Interview: Beat the Band by Don Calame


Welcome Don Calame to Magic Bean Review, once again! On a scale of 1 to 10, how rubbish is Coop, Matt and Sean’s band? Why is that?

One being the best and ten being the worst, I’d say that the boys’ band is a 9.6. While they can play a few chords and can stumble through a song or two, it’s nothing you’d want to listen to. I think the reason for that is because they’ve only practiced a couple of times before. Their band—Arnold Murphy’s Bologna Dare—is more of a rock band in theory. They’ve thought a lot about being a band but haven’t really put the effort in.

Your idea for the naked girl goal in the first book, Swim the Fly, was based on a personal experience – is there any you have used in the second book, Beat the Band?

Oh my God, yes. I mined quite a lot of personal experience for this book. The main one being that I was in a rock band in high school. And we basically formed the band so we could play in the school’s Battle of the Bands competition. You know, so we could get girls (because that always works out so well). Also, we were pretty awful when we started out. By the time of the show we were much better. So much so, that we won. Although, to be fair, I think we were the second best band that played. I’m pretty sure we got top honours simply for the fact that we played songs the teachers enjoyed rather than the heavy metal of the more competent band.

Do the characters have as much bad luck as in the last novel?

Hah! Of course. Some might say even worse. It wouldn’t be fun if the characters weren’t getting themselves into all sorts of trouble.

Was it more interesting to write the book from a different characters point of view (instead of from Matt’s perspective, the second is from Coop’s perspective)?

I found it a bit more challenging. Matt was easier because he was basically me as a fifteen year old boy. Not exactly me. But there was a good helping of me in there. Of course, there’s a bit of Coop in me as well, but far less, I think.

The thing with Coop is, he’s quite a bit more brash than Matt. But he has a really good heart once you get past all of the false bravado. And he’s incredibly loyal to his friends. It was fun writing on that edge. Writing a character that I knew some people might not like at first, but who—if you stick with him—you might learn to love.

I’m really glad I made the choice to write this book from a different point of view, though. I didn’t actually want to write a sequel. But doing it this way didn’t feel like a sequel. And in many respects it’s more of a companion novel than a true sequel. Yes, it takes place right after the last book ends but you don’t have to have read Swim the Fly to know what’s going on in Beat the Band.

Do you find it particularly difficult to ‘get in the mind’ of teenage boys, such as what sort of language they use and such? I thought in the first book their dialogue was spot on, even though they were boys in a different country (and that can change the way they speak quite a lot!)

Scary as this might be, I don’t find it difficult at all. I think it’s because I remember that time of life so well. A lot of hard things were going on in my life at the time. With my parents, with friends, girlfriends (or the lack thereof), siblings, feelings, emotions, and on and on. And so, it’s very easy for me to drop back into that awkward, emotionally-heightened, mixed-up time.

And while the words sometimes change (and sometimes don’t) the feelings stay constant. Basically, it’s never easy trying to talk to a girl when you’re a fifteen year old boy. It’s never easy trying to negotiate the world of friends and school and home life. Especially when everything feels so intensified and massively important. I think if you stay true to those feelings and emotions, the actual slang or language used is not as important. (Though, it’s still nice to try to get it as accurate as you can for the time period and place you’re writing about).

It also helped me to have two teenage step-sons living in the house at the time that I wrote the first two books. Eavesdropping on their conversations with friends was a great way to remind myself of the rhythm of the language.

Is there going to be a third book, from Sean’s point of view?

Yes. I just finished it up. It’s going to be titled Call the Shots. In this one the boys try to film an ultra-low budget horror film—like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity—in the hopes to sell it for millions of dollars. I had a lot of fun getting Sean into all sorts of humiliating situations. He’s the most gullible of the three so he was not hard to lead astray.

How on earth do you come up with so many unfortunate events to happen to them? It must take a lot of time, I loved all of the embarrassing events from the first book – so many of them you really, really can’t predict.

It was a process, for sure. The book started out very short. Eighty pages, I think. Then I added another hundred. And for the next round, a further hundred. I kept going back to my own experiences, trying to remember the embarrassing things that happened to me throughout my life (and there are a lot of those instances). And if I couldn’t come up with something, I just asked myself, “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to Matt at this point in time?” And I just went with that.

How did you first get the idea to write a humorous novel, from the perspective of young boys? The young adult market is predominantly wailing teenage girls with supernatural abilities – did you know you would stand out from the crowd?

To be perfectly honest, it was my wife’s idea. She’s a writer as well (Meg Tilly). While she was touring her amazing YA novel Porcupine she kept hearing from teachers and librarians that there were not very many good books out there for teenage boys.

So, it was her encouragement that lead me to writing Swim the Fly. I was resistant at first. I’ve been a screenwriter for the last fifteen years and was working on a new script when she sprung the idea on me. I put her off for several weeks but my wife was very persistent and persuasive. And thank God for that. Because I’ve never had so much fun writing anything in my entire life.

Thanks Don, your answers were so detailed – it is so true how there are hardly any YA books for boys!

You can read my review of Swim the Fly here!

Read the review of Beat the Band.

Who gets more girls than a rock god? No one.

When Coop finds himself partnered with social outcast ‘Hot Dog’ Helen for a class project on safe sex, he knows he needs a way of saving his rep. Winning the school Battle of the Bands seems like the perfect solution. There’s just one small problem: neither he nor his two best friends, Sean and Matt, can actually play an instrument…

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One response to “Interview: Beat the Band by Don Calame

  1. Pingback: Beat the Band by Don Calame | Magic Bean Review

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