Friday, September 27, 2013

YA Guy Interviews... Scott Blagden (plus a giveaway!)

Well, as promised, YA Guy's back with an interview of Scott Blagden, author of DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK. And there's a giveaway after the interview! So stick around, find out about Scott and his great debut, and enter for a chance to win some goodies (including the shirt pictured below)!



YA GUY: I loved Dear Life, You Suck, and I’d like to know some more about how you came to write it.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your history, and your decision to write a novel?

SCOTT BLAGDEN: I've always wanted to write, ever since high school, and I always knew that one day I’d write a novel. But in my twenties I got wrapped up in the business world, got married, had kids, and didn't write at all during that time. It wasn't until I got divorced in my forties that I realized if I was ever going to attain this dream, I’d better get started, so I did. Dear Life, You Suck is actually my fourth completed novel, but my first published one.

YAG: What was your path to publication? Any special surprises, disappointments, or delights?

SB: My path to publication was similar to most authors. Lots of previously unpublished novels, lots of rejection letters. One unusual thing did occur though on my path to publication. After literally hundreds of rejection letters for Dear Life, You Suck, I had the brilliant idea of writing a query letter in my main character’s voice and sending it to the editorial director at Candlewick in Boston. [Blogger's note: I'll be featuring Cricket's query letter in a future post!] Candlewick is a closed house, and at that time I didn't have an agent. The letter was pure Cricket--crass, sarcastic, funny, angry, profane. Fortunately, Liz Bicknell at Candlewick had a sense of humor, and she passed the letter along to an editorial assistant, Carter Hasegawa. They didn't offer me a contract with that version of the manuscript, but Carter liked the story and the character enough to offer me revision suggestions, which I made and which ultimately led to the version of the manuscript that got contracted with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Another interesting fact is that Dear Life, You Suck got picked up out of the slush pile by my editor, Adah Nuchi, at HMH. It was a completely cold, unsolicited, unagented submission, so unpublished authors should not give up hope about slush pile submissions.

YAG: The narrator of Dear Life, You Suck, Cricket Cherpin, is a fascinating but prickly character, to say the least. Who or what was your inspiration for Cricket? What were the challenges of writing a character readers might not instantly like?

SB: I've done quite a few interviews about Dear Life, You Suck, but you’re the first person to ask me about opening the story with an unlikeable character. I'm glad you asked because this was a deliberate, albeit risky, decision. I wanted to present Cricket to the reader in the same way that we meet prickly, unlikable characters in real life --with no backstory. Personally, I know that I have a tendency to pass judgment on people within the first three minutes of meeting them, and this is something I know I shouldn’t do. Sometimes people just rub me the wrong way. They say things and do things that are rude and obnoxious, and I immediately think, “Wow, what a rude and obnoxious person.” Sometimes I don’t take the time to look at them deeper and consider what may be beneath the surface that is making them act and talk and think the way they do, and that's what I wanted to do with Cricket. I wanted to present the rough exterior of Cricket without any pitiable backstory and see if I could get readers invested enough in him as a person to hang in there and discover what’s beneath the scars. That’s why I intentionally mention his facial scar at the very beginning. One of those “metafornical” type things. It would have been much safer and easier to present’s Cricket’s backstory at the outset so that readers would pity him and cut him some slack when he acted like a jerk, but that's not how meeting people in real life happens, and I felt that would have been a lazy copout. I liked the challenge of creating an unlikable character from page one and hoping I could pique the interest of the reader enough to get him or her to hang in there long enough to discover what he’s really about. I'm sure I’ve lost readers by presenting Cricket this way, but I think for the readers who hang in there and look beneath the surface, beneath the scars, and are willing to take the time to get to know the why of Cricket, the experience is much richer and deeper. But it is risky.

In response to the first part of your question, my inspiration for Cricket came from my own childhood experiences, which were fortunately nothing compared to Cricket’s, but traumatic enough for me to gain insight into his emotions and voice.

YAG: One of the things that makes Cricket so unique is his penchant for wordplay (often of a scandalous or scatological nature). Writing Cricket’s monologues must have been fun--if maybe a little exhausting! How’d you arrive at Cricket’s voice?

