The genesis of Heartworm

As a follow up to a recent Q&A I conducted about my forthcoming novel Heartworm, I wanted to write a little more about the 1995 album that inspired the book's name.

Lots have been written about life-changing bands -- especially the Smiths and Morrissey -- usually in the context of some shy suburban boy whose life was saved by rock 'n' roll. Much as I love the Smiths, I know that countless people have been inspired by less mainstream bands and records that haven't been discussed to death. Heartworm is my story.

Initially, I pitched Heartworm as a submission to 33 1/3. While I didn't make the short list, I finished writing the book and found another publisher. Most of the books in the 33 1/3 series are in the rock criticism format, but I was inspired by two that were written as fiction: Joe Pernice's Meat Is Murder (perhaps, the best Smiths-inspired book I've read) and, especially, John Niven's Music From Big Pink. In the latter, members of The Band are actually characters in the book, who hang out with the drug dealer protagonist.

I lived in Ireland in 1992-1994 and while I wasn't friends with Whipping Boy, I would later interview their guitarist Paul Page for my fanzine Vendetta. This gave me a starting point; I would attempt to write a novel about an expat American journalist living in Dublin, who's part of the scene that spawned bands like Whipping Boy and Into Paradise.

I wanted to develop on this idea by having my character and some of his friends go through some of the issues and emotions found in the lyrics on Heartworm, the album, including addiction, betrayal, infidelity, anger, and outright violence. Heartworm was an album that saved my life when it needed saving. I was thirty and suddenly single after having been married for eight years. Most of my friends who were my age were just starting their adult lives, getting married, having kids, working serious jobs. I was back at square zero, thirty going on twenty. I was living in a small flat, working temp jobs, drinking far too much, and dating girls six to eight years younger than me.

While writing the novel, I was able to lock myself into that head space and relive many painful experiences, while creating new, slightly different ones for my protagonist.

When people ask me to describe Heartworm the album, I tell them that it's a very male record. I remember an interview where Whipping Boy vocalist Fearghal McKee talked about the record in those terms, adding that it's very hard for men to express themselves. Not that Heartworm is for men only -- plenty of women I know like it as well -- it's just that it captures the male psyche far better than anything I've ever listened to. The Afghan Whigs' masterpiece Gentlemen is the closest  I can think of to Heartworm to in capturing the damaged male psychebut their singer/songwriter Geg Dulli displays far more bravado and swagger than what's found on Heartworm.

Heartworm and other Whipping Boy records were played on loop as I wrote the novel. What I find most amazing as time has gone by is how timeless it still sounds. The orchestrated arrangements still amaze me, the lyrics still pack the same guttural punch.  Most albums sound very much like products of their time, whereas Heartworm falls much more in the 'where the fuck did that come from?' category like Psychocandy or Wire's 154.

Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.

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'80s top ten list

Here's a little something I did for Flexipop magazine. Like them on Facebook!They're a great resource if you dig eighties music.



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Best of 2014

I'm sure I'm missing some things that I just plain forgot about, but here are ten records that I liked an awful lot in 2014.

1. Vaniish - Memory Work: A simply astounding debut by this San Francisco band. Echoes of so many cool postpunk bands from the '80s (Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division etc.) with their own unique twist. Essential.



2. Singapore Sling - The Tower of Foronicity: Singapore Sling is more or less the brainchild of Henrik Bjornsson and the Icelandic genius shows no signs of let down on his seventh album, an intoxicating mix of JAMC fuzz and assorted '60s garage and surf influences. 



3. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation: Revelation lives up to its name, my favorite BJM record since Bravery Repetition and Noise, encompassing everything from impeccable '60s-inspired songwriting to postpunk, shoegaze, and other experimental sounds.


4. The Raveonettes -Pe'ahi:  Along with Singapore Sling, Denmark's Raveonettes are my favorite band of the 21st century, always finding new ways to make the most out of their unique sound.



5. Ceremony: Distance. Like some of the other artists on this list, Ceremony is more or less a solo deal for John Fedowitz (ex-Skywave). Fans of his former group, JAMC, and assorted '80s noise pop will dig this record immensely.



6. Pete Fij and Terry Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery: Ex-Adorable vocalist Pete Fij and House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers collaborate on this achingly beautiful concept album that documents the breakdown of a relationship. The duo incorporate everything from country pop to John Barry-esque arrangements on this dynamite recording.



7. Comet Gain: Paperback Ghosts. Criminally ignored in the Britpop era, London's Comet Gain are still relevant two decades later appealing to all us lost souls who love punk, soul, and damaged rock 'n' roll.



