Yvonne Prinz is a co-owner of A m oeba Music who also happens to have written a new book geared toward teens called Vinyl Princess. The book chronicles a summer in the life of 16 year old vinyl infatuated Allie while she works at the fictional Bob & Bob's Records on Telegraph and blogs about her love of music.
Yvonne will be signing books at Booksmith on Haight Street in San Francisco February 18th! There will also be a musical performance at the signing by Matthew Edwards of The Music Lovers (who has a song on the mix cd that comes with the book) and accordianist Isaac Bonnell. You can also check out her Vinyl Princess blog!
Here, Yvonne chats about her inspirations, the music she loves, and what it was like to work at Amoeba Music Berkeley in the early days...
How did you come up with the idea for this book? What made you decide to write to a teen audience?
Yvonne Prinz: The idea for the book came to me at a Frank Portman (King Dork) reading. I realized that I'd been observing people in record stores for years and that there really is no place on earth like a record store. I set out to write a HIgh Fidelity for the Y[oung] A[dult] market.
I decided years ago to write for teens but back then there was very little contemporary YA literature available. Now we're swimming in it. I try not to define myself by this genre as I don't feel like I have much in common with most YA writers.
How did you craft the character of Allie, a skateboarding, spiky haired, music obsessed 16 yr old?
Yvonne Prinz: I Frankensteined together a bit of this and a bit of that. I wanted some of myself at that age with some street smarts and an unflinching love of vinyl. Allie was the result.
How long did it take to write? And then how did getting it published all happen?
YP: The first draft took a few months to write. I rented a studio in Berkeley, in All ie's neighborhood. It had a great view of the street and I plucked a lot of characters from right in front of me.
I was in the market for an agent and I'd heard that Charlotte Sheedy (Ally Sheedy's mom) represented Lemony Snicket and Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues). I sent a query lett er and her assistant asked for a sample of my work. I sent that and they asked for the complete manuscript. Charlotte took me on and got me a two book deal with Harper Collins within a matter of months.
Music is obviously a huge part of Vinyl Princess. How did you decide what musicians/albums to include in the book? I know my musical tastes are very firmly rooted in the past, and it seems Allie's are too.
YP: I did want to ride that nostalgia train in a big way with a dollop of new indie thrown in, all the while trying not to stray too far from the mainstream. I had to keep my reader in mind and I didn't want too many young readers saying, "Huh?"
You included some of the street people on Telegraph and regular customers in your story, which is great since Haight Street's characters certainly have played a large part in my life at the SF Amoeba. I'm sure you've had many colorful encounters with them over the years -- care to share any here? And were the characters you wrote about in VP real-life or were they made up for the story?
YP: I made up Shorty and Jam, the two cross-dressing homeless gents who appear throughout the book, but they're not too far off what I encountered on Telegraph. I learned to love a lot of the regulars who stopped by the store to exchange their coins for paper money. Amoeba had a reputation for being friendly to the street people so we got to know a lot of them well. Sad though, how suddenly someone would disappear or someone who seemed okay would start to appear not okay and then there seemed to be nothing you could do for them. It is a transient world fraught with mental illness and drug abuse and still, I never saw anything violent take place on t hat street.
As someone who has worked at Amoeba for 6.5 years, I thought it was interesting that Allie is searching for her community but that she is not really friends with anyone who works at Bob & Bob's -- working at Amoeba has provided me with my longtime boyfriend and some of my very best friends in the world and I started working there for many of the same reasons Allie works at Bob & Bob's, to find my people. While it is totally true that some people working at a record store are misanthropes and either difficult or impossible to befriend, I was curious as to why you set Bob & Bob's up this way for Allie. Was it to allow her to interact more with the outside world?
YP: Well, you have to remember her age. She can't partake in much that her fellow employees are doing. Plus, by virtue of the scant population in the store, it's unlikely she'd be hanging out with anyone. The story also had to move outside the store and the outside world had to come into the store or else you don't end up with enough of a story.
I know that you worked at the Berkeley store registers for years, and at at least one other record store before that; we as women are certainly in the minority when it comes to working at a record store and being music-obsessed. What was your experience like being female and working in such a male-dominated business?
