September 13, 2005
Adam Palmer on Taming the Liger: Unexpected Spiritual Lessons from Napoleon Dynamite(Filed under: Interviews)
Filmed in 2003 with an estimated budget of $400,000 nobody expected much from Napoleon Dynamite. But when it came out in 2004 it quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Now you can buy "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts at Wal-Mart and Napoleon and Pedro recently reunited to promote the 150th Utah State Fair.
In the midst of all the pop culture hoopla and tater tots comes a book exploring the spiritual dimension of Napoleon Dynamite from a Christian perspective, Taming the Liger: Unexpected Spiritual Lessons from Napoleon Dynamite written by Jeff Dunn and Adam Palmer. We e-mailed Adam for the inside story, and we hope it makes your wildest dreams come true.
What possessed you to write a book about Napoleon Dynamite?
The devil himself. I'm just like Judas Iscariot.
Seriously, though—there were several factors that went into my decision to do the book. For starters, and I think people often forget this, publishing is a business. No one puts out a book hoping that they'll lose money. Maybe it happens, but very seldom. Publishers, as a rule, want to, you know, succeed in business, so they put out books that they think people will buy.
Napoleon Dynamite is so hot right now, and the film really struck a nerve with audiences—not just teens, mind you—so it just made sense to do the book and tap into the overall Napoleon consciousness of the public.
Now, the cynics in your audience will say, "I knew it! They're just in it for the money," which is not entirely true. Of course we want the book to be successful, but we were very careful not to just slap something together and hope it sold based on the title. We legitimately wanted to put together a book that would speak to people, even those who might not know anything about God or Jesus or Christianity. We prayed a lot and worked very hard to dig into the spiritual themes we approached. Jeff and I can't stand surface spirituality, so we tried to avoid it in our book. It isn't crazy-deep like C.S. Lewis or Thomas a Kempis, but I'd like to think that it's at least thoughtful.
Do you get flak for spiritualizing something as silly as Napoleon? I imagine it comes from both ends—the anti-religious movie fans as well as the anti-movie religion fans. How do you respond to those critics?
You know, we haven't really received much flak from Christians, yet. I'm anticipating we'll get it, though. For the most part, people have been very receptive to the book and to the principles in it.
The first few people who bought it from Amazon.com didn't really read up much on it before they bought it, so they were disappointed in what they received. I think they read "spiritual lessons from Napoleon Dynamite" and thought we were going to talk about the goddess or Buddhism or something other than Jesus. One reviewer was very upset that we didn't call it "Christian." Of course, if they'd read the synopsis, they'd have gotten it. (one of them even called us "scumbag liars," a name which I wear like a badge of honor.)
We'll see what happens once the book gets some legs and gets more and more out there. I think some people think it's a joke.
Describe the process of how Taming the Liger came to be—from idea to finished product.
Jeff had the idea originally and began to shop it. He works for a publisher and had to take it to them, but eventually they passed on it and Th1nk Books jumped on board about thirty seconds later. Okay, maybe it was longer than that, but it was fast.
Jeff and I attend the same church, and I'd done some work for his publishing house already, so he approached me with the notion of being a co-author, which I readily jumped on. I had no idea what I was getting into.
After that, we sat down for lunch and sort of figured out how we wanted it to look. We got on the phone with Nicci, our editor at Th1nk, and talked to her about how she wanted it to look. We distilled all that and figured out the overall vibe of the book; the themes we wanted to touch on. I think the most important thing that came out of all that was our decision to go as deep as we could and still make everything accessible. Another important thing: we decided very early on not to target teenagers with it. The book is really written to and for anyone who's seen the movie and liked it.
Then Jeff and I watched the movie independently and came up with our own notes as to how and what we wanted to say. Jeff's original idea was to use quotes from Napoleon as the springboard to our spiritual insights, and I think we stuck to that pretty closely. I watched the film one night with my computer in front of me and pretty much transcribed everything Napoleon said. If another character had an interesting line, I wrote it down, too, but I really focused on Napoleon's dialogue.
After that, Jeff and I reconvened and picked the lines we wanted to use. Nicci had come up with the idea of making the book a 24-piece set, so we picked 24 lines, decided their spiritual applications, and then split ‘em up according to which ones we thought we could do best. He took twelve and I took twelve.
We spent the next week writing, and then turned the manuscript over to Th1nk. Surprisingly, they didn't do much editing. I had to rewrite two of Jeff's chapters, because Nicci requested a rewrite and he was out of town. I also edited another one, and then that was about it. I saw a proof about a month later, and then the next thing I saw was the finished product sitting on my doorstep, courtesy of Federal Express.
And it took you a week to write it? A week? How is that possible? Did you even sleep?
I guess I haven't addressed this yet, but here's the reason for the week deadline: Jeff's company sat on the idea for a long, long time, taking forever to make their decision about whether they'd do it. Th1nk had already sort of expressed interest, but couldn't really do anything until Jeff's company passed on it. When they did, Th1nk really, really, really, really, really wanted to get the book out by late April 2005. They'd gotten some interest from a major bookseller about having it available in the "graduation" section, so they were wanting us to hoof it.
