Monday, August 17, 2009

An Interview with Jennifer Brown

So recently, I had the chance to interview Jennifer Brown, who wrote Hate List (released September 1, 2009). Here it is:

1. What made you decide to write about a school shooting?

Not to get all cosmic on you or anything, but I don't know how much I chose this story and how much this story chose me. In other words, I wasn't really looking to write a book about a school shooting. In fact, I was, at the time, really only considering myself a humor-writer. I didn't even tell my agent that I was working on Hate List until I was finished with it -- and I was so nervous to tell her about it, even then! Afraid she'd tell me to stick to the humor. But I couldn't ignore this story. It just really really wanted to be written. The idea for Valerie's story came to me, and I followed the idea.

2. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
This is the flawed thinking I had when I was starting out: "Writing comes easy to me, so it must be an easy job." WRONG! You have to work constantly, seek criticism openly, leave your ego at the door, assume you're nowhere near as brilliant as you think you are, and sometimes just blindly follow faith. It's not an easy job. It's a lot of work. A lot of learning. And you will have really really bleak moments where you question whether or not you can even do this and you want to give up. Some people may even tell you that you should give up because "publishing is dead" or "you'll never make any real money at it." You can't give up. You have to keep writing for the love of the craft and the faith that it'll all work out in the end. The writers who do that are the ones who succeed in the long run.

3. How hard was it writing a novel that was about such a serious topic?
It was hard, no doubt about it. But I believe in the messages behind the book -- really believe in them! -- and I think it's an important topic to talk about. Bullying still exists and it still hurts and can still cause major damage... sometimes in a global way. Here's the thing: I think a lot of adults believe that "teen angst" and the feelings teens feel are minor and passing, but they're not. They're just as real and as big as it gets. I can still -- 20 years later -- feel the sting of being bullied when I was Valerie's age. It still hurts. You never know what's going on inside someone's head... how they're "taking it"... even if you think you really know that person.

All of that said, it is a horrifying subject to tackle, and I was glad to have my column to balance out my work every week. I created and re-lived some pretty painfully emotional stuff. Switching over to humor once a week was a big help for me, personally, to keep emotionally balanced.

4. Is there a certain place where you do all of your writing?
During the school year I write solely in my office, but over the summer when the house is a little busier, I rely on the laptop, and do most of my work on it. I kind of hate writing on the laptop (it feels so... small), so I can't wait for the school year to start again! However, that said, all of Hate List was written at my kitchen table because I didn't have an office yet. So I had this desktop and all these notes and papers and books and dictionaries and cords and stuff on the kitchen table. It was good to get an actual desk!

5. Is there anything you would like to add?
I don't want anyone to think that the purpose of Hate List is to "blame the victims" of a school shooting or to "excuse" the shooter or shooters. Clearly, there is nor ever could be an excusable reason for someone to do such a thing, and nobody deserves to die for taunting someone, or even for bullying them. I think the message I'd most like to see readers take away from reading Hate List is that we need to understand one another better... to look deeper than what's on the surface. Was Valerie a victim? Definitely. But was she also a villain? Maybe. And a hero? Yeah. It's possible to be all at once... possible for all of us.


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