Interview with Anthony Breznican, author of Brutal Youth

1. Can you tell us a little about your book? Is it your debut novel? 23014822

Yes, it’s my first and I’m eager to get the next one out there. Brutal Youth is a bit of resistance YA, the story of a group of kids trying to survive at a school that has become a crumbling dumping ground for misfits and troublemakers who don’t fit in anywhere else.

Some of St. Mike’s students have been kicked out of public school, some are fanatically religious and seeking to escape the secular world, some are simply lost or unlucky. Peter Davidek just wants to avoid trouble, Noah Stein is a fighter who picks every hill to die on, and Lorelei Paskal is an abused girl who is desperate to turn high school into a sanctuary, since home is far from a safe place for her.

But St. Mike’s is infected with corruption from the top down. The school is run by a priest who has literally been stealing a fortune from the collection plate and he is looking to scapegoat someone for the shortfall. (This is based on the guy who actually ran the parish where my high school was located.) Sister Maria is the nun who serves as principal, and she means well but thinks she can compromise her way out of trouble. And Ms. Bromine is the guidance counselor who is drowning in bitterness. She’s one of these people who are so consumed with anger and misery it overflows from her onto everything she touches.

The school has a hazing tradition that has gone off the rails. Bullying and cruelty have become currency, and there’s no one in power to turn to for help. They’re actually making it worse. So the newcomers have to figure out how to survive at St. Mike’s. Others have done it, but … look what they’ve become. There has to be a way to protect yourself without losing who you are.

2. Are you a plotter or a free writer?

I think through the story, and occasionally make to-do lists for individual chapters. But mostly, I free-write and let the story take shape, then cut, and cut, and cut some more. I set out to make Brutal Youth kind of a war story, about the forces that shape and sometimes warp us at an early age. I think people are born basically good, but then we learn selfishness and anger as self-defense mechanisms. So with that idea in mind, I came up with the idea of a school where these things are taught above all else (although obviously not as a part of the official curriculum.) Then I’d try to surprise myself, come up with twists on the coming-of-age tale that maybe haven’t been seen before. So with all those plot points in my head, the writing process was a lot like connecting the dots.

3. Is your book part of a series or a standalone?

It’s part of a series, but I’m working on a few other books in between each one. I have to admit, I care about these characters an awful lot, even though I put them through some nasty and harsh experiences. I’m obsessed with the question of why some people take the pain they feel and dump it back into the world, while others make the choice that it stops with them. In Brutal Youth, you get to see what happens to these kids when they don’t have any power, but the next few years in their lives give them more strength, more independence, and — of course — many more choices to make, good and bad.

4. Do you require silence when writing or do you listen to music?

Sometimes I listen to music when writing. I often have a song that helps get me into the headspace of a character, sort of a theme song, I guess. Other times the pace of a particular song will fit the rhythm of the scene I’m writing. After a while, though, I think I end up tuning it out and become immersed in the story.

5. Are you writing your next book? Can you share a little about it?

I’m trying to squeeze time in to finish it. This one is a supernatural thriller merged with a family drama. I probably shouldn’t say more than that. The main character is an amazing 14-year-old girl who is basically the person I want to be when I grow up.

6. How long were you writing before getting a publishing contract?

I’ve been writing for many years as a reporter. I’ve worked for newspapers, wire services, and am currently a senior writer with Entertainment Weekly. I started out in hard news — earthquakes, crime, protests, politics, wildfires — but gravitated toward entertainment partly because I’m fascinated by how creative people work. So I had a writing career in place, but fiction is a different universe entirely. I had to start from scratch there. It took about a year to find an agent and a publisher.

7. When does your book release?

It’s out! The hardcover was released last summer, and now it’s new in paperback. With school coming back into session, I’m available to librarians or teachers who’d like to have authors Skype with their classes in a kind of remote book club. I’ve met so many teen readers since the book came out, and their response has meant the world to me. They have so much wisdom and soulfulness that it makes me look at the adults in my life and wonder how they lost it!

 

Author BioAnthony Breznican

Anthony Breznican was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsurgh in 1998. He has worked as a reporter for The Arizona Republic, Associated Press, and USA Today. He is currently a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly.

 Brutal Youth is his debut novel.

 

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