Andromeda Klein is the sophomore offering from Frank Portman, AKA Dr. Frank, longtime frontman of pop-punk band the Mr. T Experience, and author of the hit YA novel King Dork. King Dork's protagonist was a snarky, music-loving teenaged outcast—not such a stretch for the man who penned lyrics to songs like "Swiss Army Girlfriend" ("She slices, dices, and more/She can handle any household chore"). Nothing in MTX's vast discography, however, could have predicted Andromeda Klein. The novel's eponymous protagonist is a snarky teenaged outcast, to be sure—she's also a dedicated occultist, crushed out on long-dead magicians and devoted to studying the most esoteric texts her local library has to offer. Portman's characterizations are strong and his writing funny and surprising; refreshingly, he assumes the reader is smart enough to keep up with shy, precocious Andromeda as she delves deep into the supernatural to solve the mysteries of high school. An exclusive 7-inch of songs based on the book was just released by local label Jealous Butcher—Portman will perform songs from the record at Plan B after his reading.
MERCURY: Why occultism?
FRANK PORTMAN: Occultism is something I've always been a little bit interested in. And actually, when I started to write the book, I thought I knew a lot more about it than it turned out that I did, so I had to do a lot of very weird reading for the two-plus years that I was working on it. My personal library has gotten very strange. But it's fascinating to just jump into something and realize that it's a little more complicated than you thought.
How did you approach writing a female character?
The whole development of this character comes from when I figured out her name. Her name was like this little tiny egg, and everything was in there... this sounds really—writers say corny things sometimes. I sound like a hippie.
A little tiny egg. Go on.
"A little tiny egg that expanded into an overflowing universe." I just found that you establish the parameters of this person and her way of thinking, and then everything followed from that. And I know lots of female people, so... maybe over the years I've heard tell of what goes on in their heads.
Maybe it's just not that different.
Yeah, I think that we as a culture, have a lot invested in this idea that there is a huge divide between male and female psychology and behavior. But if you're writing a novel and you start out with the premise, "Oh, I'm writing about someone I cannot possibly understand," then that's a recipe for not finishing your book. Boys and girls are different, certainly, but the basic experience of adolescence and high school cuts across almost every kind of demographic division you could imagine.
You really captured the obsessive attitude that lonely kids take toward their hobbies.
We are kind of defined by our obsessions, right? Whether it's baseball cards or rock 'n' roll or in her case, occultism. Magic is a big thing in literature and particularly in our current version of teen fiction and YA lit, but I've generally found the depiction seems to be divorced from what you really do when that is an interest of yours. It really is just reading a lot of books. It suits an isolated person very well, where most of your interaction with the outside world comes from reading.