The Word Nerds are thrilled to have Anthony Breznican as our guest today for Author Answers. His first novel, Brutal Youth, released yesterday (check out our review, here).
WN: What is it about the school environment and/or teenagers that made you decide to set your story in a Catholic high school?
BREZNICAN: Remember that line from Stephen King’s “The Body,” which became the closing line of Stand By Me: “I never had friends later on like I did when I was a kid. Does anyone?” I wanted to write about those early years, and dive into those intense friendships that shape who we become. I felt I had to plunge the characters into some pretty hostile territory to really show the power and value of those kinds of relationships. I thought of Brutal Youth as a war story, and these girls and boys are like soldiers in the foxhole. They need each other to survive, and if they do they’ll never forget each other.
WN: Which of your three main characters – Davidek, Stein, or Lorelei – do you relate to most and why?
BREZNICAN: It’s a cop out to say I relate to all three of them, but that’s the truth. People say “choose your battles,” but Stein chooses EVERY battle, and I definitely have that combative impulse in me. Lorelei is a character I love – she has a nightmarish homelife and just wants to create a safe, new existence for herself at school. But she’s filled with my worst fears – that I’ll make a mistake I can’t take back, or act selfishly or self-destructively without realizing it. Stein is who I wish I was – brave and bold – Lorelei is who I fear I am. But honestly, Davidek is probably most like me. He means well, wants to be helpful and stay out of trouble – but unfairness eats him alive. I don’t like being in trouble, but I’m good at finding it.
WN: How has your career in journalism helped you make the transition to writing a novel?
BREZNICAN: They are two separate worlds, really. I got into journalism because I loved storytelling, and writing for he school paper was a way to get published when I was a college student. I loved covering news, and getting that front seat to life. It was a good way to see the best and worst in people. That’s always a good thing to have in your hip pocket as a fiction writer.
WN: What was the best advice you’ve received as a writer (either in journalism or fiction writing?)
BREZNICAN: I had a terrific mentor when I was starting out in journalism. His name was Anthony Shadid, and he was the news editor at the AP in Los Angeles when I was a junior reporter. He was a phenomenal writer, an astoundingly resourceful reporter, and an all-around good human. He went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Iraq War, and he died in 2012 while covering the conflict in Syria. He was generous with newbies like me, and his advice was, “Always come back with a story.” You’ll find it if you keep your eyes and ears open, and think creatively about how you look at the world. That’s the best advice any writer could get.
WN: What books have captured your attention lately?
BREZNICAN: I just read The Hollow Ground, but Natalie S. Harnett, and it’s a bittersweet story about a blue-collar family from a town in Eastern Pennsylvania that sits atop an underground mine fire. It’s about how we are reluctant to leave what we know, even when what we know is destroying us.
WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
BREZNICAN: My hope is that people will like Brutal Youth enough to want to know more about what happens to these kids. This book loosely covers Freshman year, but I think there are more stories from Davidek, Lorelei, and Stein to tell as they progress through St. Michael the Archangel High School. Overall, I’d love to write more fiction, and have a few other ideas turning through the gears upstairs. “Always come back with a story,” as the man said.