For instance, the incredible writers who took time out to blurb by book—I want to celebrate their work, too…
Today, we’re talking to Brian Katcher, author of PLAYING WITH MATCHES and ALMOST PERFECT. (YA is such a predominately female genre, I find myself absolutely relishing work from the male POV. I especially love the way Brian can address such serious subject matter with a dose of humor. Trust me—that ain’t easy.) Brian’s got a new book in the works, too (and those of us who are familiar with his previous books will be (as we might say in the Ozarks) chomping at the bit for the new release!
Congrats on the sale of you next novel, MYSTERIOUS WAYS! Can you tell us about it, or are you just going to BE mysterious?
Sixteen-year-old Katrina Aiden does not have a great life. Her parents think her dreams of art school are ridiculous, and have recently driven her older brother out of the house. Katrina's best friend, Darren, is the biggest geek to ever hurl a ten-sided die...so why is she suddenly jealous when he starts dating the fattest girl at the Fantasy Shop?
Enter Jonah. Jonah claims that the internet does not report reality, it controls reality. People believe whatever they read online, regardless whether it's true. Jonah demonstrates this by starting internet rumors and planting false news stories to get Katrina and Darren out of a couple of jams. Too late does Katrina realize that Jonah expects payback. Jonah wants revenge on those who've wrong him, and Katrina is going to help, whether she wants to or not.
I knew shortly after birth that I wanted to be a writer…but you began writing a little later on in life…How did you come to write that first book? What made you think you had a book in you?
2001. I was broke and broken-hearted in Puebla, Mexico, my girlfriend having just decided to move to Germany. Since the Zapatista Rebels had recently become a political group and were no longer accepting new recruits, I did the only logical thing...decided to write a book. I was 25.
What was the path to publication like with PLAYING WITH MATCHES? And what was the development process like? Were you a ball of nerves as the release neared, or did you just celebrate?
I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, I managed to find a great writers' group that helped me get my thoughts in order. After that, it was the typical story of rejection after rejection, form letter after form letter. I was about ready to shelve MATCHES when I entered it into a contest. It didn't win, but caught the attention of an editor, who helped me work out the many remaining issues (thanks, Claudia).
Ball of nerves? Not really. I guess I kind of never expected it to really happen in the first place, even after I got paid. It just seemed so unreal, that any minute someone would say 'Sorry, looks like it won't be published.' I didn't even tell a lot of people until after it was in print.
Writing’s a career that has some serious ups and downs…and that doesn’t end with your first publication, either! What’s been the highest high and the lowest low since PLAYING WITH MATCHES was released?
The high: Coming back to my old high school to talk to the reading club. It was a great honor to be invited back, especially considering what a vandal and thief I was as a teen. The low point? After both MATCHES and ALMOST PERFECT came out and made the Best Books for Young Adult lists, I thought I could do no wrong. That's why it was so jarring when my third book was rejected. It made me realize that no matter how successful you become, people still expect high quality work from you. I still haven't given up on EVERYONE DIES IN THE END, A ROMANTIC COMEDY, though.
How does writing compare to other jobs you’ve held—currently, or in the past?
Writing, getting paid to do something I love...nothing can compare with that. I really enjoy teaching, though, and the year I worked in a group home was also rewarding. My other jobs: fry cook, market researcher, plastic molder, sample cook, telemarketer, usher, and security guard don't come anywhere close.
How does life experience play into your writing? For example, does being a parent or librarian change the way you depict parents or school faculty in your novels?
Well, anyone who knew me in high school realizes where Leon Sanders from MATCHES came from. And a lot of the places I write about are real life locations. As for portraying schools and parents in books, I find most teens don't want to hear about how adults only want what's best, and someday they'll think us. That being said, I hate it when YA authors introduce adult villains for the sake of having bad guys. Sometimes I read a book and think 'If I were the principal of that school,' I'd call that teacher on the carpet for being so unprofessional.
Fifty years down the line: Still writing?
Hell, yes! Not even the grave will stop me.
We met at Teen Book Mania in Springfield last summer (my first author event ever!)…The day went smoothly…but did you ever have an event that didn’t? What’s the funniest, weirdest, or goofiest thing that’s ever happened at an author event?
My first couple of library events in St. Louis, no one showed up. Kind of humbling. Reminded me of that scene in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, when the puppet show got top billing over the band.
Writing can be your absolute best friend…and, at other times (when you’re strapped to the keyboard to meet a deadline), it can be the most demanding thing in your life. Are you glad writing’s a part of your life now? What does writing add that other jobs, etc. never could?
I love writing. However, it sometimes feels like I'm working two jobs. Whenever I have free time, I know that I should be parked in front of my computer, coming up with new chapters. It makes me feel guilty for enjoying myself. Wouldn't trade it for anything, though.
We’re both Missouri people…what’s your favorite thing (or biggest pet peeve) about the area?
Favorite thing: Best damn sports teams and fans in the world. Worst thing: Sometimes I feel like I live on the edge of nowhere. I've corresponded with so many neat people since I became a writer, but most of them live out of state.
What’s the biggest challenge for you as a writer?
Finding the time to write, while not neglecting my teaching or family duties. Luckily, I have summers off.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a writer?
When someone writes me and says they enjoyed one of my books. Nothing compares to that.
What quality to admire most in other writers?
Making it look so easy.
If you go back to the person you were when you drafted PLAYING WITH MATCHES and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
You're not writing your autobiography here. Also, they stopped making Vegas in the 1970s (a reader called me on a reference to a 1980 Vega in MATCHES).
What’re you going to do immediately after this interview?
Pick up my wife from work. I'm late as it is.
…Man, I love the title EVERYONE DIES IN THE END, A ROMANTIC COMEDY! I certainly hope that one finds a publishing home…and I can’t wait for MYSTERIOUS WAYS…
In the meantime, be sure to check in with Brian at his website…