BRENT HARTINGER has been writing books ever since he graduated from college in 1986. He sold his first book to a publisher in 2001. Do the math: that means many years of cold hard rejection. But since 2003, his luck has changed, and he’s published six novels, including a break-out novel, GEOGRAPHY CLUB and several sequels. A movie version and a stage production of that novel are in the works. Brent is also in demand as a lecturer and writing teacher, most notably on the faculty at Vermont College; he considers it his mission to help others avoid the countless mistakes he made.
Truthfully? Yes, it’s totally different publishing your sixth novel. The first time, you have no idea what you’re doing, just like, uh, sex. As a first-time novelist, you really are a virgin, even though, unlike sex, you’re also aware that the success of that first book will determine whether you’ll even get a second book. Publishing is just ruthless these days. Good thing sex isn’t like that!
Anyway, when you’re a first novelist, you’re basically a nutcase. Every little criticism is definitely magnified a thousand times, everything that happens to you is totally counter-intuitive and confusing.
But after a few books, you realize not to take it so seriously. It’s so much easier now that I have actual fans, and now I know the whole mysterious process of publishing—which, incidentally, is still totally confusing to me, but at least now I expect it to be confusing.
Honestly? It really is simply that I have all these different stories to tell. I’m interested in all these different genres. If I had to write the same book over and over again, I’d just as soon sell shoes. And fantasy especially has always been my one true love. But DREAMQUEST, of course, is not your usual swords-and-magic type fantasy.
I’m also trying to write books that I think kids would really, really want to read. I want books to be fun: dessert, not broccoli. When did kids’ books get so serious? I’d like to think that I’m returning to the tradition of Roald Dahl, when kids’ books were wacky and witty but also a little subversive—fun for the whole family, I guess. Not that I’m comparing myself to Dahl, but he’s kinda my idol.
Why thank you! You’ve always been so supportive over the years. It really means a lot to me.
DREAMQUEST was based on an actual dream I had. I once woke up in the middle of a nightmare, and I saw the “camera” filming it and the set behind me. It was a really scary nightmare, so I started pleading with the crew, “Please stop making this nightmare! It’s scaring me!” They didn’t listen, so I went on this actual quest to find the person responsible for my nightmares.
When I woke up, I thought, “That would make a really good kids’ book.” Then I came up with the name “Slumberia,” which is the land where the dream-studio is set, and I thought, “That’s it! That’s my next book!” Of course it was seventeen years before it was finally published!
Well, yes and no. Humor always looks like it’d be fun to write, and in a way it is. But what do they say to actors? Dying is easy; comedy is hard. It’s true of humorous kids’ books too.
Also, there are two kinds of novels: the books that you write after you know what the hell you’re doing, which are easy, relatively speaking, and the books you write when you’re first starting out. Those are the Frankenstein’s monster books—if they ever get published, it’s after a zillion revisions and stitching together a hundred different drafts. DREAMQUEST was the third book I ever wrote, back in 1990, and I’ve revised it so many times that it’s definitely a Frankenstein’s monster. But I mean that in a good way!
Ha! Um, yeah. It was actually my experience working as a screenwriter in Hollywood in the late 1990s that I think really made this book come alive. (Hey, maybe if the book is Frankenstein’s monster, Hollywood was the lightning bolt that caused it to sit upright!)
In a way, it’s hard to parody Hollywood, because it’s such an over-the-top town. It’s all about image and illusion, not reality. And man, if you want to sell your soul, that’s the easiest place in the world to do it, because it all comes down to money there.
Of course, Dreamquest isn’t about Hollywood per se. It’s about anyone or any place that puts the bottom line ahead of people. Sadly, it’s very timely these days.
I wish I could explain how that works, but it’s a total mystery to me. I don’t know where those creatures come from. My own subconscious? When it comes to creations like the Moon People or the grognits (both of which I’m pretty proud of), all is know is that I know when it’s right, and I know when it’s still not quite right.
Thank you. I think the best children’s books can be read and enjoyed by all ages. That’s certainly my goal!
I do plan to continue the series. The series title is Tales of Slumberia, and I have three more books outlined: Brainstorm, Moodtides, and Soulsearch. But whether or not I write them will depend, of course, on the reaction to the first book. (And this isn’t my publisher talking: it’s me! Why write books unless people want to read them, you know?)
Hmmmm, lately I enjoy Supernatural, Desperate Housewives, Scrubs, My Name is Earl, and Battlestar Galactica. My all-time favorite shows are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Six Feet Under, and Xena: Warrior Princess (which has actually turned up in a book or two of mine!).
Basically I like shows that have all the elements of classic drama: sympathetic main characters in impossible situations doing larger-than-life things, driven by a strong moral sense. I also like plot; I really appreciate a tightly-plotted story, and I hate being jerked around. A sense of humor is important. I couldn’t stand The West Wing, because it took itself so damn seriously! I checked out of Heroes and Lost for the same reason.
Lately I’ve been having those nightmares where I have to give a keynote address or something, and I forgot to write a speech. Either that, or I deleted a manuscript. Very boring, but a pretty clear indication that I’m working too hard.
I do occasionally dream a story I can turn into a book. But if I told you my ideas, I’d have to kill you.
Well, the third book in the GEOGRAPHY CLUB series came out earlier this year. It’s called SPLIT SCREEN, and it’s actually two complete books in one, one from Russel’s POV and one from his best friend Min’s POV. It’s the first book I’ve ever written where I have yet to hear a single negative word. Weird! I hope that’s not a dream I wake up from.
Also, the movie of GEOGRAPHY CLUB seems to be moving ahead nicely, though there’s still no start date that I know of. And I’ve been adapting an old play of mine, also about teenagers, for the screen, and hopefully they’ll start shooting this summer.
I always hate to complain because I know that I’m living a life a lot of people would kill for, but it can be hard, especially lately. These great opportunities keep coming my way, opportunities that I struggled for 15 years to get, so they’re almost impossible to pass up. And I genuinely love what I do, telling stories. On the other hand, all the travel really, really sucks, and sometimes I feel like I’m constantly working. And hey, I could die tomorrow, right? So it’s a balancing act.
I will say this. Lately I’ve been cutting waaaaay back on every part of being a writer that doesn’t involve actual writing. Less travel, I hope!
That said, I’m still always happy to answer questions, so if anyone has any, swing by my website: www.brenthartinger.com
And thanks! You’re always fun, Debbi.