YP: Yes, it's tough knowing something about music when you're a seventeen year-old girl surrounded by male know-it-alls. I do appreciate that most of the guys I worked with when I was a kid unknowingly brought me into their worlds. I really picked up a lot of knowledge the first time I worked in a record store and then, when I worked at Amoeba, I was already starting to write and I was a sponge for the quirky world of record collecting. It is, for the most part, a man's world but Amoeba has always maintained a nice balance. I've met some pretty righteous Music Chicks within the organization.
What was it like to work at Amoeba Berkeley back in the early days? Any particularly memorable moments for you?
YP: It was really cool to be a part of the fledgling Amoeba. I priced records in Kent Randolph's backyard in Oakland that first summer before we moved into the space. We kept all of the stock in his little garage. Everyone around me knew WAY more about music than I did. Then it was absolute chaos while we moved into our beloved Amoeba store. There were homeless people living in the space so we hired them to work for us. Every day is an adventure when you're surrounded by music and a colorful street scene. We were still so small that we were a lot more like Bob & Bob's than what we are now. Everyone knew everyone's family, friend's boyfriends girlfriends. We had our first Amoeba Christmas Party in the Jazz section. I remember that Jonathan Lethem worked across the street at Moe's. He spent his breaks in our store, I spent mine in his. There was such a cool vibe on the street back then too, more energy than there is now, most of the storefronts were occupied.
Have you ever gone through a period in your life where you felt you, like Allie, were hiding behind your record collection? If so, how did you move yourself out of it and cultivate more balance in your life?
YP: Yes, when I was Allie's age or a little older I went through a long awkward stage where I put on the big headphones and hid from the world. My parents were divorcing and my sister had already moved out and I felt adrift. I took solace in music but I emerged eventually. I remember saying back then that the only good in the world was music and everything else was fucked up. Thank GOD I got a boyfriend.
How, where and when did you start collecting records yourself? What brought about your strong connection to music?
YP: Back in Canada, my parents were big on music; my dad was a musician, he still is, and he came home with Abbey Road one day and I was hooked. I started seeing live shows on my own at fourteen. I saw everything, even ZZ Top. I was always the first kid on the block to own any album and my friends thought I was insane. I spent all my money on music. I interned in a recording studio after High School and I developed an ear for music production. My first real boyfriend was in a band and he had a deep respect for country and alt. country and I learned a lot from him.
And how and when did writing become a passion of yours?
YP: It was always a passion of mine. As a kid I read a ton. I did a lot of copywriting for TV and radio in my many jobs and I always wanted to write books.
What records in your collection are your most prized and why? What has been your best record store find?
YP: I walked away from my first vinyl collection when I left Canada. It was too expensive to ship them all over the border and I had no idea where my life was going. Now I share a collection with my husband Dave. He has some of the stuff I left behind plus a lot of cool 78's he's collected for years. We have a lot of British and Japanese imports.
My greatest find lately is Elvis Costello Live at the Mocambo in Toronto, 1978, vinyl only and a few hundred copies were made.
What's the last album that really knocked your socks off?
YP: The Duke and The KIng [Nothing Gold Can Stay] -- Simone Felice of The Felice Brothers put this out and I really can't say enough about it.
What have you been listening to lately?
YP: The National, The Avett Brothers, Frank Turner, The Decemberists, Cat Power, Joe Henry, Townes Van Zandt, Feist, Gram Parsons, Louis Armstrong, Tom Waits, Holly Go Lightly, Ray Charles, Chet Baker, Nina Simone, Elvis Costello, Monsters Of Folk, Gaslight Anthem.
What song best describes your life right now?
YP: Nick Drake- "Fly"
Will there be a sequel to VP?
YP: God, I hope not. I can't imagine where I would take her. I have a new book coming out next December called All You Get Is Me. It's a sort of a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird.
And finally, you are in a unique position to comment on this: How do you feel about the future of record stores? With vinyl sales on the rise, will things come back around?
YP: I don't think things will come around completely but it's heartening to know that kids are buying turntables who didn't know what one was until recently. The industry, as always, grossly underestimated the public's attachment to record shopping and records themselves. The VP is a love letter to the people who always knew the value of vinyl. I hasten to add that most kids still buy their music on iTunes but the long lost days of spinning vinyl for your friends to hear out loud, not through ear buds, may well be returning. It was part of the social fiber of my generation and I think it's on the rebound.
Thanks for your time!