Author of "Brutal Youth", Senior Writer for Entertainment Weekly
As a child, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
I wanted to be an ornithologist. I loved the birds that would flit around the backyard at my grandparents’ house. You have to look closer for the really beautiful ones – the blue jays, orioles and tanagers. They are more elusive than the sparrows and robins. But when I got older, all I wanted to be was a writer. Now that I think of it, stories are just like birdwatching – the closer you look, the more interesting things you find.
How did your friends/family react when you told them you wanted to become a writer?
I got a lot of discouragement, honestly. Being a writer didn’t seem like a “real” job to some members of my family. My siblings and I were often told our dreams and talents weren’t worth much. Luckily I listened more to teachers and people outside the home who told me to go for it. Journalism is proof there is a way to both write and pay the bills. It’s a lot of fun to tell other people’s stories. Now, finally, I have a story of my own to share with Brutal Youth.
Who inspires you in the industry?
I admire the underdogs, the people who have no resources but somehow make a little movie or write a book that suddenly takes off. Anyone who takes a risk. Maybe I am inspired even more by those who take a risk and don’t become big hits. I’m a small-time dreamer myself, but those small dreams are the hardest to let go.
Stephen King gave your book "Brutal Youth" an amazing review, what was your reaction upon hearing this?
I literally jumped around and danced in the living room with my wife and my daughter – although we had to settle down quick because my baby son had just gone to sleep. Stephen King is the writer I most looked up to as a boy. Still do. He’s a tremendous storyteller who continues to inspire me.
Your book tackles a very hot/saddening topic, that of bullying, what is it you wished to achieve as you wrote this book?
I just wanted to write an exciting, crazy, dangerous story about friendship. My goal was not to preach the evils of bullying – we all know it’s wrong. But I don’t think we always understand how it comes to be. I wanted to explore a place where self-preservation had morphed into a kind of law-of-the-jungle nastiness, and show the value of doing right, even if you lose. Above all, I wanted it to be a lively, page-turner that makes you laugh at the wrongness of life.
How do you deal with "bad" criticism or bullying? What are some of your coping mechanism?
I think if you’re being bullied – whether you’re a kid, or whether you’re an adult in a workplace where you are mistreated or disrespected – the best way to combat that is to try and befriend or protect someone else who is also feeling hurt or isolated. It’s hard to stand up for yourself, but if you stand up for someone else in your same situation, suddenly you are less alone – and so is that other person.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far:
I’m going to be that guy and say: getting my wife to fall in love with me even though I’m a total dork. We have two little kids, and they are the greatest things in the world – funny, sweet, kind, fearsome, adorable. I would be lost without them.
Also, one time I really made Tina Fey laugh hard. That would be #2.
You are also a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly, what
comes to mind when someone says "Print is dead"?
Depends what you mean by “print.” People still love to read, and they’re reading more than ever. But they’re doing it on their phones or on their tablets. I love print books, and I think those will always exist because they are objects we like to own and treasure. But periodicals? I love reading them on my iPad because it’s neat, efficient, and we don’t need to chop down a mile of wilderness to produce them. I’d much prefer to push a button -- and publish instantly around the world.
What aspects of your job do you like best/least?
What I like most about my job as a writer for Entertainment Weekly? Hm, the thing I like best is just being around creative people – both inside the magazine and the subjects I get to interview. If there is a writer, actor, or filmmaker I admire, I can usually finagle a way to have a conversation with them. That’s wonderful – to pick the brain of someone whose work moves you.
Least …? I guess the uncertainty of this profession. It’d be nice to focus on writing compelling stories, but a lot of time and energy is wasted worrying about the future of journalism – which is in the hands of corporate executives who tend to make millions whether they succeed or not.
What are some of your favorite books?
I love All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, and Different Seasons by Stephen King. I’m also a huge fan of the recent books A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.
Name two things that are on your bucket list:
Make a bucket list
What brings you the greatest joy?
Reminiscing with friends about old times. There’s nothing I love more than hanging out with the people I love and telling stories.
What brings you the greatest satisfaction?
Seeing my kids do something nice for someone else.
Do you have a specific writing habit? (wake up at a specific time... minimum numbers of pages per day...)
I try to write a thousand words a day. When I actually make myself sit down to write, I tend to exceed that. Other times, life, work, family, other obligations get in the way and I don’t do anything. I work in bursts at first, and then the closer I get to finishing the more determined I get.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
How quickly 20 years goes by.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Twitter. I waste too much time screwing around on there. But I’ve made a lot of friends there, too. Like you, Luc!
Describe yourself in 5 words:
Tries hard, too hard sometimes.
What do you most value in people?
Empathy. After that, loyalty.
Name 2 things people don't know about you:
I run a small murder-for-hire business.
I could live on Sour Patch Kids.
What is your motto?
Try not to be a dick.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Uglier, for sure. Hopefully I’ll have a couple more books that people want to read.
Any advice for those wanting to become writers?
Yeah, do it. What are you waiting for? Write it and try to get published, and if that doesn’t work, fuck it – publish it yourself. Don’t wait for permission. The money’s basically the same, and that’s not what we’re in it for anyway, right?
Any last words?
Let’s talk again sometime.