By Megan Cole
Part coming-of-age romance, part Mod musical journey, and part tribute to ‘80s Orange County, the upcoming novella “The Scooter Chronicles: A Southern California Modyssey: by UCI alum Shahriar Fouladi is a fun — and somewhat familiar — story for SoCal natives, music lovers, and avid readers alike.
Fouladi decided to become a writer after spending years teaching and analyzing pop culture, comics, movies and superheroes at UCI — first as an undergraduate double majoring in English and film & media studies (class of ‘02), and later as an M.A. and Ph.D. student in visual studies (class of ‘11). Many of his observations as a Newport Beach native and UCI student — as relevant now as they were in the Mod ‘80s — find their way into the pages of “The Scooter Chronicles,” a comic journey filled with the colorful culture and characters of the SoCal Mod scene. The story follows Tommy Daniels, a low-income teen in the ‘80s, as he navigates his affluent OC hometown, anticipates college, and chases his ultimate dream: saving enough money to buy a Mod scooter.
Fouladi sat down with the New University to discuss the release of “The Scooter Chronicles” this month, talk about his trajectory from undeclared freshman to published author, and explain how the OC culture he experienced as a UCI student permeates his coming-of-age novella.
New U: Is this your first foray into fiction writing? If so, what are some other projects you’ve worked on in the past that might have prepared you to do this?
SF: This is my first official public foray into fiction writing. I’ve completed a few screenplays and comic book scripts, as well as story treatments for various publishing projects. Most of these projects are (fingers crossed) coming out in the future, even though some of them were written before “The Scooter Chronicles.”
I’ve been lucky enough the last few years to work as the editor on several fantastic comic book projects and a few book projects. One of them, “Son of Shaolin,” was even optioned as a movie by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Sony, and I got to be on a San Diego Comic-Con panel last year to talk about it. As an editor, my job is to shepherd projects forward, working with writers to work through story ideas and make sure everything is written as well as it can be. In comics, I even get to work directly with artists. So, I’ve been working with really talented creators who have inspired me and encouraged me to get out there and make it happen for myself.
New U: What inspired you to write this book? How did it take shape? How long did the process take from start to finish?
SF: The idea for the book began really broadly. I thought back to when I was a bit younger — in high school, in college at UCI — and how it seemed like there was always one thing that seemed like it was the answer to everything. If I had that one thing, it felt like my whole life would fall into place. That thing could be a relationship, some achievement, an object, whatever. It seemed to change a lot.
So, I wanted to tell a coming of age story with a protagonist who was obsessed with that one thing. But it took a while to figure out what Tommy’s obsession was going to be. It came to me after making a few friends who were part of the 1980s Mod scene in Southern California. They talked about the music, clothes, and scooters and how it was a revival of a movement that existed in England in the 1950s and 1960s.
Then, it hit me like a lightning bolt: Tommy would be a 1980s Mod teenager obsessed with getting a Vespa and it’s the one thing his whole teenage existence appears to hinge on. It seemed both something identifiable for most—though most people might be more into getting a car than a scooter — and a tad ridiculous. It became a great opportunity to shine a light on a moment of California history in the 1980s and tell a fun story.
I have a tendency to tell pretty serious, genre-bending, dramatic stories, so I wanted to tell a short, exciting, funny, fast story that someone could read in just a few hours. So, I tried to write the book quickly. I took a decent amount of time to work out the outline for the story, breaking down each chapter. But once I sat down to write, I tried to write at least a chapter every time I really sat down to work, reflecting the fast pace of the story. It took less than six months to have a pretty polished manuscript, but it took a lot longer to finish the whole package. I had to get the cover designed, put together a list of songs (each chapter lists a song from the Mod scene that reflects the events), and of course get a publishing deal.
New U: I know this is the worst question to ask an author! But were any parts of the book influenced by your own life experiences? Or by the OC culture surrounding UCI that you grew up with?
SF: It’s a totally fair question! The short answer is: Absolutely. The lead character, Tommy, lives in La Jolla, which has definite similarities to my hometown of Newport Beach, particularly in the focus many people put on material wealth. In the book, Tommy is an outsider because of his interests and socioeconomic status. For me, it was both my geeky interests and the fact that I was an immigrant that made feel that way. My family is from Iran and it always felt like I had two different lives: my American one at school and my Iranian one at home.
A few of the events in Tommy’s quest happened to me in one form or another, though they are certainly exaggerated in the story.
New U: When you first came to UCI as an undergrad, what were some of your career goals? Did any of your goals and interests change over the years?
SF: I started out undeclared as an undergrad, but I always said I wanted to be a writer. I just wasn’t sure what form that would take. I thought long and hard about journalism, but I’m a shy person so that seemed a bad fit in terms of personality. I was a big movie geek, so I thought about writing about movies, perhaps for a newspaper or magazine. But there weren’t a lot of those jobs around.
You can certainly write about movies on the internet but it’s hard to become a true professional at that.
I ended up becoming an English and film major because that seemed to cover all my major passions: writing, films, books. As I finished my time as an undergrad, I didn’t feel like I was done learning. I had some amazing professors who I got to know, and I was envious about how they learned and wrote about cool stuff like movies for a living! It made me want to go to graduate school, which I did after a bit of time away.
New U: You got your Ph.D. at UCI; would you say that your interests are more on the academic side, or do you lean toward exploring pop culture? Or have you found a way to combine both?
SF: In my first year in the visual studies Ph.D. program, it became pretty clear to me that I was a bit different than most of my colleagues in terms of my interests. Most of them were studying and writing about different theorists and esoteric artists. I wanted to write about Superman. And movies that just came out. And interesting TV shows. Other grad students were actually really supportive of my work because it was more accessible and we could engage in really fun conversations. Many of them studied subjects that were fascinating, but no one else knew much about them, so it made it harder to discuss them.
So, I was always a bit of a mix between academic and pop culture sides. I feel like my academic background still informs how I think about everything and definitely improved my writing. My years of teaching certainly gave me the skills to work really effectively as an editor. I am able to tell people how they can improve something they’re writing in thoughtful ways that usually brings the best out of them.
New U: Any upcoming projects you’re looking forward to now?
SF: I have two pretty cool scripts for superhero comics that I’m working on. One of them features an Iranian superhero and takes some inspiration from my family’s history, so I would love to get that one finished and out into the world. I have an idea for a fun kids animated series that may become a comic first. I am also editing some awesome comics that will be coming out this year.
I actually have a pretty amazing day job too. I work at Cryptozoic Entertainment in Lake Forest as communications manager. We produce board games, collectibles, and trading cards, so I’m always involved in something exciting and get to do many different kinds of writing and editing.
New U: Finally, why should UCI students read this book?
SF: Because it’s fun. Because I think they’ll be able to identify with the lead character, since I’m assuming most everyone out there has had that one thing that they want more than anything … that could perhaps change their whole lives. Or maybe they’re searching for that one thing now.
I also hope it shows students that they should follow their passion. Tommy doesn’t give up and lets his passion take him on an epic quest. And by the end, whether he gets everything he wants or not, he’s learned a lot about himself and who he wants to be. Sometimes you have to let go of the fear and just ride. Who knows where you’ll end up.
“The Scooter Chronicles: A Southern California Modyssey” will be available for purchase through IDW Publishing, Burger Records, Amazon and other online retailers starting this month. The official release will be accompanied by a launch party in Garden Grove on April 21, featuring a book signing, scooter meet-up, and live Mod bands.
(Details here: https://www.ticketweb.com/event/clean-living-under-difficult-circumstances-garden-amphitheatre-tickets/8202525)