Monday, May 27, 2013

Brent Hartinger - HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Brent Hartinger. Brent is the author of The Russel Middlebrook series. The movie version of his novel: Geography Club will be released later in 2013.

Author Genre: Young Adult, Gay & Lesbian, Suspense

Website: Welcome to Brent's Brain - Home of Writer Brent Hartinger
Twitter: @brenthartinger
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
LinkedIn: Check Out LinkedIn
Facebook: Check Out Facebook
Pinterest: Check Out Pinterest

Author Description:
I am Brent Hartinger, and I live to write.

For the last twenty years, I have made my living writing just about everything that involves words.

My most famous book is probably my 2003 novel, Geography Club, which has been adapted into a feature film starring Scott Bakula, Marin Hinkle, Ana Gasteyer, Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley, Ally Maki, Andrew Caldwell, and Nikki Blonsky. It'll be released in 2013.

Geography Club is now the first book in the Russel Middlebrook Series: In order, the books are: Geography Club (book #1); The Order of the Poison Oak (book #2); Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (book #3); The Elephant of Surprise (book #4).

I like to write for all ages, but I particularly like writing for and about teenagers. I think it's because I identify so strongly with them. Whenever I hear an adult complain about a teenager, I almost always take the side of the kid, even without hearing his or her version of the story!

For the record, I try hard to write books that people like to read. The most frequent comment I get from readers is that my books are "page-turners," which makes me very happy, because that is exactly what I want them to be. If I had to describe my own books, I would say, "Strong central concept, strong plot, strong character and voice." (I may not always succeed in creating these things, but they're what I always strive for.)

My biggest complaint with books I hate is that they don't get to the point (or, worse, they don't *have* a point!): vague, cliche, or overdone concept, and all atmosphere and world-building with no real story.

My second great love is the theatre. My plays have been performed at dozens of theaters across the country. And I adapted Geography Club into a stage play, which has been successfully produced many times. (If you're involved with a theater and want a copy of the script, contact me:

I also sometimes teach writing, in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College and elsewhere.

I live in Seattle, Washington, with my partner, the writer Michael Jensen, and I answer all email (even if it sometimes takes a while!).

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

What do you have on the drawing board next? Do you have another The Russel Middlebrook Series book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?

It's a definite possibility, but right now it depends on how well The Elephant of Surprise does (so far, so good!), and probably also how well the Geography Club movie is received. It's partly that these books take a lot of time and effort -- I always want to make sure the audience is large enough before I make my own investment. But it's mostly because there are so many other projects I'm involved in, so many other stories I want to write.

I know a lot of people love these books, and that makes me very, very happy. But I'd like to think that anyone who likes these books will like the other things I'm working on too.

All that said, if I do write a fifth book in the Russel Middlebrook Series, I'll probably jump five years into the future with Russel and his friends in college. Right now, that's the Russel story I most want to write.

You have a good following on twitter. Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your current success? How much has it changed your book launch process?

Well, it's funny. In 2005, I co-founded a website called A year later, we sold it to MTV, but they kept me on for about five years after that. I continued to write novels some, but mostly I worked on that website. I'm glad I did -- it paid well and it gave me some financial security.

But in a way, I've sort of been out of it as a published author. I published a book or two, but not nearly the output that I used to do -- a book or more a year.

Now I'm back to writing fiction full-time, and things have changed soooo much in the world of publishing! When it comes to social media, I'm playing catch-up a bit. But yes, it's completely transformed everything. I used to do so much touring, so many speaking engagements. I still do some, and I still think personal contact is very important. But honestly, you can reach so many more people through social media.

I also find it fascinating how many fewer emails I receive. Now everyone contacts me through Twitter, Facebook, IM. On one hand, I love it. On the other hand, it's really easy to get distracted when you're trying to write.

Do you do book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?

All my upcoming engagements are private ones -- conferences and other events. But when I have public signings, and also interviews, I list them on my website. The best place to stay abreast is to follow me on Twitter.