The problem: it was the first week of March. Literally, March 2, 2005. Jeff and I decided to try for it, because we realized that the exceptional retail placement would be very handy for us.
Like I said, we split it up, so I only had to write half the book in one week. Twelve chapters, between 800-1000 words apiece. I did have a regular day job, which put a kink into things, but I wound up writing two chapters each night until I had my twelve.
It wasn't too bad, actually—one of my gifts is the ability to write quickly, and I'd already put so much thought into it that once I opened the faucet, it all just poured out.
The ironic thing is that all the deals with that major bookseller fell through, so the book released on May 31, 2005. All that craziness for nothing.
Tell us about your writing partner, Jeff Dunn. How did you get hooked up with him?
Like I said, he and I go to the same church. It's kind of funny—my wife and I are musicians and we did a little artsy, acoustic version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" for our church's Christmas service, and Jeff really liked it. He asked a friend of ours who we were, and our friend told him, then mentioned I was a writer who needed work.
Jeff works in publishing, mostly doing fiction and royalty-free devotional books, so he and I started talking and he threw some work my way. He mentioned this project to me and asked me for some initial thoughts and samples, which I generated promptly. He said it was to help him pitch it to his sales force, but I'm pretty sure it was an audition. Anyway, I guess he liked what I wrote, because he had me in mind for working on this project from the get-go. I was in the original proposal.
All that from a Christmas song. Who knew?
Do you have more one week book projects planned?
Ha. Not so much. It was fun while it lasted, but it's a little draining after the fact. Two weeks, maybe.
How many times have you watched Napoleon Dynamite?
I'd seen the movie, I think, three times before I started working on the book. I knew I would get this question, so I kept track while writing: I saw it eleven times during the writing of the book. And I've seen it twice since. So… what's that add up to? Sixteen? Way less than your average Napoleon fan, for sure.
What are a few lessons you learned from Napoleon Dynamite?
Personally, I just learned that it's possible to make your own movie and see it succeed. That doesn't really happen anymore—the big indie success. Most "indie" movies are really movies that celebrities finance themselves, without much hurt. Look at festivals like Sundance and you'll see that the old-school, made-on-maxed-out-credit-card independent film isn't around much anymore. As a prospective filmmaker who's written a quirky comedy, seeing Napoleon Dynamite succeed was a nice, uplifting feeling.
That's what I learned from the overall story of the movie's success. What I learned from the film itself? Hard to say. I think one of the things I really connect with is Napoleon finally learning how to use his artistic talent correctly. I've wedged my writing talents into many careers, but I'm eager to get to the point where I'm using it to dance for the school, so to speak.
What other writing projects have you worked on?
I've ghost-written several books, and have done some devotionals. I worked on some of the sidebar stuff in the Refuel Biblezines. I actually wrote some marketing copy for The Passion of the Christ, and I'm writing a curriculum for the upcoming movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
My favorite thing that I've worked on recently is my novel, which I just wrote to write. It turned out way better than I thought it would, so I sent it to Th1nk. We'll see what they say.
What future projects are on the horizon?
Ghosting another book, writing some more devotionals. I'd like to write another novel someday, but it's a matter of finding the time.
What would be your dream book to write?
I'm sure if you asked me this question a year from now or a year ago, I'd say something different, but I'd love to write a sprawling, absorbing, historical epic fantasy-type book. Along the lines of the Harry Potter series, or the Chronicles of Narnia. I'm reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell right now and am absolutely in love with it. But I don't think I have the patience to do something big like that. I'm not sure I have that much story in me. Maybe in another ten years when I'm older and wiser and able to pontificate about something at length.
About Adam Palmer:
I am 29 years old and live in Tulsa, Okla. I am married to Michelle, my wife of nine years. I have four kids: Emma, 6; Noah, 4; Dorothy, almost 2. Sterling is an orphan in Africa that we are in the process of adopting, so I already consider him my own. He's 16 months old. We have one dog, a cocker spaniel named Spike, who technically belongs to my oldest daughter, though the whole family plays with him. We also have two fish, and their tank needs to be cleaned.
Posted by kevin at September 13, 2005 8:37 PM
- Which Chronicles of Narnia Book Comes First?
- Kurt Vonnegut on A Man Without a Country and Death
- CT Interviews Donald Miller
- Adam Palmer on Taming the Liger: Unexpected Spiritual Lessons from Napoleon Dynamite
- Books on the War in Iraq
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Adam Palmer on Taming the Liger: Unexpected Spiritual Lessons from Napoleon Dynamite:
» Napoleon Dynamite vs. Bill Gates from Moving Pictures
On Tuesday software giant Microsoft screened a spoof video of Napoleon Dynamite featuring Bill Gates and actor Jon Heder as Napoleon. In the video Napoleon reports for work at Microsoft as a software developer. The video descends into a slapping... [Read More]
Tracked on September 16, 2005 8:48 AM