Book Nerd Interview
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I think most kids feel frustrated because someone is always telling you what to do, what to wear, where to go, what to say. But I fell in love with writing because it was a way to make anything I wanted come true. There’s a lot of power in creativity, and I after I got my hands on my first Stephen King novel, I had a great time telling strange little ghost stories where I was the only boss. Terrible fates usually befell the characters. (I’m a mean boss.)
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories are where we get perspective on ourselves. They show us what we hope to be, or in the case of my novel, Brutal Youth, what we hope not to be. A lot happens in our lives, and a well-told story can help you see the things that might otherwise be lost or forgotten.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why?
My favorite novel is Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, because I’m obsessed with how easy it is to go wrong while trying to do right. It’s about a powerful politician who has convinced himself he will only be able to help the downtrodden if he’s willing to be corrupt, to compromise his soul. The tragedy of the novel is … he may be right. But once you begin that slide, it’s very hard to stop.
And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I’d have to go with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. I am blown away by how haunting it is – not just in a supernatural sense, although it has plenty of that. It’s haunting in an extremely emotional way, exploring the bonds between found fathers and sons, and the mind-shattering experience of grief. To me, that makes the rest of the book that much more terrifying.
In your book; Brutal Youth, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
The one-liner on it is: Three freshmen join forces to survive at a crumbling Catholic high school that has become a dumping ground for delinquents, zealots, and the unlucky. This is a coming-of-age story about the things that force us astray when we’re young. It’s harsh and harrowing at times, but that’s what you get in a war story. It’s about good kids trying to stay that way in a bad, bad place – and some parents and teachers who got lost making the same journey.
I hope it resonates as a metaphor for adulthood, where there are no shortage of people who will step on you to gain a few inches. The ones who reach down their hand to help you up, at the risk of being trampled themselves, are true treasures – and don’t always get the reward they deserve. This book is a tribute to that kind of sacrifice, the kind that isn’t fixed by Hollywood or karma.
For those who are unfamiliar with Peter, how would you introduce him?
He’s a decent kid, down to his core. Humane. On the surface, he just wants to stay out of sight and get through his school year without any trouble, but he can’t help but act when he sees someone being hurt. Still, he’s afraid. When you mix him with the other main character, Noah Stein, who is fearless, you get a combustible reaction. Peter’s soul and Noah’s strength make them braver and more honorable than they would ever be alone. Good friends have that effect on each other.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I don’t want to jinx them! My brain is having a good time daydreaming about a YA fantasy epic. It would be fun to tell a haunted house story, something old-fashioned but R-rated, with some new twists on the format. I also wouldn’t mind exploring what happens next for the kids in Brutal Youth. There’s more trouble for them ahead, but some happier times, too.
If you could introduce Lorelei to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Great question! Lorelei is my favorite character in the book, this freshman girl who is so desperate to make friends she tries too hard and makes enemies instead. I’d love to introduce her to the old sailor from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. They both commit inexplicable, self-destructive acts. Why? That’s the eternal question after Coleridge’s sailor shoots the seabird that is leading their lost ship to land. Why do people self-sabotage? It happens all the time, and never makes sense. Coleridge left it open to interpretation, and my belief is that some damaged people feel they don’t deserve love or safety, and so they destroy it when it finds them -- in spite of what they truly want.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Noah?
That he may not be totally sane. As I went along, discovering this about his past and family history, I came to realize that this brave, selfless kid may not be 100% rational. The sane thing would be to protect himself, but Noah Stein is almost daring this corrupt school to destroy him. He’s like Don Quixote in that way, fighting the good fight without question or pause – a mad man locked in struggle against a mad world. But Noah is a fighter who ultimately would rather hurt himself than truly hurt others. His motivation can be interpreted many ways, but that question is one of the surprising things I stumbled upon.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
How I’m doing. Most people just want to hear that ♪ everything is awesome ♫. Otherwise, they’d ask a more specific question.
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Read a lot of poetry. Poems are science experiments done with words.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I worked with my grandfather, who was a house painter and wallpaper hanger. I loved that man more than I can say, and you never know someone the way you do when you work a job with them, day in and day out, for several months. He was always my Pap, always a grandfather who loved me. But working with him, I got to know Bert. Then my grandfather died and was gone forever. I’m glad I got to meet Bert before that happened.
Who was your first girlfriend?
Ha ha, her name was Tara. I mention her in the book when Peter Davidek thinks about his first kiss. That’s the name of the girl who kissed him, an alt-universe version of mine, I guess. I put her name in there just as an inside joke, a little flare fired into the sky for my old friend.
Tell me about your first kiss
It plays out the same way for Davidek in Brutal Youth! He recalls being at a Christmas part thrown by his 8th grade teacher, and while the teacher and his wife are upstairs fixing the food his friends push him into the basement workout room where his forever crush is waiting for him. I don’t know why she was willing to kiss me. I was a dweeb extraordinaire. The kiss was very quick, very chaste, but very sweet. A moment when I didn’t feel quite as dweeby as I was.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
I would have a heard time telling someone I didn’t love them back. I wouldn’t want to hurt someone. It’s easy for me to tell people I love how I feel. I’ve never been squeamish about that, even as a kid when we’re so concerned with acting tough and manly. I had friends I loved, and we told each other. We truly did. Still do.
When was the last time you cried?
Typing that last response, thinking of certain people.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
The 1930s, when my grandparents were teenagers. I would liked to have known them then. That was the generation that fought World War II, and changed civil rights for the better, and built a strong middle class in America. They made a lot of mistakes, that generation, but they skewed toward the noble.
What is your greatest adventure?
Winning the heart of my wife, Jill. We fell in love in college while living on opposite sides of the country, then dated for three years that way, long distance, writing letters to each other, bankrupting ourselves with epic 10-cents-a-minute late-night phone calls. There were so many times it could have fallen apart, but it didn’t. We wouldn’t let it. The two of us couldn’t wait to live in the same town, let alone the same apartment together. Now 18 years have gone by, and we’ve traveled the world together, built careers together (she’s a librarian, and I’m a writer – so what could be more perfect?) We’ve laughed together, grieved together, shared everything … and now we’re raising two little kids who are full of energy and mischief. Maybe that’s a boring answer, but life cam be a pretty good adventure if you let it.
Where can readers stalk you?
I’m on Twitter @Breznican. I’m also on www.facebook.com/AnthonyBreznican.
With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.
To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.