Or sign up for my newsletter (which only comes out a few times a year). Currently, I'm offering a free ebook to everyone who signs up!

Please Contact Me.

You have great covers. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

Thank you! Most of my books were originally published by HarperCollins, but lately I've republished my own editions, and I worked with a graphic designer to create and design my own covers.

Suffice to say, I'm pretty much a control freak about every aspect of my writing, so yes, I'm very hands on! But I end up getting exactly what I want.

A good cover is so, so important. It has to communicate very quickly and simply not just the basic idea of the book, but also its genre and its tone.

I suppose there's never any such thing as a "perfect" cover. But I do my best to make one anyway.

You have a great book trailer. (See links below. Also included is movie trailer for Geography Club.) Do you know how much impact they have had on your book’s success? Tell us about the process that you used to create your trailers? They look very professional. Do you use the trailer in your character development? Are the pictures and background the way you see your characters and scenes?

My first book, Geography Club, about a secret gay alliance at a conservative high school, was released in 2003. The rights were optioned right away for the movies, but it took ten years for the movie to actually get made. The trailer came out just a few months ago, and I didn't have anything to do with it, although I do think it's quite wonderful (the movie's pretty good too!).

Is the movie like how I imagined the book to be? Not too much, but I suspect that's true of every movie adaptation. Fortunately, I do think the actors are all just terrific in their roles, and their essence is actually very faithful to the book.

It'll be interesting if the "movie" characters eventually replace the "book" characters in my mind. I suspect they won't, because the book characters are pretty clear to me now. They're two different sets of characters, and two different stories, but I can enjoy them both, and I think my fans will too.

What kinds of writer support groups do you belong too? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?

I've been in a number of different groups over the years, but now I just have sort of an informal network of friends who trade manuscripts and advice. And, of course, they're also able to help me figure out "career" and business-type questions.

Yes, they are ENORMOUSLY helpful in all respects! I can't imagine being a writer without that kind of support. It's also fun to see friends you've known for a long time "make it big." I try not to get too jealous!

Between your book writing, blogging, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?

Oh, yes, I manage my time very, very carefully. A couple of years ago, I had a bit of a meltdown, where I was just overwhelmed with everything I was expected to do, all the pressure. The way I resolved it was to realize that I wasn't ever going to be "done" -- there was ALWAYS going to be more work, more to do, more than anyone CAN do. So sometimes I do triage, and some things, the less important things, just never get done.

This was hard for someone like me, the aforementioned control freak, to accept. But for my own sanity, I had to. And I've functioned pretty well since then. I work until I am exhausted. And then I stop, and the world never actually ends. Who knew?

I still get totally stressed out, but I haven't had another meltdown in years.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, your marketing and the relationship with your readers and fans?

To republish my older titles, and also to publish The Elephant of Surprise, I created my own publishing company. I publish both ebook and hard-copy editions of my books, but I've been shocked by how many more ebooks I sell. I guess it's because the access is so great -- anyone anywhere in the world can get any of my books instantly. And it's a lot cheaper too! It's fantastic.

But apart from the sales figures, the only real obvious change from my fans is that I hear from people all over the world now. I've always had a few international fans, but often they would complain that my books weren't available, or only a few of them were. I'm hearing that less and less, which just makes me enormously happy.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

I have done both "free" and very-low-price ebook giveaways. The time I did "free," it moved about 25,000 copies, but honestly, it didn't do anything for sales. I also give away free copies of my books if you sign up for my newsletter, but that's mostly just to show my appreciation to my most loyal fans.

The point is ultimately to sell more books. I think with the newsletter, I absolutely do. But just setting your book as "free"? I think a lot of people download it but then never read it. Basically, part of the problem with "free" is that people start to think that's all you're worth. So while I might do $.99, I won't ever do "free" again.

I think my books are all reasonably priced -- from $2.99 to $7.99 (for the latest title). If people think that's too much, they're free not to buy them. But I happen to think they're worth what I charge. And hey, I need to eat, right? People say they want me to write more books. For that to happen, I need to get paid.

