Interview: Brent Hartinger

Today I am exctited to have author Brent Hartinger on Reading Away The Days. Brent Hartinger is the author of Russel Middlebrook Series which is a gay teen YA series. The Geography Club the first book in the series is coming up to its tenth anniversary of release and even more exciting is later this year The Geography Club movie will be released starring Scott Bakula (Star Trek: Enterprise), Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray), Allie Gonino (The Lying Game), Ally Maki (Ten Things I Hate About You), Justin Deeley (90210), and Alex Newell (Glee). To co-inside with the 10th anniversary, Brent Hartinger is releasing a stand-alone sequel in the Russel Middlebrook Series on March 30th. The Elephant of Surprise. Please enjoy the interview and leave a comment below for the author!
The Author: Brent Hartinger 

I'm the author of nine published novels, mostly for and about teenagers, but also some upcoming book projects for adults. I'm also a screenwriter; I didn't write the movie version of Geography Club, but I've had a number of projects optioned over the years, and hopefully the first film I wrote will be filming soon and released next year. And I also write plays.

People say the three mediums are completely different -- writing prose, screenwriting, and playwriting. And in many ways, they are. But at the same time, story is story is story. I passionately love specific things about each medium. I honestly can't imagine not doing them all.


I was kind of a dork as a kid. Okay, actually a total dork. I was always doing "creative" projects with my friends -- making movies, putting on a haunted house, working in the theatre. I had so much fun and loved it so much that when I graduated from college, I thought, "How can I spend my whole life doing stuff like that?"

It turns out being a writer of fiction was the perfect fit because I don't mind being alone -- I actually sort of prefer it. And, um, I'm a bit of a control freak.

That said, I'm sensitive, like all writers, I guess. That's what they pay us for, right? And so the constant criticism and rejection, even when you're more "established," is hard. I understand that it's my job to be criticized -- everyone has to be allowed to have their own reaction to your book, and I certainly criticize plenty of books myself. And the positive feedback is always great, knowing you've touched someone.

But basically, the life of the writer is a real emotional roller-coaster. And I haven't even mentioned the financial insecurity! If I had to do it all over again, I would do it all over again. But it's really nothing like what I thought it would be. Better in some ways -- there is nothing like getting a standing ovation on opening night! -- but it's much harder in other ways too.

The Elephant of Suprise ( Book #4 in the Russel Middlebrook Series)
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?

The Elephant of Surprise includes Hartinger's trademark combination of humor and romance, angst and optimism. Before the story is over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts.

How does it feel to be releasing The Elephant of Surprise coming up to ten-year anniversary of the publication of Geography Club?

One on hand, it seems like no time at all has passed since that book was published. But then I think about all the things that have happened to me since then -- more books, movie projects, plays, speaking gigs, sometimes in front of massive audiences. A lot happened specifically because of the initial success of Geography Club. Looking back, it's like I didn't know anything at all before, about publishing or even about writing. I was very naive, but why wouldn't I be? My career hadn't happened yet.

But mostly, it's just a really good feeling knowing that something I wrote has touched so many people and is still in print after all these years.
Georgraphy Club the movie releases very soon. How does it feel to have you book on the big screen?
Brent Hartinger Cameron Deane Stewart (who plays Russel in the movie)

It's kind of fascinating how legitimizing it is. On one hand, I think, "It's sort of a fluke that this film project got made and none of the others did." It's not that I don't like my book -- I do -- but I like all the movie projects I've pitched. The fact that this is the one that got made first just seems so random.

But then I think, "No, when these people decide  to spend millions of dollars producing something you've written, when literally hundreds of people come together to do it, and then thousands come to watch it, well, that has to mean something. Right?"

So it makes me really happy. And yeah, I guess it does make me feel validated.

If you could encourage anyone to pick up The Elephant of Surprise what would you say?

Well, these days, the genre of gay teen lit is so great and so diverse. There's definitely lots of great stuff to choose from!

But I honestly feel like there's nothing quite like the Russel Middlebrook Series. I tried to make them quirky, and hopefully fun and funny. Lots of people tell me they're page-turners -- people say all the time they read 'em in one sitting -- and that makes me very happy because that's exactly what I wanted them to be. I'm a storyteller! First and foremost, I want to entertain. To make people laugh and cry and feel something.

And they're "gay teen" book, but they're really not about being gay, especially after the first book. With each new book, I've tried to have Russel and his friends have some strange, unique, interesting experience. In The Order of the Poison Oak (book #2), they get jobs working as counselors at a summer camp for burn survivors (and have lots of summer romance!). In Double Feature (book #3), they volunteer to be zombie extras on a low budget horror movie.

And in The Elephant of Surprise, Russel gets involved with a group called the "freegans." The characters are fictional, but freegans are very real. They're a movement of people who've chosen to give up all material possessions and live by foraging for food and everything else they need.

Can you imagine? Eating roadkill and dandelions? When I first read about them, I thought, "This is fascinating! Crazy, but fascinating." And the more I learned about freegans, the more fascinated I became.

Oh, and for the record, you don't need to read the books in order, but it's fine with me if you do.

Bookie Questions:

Favourite genre and why?

Speculative fiction of all kind. Or humor. I think I'm missing a gene or something, but I just have absolutely no interest in literary fiction. Too often it seems like it takes itself waaaaaay too seriously.

The way I see it, books can invite us to do absolutely anything. They're limited only by the imagination. I get the theory that some of the most fascinating stories are the subtle, quiet ones: a person drinking a cup of tea and thinking about the past. But it takes a really special "quiet" story to hold my attention. Why have your character drink a cup of tea when you can have her fly to the moon?

I might have an undiagnosed form of ADD or something. :-)

Favourite YA author and why?

I'm in awe of Ken Oppel, Libba Bray, Neil Schusterman, Jonathan Stoud, and Jandy Nelson, who was actually a student of mine. As a kid, I loved Jean Craighead George (Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain), Michael Ende (The Neverending Story and Momo), S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), and C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia). And I still love all those authors!

Favourite 2012 read and why?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a sort-of mystery set in a future cyber world. It's just a fantastic read with a great puzzle to be solved and a wonderful exploration of identity. And I loved Gone Girl until the ending which I thought was just horrible. Such a stupid ending.

Like I said, I criticize books too!

A book series you love and why?

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, although I confess the last couple of books have tried my patience a bit. But I hand out the first book, A Game of Thrones, like candy to everyone I know, and I don't know anyone who, when they finally got around to reading it, hasn't thought it was incredible.

I also loved the Ender's Game series -- the original series of four books (I didn't like the Bean books as much). But Orson Scott Card, the author, is such a horrible person, a real bigot, it's hard for me to recommend those books anymore. Or, frankly, even read them.
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1 comment

  1. Thanks, Megan! Appreciate the great questions and thorough write-up. :-)