Here is the rest of my interview with author Brian Katcher:
In my experience, there is a germ of truth from our own lives in every book we write, and each character we craft. Where are the germs of truth in Playing with Matches and Almost Perfect? What were the geneses of the stories?
Leon from Playing With Matches is me at seventeen. I was funny, smart, and terrified of girls. Actually, Melody is the only purely fictitious character in that book, everyone else (even the crazy twins and the mad chemistry teacher) were people from my teenage years. While writing Matches, I kept having to remind myself that this wasn’t my autobiography.
As for Almost Perfect, I simply wanted to tell a boy meets girl story that hadn’t been told a hundred times. I hit on the idea of a boy who meets the girl of his dreams, except she wasn’t born a girl. Would a purely heterosexual guy be able to swallow his fears or would he simply be too scared of where such feelings would lead him? I first tried writing this as a short story. When I showed it to my writers’ group they said it was an interesting concept, but there was no way I could pull it off in fifty pages. So I wrote it as a novel.
How do you write? i.e. Are you a linear writer? Do you use outlines to pre-plan? Do you write in scenes and integrate them later in the process? Do you have a regular writing routine? If so, what it is? If not, why not?
I’m chaotic to the nth degree. When I start a novel I usually know how it’s going to end and then go from there. My plot trajectories are all over the place. This allows my characters to surprise me with the new an unexpected things they do, but I have to resign myself to an additional rewrite to fix all the plot inconsistencies I write into my story. I rarely use outlines. Sometimes I write specific scenes long before I conceive of a plot. The grave that Logan discovers in Perfect (remember friend as you pass by/you are now as once was I) is a real one, for instance. I knew I had to use it in a story some day. I actually included it in Matches, but it was edited out. As for writing, I’m blessed with a job that gives me summers off and an understanding wife who takes our daughter to grandma’s on Sundays. I also don’t need a lot of sleep, so I write after everyone goes to bed. Of course, not all my writing takes place at the keyboard. My wife quickly learned that when I’m frantically pacing in the basement, I’m not upset, I’m just writing scenes in my head.
You also work as a school librarian. We have seen our government cut funding to libraries and non-enrolling teachers in the names of austerity and progress. In their minds, libraries are outmoded and unnecessary. In your experience, how important is the library to students? How are libraries changing to continue to be relevant? What do you as a librarian contribute to kids’ growth and development?
Unfortunately, there is a big move in education to judge everything based on test scores. If you’re not doing something that directly teaches reading or math (and possibly science), then a lot of officials see it as unimportant. Librarians, along with teachers of music, art, and PE are often viewed as not real teachers, and are more valued for giving breaks to the classroom teachers than for any lessons they impart. A lot of administrators envision some vague future where libraries are paperless, but have cut the library funding long before any plan is in place for a digital facility.
As a library junkie, I know how important libraries can be for kids. It gives me great pleasure to show children the simple joys in a book. However, a lot of people believe this is only for small children and that older kids don’t read. Actually, young adult literature is in its golden age. For the first time, people are writing books with a literate teenage audience in mind, and teenagers are among the most difficult readers to please. A well-funded media center with an enthused staff can do more for a child’s education than a thousand standardized tests.
Thank you very much for your interest.Brian Katcher
At my age I almost skipped this post because I’m past the years of teenage angst. It’s surprising then that I decided to look anyway and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Your questioning is thorough Shawn as though you want to squeeze every drop from the answer and allow no prevarication., you miss nothing.You are going to give your readers their money’s worth. Brian responded in depth and with warmth about his characters whilst giving us little glimpses of his teenage self. At times I could almost see a teacher and pupil dong the interview and had to smile.
It’s not quite 5.30 am and this has brightened my mood for the day. Thank you both.
Thanks David. If you have a chance to read Brian’s work (I would particularly recommend Almost Perfect) you’ll find a well-crafted, intense story. It won’t matter that your youth is behind you!