All that said, friends of mine and other authors I admire have made different choices for themselves, and I respect those choices for them. I just think the author and the publisher should be able to decide for themselves.

You started with short stories and moved on to novels. How did writing short stories prepare for the larger novel? Was the transition difficult? Can you give young authors any tips in this area? How rewarding is it to teach younger authors the skills of writing?

Unfortunately, there's no real market for short stories these days, and the medium of the novel is so very, very different from the short story anyway. If I were starting over today, I might just dive into writing a novel, since that's the end goal anyway.

But short stories are a great way to get your feet wet, to learn the process of putting words down on paper -- and to experience the act of completing something, and getting feedback, in a class or a critique group or whatever.

My big frustration these days is that so many writing programs focus almost exclusively on the "writing," on the words themselves. There's very little attention paid to structure, to plot. For me, storytelling is about 80% structure and plot -- or maybe character and structure and plot (but character and plot are, or should be, very closely interwoven anyway). But I guess a lot of people disagree with me, because I see lots of critically acclaimed novels that are written in beautiful language, but have incredibly sloppy or outright boring plots.

It's my number one writing frustration, and it has been for many years. But like I said, I recognize that lots of other people don't see it this way.

You have a great blog. You do a great job keeping readers informed, marketing your books and providing useful information to other writers. What is your primary goal?

I suppose it's marketing, but I honestly never think of it like that. Like any good blog, it's a way to express myself.

The bottom line is that these days most authors need to do more than write books. They need a "presence" online, and they need to make themselves available to readers. I know this makes a lot of writers uncomfortable, especially older writers who broke through under the previous system. At first it made me uncomfortable. But I've learned a few things.

First, it's not "me" out there -- it's Public Me. It's a version of me that I think readers of my books would be interested in. I share some, but not everything. I try to stay positive, I try to be interesting. I don't burden people with stuff that's only interesting to me or my partner, and I never ever bitch or complain in public. I get to do what I love for a living! Writing-wise, I have nothing to complain about, especially to my fans.

Second, it's not "work." After all these years, I now know that interacting with readers is actually one of the best parts of being an author. These are your fans, your friends! And whenever it starts to feel like "work," I stop. I move onto something else.

Sometimes it is hard to deal with the Internet -- everyone has an opinion about your work, and they don't hesitate to write about it in the most brutal way possible. Like most authors and artists, I avoid online discussions of my work, pro or con. Criticizing works of art is everyone's right -- I do it too about other books or movies. But not about or for me. It's not something I'm involved in or ever will be.

But social media? That's different. In those cases, I'm an invited guest. And it's flat-out wonderful.

Author's Book List
The Elephant of Surprise - The Russel Middlebrook Series - Volume 4
Book 4 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series!

People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky).

In this latest book, Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise – the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he's drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession.

But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?

The Elephant of Surprise includes Hartinger's trademark combination of humor and romance, angst and optimism. Before the story is over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
The Order of the Poison Oak - The Russel Middlebrook Series
Book 2 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series

"Summer camp is different from high school. Something about spending the night. Things happen."

Geography Club's Russel Middlebrook is back, and he's going to work as a summer camp counselor with his best friends Min and Gunnar. He's sick and tired of being openly gay in high school, and a peaceful summer at Camp Serenity is just what he needs to relieve the stress that comes from being an "out" teenager.

But he doesn't count on sudden new rivalries with Min and Gunnar, or having to chase after a cabin full of unruly campers. And he especially doesn't count on a fellow counselor as hunky as Web Bastion.

Things do happen at Camp Serenity, especially at night. Brent Hartinger's third novel is a story about Indian legends, skinny-dipping in moonlit coves, and the mysteries of a secret society called the Order of the Poison Oak. But more than anything, this witty page-turner is about bravery in the face of unexpected danger, the passion of a sizzling summer romance, and, most of all, the courage to be yourself.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Smashwords
Project Sweet Life
For most kids, fifteen is the year of the optional summer job: Sure, you can get a job if you really want one, but it isn't required or anything. Too bad Dave's dad doesn't agree! Instead of enjoying long days of biking, swimming, and sitting around, Dave and his two best friends are being forced by their fathers into a summer of hard labor.

