The First 750 Words

The First 750 Blog Carnival

Author Interview: Brent Hartinger

An Author Interview with Brent Hartinger

Author of The Elephant of Surprise

Why did you write your latest book?

It’s actually the fourth book in a series called the Russel Middlebrook Series, about a gay teenager named Russel and his best friends Gunnar (who’s straight) and Min (who’s bisexual). But don’t worry – it’s a “stand-alone” title, so you don’t have to have read all the books before it.

BrentNikkiThe first book in the series, Geography Club, came out in 2003 (and it’s now been adapted as a feature film that will be released later this year. You can see the trailer here:

Why a fourth book? Well, people seemed to enjoy the first three. And more than that, I really enjoyed writing them.

In each of the four books, I’ve wanted my characters to have some interesting but completely different experience. In Geography Club, they start a “secret” gay-straight alliance (they call it the Geography Club because they think that sounds so boring that no one else will want to join. And yes, I have heard from dozens of angry geographers over the years!).

In The Order of the Poison Oak (the second book in the series), they go to work at a summer camp for burn survivors. In Double Feature (the third book), they get jobs as zombie extras working on a horror film.

And in The Elephant of Surprise, this latest book, Russel gets involved with a hot but mysterious guy who’s a member of a group called “freegans.” They’re actually a real-life group of environmentalists who give up all their possessions and live on the streets, foraging for food and other necessities. I remember reading about them years ago. And the more I researched them for this book, the more interesting they became.

All the books in this series are about outsiders, and in this latest book, Russel has to decide just how much of an outsider he really is.

How did you get started writing? What is it that makes you want to be a writer?

I was always doing some creative project with my buddies as a kid. I’ve honestly never felt more alive than on those Saturdays when we were making movies or playing role-playing games. So when I grew up, I knew I wanted to do something like that for a living.

I tried different things – acting, performing. But basically, writing was the only thing I didn’t suck at! In retrospect, I see it’s the perfect career for me: I’m totally self-directed – I don’t work well with authority at all – and I love spending time by myself.

If an unpublished author asked you to give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

All the usual stuff, of course: read everything, learn the craft, meet people – other writers and also people in the business of selling books.BrentCameron

But I’d also give a warning. Before I was published, I think I was under the impression that everyone shared my taste in books. I’d read some critical darling or a bestseller, and I’d hate it, see all these flaws, and I’d think, “Well, if people like this book, they’re going to love mine!”

Now, of course, I understand that’s not how it works: everyone sees every book differently – REALLY differently. Those books that I hate – that seem so obviously flawed to me? Other people really do love them! It’s not just that they haven’t read the right books: they’d probably read the books I love and hate them just as much as I hate the books they love.

I won’t say that awards and reviews sometimes seem completely random to me – I still believe that cream usually rises to the top, and that the audience is usually right (although some successes still do completely baffle me).

But the point is, you just can’t control how people respond to your book. I mean, I always knew it was out of the writer’s control, but it’s REALLY out of your control.

But in a way, once you really internalize that, it’s kind of liberating. Because then you can stop worrying about how others will react to your book and just write the book you would love to read.

Honestly, that’s all we writers have anyway: our own gut instincts. Cultivate that.

If you could only publish in a single genre, what would it be? Why?

The problem is that I’m one of those writers who believes that most good books have more than one genre. Sure, you have to figure out where to shelve it in the bookstore, but that’s just a label.

My books are considered “realistic gay teen fiction,” but I try to make them funny – so they could be considered “humor.” They always have a little bit of “romance.” This last one especially has a bit of a “mystery.” And someone just compared the last few chapters to an episode of 24, so you might even say it has some “action.” I can’t pick because I never write in just one genre.

Why should readers read your book?

I suppose every writer thinks his or her own books are worth reading. But maybe it’ll make a difference that in my case, it’s not just me saying that.

Geography Club sold a lot of copies and eventually got turned into both a play and a feature film. The Order of the Poison Oak is probably the fan favorite so far, at least among people who’ve read all the books. And Double Feature was quite a critical success and even won some awards.

Personally, I think The Elephant of Surprise might be the best one of all, but like I said, writers are biased about their own work.

Who is your favorite author of all time and who is your favorite author writing now?

Oh, probably Tolkien. He was one of the first to make me love books. Lately, I’ve enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones books); Jacqueline Carey; The Hunger Games Trilogy (although I didn’t like the last book); Kenneth Opel’s Vickor Frankenstein books; and many, many more.

Do you think ebooks should be protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM)? Why?

I do. I’ve heard all the arguments, and I know that if someone really wants to get a book for free, they will.

But I honestly don’t think that most readers know just how important it is that writers get paid for their work. People who say, “It’s all publicity!” don’t understand what’s happened in the music industry. But at least musicians have the option to make money while performing live. We book authors can’t do that.

And I see the same thing happening with books. Even people who should know better, like librarians, have literally told me how to make a loaned book into a permanent one (not knowing I’m an author). I thinking, “But that’s stealing.”

Everyone wants stuff for free – that’s human nature. And people talk like piracy and stealing content just isn’t that big a deal. There’s this idea that “nothing” is stolen, because it’s an electronic file. But very few writers are rich, and the only way we’re able to write is when we get paid for our work.

I know DRM isn’t a fail-safe solution. But it makes things a little more difficult. And honestly, that’s going to make a big difference to my bottom line.

If you could improve any single aspect of yourself (physical, mental, whatever), what would it be?

I’d be much more zen, living in the moment. I’m terrible at that, except maybe when I’m writing. I suppose that’s what I love it!

Facebook page:
Goodreads author page:


Enhanced by Zemanta

One Response to Author Interview: Brent Hartinger

  1. Pingback: Russel Middlebrook Returns in “The Elephant Of Surprise” | Musings of a Mild Mannered Man