Book Nerd Interview
What was your first introduction to YA literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
Actually, Jean, it never occurred to me I was writing a YA book. I wanted to write a coming of age story along the lines of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace and James Kirkwood’s Good Times, Bad Times. It was St. Martin’s Press that suggested to me Tragic Age might find a greater audience as a young adult release. What’s interesting is that all three of the books I mentioned might very well be released as YA fiction today.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
How about this. I wrote and directed a feature film, Beautiful Joe, staring Sharon Stone and the Scottish actor/comedian, Billy Connelly. (It did not win an academy award.)
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
The Tragic Age is my first book. My writing career began in the theatre. My first full length play, Vikings, was produced at The Manhattan Theatre Club in New York when I was 27.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Not to let my schooling interfere with my education.
Did you learn anything from writing The Tragic Age: A Novel and what was it?
Writing The Tragic Age reaffirmed my love of fiction. As a playwright I was constantly reading and seeing plays. As a screenwriter, I spent a lot of my free time watching movies. Writing a novel has brought me back to books, which is where it all started.
For those who are unfamiliar with Billy, how would you introduce him?
Eighteen year old Billy Kinsey is part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and a closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided the best way to deal with what he sees as an absurd world is to keep it at arm’s length. Much to his dismay, the world keeps closing the gap.
What part of Gretchen did you enjoy writing the most?
A moment with Gretchen that I found both enjoyable and surprising was when she told Billy about her time living in Africa. She is there with her parents who are working with a Doctor’s Without Borders organization. Gretchen is a committed, caring individual and all of a sudden what she blurts out to Billy is this. "I hated it. I hated them for bringing us there and making us stay so long. I couldn't wait to get home.” I didn’t see it coming.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Billy, Holden Caulfield, Yossarian from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and Randle McMurphy from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all might have a pretty interesting conversation.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I’ve never had a mentor. I have always had writers whose work I read and admired. It’s a very long list.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming… swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming….
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
“Does this outfit make me look fat?”
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I worked as a bus boy at The Black Dog Restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard
What scares you the most and why?
Snakes. I don’t know why (genetic brain disorder?) but even a small garden snake in the garage can turn me into a trembling, hysterical pile of goo. I wrote the production draft for the film, Arachnophobia, in my mind substituting snakes for spiders in every scene.
Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or to have never loved at all?
It’s never occurred to me that was a choice you could actually make. When it comes to true love, I agree with Billy. “I would take that dream every night and be sad the next day anytime.”
If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
The question brings Emily’s monologue in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town to mind.
“…now we're all together. Just for a moment we're happy. Let's look at one another. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.
I would go back in time to an extended family get together – perhaps I’m sixteen – and I would make sure that I looked. Really looked. And listened. And notice. I would not take those I loved, many of them now gone, for granted.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
There is never an easy time to be a teenager. Having said that, I perceive the post WWII fifties as having been a time of confidence and optimism in America. (Billy would tell you to go to Hulu and check out The Donna Reed show, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.) To have been a teenager in the fifties also means you would have been a young adult in the sixties which to my mind was a game changing decade. And on the flip side, I don’t think there has ever been a more difficult time to be a teenager than today.
When was the last time you cried?
I’m not much of a crier. And when I do experience tears, it’s usually because something moves me as opposed to makes me sad. I’m pretty sure I teared up this last Christmas, watching my 17 year old son come out of 60 degree heavy surf having just completed a three mile ocean swim.
Where can readers stalk you?
Billy’s life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another’s mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie’s. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul.
With Twom, Billy visits the dark side. And with Gretchen, Billy experiences possibilities.Billy knows that one path is leading him toward disaster and the other toward happiness. The problem is—Billy doesn’t trust happiness. It's the age he's at. The tragic age.
Stephen Metcalfe's brilliant, debut coming-of-age novel, The Tragic Age, will teach you to learn to love, trust and truly be alive in an absurd world.
"Less Than Zero meets Catcher in the Rye in this biting bildungsroman. Written in an insightful, frenetic tone that occasionally turns surreal. Exhilarating and indicting." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Metcalfe snares readers’ attention with rich, fantastic characters…A wonderful read that is hard to put down, The Tragic Age will continue to haunt readers long after the last page has been turned.” —Voya
“Billy makes for a mordant, smart, and angry protagonist…debut author Metcalfe, a screenwriter and playwright, amps up the melodrama with a car chase, a shooting, and a Grand Guignol ending that dooms some while reawakening Billy.” —Publishers Weekly
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