Meet Jonny Valentine: an 11-year-old pop star who worries about his “chub,” hitting puberty and career longevity. In “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine,” author Teddy Wayne gives us a sly peek behind the velvet rope of a young pop star. Sort of inspired by Justin Bieber, the book delights in mocking an American society obsessed with nubile stars. But it also strikes serious chords, examining what that obsession does to the pint-sized pros themselves. Some serious moments even eerily parallel Bieber news stories after Wayne wrote the book, like violent threats and a marijuana scandal. Wayne, 34, talked to Metro about prepping through celeb glossies and guitar strums.
The book is based on Justin Bieber. How many front-row Justin Bieber concert seats did you buy to research?
I ended up not going to any. I didn’t want to be too beholden to the reality of Bieber concerts. I did watch his documentary film. It’s entertaining, it’s his own official documentary but he’s savvier and smarter about his image than you’d think, than the normal teen pop star. I watched a lot of amateur [Youtube] concert footage.
How did you get the idea for the book?
There wasn’t really a “eureka” moment. I’d been tutoring kids in Brooklyn once a week, and at the same time, I’d been working on a novel that was going nowhere. One time, I saw one of the girls reading Miley Cyrus’ book, “Miles to Go,” and it must have landed in my subconscious because a week later, a friend asked if I had any ideas. I said, “How about we parody these teen pop star biographies?” An hour later, I realized if I treated this with more gravity it could make a more serious novel.
Jonny struggles with a few challenges throughout the book, trying to find his father and deciding whether to go to a regular school. Some authors say they feel like their characters lead them – did you have a good idea of the ending, or did you feel like Jonny surprised you?
I had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but one thing I found with writing is I do a lot of ventriloquism. This novel and the previous novel are both in voices very unlike my own. I do a lot of humor writing for magazines and newspapers that’s also "ventriloqufied," other characters. When I get into another character’s voice, I start thinking about this character, and it does lead me to their decisions and thoughts.
Why do you think society can get to a place where we idolize 11-year-olds?
We hold them up as these paragons of innocence. …. And then inevitably, they fail us, because it’s impossible to stay innocent forever, and once they do we punish them severely. We’re cruel about it.