8. Interpol - El Pintor. NYC's Interpol are back in form with their best album since the first two. Easily the comeback of the year.



9. Ringo Deathstarr - God's Dream. As you can tell from this list, I prefer bands on the noisier side of the pop spectrum. Austin's Ringo Deathstarr fall into that category for sure. While not as immediate as their first two long players, God's Dream is pretty killer just the same.



10. David Long - Water Has Memory. While this came out in Ireland only in 2013, I did not learn about this record until earlier this year. Long fronted Into Paradise, one of the best Irish bands ever in the late '80s - early '90s. This is his first new music in close to two decades and has a similar punch to his finest work.




Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.

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Q&A about my next novel Heartworm


My second novel Heartworm will be published next year (right now the target date is August/September). It's a sequel to Wivenhoe Park, set mainly in mid-'90s Dublin and Boston. The real life Irish band Whipping Boy plays a major role in the book. Charlie Burke, an intern for my publisher, Cooperative Trade, conducted this short interview with me.



What inspired you to write Heartworm?
Heartworm was originally inspired by the Bloomsbury Academic series, 33 1/3, where you write about classic albums either in a rock criticism format or some people have done it as fiction. I was trying to write a sequel to Wivenhoe Park and was struggling with some stuff, but then the idea of writing about the album Heartworm and writing about a period in mid-90’s Ireland and Boston – where I both lived – just kind of brought it back. That album was a really important part of my life then and now and the book came together fast. The application for Bloomsbury was pretty thorough. I was forced to write an outline very fast and get a first chapter done very fast, so that kind of kick started it. Although I didn't make the short list – I'm not getting published by Bloomsbury – I was able to expand on the ideas I had for that and turn it into a second of hopefully three books about Drew. So Heartworm – that's sort of where it came from.

Why fiction writing?
I think it's just another outlet. I've written about music for so long, and I think I just wanted to create. I tried to play guitar but I never really learned to do it very well. So I think it's just wanting to be on the creative side after putting out records for other people - having been on the management/PR side for so long РI don't know, I guess as clich̩ as it sounds, it felt like a calling, it felt like I just kind of needed to do that.

What sorts of novels do you like to read? Did any inspire Heartworm?
I don't know if any inspired Heartworm. I do like a combination of noir fiction, classic crime fiction, and music-inspired fiction. You know, like Nick Hornby I like a lot, and Kevin Sampson, Cathi Unsworth – they're contemporary writers I really like. Style-wise, I love Arthur Conan Doyle, all those Sherlock Holmes Classics, and I like a lot of the – I'm not really sure if we'd call it pulp fiction, but like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. I like their economy. You know, they're getting it down without a lot of fluff. Most of the music I like is like that too. Saying as much as needs to be said. I don't like albums that just have a lot of unnecessary tracks, so I try to approach the writing the same way. Minimalist prose, if you will.

What originally got you into music?
I'd say I've always liked music, like going back to junior high and high school, and I think that's where a lot of the events from Wivenhoe Park are pretty true. You know, I ran a while for a college team, and when I realized I wasn't going to be good as I thought I was, I think I got really depressed for a while, and then I turned more to music. I started buying more records, and hanging out with people that were more creative. I kind of got of the – not that running cross-country is really a “jock mentality” because it's not really a jock sport, but I expanded my horizons, made new friends, just kind of fell into music.

What’s an album that's been particularly inspirational to you and why?
I’d say two – I'd say Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain was a huge inspiration, and that album came out right when I arrived in England for my junior year abroad in college, so in the same way the album Heartworm is a soundtrack to the novel Heartworm, Psychocandy was definitely the soundtrack to Wivenhoe Park. I'd say Heartworm for the '90s was as important for me as Psychocandy was for the '80s.

What inspired you to start your own record label?
That started just because I’d been working for my friend Lee in California with his label, and it was such a rush watching – you know, just working for a small label where you learn about everything from working with the artists, the bands, doing the grunt work – the rush of wanting to put out records, the rush of wanting to share what you think is important art with people.

Is there anything Lee taught you that influenced the way you've run your label?
Elephant Stone doesn't really exist anymore other than I might do some really small print reissues. The music industry has really changed. I learned from Lee watching him go through the ups and downs. There were some months where the money was tight… I think you just have to be fearless running your own business. I think Lee taught me to be brave. I’d sometimes wonder, "Oh god, he owes this printer so much money," but then something would come through, and he just kind of kept it calm by believing in what he was doing.