SB: Cricket was a fun character to write. There were many days that I was literally sitting in front of my laptop laughing (or weeping) hysterically. I captured Cricket’s voice by just letting go. At first I started writing him just for fun, never considering that I’d be able to use any of his thoughts or dialogue in an actual manuscript I’d send out for publication. But I kept writing him because I was having so much fun. As I said, this was my fourth novel, the previous three being enthusiastically rejected, so I decided to write Cricket’s story for me, not for an editor or agent or publisher, and that attitude is what gave me the freedom and courage to completely let Cricket be himself. It’s was an invaluable learning experience--taking the gatekeepers out of the equation and letting the real Cricket bubble to the surface. When I stopped worrying about what readers might think about Cricket and focused completely on simply writing him as he truly was, I found his voice. I try to remember that for my current writing projects--to let the character be who he truly is and not worry about what the reader might think. I try to write with blinders on so that the real character comes through because I find when I think about what the reader might think, I censor my characters, which is the worst thing possible. All of my main characters have issues that make them somewhat unlikable on the surface, and this definitely creates a challenge. It's always tempting to soften the character up or introduce the pity factor early on, but those are copouts that lead to the reader not genuinely experiencing the real character as he truly is.

YAG: Along those lines, I’m interested in one aspect of Cricket’s personality that might bother some readers. When we first meet Cricket, his view of Christianity is irreverent if not downright blasphemous. Yet it seems that Christian beliefs, stories, and values are important to Cricket’s development and to the book as a whole. What’s your take on the role of religion in YA fiction?

SB: I don't have a specific opinion about the role of religion in YA fiction. I just happen to have characters who like to think about religion and philosophy because it’s something I like to think about. Questions of religion and spirituality are universal even for people who don't consider themselves religious or spiritual. Beneath all of our daily questions are bigger questions like Why are we here? and What’s the point of it all? We keep ourselves busy with mundane questions on a day-to-day basis but at some point we all sit back and wonder about bigger-picture stuff. What fascinates me about readers defining Cricket as atheistic or  blasphemous is that I consider Cricket to be more Christ-like than most of the Christians I know. Jesus was a bad ass. He questioned everything. He questioned his religion, his religious leaders, religion's role in society. When religion becomes organized, superficial things have a tendency to override and overwhelm the more important hidden things, and I think this is what upset Jesus the most and this is what upsets Cricket the most. The hypocrisy of the shiny fruit with the rotten core. People look at Cricket as being irreverent and blasphemous, but compared to Jesus, Cricket’s a softie. Jesus was so irreverent and blasphemous he was put to death for it.

YAG: Final question. The YA Guy blog, as you know, concerns itself with gender issues in Young Adult fiction. As one example, I’m interested in the question of whether there’s any usefulness to the category of “boy book.” Where do you weigh in on this, or on other issues that have to do with gender and reading/writing YA?

SB: It can be useful to categorize a book as a “boy book” if it helps catch the attention of educators or librarians who are always on the lookout for “boy books” to put into the hands of their reluctant boy readers. Where it's not useful is when a book gets pigeonholed as being a “boy book” and then girls don't read it and vice versa. I’ve been contacted by far more girl readers than boy readers and I’ve heard Dear Life, You Suck referred to quite often as a “boy book.” Maybe girl readers are just more inclined to contact an author than boy readers or maybe there are more girls reading my book than boys, I don’t know.

When I do hear from boys, it’s usually along the lines of, “I hate reading, but I loved your book.” Those are my favorite emails.

The reality is, some teen boys are crass, rude, profane, and mean. Emphasis on “some.” Our job as writers is to present characters as they truly are, not as society thinks they should be. Young readers are smart. Then know when a writer is trying to jam some lame message down their throat like hiding a dog’s medicine in a hunk of cheese.

Now, tell me your interest isn't piqued! (Or don't tell me, I don't care.) Just enter the giveaway and then I'll know!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

16 comments:

  1. Great interview. Awesome book. Fabulous giveaway--
    = win-win-win!
    Erin

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  2. Have had this one on my TBR list since I saw Scott speak at the New England SCBWI conference.

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    1. I've heard he's a great speaker! (He certainly gives a great interview.)

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  3. Awesome interview & giveaway! Thanks ;)

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  4. Great interview. Thanks for sharing your road to publication. I always enjoy reading those. The slush pile works:D

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    1. Agreed--Scott's story brings hope to the slush!

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  5. Great interview - thank you for sharing! And I loved "Dear life, you suck" - such a heartwarming story:)

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jane! And I agree--Scott's book is awesome!

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  6. Wonderful interview! and what a great giveaway too!

    nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  7. Awesome! I'd love to win the giveaway.

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    1. Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

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  8. Great interview!! Scott sounds cool as does his book!! :)

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    1. Just wait until you read the query letter he sent to an actual editor!

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