For his debut novel, Luke Geddes has written a clever, sharp book with lots of intriguing, well-drawn characters. The book, Heart of Junk, is about an eclectic and eccentric group of merchants at an antique mall in Kansas who become implicated in the kidnapping of a local beauty pageant star, Lindy Bobo.
While Wichita is panicking over the kidnapping, the collectors have their own concerns, namely their compulsions, neurosis and collections of just about anything you can imagine.
Meanwhile, there’s another drama afoot: the impending arrival of two stars of a famed antique show, Pickin’ Fortunes, for an episode some are hoping will save the mall from bankruptcy.
Geddes does a great job making these collectors interesting, fascinating even, drawing readers into their lives and their drive for this or that last item that will complete their collection.
Contributor to the blog, Scott Butki, had the opportunity to chat with Geddes about his debut.
Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?
Luke Geddes: It started with setting. I spend a lot of time at antique malls, flea markets, used record and book stores, thrift shops, etc. It’s a world I love being in, which is important considering I’d end up spending 8 years or so inhabiting it as I wrote, rewrote, and edited the novel. I didn’t know when I began the book that it would be set in Wichita but a few chapters in it became obvious. I lived in the city while getting my MFA and more importantly it’s where my passion for antique malls blossomed—there wasn’t a lot else to do in Wichita!
SB : Which came first, the characters or the plot?
LG: Plot always comes last and with the most difficulty for me. I’m a slow writer and thinker, so I have to figure out who the characters are sentence-by-sentence before I can even vaguely picture a book with the kind of holistic-ness that plot requires. The exterior plot, regarding the kidnapping and the dire financial straits of the mall, is really just a feint that gave me room to explore the psyches of the individual characters.
SB: How did you research this book?
LG: Since I share most of my characters’ interests, writing the book wasn’t a research-
heavy project. A friend who’s read it asked me where I got all the arcane information related to music and record collecting. I replied that it comes from a friendless adolescence with plenty of free time to spend at the public library, on the internet, and stalking record stores. For example, the trivia about the variation of The Monkees’ Headquarters album where the band sports facial hair in one photo was something the owner of a record store in my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin mentioned way back when I first started buying records as teenager, and it’s stuck in my mind. The exception would be the classier stuff that the characters Margaret Byrd and Stacey Stoller are into, glass and art pottery. For that I browsed through related price guides, websites, eBay listings, etc. I’m sure that sooner or later a real antique glass expert will read the book and send me an outraged email about how wrong I got it…
SB: How did you develop so many interesting characters? Were any based on people you have met?
LG: A few gestures or lines in the novel may have come from interactions with real people at flea markets and the like, but it’s more so that the characters grew out of various booths I’ve come across at different antique malls over the years. For example, I can pinpoint the exact booth in the exact mall that inspired the characters of Seymour and Lee—but to protect the innocent, I won’t! Even without meeting them, you can get a strong sense of dealers’ personalities not just from the stuff that they sell but the way it’s arranged, how it’s priced, how frequently or infrequently the stock changes, etc.
SB: Were you interested in the fine line between junk and antiques well before you began working on this book?
LG: I actually don’t share Margaret Byrd’s fastidious obsession with this distinction, though I think it’s clear from the book that I am interested in the tension between “high” and “low” culture and the mysterious process through which the ephemeral becomes collectible or valuable and the mass-manufactured achieves scarcity and singularity.
SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
LG: I want readers to be free to take away what they will and what they choose to. It’s a comic novel and I hope it’s appreciated as such by readers who take humor seriously. In a nutshell, I hope it reaches readers like me, who read widely in terms of subject matter and genre, who find humorless texts facile but also don’t like it when books are just funny or only trying to be funny.
SB: Are you a collector? Of what? Do you think collectors play a role in society that’s often ignored?
LG: I collect a lot of things but I’m not a completist about any of them. I go through phases. I suppose I have collections of vinyl records, pulp paperbacks, Halloween decorations, Marx figures, coin banks, midcentury rock ‘n’ roll ephemera, and various vintage toys.
I don’t know if they’re ignored by society but I do think collectors are often unfairly maligned as hoarders, though perhaps parts of my book are guilty of that, too. The vintage resale milieu around which the book revolves is at heart one whose purpose is quite noble: recycling and historical curation. That said, the idea of collecting brand new products manufactured expressly to be sold as “collectibles” with artificial degrees of scarcity, like Funko Pops, depresses me greatly.
SB: The press materials for this book mention that it is a biting commentary “on our current Marie Kondo era.” What do you think about this era and Marie Kondo?
LG: This might surprise you, seeing as I’m far from a minimalist myself, but I generally agree with her philosophy. I think it’s often presented as “get rid of everything you don’t need,” but as I understand it, it’s closer to “keep the things you truly want and like.” I just happen to want and like a lot of junk!
SB: What are you working on next?
LG: A novel influenced by—but not about—podcasts, Charles Portis’s novel Masters of Atlantis, and the music of The Shaggs.
SB: Lastly, my bonus question: Here’s your chance to ask and answer a question you have wished you would be asked in an interview.
LG: I’d like to be asked about Works of Love, the record label I started to release the artist Benjamin Dean Wilson’s 2018 album The Smartest Person in the Room on vinyl. I discovered his first album, Small Talk, earlier this year while trawling eBay for Jonathan Richman records—one seller used him as a point of comparison. Richman is my favorite artist of all time and without hyperbole I can see that Wilson is near his equal. There’s a thread in Heart of Junk about bands and albums overlooked at the time of release that are hailed decades later as geniuses and masterpieces. I very much want Wilson, who is not well known, to be appreciated in his prime. You can find out more about the record and order it through a link on my personal website.
Heart of Junk is available for pre-order now from BookPeople.