Author Interview with Brent Hartinger (The Otto Digmore Series)

Author Brent Hartinger

Q1: Hello, Brent, and welcome to my blog! How about we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself?

Wonderful to be here!

I’m an author and screenwriter living in Seattle. My 2003 novel Geography Club became something of a gay YA classic, and was eventually turned into a feature film (and now they’re developing it as a TV series. Who knew?).

First and foremost, I consider myself a storyteller. Honestly, I get frustrated with books and movies with meandering or “barely there” plots. A story is where things happen – it’s not just people thinking things or having oh-so-witty conversations.

I can’t say all my writing is equally good, but my goal when someone reads something I’ve written is to knock their socks off – to really feel like they’ve been taken on a journey, and turned inside out, but in a good way. I never want my books to be a slog. First and foremost, I want you to be engrossed.

Q2: When and why did you start writing? Was there anyone or anything in particular that inspired you to write?

I’d always loved creative projects as a child – I had absolutely no interest in sports, or cars, or fashion, or anything like that. I just wanted to watch movies, read books, and make movies and tell stories with my geeky, artsy friends.

So when I graduated from college, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could spend my whole life doing this stuff? If I could make my living at it?”

Q3: Any big achievements that you are proud of?

Honestly, I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve made my living writing fiction for the last twenty years. When I was younger, I had absolutely no idea how hard that would be. But now I do know, and I’ve done it anyway, and not very many people can say that.

I’m also proud that I’ve developed a fan base. There are authors who’ve made more money than I have, or won more awards, but I’m not sure there are too many people who have more passionate fans. That’s incredibly gratifying.

Q4: Wow, twenty years? That’s a lot! And having a dedicated fan base must be very satisfying; you must get a lot of support. Which brings us to our next question: who is your biggest supporter and what would you like to say to them?

There are people who’ve been reading everything I’ve written since I published my first book in 2003. How cool is that?

I say the same thing to all my supporters, which is, “Thanks. You’re the reason I get to do what I love. I owe it all to you.”

Q5: What kind of audience would enjoy your books? Who are they aimed at?

Geography Club, my first book, was written for a young adult readership. But the dirty little secret of YA publishing is that at least half your readers (or more!) are adults.

It’s been fun because I’ve taken the characters from that book and developed other books around them – eight books now, in three different series. I even had them “grow up,” so now I’m writing about those same characters in their mid-twenties.

My characters tend to be geeky intellectuals, and they’re often gay, and I think a lot of my readers can relate in some way.

I also try to write with a lot of humor, and I have a fairly optimistic outlook on life (although maybe not so much in the age of Trump). I’m not a big fan of books and TV shows where the characters are all raging a**holes, and part of the reason why is that I don’t think they’re very realistic. I know the whole point of fiction is to be truthful and honest, but that’s not my truth. The characters in HBO shows like Girls and Looking seem less realistic to me personally than the hobbits and elves in The Lord of the Rings. Most of the people I know, they’re thoughtful, decent people, trying to do the right thing, even if they sometimes screw up.

At the very least, these are the people I most like to write about.

Q6: You recently released The Otto Digmore Difference; tells us about that book.

the-otto-digmore-difference-by-brent-hartinger

I first wrote the character of Otto Digmore back in 2005 as a teenage character. He’s a gay burn survivor with scars on half his face. At the time, I thought he made for a really unusual love interest, and I didn’t know of any other disabled characters who were also gay, in any medium.

Over the years, he’s appeared in other books of mine, but as a supporting character. I’ve always wanted to give him his own series, and now I have. This is the start of it.

And to make things more interesting, Otto is trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood. I think that makes Otto an even more interesting character – the character is pushing for more diversity in Hollywood and I hope my book is pushing for more diversity in fiction.

The Otto Digmore Difference is a road trip story where Otto and his best friend Russel Middlebrook have to drive all the way across the country to get to an audition on time. And like every good road trip story, the guy at the end of the journey isn’t the same one who started out.

I try to give all my books humor and heart, but I honestly think this is the most touching book I’ve ever written, with one of the most satisfying stories.

Q7: Now that you are done with that one, what are you taking on next and when will it be available?

This is the first book in at least a two-book series, so I’ll soon start writing the second book.

