Connect with Brent Hartinger on Twitter @brenthartinger or visit his website.
Q&A with Author NAME:
What would you like young readers to take away from your novels?
Anyway, I tell the stories that fascinate me. Hopefully, my readers are interested too. But do my stories have a "point"? Apart from ideas like, "Gay people are human too," I didn't really think about this too much, until one day I had a realization. Every single YA book I've ever written has a point where the main character (and, often, the supporting characters!) has to make a choice: do they do the selfish action, the thing that would give them immediate pleasure, or do they sacrifice their own immediate pleasure for some greater good? It's kind of funny. Whichever book of mine you look at, that moment is right there, at the end of the second act, right before the final confrontation. Once you're aware, it's incredibly obvious.
And the more I thought about this, the more I realized that these moments made sense in my YA books, because I see the teen years as being about change, about growing up, and these moments I'm talking about are the ones where children literally become adults. Children are selfish and self-centered. Adults are (theoretically) mature -- they understand the importance of other people. Sometimes a sacrifice in the short run makes things much, much better in the long run, for everyone, including the main character.
But for what it's worth, I think there are plenty of adults who never understand this. They never really "grow up." They're fundamentally selfish. They basically stay children their whole lives.
In what way is your story unique compared to other books in this genre?
The older I get, the more I believe in Sturgeon's Law -- the idea that ninety percent of everything is crap. I don't know if my own books are crap -- although I know some people think they are (!). But I'm extremely proud of the fact that my books feel very, very unique to me. They couldn't have been written by anyone else. If I hadn't been born, nothing like them would exist.
It's a little funny. The Russel Middlebrook Series is the story of a gay kid and his two best friends, a straight guy and a bisexual girl. It's vaguely autobiographical, and all the characters are these quirky, nerdy intellectuals. The series ended it up being pretty popular -- they even made a movie out of the first one -- but its success still confounds me a bit. I felt like a freak in high school , like there was no one like me except me and my small circle of friends. I still feel like a freak now!
But these weird, quirky, nerdy characters found a place in the hearts of a lot of other people. And then I realized: there are more freaks and nerds in the world than I or most people realize! Plus, freaks and nerds read a lot. Who knew?
What are your writing goals for the next five years?
Well, as I said before, I consider myself a storyteller more than anything. And I'm not even particularly wedded to the medium of prose. I also love playwriting and screenwriting. In fact, whenever I teach writing, I always encourage my students to try another medium. Yes, they're all very different, but ultimately a story is a story. And in my opinion, most novelists could stand to think a bit more about plot.
So lately I've been returning to screenwriting, which was my first love, before I had my first success as a novelist. I love the medium of film, but more than that, I like collaborating with others. Well, let me clarify -- sometimes I hate it, because collaboration means compromise. But after writing novels for basically the last ten years, it's really fun to be working with other people in the creation of movies. And so far, they're all people I like and respect.
I have a couple of different movies in the works. And yes, one of them is a gay teen story that I'm really proud of -- a little gay teen love story with a Dead Poet's Society vibe. I have no idea what people will think -- I don't think it's crap, but maybe it is! But it's definitely totally uniquely "me" -- even more than the Russel Middlebrook books. So naturally I'll be totally crushed if it isn't a success!
Two things. First, to relax. None of it matters as much as he thinks it does. Yes, bad things are going to happen, without a doubt. But good things will happen too, also without a doubt. Why worry about something that hasn't happened yet? Why create misery for yourself? What in the world is that about?
But then I'd tell him there is one thing that does matter: your friends. Basically, they're the most important thing in your life. They will literally determine whether you are happy or sad in life. Because if you pick good friends, and nurture them, they can help you be happy, help you to appreciate life, even when the bad things inevitably happen.
I didn't know the first piece of advice when I was teenager -- and I wouldn't have listened even my adult self had traveled back in time to tell me that. Sometimes I think I still haven't truly learned it.
But the second piece of advice? I think I had an inkling from the very beginning how important good friends were. And every moment of my life since then has completely confirmed it.
Is there anything from your own teen years that has been placed into your books?