What inspired you to start your own music magazine?
I've done that in waves. I did various smaller zines before I did Vendetta in the '90s and early 2000s, and that happened right after I came back from England. In the novel, the Drew character is already writing for the college paper and stuff. I started writing a little after that – so that's a little – you know, it's not totally autobiographical. But when I came back, I came across this whole zine culture where people were putting out cut-and-paste Xerox things themselves, you know, passing them around or just advertising and selling them in other music magazines like that. So I did a couple of kind of things like that before I feel like I got it much better with Vendetta. So again, it’s like the thing with the label: just wanting to promote bands that you think deserved to get promoted more that maybe weren't getting attention in the mainstream press. It's just championing people you believe in.

Without giving too much away, there's some cult activity in the book. How much is that based on your own experience?
It's loosely based on… my ex-wife got involved in some – nothing that extreme like the cult in Heartworm – but a lot of this new age kind of philosophy, like this meditation, healing crystals. And there was this center in Ireland that she became friends with some people there that they were kind of all into that. There was this one guy in particular – and my wife didn't leave me for a healer, like in Heartworm – but there was this one guy in particular that kind of was a bit of a ladies man, but he was all about the, you know, healing powers of crystals and things like that. So it was kind of based on that experience, watching people getting sucked into this kind of stuff.

In the book, Drew interviews a band about a lyric that has become controversial because it was misinterpreted. Do you worry people will similarly misinterpret the book?
I don't really worry about it. I just wrote what was in my head at the time; I guess you don't really think about that. Paul Page, the guitarist for Whipping Boy, is a friend in real life, so when I told him I was trying to write this thing for 33 1/3, he's been really supportive. He's helped me with some of the scenes. He's read it and said it was kind of uncanny how I just kind of got the dynamic of his band down. I'd say the most stressful part of the book for me was wanting – since it was fiction about a real life band – I wanted him to like it. I wanted him to think it was authentic. I was really pleased when he said he does actually really like the book, so that was really good.

Anything else?
I don't think so, other than, I think Heartworm is definitely darker than the first book. To me, really it's about turning 30, losing some of your idealism from youth, but trying to find a way to forge forward. It's dark, but if there's a theme, it's that music is really important. When I sign books, I always inscribe, "Rock and Roll saves lives." I think that sums it up.


Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


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Anti-Crowdfunding Arts Support

I don't share too much about my personal life on social media, but lately a lot of people have asked me if there's anything they can do to help with my wife Arabella Proffer's medical expenses, like if there's a crowdfunding website or something. For those who don't know, Arabella was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2010. Forty bouts of radiation later she underwent a successful surgery that removed the tumor and a chunk of her thigh. She needs a cane to get around most of the time. The downside is that the radiation weakened her femur so much that her leg was on the verge of snapping in half. A few weeks ago, she had another surgery where a metal rod was inserted in her leg for reinforcement. Earlier this year she had another surgery that didn't go so well.



The last four years have been pretty rough on the wallet to say the least. Some people have suggested that we set up a crowdfunding type website, but neither of us are comfortable with handouts, so this is just a reminder that we do creative things that you might like. Arabella is an artist and I'm a writer, so we'd much rather have you buy a work of art than just give money for nothing in return.

So here's a list of websites you can check out with items ranging from $2.99 to much more:

Arabella's website shop

Artwork for iPads, iPhone, Prints and more

Original paintings from $275 - $575

Portrait commissions (starting at $350)



If you'd like a copy of my novel, Wivenhoe Park or a CD from Elephant Stone Records

Finally, for $2.99, Wivenhoe Park for Kindle

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Progress

Last month I ran my first race in 13 months and gutted out a 19:23 (6:14 pace). On Sunday I toed the line again and managed to get back under my goal of 19:00 with an 18:57 (6:06 pace). I can feel the fitness start to come back ever so slowly. It's going to be awhile before I get back to where I was the last few years (mid-17's) but I'm trying to take it one week at a time. As I get older, I find that certain workouts give me a lot of bang for the buck, others not so much. For example, two weeks ago, when my wife was in the hospital I had an interval workout that went south and I stopped it short. I didn't run for 2 or 3 days after, but when I did I went out for a long slow run, not really planning the distance. I ended up running 11 miles (longest I've done in over a year) and felt great. I few days later I nailed a tempo workout and a few days after that I ran a perfect negative split race, going 6:15, 6:05, 6:00, :37. So I think the moral of this ramble is that on the busy schedule that I have (work, writing, music stuff), I need to focus on hitting certain key workouts each week, the long run being mandatory. I also find that when I run intervals hitting them at 8K/10K pace with brief recoveries makes me stronger than the faster stuff. I'm setting up another block to race again on December 7 (fast, competitive 5K race) and may jump into another race before that. I'd like to end the year getting under 18:30 if possible. Wish me luck!

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