I also write YA thrillers, often with gay characters, which is becoming my own special niche. My last one, Three Truths and a Lie, was just nominated for an Edgar Award, which is the mystery genre’s top honor, so that was pretty cool. I think it’s pretty subversive because it’s a YA novel with gay characters, but it’s not “about” being gay. Plus, it has a cool twist ending. I’m working on another book like that, another real brain-twister.

Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger

I also have a number of movie projects in the works. A couple are bigger budget, like an animated project being done in China, of all places. And a couple are some pretty cool indie projects.

Making movies is hard as hell, because at the end of the day it’s always about convincing someone to spend a million bucks (or more!) to finance your story. And in order to get that million bucks, your story has to be incredibly marketable or beyond-amazing in some other way.

Q8: Congratulations on your nomination! I hope you get the support you need to make those movies and that they air them in my country. But back to the questions: traditional or self-publishing and why?

I’m a hybrid author. About half my books are from traditional publishers like HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, and half I’ve published on my own.

There are huge advantages to both industries, and I confess I get frustrated with people who do one and then disparage the other. They’re both valid business models! I’ve had some good success in both. The industry you should pick depends, in part, on the kinds of book you want to write, and also your career goals.

But I actually think the secret to success these days is to do both: the legitimacy you get from traditional publishing can really help you when self-publishing, and the things you learn about marketing in self-publishing can really help your traditional career.

Q9: Did you encounter any obstacles when publishing? If so, what were they?

Ha! Yes, I would say so.

Without a doubt, the arts is one of the most difficult, most competitive industries on earth. You’re asking people to pay you to do something you love, something you’d probably do for free. So there’s going to be a hell of a lot of competition for that gig!

And then there’s the fact that once you are published or produced, you’ll be reviewed and criticized. I like to say that my job is: “Professional Object of Criticism.” And the more successful you are, the more high-profile and mainstream, the more intense the criticism will be (along with the praise, natch).

This can be incredibly discombobulating. So much can depend on the opinion of a handful of people –whether it’s a critic at Publishers Weekly, or the person financing your movie, or a writer at the New York Times. And you will be misunderstood. And some people will be mean and petty and cruel. And honestly? You’ll fail a lot. Sometimes your work won’t be as good as you think it is, or it won’t have been ready for release, or something else will screw it up somewhere along the way. You’ll be rejected or humiliated, and you might deserve that reaction.

This isn’t a job for the meek or thin-skinned. It just isn’t. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s all about the very high highs and the very low lows.

But while it’s always a roller-coaster ride, it’s absolutely never dull.

Q10: Well, that sounds scary… And thrilling. Anything you’d like to say to writers who might be reading this?

I’ve been writing fiction for twenty-five years, and making my living at it for twenty, and I can say without any hesitation that the best time in my lifetime to be a writer is right now.

It will always be difficult to be a writer. I said before there’s constant rejection and humiliation. But this current moment in time gives us writers two new things: direct contact with our fans via social media, which is fantastic. And options like self-publishing and cheap video production. Basically, we can create and distribute our books and video content ourselves.

It can be incredibly difficult to get any traction for that work, because along with these new options comes “media clutter.” It can be really hard to break through.

But it’s absolutely not all random. The cream still rises to the top. If you have a truly unique vision, and if you’re passionate and dedicated and work your ass off, you can make a name for yourself. It sounds hard, and it is, but gatekeepers are no longer the only game in town. If they say no, we have other options now, very real options now.

Gatekeepers are less important now than ever before, and that gives us writers fantastic new opportunities.

Q11: Thanks for the advice! Where can people find you?

I’m very available on social media, and I have a longstanding policy that if folks are willing to come to my general neighborhood in Seattle, I’ll meet ’em for coffee!

Q12: Oh, man, that sounds amazing! If I’m ever in Seattle, I’ll definitely contact you. Thank you for joining me for this interview!

Always a pleasure!

Books by Brent that I’ve reviewed:

Buy Brent’s books here:

The Otto Digmore Difference

Three Truths and a Lie

If you are interested in signed copies of any of Brent’s books, check this out. The shipping is FREE within the US.

Still not sure these books are for you?

Check out the trailers to Three Truths and a Lie and This Time and Place.

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