Bad Kids from Good Schools (Winged City Chapbook Press, 2013)
Michael Wayne Hampton’s chapbook Bad Kids from Good Schools forms the basis for his punk rock YA novel The Dream Academy.
How did the chapbook lead you to a young adult novel?
Like so many things in art and life, it was a combination of chance and hustle. I gave a reading last May from my chapbook, and one of my friends who was a fan of it (and who had taught one of the stories from it) suggested I turn it into a YA novel. I’ve never read YA and always thought my work was too edgy for it, but she pushed me to send the chapbook out to agents to see if any would be interested in selling it as a partial or as an outline.
Since I didn’t know any agents, I went to Writer’s Digest’s “New Agency Alert” page, and wrote down the names and contact information for 14 agents with no expectations. The second one I emailed, Roz Foster, wrote me back the next day. She was excited about the work, but said she couldn’t sell anything as a partial. That was the end of August. Since I also had a book scout for television interested in my work, I felt a lot of pressure to turn the 32 page chapbook into a novel fast since I was afraid they’d lose interest if I took too long to get back to them.
I used the chapbook as a general outline, and for the next 73 days I wrote obsessively until I’d completed six drafts and was finished with the novel. Thankfully, it all paid off. Roz became my agent, and the novel is now being shopped to major publishers. I hope one of them takes it. The only downside is that I had to pull the chapbook from print since it formed the basis of the novel. The 18 copies or so I have now are the only ones left, as far as I know.
Did your chapbook start out as something larger whose parts you made into a chapbook? Or, if it started out as self-contained, is it something that can be changed into a full manuscript?
I was contacted by the editor for Winged City Chapbook Press, and asked if I’d like to do a fiction chapbook for them since they’d only published poetry at that time. I had a flash fiction piece that had originally appeared in decomP about dangerous high school kids which I thought I could expand on. That’s where the chapbook came from.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece in the chapbook is a story called “The Kid on the Floor,” which originally appeared in decomP. I wrote it because I was interested in the way the high school kids I knew told me stories in which horrible things took place, and how they always told me about them in this bored, non-reflective tone. I wanted to explore that voice.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
My chapbook is about a group of privileged high school kids who go through wild criminal adventures during one summer of their lives. It’s similar to my earlier work in that I have a soft spot for young characters and bad behavior.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
Since the characters in my chapbook were kids, and the first story was titled “The Kid on the Floor,” I decided to let each character in the group have their own story in a flash piece and titled each in the same style. For example: “The Kid with a Gun,” “Kids in Commercials,” and “The Kid Wakes Up.”
As for the title, Bad Kids from Good Schools just seemed fitting, and I liked the B-movie sound of it.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m under deadline for my new novel, which is literary fiction rather than YA.
What is your writing practice or process?
I’m terrible at moderation, so when I write it’s pretty obsessive. I can go months without writing, but when I get into a project, it’s all I think about. I usually start around midnight and end around four or five in the morning. I don’t outline so much as I let the work take over and go where it wants.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Make sure that your chapbook has its own world, one filled with ideas and risk. Go toward the fear, and be certain that something important happens. Chapbooks are condensed, and are best when the reader feels like they know more than they are told.
What have you learned by being a fiction editor/ mixed genre editor for Winged City Chapbook Press?
As a fiction editor, I learned that too many people try to expand one long short story into a chapbook or submit chapbooks where nothing hangs in the balance. To me, a chapbook should be like a hand grenade; once the cover is opened, there should be a sense that the pin has been pulled.
As a creative nonfiction/ mixed genre editor, I would encourage writers to take chances. Be weird or nakedly honest. That’s all that matters. The safe and quiet, even when well written, tends to make less of an impact than the challenging or fearlessly confessional. Be brave. Don’t think about what others have done or said, but instead think about what you can do that’s never been done before. If you’re writing about your own life, don’t hold back any details, no matter how graphic. The personal, no matter how raw or embarrassing, is universal and true.
Michael Wayne Hampton is the author of three books: Bad Kids from Good Schools (Winged City Chapbook Press), Romance for Delinquents (Foxhead Books, January 2014), and Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight (Artistically Declined Press, May 2014). His work has appeared in numerous publications such as decomP, McSweeney’s, and Atticus Review.