Janet Tashjian is a prolific author of young adult and children's books such as My Life as a Stuntboy, The Gospel According to Larry, TruConfessions, Faultline and Marty Fry, Private Eye.
Your Foreign Correspondent met Janet at the a signing at Hicklebee's book store in San Jose for her latest book, My Life as a Cartoonist, cartoons by Jake Tashjian. After she signed my copy, Janet recommended For What It’s Worth.
In For What It’s Worth, 14 year old Quinn, rock n’ roll devotee and budding musician deals with his first girlfriend, his band, the spirits of Rock Legends and the Viet Nam war.
Music is central to the story and to Quinn’s character. As the story takes place between the years 1971 and 1972, did you worry that readers, not familiar with the music of that period, would not understand Quinn?
I didn't really worry about that because I know so many kids now who are into Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Joni Mitchell...I wrote it for all the music nerds.
Was the character’s name Quinn taken from “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann?
Yes, but it's actually a Dylan song. Manfred Mann did a great cover.
The images at the beginning of each chapter alternate from an acoustic to an electric guitar Are they a specific brand of guitar?
I'd love to take credit for the artwork but that was all my editor and the great art department at Macmillan. My son has an electric guitar that he hardly ever plays - that's my closest experience with a guitar.
What was harder to revise? The manuscript or the book’s discography?
Hilarious. Always the manuscript.
I've met Todd Rundgren several times; I'm a giant Todd fan. I've never met Joni but that would be the biggest score of all time - I fantasize about running into her here in L.A. I'm glad I haven't because it would be embarrassing.
Do you think today’s music affects youth today as the music affected Quinn in his time? This is not a question of taste, but rather do musicians still make music as opposed to contributing to the cult of celebrity?
It's a really tough question that I think about a lot. If you try to compare someone like Jay Z to Bob Dylan, it kind of DOES come down to taste. There's no way to compare the two as artists without stating a personal preference. I think kids are STILL affected by music today - my niece was just dancing in my living room, singing along to Taylor Swift - but there's just so much more of it now. Because of streaming, the internet, and the pure mobility of music, I'm not sure kids are as attached to songs as much as a kid like Quinn was. I'm not sure kids are sitting around analyzing lyrics anymore, although of course, I hope they are.
It was a personal choice - I wanted to focus on other parts of the story, like the war, Quinn's first girlfriend, etc. I felt the whole drug thing was relevant to the time, but not to Quinn's story.
|1972 Photo by Huỳnh Công "Nick" Út|
A lot of people liked the portrayal of Brett - I wanted to give kids and teachers something to really debate. Was Brett wrong or right to resist? Was Quinn wrong or right to help him. I wanted kids to see there are no easy answers. As far as anti-war songs go, I can think of a few (The Dixie Chicks, Pink) but certainly it's not a giant category anymore. Too bad, maybe they'd help bring home some of our troops.
The problems the characters face in For What It’s Worth still resonant today. War. Peace. Music. Love. Divorce. Was it difficult balancing Quinn’s story and political issues of that time, Viet Nam, Kent State, Watergate, and keep the novel from becoming too polemic?
I am always vigilant about becoming too polemic - when you write about subjects like anti-consumerism, war, dating violence, and presidential elections, you have to be super-aware or you'll lose your readers in a second. I try to temper the serious subjects with humor. When I sat down to write For What It's Worth, the New York Times had an article saying that the war in Afghanistan was officially the longest running war in U.S. History. I don't know why kids AREN'T talking about war now.
This Foreign Correspondent's favorite songs heard in For What It’s Worth in no particular order:
“Wipe Out” – The Surfaris
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys
“Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum
“Battle of Evermore” – Led Zeppelin
“Break on Through to the Other Side” – The Doors
“Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire
“Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band
“Fortunate Son” - CCR
“What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye
“Peace Train” – Cat Stevens
“Pinball Wizard” – The Who
“Paint It Black” – The Rolling Stones
“My Generation” – The Who
“Morning Has Broken” – Cat Stevens
"All great songs!" Janet said of my list.
The Management would like to thank Janet Tashjian for this interview.
For more about Janet visit http://janettashjian.com/
So rock, don't run, to your nearest independent book store and buy anything by Janet Tashjian.