Oh, lots and lots! I mentioned before how one of my books -- Geography Club, the first Russel Middlebrook book -- was recently turned into a movie. It was really fascinating watch them film scenes that were taken directly from my life. At one point, I was on the set thinking, "Wait. Did I just watch that, did I write it, or did it happen to me?" It was all a strange, fabulous blur!
One of the big plot lines in the book and movie is how the main character's best friend desperately wants to get a girlfriend. Well, that totally happened to me. I was just walking with that friend yesterday, laughing at how this thing that caused us both so much angst in high school is now being acted out by impossibly pretty people in a movie.
Life does seriously NOT get any weirder than that!
Brent, can you share with us some information about The Real Story Safe Sex Project? What exactly is it, and why is it important to you to reach out to teens and young gay people about this issue? What can readers do to help? And can you please provide a link to the project and any info you’d like to share?
Feel free to include as much or little of this as possible
What is this all about?
Well, the Real Story Safe Sex Project is my way of helping to encourage safe sex among gay and bi male teenagers and twentysomethings.
HIV/AIDS is still a really serious disease, and gay and bi guys are at a very high (and rising) risk of catching it. But a lot of people don’t seem interested in talking about it anymore.
So the Real Story Safe Sex Project takes a new, hopefully more entertaining approach: remind people about HIV and safe sex using entertainment and popular culture, especially projects involving your favorite fictional gay and bi characters.
I’m launching the project with my story Two Thousand Pounds Per Square Inch, using a character from my own Russel Middlebrook Series (warning: it’s sexually explicit!).
Lots of other writers, artists, and filmmakers are currently participating in the project too -- about twenty-five so far, with lots of others (hopefully) coming soon.
What exactly are you trying to do here?A bunch of different things. First, validate bi and gay guys who choose to have safe sex — and celebrate and eroticize that sex. I also hope we can educate people who might have questions about safe sex, HIV, and AIDS.
But mostly, I think I just want to restart the conversation about safe sex that seems to have lagged lately among a lot of young gay and bi guys.
Who is the Real Story Safe Sex Project?Well, it’s me, Brent Hartinger, and anyone else who wants to participate!
I’m an author. But I’ve also worked as an AIDS educator, and I helped found one of the world’s first LGBT teen support groups, in my home town of Tacoma, Washington, back in 1990.
How can I help?
Lots of ways!
(1) Help spread the word. Tell people what the Project is all about. It’s as easy as using the social media links below. Also, follow the Real Story Safe Sex Project on Twitter or Facebook to see the latest contributions to the effort. If you’re a journalist or a blogger, consider writing about us.
(2) Volunteer. This entire project depends on people’s willingness to help out. So are you a graphic designer? A proof-reader? Do you have some other skill you think might help the project? Contact me!
(3) Create a Real Story safe sex story. This is the heart of the project — the reason it exists in the first place. So if you’re an author or a filmmaker (even an unpublished or unproduced one), consider creating something on the subject of safe sex. You can use entirely new characters, or existing characters from a book, TV show, or movie you created (and/or control the rights to).
Then upload your short story or video to your favorite media platforms, and tell your fans about it! Tell me too, and if I agree that it follows the mission of the Real Story Safe Sex Project, I’ll also do what I can to help spread the word.
My own contribution to the project includes some facts about HIV/AIDS and safe sex, but that isn’t a requirement of this project (at all!). On the contrary, I hope the other stories will be about all aspects of safe sex. I’d love to see stories or videos about the emotional side of things, or funny stories, or maybe even just outright erotica!
The only requirements I have are that (1) the project be available in as many platforms as possible for free; (2) that it promote safe sex, preferably among gay and bi teens and twentysomethings; and (3) that you mention “The Real Story Safe Sex Project,” on the cover if it’s an e-story, and include a link to this page in the body of the work. If I think your content meets our mission statement (and isn’t going to get me attacked and/or sued!), I’ll help distribute your work too.
Don’t know how or where to upload your e-story or video? Need a designer for your book jacket, or a proof-reader? I have volunteers lined up, so contact me, and I’ll do my best to help!
Now Available from Brent Hartinger:
The Elephant of Surprise Book 4 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series! People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves. So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky). In this latest book, Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise – the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he's drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession. But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?