The friends have something else in mind, though: Not only will they not work over the summer, but they're determined to trick everyone into believing they really do have jobs. So what if the lifeguard doesn't have a tan or the fast-food worker isn't bringing home buckets of free chicken? There's only one problem: Dave's dad wants evidence that his son is actually bringing in money. And that means Dave, Curtis, and Victor will have to get some . . . without breaking the law and without doing any work!

Project Sweet Life is designed for the funny and lazy bone in all of us—a true comedy of errors (without any effort!) from seasoned storyteller Brent Hartinger.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Grand & Humble
Harlan's a popular kid and Manny's a geek. But something strange is happening to both of them. Harlan is slowly losing his grip because he's plagued by panic attacks he can't control. And Manny has started having nerve-racking nightmares that leave him exhausted and terrified. In this complex and original novel, popular author Brent Hartinger takes us on an intense psychological journey as Harlan and Manny struggle with a fear they can't name. It's a journey that eventually leads downtown, where a secret lies at the intersection of Grand and Humble.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
The Last Chance Texaco
The guy looked at me with a stare that would have frozen antifreeze.

"You the new groupie, huh?"

"Yeah," I said. "So?"

"So no one wants you here. Why don't you go back where you came from?"

I can't go back, I wanted to say. That was the thing about living in a group home. There was nowhere for me to go but forward.

Brent Hartinger's second novel, a portrait of a subculture of teenagers that many people would like to forget, is as powerful and provocative as his first book, Geography Club.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
Geography Club
Book 1 in the Russel Middlebrook Series.

Russel Middlebrook is convinced he's the only gay kid at Goodkind High School.

Then his online gay chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students, too. There's his best friend Min, who reveals that she is bisexual, and her soccer-playing girlfriend Terese. Then there's Terese's politically active friend, Ike.

But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

"We just choose a club that's so boring, nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!" Brent Hartinger's debut novel, what became first of a series about Russel Middlebrook, is a fast-paced, funny, and trenchant portrait of contemporary teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.
Book Trailer: Geography Club
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
What if you woke up inside your own dream—and couldn’t get out?

Eleven-year-old Julie Fray is living a nightmare. Her parents are fighting so much she can’t escape—even when she goes to sleep. Every night she has horrible dreams.

Then one night Julie wakes up inside her nightmare, in the studio where her dreams are produced. She learns that if she can find the people responsible for her dreams, she might be able to make them stop. But it won’t be easy: the tiny tear in the fabric of her consciousness that let her fall into the dream studio in the first place is closing fast…and Julie could be trapped inside her own head forever!
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Shadow Walkers
Zach lives with his grandparents on a remote island in Puget Sound in Washington State. With only his little brother, Gilbert, to keep him company, Zach feels cut off from the world. But when Gilbert is kidnapped, Zach tries the only thing he can think of to find him: astral projection. Soon, his spirit is soaring through the strange and boundless astral realm—a shadow place. While searching for his brother, Zach meets a boy named Emory, another astral traveler who's intriguing (and cute).

As Zach and Emory track the kidnappers from the astral realm, their bond grows—but each moment could be Gilbert's last. Even worse, there's a menacing, centuries-old creature in their midst that devours souls and possesses physical bodies. And it's hungry for Zach.
Book Trailer: Shadow Walkers
Order the Book From: Amazon
Author Recommended by: Amy Metz
Amy Metz is a Author of Mystery & Thrillers as well as a blogger and book editor.
Check out Amy's Author's Spotlight.


  1. Fantastic interview, James and Brent. To Brent: More Russel!! It's a great series.

  2. thanks Amy for referring Brent. he is living the author's dream. The movie version of his novel: Geography Club coming this year.