few of the stories in Welcome Thieves, I peered at the descriptive blurb in the jacked and noticed it described them as “edgy” stories. While it didn’t diminish what I read, by immediate impulse reaction was to cringe a little bit. Just the idea of presenting something as edgy as a way to sell it to me always rubs me the wrong way. I was wondering if you felt the same way?
Yes, I do. It makes a lot of sense, and I agree 100 percent. Nothing in the history of the world that actually is edgy, has been described in ad copy as edgy.
You know, I don’t write that copy; no author does. And actually, writing that stuff is very difficult, because it’s almost impossible not to speak entirely in clichés. So I cringe a little bit too, but I just understand, that’s part of the process. You can’t get too analytical, too in depth with the limited number of words, so you have to have three buzz words that’re gonna catch somebody’s eye. And for better or worse, edgy appears to be attached to me. [Laughs]
I mean there are worse things, but when I saw that I thought, there’s no way Sean’s going around and being like, “Yeah, man. I’m so edgy.”
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s the worst. Yeah man, I’m a real rebel. It’s like you go to Bartell’s and you have to buy a little kit of words, and the kit that goes for me would be like raw, repulsive, and effecting. Honestly, I don’t read that stuff. [Laughs]
Anything else you’d like to add?
The book launch party is on February 23 at Hugo House. I’ll be playing a couple of songs, and there will be a slide show presentation to avoid the usual book reading setup. So that could be fun. I think most people think that readings are deadly boring. I think more people would go to them if you kind of mixed it up instead of here’s my opening comments and now I’m gonna read a little bit from the book and now I’m gonna do a Q&A. So I definitely go way out of my way not to do that, cause I’ve done that too many times and sat through too many of those.
Also, on March 9 we’re doing something called Cut Rate Vodka and Top Shelf Prose at Third Place Books [in Ravenna] with Johnathan Evison and Peter Mountford and me. Nicole Hardy is moderating. So that should be pretty fun too.
Sean Beaudoin: Welcome Thieves Book Launch
Feb 23 at 7, Hugo House, Free