Brent Hartinger is a lesson in perseverance. A longtime writer, He plugged away at his craft through 15 years of rejection slips. I was typing my fingers to the bone, but barely breaking even, he says. (He once lived on $2,000 for nine months.) Then in 2001, he sold his first novel; The Geography Club, a story with a gay high-school age protagonist, was published in 2003 to critical acclaim. Then, in 2004, when Hartingers second novel, The Last Chance Texaco, became a teen favorite, his place as a young adult novelist was secured. In March, the sequel to The Geography Club, The Order of the Poison Oak, hits bookstores, and several more novels are under contract. Hartinger, who lives south of Seattle with his long-time partner, novelist Michael Jensen, recently spoke about writing and social change.
How did you come to write teen books?
I was put in the genre by my first agent. I had written a book with a teenage main character, but I didnt think of it as a teen book. So I was appalled and offended when he said he was going to pitch it as a teen novel. I thought that somehow that meant the book was lesser and not legitimate. I guess I was a real horses ass when I was a young, unpublished writer, huh? Anyway, I love the genre now. I think so many of the books are top-notch. And if readers like a book, they really like it. And unlike us way-too-serious adults, they arent afraid to say so.
But you have a lot of adult readers, too, no?
Interesting how that worked out, isnt it? I finally accepted that I was writing for teens, and now it turns out I get a lot of adult fans anyway. A lot of adult readers say they like my books because they give them a chance to relive their own teen years. Thats part of the reason why I wrote Geography Clubto sort of rewrite my own teen years, and give them a happier ending!
Frankly, maybe writing for teens has just made my writing more appealing for all ages. Because the books are shorter, it forces me to be more disciplined. And because Im basically writing for reluctant readers, I really have to keep things moving. Lets face it: my competition is Nintendo and Britney Spears humping a couch.
Why have you chosen to make your books light and humorous?
My beef with a lot of gay novels and a lot of other teen novels is that theyre so doom-and-gloom. I guess theres this idea that books have to be serious to be important. But when I was a teenager, I remember things careening between really happy and really sad, all in the same day. Adults always remember the angst and the depression of their teen years, but they dont seem to remember the fun.
Anyway, I try to make my books to be dessert, not broccoli, and humor definitely helps.
I know you visit a lot of high school classrooms. Whats the reaction been?
Well, the teachers are usually terrified that Ill dwell on the gay thing. One principal recently had a melt-down when he learned just who the librarian had invited to his school!
As for the students, they do want me to talk about the gay issue. I never mention it in my presentations, but the kids bring it up in the Q&A. And theres a surprising lack of snickering. Most of them have openly gay friends, and they watch MTV, so its just not that big a deal. They are so far ahead of the adults on this issue that its scary. But it says to me that the Republicans are only going to be able to ride this anti-gay wave for a few more years, and then theyll start to be seen as the bigots they are.
The Order of the Poison Oak, the sequel to Geography Club, has a pretty steamy cover. Whats that about?
Ha! I was a little surprised by that, too. Then again, the sequel is steamier than Geography Club, so I guess its just truth-in-advertising. But, hey, the books set at summer campsome skinny-dipping seemed required! Plus, the sex scenes gave me a chance to talk a little about safer sex, which I think is a really pressing issue for gay teens and twenty-somethings.
Speaking of which, Im currently working on an online safer sex project aimed at gay teens and twenty-somethings involving the characters from Geography Club and some other gay novels. I think its a great project, but the Bush administration has public health agencies terrified of anything that actually mentions sex. This country has so gone down the rabbit hole.
Whats up for your future?
I have wa-a-ay too much going on. I have another Geography Club sequel in the works, and some more non-gay teen books, too. I have some childrens fantasies that will be out next year. Plus, theres the stage adaptation of Geography Club, and a possible movie adaptation. And Im about to leave on a 20-city book tour! Be careful what you wish for, huh? But I am trying hard not to complain, because I know how that sounds. Honestly, I get paid to do what I love, so Im a pretty happy camper.
For updated info, check out Hartingers Web site, Brents Brain, at www.brenthartinger.com.
See Brent Hartinger on his Rainbow Crow World Authors Tour 2005:
Puyalup, Washington: Wednesday, March 16, 3 p.m., Puyallup Public Library, 324 South Meridian, (253) 841-5454
Tacoma, Washington: Wednesday, March 23, 7 p.m., Kings Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., (253) 272-8801 (with Michael Jensen)
Online Chat: Tuesday, April 5, 8:30 Eastern U.S. time (5:30 Pacific). YA Authors Cafe. Topic: YA Comes Out: Queer Themes in Teen Lit
Bellingham, Washington: Sunday, April 10, 5 p.m., Village Books, 1200 11th St., (360) 671-2626 (with Michael Jensen)
Vancouver, British Columbia: Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m., Little Sisters Books, 1238 Davie St., (604) 669-1753 (with Michael Jensen)
Seattle: Thursday April 14, 7 p.m., Bailey-Coy Books, 414 Broadway Ave. E., (206) 323-8842 (with Michael Jensen)
Portland, Oregon: Sunday, April 24, Wordstock Festival, 3 p.m.
Boston: Date and time TBA
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts: Wednesday, April 27, 6 p.m., Shrewsbury Public Library, 609 Main St., (508) 842-0081
Albany, New York: April, 29-30, Got Books? Lets Read! Conference sponsored by Hodge Podge Books
New York: Sunday, May 1, signing books from 3-5 p.m., Books of Wonder, 18 W. 18th St., 10011, (212) 989-3270
Philadelphia: Tuesday, May 3, 5:30-7 p.m., Giovannis Room, 345 S. 12th St., (215) 923-2960 (with Michael Jensen)
Baltimore: Wednesday, May 4, 2 p.m., Howard County Library, venue TBA
Baltimore: Wednesday, May 4, 7 p.m., Lambda Rising Books, 241 West Chase St., 21201, (410) 234-0069 (with Michael Jensen)
Washington, D.C.: Thursday, May 5, 8 p.m., time and place TBA
Norfolk, Virginia: Friday, May 6, 5:30, p.m., Lambda Rising Books, 322 West 21st St. 23517, (757) 626-0969 (with Michael Jensen)
San Diego: Sunday, May 8, 5 p.m., Obelisk Bookstore, 1029 University Ave. 92103, (619) 297-4171 (with Michael Jensen)
Los Angeles: Date and time TBA.
San Jose, California: Date and time TBA
San Francisco: Wednesday, May 11th, 7 p.m., A Different Light Bookstore, 489 Castro St. 94114 (with Michael Jensen)
Menlo Park, California: Thursday, May 12, time TBA, Keplers Books, 1010 El Camino Real, 94025
Sacramento: Friday, May 13, 7 p.m., The Open Book, 910 21st St. 95814, (916) 498-1004 (with Michael Jensen)
SEATTLE: Friday, June 3, University Books, 4326 University Way NE, 98105, (206) 634-3400
Chicago: July, date and time TBA
Minneapolis: July, date and time TBA
Milwaukee: July, date and time TBA
Green Bay, Wisconsin: July, date and time TBA
Spokane, Washington: August, date and time TBA