Saturday, May 19, 2012

Interview with (The One and Only) Mark O'Brien

So, you guys remember how we mentioned on our last blog post that we wanted to feature author interviews on this blog? Since we're just starting off, Mark had this brilliant idea of interviewing each other before we go around begging authors to answer our questions. So, after a heated argument over who should be interviewed first, Mark lost the nose goes...and so here's his interview, with annotations, comments, and snark by yours truly!

1. Tell us about the novel you're currently querying, BROTHERS.

When Ryan Gaunt's older brother kills himself, Ryan has to piece together why— and prevent a moment that could spark another teen's suicide.

2. What was your inspiration for it? What drove you to keep on writing it, after getting the initial idea?

I drew inspiration from the recent surge in teens with depression, self-harm issues, and the urge to kill themselves. Also, (and forgive me if we're getting too personal; I'm a very open person) I've previously attempted suicide. I wanted there to be a book written from the perspective of someone who has actually been there and survived. Music, namely Rise Against's "Make It Stop (September's Children)", also helped inspire me. (*nods approval* He has a good taste in music).

I wanted my novel to get out in the open. I know other books like THIRTEEN REASONS WHY have explored this issue, but I feel BROTHERS has an interesting dynamic in that it details how the family of a dead teen may feel, especially when the death is completely unexpected. It's largely autobiographical, and in essence I suppose by writing it, I explored how my own mother and brother would react had I completed the attempt. (I want to read this. Like, seriously seriously seriously. Hint hint).

3. Have you written any other novels? Can you briefly describe them?

Yes! I've written a trunked YA contemporary called WORDS THAT BURN about a boy with Asperger's Syndrome whose girlfriend is raped. I've also written a YA dystopian romance called EMBER, in which a girl escapes from a concentration camp and conceives a baby that will kill her once she gives birth. (And these, too).

4. What drove you to write? In other words, why did you choose to write a novel during high school, and what first gave you the idea to pursue publication?

I've always written. When I was six, it was my ideas for SpongeBob SquarePants episodes. (Awwww! That's soooooo cute!!! I used to write episodes of Clifford the Big Red Dog!) When I was nine, it was comics. When I was twelve, it was terrible short stories. When I was fourteen, it grew into novels.

I didn't want to be published at first, mainly because I was scared random strangers would read my work and tear it to shreds or, potentially worse, praise it. (Gosh, I know, right? I hardly slept the night I sent off my first queries). After much plodding from my sister, I sent off my first query letter, and now here I am...still sending off query letters.

5. What was your biggest challenge in writing BROTHERS? How did you overcome it?

At least in the beginning, my narrator Ryan and I didn't agree on anything. He's old-fashioned and definitely not open to change and diversity in any form, while I'm the opposite of that. It was hard for me to get into his mind and write his thoughts because, frankly, I didn't know what they would be. He was a stranger, and I had no clue what made him tick.

I solved this problem by distancing myself from him. My narrators for other projects were pretty much me in fantastical situations. For BROTHERS, I knew I wouldn't stay true to the story if I made Ryan my carbon copy, so I gave him a few other traits (athleticism, carefree attitude, jock-like qualities) that made us more different. By making Ryan his own person, I believe I made a better story. (Initially, I had the same issue with my MC. And I think she's a bad influence. Over the past year I've spent with her, I've begun to notice a few of her more reckless, waspish qualities rubbing off on me...)

6. Besides writing, how else do you spend your spare time?

My two passions are writing and psychology. I love researching obscure psychology facts. Also, I spend a lot of time hanging out with my family, going on Twitter, and pretending I have a social life. 

7. What was your most awkward writing-related moment?

My sister wanted to see the first draft of my first manuscript. I sent it to her.
...I forgot there was a sex scene in there. ( is awkward...*disguises a snort of laughter as a cough*)

8. What one piece of advice would you give to other teen writers?

Develop a thick skin. Seriously. I am the most sensitive guy ever, but I developed one toward my writing, and it's the bee's knees. Don't take rejections personally. The agent is not rejecting you; he/she is rejecting your manuscript. Let people critique you, and let yourself feel bad about it and whine and watch Oprah's Next Chapter and lament the fact that she had to cancel the original show, she just haaaad to. And then reread the critiques and realize they're trying to help you. (Seriously, though, he's totally right. You're going to get rejections. Don't let them get to you).

Overall, I'd say to not take anything personally. It's a business, and agents and editors have to make smart business choices. The heart doesn't always agree with the brain, and vice versa.

While I'm on my soapbox, stay in school, get out and vote, and eat your gosh-darn vegetables.

*Holds up cue card APPLAUSE, and then puts it down because it's unnecessary* Woot! Wasn't that a fantastic interview, guys? When I read it, I was like..."Maybe I should post my interview first, because it's going to seem so sucky after this..." But rest assured, it will be posted next week, and when it is, you'll most likely find me hiding under the covers, too embarrassed to come out. Until then...toodles!

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