new book release and giveaway– friday deadline!
By Eye Candy
November 19, 2010
Lia is 14. She is also one of a small handful of black kids in her San Diego suburb of Coronado. When her boyfriend disappears, Lia feels like she can only talk to Exene Cervenka, a punk rock high priestess and front woman of the legendary LA punk band X. Sound like a common theme on the AP message boards? Well, characters of Camille Collins newly released book, The Exene Chronicles, are pulled from her own experiences growing up as “that black kid” in her click. Now available on Amazon.com, Camille’s said her new fiction is meant for everyone who has ever felt like an outsider, whether black, white, poor, or rich. Her protagonist just so happens to be a black girl who likes punk music. We get it, wink. Check out our interview with Camille about her new book.
The book of the Message Board: The Exene Chronicals
New Book Release and Giveaway!!
Words Whitney Summer
Afropunk.com: Camille, thanks for being an active writer on Afropunk.com. Let readers know a little bit more about your background as a professional writer.
CC: In 2009 I won the South Carolina Fiction prize for the Short Story. I also write biographies of notable African Americans for Harvard University. I really like writing for Afro-punk because I can write freely about what interests me with no restrictions. Plus, I’m still pinching myself about the very existence of Afro Punk; the film, the community… It’s a very cool, very necessary thing.
We’re pumped as hell over here because we don’t normally receive books to the office casting quintessential Afro-punk characters. Without giving the story away, tell us about your new novel, The Exene Chronicles and why you felt it was a story worth telling.
While it is a work of fiction, The Exene Chronicles examines the milieu of a Southern California high school, and what its like to go to said school as one of a small handful of black kids who happens to be into “white” music. This is certainly a reality I lived, just like all my kindred afro-punkers out there, (wait. did I just coin a new term?) so, in terms of location and some of the sentiments the protagonist holds, this work of fiction can be traced directly to my own life in a much clearer way than other things I’ve written. But it’s still fiction. I tried to give an idea of some of the things that were going on around me at the time, whether I agreed with it or not. I think it’s a story worth telling because, whether you’re talking a high school or office setting, countless people know what it feels to be an outsider.
There is a very limited female presence in the alternative music scene. Did this play a role in why you depicted your two main female characters in such dominating roles?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I guess I never really thought much about the scarcity of female performers in alternative music, because the handful that have made a mark are so powerful their influence kind of makes up for what’s lacking in numbers.
Why do you think it’s so tough for women to be taken seriously in this genre of music?
I think it can be tough for women to be taken seriously, period. But in music, I suppose it’s because the men are expected to have all the fun, and by that I mean they get to rock, wear, say and behave however like without expectation or judgment. It’s interesting to me that male performers, whether Prince, Little Richard, David Bowie or the New York Dolls, can appropriate the female personae and be camp and over the top in a way that women can’t, and still walk away with a certain credibility because they’re male. It’s like they get to play both roles to the hilt.
Your book really highlights the youth in the underground music scene. What was your story growing up and do you at any point reference your life into any of the characters?
The simple obsession of going to as many concerts as possible on my babysitting money is definitely a point of reference in my life that was an inspiration for me in writing the book. In addition to seeing X and Peter Tosh and countless other bands more than once, I got to see the Ramones when I was about twelve or thirteen. To me, that’s an historical moment, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. Things were different. Sending your seventh graders alone to a rock concert doesn’t really seem like an innocent pastime now, but it was then.
So was this book, in any way, therapy for you growing up as an AP kid?
Another good question. I think addressing the fear of laying claim to this kind of music was therapeutic. Again, there’s a kind of double standard. For a white kid who loves hip hop, growing up in a black neighborhood or diverse community actually lends a certain credibility and authenticity to their taste in music, which of course naturally influences their style and other aspects of lives. For me, and others who’ve lived the same experience, you worry that you’ll be called out by the white kids, and by your black friends and family for liking this music. You know, like you must be an Oreo or sell out or something. African Americans have such a rich musical legacy which is being reinvented on a daily basis, so people look at you like, why would you give up R&B for that noise? But to me, like people, music is really all one. It’s all connected. I pretty much like every genre of music that exists on some level or other. And if you start to look at the roots, black people have certainly influenced punk. But anyway, at the time I was going to concerts, while you get really excited to see another black face in the crowd, even if its only one, you also secretly worry about getting the crap beat out of you by the racist skin heads who might turn up at the show. Nothing bad ever happened, but it was a lingering internal fear, which you don’t really want to share with your gaggle of little friends cause they’re all white and wouldn’t get it. A series of very interesting dichotomies going on all at once there. You see, just as punk was emerging in Southern California, there was a pretty strong skin head movement growing at the same time. (Your recent profile on the black skin head was really great, by the way). More so in San Diego than LA., and I address those fears in the book. The most therapeutic thing of all though, is having a community of people, gathered under the umbrella of Afro Punk, who can undoubtedly relate to the book, and all the things I’m saying here. I can see y’all out there nodding your heads in agreement! And knowing that feels great!
As a book nerd, it’s always really hard finish reading a good book. Is it equally as hard wrapping up writing on a book you feel will affect people?
I wouldn’t say so. I stopped when I felt the story was complete. My goal was to do justice to the characters and their relationships with one another. I can only hope I succeeded in some way.
What do you hope our readers gain from reading The Exene Chronicles?
I think for me to say, “here’s a book with a black protagonist who happens to like punk, enjoy!” would be rather lame. This fact alone is not enough for the Afro-Punk community, or anyone else for that matter, to like the book. So hopefully, who ever reads it, regardless or race, gender, age or taste in music, will be able to relate to the humanity of the characters, to their happiness and fears. I think that’s the ultimate goal of any good book.
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